January 19, 2001

Investment in Ximian will help bring Gnome to the masses

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -

With a new $15 million investment to play with, the Gnome services company formerly known as Helix Code has more resources to convert non-believers to the Open Source/Free Software desktop and to give those potential converts even more reason to make the switch.

The commercial face to Gnome, which recently changed its name to Ximian, announced this week that Charles River Ventures and Battery Ventures invested the money, and CTO Miguel de Icaza seems to have dozens of ideas to improve the Open Source desktop experience.

"We can tackle problems we couldn't tackle before," says de Icaza. "This opens the door to many developments ... and we can help bring Gnome to more people."

One of the top priorities, de Icaza says, is to develop relationships with companies such as hardware vendors, so that Open Source software can come pre-installed. "We're trying to win users over from Windows, and we're trying to get people to make the choice for Free Software," he says. "We need to have the tools for people to actually make the choice, instead of saying, 'We don't have the resources to train millions of users.' "

Among the features this investment will help Ximian speed along:

  • Ximian set-up tools, a group of easy-to-use system administration tools that would replace the "really, really bad" tools that each Linux distribution now has, de Icaza says. Simple things, such as setting the date, are still too difficult for the end user in most distributions, he adds. The Ximian tools would work across Linux distributions and other operating systems that run Gnome, including Solaris and *BSD.

  • Location management for laptops: A set of tools that would allow a laptop user to save his laptop settings for different locations where he uses the laptop. The user could change all the system settings including the Internet connection commands and the printer configuration -- even the time zone -- with a click of the mouse.

  • Time travel: Have you ever messed with your computer, hoping to make it work better, only to mess something else up? Time travel would allow you to "snapshot" your computer at any point, so you could reset your computer's settings to the way they were two days ago, or a week ago. "It lets you travel back in the configuration of the system," de Icaza says.

de Icaza says end users no longer seem to be scared off by the old perception that Linux lacks a human-usable desktop, but are still worried by mysterious warnings in the command line interface, by setup problems, and by lack of plug-and-play support. These are among the issues he plans to tackle with the new investment.

"I think Gnome has reached the point in which, yes, we do have the applications, and yes, we do have the usability, yes, we can right now replace the desktop system if you are an expert systems administrator," he says. "But we need to work together with other companies, we need to work together with other distributions to make sure that the distributions people pick are end-user enabled."

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