GNOME Announces a Brand-New OS Coming in 2014

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There's been plenty of excitement surrounding Firefox OS ever since Mozilla announced its first hardware partners earlier this year, but now it looks like there's yet another open source operating system entering the scene.

Now on the way from none other than the GNOME project--creators of the widely used desktop environment for Linux by the same name--is a brand-new operating system called GNOME OS, which is scheduled to arrive in 2014.

Rather than serve as a brand-new Linux distribution, however, the upcoming GNOME OS “is primarily intended as a platform for testing and development,” wrote GNOME user experience (UX) designer Allan Day in a blog post following the recent GNOME developers conference.

'A Better Experience for Developers'

“The idea of GNOME OS has been around for a couple of years, and there has been a fair amount of confusion about what it means,” Day explained. “Some people seem to have assumed that GNOME OS is an effort to replace distributions, so let me be clear: that is not the case.”

Instead, by “providing a better experience for application developers, automated testing, sandboxed applications, and broad hardware compatibility,” among other goals, the project hopes to improve the GNOME desktop that ultimately is made available for other distributions' use, he added.

Accordingly, over the coming months the project will focus on a new framework for applications, a software development kit (SDK), better testing, a well-defined core UX, and enhanced hardware compatibility, Day said.

March 2014 is when the OS is expected to arrive, according to a slide presentation from the developer conference.

The controversial, mobile-inspired GNOME 3 desktop (Click image to enlarge.)
'A Touch-Compatible GNOME 3'

Hardware compatibility, in fact, was a key topic that arose at the recent conference, where developers Xan López and Juan José Sánchez recounted some of the key challenges facing GNOME in their presentation.

Among those challenges were a “lack of direction and vision,” a “brain drain/losing users,” and the project's current “focus on the traditional desktop.”

A stepped-up focus on mobile platforms was one of the solutions proposed--specifically, the addition of touch enablement, with a particular eye toward the desktop's use on tablets.

“We are already working on a new effort to track and address issues related to GNOME on touch devices, and we are going to try to obtain hardware that can be used for development and testing purposes,” Day explained. “We have set the goal of having a touch-compatible GNOME 3 within a maximum of 18 months.”

GNOME 2's Enduring Appeal

Even while he outlined the project's new mobile-oriented plans, Day did note that “existing types of devices--primarily laptops and desktops--have to remain the primary focus for GNOME. These are what the members of our community use every day, and they are the primary market for existing GNOME-based distributions.”

Still, it feels a bit ironic to be hearing about these forward-looking plans at a time when interest in the old GNOME 2 appears to be reaching new heights.

Just in the past few weeks we've seen a key update to the GNOME 2-emulating MATE desktop, for instance, as well as the emergence of SolusOS with its own, like-minded iteration called GNOME Classic.

Like Ubuntu's Unity, GNOME 3 has been highly controversial, and just recently GNOME developer Benjamin Otte publicly lamented the current state of the project. It's going to be interesting to see if this new initiative can make a significant difference.

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