SAN MATEO (08/16/2000) - During an impressive show of support from a wide range of industry players for the Gnome desktop environment, both Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. declared Tuesday that they will use the Gnome environment as the default desktop interface for all future Unix PC shipments.
Both companies will, however, continue to ship Microsoft Corp.'s Windows desktop environment as the default for non-Unix PCs.
Gnome, a free software project featuring more than 500 developers, has built what its proponents say is an easy-to-use, free desktop environment with the potential to unify both Linux and other Unix-like operating systems through a common interface. Up to now, industry observes have criticized Linux's interface as being too complicated for the majority of desktop computer users.
The surprise announcements from the two companies came during a Gnome press conference at the fourth LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, in San Jose, California.
"Sun will adopt Gnome as the default desktop environment going forward for Solaris," said Marco Boerries, a vice president and general manager for Sun desktops. "We will also begin moving it into workstations and other devices," Boerries said.
"Today, HP is also pledging its support for the Gnome environment and will offer Gnome as the default for HP-UX," said Martin Fink, the research and development lab manager for Unix systems enablement at the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company.
With representatives from Compaq and IBM adding their support for Gnome and flanking HP and Sun at the press conference, the absence of Dell Computer Corp. became all the more apparent, particularly since Dell president and CEO, Michael Dell, was on site at the trade show to deliver Tuesday's keynote address.
"We're quite interested in exploring how Linux on the desktop will emerge," Dell said following his keynote. He also said that somewhere in the vicinity of 3-4 percent of Dell PC end-users run Linux, although it is tough to track precisely. "We don't really know how many of our users end up with Linux on the desktop," he said.
Dell is laying the groundwork for more Linux users. Michael Dell said his company plans to invest more than $370 million in Linux technologies over the next three years.
Interestingly enough, during Dell's keynote, Dell said he sees no reason why "proprietary operating system competitors [meaning Microsoft] shouldn't follow the Linux model," but stopped short of suggesting that the Redmond, Wash.-based software company open the source code of its Windows operating system.
A Microsoft executive said the company was not interested in the Gnome initiative. "I don't see any play for Microsoft [in the Gnome space]," said Doug Miller, group products manager for the Windows server marketing group at Microsoft.
"The Linux folks are trying to get some focus, as they have so many distributions of Linux. And it seems like they are groping, trying to get a standard desktop of some type. I think [Gnome] is going to help them, but it remains to be seen if it succeeds. It's just one desktop in many," Miller said, referring to competing open-source desktop environments such as KDE.
But Sun's Boerries thinks Gnome is more than just another desktop environment.
"[Gnome] unifies the existing Unix world," Boerries said. "It's great for developers and end-users, and we need a user environment that's easy to use, competitive, and gives us the foundation for more than just another desktop environment. By having Gnome based on open-source standards, every contributor, every corporation that gets involved, will know that no other company is out there trying to eat them up," Boerries said.
Microsoft feels the effectiveness of the open-source community is diluted by its large number of participants and that little if anything new came from Tuesday's announcements.
"There seems to be so many [open-source] groups getting together, and there still doesn't seem to be a single group that any one group endorses," Miller said. "And where's the news here? There are a bunch of people that are getting together on a technology that already exists -- Gnome -- and an officelike suite from Sun, more technology that already exists. I can image that if everyone of the players in the Linux community had been [at the press conference] it would have been more significant."
Two primary goals were announced at Tuesday's press conference: the creation of the Gnome Foundation, which will be governed by a board of directors elected by volunteer developers who contribute to Gnome, and a list of five major Gnome initiatives aimed at creating an industry-wide open user environment.
The first initiative is the establishment of the Gnome user environment as the unifying desktop for the Linux and Unix communities.
The second is the adoption of OpenOffice.org technologies for integration into Gnome. OpenOffice.org is the open-source project through which Sun Microsystems is releasing the technology for the popular StarOffice productivity suite.
Sun will also begin specifying XML office formats and publish them on the OpenOffice site, according to Boerries.
"What good is an operating system without office productivity applications?"
The third initiative is the integration of the Mozilla browser technology into Gnome. Mozilla is the free, open-source version of the Netscape Communications Corp. browser.
Fourth on the Gnome initiative list is the joining together of industry-leading companies to improve the reliability, quality, and accessibility of Gnome.
Contributions here will range from the addition of personal finance management software from Gnumatic to improved file management software from Eazel Inc., called Nautilus.
Finally, a key initiative for Gnome is to move the Gnome framework out as the standard environment for next-generation Internet devices, such as Internet appliances and thin clients.
"The future is not the PC," said Bob Young, the chairman of Durham, N.C.-based Red Hat Inc. "The future is an appliance talking to a server via Mozilla, which will become the standard browser technology for the future of computing."
"The big news here is getting everyone together. Look around us," Young said, referring to the 12 representatives of the Gnome Advisory Board taking part in the press conference. "We have no corporate lawyers, and we've signed no agreement. Under the open-source model and the GPL [general public license], we've eliminated the need for trust. This is a remarkable model."
Initial members of the Gnome Advisory Board include Compaq Computer Corp., based in Houston, Eazel, based in Mountain View, Calif., Gnumatic, based in Austin, Texas, Hewlett-Packard, based in Palo Alto, Calif., IBM Corp., based in Armonk, N.Y., Object Management Group, based in Needham, Mass., Red Hat, and Sun Microsystems.