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Answering the question: "How do I develop an app for GNOME?"

During the GNOME Developer Experience Hackfest this week, one of the major goals we identified was the need to pick a single language to give a simple answer to "how do I write a GNOME app?".

Right now, if you ask that question, you'll get about 8 different personal-preference answers, which drives people away from our platform. Having to potentially evaluate several different languages and their stacks gives potential developers a lot of unneeded extra work.

There was broad consensus in the hackfest for this goal because it allows us to:
  • It allows us to focus when we write developer documentation, fixing bugs in the development environment and the development of tools. This reduces our maintanence costs and enables us to be vastly more efficient.

  • It enables code and knowledge sharing to occur, so that people can easily copy and paste code from existing applications, or find information about common problems and challenges.

  • It provide a coherent and easy-to-follow path for new developers.

  • It allows us to include the full GNOME framework within the language itself.

We spent a long time discussing the different options that are available to us, and there were a variety of opinions. However, at the end of the day, we had to recognize that no language is perfect and there will always be disagreement. The important thing was that we had to make a decision.

It's critical that everyone understands this decision as a plan to elevate the language, bindings, tools, and documentation to a level of quality we have not yet achieved. It is not a decision to abandon any other language bindings. We will continue to distribute other bindings and documentation as we do now and compatibility for the other languages will continue to be developed as they are today by the developers involved with those modules.

Our decision is to support JavaScript as the first class language for GNOME application development. This means:
  • We will continue to write documentation for other languages, but we will also prioritize JavaScript when deciding what to work on.

  • We will encourage new applications be written in JavaScript.

  • We will be working to optimize the developer workflow around JavaScript.

C will remain the recommended language for system libraries.

Why JavaScript?
  • Our language of choice needs to be dynamic and high level.

  • There is already momentum in the GNOME Project for JavaScript -- it's used in GNOME Shell and GNOME Documents.

  • There's a lot of work going into the language to make it especially fast, embeddable, and framework-agnostic.

  • JavaScript is increasingly being seen as a first class desktop programming language -- it us being used in Windows 8, mobile platforms, and for local web applications.

  • JavaScript is self-contained -- it doesn't come with its own set of core libraries, which makes it more convenient for us when integrating it into the platform.

This is the start of a process and there's obviously a lot of work ahead of us. However, prioritizing a single language will enable us to turn GNOME into a compelling platform for application developers in a much more effective and efficient manner.

I strongly disagree with the decision


2013-02-02 10:22 pm (UTC)

(Sorry to be posting this anonymously...)

I strongly disagree with the decision. Just to give you some feedback based on my personal background (so maybe you could see why I'm a gnome user but not a gnome developer): I am a long time (amateur) developer. I've developed with GTK+, Gtkmm, Cocoa, some Windows stuff that I've forgotten, mostly C++, some experimenting with the D programming language and python, and some Java courses.

I've never developed with Vala, C#, JavaScript, or Go, but I've looked at each of them. I've never even done a whole app in python, just some Blender scripts.

I'm a long time Gnome user. I used KDE at first, somewhere around the year 2000, but I was unhappy with its design. I tested almost all of the alternatives too, but always came back to Gnome (even if it was not perfect!)
When Unity came, I found it to be awfully designed (and buggy). But... I really liked Gnome 3 (or Gnome Shell). It had its bugs, but it was greatly designed. I still have to tweak it (three round ubuntu style close etc. buttons on the LEFT side of the window header), but it is almost as good as Mac OS X! ;) And in some ways it is better.

But the Gnome developer story has never appealed to me. I didn't like C. I liked C++, but Gnome had so much better design than KDE, that as a user I chose Gnome.

Anyway, I'll probably keep on using C++, but I think Gnome should go with either Python or Vala. JavaScript has such a bad reputation, even though Gnome shell is great. And I think that a reputation in programming languages is usually a very good metric on deciding what is good and what is not.

There's a lot of experience with Python on Gnome, and I associate it as the semi-official language of Gnome. (And hey, Blender uses it!) I would never touch it myself, but it should be the language of Gnome.

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