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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.

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Re: Heh, intersting choice.

I would reserve such a classification for C++, a language which has only the syntactic sugar but none of the fundamental concepts of OO and as you try to do more the more the whole thing breaks down until it is nought but a pretty facade. (For example change private members of implementation, recompile all client code depending only on the public interface, or cast to void* and muck around in memory directly.)

JavaScript at least offers, that I can see:

- Sandboxing. Something GNOME has been quietly edging towards.
- Limited surface area (Python as in "the programming experience including libs that people consider to be Python" is huge.)
- Mature VMs with a lot of goodies yielding perfectly adequate performance (to the point people get something not too terrible when they start interpreting C++ binaries in JS in the browser, or hardware emulation in JS in the browser).
- A much more flexible programming model that allows you to do really neat things which is more reminiscent of pure functional languages than anything else.

Of course JavaScript has its warts. Inclusion of the frankly redundant Java/C# style class based inheritance would be one of those, as it is utterly useless addition when you already have the more flexible prototype system.

And yes the portability between interpreters thing is inherently a red herring because a GNOME app is by definition going to be using GNOME libs + bindings which by definition is not going to be portable between JS environments. Still, at least with JS you *can* write code to treat libs/bindings as pluggable backends and paper over portability issues as opposed to a hard dependency without too much work -- that's what people have been doing in JS for years (think browsers).

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