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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.

A large reason to prefer JavaScript over Vala is the huge installed base of people both already committed to using JavaScript (ie, it's the preferred language for Windows 8 development, Firefox OS, some mobile platforms) and particularly the wealth of people working to make JavaScript fast and stable.

Unfortunately, the only people developing Vala are a portion of our (already small) developer community. The tools are limited (mostly just the compiler and g-i-r integration) and there isn't a huge community working to add a streamlined debugger, making the documentation streamlined (valadoc still hasn't been officially released, yet my project written in Vala, libfolks, relies upon it).

I think Vala is a great language, but I still agree that JavaScript, on the balance, is a better choice long term.

If the idea is to go with an "already popular" formalism then I think it's a cowardly decision which misses the point. People will use whatever tools we give them to leverage the GNOME platform, our goal should be to give them tools that work specifically well with our platform.

Absolutely - people will use the tools they prefer, and that's great. If you already have tools you prefer, please keep using them. We won't be reducing support for those tools in Gnome. We're simply going to improve and streamline the JavaScript portion of our stack and infrastructure.

Re: SRSLY?

(Anonymous)

2013-02-05 12:05 am (UTC)

And this is not just an argumentum ad populum?

I wonder if Apple sat around thinking, "hey, we're the _only_ ones who use Objective C, maybe we should use the most popular language instead." when they unleashed iOS upon the world.

Clearly Java/Dalvik is the preferred Android language, and Objective C is the preferred iOS language. That covers just about 100% of the smartphone market. FirefoxOS is still vaporware, so what other mobile platforms are there pushing JavaScript?

Also, I just went over the the Microsoft site, and not only is JavaScript not presented as any sort of "preferred language" they actually appear to be treating _all_ of C++, C#, and JavaScript as first class citizens of the Windows 8 development story. They also give the impression that they will not be _favoring_ any particular language, but allowing the developer to choose the best language for their project.

Re: SRSLY?

(Anonymous)

2013-02-05 09:01 am (UTC)

> huge installed base of people both already committed to using JavaScript

Those are mainly web developers who believe in the superiority of web over desktop.

> it's the preferred language for Windows 8 development

It may be preferred but most Win devs are invested in c# and won't switch to JS just because.

> Firefox OS

Sorry for being polemic but: All 2 Firefox OS users/devs will be excited.

> some mobile platforms

You mentioned Windows 8 already. (Or do you mean WebOS?)

> and particularly the wealth of people working to make JavaScript fast and stable.

From what I understand they don't work on your GJS interpreter so it's the same as "We're building a car now because all the wealthy car manufacturers are pouring money into their RnD".

Re: SRSLY?

(Anonymous)

2013-02-05 04:48 pm (UTC)

A large reason to prefer JavaScript over Vala is the huge installed base of people both already committed to using JavaScript (ie, it's the preferred language for Windows 8 development, Firefox OS, some mobile platforms) and particularly the wealth of people working to make JavaScript fast and stable.

I seriously doubt firefox OS has a huge install base. Neither is there a huge Windows 8-Javascript community at this point. There are tons of web-app developers using the language, so I can buy that argument, even though the examples given seem poor to me.

How many of that wealth of people working on making Javascript fast and stable are hacking on GJS specifically? Having people working on other engines will not help Gnome after all.

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