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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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Cross-platform apps

Do you know if there is (or will be) a version of GJS for other desktop OS (Windows, MacOS mainly), so that GTK (or GNOME) apps could be run flawlessly on other platforms?

When I have to develop an application, I never develop it specifically for a given platform because I never know which platform my future clients will be using. So, currently I use Python 2.x and GTK...

Re: Cross-platform apps

That's an excellent point. I think (I wasn't at the hackfest, I'm extrapolating from what people have previously said) that one of the main advantages of JS is that developers will use the G* APIs throughout, because it doesn't have a platform of its own unlike e.g. Python. Those are intended to be portable and more or less are, although there are various issues with Gtk+ 3 currently (mostly because nobody has the time to fix them). That means that any portability work on the C APIs is automatically inherited by JavaScript. That's in contrast to Python where although different OS's are supported there's not much work done to abstract away the differences in the standard library (I think subprocess is the worst example of this, where several of its features could be emulated on Windows but aren't). SpiderMonkey should work on Windows and MacOS already, so it shouldn't be too hard to get GJS up on those platforms as well.

Re: Cross-platform apps

PyGObject gets the benefit of improving G* libraries too.

I'm quite amazed that the 'batteries built in' nature (of the python stdlib) is seen as a negative here. Suddenly being able to work around G* platform limitations by using the stdlib is harmful?

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