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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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No. No, it really doesn't need it's own language. I can't think of a more effective way of killing interest in Gnome development

Do I sense even a touch of sarcasm ?

This is precisely the type of cowardice I was referring to.

Do you really think it should take more than a couple of days for a programmer to learn a high-level language like python, actionscript... vala ? or javascript for that matter ?

We should not waste time with worries that others will not adapt, or that we will drive people away, instead we should strive to create something that is truly great... and when we're done and have something to show for it, then we can expect that others might follow the trend that _we_ set.

...than to require developers to learn a new language that's unique to Gnome, and absolutely useless for anything else they might want to do.

Let's take a pause here, and consider that there is a clear difference between what is the GNOME platform stack, and what is the GNOME desktop environment. This is useful to qualify what is meant by "unique to Gnome".

The stack is useful for many many things, we should be careful with our free-willed implementation of GNOME desktop specific APIs into core libraries such as GIO, that is where we are limiting ourselves in terms of where the stack will run (i.e. big warning signs already up... we don't want a repeat of libgnomeui all over again).

Yes so javascript has won the battle for this day, but I do hope that this current decision/trend is based on well founded technical reasoning, that vala has a long way to go before it can really shine, and that javascript bindings to our platform are generally more mature and stable. To think, on the other hand that we've made such a decision because we're afraid that we'll "kill interest in Gnome" is a sad thing to think (and that attitude is more likely to drive good developers away, I think).

But do our javascript bindings provide some native syntax for GSignal connections ? (this is something I would expect that vala already does).

Does javascript provide syntactic/declarative sugar, allowing one to define a variable which is automatically assigned to an internal child composite object defined in a GtkBuilder file ? (something that Objective-C does for .nib files, and is also naturally built into ActionScript) ... or syntactic sugar required to automatically declare an object method which responds to a GSignal emitted by an internal composite object ? (another thing Objective-C/NextStep has been doing forever... see how far we are behind ?).

These, IMO, are the virtues we should be looking for in a preferred language for Gnome, i.e. they make programming more efficient for practical reasons.


NOTE: Yes I said "Java" and "JavaScript" probably in the same paragraph, I was under the impression that we are all a bit more mature than the current crowd on slashdot, my bad. I'm just trying to have a constructive conversation here, not trying to throw garbage around the room, please.


Eh... portions of the above were intended to be quoted, it seems the formatting did not do the cute italic thing, sorry for that.

"We should not waste time with worries that others will not adapt, or that we will drive people away, instead we should strive to create something that is truly great... and when we're done and have something to show for it, then we can expect that others might follow the trend that _we_ set."

Sometimes a person who is out in front is leading, sometimes that person is out for a lonely walk. You might not find out a long time down the road, after you've invested a lot of effort and time in a mistaken endeavor.

You have to expect that since the Gnome team is trying to increase it's visibility, it makes sense to use an imminently accessible language that people have heard of, not to intimidate them away with the specter of having to figure out new syntax along with all the bindings that are different from what they already know. At least that's how I'd feel.

And a lot of dislike for Javascript just comes from FUD of it. It's really very entertaining and challenging.

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