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According to the gnome website

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GNOME (pronounced /ɡˈnoʊm/) (abbreviation of GNU Network Object Model Environment) is a desktop environment—a graphical user interface that runs on top of a computer operating system—composed entirely of free and open source software. It was created by two Mexican programmers, Miguel de Icaza and Federico Mena. It is an international project that includes creating software development frameworks, selecting application software for the desktop, and working on the programs that manage application launching, file handling, and window and task management.

GNOME is part of the GNU Project and can be used with various Unix-like operating systems, most notably GNU/Linux, and as part of the Java Desktop System in Solaris.


According to the GNOME website:

The GNOME project provides two things: The GNOME desktop environment, an intuitive and attractive desktop for users, and the GNOME development platform, an extensive framework for building applications that integrate into the rest of the desktop.

The GNOME project puts heavy emphasis on simplicity, usability, and making things “just work” (see KISS principle). The other aims of the project are:

  • Freedom—to create a desktop environment that will always have the source code available for re-use under a free software license.

  • Accessibility—ensuring the desktop can be used by anyone, regardless of technical skill or physical circumstances.

  • Internationalization and localization—making the desktop available in many languages. At the moment GNOME is being translated to 161 languages.

  • Developer-friendliness—ensuring it is easy to write software that integrates smoothly with the desktop, and allow developers a free choice of programming language.

  • Organization—a regular release cycle and a disciplined community structure.

  • Support—ensuring backing from other institutions beyond the GNOME community.


In 1996, the KDE project was started. KDE was free and open source from the start, but members of the GNU project were concerned with KDE's dependence on the (then) non-GPL Qt widget toolkit. In August 1997, two projects were started in response to this issue: the Harmony toolkit (a free replacement for the Qt libraries) and GNOME (a different desktop not using Qt, but built entirely on top of GPL and LGPL licensed software). The initial project leaders for GNOME were Miguel de Icaza and Federico Mena.

In place of the Qt toolkit, GTK+ was chosen as the base of the GNOME desktop. GTK+ uses the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL), a free software license that allows GPL-incompatible software (including proprietary software) to link to it. The GNOME desktop itself is licensed under the LGPL for its libraries, and the GPL for applications that are part of the GNOME project. Having the toolkit and libraries under the LGPL allowed applications written for GNOME to use a much wider set of licenses (including proprietary software licenses).

In 2000, Qt was made available under GPL terms. Troll Tech offered dual-licensing under both QPL terms and GPL terms and granted exceptions to other specific licenses like the Apache License. Qt's GPL derived license, however, continued to restrict linking Qt with arbitrary proprietary software at no charge; GTK+'s LGPL license did not impose this restriction and differentiated it from Qt. With Qt licensed under GPL terms, the Harmony Project stopped its efforts at the end of 2000, as KDE no longer depended on non-GPL software. In contrast, the development of GNOME continues. In March 2009, after Qt's owner company Troll Tech was bought by Nokia, Qt 4.5 was released and added a LGPL licensing as a third option.

The California startup Eazel developed the Nautilus file manager from 1999 to 2001. de Icaza and Nat Friedman founded Helix Code (later Ximian) in 1999 in Massachusetts. The company developed Gnome's infrastructure and applications, and in 2003 was purchased by Novell.


The name “GNOME” is an acronym of GNU Network Object Model Environment. It refers to GNOME’s original intention of creating a distributed object framework similar to Microsoft’s OLE. This no longer reflects the core vision of the GNOME project, and the full expansion of the name is now considered obsolete. As such, some members of the project advocate dropping the acronym and re-naming "GNOME" to "Gnome".

Project structure

As with most free software projects, the GNOME project is loosely managed. Discussion chiefly occurs on a number of public mailing lists.

In August 2000 the GNOME Foundation was set up to deal with administrative tasks and press interest and to act as a contact point for companies interested in developing GNOME software. While not directly involved in technical decisions, the Foundation does coordinate releases and decide which projects will be part of GNOME. Membership is open to anyone who has made a non-trivial contribution to the project. Members of the Foundation elect a board of directors every November, and candidates for the positions must be members themselves.

Developers and users of GNOME gather at an annual meeting known as GUADEC to discuss the current state of the project and its future direction.

GNOME often incorporates standards from into itself to allow GNOME applications to appear more integrated into other desktops (and vice versa), and encourages cooperation as well as competition.

Major subprojects

GNOME is built from a large number of different projects. A few of the major ones are listed below:

  • Bonobo – a (obsolete in current releases) compound document technology.

  • GConf – for storing application settings.

  • GVFS – a virtual file system.

  • GNOME Keyring – for storing encryption keys and security information.

  • GNOME Translation Project – translate documentation and applications into different languages.

  • GTK+ – a widget toolkit used for constructing graphical applications. The use of GTK+ as the base widget toolkit allows GNOME to benefit from certain features such as theming (the ability to change the look of an application) and smooth anti-aliased graphics. Sub-projects of GTK+ provide object-oriented programming support (GObject), extensive support of international character sets and text layout (Pango) and accessibility (ATK). GTK+ reduces the amount of work required to port GNOME applications to other platforms such as Windows and Mac OS X.

  • Human interface guidelines (HIG) – research and documentation on building easy-to-use GNOME applications.

  • LibXML – an XML library.

  • ORBit – a CORBA ORB for software componentry

A number of language bindings are available allowing applications to be written in a variety of programming languages, such as C++ (gtkmm), Java (java-gnome), Ruby (ruby-gnome2), C# (Gtk#), Python (PyGTK), Perl (gtk2-perl), Tcl (Gnocl) and many others. The only languages currently used in applications that are part of an official GNOME desktop release are C, C#, Python and Vala.

Look and feel

GNOME is designed around the traditional computing desktop metaphor. Its handling of windows, applications and files is similar to that of contemporary desktop operating systems. In its default configuration, the desktop has a launcher menu for quick access to installed programs and file locations; open windows may be accessed by a taskbar along the bottom of the screen and the top-right corner features a notification area for programs to display notices while running in the background. However these features can be moved to almost anywhere the user desires, replaced with other functions or removed altogether.

GNOME uses Metacity as its default window manager. Users can change the appearance of their desktop through the use of themes, which are sets consisting of an icon set, window manager border and GTK+ theme engine and parameters. Popular GTK+ themes include Bluecurve and Clearlooks (the current default theme).

The HIG helps guide developers produce applications that look and behave similarly, which provides a cohesive GNOME interface.


Since GNOME v2.0, a key focus of the project has been usability. As a part of this, the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) were created, which is an extensive guide for creating high-quality, consistent, and usable GUI programs, covering everything from GUI design to recommended pixel-based layout of widgets.

During the v2.0 rewrite, many settings were deemed to be of little or no value to the majority of users and were removed. For instance, the preferences section of the Panel were reduced from a dialog of six tabs to one with two tabs. Havoc Pennington summarized the usability work in his 2002 essay "Free Software UI", emphasizing the idea that all preferences have a cost, and it's better to "unbreak the software" than to add a UI preference to do that:

A traditional free software application is configurable so that it has the union of all features anyone's ever seen in any equivalent application on any other historical platform. Or even configurable to be the union of all applications that anyone's ever seen on any historical platform (Emacs *cough*).

Does this hurt anything? Yes it does. It turns out that preferences have a cost. Of course, some preferences also have important benefits - and can be crucial interface features. But each one has a price, and you have to carefully consider its value. Many users and developers don't understand this, and end up with a lot of cost and little value for their preferences dollar.

Source code

GNOME releases are made to the FTP server in the form of source code with configure scripts, which are compiled by operating system vendors and integrated with the rest of their systems before distribution. Most vendors use only stable and tested versions of GNOME, and provide it in the form of easily installed, pre-compiled packages. The source code of every stable and development version of GNOME is stored in the GNOME Git source code repository.

A number of build-scripts (such as Jhbuild or GARNOME) are available to help automate the process of compiling the source code.

Future developments

There are many sub-projects under the umbrella of the GNOME project, and not all of them are currently included in GNOME releases. Some are considered purely experimental concepts, or for testing ideas that will one day migrate into stable GNOME applications; others are code that is being polished for direct inclusion.


GNOME Shell, the main new feature of GNOME 3.0

The next version of the desktop environment, using GNOME Shell, was officially announced at the 2008 GUADEC conference held in Istanbul in July. Release had been targeted for September 2010, in place of version 2.32 of the current branch. However, since then, the GNOME development team has pushed back the release date to March 2011 due to robustness issues. Although the desktop will undergo a major revision, changes planned so far are mostly incremental. For several previous years, thinking about GNOME happened under the code named ToPaZ and quite a few mock-ups were created as part of several ToPaZ brainstorming processes in the GNOME community.

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