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Miguel de Icaza on Gnome and His New Company HelixCode

By Fernando Ribeiro Corrêa

Originally published at
A Portuguese version is at

A few years ago, Miguel Icaza has started Gnome inspired by GNU and its Public License. Now, Gnome has grow to be a Project with hundreds of volunteers around the world. Recently, he started HelixCode, a company dedicated to provide the latest "features, improvements, and enhancements" of Helix Gnome distribuiton.

OLinux: Where were you born? How old are you? Where did you study and graduate from college?

Miguel de Icaza: I was born in Mexico City, and I am 27 years old this year.

I did study at The National and Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), I did enroll for the Math major degree, but I dropped out of college half-way trough the degree.

OLinux: How did you come with the idea of Gnome Project? Was it a sort of insight?

Miguel de Icaza: There were various things that played a role on this.

A few weeks before the GNOME project had been launched, I had visited Microsoft, and got a chance to learn about their component architectu (COM and Active-X) and how it worked.

The idea of a component system fascinated me, and Federico and I started working on specing out this project, we got the name (GNOME) and did some work on it, but it was not finished, as I was working on the Linux/SGI port with Ralf and Federico was back then the GIMP maintainer.

Then KDE appeared on the scene, and we were all very excited with the project, and although the license was known to have a few problems, we did not pay attention initially. Later, when talking to Richard Stallman and Erik Troan, we realized how bad the license for Qt (the underlying library for KDE was).

Also, Gtk+ was the GUI toolkit for the GIMP, one of the most successful Free Software/Open Source projects ever done, and many contributors were joining the Gtk+ effort.

OLinux: What is the main purpose of Gnome and how far is it to achieve its goals?

Miguel de Icaza: GNOME is trying to bring new and missing technologies to free systems, in particular GNU/Linux, but GNOME works on pretty much every Unix out there.

We have gone a long distance. GNOME currently provides:

1. A user friendly desktop, with the common abstractions that people expect from a desktop.

2. A number of tools to get work done on a computer by regular users (non hacker, non-sysadmin kind of users).

3. Productivity applications (The drawing program Gimp, the Diagram program Dia, the Gnumeric spreadsheet, the Vector drawing program SodiPodi, the Gnome Calendar)

4. Development tools: GNOME ships with various development tools for rapid application development (Glade, a GUI designer), memprof (for profiling, detecting memory leaks and improving memory allocation patterns in applications)

5. Development libraries: we provide libraries for various tasks: GUI application creation (the Gtk+ library); An application framework (The GNOME libraries); XML parsing; uniform access to resources; asyncronous IO; a unified printing architecture; a CORBA implementation; unified image loading and manipulation and various more

6. The Bonobo component architecture: a system for creating reusable components. The component architecure is built on top of CORBA, and it enables people to create compound documents.

This is probably one of the most exciting projects in GNOME right now, as it will help us create more complex applications that are easier to use, easier to maintain, easier to grow and will enable more people to join the project.

Bonobo is what GNOME was originally thought to be.

7. A team of contributors devoted to making better software.

OLinux: Gnome has grown to be a big Project with hundreds of people involved and programs being develped, how do you manage to control all of that? How many coordenators are directly involed with Gnome daily activities? How many people are involved, adding developeers and volunteers? Give those numbers for the past few years. Are there companies or organizations that sponsor and support Gnome?

Miguel de Icaza: The GNOME project consists of many various "subprojects". Each subproject is managed by a different person, and the structure is pretty much the same as the one used in the Linux kernel: people submit patches to the upstream maintainer, where the changes are reviewed and installed into the system if they are considered to be good.

There are about 400 people with access to the CVS repository these days. Contributors range from documenters, to translators to programmers, and system administrators.

There are a few companies shipping GNOME with their operating system distributions (Turbo Linux, Red Hat, SuSE) and they do fund some of the work that goes into GNOME.

On the other hand there is now a growing GNOME industry. First of all my company Helix Code has been working in providing support services for GNOME, as well as developing high-end and high-quality productivity applications. We are currently developing and improving the Evolution groupware suite and the Gnumeric spreadsheet.

Evolution is a pretty ambitious project for providing a uniform, and powerful interface to the information a user has to handle. The idea is to provide ways for users to find, and keep track of all their information sources: mail, contacts, chats, instant messaging, paging services and more. With a pluggable architecture based on Bonobo, the system can be extended to handle all sorts of information that needs to be managed.

Evolution is also intended to be a client for Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange servers to enable easy corporate deployment of free-software desktop systems.

Gnumeric is the other project we are developing: a Spreadsheet that is intended to be a replacement for the proprietary offerings that provides all the features people expect from these sort of tool.

Eazel is another company working on GNOME, they are working on the new file manager for GNOME.

And there are a few other GNOME-based startups that are filling the various needs of the free software community, but I will let them announce themselves.

OLinux: How is Gnome integrated with the rest of Linux communities, other development projects, alliances, partnerships? Give us some names and the activities exchanged between thoe groups.

Miguel de Icaza: GNOME is part of the GNU project. We try to work with any other free software projects, as in the end our objective is for GNU to be a full solution to the user needs.

OLinux: You have started a HelixCode, right? What is the focus of your business? How many cds of Helixcode have been sold you downloaded from the site? Are you planning an IPO?

Miguel de Icaza: Helix Code is a company focused on making sure free software is viable in today's world. So we are developing free software productivity applications under the GPL, and we are also providing consulting services and support for other companies.

The Helix GNOME distribution is just a service to the GNOME community: we know that it is sometimes hard to keep up with the latest advances in the rapidly evolving GNOME project.

Helix GNOME is managed by Jacob Berkman and Joe Shaw. They are the magicians behind providing a real-time GNOME environment for people to use. Now users have a chance of running the latest version of GNOME without having to know any system administration, nor being experts.

The latest GNOME with the latest features, improvements, and enhancements is only a few clicks away from your desktop.

It is hard to tell how many people have installed Helix GNOME, as there are many mirrors of the master site.

We are planning on growing to meet the needs of the free software market in terms of technology and usability.

Best wishes, Miguel.

OLinux: All OLinux user's thank you too.

Copyright © 2000, Fernando Ribeiro Corrêa
Published in Issue 53 of Linux Gazette, May 2000

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