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B.2. A Brief History of the GNOME Project

Before the GNOME project as we know it was created, there were two earlier projects, the "libapp" project and the "old-GNOME" project. libapp was intended to supply programmers with a standardized method of storing, using, and retrieving various bits of information about the system and the user preferences; it was a library that anyone could use. On the other hand, Old-GNOME was aimed at providing Unix with a standard software component model, allowing programs to be used as components within other programs.

When the KDE project (see "Section 11.3, "The K Desktop Environment"" in Chapter 11, "Customizing Your X Environment") emerged as a serious attempt to create a usable desktop environment for Unix, a number of people became worried about its licensing. The KDE team had chosen to build their project on top of the Qt GUI tool kit, which at that time was not truly free software. Although Qt has since changed its licensing terms and now qualifies as free software, at that time many people felt its use represented a step backwards for software freedom. This led to the emergence of the GNOME project as an attempt to develop a completely free desktop environment based on the original old-GNOME and libapp ideas.

Another important goal of the GNOME project was to make sure that the work done on any foundation libraries could be used from every programming language in Unix. To successfully create this standard, it was essential that every programmer had access to these technologies, no matter the choice of programming language.

The people on the original GNOME team had a good mix of backgrounds revolving around free software issues, graphics, and programming language design. The original team included the programmers who worked on the GNU Image Manipulation Program (the GIMP), Peter Mattis and Spencer Kimball. Richard Stallman, the founder of the GNU project, was involved, as were Erik Troan and Mark Ewing of Red Hat Software. Additionally, there were significant contributions from the members of the Free Software and GUILE mailing lists. (GUILE is GNU's Unique Intelligent Language for Extensions, a programming language that can be embedded in other programs to make them extensible through scripting. GUILE was one of the first scripting languages that could be used with GNOME.)

Since the project's inception, there have been regular releases of the GNOME source code base. After 18 months of development, GNOME 1.0 was officially released in March 1999. Updates and bug fixes are already being released on a continual basis, and as of this writing, the GNOME 1.0 series is at version 1.0.10.

GNOME 1.0 is a significant milestone in the history of the project because it represents a contract between the GNOME development team, independent software developers, and users everywhere. Release 1.0 provides a stable Application Programming Interface (API), on top of which new applications can be developed. Independent developers can take advantage of all the functions available in the libraries while feeling assured that their applications will continue to work in the future.

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