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In many cases, the end of the year gives you time to step back and take stock of the last 12 months. This is when many of us take a hard look at what worked and what did not, complete performance reviews, and formulate plans for the coming year. For me, it is all of those things plus a time when I u...
SYS-CON.TV
The UserLinux GUI Will Be GNOME - "By Fiat" Says Perens
The UserLinux GUI Will Be GNOME - "By Fiat" Says Perens

On the GUI Selection in UserLinux

By Bruce Perens

[reproduced from the UserLinux site]

Version 0.1, December 15, 2003.

In the original UserLinux white paper, I made it clear that the project would play favorites among the software choices available to it, and that the resulting process would be painful. You can't say that you weren't warned. But it turns out not to be particularly painful, except for one issue: the selection of the GUI used in the system. The selection of GNOME as the GUI of the UserLinux project has raised a good deal of opposition from KDE supporters.

GNOME and KDE are both Free Software. Both are developed by lots of good programmers, with the support of honorable business people. Many people in the Free Software community have a huge emotional (or even financial) investment in KDE or GNOME, because they have put a lot of development into one of those desktops, or they've just spent a lot of time with one of them as a user.

To many of those people, it's simply unbearable for their personal GUI not to be the one chosen for our project.

Why play favorites at all? Debian doesn't, and UserLinux is to be derived from Debian. There are more than 13,000 software packages in Debian's pre-release at this writing, including at least three complete desktop GUIs: KDE, GNOME, and GNUStep. The FreeDesktop.org site hosts efforts to increase inter-operability between GNOME and KDE, and the Red Hat Bluecurve project has created a theme that makes the two GUIs look identical. Applications from KDE and GNOME run reasonably well together today. And most important: non-programmer users don't care what GUI toolkit their application is built upon. The GUI issue is a developer, not user, discussion.

But all of the efforts to unify these two desktops do not change the fact that there are two entirely different GUI SDKs. The two competing GUIs are each of a complexity equal to or greater than that of the Linux kernel. For developers and support staff, maintaining expertise in both of two GUIs is an expensive proposition. Many IT shops, when faced with such choices, have decided to consolidate to fewer options in order to reduce expense.

UserLinux is intended to be a system for business people. Central to its design is a network of competing for-profit service providers, who perform engineering and support services for the system. Because these service providers are basing their business upon a commodity product, there are already economic limits upon how profitable they can be. The difference between one and two GUIs may spell profitability or bankruptcy for some of our service providers. In a similar vein, internal support and engineering staff at businesses that employ UserLinux would like to have only one GUI SDK to develop for and maintain. This is not to say that choice is bad. Rather, it's bad when people aren't allowed to choose.

"GNOME and KDE...are of equal technical merit"

We held about a week of discussion on the GUI issue, on the UserLinux mailing list - about 200 postings. It drowned out all other work. It was clear from the discussion that while GNOME and KDE each exceed the other in some areas, when you weigh them all together they are of equal technical merit. However there is a critical business difference between the two GUIs: GNOME does not require a royalty in connection with proprietary software development based upon their SDK. Qt, the widget set upon which KDE is based, does have a proprietary developer licensing fee connected with it.

It's important for us to get more Free Software into business, so that businesses will be sympathetic with us when we need to ask for legislative changes to support the long-term viability of Free Software. You know the issues: software patents, DRM, etc. Today these are seen as business vs. fringe-party issues, and we're on the losing side. The extent to which our software penetrates the business world will govern our effectiveness in getting the legislative changes we need.

Enterprise users buy solutions, not systems. And it's a fact of life that enterprise customers will want to run a mixed Free + proprietary environment, choosing whatever software is best for a particular application. The overall viability of UserLinux will be based upon the size and quality of the ecosystem of solutions around it, both Free and proprietary. So, in order to get any Free Software into businesses, our Free system must promote the creation of a large collection of proprietary solutions that do not exist today. As we penetrate the enterprise, we will continue to move Free Software higher up the application stack, until these businesses make use of Free Software predominantly. But you need proprietary software to get in the door.

It is possible for us to make our system entirely royalty-free for solution developers, both Free and proprietary. This dictates some software choices: GNOME and PostgreSQL rather than KDE and MySQL, simply because of the way those products license proprietary developers. This will support a large ecosystem of both Free and proprietary solution developers by lowering the financial barriers to entry all the way to zero. This will be especially important in third-world countries, where the expense of an SDK license is much more significant than to a developer in the US or Europe.

Almost all Linux distributions have been quiet about their GUI choice, because it does seem to make a few enemies and might dissuade some customers who have already made their own GUI choice. I felt that attempting to be everything to everyone would be the coward's choice and the worst possible decision, that focus would be appreciated by business users, and that most business users don't have any GUI preference other than wanting to be able to focus development and support on only one GUI. Thus, it would be necessary to select one GUI.

As you can see on our mailing list, most of the software consolidation in UserLinux is going on by consensus. I saw that no consensus would be possible regarding the GUI. So, I made a decision by fiat to get the project moving past the GUI issue. UserLinux will be GNOME-based, will not include Qt or KDE components by default, and we'll make it known that project policy is to develop for, and support GNOME. Obviously, this caused much emotion: while the formal proposal of the KDE group was polite, there has been a large amount of personal abuse on the mailing list. But there is little reason for the emotion. The decision does not prevent anyone from using KDE and Qt components on UserLinux, does not prevent anyone from installing those components from the Debian packages, and does not prevent any of our support providers from formally supporting KDE. It doesn't take any choice away from users, who can get KDE on our platform or elsewhere.

The plan presented by the KDE supporters is a good one, and I would encourage them to go ahead with it, using a Debian base. We'll have no problem sharing work with them, just as they share work through FreeDesktop.org and Debian today. But the decision to base UserLinux on GNOME stands. Further personal abuse will be ignored as cheerfully as it has been for the past week, I've had a decade of practice at that and do it really well now. It would be nice if people would allow the mailing list contributors to continue to work on non-GUI issues, by not spamming the list with GUI partisanship.

"I am not an anti-Qt ogre."

In February, my book series will publish C++ GUI Programming with Qt, the official Trolltech guide to Qt 3.2, by Jasmin Blanchette and Mark Summerfield. I have a minor financial interest in promoting Qt (I don't make much money from my books), but no such interest in the case of GTK/GNOME at this time. Because of a miscommunication with my publisher, there is some non-free software on the CD attached to that book - Windows Qt and some compilers from Borland. Although that is against my policy for the books, and I told my publisher not to allow it to happen again, I chose to allow it to continue this time rather than create hardship for Trolltech at a late stage in their book production. I also recently recommended Qtopia to a consulting customer, for what could be a billion-dollar project. I point this out so that you might have some clue that I am not an anti-Qt ogre.

I am carrying on the UserLinux development, and am currently working on the installer. Others are also pursuing much constructive work, as is visible now on our mailing list.

Many Thanks

Bruce Perens

 

About Bruce Perens
Bruce Perens, a leader in the free software and open source community, is a member of the International Advisory Board of Linux.SYS-CON.com. He is the creator of the Open Source Definition, the manifesto of the open source movement. Bruce is founder or cofounder of the Open Source Initiative, the Linux Standard Base, Software in the Public Interest, and No-Code International. He is the creator of Busybox, which has spawned its own development community and is part of most commercial devices using embedded Linux.

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I understand how one could come to a decision like this, but personally, it all seems a power trip to me. I don't use kde or gnome, although I do keep recent installations of both. And the little that I have used them, I can't logically see _any_ reason gnome could be thought of as superior, but in that respect I may just be biased. Also, I don't know _any_ one person from any technical background that prefers gnome, I mean, the consensus just seems to scream kde. On the business side of things, I don't think small royalties *if that is really the case with qt* would stop any business from developing with it. I would think if nothing else that they would be used to it by now with propriety systems, almost everything seems to warrent royalties to someone nowadays on ms platforms. plus seeing how superior qt is to gtk in many aspects, it would be worth it anyway. Sorry gtk, your nice, but qt is more polished. Why attack qt simply because they expect to make SOME income off of their work? But this seems to be the root of all trouble with linux, the concept of ever having to PAY for something useful on linux is just "below" everyone. At first I prefered gtk just because it seemed easier, but once I got in to gui programming a bit I quickly realized qt's worth, especially now that it is gpl or lgpl or whatever the hell it is. Wouldn't business users see this same thing? All in all, my main rant is simply that the decision didn't seem to have any true thought put in to it. No real world merit. It seems like he wanted to make things "easier", by going with what he prefered. But as a corporate client, having gnome as the perception of linux, which is what the gui is in effect, with its instability, its flat out ugliness, its user un-friendliness, I would never adopt linux, it just seems to have no concept of GUI friendliness. As an end note, in all honesty, I think lindows has a much better shot anyway. Not _just_ because they chose kde, but they seem to have a real idea of what normal people want. They limited the choices, but they did it right. And qt's licensing hasn't seemed to be a problem for them...I believe lindows has a shot of going after more than just a desktop market. After all, wont developers want to develope for an operating system that will be used on the desktop? Isn't it safe to assume thats where the money is? Then that of course would build to other markets *as far as lindows goes/could go*, etc, which seems to be the path MS took in a way. anyway, I'm done

I supports Mr.Perens decision fully. The objective of supporting one GUI over the other should not be based on liking of the individuals. Instead it should carry forward the 'free' message in the most obvious form 'freedom' rather than creating another digitial divide between developing and developed nations.

If I go by my personal choice, I like GNOME. And it just goes beyond KDE when you use Ximian version of GNOME (XD2). I'm not saying that everybody should use XD2 but it just shows how beautful and userfriendly can be a GNOME desktop. FYI, I once used KDE but found it too cluttered and XP type.

I prefer Qt for GUI programming because I think it's superior to GTK.
Dear Mr. Perens let the users choose what GUI to use.
If only GNOME can be chosen for UserLinux I will not choose UserLinux.

i certainly would hate to see a memory hog like GNOME which,
has a tendancy to crash, selected as the "official" GUI for
any distro. As a Corporate decision maker, my position will
be to deploy KDE as we already have. That also applies to
any others that fall within our sphere of influence.

Well, as a business user, I use KDE because it works better than GNOME. Reading these comments, I have learned that the two have equal technical merit. It appears that reliability is not longer a techical merit. What is it then? Reliability of operation seems to be just Eye Candy to some people, I can assure you it isn't so for business users.

The same thing happened to me with Evolution. The first time it mangled my calendar trying to sync with my Palm, I got rid of it and will not try it again for years because I just do not have the time to play around with this stuff. It is very difficult for me to get excited about GUIs and calendars these days, it's been around for years and you expect it to be really nice and to work.

It's sad that UserLinux folks are opening a new front here, dividing Linux Users on this tired, tired issue. This is not leadership, it is lack of vision.

practice exclusion and complement yourself
on such a good job.

bla bla bla

What Bruce is really saying is that he is choosing GNOME because proprietary developers can write proprietary programs into GNOME and get away with it. Any addition to KDE has to be GPLed* (see note below). So his thinking is that the business people will prefer to support GNOME for profit in the traditional (closed source) model.

He may be right. But, instead of "UserLinux", he should call it "BussinesLinux".

For us, the users, KDE is just fine, or better than GNOME (at least this far). I say this in spite of the fact that, at the beginning of the "Desktop Wars" I was firmly in the GNOME side (I think they were right on the lincense issue). When trolltech changed the Qt license, I sat at the fence for a long time. Lately, I am slowly leaning to the KDE side. Why? Because the desktop is, in practice, part of the OS. It should be free. It should provide a level playing field the way Linux (the kernel) does. Proprietary applications can be built on top of it, but should not be allowed to become part of it. KDE works that way.

For example, I prefer to code my personal *applications* with GTK+ (mainly because I like wxPython), but my applications run just fine in KDE. I can charge for them and make them proprietary, if I want to, and they will still run (legally) in KDE.

I understand the fear of having Qt being controlled by one company. But, hey, Qt is GPLed. Anyone can allways fork it if he/she wants to, and if he/she does so for a good and valid reason, the rest of us may support the fork.

I think RMS should reconsider what desktop deserves the support of the GNU project. GNOME was a good provisional tool to get a free desktop available. We now have it in KDE.

*Note: I am not 100% sure that any addition to KDE has to be GPLed. Maybe some one can tell us what happens if someone with a closed source version of Qt wants to add a closed source add-on to KDE. I hope they can't.

I am just Joe User. At this point I need the availability of both KDE and Gnome. I have applications that were written to X11 API's that work great in either UI, but other programs that were written specifically to KDE or to Gnome API's so to run those apps I have no choice which environment that they run in. I suggest ending the GUI wars by allowing users to choose the one they like best, and provide a KDE Runtime library for Gnome Users and Vice Versa. or one GUI Runtime library that includes both, so users don't have to switch back and forth.

If you developers had such a library could you not write apps that take advantage of the strong points of both environments? Just a thought.

As a mostly Windows user and a part time Linux User, I can tell you that from my experience, moving between a KDE based desktop and Windows on a regular basis is much smoother and less jarring than moving between a Windwos and Gnome based desktop. I spent time early on trying to work in the Gnome Desktop environment and found it a real slow down to have to gearshift between ways of working all the time. When someone clued me into KDE and I finally tried it, the GNOME desktop went into hibernation where it has stayed.

This having been said, the point that should be taken is that if this is a USerLinux, then it better look at who the user community is. If your aiming at the windows desktop, then anything that you can do mimic the environment that you are going after will enhance your point. THe KDE mimnics the windows desktop behavior, the GNOME I saw does not.

Drop off KDE - it's incorrect. Most of users choose this desktop manager. KDE it's a more dinamical project than GNOME. Most of last projects based on X, are based on Qt/KDE also (today i see the news about Konverter - "mencoder" [part of "mplayer"] frontend for KDE)...

The best solution it's an integration GTK/GTK+ and Qt/KDE libraries. And works on this have been started last week.

Drop off KDE - it's incorrect. Most of users choose this desktop manager. KDE it's a more dinamical project than GNOME. Most of last projects based on X, are based on Qt/KDE also (today i see the news about Konverter - "mencoder" [part of "mplayer"] frontend for KDE)...

The best solution it's an integration GTK/GTK+ and Qt/KDE libraries. And works on this have been started last week.

Drop off KDE - it's incorrect. Most of users choose this desktop manager. KDE it's a more dinamical project than GNOME. Most of last projects based on X, are based on Qt/KDE also (today i see the news about Konverter - "mencoder" [part of "mplayer"] frontend for KDE)...

The best solution it's an integration GTK/GTK+ and Qt/KDE libraries. And works on this have been started last week.

Bruce, Don't waste our time with a hamstrung distribution!

Svyatogor commented on 22 December 2003:

* Amazing! From what i remember this is the first distro doing anything like that!

What about Lindows? I thought they went just with KDE ;)

Most of the 'anti' comments on here seem to be based on the fact that, unlike most other distros, it will only offer 1 GUI instead of giving users the choice. Maybe I'm missing something but if he just wanted to give people the usual Gnome/KDE choice aren't there loads that offer that already?


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Bob wrote: I understand how one could come to a decision like this, but personally, it all seems a power trip to me. I don't use kde or gnome, although I do keep recent installations of both. And the little that I have used them, I can't logically see _any_ reason gnome could be thought of as superior, but in that respect I may just be biased. Also, I don't know _any_ one person from any technical background that prefers gnome, I mean, the consensus just seems to scream kde. On the business side of things, I don't think small royalties *if that is really the case with qt* would stop any business from developing with it. I would think if nothing else that they would be used to it by now with propriety systems, almost everything seems to warrent royalties to someone nowadays on ms platforms. plus seeing how superior qt is to gtk in many aspects, it would be worth it anyway. Sorry gtk, your nice,...
LK wrote: I supports Mr.Perens decision fully. The objective of supporting one GUI over the other should not be based on liking of the individuals. Instead it should carry forward the 'free' message in the most obvious form 'freedom' rather than creating another digitial divide between developing and developed nations. If I go by my personal choice, I like GNOME. And it just goes beyond KDE when you use Ximian version of GNOME (XD2). I'm not saying that everybody should use XD2 but it just shows how beautful and userfriendly can be a GNOME desktop. FYI, I once used KDE but found it too cluttered and XP type.
Rainer Lehrig wrote: I prefer Qt for GUI programming because I think it's superior to GTK. Dear Mr. Perens let the users choose what GUI to use. If only GNOME can be chosen for UserLinux I will not choose UserLinux.
tagline wrote: i certainly would hate to see a memory hog like GNOME which, has a tendancy to crash, selected as the "official" GUI for any distro. As a Corporate decision maker, my position will be to deploy KDE as we already have. That also applies to any others that fall within our sphere of influence.
Business User wrote: Well, as a business user, I use KDE because it works better than GNOME. Reading these comments, I have learned that the two have equal technical merit. It appears that reliability is not longer a techical merit. What is it then? Reliability of operation seems to be just Eye Candy to some people, I can assure you it isn't so for business users. The same thing happened to me with Evolution. The first time it mangled my calendar trying to sync with my Palm, I got rid of it and will not try it again for years because I just do not have the time to play around with this stuff. It is very difficult for me to get excited about GUIs and calendars these days, it's been around for years and you expect it to be really nice and to work. It's sad that UserLinux folks are opening a new front here, dividing Linux Users on this tired, tired issue. This is not leadership, it is lack of vision.
patrick_darcy wrote: practice exclusion and complement yourself on such a good job. bla bla bla
Just Wondering wrote: What Bruce is really saying is that he is choosing GNOME because proprietary developers can write proprietary programs into GNOME and get away with it. Any addition to KDE has to be GPLed* (see note below). So his thinking is that the business people will prefer to support GNOME for profit in the traditional (closed source) model. He may be right. But, instead of "UserLinux", he should call it "BussinesLinux". For us, the users, KDE is just fine, or better than GNOME (at least this far). I say this in spite of the fact that, at the beginning of the "Desktop Wars" I was firmly in the GNOME side (I think they were right on the lincense issue). When trolltech changed the Qt license, I sat at the fence for a long time. Lately, I am slowly leaning to the KDE side. Why? Because the desktop is, in practice, part of the OS. It should be free. It should provide a level playing fiel...
Scamp wrote: I am just Joe User. At this point I need the availability of both KDE and Gnome. I have applications that were written to X11 API's that work great in either UI, but other programs that were written specifically to KDE or to Gnome API's so to run those apps I have no choice which environment that they run in. I suggest ending the GUI wars by allowing users to choose the one they like best, and provide a KDE Runtime library for Gnome Users and Vice Versa. or one GUI Runtime library that includes both, so users don't have to switch back and forth. If you developers had such a library could you not write apps that take advantage of the strong points of both environments? Just a thought.
JOeD wrote: As a mostly Windows user and a part time Linux User, I can tell you that from my experience, moving between a KDE based desktop and Windows on a regular basis is much smoother and less jarring than moving between a Windwos and Gnome based desktop. I spent time early on trying to work in the Gnome Desktop environment and found it a real slow down to have to gearshift between ways of working all the time. When someone clued me into KDE and I finally tried it, the GNOME desktop went into hibernation where it has stayed. This having been said, the point that should be taken is that if this is a USerLinux, then it better look at who the user community is. If your aiming at the windows desktop, then anything that you can do mimic the environment that you are going after will enhance your point. THe KDE mimnics the windows desktop behavior, the GNOME I saw does not.
XMan wrote: Drop off KDE - it's incorrect. Most of users choose this desktop manager. KDE it's a more dinamical project than GNOME. Most of last projects based on X, are based on Qt/KDE also (today i see the news about Konverter - "mencoder" [part of "mplayer"] frontend for KDE)... The best solution it's an integration GTK/GTK+ and Qt/KDE libraries. And works on this have been started last week.
XMan wrote: Drop off KDE - it's incorrect. Most of users choose this desktop manager. KDE it's a more dinamical project than GNOME. Most of last projects based on X, are based on Qt/KDE also (today i see the news about Konverter - "mencoder" [part of "mplayer"] frontend for KDE)... The best solution it's an integration GTK/GTK+ and Qt/KDE libraries. And works on this have been started last week.
XMan wrote: Drop off KDE - it's incorrect. Most of users choose this desktop manager. KDE it's a more dinamical project than GNOME. Most of last projects based on X, are based on Qt/KDE also (today i see the news about Konverter - "mencoder" [part of "mplayer"] frontend for KDE)... The best solution it's an integration GTK/GTK+ and Qt/KDE libraries. And works on this have been started last week.
Mark wrote: Bruce, Don't waste our time with a hamstrung distribution!
Jerry wrote: Svyatogor commented on 22 December 2003: * Amazing! From what i remember this is the first distro doing anything like that! What about Lindows? I thought they went just with KDE ;)
jimbo wrote: Most of the 'anti' comments on here seem to be based on the fact that, unlike most other distros, it will only offer 1 GUI instead of giving users the choice. Maybe I'm missing something but if he just wanted to give people the usual Gnome/KDE choice aren't there loads that offer that already?
Svyatogor wrote: Amazing! From what i remember this is the first distro doing anything like that! You know, after this I am not gonna even give a single try to this new pseudo-linux OS. Neither will I pay any attention to news related to it (unless I hear that you are adding KDE...) P.S. Believe it was hard to me to use only 'appropriate' language...
assaultdyke wrote: Sure, take comfort in your delusion that M$ only *pretends* to test their software. When I see threads like this, I can hear the laughing from Redmond. Dyke Out
badger wrote: I can argue all day about Gnome and KDE being technically equal (I've coded for both - one sucks). Of the sample of the 200 posts on the list that I've read, they all seem to be from people ignorant of one desktop or the other or else they come down to "the other desktop is ugly". If this is really *USER*Linux, than it wouldn't seen to presumptuous to think about users, for example: 1. Run some tests (what a concept!) using some kind of typical user setup (don't know what that is? geez, you're in deep shit already then, aren't you?). Which is more reliable? Which is faster? Which loads apps faster? etc, etc. (That's called "collecting data"). Test objectively. 2. Ask some users which one they like better and why. Is this difficult to comprehend? Without any empirical data to back up choices like this, I'd suggest the name be changed to BruceLinux, 'cause it doesn't appear to hav...
zpok wrote: Way to go! I don't care if it'll be Gnome or KDE, but don't let it be the two. Choice is good, but can be stiffling as well, or the source of extreme confusion. If you want to get a stable, easy to maintain and support platform, make it as unified as possible. That's as plain as candy for everybody in IT. And users will benefit as well, not having to switch between mindsets and (sometimes arbitrary) GUI differences. Look at the confusion with the average user if he/she has to work on a mac instead of a PC or vice versa. Those are already very elaborate and simplified environments. There's still so much polishing to do in Linux that you just can't do with two or more desktops. And in the end, the expert user can pick the GUI he/she likes.
Michael Jansen wrote: I agree that there is a need to focus on one graphical toolkit. It is important to have a consistent set of conventions used across a large range of applications. However, I am not sure that we should make the choice on 'technical merit'. The obvious way to choose is to run some usability experiments. The technical merit, is lacking, can always be added later. To make an inroad on Windows, unfortunately one would need to be sufficiently compatible with windows GUI conventions to allow an easy migration. There should be some room for doing things better, though. Several years ago we adopted KDE as our desktop graphical interface simply because GNOME, while it seemed fancier, was unstable and had many features which were neat but of questionable utility to the end user. We liked the fancy windows and decorations, but in the end your desktop needs to help you get work don...
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