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Linux desktop architects team up on Portland Project


Architects from two dozen desktop-oriented Linux projects converged in Portland, Ore. last weekend to collaborate on creating the best possible Linux desktop. To that end, the group launched the Portland Project, which aims to provide a common set of standards that allow applications to easily integrate with the Linux desktop.

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of meeting, sponsored by the OSDL’s (Open Source Development Labs) Desktop Linux Working Group, was that the attendees realized how much they had in common.

According to John Cherry, OSDL’s Initiative manager for the Linux desktop, people finally understood that “we’ve got to stop acting like a bunch of disparate organizations and work together on the Linux desktop for it to be successful.”

Even organizations that had often squabbled with each other over which had the better view for the Linux desktop’s future, such as the KDE Project and the GNOME Foundation, got along well.

“It was fun to watch … Gnome and KDE developers actually getting together and having fun,” Cherry said.

As “an outsider, a non-developer, it was exciting to see the industry maturing in front of us. To see people realizing that they need each other to make things work,” said Dave Rosenberg, OSDL’s principal analyst.

In addition, developers realized that by working together they will have more of a consolidated voice in talking with hardware vendors, which will help “make more progress with vendors in getting the code needed to make progress with hardware drivers,” Cherry said.

Getting the needed APIs (application programming interfaces) and ABIs (application binary interfaces) for many devices has long been a sticking point for Linux attempts to equal Windows’ support for many desktop devices.

The Portland Project

The most concrete result from the meeting, however, was the creation of the Portland Project.

“Portland will provide a common set of Linux desktop interfaces that allows applications to easily integrate with the Linux desktop that the end user or his organization has chosen to work with,” said Waldo Bastian, a KDE engineer and a FreeDesktop leader.

“The great thing about this is that application developers can choose a Linux tool kit to develop with based on the characteristics of the tool kit that best fits their business goals, without having to worry about which flavor of Linux desktop [the company’s] customers are using,” Bastian added.

In other words, Portland’s goal is to make it possible for desktop software developers to write to the Linux desktop without having to worry about whether the distribution or user is using KDE, GNOME or a more obscure Linux desktop.

Since the goals of Portland are very much in line with the mission of, it was agreed that was the proper place to drive this effort.

Unlike the end-user-oriented Tango Desktop Project, where the idea is to create a consistent user experience on Linux desktops, Portland is designed to make it easier for ISVs to port their applications to the Linux desktop without worrying about the interface.

According to Bastian, “To speed up the process, a task force of four people will be created, with two representatives from both GNOME and KDE. Alex Graveley [of GNOME] and George Staikos [of KDE] agreed to lead the task force and will each invite one additional member.”

“The goal of the task force is to prioritize integration points, solicit feedback from ISVs and identify existing functionality in Gnome and KDE that can be used to implement Portland and possibly provide a first draft implementation,” Bastian said.

“The goal is to have the first version of Portland ready for inclusion in LSB (Linux Standard Base) 4.0, which is scheduled for the end of 2006.”

The desktop developers plan to get together again in May of 2006 to continue with their work of finding common ground for the best possible Linux desktop.

A version of this story first appeared in DesktopLiniux.

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