Desktop Summit 2011 Thoughts

Another year, another great desktop summit. This year I went courtesy of Mozilla, and I’m very grateful they deemed it worthwhile. Having been though, I think attendance of events like this is invaluable for open-source hackers. Not only for the chance to present your work and attend talks, not only for the numerous networking opportunities, but purely for the inspiration. Every time I attend Desktop Summit/Guadec/FOSDEM, I never fail to come away with new ideas and fresh inspiration to hopefully do more and better work in the future.

Some great talks this year, though I won’t go into naming them as the list would be too long and I’d likely leave some out. One of the things that really left an impression though, was one of the things that I think perhaps was missing slightly. On the way to the beach party, I met some Spanish KDE users who were also on their way (and props to the KDE community by the way, you guys know how to party!) They said it was their first conference like this and they just came to see what it was like. They’d noticed that the summit was very developer-centric though. This got me to thinking, why is this?

Certainly, I wouldn’t argue for a complete change of focus, as as a developer, as I mentioned, I find these things invaluable. On the other hand, perhaps we ought to do more to include our users? Guadec does stand for the Gnome *Users* and Developers European Conference, after all. I think we’ve done a lot more to be inclusive of the non-programming parts of Gnome development (UX/visual design, documentation, community management, distribution) over the years, but maybe we need to extend that effort and start targeting users who haven’t yet begun contributing.

With that in mind, I have a few ideas to help include users more in the future:

  • High-level feature talks – We could have talks that deal with new features of applications, the desktop, maybe even libraries, but at a high level. Less jargon, more screenshots, videos and demonstrations. It’s easy for a developer to see what the new latest features of Gnome are, as they can just check it out, build it, fix the inevitable problems with that build and try it out. I think it might be interesting and fun to prepare talks that are purely high-level presentations and demonstrations. Off of the back of that, you’d perhaps get more people interested in the project.
  • Beginners tutorials – We could run beginner classes on using, and perhaps developing the Gnome desktop environment, but aimed at people with little to no experience. This is pretty difficult of course, but then I’ve never seen the Gnome community fail to rise to and conquer a difficult challenge. Maybe a beginners guide to writing a Gnome Shell extension in JavaScript, or setting up a JavaScript development environment. Perhaps a beginners guide to establishing a useful work-flow in Gnome 3, for common tasks like document editing or web-browsing. Even more useful perhaps, a beginners guide on filing useful bugs?
  • Install-fests – I ran this idea by Emmanuele Bassi, and he brought up the very good point that it’s hard to find the resources to run things like this. I also get the feeling that until we have more people interested, more general members of the public and novice users, this may be quite poorly attended. Still an idea to think about though.

While these ideas may be of limited use and I might be completely wrong, I do think getting more involved with our users at events like this could benefit us. Taking the main theme of Dirk’s keynote this year, we should probably be making a greater effort to listen to our users.

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