A while ago I had a discussion with Benjamin on IRC about the health of the GTK+ project, he seems pretty pessimistic about the state of GNOME in general and GTK+ in particular, and I showed my disagreement. Now don't get me wrong, there are challenges and I do share some concerns. Mostly, the fact that programming and delivering GNOME apps these days is way too complicated compared to other development platforms, consuming and viewing large online datasets and the lack of a coherent set of widgets and guidelines for touch driven devices are among those. Some of these issues will be covered at the DX hackfest of course and I'm certain that we will find solutions in the long term.
Benjamin raised that there seems to be less and less GTK+ hackers, and strongly disagreed with that fact, I perceive a lot more people doing stuff in GTK+ and GNOME than when I joined GNOME back in 2004. However, he caught me at something, I did not have numbers to back that up, and he was right, without actual data, I was just basing my opinion on perception. This is one of those times where I am glad that data backs up my gut feeling, I wrote down a little script to count the number of different contributors on each GNOME release (or each 6 months on pre-2.0 times).
Notice that on top of the total contributors I have also plotted the amount of translations. I have to say that we have an outstanding group of translators who are doing a remarkable job in the GNOME community, however while the amount of translators reflects the good health of our translators community, it does not really reflect the health of the project code wise, therefore I decided to do another chart with just code contributions:
This chart shows what my gut feelings told me already, a lot of people are contributing to GTK+ these days, more than ever. There are a few points in time where contributions have risen up noticeably, one is in the 2.18 release, which I suspect has to do with the adoption of Subversion over CVS, and the other one is during the 3.0 release.
All in all, there seems to be a rough average of 60 people contributing code on each release, this has enormous potential. Of course, a lot of these contributions are small, but it means that a lot of people find it possible to contribute code which means that this perception that people are running away from core GTK+ development is not true. In fact, it has only gotten better steadily during the past few years.
Not only in terms of people contributing patches, but 3.x has been an outstanding release series (though a bit bumpy stability wise), CSS theming and a new cairo based theming API, the broadway and wayland backends, file and font chooser improvements, a massive code cleanup in several places… the list just goes on. Not to mention that the grounds for 4.0 are being settled already like the paint clock work by Owen and the work Emmanuele has been doing on Clutter 2.0.
I remember that back in 2004, the sole suggestion of adding a new widget to the toolkit was received very negatively by the maintainers (for good reasons at the time), that is not the case anymore, things are at an optimal stage to get the improvements we need in.
At the end of the day is up to us to see the cup half empty or half full, FOSS communities are a lot about enthusiasm so I think we are better off making an effort at looking at the bright side of life and stop ourselves from actively undermining others people's enthusiasm, the worst thing we can do if we love GNOME is to let people think that there is no point in investing our time and passion in it.
So all in all, I think that there are challenges, but we have loads opportunities to improve as well. We have many facts to celebrate and be excited about.
Let's keep on rocking.