If the Linux operating system ever becomes successful with consumers on the desktop, it may be thanks to a 26-year-old programmer from Mexico City, Miguel de Icaza. De Icaza is the head of the Gnome Project, a far-flung group of more than 300 programmers who work around the clock building a graphical user interface (GUI) for the otherwise arcane UNIX-based operating system.

“We are bringing [UNIX] up to date,” says de Icaza of Gnome (GNU Network Object Model Environment). In addition to the GUI, programmers are also making tasks such as file management easier without relying on complicated line commands at every prompt.

De Icaza started the project about two years ago while he was a systems administrator for the Nuclear Sciences Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City. His motivation to start Gnome was driven by the desire to give back to the open source community for all the free UNIX tools used.

The first version of Gnome was released in March 1999, with Gnome 2.0 targeted for this spring. De Icaza recently quit his job at UNAM, and started a company called Helix Code, a free Gnome application company, with Nat Friedman in Cambridge, Mass. He already has created a Gnome spreadsheet, called Gnumeric, which he hopes will be as good as Microsoft’s dominant Excel spreadsheet.

“Applications are very important, educating people is very important,” says de Icaza. “We want every child and every person who doesn’t have a computer to use it.” Ironically, a goal similar to one Bill Gates once famously issued about Windows.

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