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Neil McGovern Stepping Down as Gnome’s Executive Director

McGovern will have been in the position well over five years by the time a replacement is found and put in place — the longest tenure of any executive director in the organization’s history.

Gnome conference GUADEC, 2019 in Greece
A group photo from the last pre-COVID in-person Gnome GUADEC conference, which was held in 2019 in Thessaloniki, Greece at the University of Macedonia. SOURCE: Gnome Foundation

Neil McGovern is stepping down as the executive director of Gnome Foundation. In a Valentine’s Day blog, McGovern said it’s time for someone else to have a go at running the organization that produces Linux’s most used desktop environment.

The announcement came a week-and-a-day after FOSDEM, the huge EU-based open source developer’s conference that was this year held entirely online due to the ongoing pandemic. This is noteworthy because FOSDEM is where the gig he’s leaving behind began.

Although McGovern didn’t say when he will be leaving his post, he indicated he’ll stick around long enough for the organization to find a new person to take over the position, and to help with the transition.

“In 2017, I was attending FOSDEM when Gnome announced that I was to become the new executive director of the foundation,” he said in his blog. “Now, nearly five years later, I’ve decided the timing is right for me to step back and for Gnome to start looking for its next leader. I’ve been working closely with Rob and the rest of the board to ensure that there’s an extended and smooth transition, and that Gnome can continue to go from strength to strength.”

The “Rob” he mentioned would be Collabora co-founder and current CEO at the Endless OS Foundation, Robert McQueen, who has been serving as Gnome’s president since 2019. The two will still be spending plenty of time together, even after McGovern quits steering the Gnome ship. They’re both involved with a UK-based non-profit, OpenUK, McQueen as the board’s chair and McGovern as a director.

Before becoming executive director at Gnome, McGovern spent time as a release manager and as a press officer for the project. He first began contributing code to the project in 2005, and it’s assumed that will continue.

In his blog, he pointed out that the last five years have been a growth period for Gnome.

“As a foundation, we’ve gone from a small team of three to employing people to work on marketing, investment in technical frameworks, conference organization and much more beyond,” he said. “We’ve become the default desktop on all major Linux distributions. We’ve launched Flathub to help connect application developers directly to their users. We’ve dealt with patent suits, trademarks, and bylaw changes.”

Although some might question the assertion that Gnome installs by default on “all major Linux distributions,” it’s inarguable that Gnome, or Gnome-based desktops, currently dominate the Linux desktop arena.

It would also be hard to argue that McGovern’s time at the helm has been anything but successful for the project. During his tenure the project moved its development platform to GitLab and came out with 10 Gnome releases, as well as releasing GTK 4 as Gnome’s underlying framework. His five years in charge also marks the longest time anyone has ever served as the project’s executive director.

“We’ve reset our relationships with external community partners and forged our way towards that future we all dream of — where everyone is empowered by technology they can trust,” he said.

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