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GNOME 46 and Beyond

With GNOME 46.2 released, it seems like a good time to write a post about goings on in GNOME Online Accounts and other STF-funded initiatives. There's a lot to be excited about this cycle and most of it is leading to more improvements in the near future.

# GNOME Online Accounts

A lot happened in GNOME 46 for GNOME Online Accounts, including two new providers, a port to GTK4 and Adwaita, authentication in the desktop browser, and a large refactoring towards contemporary platform conventions.

The new WebDAV and Microsoft 365 providers contrast quite a bit, although both made progress in the general direction we want to move. The existing Nexcloud provider was a good starting point for WebDAV, but support for more implementations and auto-discovery were important goals for our push towards open protocols and local-first principles.

# WebDAV

The WebDAV provider seemed like it would be fairly straightforward, however feedback from the community has shown that several popular services like Fastmail and offer support for features like custom domain names and app passwords restricted by content type. These are great features, but not supported by a naive implementation of standard service discovery.

The large refactoring in GNOME 46 de-duplicated a lot of code and is much easier to use, but a lot of the account setup process is still tightly coupled to the user interface. The new work being done to support more service configurations and improve the user experience is separate from the provider code, which has already led to the easy integration of some nice features:

In the video above, you can see the implementation of Mail Autoconfig at work detecting settings for Fastmail from the email address, in the otherwise unchanged Email setup dialog. I'd like to thank Tyler and the rest of the development team at Fastmail for extending me an account for additional testing this cycle. By design, Mail Autoconfig doesn't need authentication, but this account was very helpful while improving support for content-restricted app passwords.

These app passwords are especially relevant to WebDAV, which received a few adjustments to adopt an internal API compatible with the Mail Autoconfig implementation. While the WebDAV setup dialog hasn't landed the same UI feedback improvements yet, there is a work-in-progress that does:

In this video, you can see an early prototype for a goal of a lot of this work. Thanks to the research and work of Éloi Rivard we have an excellent whiteboard for Generic Service Providers, detailing a large amount of the subject matter. The immediate goal then is to offer an account type that's easy to set up, supports the common set of services (mail, calendar, contacts and files) and adapts to the available services using open protocols and standards.

We still have longer-term changes planned to support a sandbox-friendly ecosystem, but it's not yet clear what form GNOME Online Accounts will take or how applications will interact with it. For this reason, all the new code supporting Mail Autoconfig and WebDAV was written for potential reuse later, without investing in becoming yet another Accounts SSO.

# Microsoft 365

Much of the recent work on GNOME Online Accounts was funded by the Sovereign Tech Fund, while the Microsoft 365 provider is the work of Jan-Michael Brummer. The initial support includes access to OneDrive with Files and GVfs, with support for email, contacts and calendar planned for the near future. While our focus remains on open protocols and local-first principles, it's still a goal to support services that the people use in their work and provide benefit to the community.

Something interesting the project gained from Jan's work is the first OAuth provider with support for user-provided client IDs. Currently, every distributor and fork of GNOME Online Accounts has been using the GNOME Foundation's client IDs for OAuth providers. This can be problematic depending on the terms of service and restrictive for those using enterprise or organizational accounts.

A screenshot of the Microsoft 365 setup dialog in GNOME 46.2, with confusingly optional entry fields

Unfortunately, the first iterations of the setup dialog did not result in a good user experience. Microsoft's services come with their own concepts and terminology, which really resulted in a lack of clear direction in the design of the interface during an already busy release cycle. The tight coupling between logic and user interface did not help here either, as evidenced by the double-modal:

A screenshot of the Microsoft 365 setup dialog in GNOME 46.2, with a "Sign In with your browser" dialog stacked on top

The amount of feedback and issues reported has been the most help here, as we learn how Microsoft 365 is being used by the open-source community in both personal and work-related environments. Support for more services like email, calendar and contacts are planned, and hopefully some better support for organizational accounts.

# Orca and Spiel

Something I am thrilled to have the opportunity to take part in is Spiel, a new speech synthesis service by Eitan Isaacson that's a bit reminiscent of MPRIS. New speech providers can be easily written in C, Rust or any other language binding and libspiel will aggregate them for the client.

An interesting difference with Speech Dispatcher is that while the speech provider takes responsibility for speech synthesis, the client application takes responsibility for the audio output. Internally, the speech provider returns a file descriptor over D-Bus and GStreamer is used to output the audio on the client side.

While Spiel does have some exciting possibilities outside of screen readers, including new synthesizers like Piper, you may be surprised to find the speech rate that many users operate a screen reader at. Léonie Watson has an excellent blog post titled Notes on synthetic speech, with plenty of audio clips and insights into how screen readers are used by real people.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to integrate Spiel into Orca, which was a great learning experience and re-sparked my interest in accessibility in general. Something else to watch out for is Matt Campbell's Newton project, bringing a modern accessibility stack to Wayland.

# Acknowledgements

I'd like to again thank the Sovereign Tech Fund for investing in the GNOME project. Their targeted funding of infrastructure and accessibility has empowered a lot of overdue improvements for open source and the GNOME platform.

I'd also like to thank the development team at Fastmail, who upon request graciously granted us an extended account, to continue testing support for their service. The support staff at also extended a trial period as a show of good faith. It's been really encouraging to have these companies show support for the community, thank you!

As always, GNOME's community of contributors and users have been the most help, with diligent reporting, code reviews and advice. There are so many things happening in open source, I really wouldn't be able to keep up without all your help.