To start with, the bad news (which is not really news anymore) is that Étoilé was, once again, not accepted for the GSoC this year and, unfortunately, neither was GNUstep. The good news is that the GNU Project was, and GNUstep was allowed to participate under this umbrella.
This is really great for Étoilé: both of the students accepted to work on GNUstep this summer are active Étoilé contributors.
Niels is going to be mentored by Fred Kiefer, the GNUstep AppKit maintainer, and will be working on the DBUS to Distributed Objects bridge. For those unfamiliar with DBUS, it's an ugly, badly designed, copy of Distributed Objects, created about a decade and a half later. At the protocol level, it contains roughly the same information as Distributed Objects. With a working bridge, we'll be able to expose our objects as DBUS services and use DBUS services as objects, without any extra code.
The other project is the one that I get to mentor. Eric is continuing his excellent work on Opal, which is the CoreGraphics implementation that sat unloved in Étoilé svn for a year or two before being moved to GNUstep. Eric's already implemented shadows and layers, and the next step is improving the text rendering support. Shadows are not essential, although they do make lots of things look nicer.
Layers are essential if we want to implement CoreAnimation, which (as well as making things look pretty) has a rendering model designed to be efficient on modern hardware. NeXT-era graphics hardware had very little RAM and caching rendered images was not really feasible. Now, even a handheld has more video RAM than a NeXT workstation had total RAM (and a much smaller screen), but redrawing things consumes CPU or GPU power and shortens the battery life, so it makes more sense to keep as much cached as possible. The layer model in CoreGraphics and CoreAnimation lets each view (potentially) have its own buffer, so redrawing just means compositing that layer onto the window; something a relatively recent GPU can do with no effort.
While Eric's working on CoreGraphics, I plan on tidying up some of the typography code that I've been playing with over the last few years and working on a CoreText implementation on top of Opal.
These two projects have a lot of potential to improve the foundations that Étoilé is built upon.