By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2004-04-19 Print this article Print

With version 2.6, the GNOME Projects namesake desktop environment is smoother than ever. The new release will make a great upgrade for Linux and Unix systems, such as Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Sun Microsystems Inc.s Solaris, that use GNOME as their default graphical interface.

eWEEK Labs compiled GNOME 2.6 from source code on a machine running Red Hats Fedora Core 1, and we were immediately struck by how much faster GNOMEs Nautilus file manager has become.

New Nautilus windows now open much faster than were used to, and its a good thing because GNOMEs other instantly recognizable new tweak is its apparent love for spawning thickets of new windows. This feature is called spatial Nautilus, and it boils down to a default behavior of opening all folders in separate windows, rather than launching browser-type file manager instances.

Spatial Nautilus is supposed to make the interface simpler to use—once youve taken the time to learn it—but were not yet convinced that the feature is worth its learning curve. This basic idea has already been tried and discarded in the Windows and Mac OS interfaces.

Its easy, however, to return to Nautilus previous default behavior by toggling a check box in GNOMEs GConf-editor configuration tool.

GNOME 2.6 was released at the end of last month, and its source code is available for free download at www.gnome.org. GNOME runs on Linux, Solaris, HP-UX, BSD and Apple Computer Inc.s Darwin.

The smoothest way to upgrade to GNOME is to wait for your Linux vendor to include it in an official release. However, for early adopters who dont want to wait or for testing purposes, we recommend Garnome, a source code download and compile script available for download at www.gnome.org/~jdub/garnome.

In addition to easing compiling the official GNOME release, Garnome makes available a good deal of GNOME- and GTK-based software thats peripheral to the standard release or not ready for inclusion in the official GNOME—such as a heavily overhauled new version of the Evolution mail client, which is not stable enough to be a component of GNOME 2.6.

Net Gains

Some changes in GNOME 2.6 make it easier to work with network resources, most notably the projects gnome-keyring daemon, which let us save user names and passwords from network resources such as Samba and Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning, or WebDAV, shares. In previous GNOME versions, we had to re-enter our authentication information each time we visited a share—and sometimes even while browsing among the folders on a share during a single session.

Gnome-keyring is a great addition, but it lacks a graphical tool for managing the passwords it stores, and it does not manage passwords for Web sites—two features that are offered by GNOME rival KDE Projects similar KWallet application.

Click here to read a review of the KDE Projects K Desktop Environment. We could access Windows or Samba shares on our network by specifying the server to which we wanted to connect, but we werent able to browse among all available servers; this is something weve been able to do with Nautilus in the past, so there may have been an error in our test systems configuration.

We liked the way network shares to which wed connected appeared as mounted volumes on our desktop.

One of the biggest architectural changes in GNOME 2.6 is a shift to Version 2.4 of GTK (GIMP Tool Kit, so named because it was developed for use in GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program). The most noticeable improvement in GTK 2.4 is a new file-selector dialog, which has long been a rough spot in the interfaces of GNOME applications.

The new dialog is better laid out than the one in GTK 2.2, and it enabled us to set file location bookmarks in the left pane of the dialog, as in KDEs file dialogs.

In a puzzling oversight, however, its not possible to view hidden files from within the dialog, an annoying bug that the GNOME team is working to fix (a patch has been posted).

In its 2.6 version, GNOME provides administrators with an improved framework for restricting particular features of applications, such as preventing changes to the GNOME panel, restricting log out or shutdown, and blocking certain users from accessing a command line.

These and other lockdown policies depend on GNOMEs GConf configuration system and may be modified using the same configuration tool that we used to disable spatial Nautilus.

GNOME 2.6 ships with Dasher, a new predictive text-entry mechanism for users with impaired motor functions. This application streams letters, spaces and punctuation, and we could steer through the stream with our mouse to form words.

Its difficult to describe, but Dasher is definitely worth a look. Its almost like a game and can be very engrossing.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.

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As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. JasonÔÇÖs coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at jbrooks@eweek.com.

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