Version 2.4 of the open-source desktop software stresses ease of use that the GNOME Foundation says stands up to Windows and Mac OS X.
The GNOME Foundation plans to announce on Friday a new version of its free desktop software that includes a new Web browser, accessibility features and a focus on ease of use.
The GNOME 2.4 Desktop and Developer Platform was posted on the projects Web site for download late Wednesday. It marks another step in a campaign to make the software more accessible for the average user, not only tech-oriented users in the open-source community, said Luis Villa, a member of the GNOME Foundations board of directors and of the GNOME release team.
"Were basically aiming to provide a complete user experience that youd find out of the box in (Microsoft) Windows or (Mac) OS X," he said. "We want people to use their computer and to communicate with their friends in a complete GNOME environment."
Building a Web browser into the desktop software was central to that mission. GNOME 2.4 includes a browsercalled Epiphany within the development projectthat is based on the Mozilla Foundations open-source Gecko engine. GNOME developers chose to build their own browser so that it would be integrated specifically within the GNOME desktop; for example, it uses the same MIME type system as GNOME, Villa said.
"The browser shouldnt be another application but a first-class part of the desktop since its one of the most important things people do today," he said.
The 2.4 release also includes GnomeMeeting, a videoconferencing client that supports Microsoft NetMeeting and the H.323 specification, Villa said. It is part of a bigger push GNOME is making into communications, and Villa said he expects the next few GNOME releases to expand videoconferencing so that other applications can access it instead of requiring users to launch it separately.
GNOME schedules a new release of its software every six months.
The latest GNOME release also adds a series of new accessibility tools. An onscreen keyboard called GOK allows users to type within any application without a physical keyboard, such as if they were using only a pointing device.
A tool called Gnopernicus provides magnification of the screen, a feature that could help those with poor vision or who need zooming capabilities. It also acts as a bridge to other accessibility devices, such as a Braille reader, to afford those with disabilities easier access to the desktop. It also features a limited amount of voice generation that reads what appears on the screen, Villa said.
GNOME 2.4 also includes a full desktop environment with a file manager, menu system, preference controls, games and utilities such as a text editor and calculator.
It supports the same platforms as the current 2.2 releaseLinux, Solaris, HP-UX, BSD and Apples Darwin. GNOME 2.4 will be included in the next releases of Red Hats and MandrakeSofts Linux distributions, Villa said.
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As an online reporter for eWEEK.com, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for eWEEK.com. Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.