GNOME 2.2 Gains Muscle and Polish

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2003-03-10

GNOME 2.2 Gains Muscle and Polish

One of the cardinal virtues of open-source software is its penchant for preserving choice. Its no surprise, then, that theres more than one good option available when it comes to the desktop environments through which users interact with Linux and similar operating systems.

Among the best and most actively developed of these desktop options is GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment), which is the default interface for Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Linux and which is set to replace the Common Desktop Environment as the default interface to Sun Microsystems Inc.s Solaris.

In eWeek Labs tests of GNOME 2.2, we found that with the addition of details such as application launch notification and improved font handling, GNOME has grown thicker with features and more polished while maintaining the simplicity for which many value it.

GNOME sets out to give Linux a simpler and—so the thinking goes—more usable interface than open sources other main desktop environment, KDE (K Desktop Environment), which we reviewed in its 3.1 version last month.

Whereas KDE places a large number of options and preferences close at hand, GNOME presents only what are considered to be key options up top. Other preferences are either unavailable or tucked out of site in its GConf editor, which resembles the registry in Windows (see screen).

We recommend that users give both environments a try and decide which they prefer; most Linux distributions ship with KDE and GNOME, and users can always change their mind.

GNOME 2.2 was released at the end of last month, and its source code is available for free download at, but most users will be better off waiting to receive GNOME 2.2 as part of a vendor release. GNOME runs on Linux, Solaris, HP-UX, BSD and Apple Computer Inc.s Darwin.

We expect that GNOME 2.2 will form the basis of a new GNOME-based desktop interface from Ximian Inc.—the companys current offering is based on GNOME 1.4.

Hidden Enhancements

Hidden Enhancements

Many improvements in GNOME 2.2 lurk behind the scenes. The previous version, GNOME 2.0, was a major overhaul, and Version 2.2 delivers bug fixes and performance enhancements over the 2.0 version.

In addition, GNOME 2.2 provides a number of usability niceties, such as a "show desktop" task bar button and support in GNOMEs Nautilus file manager for the display of file metadata, such as the resolution of a JPEG image or the duration of an MP3 file.

Also new in GNOME is support for startup notification—where your icon changes to indicate that youve launched an application. GNOME enables this notification only in applications that explicitly support it. This differs from KDE, which provides notification for any launched application.

GNOME 2.2s support of fontconfig and Xft2 provides improved font rendering and significantly simplifies font installation. We needed only to add fonts to a folder called ".fonts" in our home directory to make them available within GNOME. Weve worked with these font facilities in Red Hat Linux 8.0, and were pleased to see them folded into GNOME.

GNOME 2.2 owes these font improvements, along with improved multimonitor support, in part to the graphical tool kit on which its based, Version 2.2.1 of GTK+ (the GIMP Toolkit, so named because it was developed for use in GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program).

One advancement that GTK+ has yet to accrue, however, is an improved file selection dialog. This is one of the most-heavily reused widgets in the tool kit and one thats currently lagging quite a distance behind KDEs Qt-based file dialog, both in functionality and appearance.

In this version of GNOME, Metacity replaces Sawfish as GNOMEs default window manager, a change that Red Hat made on its own in the version of GNOME that it shipped with Red Hat Linux 8.0. The main difference between Metacity and Sawfish is that Metacity is much less obviously user-configurable, with the idea that a window manager should be transparent to the user.

However, GNOME users can still select a different window manager, if they wish.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at

Executive Summary

: GNOME 2.2">

Executive Summary: GNOME 2.2

Usability Good
Capability Good
Performance Good
Interoperability Good
Manageability Good
Scalability Good
Security Good

The latest upgrade of the GNOME Foundations desktop environment offers users a spare and approachable graphical interface to Linux and similar operating systems thats matured noticeably since its last release.


GNOME 2.2 is open-source software and freely available for download.

(+) Improved font handling; support for application startup notification; speed and stability enhancements.

(-) Minimalist approach to configuration options will feel constricting for some users.


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