GNOME 2.0 Beefs Up Linux Viability

GNOME foundation begins development of version 2.2, schedules summit.

GNOME 2.0 is a giant leap forward in the search for a viable Linux alternative to Windows, according to users and creators of the GNU Network Object Model Environment, but more work needs to be done on the technology.

To further advance the environment, the GNOME Foundation has begun work on Version 2.2 and plans a GNOME Summit in Boston July 18-20.

"The most exciting thing in GNOME 2.0 is that we have a proper development platform," said Nat Friedman, co-chairman of the GNOME Foundation and co-founder of Boston-based Ximian Inc. "This is a huge, huge step to help us grow the Linux pie."

GNOME 2.0 supports full internationalization, is faster and lighter, has a much cleaner interface at the API level, and has fewer bugs, Friedman said. Key improvements include enhancements to the GNU Image Manipulation Program Toolkit, which doubles the size of the tool kit. Other developer-oriented upgrades include new libraries and widgets and enhancements to GNOMEs component-based architecture.

In addition, the new version features accessibility enhancements to meet the federal governments handicapped accessibility standard, Section 508. "Being on the path to 508 compliance means we can sell to the government," Friedman said.

GNOME 2.0, released late last month, also features a new user environment; a faster Nautilus file manager; and a host of new utilities, applications and games. The desktop runs on Solaris, HP-UX, Unix, BSD and Apple Computer Inc.s Darwin. GNOME Foundation officials dont expect general availability of GNOME 2.0 on these platforms until later this year, beginning this quarter with offerings from Red Hat Inc., of Raleigh, N.C., Ximian and other Linux distributors.

Adam Doxtater, a computer engineer with MGM Mirage, in Las Vegas, said Version 2.0 is a good step forward. "What really impressed me was not the changes that were made but the elements that remained intact from the 1.4 release," Doxtater said. "The 2.0 release seems more fluid. Everything fits together the way it should."

However, Doxtater said, there are improvements that must be made. "First is the inability to easily create application links on the desktop," he said. "Unless I am missing something, you still have to drag icons from the menu system to make a proper link. Adding the ability to right-click the desktop to create a new link would be a needed addition."

Although Linux companies will start delivering their implementations of GNOME 2.0 this quarter, Friedman and Havoc Pennington, GNOME Foundation board chairman and technical lead for desktop engineering at Red Hat, said that Ximian has been offering GNOME 2.0 downloads of early versions and betas since February and that Red Hat offers a beta of GNOME 2.0 in its developer version.

Version 2.2 will offer more "user visible" features, Pennington said. Key features will include replacing the current window manager with a simpler one, improving back-end support to run terminals, a new file selector control, multihead support for multiple screens, configurable tool bars and an industrial-strength media player. Version 2.2 and future releases will add native versions of applications such as Ximians Evolution messaging platform, Galeon and Mozilla, both open-source Web browsers, and the GNOME Gnumeric spreadsheet application.

Foundation officials said the target release date for 2.2 is January or February and that the upgrade will ship with features that are complete at the time.