Easier Approaches

GNOME, KDE interfaces make Linux palatable.

Exhibiting steady improvement over previous versions, The GNOME Projects GNOME 1.4 and KDE Projects KDE 2.1.1 each go a long way toward making Linux a viable replacement for Windows on mainstream corporate desktops. But neither desktop interface has yet reached parity with the established players—pervasive support for features such as cut and paste across the interface can still be unpredictable.

eWeek Labs found that KDE (K Desktop Environment) comes much closer to delivering the sort of smooth interface that users have come to expect from the Macintosh and Windows operating systems than does GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment). In tests, KDE delivered snappier and more polished performance than did GNOME on the same hardware.

However, it is important to note that KDE 2.1.1 has had the benefit of two bug-fixing updates since its major 2.0 update—we expect GNOME to make substantial gains between now and its own 2.0 release, slated for the end of this year.

KDE 2.1.1 launched at the end of last month—binary packages and source code are available for free download at www.kde.org. GNOME 1.4 became available this month and can be downloaded for free from www.gnome.org.

In a few weeks, Ximian Inc. is expected to come out with its own distribution of GNOME 1.4, along with an easy installer program. We recommend that most sites interested in installing GNOME wait for the Ximian release to do so.

We tested GNOME and KDE on identical 550MHz Pentium III-powered machines, each configured with 384MB of RAM and running Caldera Systems Inc.s OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4—both GNOME and KDE will run on a variety of Linux, BSD and Unix distributions as well.

Noticeable Improvements

The starkest change to GNOME 1.4 is the inclusion of Eazel Inc.s Nautilus as GNOMEs default graphical shell. In addition to replacing GNU Midnight Commander as GNOMEs file manager, Nautilus can be used to draw the GNOME desktop as well, which makes Nautilus the primary way in which users interact with GNOME.

Nautilus presents users with an attractive interface, with no shortage of little animations and mouse-overs to comfort those new to Linux. Although we liked Nautilus design, the program seemed bolted on to GNOME in a way that Konqueror, KDEs improved and tightly integrated file manager, is not.

For example, unless users allow Nautilus to draw their desktop—which slows GNOME down a bit—its not possible to drag and drop items from Nautilus to the GNOME desktop.

New in GNOME 1.4 is XALF (X11 Application Launch Feedback), with which users may configure GNOME to display an animated hourglass or other indicator that an application is starting up. Although the sort of feedback that XALF provides is a minor design touch, it helps make the desktop environment more approachable.

KDE 2.1.1 boasts improved theme support, which enables users to control the look of their desktop. The high level of configurability of the GNOME and KDE desktop interfaces is one of their advantages over Windows.

With Qt 2.3 from Trolltech AS, KDE 2.1.1 adds support for anti-aliased fonts for better display quality, a feature not expected in GNOME until its 2.0 release.

KDE is now able to display previews of text, HTML and image files on the desktop, a capability not available in GNOME.