Version 2.4 of the GNOME Projects namesake desktop environment provides a smooth, well-performing graphical interface for companies looking to expand their Linux deployments from the data center to the desktop.
GNOME 2.4 Beta 2
The GNOME Projects GNOME 2.4 exhibits continued improvement over previous versions, with particular gains in its Nautilus file manager and accessibility. GNOME 2.4 can form the foundation of an effective, usable mainstream corporate desktop. As open-source software, GNOME 2.4 is freely available, but most will acquire it through their Linux distributor.
EVALUATION SHORT LIST
eWEEK Labs tested Beta 2 of GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) 2.4 and found it notably faster and more mature than the 2.2 release we tested in the spring, particularly in the Nautilus file manager. (See eWEEK Labs review of GNOME 2.2.)
Of course, room for improvement remains. Wed like to see Version 2.6, which is slated for release next spring, include support for locked-down configurations and remote desktop sharing. These are two features that the rival KDE (K Desktop Environment) already includes, and KDE, which is set to see its 3.2 release in December, isnt standing still.
The battle that GNOME, KDE and other, smaller projects wage for the hearts and minds of Linux users remains a hotly contested one, although GNOME is emerging as the primary face of Linux on the enterprise desktop.
Sun Microsystems Inc. has announced plans to swap out Common Desktop Environment for GNOME as Solaris default interface beginning with Solaris 10. Suns forthcoming Linux desktop product, code-named Mad Hatter, is based on GNOME, and Novell Inc.s recent purchase of GNOME distributor Ximian Inc. indicates that GNOME will be the face of Novells Linux offerings as well.
Dominant Linux distributor Red Hat Inc. ships GNOME as its default desktop environment, and the company is heavily involved in GNOME development.
However, Red Hat also ships KDE with its Linux distributions, and KDE is the default interface for enterprise Linux player SuSE Linux AG.
The final version of the GNOME 2.4 platform is scheduled for release this month, and its source code is available for free download at www.gnome.org. However, most users will consume GNOME 2.4 as part of a vendor release.
We tested GNOME 2.4 Beta 2 on a desktop machine that was running Red Hat Linux 9.0. We used Garnome, a free command-line tool for automating the GNOME source code download-and-compile process, which we recommend highly for testing the latest GNOME code.
We noticed a speed increase in GNOMEs Nautilus file manager compared with the previous version. Also, the 2.2 release of Nautilus sometimes complained of “too many files” when opening a folder with thousands of items, a limitation that this new version doesnt have.
Startup notification, where the cursor changes shape to indicate that a file has been launched, appeared in the last release of GNOME, but it was supported on a per- application basis. Now Nautilus supports startup notification when launching files from the file manager or the desktop—a basic user interface whose absence can be confusing for any user.
We were pleased to see that Nautilus now supports simultaneous editing of properties of multiple files, something thats handy when setting permissions on groups of files.
Were still waiting to see better clipboard support in GNOME—text copied to the clipboard disappears once a user closes the application it came from.
GNOME now stores desktop files and icons in a home folder directory called Desktop; KDE behaves in the same way. GNOME had previously stored these files in a separate, hidden directory called .gnome-desktop. This change will help users who switch between the two environments keep their desktops integrated.
GNOMEs set of system tools for configuration tasks such as setting date and time, managing users, and configuring network connections are not part of the 2.4 release.
For most users, however, these sorts of tools are provided by their Linux vendor, and distributors such as SuSE, MandrakeSoft S.A. or Red Hat are in a better position to provide configuration tools that are well- integrated with the operating system.
The file chooser dialog in GNOME 2.4 is just as Spartan and unfriendly as it was in Version 2.2; a new dialog will accompany Version 2.4 of GTK+, the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) Toolkit, which is due in November.
Until then, users can find a nicer version of the file dialog in Ximians GNOME release or check out the GTK+ patch, which is available at members1.chello.nl/~h.lai/ gtkenhancements.
GNOME includes Epiphany as its default Web browser in lieu of Galeon, which impressed us when we tested it along with Ximian Desktop.
Both browsers are based on Mozilla code, but Epiphany aims to offer a more spare, GNOME-integrated browsing option.
GNOME 2.4 boasts a number of accessibility and assistive technology features, such as the Gnopernicus screen reader and magnifier and the GNOME Onscreen Keyboard.
During tests, we werent able to get the screen reader working properly—the voice that squeaked out of our speakers was unintelligible.
However, we have experienced success in the past with the open-source Festival Speech System that Gnopernicus uses.
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Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_ firstname.lastname@example.org.