GNOME Desktop to Gain Browser

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 browser—called Epiphany within the development project—that 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 release—Linux, 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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