For years now, the Linux and open-source desktop has had the benefit of multiple software projects pushing forward to create nicer-looking, more useful environments. One of the most prominent of those projects, GNOME, recently underwent one of its twice-yearly updates, and the result is a compelling set of refinements.
The newest version of GNOME, 2.14, now graces the desktop of Red Hats Fedora Core 5 and other shipping and soon-to-arrive Linux distributions.
One of the most significant improvements to GNOME is a very good desktop search function. As of late, desktop search has been a big focus of Microsoft Windows and Apple Computer Mac OS X developers.
eWEEK Labs is happy to see that the Linux desktop can now boast improved search functionality as well—in the form of Beagle, a desktop application that enabled us in tests to search through all the files in our home directory, as well as through our Novell Evolution and KMail e-mail messages, contacts, notes, RSS feeds and browser search history.
We could launch Beagle searches from a graphical interface, from the command line or from a new GNOME task bar applet called Deskbar, which we could also use to launch Web queries on the search engines wed configured in the Mozilla Foundations Firefox.
While weve been impressed overall with Beagle, this application is not a good fit for resource-constrained systems. In our tests with typical desktop workloads—Firefox with multiple tabs open, an OpenOffice.org document or two, the Evolution e-mail application and Beagle quietly indexing in the background—Beagle was typically the first or second largest user of RAM. When running GNOME with Beagle and all its bells and whistles, we recommend 1GB of system RAM for best results.
Another search-related improvement that we appreciated in GNOME 2.14 is the addition of a search function to the systems help viewer application, Yelp.
The GNOME Project is touting speed gains in Version 2.14, and we did notice improvement in certain applications, such as GNOMEs Log Viewer and Terminal.
In recent tests with Fedora Core 5 and Ubuntus Dapper Drake, however, we have noticed that the open/save file dialogs in GTK (GIMP Tool Kit) applications (all of GNOME is based on the GTK framework) were slow to open. Whats more, weve noted slow response times from GNOMEs screen-shot task bar applet and from its Create Archive right-click menu option.
We found promising two new desktop management tools included in GNOME 2.14: Pessulus, a desktop lockdown tool, and Sabayon, a desktop profile editor .
Pessulus doesnt ship with Fedora Core 5, so, during testing of the distro, we had to download the Pessulus source and compile it—a process that, somewhat to our surprise, went rather smoothly. Thats probably because Pessulus is a fairly simple, Python-based front end to the GConf configuration system that underlies GNOME.
Once we got Pessulus up and running, we could disable individual task bar applets, block command-line access and perform a handful of other operations, but the tool needs more work before its ready for deployment beyond, perhaps, setting up an Internet kiosk-type machine.
Sabayon, interestingly, uses the nested X- Window capability of the X.org Foundations X.org graphics system, in which you can launch a new session in a window within your current session. In this session within a session, we could set desktop preferences, add task bar items and change font sizes, among other things, and then save that set of configurations as a profile that we could apply to other users.
If your Linux distribution of choice does not yet ship with GNOME 2.14, you may use Garnome—the download, compile and install script—to build it yourself, a method weve enjoyed success with in the past.
Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.