Ximian Desktop 2

The GNOME 2 desktop environment was released over a year ago, and during that time version 2.2 has seen the light of day. The Ximian Desktop, a heavily modified version of GNOME for corporate and casual users, has been rebuilt for the GNOME 2 environment. In this column, I’ll offer some first impressions of the new desktop.

Installation

Installing Ximian Desktop 2 (XD2) is easy if you already use Ximian Red Carpet (www.ximian.com/products/redcarpet) — just subscribe to the new Ximian Desktop 2 channel. Once subscribed, follow the recommended updates to install XD2.

If you don’t use Ximian Red Carpet, in order to install XD2 you must open a shell and become the superuser using the ‘su’ command. Type the following into the shell:

$ wget -q -O - http://go.ximian.com |sh

Installing XD2 over the Internet involves a fairly large download — 200-300MB if you install most of the packages.

XD2 installed smoothly on my Red Hat Linux 9 system. The Red Hat version of GNOME 2.2 was completely replaced by XD2, as were some Red Hat administration tools, particularly those concerning printers. XD2 uses the same CUPS printer subsystem on which Red Hat Linux is based, so no printer reconfiguration was needed.

First impressions

After logging in and starting Ximian Desktop 2 for the first time, I was given the option of preserving my old GNOME settings or letting Ximian install its defaults. I decided to use the default settings. XD2 imported my old KDE3 desktop and made it available under an icon.

The basic XD2 desktop is very clean and consistent in appearance. Ximian has given every application its own Industrial theme, which is very comparable to Red Hat’s Bluecurve in attractiveness. The Industrial theme is unintrusive and includes a set of very professional-looking icons. Sharp AA fonts are present across the entire desktop, most notably featuring in Evolution 1.4 and OpenOffice.org.

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Ximian Desktop 2 has clearly been designed with business and casual users in mind. The desktop conforms to the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines (http://developer.gnome.org/projects/gup/hig/1.0). Small touches, such as limiting the visible options available in menus to fewer than 10 items, make navigating the desktop for the first time easy. Configuration options are very basic in XD2, but they are all sensible and useful.

This can be contrasted with KDE, which prefers to give users as many options as possible at all times. More advanced users may prefer the KDE approach, but for an easy learning curve, it’s hard to fault Ximian Desktop 2.

Consistency across the desktop is very impressive. The look and feel of each included application is in line with the overall desktop theme. Most notably, OpenOffice.org has been extensively modified, including undergoing a complete face lift, bringing the UI into line with the rest of the desktop. The office suite now uses Microsoft file formats, a change that will suit most people.

Desktop users connected to a network will appreciate the SMB and NFS network browsers included with XD2. For the first time, navigating file shares on a network is now as easy under Linux as it has been under Windows for years. Shares are also accessible under OpenOffice.org.

Problems

When I initially installed XD2, I neglected to install some core components of the desktop — the Galeon browser and version 1.4 of Evolution. As a result, I experienced some problems, because XD2 clearly expected these applications to be installed. Most notably, I could not find a way to reconfigure the default browser in XD2 to Mozilla, so I was forced to install Galeon. This was an annoying price to pay for the tight integration of the desktop.

XD2 also sometimes encountered problems when restoring sessions. I found some applications were restored on the wrong virtual desktop and others could not be saved for restoration at all.

Conclusions

It’s been a long time coming, but Ximian Desktop 2 is certainly the best version of GNOME yet. The desktop is very easy to use and the consistency and integration between each application is impressive. Ximian Desktop 2 is freely available for download from www.ximian.com. A boxed version is available for $US99 and includes commercial software such as browser plug-ins and extra fonts.

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Alastair Cousins

PC World

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