A look at GNOME 2.0

GNOME is one of the most popular desktops for Linux. Following 18 months development, the latest version of GNOME, 2.0, is now available. In this column we examine what's new, what's improved and what's missing from this milestone release for the GNOME project.

What's new

From the user's perspective there seems to be little new in GNOME 2.0. In fact, GNOME 2.0 actually contains fewer features, configuration options and applications than its predecessor, GNOME 1.4. It is also unable to run older applications written for GNOME 1.4. Don't be too concerned about this, however, as GNOME 2.0 can be installed alongside GNOME 1.4 - which will allow you to keep using your older GNOME applications. In the next few months most GNOME applications will be updated for GNOME 2.0.

The look and feel of GNOME has changed in most areas. Anti-aliased fonts are used extensively. A new Mac OS-style menu is now located at the top of the desktop and, by default, is used as the program launcher. Another menu at the bottom of the desktop contains the window list. This system seems to waste a lot of desktop space, so users will probably want to move the window list to the top menu and remove the bottom menu.

Application developers will find many new aspects of GNOME 2.0. The core of GNOME has been completely rewritten in order to make application development a much easier process.

Applications are now written using the GTK+ 2.0 API, which adds many performance enhancements and access­ibility features. However, as compatibility between GTK+ 1.2 and GTK+ 2.0 has been broken, applications will have to be substantially rewritten to take advantage of the new features in GTK+ 2.0.

What's improved

The speed of GNOME 2.0 is a welcome improvement and almost every aspect of the desktop feels faster.

The most notable speed improve­ment is in the Nautilus file manager. Nautilus has always been plagued by severe speed problems, particularly when managing directories containing large numbers of files. In my informal tests, the new version of Nautilus managed to display a complete set of previews for a directory containing 3000 files of mixed type in under five seconds. Earlier versions of Nautilus were simply unusable on a directory of that size.

A lot of work has been carried out to add comprehensive international features to GNOME. Every component of the desktop is based on unicode and thus supports multiple languages and character sets. Complex languages - such as those that read right to left - are also seamlessly supported.

Accessibility features have been greatly improved in GNOME 2.0. Keyboard navigation now features customisable shortcuts to access most components of every included program. Disabled users are well supported by additions to GTK+, which allows external devices to control any application written using the API. The GNOME team cites the example of a screen reader that could be used by a blind user.

Considerable effort has also been made to ensure the interface is consistent between different GNOME applications.

What's missing

The centralised GNOME Control Center has been replaced by individual configuration applets for each application. Otherwise, as we've already mentioned, this release of GNOME is very light in the range of new features it offers users.

Right now, there is very little reason for users to update to GNOME 2.0. The tedious installation process has not improved over that of earlier versions, further discouraging users to upgrade. As a result, GNOME 2.0 is really a developers' release. Hopefully, the significant changes under the hood will mean more frequent updates to GNOME over coming months. nInstalling GNOMEIf you like the sound of GNOME 2.0, a copy has been included on PC World September edition cover CD. Compiling GNOME is a highly intensive process involving as many as 60 individual packages. To aid in this process we have included on the cover CD the application Garnome, which will automatically compile the GNOME 2.0 source for you with a single command.

To install GNOME, open a shell and copy the gnome-2.0 directory to your hard disk by typing:

$ cp -R gnome-2.0 /usr/local/src

substituting /usr/local/src for a location on your hard disk. You will need 1.2GB of free space to compile GNOME.

To start the installation, change to the newly created directory gnome-2.0/meta/gnome-desktop/ and type:

$ make install.

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Alastair Cousins

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