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29 September 2011, 09:17

First Look: GNOME 3.2

by Thorsten Leemhuis

The first major revision of GNOME 3 offers tighter integration of online services into the desktop environment. The development team has also introduced many minor enhancements and resolved a number of irritating idiosyncrasies.

The GNOME Project has released GNOME 3.2, the first major revision of the third generation of GNOME which first saw the light of day in April when GNOME 3.0 was released. The new version resolves several idiosyncrasies in GNOME 3.0 which had received criticism from users, and also includes new programs offering better integration between the desktop and cloud services.

Account central

One new feature is GNOME Online Accounts. This places an entry in the system settings and the user menu with which the user can store their access data for online services, such as their Google account data. Other applications are able to query GNOME Online Accounts and use this data to access cloud services.

IM application Empathy and the Outlook-like Evolution are among the programs able to use GNOME Online Accounts. Empathy, for example, retrieves information on IM connections from GNOME Online Accounts and consequently, as long as access has been configured in GNOME Online Accounts, requires little further setup. Evolution uses the data entered in GNOME Online Accounts to access Google Mail and reconcile its calendar with Google's; appointments entered in Google calendar will then appear in the calendar managed using Evolution, which is hidden behind the clock in the top status bar.

The GNOME Online Accounts configuration screen allows the user to specify whether each configurable account can be used to reconcile email, calendar, contacts, IM data and documents; however, the pre-release version of Fedora 16 that we used to take a look at GNOME 3.2 only allows configuration of a Google account. When GNOME Online Accounts was announced, the suggestion was that it would support online services such as Yahoo/Flickr, Exchange and Facebook.

New entries

Two new programs, Contacts and Documents, also use GNOME Online Accounts. GNOME Contacts has a very simple design and can be used to view and modify contact data saved in Empathy, Evolution or configured online services. GNOME Documents is intended to provide a simple overview of and access to local and remote documents; the program, which is not well documented, did not work on either of our two test systems.

A further new feature is Sushi, a quick view application which can be used from within the Nautilus file manager. The quick file previewer shows a preview of the selected file when the spacebar is pressed in Nautilus. Pressing the spacebar again hides the preview. Sushi is able to display previews of image files, PDFs, text files and various other file types.

Web apps

A feature in GNOME's Epiphany browser can be used to save "application-like" web sites, such as Twitter, to the desktop as web applications. They can then be launched from an application search or added to the dash. When launched they resemble applications, as the web site is displayed without browser GUI elements.

This can be useful for frequently used web sites such as Facebook, Google+ or Twitter. Web applications run in their own process, meaning that they are not affected if the browser crashes. They use cookies from the browser profile. If the user clicks on a link to another domain from within a web app, it is opened in the browser.

Next: Fine tuning, Summary

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