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Fine tuning

According to the development team, a whole range of minor enhancements should have resolved some of the peculiarities in GNOME 3.0 which attracted criticism. Nothing has been changed with respect to the fundamental concepts underlying GNOME 3, rather, the changes primarily affect minor factors which look insignificant at first glance but can be highly irritating during day-to-day use.

The bar at the top of the screen is slightly narrower, freeing up a little screen space on netbooks and other devices with small screens. It is no longer necessary to place the cursor precisely on the edge of the window to adjust window size, making it considerably easier than in 3.0.

The grey highlighting which designates running programs on the dash or the Shell application list is now more conspicuous. The button for switching between workspaces on the right of GNOME Shell's window view is now permanently visible and does not hide itself away until approached by the cursor.

The bottom status bar now consolidates multiple messages from a single application and displays a little number showing how many have accrued. Instant messenger status can be set from the user menu, located on the right of the top bar, irrespective of the setting of the option for activating or deactivating status messages. The battery level symbol for laptop batteries now shows the battery level graphically.

The GNOME development team also reports that it has improved support for the focus-follows-mouse function, which switches the focus to the window under the current cursor position. According to the release notes, however, this function still needs a bit of work. It is currently deactivated by default and can't be activated from the system settings, instead requiring a tool such as the GNOME Tweak Tool.

Responsibility for dealing with removable disks has passed from the Nautilus file manager to GNOME Shell. When, for example, a USB flash drive is inserted, a panel offering a range of actions is displayed in the bottom status bar. The actions offered depend on the content on the drive and include options such as playing music, importing photos or launching the file manager. It is still possible to unmount the disk prior to removal in Nautilus, but it can also now be unmounted from the Shell status bar.

Beefed up

GNOME 3.2 is adapted for use with GTK+ toolkit version 3.2, released earlier this week, which, as well as Wayland support and an HTML5 mode, includes many minor improvements and cosmetic enhancements. It is now easier to find the most recently used directories when opening or saving files, as the file dialogue now lists them in a separate view.

GNOME's compositing window manager Mutter is now able to recognise applications running in full screen mode and is better at keeping out of their way. This avoids major performance losses when running 3D games or video in full screen mode.

The detailed release notes point up several further changes in GNOME 3.2:

  • Integration of instant messenger functions into GNOME Shell has been enhanced, making it easier to accept or reject friend requests or sent files.
  • The GNOME development team has also made major changes to the GDM login manager regularly used on GNOME systems. Its design is now more like that of GNOME Shell.
  • The onscreen keyboard (primarily used by tablet devices) has now been integrated into GNOME Shell. On devices with rotatable displays and position sensors, GNOME 3.2 is able to automatically orient the display.
  • The documentation for applications including Brasero, Cheese, Evolution and Vinagre has been revised and is now topic-oriented, describing typical tasks which can be performed with the application.
  • Another allegedly new feature is the ability to calibrate colours for input and output devices such as monitors, printers, scanners and webcams. GNOME Color Manager, which is responsible for this functionality, has, however, long been included in some distributions.
  • The new version of GNOME is also adapted for NetworkManager 0.9, which supports GNOME functions such as fast user switching and offers improved infrastructure for saving network configurations. It also promises better WiFi roaming and extended WiMAX support.

Summary

It's the little things that are most striking in this first revision to GNOME 3. These include fine tuning to resolve some of the minor irritants from GNOME 3.0, an improved file dialogue, and web apps. The major changes are less convincing. GNOME Documents looks unfinished. GNOME Online Accounts, together with functions based on it in other GNOME components such as GNOME Contacts, looks better. These enhancements form the foundation for a tighter and indeed overdue integration between the desktop environment and today's omnipresent cloud services.

You have to look closely to discern any differences between the GNOME 3.2 and GNOME 3.0 interfaces. The wait goes on for some of the enhancements topping GNOME 3 critics' wishlists, such as integration of Zeitgeist and a framework for simple installation of Shell extensions – currently under development. Users who failed to hit it off with GNOME 3.0 are thus unlikely to be won over by the new version.

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