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28 September 2012, 12:35

First Look: GNOME 3.6

by Thorsten Leemhuis

As part of a facelift, the Nautilus file manager has gained and lost a number of features. The Boxes VM tool and the GNOME Disks utility, which are also of interest for Cinnamon and Unity, have matured. The account manager now allows programs to access Facebook friends and Microsoft's SkyDrive.

The GNOME Project has released the third major update to the GNOME 3 desktop. This is relevant for current GNOME users as well as those who use Cinnamon or Ubuntu's Unity, as these desktop environments use many GNOME programs and parts of the GNOME infrastructure.

File manager

One of the most obvious and most widely discussed new aspects is a major overhaul of the Nautilus user interface. When launched, the file manager now displays the most recently used files, similar to the way the dialog for opening and saving files has done for some time. The developers have also extended the search feature: to use it, one simply needs to start typing. The context menus include "Move To" and "Copy To" options that will display a file selection dialog where the required target can be chosen. The menu bar has been scrapped; some of the features that were previously accessible there can now be found in the application menu in the GNOME Shell's top bar, where Nautilus is simply identified as "Files". An overview of the new user interface is available in videos on the "World of Gnome" web site.

GNOME 3.6 browsing The H
Zoom GNOME 3.6 browsing The H
In a blog post, GNOME developer William Jon McCann notes that the modifications are designed to make the program more consistent and to improve its layout and efficiency. McCann also explains why the developers have removed various features as part of the overhaul, including those for displaying a secondary view in a separate window area (extra pane), the compact view and the type-ahead search feature.

The removal of these features had previously been criticised by developers and testers. The makers of the Cinnamon desktop and Linux Mint responded by re-releasing the old GNOME 3.4.2 version of Nautilus under the name of Nemo and are planning to include this fork in the next release of their Mint distribution. The Ubuntu developers were also unhappy about the feature cuts and went back to Nautilus 3.4.2 in Ubuntu 12.10; whether they will switch to Nemo for later releases, adopt the new Nautilus, or handle the situation in a different way remains to be seen. Of course, the overhaul of Nautilus is not yet complete: further changes are planned for GNOME 3.8.

Storage media

The Palimpsest-based program GNOME Disks utility has regained the benchmark feature that had been sacrificed with GNOME 3.4. The tool can now handle power management and acoustic management with ATA disks and can securely erase disks. Also new is an image mounting feature. Actions that take some time, such as the creation of a disk image, are now displayed in a separate window, and the program will inform the system to, for example, ideally prevent it going into standby and so that users can be notified about the potential consequences.

The developers have also updated the disk usage analyser. When launching, the Baobab disk utility now presents an overview that shows the current disk usage in a similar way to the df command line program. When a storage medium is selected, Baobab will present a clear list overview showing which directories use the most space; there are also two diagram views that simplify the task of identifying the largest chunks.

Other applications

The Boxes program that was still classified as a "preview" in GNOME 3.4 has now become an official GNOME application. The software can set up virtual machines on local and remote systems and is far easier to use than virt-manager. It also gives access to remote systems via VNC or Spice.

The Empathy IM client has been given a facelift to better match the design of the GNOME 3 desktop. The program now displays the most frequently accessed contacts at the top of the list.

The Epiphany program, which is simply called "Web" or "Web Browser" now displays an "overview" of the most frequently visited web pages in new windows and tabs, similar to the way this has been handled in Firefox for some time. In full screen mode, no browser interface components remain visible on screen.

The GNOME application developers have already planned and implemented various changes for GNOME 3.8; among them the GNOME Clocks program that will offer world clock features, an alarm clock and a stop watch. The plan is for GNOME Disks to support MD software RAIDs; the developers say that it might also be capable of resizing partitions. Totem is scheduled to receive a facelift, and Epiphany will be based on WebKit2.

Next: Accounts, GNOME Shell

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