GNOME 2.28 - the dawn of a new era
by Alexandra Kleijn
Version 2.28 sees the team behind the GNOME desktop environment for Linux and Unix warming up for version 3.0, scheduled for a March 2010 release. The current release continues the tradition of dotting lots of i's and crossing plenty of t's, but also brings a new broom to a few nooks and crannies.
GNOME 2.28 is complete. The new release of the Linux and Unix desktop, probably the last in the 2.x series, includes the usual bug fixes and enhancements to the various components, but also offers a foretaste of GNOME 3.0 (ETA March 2010), albeit mostly in the form of behind the scenes changes. A range of now redundant libraries have also been marked as obsolete, though not yet discarded.
GNOME 2.28 includes a preview version of one of the more conspicuous changes in GNOME 3.0, the GNOME Shell. GNOME will consequently, from next spring, have a new look – the first fundamental change to the desktop for several years. The task-oriented mode of operation is intended to make it organic and intuitive to work with.
The standard Metacity window manager can be replaced with GNOME Shell using the desktop effects screen or by running
gnome-shell --replace from a terminal window. The preview version, which is already highly usable, gives a good feel for the possibilities offered by GNOME Shell.
GNOME 2.28 includes minor enhancements which improve usability, including a re-jigged contact list in IM client Empathy. It is also now possible to allow Empathy contacts to access your desktop via remote desktop viewer Vino – very practical when you need some remote support. A new geolocation feature based on Geoclue now lets you display the location of XMPP contacts (Jabber and GoogleTalk).
Web browser Epiphany has finally made the switch from using Gecko as its rendering engine to using WebKit, a change that has been on the to-do list since GNOME 2.22. Users of Bluetooth devices will welcome the new Bluetooth module. Two nice features are the ability to use a mobile phone as a web modem via Bluetooth and PulseAudio integration for headsets and headphones.
The Time Tracker applet, first introduced in GNOME 2.24, is now able to colour-code tasks, resulting in a better overview. The GNOME team also make mention of minor enhancements to Media Player and PDF viewer Evince. Webcam application Cheese now supports burst mode, in which bursts of images are captured in (rapid) succession. There is a new Wide display option, specially designed for netbooks. The GNOME Power Manager now supports laptops with more than one battery.
The development team have now implemented a feature which has caused some concern within the community. The menus and buttons in GNOME 2.28 in some cases now display text only, rather than displaying icons. The idea behind this is to create a uniform, clean interface. However, since there are a host of exceptions (including for applications, devices and files, and bookmarks), in practice the change is not immediately obvious.
There has also been progress in the field of usability, an issue which has always been a key concern in GNOME. Screen reader Orca offers a number of new functions, including support for mouse-over interactions and notification of spelling mistakes when editing text. The developers have completely revamped the speech and Braille generators for this release, and the speech generator can now also play sounds.
Tidying up under the bonnet
In preparation for GNOME 2.30, which will, if all goes according to plan, be released as GNOME 3.0 in March 2010, the development team have now started to mark up obsolete components for deletion. This affects various libraries, including libart_lgpl, libbonobo, libbonoboui, libglade, libgnome, libgnomecanvas, libgnomeprint, libgnomeprintui, libgnomeui and libgnomevfs. The release team is recommending developers of GNOME applications which are not official components of the desktop environment to avoid using these legacy components. The "What's New for Developers" section in the GNOME 2.28 release notes explains precisely which components are affected.
The innards of GNOME 2.28 include version 2.18 of GUI toolkit GTK+, from which developers may discern the first faint whiff of GTK+ 3.0, although its release remains some way off. Network library GNIO has been merged into the GIO API.
GNOME 2.28 will be included in the next releases of Ubuntu, openSUSE, Fedora, Mandriva and many other smaller Linux distributions. If you don't want to wait that long, either use JHBuild to compile the new GNOME release from the SVN source or – the easy option – take a look at GNOME 2.28 by using the range of live images (including some for virtual machines) the project is aiming to make available within the next few days.
For GNOME 3.0 see also:
- The Path to GNOME 3.0, an Interview with the Gnome-Release-Manager Vincent Untz