The latest semi-annual release of the desktop environment
Like its predecessor version 2.20, the new Gnome 2.22 mainly scores points with improvements in details. "Slowly but surely" seems to be the motto of the popular Linux desktop along with "keep it simple."
Twice a year, the developers of Gnome publish a new major release of the popular Linux desktop environment. Released today, version 2.22 offers the kinds of improvements included in the previous release 2.20: in addition to bug fixes, there are a number of improvements to the system and to the included applications. A number of new programs have also been added.
While Linux distributions used to have to integrate Compiz Fusion into Gnome themselves for users to be able to enjoy 3-D effects on the desktop, Metacity, Gnome's standard window manager, now takes care of that, with its own compositing manager. This new feature is not, however, enabled in the standard settings, nor is it found in the window manager's settings. Those who know that their hardware supports compositing can switch the function on with either the graphical Gonf editor, or with the command line tool Gconftool-2:
gconftool-2 -s --type bool /apps/metacity/general/compositing_manager true
The effects are subtle: windows with shading, transparency effects, and preview images when you leave windows via Alt+Tab.
If you have a web cam, you can use the new Cheese program to make photos and videos, much like Apple users can with PhotoBooth. The new standalone Swfdec flash player not only plays Flash content on the desktop, but also displays preview images of videos in the Nautilus file manager. Totem, an audio and video player, has plug-ins for YouTube and MythTV; it also allows you to share your own playlists via HTTP.
Vinagre is a new VNC client. It saves passwords on the Gnome keyring and also has such useful functions as copy & paste. The developers have added Tango icons to freshen up the appearance of Evolution. The e-mail and calendar program now recognises the kind of tag-based key-wording made popular by Google's Gmail; it also supports Google Calendar. In addition, contacts can be opened directly using the search tool, called Deskbar.
The desktop environment is also making progress in terms of accessibility. Created last year, as part of Google's Summer of Code programming competition, the Mousetweaks module can be used, among other things, to create different types of mouse clicks via software. A context menu increases the options for those who can only push one button at a time. The mouse can also be instructed to ignore cursor movements within a defined frame.
The global clock is a nice feature that allows the times in various parts of the world to be shown simultaneously. The Evince document viewer is reportedly faster in the new release and uses less memory than the previous version. Another minor change was made to Tomboy, the note-taking manager that can now save information in multiple notebooks.
Under the bonnet
The new Gvfs virtual file system will one day completely replace the previous Gnome-vfs. It runs in Userspace and contains back ends for various file systems and protocols, including SMB, WebDAV and SFTP. Unlike Gnome-vfs, Gvfs "remembers" logons during the entire session, so that users need not repeat the entry of their username and password. The preinstalled GTK+ applications include, among others, the Nautilus file manager, the Epiphany web browser, the graphical Gdm login manager, and the Evince PDF viewer.
Developers will be happy to hear that the Anjuta development environment for C und C++ has been integrated into the Gnome Developer Suite. Administrators will be interested in hearing that the Policy Kit security framework has been integrated; it allows control of user access to settings, applications, and system services, for which they would not otherwise have privileges.
The Gnome web browser called Epiphany is still based on Mozilla's Gecko rendering engine. Those who want to use the software with the alternative WebKit back end have to compile the browser themselves. WebKit, which has its roots in the KDE project, is among others, also used in Apple's Safari browser. It is not clear whether and when WebKit will move beyond Gecko as the standard engine for the Gnome browser.
As always, the release notes provide a detailed overview of the innovations and changes in Gnome 2.22, including plenty of images. The new release can also be taken for a test drive without being installed. To this end, a LiveCD will soon be made available for downloading via BitTorrent.
Gnome 2.22 will be part of future versions of both Ubuntu and Fedora. Ubuntu 8.04 ("Hardy Heron") is scheduled to be released on April 24; Fedora 9, on April 29. The OpenSuse Project will be following suit on June 19 with OpenSuse 11. The Gnome roadmap gives us an idea of what Gnome 2.24 will look like when it is released in September.