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GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

By Jeremy LaCroix on September 20, 2007 (3:00:00 PM)

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GNOME 2.20 was released yesterday. Even though I use GNOME regularly, I normally don't get excited over new releases, because most seem to offer little more substance than previous versions, with most of the work being done under the hood. This time, though, GNOME has a solid list of new features and upgrades. It's worth taking a look at even if you aren't a fan of this desktop environment.

I tested GNOME's new features by installing a nightly build of the upcoming Ubuntu 7.10 release, which will include GNOME 2.20 as its default user interface, on my laptop. In an attempt to maintain the feel of a default GNOME install as much as possible, I reverted the theme used by Ubuntu back to the new default of GNOME 2.20. The wallpaper used in the release notes was nowhere to be found in my Ubuntu install, which means it must not have been included in the art package.

Since most distributions these days customize the look and feel of the desktop, you might not see the new look of GNOME even if it's your distribution's desktop environment. Version 2.20 uses the same Clearlooks theme as previous versions, but it has been touched up to the point where you would almost think it's a different theme altogether. With this version of Clearlooks, there is a greater emphasis on blue, silver, and shiny buttons, with a more modern version of the window decorations. I like this version (which I hear referred to as "Gummy Clearlooks," which is a fitting name since it resembles the GNOME theme "nano-gummy"; this is the first time I've found myself continuing to use a desktop environment's default theme.

Speaking of themes, the old theme manager has been replaced with Appearance Preferences, which acts as a central place for customizing not only your desktop themes, but also your background, desktop effects, fonts, and interface settings. Putting all of these settings in one place saves space in GNOME's preferences menu.

The GNOME screensaver now has a neat new feature. When your computer is locked and you are away from your desk, people who share your office can leave a message for you to receive when you come back. This feature will likely save some Post-It notes.

I was pleased to see improvements in the GNOME Power Manager too. Not only does it give you helpful messages regarding power events, it also displays warnings to notify you of situations such as wireless mouse batteries running low, or a power cable coming unplugged.

Evolution, the default email client included with GNOME, has received some attention from the developers as well. Perhaps the most useful new feature is Evolution's backup and restore plugin. With previous versions, messages and accounts were not easy to back up. Now, however, according to the documentation, you can save your email messages and settings in an archive that you can import later, which is useful if you're moving to a new PC or reinstalling your existing one. Unfortunately, this feature was unavailable for me to test on Ubuntu 7.10 -- I'm not sure if the feature was disabled by Ubuntu, or if a bug in the package prevented it from being accessible.

Other new features on the Evolution front include a status bar icon that flashes when you receive new mail, as well as an attachment reminder that comes up if your text implies that there should be an attached file and one isn't present. In my installation, the attachment reminder plugin was turned off by default, but turning it on was a matter of clicking on Edit -> Plugins -> Configure and checking the "enabled" box.

GNOME's Totem media player can now search for a codec when it can't find one installed that matches the type of media you're attempting to play. Unfortunately, this needs to be implemented by package maintainers, so it may not be available in all distributions. Still, features such as this are a great step in increasing the usability of Linux.

Smaller features include a pie graph in the media properties window that represents how much free space you have on your media, and syntax highlighting for Gedit (though for right now only scripting languages such as Ruby and PHP are supported). The GNOME Keyring Manager now automatically unlocks itself when you log in, so you don't need to input an extra password to unlock your keyring.

This list is only a sampling of some of the most obvious and interesting features in the new version. There are many less noticeable changes all over the desktop.

Performance

All those features seem great, but how does it run? While your results may differ, on my machine I noticed a slight yet significant speed increase. Menus are quicker to appear, and everything in general is a bit more responsive than it was before. Memory usage is close to the same as it was with 2.18. For me, about 995MB of my 1GB of RAM was cached by the system, and of that cache only around 201MB was used by my desktop. These numbers vary only slightly from the 188MB used by my machine when GNOME 2.18 was installed.

Even though GNOME 2.20 is full of new features and improvements, it has its share of small problems as well. While the default widget theme received a face lift, the GNOME icon theme is still the same one we've had for a long time. In addition, even though we have a pie graph that represents a media's free and used space, the text on this dialogue box displays the drive size as "unknown" and the type as a "desktop configuration file." Finally, Evolution's Microsoft Exchange support is still buggy at best. Evolution froze several times for me when I tried to connect to my work email, and once when I was copying a message from one folder to another.

Overall, despite a few minor annoyances, GNOME 2.20 is an amazing release, and includes a plethora of new features users are sure to find worthwhile. It's not groundbreaking, nor is it going to revolutionize Linux as we know it, but it is a clear step in the right direction, in contrast to previous versions that brought few visible new features to the table. My experience with this software so far has been great, and I hope that GNOME continues in this tradition and releases great revisions more often going forward.

Jeremy LaCroix is an IT technician who writes in his free time.

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on GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

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GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.178.148.15] on September 20, 2007 03:28 PM
"...as well as an attachment reminder that comes up if your text implies that there should be an attached file and one isn't present."

KMail has been doing that for over 5 years, by the way.

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Re: GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 142.22.118.60] on September 20, 2007 07:10 PM
So what?

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Re: GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 209.37.4.38] on September 20, 2007 07:24 PM
If you wanted to read about that, I suppose you should have looked up a KDE review from 5 years ago...

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Re: GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 58.186.101.23] on September 24, 2007 04:09 AM
well, gnome does the right way: adding feature slowly but adding them in a usable manner. KDE apps are always steady: adding too many feature without any thought on usability which turn the application into bunch of messy stuffs

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GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.178.148.15] on September 20, 2007 03:30 PM
"Smaller features include a pie graph in the media properties window that represents how much free space you have on your media..."

About time - even Win95 did that, IIRC.

"...and syntax highlighting for Gedit (though for right now only scripting languages such as Ruby and PHP are supported)"

kwrite (KDE's default editor) has had that for many years, as well, and currently includes highlighting support for over 30 different languages/modes.

i have yet to see an interesting feature of GNOME which doesn't already exist in KDE.

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Re: GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.50.48.232] on September 20, 2007 04:15 PM
gEdits new syntax highlighting was already in place in <= 2.18 and supported over 30 languages as well, this updated version uses the new gtksourceview for its highlighting. Also, here's an interesting feature: it's not KDE.

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Re: GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.8.164.184] on September 20, 2007 06:45 PM
I have yet to see a feature that doesn't exist in KDE. :-P

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Re(1): GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 202.14.141.254] on September 20, 2007 09:37 PM
So? What's that got to do with a Gnome release?

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Re(2): GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.8.164.184] on September 20, 2007 10:42 PM
Oh, that was a joke. Sorry if it wasn't clear. Parent complained that KDE is teh awesome and has all GNOME features already; I joked that it is true that KDE has every possible feature (implying that this is not a good thing). Smile time! :-)

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Re(1): GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 208.252.218.5] on September 20, 2007 11:06 PM
Here's two.
- A predictable 6 month release cycle (When will KDE ever offer that?)
- a cleaner interface with less buttons to make things more usable.

I rarely a really clean interface for KDE without you having to go several menus deep to see things. Kubuntu is fairly good about that though.


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LOL

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.212.49.168] on September 23, 2007 12:20 PM

> A predictable 6 month release cycle (When will KDE ever offer that?)

KDE is pretty feature complete. And stable. It doesn't need "predictable [...] release cycle." Because it already works and does all what its users need.

> a cleaner interface with less buttons to make things more usable.

If you are not capable of that your self, ask your admin to remove buttons he does think you do not need. Also ask him to put you KDE into Kiosk mode so that you will not be able to change a thing. If you want of course to live in sandbox forever.

GNOME is nice and all. And has nice flat learning curve. Problem is that ceiling is set too low. I personally hit all the political hindrances of GNOME on first hour of doing any kind of work. And heck, I'm not going to wait for the "predictable release cycle" to deliver me in future features I was using under GNOME 1.4 and KDE 2/3 for years. That's just stupid.

KDE is nice addition to bash and command line. GNOME trying to replace it fails for me miserably. Though of course it is matter of taste.

P.S. Also I appreciate much less policitized KDE comunity. I can talk with KDE folks about GNOME - and it's fine. But talking about KDE with GNOME folks it like hitting wall of ignorance and/or hate... To choose was pretty easy then: those who know their respective competitors and do not live in denial, are always leading.

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Re: LOL

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 58.186.101.23] on September 24, 2007 04:17 AM
Even me a system admin I found nothing good with KDE. Man, it's not the story of how I can hide a button. It is the story of how ugly a dev team is when creating such a UI that dont even know what it's users really want.

Go back and learn usability before creating software

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GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.90.182.83] on September 20, 2007 07:29 PM
Meh...as long as the core components stay clean of Mono, I'm happy with gnome.

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Re: GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 210.9.231.137] on September 21, 2007 12:40 AM
Tomboy Notes is written in C# and is included by default in Gnome 2.20, so the mono runtime libraries are included by default as well.

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Re(1): GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.90.182.83] on September 21, 2007 08:45 AM
As long as I can disable those, thats fine too. I dont care for Tomboy Notes.
And if it Mono can't be disabled, I'm sticking with 2.18.

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GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: ezra on September 20, 2007 07:43 PM
What I like about Gnome, but this isnt new is that when you switch desktops you see rentangle in the center of the screen showing you to which desktop you are going, and the name of the desktop you are in.

The default options of Gnome for desktop switching are very usefull and help you work fast at work.

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GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 79.0.184.56] on September 21, 2007 03:35 AM
nano-gummy used Clearlooks Gummy, not vice-versa :)
the new clearlooks born in April 2007
It is an mistake in the article

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2.20 icon themes

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.244.102.52] on September 21, 2007 05:31 PM
Togther with the new Clearlooks, I also like the Darklooks theme very much.
As for the icon themes, take a peek at gnome-themes-extra, there are some nice ones (like Dropline Neu!, Gion and Foxtrot/Tango/Tangerine), maybe future gnome defaults?

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GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 83.43.26.17] on September 23, 2007 11:27 AM
In my opinion, one of the best things in the new Gnome is that File Roller seem to work correctly

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GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 59.93.3.99] on September 24, 2007 04:25 AM
what about Nautilus FM?did it sucked up as usual?or some improvements..meh..i am a Gnome user only!

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GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.0.1.5] on September 24, 2007 10:04 AM
Oh please, stop the useless flamewars. Gnome and KDE both have their positive and negative sides. Choose whichever you like, and enjoy The Linux Experience (tm) :)

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gedit syntax highlighting has been around for years...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.243.120.104] on September 24, 2007 01:19 PM
...what is new is that scripting languages are highlighted when *embedded* in HTML. which suggests that you didn't know the feature already existed, and the way you "reported" it strongly indicates that you simply read the release notes, misunderstood them, and incorrectly summarized.

is it too much for a reviewer to, yknow, review things they've *used*? if i wanted to read the release notes, well... i would.

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gnome and kde

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 189.167.12.22] on October 01, 2007 04:48 AM
I think that GNOME is approaching to KDE's features, and on the other side KDE is approaching to GNOME's usability, They might never merge, but I'm sure they will converge in some point.
I'm documenting the advantages of both systems here:
<a href=http://www.bbnuke.com/kdevsgnome>http://www.bbnuke.com/kdevsgnome</a>

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GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 117.97.11.155] on October 09, 2007 08:40 AM
Thank You for the Article.

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GNOME 2.20 shows significant improvement

Posted by: oyun on November 07, 2007 03:22 PM
Of course, if you extend your concern beyond functionality, in some ways Impress has advantages over PowerPoint. Unlike PowerPoint, its design is closer to that of other programs in its office suite. Even more importantly, it is undoubtedly the most advanced slide show program available in free software. However, unlike OOo Writer, Impress still has a ways to go before it matches its Microsoft Office counterpart.

[Modified by: Joe Barr on March 11, 2008 06:54 AM]

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