Another major background improvement in the new release is in the documentation. If you read the release notes, their comprehensiveness seems to signal a new emphasis on documentation. On the desktop, this emphasis is even more obvious, with applications such as Brasero, Cheese, Eye of GNOME, and parts of Evolution that provide online help organized by what are trying to do.
The re-organization is not complete. For one thing, it hasn't reached all applications, nor even all the basic ones. For another, making documentation task-oriented doesn't automatically improve it.
For instance, when you open the documentation for Cheese, the online camera app, and go to Taking a Photo, the first paragraph reads, "To take a photo with Cheese, be sure to be in 'Photo Mode,'" with no explanation of what Photo Mode is or how to select it.
Still, the intent is good, and may improve with practice. After years in which documentation of free software consists of relentless marches through the menu and recursive explanations, GNOME does seem to have hold of one of the basic concepts required for effective documentation.
However, by far the largest body of changes in 3.2 are the efforts to integrate online apps like Google Calendar into the desktop. GNOME 3.2 includes new applications that group online accounts and contacts for easier management.
For instance, in the Online Accounts dialog, you can create and manage accounts, and also set whether each account is used for mail, chat, or other purposes. Similarly, in the Contacts application, you get a list of all contacts, whether they are stored online, in GNOME's Evolution mail reader, or in GNOME's Empathy chat tool.
Even more importantly, in GNOME 3.2, you can treat web applications and files stored online in the same way as local applications and files. In general, this integration seems long overdue, although it does threaten to leave novices hopelessly confused about where a file is located, and make interruptions to your Internet connection a much greater problem than they are now. Still, in normal useage, the integration probably makes sense.
After major break with the past in the 3.0 release, in the 3.2 release, the popular desktop seems to have returned to what it does best: incremental releases.
While GNOME 3.2 seems to have more of an overall plan than the last releases in the GNOME 2 series, it is still a series of minor improvements and small steps towards greater consistency and aesthetic improvement. The sheer number of changes makes the 3.2 release more than the sum of its parts, and an overwhelming improvement to GNOME 3.0.
The trouble is, tactical brilliance is not enough for victory. The most it can do is keep GNOME in the game. Although GNOME developers may hope that familiarity and duration will eventually make the complaints about GNOME 3 take care of themselves and fade away, that is unlikely to happen any time soon.
After all, three years have not been enough for everyone's feelings to subside over the shock of KDE 4.0. So why should the complaints about GNOME 3 be any less durable -- especially when the KDE 4 series is far more tolerant of different work-flows?
Sooner or later, GNOME is going to have to address those complaints, or risk losing its pre-eminence among desktops once and for all. But if you ignore this particular elephant (whose bulk is not only filling up the living room, but taking over the hallway and threatening the bedroom as well), GNOME 3.2 is a fine example of the project at its best.