The most obvious sign of this emphasis on user experience will be the transition from the current desktop to the radically different GNOME Shell.
"The shell is the part of the desktop that people are interacting with when they are not using a specific application," Untz says. "And, for most people, this shouldn't be something they have to care about. It should be transparent. So that's what we're trying to do with the GNOME Shell."
Probably the most important change in the GNOME Shell is a new emphasis on virtual work spaces. In the GNOME 2 series, workspaces are a "preference" that users are left to discover for themselves. When a new user encounters them, the result is often confusion.
"When you look at a non-experienced user using a desktop with workspaces," Untz says, they don't know how to deal with them. Often, they change their workspaces by accident, and they feel that they've lost their windows. So they don't feel that [workspaces] are something that they can use. They don't feel comfortable."
By contrast, in the GNOME Shell, "it's easy to create a new workspace when you launch an application, because this new application is a new task for you. We're trying to push this kind of stuff to make it easy for users to discover what is useful to them, instead of forcing them to [deliberately] learn." The GNOME team anticipates that this new ease of use will make users more comfortable with adding multiple workspaces to their work flow, particularly since workspaces can be more prominently displayed in GNOME 3.0 than in earlier releases.
When GNOME 3.0 was first announced just over a year ago, one new feature that was prominently mentioned was Zeitgeist, a calendar-based file browser. Now, however, its inclusion is less certain, and will be decided upon shortly. "The issue today is that Zeitgeist and GNOME Shell don't integrate with each other," Untz explains. "They feel like two different things, and that's not the way we want to do it." Possibly, the idea of Zeitgeist will be implemented with new code; equally possibly, the integration of Zeitgeist -- or GNOME Activity Journal, as it is being called now -- will be delayed until the GNOME 3.2 release."
Similarly, the notification subsystem introduced by Canonical Software in Ubuntu's version of GNOME in the 2.x series will almost certainly not be a part of GNOME 3.0 because of the difficulties of integrating it into GNOME Shell.
According to Untz, the GNOME Shell has its own notification system, and, although its daemon is similar to Canonical's, it is not based on the same code. "The results will look very similar, but, from a design point of view, [GNOME Shell's notification system] is not going to work in the same way." Possibly, the Canonical system "may be accepted as an external dependency" at some point, but almost certainly not in GNOME 3.0.
Untz also touched upon the role in GNOME 3.0 of Mono, the highly controversial GNU/Linux implementation of Microsoft's .NET (C#). Although Untz notes that, because he is an employee of Novell, Mono's chief corporate champion, anything he says will be perceived as biased, he says that "I don't work on Mono, and I have never worked on Mono. I care more about GNOME than about Mono."
Untz goes on to emphasize that the important point about Mono is that it "is used for applications, and it is not used for the platform itself. If you don't want to use Mono, you don't have to use its applications."
True, some Mono applications are included in many default installations of GNOME, but Untz points out that the most common, the Tomboy note system, is being re-classified as an application rather than a panel applet in GNOME 3.0. Should Tomboy or any other Mono applications be excluded, Untz notes, their removal is relatively trivial. "But it's not work that should be done by GNOME," he states flatly. ""It's a job that should be done by distributions. You have some distributions that are trying to do that, and we're fine with them."
At the same time, Untz add, "I believe -- and I think this is the consensus within the GNOME community -- that people working on applications should be free to use what language they want. That's why we have bindings for C#. That being said, the project doesn't say that you should write applications in Mono. Actually, we are language-agnostic. We want people to be able to write applications in a language they are comfortable in. Because we want is applications. We don't want languages, we want applications for users. People feel strongly about Mono, and I do understand why they care, but my understanding is that how we are using Mono is perfectly fine."
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