GNOME 2.30 was originally intended to coincide with GNOME 3.0 -- a massive cleanup and rethinking of the popular desktop. However, GNOME 3.0 is delayed for at least another release, which leaves GNOME 2.30 as most likely the last version in a series stretching back almost a decade.
You will find signs of what is coming, including 3.0 previews, but, for the most part, like its predecessors, GNOME 2.30 is a collection of generally unrelated improvements. Unlike recent KDE releases, a specific direction is hard to see, unless it is an emphasis on improved usability and, to a lesser extent, application inter-connectivity as part of the cleanup for the big release.
GNOME 2.30 should be available in the package repositories of most major releases over the next few weeks. Packages are already available for the upcoming Lucid Lynx release of Ubuntu. Although, as I write, GNOME Shell, the core of the 3.0 desktop is uninstallable because the libgjs0 library is missing. Distrowatch also reports that the first beta of the Mandriva Linux 2010.1 release includes GNOME 2.30. In addition, a GNOME Live Media edition with 2.30 should be shortly available.
Part of the preparation for the 3.0 release is a massive cleanup of GNOME code. This cleanup includes the deprecation -- official discouragement -- and replacement of many longtime libraries, such as libbonobo, libgnome, and libgnome-print, GTK+ and GLib.
The cleanup is ongoing, and, unless you are a developer, largely invisible. However, unless my imagination is working over time, one result of the process appears to be an approximately ten percent increase in speed. Everything from the desktop to utilities like Nautilus and Tomboy appear to be opening and responding more quickly in 2.30 than in the last few GNOME releases.
Other anticipations of GNOME 3.0 are also part of 2.30, although they remain strangely unemphasized by the project and unnoticed by users. In theory, you should be able to use the command line to replace the standard desktop with GNOME Shell, although in practice that is not possible with the current Lucid Lynx packages.
By contrast, one part of GNOME 3.0 that you can view is the GNOME Activity Journal, formerly known as Zeitgeist. The Activity Journal is a list of accessed files, arranged on a calendar. It is being promoted as an alternative to a file manager, and seems useful largely as a super-charged list of recently opened files.
But it is a general user's tool, not an administrator's, and, even then, only for those who view their home directory as an unorganized hole in which to dump files. Although the Activity Journal is still in development, I suspect that those accustomed to thinking in terms of files and directories will find it only moderately useful.
Despite the attention given to the GNOME Activity Journal in the discussion over the last year about the 3.0 release, 2.30 does not neglect GNOME's traditional utilities.
In particular, Nautilus, the GNOME file manager, takes two giant steps forward in usability. In 2.30, you can now open an additional pane from the View menu, which allows you to transfer files within a single window -- a simple improvement, yet one that is priceless if you have ever tried to copy or move files on a desktop crowded with windows.
Better still, you can now double-click a font file in Nautilus to open a window that includes not only a sample of the font and its file's information, but also a button to install the font. GNOME has needed a font-installer for years, so the final arrival of one should be welcome to many graphic-designers. True, you can still not arrange fonts in groups, but at least a start in functionality has been made.