GNOME 3.8 Review: Page 2

GNOME 3 isn't for everyone. But for those who like it, the latest release is the most usable yet.
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The release also addresses documentation. The help function features prominent pages entitled "Introduction to GNOME," "Start applications," and "Useful keyboard shortcuts." Below this introductory selection is a link to "Logout," "power off" and "switch users," along with half a dozen different categories of tasks. Following these links leads to tightly task-organized information that I can only criticize because it was not available or else not as well-organized in earlier releases.

Improved Configuration

GNOME 3 is still tweaking its Settings dialog, but the 3.8 release takes the process a few steps further. The layout of the top-level dialog has a few micro-changes, such as the replacement of a Back icon more suitable for a mobile device with a left-pointing arrow, while the layout of sub-dialogs, such as Power and Network, have been rearranged to conform to the emerging GNOME 3 design standards.

These standards make for a very spare screen with toggle switches for activating or deactivating options and only three or four options in each window. The look is generally pleasing, but fails to make clear that there is usually another dialog with additional options. Also, toggles and their captions are at opposite ends of lines that are long enough that at times it can be hard to tell which caption accompanies which toggle.

Even more importantly, several new panels are added in the 3.8 release. The first of these is the Sharing dialog. It provides a field for changing the current computer's names, as well settings for sharing files and the screen.

Sharing is joined by the Notification panel, which for the first time gives GNOME 3 users the ability to toggle individual notifications and popup messages off and on. Still another new configuration tools give uses a few Privacy options.

However, probably the most important new panel is Searching. From this dialog, you can toggle whether to include contacts from address books and files in desktop searches. I suspect these controls might be more convenient if they were placed by the search field, where they could be easily changed for specific concerns, yet no matter where they are placed, they are a marked contrast to Unity's new habit of mixing online and local searches.

Almost certainly, these are not the final form of GNOME configuration tools and their interfaces. Notifications, Privacy, and Search are all likely to have features added in subsequent releases. Nor have users necessarily seen the final window layout.

All the same, the settings available in 3.8 have come a long way from those in GNOME 2, which were always sparse compared to those offered by KDE. In fact, settings are one area in which GNOME 3 is surpassing earlier releases. The interfaces and tools are by no means complete in 3.8, but the general trend is obvious.

Taken on Its Own Terms

Two years after the first release, GNOME 3 is clearly not to everyone's taste. However, no matter what you think of its underlying structure and design, it is equally clear that GNOME 3 is gaining maturity with each release. Although a consistent layout for dialogs and utilities has not been reached, each release progresses a little closer to that goal, and the 3.8 release is no exception.

Admittedly, GNOME 3.8 is not the definitive word on anything. But it does bring both GNOME's desktop search and configuration tools closer to KDE's than any earlier release in the series, while its online help is a solid accomplishment.

Take GNOME 3.8 on its own terms, rather than condemning it for what it is not or what it fails to offers — in particular, a GNOME 2 clone — and you can see it as a solid release. You won't find any killer apps, but you will find a small but steady stream of improvements that makes it the most usable release of GNOME 3 yet.

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Tags: open source, Linux, desktop, GNOME 3.8

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