GNOME 2.30: Waiting for the Big Release: Page 2

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Another utility that has received small but telling improvements is the user-admin tool. The simplest of these is the ability to remove the home directory along with the account.

Now, when you type in a user's name when creating a user, the user management tool automatically suggests a short name for the account. Usually, the short name is simply the user's name in lowercase letters and with the spaces between names left out, but the tool also resolves name conflicts by removing letters from the end of the duplicate.

Even more usefully, you receive a warning if changing a password would break an encryption keyring or an encrypted directory.

Other small but welcome enhancements include unlimited scrollback of the command history in GNOME Terminal, and the ability of file-roller to add support for a compression type. Although, strictly speaking, neither is strictly needed, since an experienced user can easily work around them, both are the type of small convenience that make a desktop quicker and easier to use.

In desktop applications, the emphasis is also on usability, but, more specifically, on interconnectivity. You can now copy and paste HTML-formatted notes created in Tomboy into Evolution, OpenOffice.org, or any other application that can display HTML. Considering that what is written in notes often finds its way into other applications, this improvement is a logical step (No word yet, though, on when GNote, Tomboy's Mono-less clone, will have the same functionality).

Looking outward, the Empathy client is strengthened by its own small improvements. These include an information dialog when Empathy fails to connect, the ability to configure and use Facebook chat, and a text search in chat history. All these changes seem a continuation of Empathy's slow development over GNOME's releases from a minimalist chat tool into a more fully-featured one, although, even now, Empathy still falls short of applications like XChat.

End of the line

When everyone learned that 3.30 would not be synonymous with 3.0, I suspect that interest in it waned. With the 3.0 nearing, and the first rumblings pro and con about it being heard, the temptation might be to skip 3.30 altogether. After all, why bother with an incremental upgrade when an evolutionary one is around the corner?

Even some GNOME developers have had their version of these mixed feelings, debating six weeks ago whether their work should focus on stability or the cutting edge -- in other words, on whether the 2.30 release should be an end in itself or an anticipation of 3.0.

In the end, GNOME as a whole seems to have opted largely for stability. However, the 2.30 release is worth considering from both perspectives.

On the one hand, GNOME 2.30 is in many ways a preparation for GNOME 3.0. Besides its previews, the general overhaul of the code was undertaken specifically as a precaution before introducing the countless changes of GNOME 3.0. Without this motivation, this aspect might easily have been absent in 2.30.

On the other hand, 2.30 will probably be the final version of the 2.0 series. For those who were around for GNOME 2.0 back in 2000, the 2.30 release stands as evidence of how far GNOME in general and the free desktop in particular have come in the last decade in usability and design. If you do a search for images of early GNOME releases and compare the results with 2.30, you can have no doubt that, although GNOME sometimes tends to over-simplify, its improvements over the last decade remain unmistakable.

Moreover, 2.30 is the closest to a focused release that the desktop has had for years. Paradoxically, in preparing the way for 3.0, the 2.30 release has more direction than any GNOME release in several years. Its improvements in speed, inter-connectivity, and usability make the release worth having for its own sake, even if it will almost certainly become obsolete when the next release arrives in six months.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Linux desktop, Gnome, KDE

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