The GNOME 2 Desktop Environment

A look at the improvements and functionality of the GNOME 2 desktop.
Accessibility

The improvement in GNOME 2 that will most directly affect increasing free software's desktop market share is accessibility for people with disabilities. “The US government can now use open-source desktop solutions, which wasn't going to happen otherwise because of government regulations”, says Pennington. He adds:

It also benefits normal users in a lot of ways. For instance, one of the accessibility requirements is full keyboard navigation [mentioned above]. You can do just about anything from the keyboard now. Also, themes have been enhanced because of accessibility regulations: color contrasts, default font size and so on.

With the accessibility barrier eliminated, Linux's target market has been expanded greatly, and options for all users have been improved in the process. Pennington says, “Sun Microsystems first brought accessibility to GNOME's attention. It was a huge project involving a couple years of work and about 20 developers. We're very excited about it and we're proud of what has been accomplished.”

Menus and Applications

Besides the system configuration menus mentioned above, in the main menu there are several other menus for launching applications. A menu labeled Accessories includes a calculator, a dictionary and a simple text editor (gedit). Under the menu labeled Office, OpenOffice is included along with Dia for creating organizational charts and flowcharts, along with MrProject for project management. The Graphics menu provides links to The GIMP and a few other image manipulation programs. The Games menu includes many games, some of which utilize the GNOME libraries: a couple solitaire games, a few popular line-up-the-dots games, a GNOME version of Minefield, Mahjongg and several others. I can't list all of the applications installed by default, but as you can see, streamlining the GNOME menus did not short-change the user.

Figure 5. Ximian Evolution

Ximian Evolution

Probably the best application that makes use of the GNOME libraries is Ximian's e-mail client, Evolution. It was rated by Linux Journal in November 2002 as one of readers' favorite e-mail clients available for Linux. Evolution allows for multiple POP and IMAP accounts. It comes with e-mail filtering, spell checking and the ability to attach binary files. Although it works with standard POP and IMAP servers as is, with the addition of Ximian's proprietary Connector, users can connect to a Microsoft Exchange server for group address books and appointment planning—an important compatibility component.

One feature of Evolution that other e-mail programs don't have is virtual folders. “V-Folders allow the user more flexibility and ease of organizing e-mails—they're contextual views of your messages. That is something completely unique to Evolution”, says Christine McLellan, senior product manager for Evolution. For example, in addition to a view of e-mail shown in the inbox in which messages can be sorted by date, subject or sender, a virtual folder is provided that shows only the unread messages. This virtual folder can make working through new messages quick and easy. Virtual folders also can be set up for messages with certain subjects or from certain people. A word of caution though, if you delete a message in a virtual folder, it's deleted from all folders at the same time.

Conclusion

The GNOME Foundation has made fabulous improvements to the desktop, and they have achieved much-needed consistency and stability with GNOME 2. “None of this would have happened without our developers, hundreds of which aren't paid by GNOME and are not sponsored by their employers”, says Ney. At this point, the Foundation's plans are to release stable updates every six months, with the next one (v. 2.4) scheduled for June 2003. Version 2.4 will include a Nautilus drag-and-drop CD burner function and more improvements to fonts. With their commitment to scheduled improvements to the desktop, GNOME has become a desktop environment that can be relied on by businesses, users and developers.

Russell Dyer is a Perl programmer and a MySQL developer living and working on a consulting basis in the New Orleans area. His Bachelor's degree is in English, and he also has been working on a Master's degree in English. He welcomes reader responses to his articles and can be reached at russell@dyerhouse.com.

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