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Sorry, but why isn't gnome doing more? They had 2 years to get ahead of KDE, but still didn't manage to put out things that where slightly better than what they had.
Let's see what the GNOME guys have been up to...
- dbus and HAL, which made several improvements to the user experience possible. For example...
- ...gnome-volume-manager (from Project Utopia), so USB and Firewire devices "Just Work". Went in on 2.8.
- NetworkManager, so WiFi "Just Works". Going in on 2.20.
- gnome-power-manager. A must have for laptop owners (does KDE have a proper HAL frontend for power mgmt yet, or is that also going to be a 4.0 feature?)
- Gstreamer and Totem. We know Gstreamer 0.10 was a major improvement, but things continue to get better with improvements pushed by projects like Jokosher. Totem 2.18 has a *much* improved browser plugin (openSUSE for instance shipped an early 2.17 release with their latest release). So, when you visit a site that has multimedia content, it "Just Works".
- Orca, a much improved screen reader, was introduced in 2.16.
- GNOME received a fresh look in the 2.x series, with Clearlooks (introduced in 2.12 and constantly tweaked to perfection) and the new icon theme (introduced in 2.16, and now much more complete with this release).
- Cairo. Version 1.4.0 came out just before GNOME 2.18 with major improvements. Of course, GNOME has been using Cairo since 2.12, and KDE will see something similar when KDE 4 is finally released.
Cairo has allowed several improvements on the user experience.
And cairo is by far not the only improvement to the platform. I didn't mention "Project Ridley", a refactor of the platform (without the downside of having to break compatibility again) that has already made GTK+ a much more powerful toolkit.
There's D-Bus, which is a project started and maintained mostly by GNOME devs and KDE will adopt when version 4 is eventually finished.
Nautilus and gnome-vfs have seen several bugfixes lately, and Alexander Larsson is already hacking gvfs, gnome-vfs's replacement (that will be integrated on glib). Emmanuele Bassi is hacking on the next-gen GConf.
And that's not to mention the improvements the GNOME platform receives from projects like Sugar (the OLPC GUI), Maemo (Nokia 770 and 800), OpenMoko (FIC Neo1973) and several others.
To me, it looks like the GNOME guys are working on fixing the problems and bugs people face when they actually use a GNOME based desktop, instead of rewriting code that works just for the fun of it.