posted by Eugenia Loli on Fri 28th Jun 2002 01:20 UTC
IconGNOME 2.0 was released less than two days ago and while I was using its betas on and off, for some time now, I was anticipating this final release with impatience. The project was supposed to see this release almost a year ago, but GTK+ 2.0 was not ready in time, dragging Gnome's development down as well. But now it is here, so let's see what this new release brings to the Unix desktop.

As many users pointed out in forums, the new release is mostly a rewrite of the Gnome desktop environment to the GTK+ 2.0.x API. The new version of the popular C-based API brings some nice new features, like doublebuffering, smooth resizing (with medium success I might add, when compared to MacOSX and BeOS 6-Dano's algorithms/techniques), a nice-looking tree view, native support for anti-alias fonts and more. Gnome 1.x applications are not compatible with the new library, so in order to take advantage of these new features, the application will need to be massively updated to the new GTK+ API. Possibly this is the reason why there are not many Gnome applications yet ported to the new framework, neither the Gnome itself includes many applications or preference panels as it used to. For example, the memu panel, merely includes 3 options. Same goes for the other setting panels (when available), they lack the flexibility and number of options found in the previous version of Gnome.

The Gnome menu panel now resembles a bit of MacOS. It sits on the top of the desktop, and no matter what I tried, I can't change its position. The window list can be found on the bottom of the screen. So, you get two gnome panels, one on the top and one on the bottom. I found this default configuration, bone-headed, at best. The panel on top only includes an 'Applications' and 'Actions' menu, then you get a huge unused space and then, at the right most side, you get the clock, and a menu which is equivelant to a chooser/finder as found on MacOS. It was a matter of time, before I deleted my bottom window list and embedded it on the main panel, to use all this unused space (note: I use a 1280x1024 resolution).

The menu panel after a make over, and one of the pref panel crashes

People will always argue that we are lucky that there is an option to do so, but the main point is, that the default configuration is what most people use. It is common knowledge that only a small percentage of users actually change (or have the right to change, in a business environment) their desktop and add/remove icons, themes or configurations. If the default configuration is not intuitive, most people will still live with it. Or they will switch to KDE. Or go back to Windows or MacOS. That's the reality.

Among the obvious configuration options missing is a prefs panel to configure your screensavers, or a single place to get all your system panels. They are scattered either on subdirectories on Nautilus 'Start Here' page, or on 'Applications' sub-menus. Also, by having settings scattered to different panels it does not make it very clear where you could find some options. For example, you get two different panels 'Desktop Theme' and 'Theme' under the Desktop Preferences submenu, and then you get a 'Desktop Theme Editor' option on your System Tools. Now, which is which and what each one does? Good question.

I am sorry if I sounded harsh about the 'bonehead' word earlier, but this is 2x boneheaded. Every UI designer will laugh at this default setup of menus and even for the panels themselves, for not being able to configure themselves in one place in a clear manner, but having other theme panels for icons, other theme panels for GTK+ and other themes for the window manager etc. scattered throughout the memus, without giving a clear indication which one is which. And then, you get the Meta-Themes panel, which is supposedly here to fix this problem, by providing a service that can configure all these themes at once, but it loses itself among the other 'theme' panel offerings. The idea is good, but the way it is being presented, it is a UI disaster (same goes for KDE's zillion theme panels as well, but at least they are under the same 'umbrella' in the Control Center).

The new Gnome 2 environment starts up much-much faster than Gnome 1.4 used to! It loads on my dual Celeron 533 in about 2-3 seconds, and this is indeed a major improvement. However, the speed ends there. Overall, Gnome 2 feels slower (and I compiled it with -03 and -march=i686 using gcc 3.1.1-CVS on my Mandrake Cooker). On Gnome 1.x if you needed some speed, you were just telling Nautilus to not draw the desktop and everything was fine. But if I turn off this option on the new Gnome, there are no icons drawing on the desktop anymore and I have no desktop context menu. I quite like the Nautilus drawing option, and I believe it was sensible for the Gnome project to pick Nautilus for the job, but some optimizations wouldn't hurt.

And speaking about Nautilus, I am very pleased to see it coming of age. I can clearly see some BeOS-like elements into it, and of course this is of no surprise, as one of the Eazel developers that worked on it, was Pavel Cisler who also designed BeOS' Tracker, and who today works at Apple on Finder.

Changed to the traditional look of Gnome

My only problem with Nautilus was the inclusion of GTKhtml 2 as the main HTML renderer. GTKHtml is still extremely buggy. Its font sizes chosen are making the webpages unreadable, while it can't browse links that have relative destination even if these links are on the same server (eg. comment.php instead of While I understand that GTKHtml is far from done, the fact that is not done yet it should have been a good reason for not using it as the default HTML renderer on Nautilus. As far as I know, the guys over at CodeFactory haven't touch its code almost for a year now ('we are focusing on Mr. Project now' they told me back then) and the only real update that code have seen since then is its port to GTK+ 2.x.
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  1. "Gnome 2, page 1"
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