Category Archives: March 2005

Simplified Package Management in Ubuntu Hoary

John Meuser takes you down memory lane on how you used to or currently do install packages in Debian-based Linux distributions. Now, thanks to Ubuntu’s Hoary distribution and some slick changes to Synaptic, it’s a breeze to install new software for GNOME and your entire Linux box.

 

Introduction

Ubuntu Hoary is scheduled to be released next month, but many adventurous users have been using it for quite some time. Many GNOME users will begin using it this month to try out some of the new GNOME 2.10 features. Ubuntu Warty was little more than Debian Sid with an updated GNOME. Thanks to an active community over the course of the last six months, Hoary promises to offer much more. One of the biggest differences is the inclusion of X.org as the default X server, but there are a myriad of small additions that add up to make a big difference. Ubuntu’s modifications to the Synaptic package manager is one of the many.

APT and deselect

Debian’s APT system is arguably the most effective Linux package system available. Most of the power of APT comes from the vast repository system. Almost any program you can possibly want is as easy to install as apt-get install packagename But what do you do if you do not know the name of the program that you want? Or what if you do not have a need in mind and you just want to see what is available? This need is what dselect was written for.

Unfortunately, the ncurses interface, in my opinion, is one of the worst ever coded. Even an advanced user has problems navigating the complicated tree with obscure commands. Software installation is one of the first things a new user needs to do, so having such an arcane interface can be very daunting to a new Debian user.

Aptitude

The next evolution in APT came with aptitude. Aptitude, like dselect, uses an ncurses text interface, but is much easier to use. The commands make more sense and so does the organization of the package tree. With Aptitude, the user can do things that were nearly impossible to do before. For instance, you can go to the top of the “Installed Packages” branch, and tell it to uninstall all installed packages. It will politely refuse to easily remove essential packages (by forcing you to type “Yes, I realize that this is a very bad idea” in order to proceed), but will clean your system of everything else. This is a good way to go back to the beginning without re-installing. While aptitude is by far the most powerful APT frontend, it is still quite daunting for a new user to use.

Synaptic

This is a function that Synaptic attempts to fulfil. It was originally released by a Debian derivative called Storm Linux1 which went under in 2001. It uses an easy to use GTK interface and has very sensible defaults (not unlike the philosophy behind all of GNOME). Ubuntu, being heavily desktop-oriented, naturally centered their package management around Synaptic.

Hoary brings a good number of changes to the Synaptic system to make package management even easier. In the true UNIX tradition, the changes are in the form of several tiny programs working together that do exactly what the need to, and nothing more. The most immediately visible addition is the update-notifier.

It is a tiny program that is started with GNOME and displays an icon in the notification area when updates are available. It updates the package listing periodically in the background, and will even begin downloading the upgraded packages.

For some reason the default behavior when you click on the icon is to update the package listing again, which doesn’t make sense because this happens in the background periodically anyway. If you right click on the icon you see all the functions available, including what I think is a sensible default, Show Updates. This option runs another new program, upgrade-manager.

The upgrade manager shows what packages the system wants to upgrade, which you can deselect from being upgraded if you wish. Under “details” you can see the Changelog and Details of the package.

Once you decide that you are ready to proceed with the upgrade, hit the install button on the lower right corner of the window. Synaptic’s download and install system now takes over, which hides the details of the individual downloads.

Once all the packages are downloaded, the dpkg system installs the packages in the hidden terminal.

Questions that previously required interaction with the terminal now provide a Debconf interface using the GNOME frontend. The upgrade process never requires the user to access a terminal, which helps new users become comfortable with upgrading their system.

Ubuntu Hoary also makes basic APT configuration much easier for new users. It offers an interface to add or edit the entries in /etc/apt/sources.list which can be accessed through Synaptic or the preferences menu of the update-notifier. It shows the repositories that are currently listed, and provides an interface to edit them or add new repositories.

The only function that is somewhat lacking with the new Synaptic frontend is application installation. There is a new program called gnome-app-install that shows a simple list of common GNOME programs with a checkbox for installation or removal.

The list is very limited, so it isn’t very useful2. It doesn’t show anything but core GNOME programs, most of which are installed by default anyway on an Ubuntu system. The only inclusion that is perplexing to me as a VIM user is Emacs in the Accessories section. Emacs is a GTK1 program that doesn’t interact at all with GNOME. The graphical version of VIM is GTK2-based and registers itself with the GNOME session. So I don’t quite understand Emacs’ inclusion and VIM’s exclusion, but that’s a whole other flame war.

Conclusion

I believe that Hoary’s release next month will be a great new step in the evolution of the Linux desktop. Ubuntu hits the sweet-spot of ease-of-use and functionality perfectly, and I for one anxiously await the release of 5.10 in October. I can’t wait to see what the Ubuntu team comes up with next.

1 As I predicted, I was completely wrong with my assuption that iSynaptic was made by Storm Linux. They made a similar tool using GTK1, which is what I was thinking of. Synaptic was originally a WINGS gui, which is the widget set that WindowMaker uses. Thanks to all who sent me the correction.

2 Jdub emailed me shortly after publishing this article explaining that when Hoary is released, gnome-app-install will list every package that provides a .desktop icon in the GNOME application menu. In other words, basically every major gui program will be listed.

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Evolution 2.2

Jorge O. Castro takes you through the evolutionary, or is that Evolutionary, changes to Novell’s groupware application for GNOME called Evolution. Oh, by the way, it’s new version is 2.2.

 

It’s been six months since we last looked at Evolution, the groupware application for the GNOME desktop. Unlike the radical change from 1.4 to 2.0, this release can mostly be characterized as one concentrating on polish and finish. Please refer to my prior article on 2.0, as I will mostly be concentrating on the new features and improvements to Evolution rather than an overall review.

Offline Operation

As a laptop user, I sometimes find myself out of range of a wifi hotspot or without a network connection. If I needed to use Evolution, I’d be in a bit of a bind when not connected to my mail server. While caching of mail headers with IMAP is a common solution, I still wouldn’t have the rest of my contacts, calendar, and tasks that I normally have via a networked server.

Evolution’s offline support is a solution to this problem. Before I leave the office, I put Evolution into offline mode by choosing Work Offline from the File menu, or merely clicking on the icon on the bottom left of the main Evolution window.

Evolution will then cache all of my information onto the laptop. The Offline support works for IMAP, Groupwise, and Exchange, and also covers contacts and calendar. When in offline mode (the Send/Receive button will be grayed out) I can reply to my mail, modify my calendar, move messages around, or do anything that I would normally do when connected to the Internet. Once I find a connection, I can click on the same icon again, and Evolution will send and receive mail and update anything that has changed since the last time I connected. I recommend playing with this feature before your travel begins as the initial caching can take a considerable amount of time.

New Plugin Support

Evolution 2.2 now offers a plug-in called EPlugins for developers to implement features and extend Evolution in ways that weren’t possible before.

As you can see, Groupwise and Exchange support can now be turned off completely if you don’t need them. All of this is possible right from the EPlugin manager. There are also some example Eplugins that I found useful, such as autocontacts, which adds people I reply to to my contacts automatically. There is also a mailing list manager which allows me to subscribe, go directly to archives, and unsubscribe from mailing lists all within Evolution itself. A clever Weather plugin displays the week-long forecast in the calendar, although I find the interface to add it to the calendar rather clumsy. This could definitely use some polish for future releases.

The Eplugin documentation is a good place to start if you’re a developer looking to write your own plugin for Evolution.

Improvements and Annoyances

There have been a few tweaks to the calendaring component. It is now possible to add attachments to calendar entries, allowing association of documents with certain meetings or appointments.

It is also now possible to cancel an individual entry in a recurring appointment or meeting. The only problem with appointments I found was when you use it with the Weather EPlugin; every invitation received will conflict with that day’s given weather event.

Another annoyance is that it doesn’t appear possible to easily take an email from a friend and turn it into a calendaring event. I was able to right click and turn it into a task, and then go into the Task view and add scheduling information which then added it to the calendar. It would be nice if you could take any given email and transform it into an appointment or meeting immediately.

There is a new IMAP4 provider that replaces the older IMAP code. I found it to be slightly quicker with larger folders and more reliable than the older IMAP type. The performance improvement is made more apparent when synchronizing back and forth from Offline mode.

Integration with Other Applications

There are two projects that I’d like to mention because they do a good job of integrating with Evolution. The first is the Evolution Integration plug-in for Gaim. This program replaces the Add Buddy dialog in Gaim with Evolution’s contact dialogs. The plugin also synchronizes the Gaim buddy list with the contacts in Evolution.

The second project is MultiSync, which can be used to synchronize your information with your PDA or phone, or between Evolution’s via the SyncML plugin. Using MultiSync, it is easily possible to keep the same information synchronized between a laptop and a desktop computer.

Conclusion

These incremental improvements are a stark contrast to Evolution’s prior release cycles, which were much longer. Because of this, many of the improvements to Evolution aren’t readily apparent at first – it can take some regular usage to stumble onto them.

The most significant improvement is the addition of EPlugins. Unfortunately, the real benefits of EPlugins won’t be felt by users until developers start writing and releasing more plugins. It’s reasonable to assume that it is only a matter of time until projects like OpenGroupware.org and Hula have complete EPlugins available. There is still some work to be done in this area to make plug-ins more useful. According to the Evolution roadmap, pluggable junk stuff will be available in Evolution 2.4. This is good, because like the previous release, Evolution 2.2’s junk classification performance still leaves much to be desired.

Overall, Evolution 2.2 is a good followup release to 2.0. Laptop users will find the improved Offline operation helpful, while the plug-in architecture encourages third-party enhancements. Gaim users will find the well-integrated plugin to add contacts a nice very useful feature. Finally, normal, everyday users will find Evolution to be lighter, faster, and in general, more stable. Let’s hope that the next six months keep this trend going.

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Audio CD Ripping and Burning in GNOME

In this article, Ken Vandine takes you through how to convert your audio CDs into music files using Sound Juicer and then follows that up by showing you how to burn an audio CD using GNOME Baker.

 

Introduction

There are many great tools available for the GNOME Desktop, including audio ripping and burning tools. The goal of this article is to point out how simple it really is to rip and burn CDs and DVDs yourself. Let’s start with some definitions and then continue on to how the process is actually done.

Audio CD Ripping: Converting a traditional audio CD into digital formats, including mp3, ogg, etc.

Audio CD Burning: Creating a traditional audio CD from a digital music collection.

Audio CD ripping

Sound Juicer is a very simple tool for ripping CDs. Sound Juicer will automatically query song, artist, and album information off of the web (known as cddb) and embed that information in the music it rips.

Insert the Audio CD

Start out by inserting the Audio CD into your drive and fire up Sound Juicer, Applications->Sound & Video->Sound Juicer CD Ripper in most Linux Distributions.

Track selection

When Sound Juicer starts, all tracks will be selected by default. If you don’t wish to rip all tracks, de-select the unwanted tracks. When selection is done, simply hit the Extract button on the bottom right.

If you are unsure where the music files are being stored, check the preferences for Sound Juicer. You can also change the format for audio file naming and directory structure, which is outside the scope of this article.

Audio CD burning

GnomeBaker, a great tool for CD Burning projects. GnomeBaker can be used to make make both data CD/DVDs and audio CDs. This section will cover the process of using GnomeBaker to create Audio CDs that will play in any CD Player.

Beginning an Audio CD project

The first step is to start GnomeBaker which could vary based on your Linux Distribution. The usual place for running this application is Applications->System Tools->GnomeBaker. GnomeBaker defaults to Data Disk; you will need to select the Audio Disk tab below the file selector pane.

Music selection

In the top left pane, browse the filesystem selector to the directory of the songs that you wish to add to the CD. You will see the songs in the top right pane.

Add to project

Select all the songs that you wish to add, right click and select Add file(s). You will now see your songs in the bottom window pane, as part of your new CD project. You will also see the song information, like artist and album.

There is a bar along the bottom that shows how full the CD will be. There is also a drop down selector that allows you to choose the CD length. The default is usually good, however if you have a different length CD, you will need to adjust the selector.

Burn!

Last step in the process is to burn the disk. When you are happy with the composition of your CD, click the Create Audio Disk button on the bottom right. A dialog will ask you to confirm your device and a couple of settings. Then click the Start button and sit back because it will take a bit to burn depending on the speed of your drive.

Conclusion

Now you can convert your music collection into a digital format and burn your own CDs. You are now in control of your music. You can import all your music onto your PC, play the music back from the convenience of your PC, and burn it back onto CDs that can be played in any traditional CD player. In a future article I will explain how to manage your music and work with portable music players like the iPod and iRiver.

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art.gnome.org Gets a Host of New Features

Hold onto your seats! Link Dupont takes you through the amazing changes to the art.gnome.org website. Warning – you might be inspired.

 

Introduction

Over the last couple of months, a crew of incredibly talented GNOME themers (consisting of Marco Bonomo, Eric Bobbitt, Thomas Wood, and Zeus) have been hard at work redesigning the art.gnome.org website. Based on some valuable input from users as well as some discussions on the gnome-themes mailing list and on IRC, art.gnome.org is getting a major rewrite; the planned additions include supporting user accounts which is a much desired feature by the GNOME community. When art.gnome.org first went live in September of 2002, it created quite a stir in the GNOME community. It provided a central location for GNOME community artists, and it was instantly a hit. Now, in its next iteration, the art.gnome.org team, with the bulk of the work coming from the valiant themers listed above, adds some much needed features to the site. More features may be in the works than what is mentioned here. The crew is working hard at the new features, and the final design may be slightly different than what is previewed in this article.

New site design

As the GNOME 2.x release series matured over the last couple years, so has its websites. New sites like the Beagle and Evolution site redesigns have given GNOME projects a wonderful, fresh, clean and professional look. Now its art.gnome.org’s turn. art.gnome.org now sports an updated interface, designed by Eric “ericb” Bobbitt, with some newer GNOME icons and a new banner designed by Marco “radel” Bonomo. The new site design provides an updated navigation menu and it has moved to the right to mirror other common GNOME sites. An alternate stylesheet allows the menu to be moved to the left, for browsers that support multiple stylesheets.

User Accounts

User accounts are a much requested feature for art.gnome.org. Not very long ago, Thomas added searching support by author, but it still didn’t provide quite the level of user access that is desirable. Thomas has added full support for user accounts; now authors can have their own page, listing all the themes and other works they have submitted.

Enhanced Theme Submissions

New theme postings get a couple of new features. Now authors have the ability to version their themes. This will eliminate the problem of duplicate postings and messy theme names. With version numbers, authors will be able to submit updates to their theme, rather than an entirely new theme. This makes things simpler on themes that have version numbers, like SmoothGNOME, along with allowing for a more natural support of GTK+ engines since most are versioned (e.g. Clearlooks 0.3, Smooth 0.6, CleanIce 2.4.0). Along with version numbers, authors will have the ability to mark their theme as a variation of other existing themes. Since the nature of theme design is such that new themes are often mutations of existing themes, this feature allows authors to record the evolution of their theme.

There’s a new field for the license type. The art.gnome.org team has striven to stay within legal boundaries with submissions, rejecting backgrounds and themes that possibly contain images that are copyrighted. Now authors can specify the license when they submit their theme. This way there is little confusion about licenses of a theme. The art.gnome.org team will still remain strict about accepting copyrighted material without permission, but this allows for a more clear distinction. And finally, Michael Gebhart has added support for user ratings on themes. Users can now vote for their favorite theme and see it reflected on the theme’s page. As well as voting, Michael has added the ability for users to comment on themes, giving users a forum to contact theme authors and post questions and suggestions.

Enhanced Background Submissions

Background submissions have received an update as well. Backgrounds get the same features that are available to theme submissions: the variation flag, the license field, the version numbering, the rating and the comments. And on top of that, background submissions now have the ability to support multiple resolutions in a more proper format than is currently supported. This will allow for authors to more appropriately submit and modify their backgrounds for different resolutions.

Conclusion

Over the next month, Thomas hopes to have the new art.gnome.org ready to go live along with the release of GNOME 2.10. As part of the new site design, the old database of submissions is not going to be migrated over, but the content will be archived on the GNOME FTP server. As a result, those of you who submitted works to the old site should consider resubmitting when the new site goes live. Keep watching art.gnome.org for news about the new layout!

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GNOME 2.10 Desktop and Development Platform

Heard about the new GNOME 2.10 release but you want to know what is new in it? Sayamindu Dasgupta takes you through a tour of GNOME 2.10 with a fine-toothed comb.

 

Introduction

“Releases came out with the regularity that can only result from a high-fiber diet”, wrote Seth Nickell, while describing the new development policy and philosophy that has been implemented in the GNOME world during the course of the 2.x series. And indeed, every year, on March and September, we see a major release of GNOME taking place. During the six month period, there is a very definite release schedule, which is described in detail in the Dotplan.

On the 9th of March, 2005, the GNOME Foundation will be releasing GNOME 2.10, the 6th major stable release in the 2.x series. GNOME 2.10 will be incorporating feature enhancements and bug fixes that have been taking place for the last six months In this article, I will be trying to give a brief idea about the major changes that have taken place since GNOME 2.8. To begin with, we will look at one of the very basic components of GNOME, namely GTK+.

Tweaking The Base for Maximum Results

GTK+ is the multiplatform base library that GNOME developers use to create the graphical user interface, and one of the major improvements in GNOME 2.10 is the introduction of the GTK+ 2.6.x series. Version 2.6 introduces quite a few new widgets (an about dialog, a file chooser button, etc), and the goal is to reduce the usage of the libgnomeui library and move each of the graphical elements to GTK+. From the end users point of view, there have been quite a few nice improvements in the various often used GTK+ widgets. For example, the file chooser now has Mozilla-like type-ahead features (just make sure that the file chooser dialog is in focus and start typing), the tree view (used in the Nautilus list view, and in applications like Rhythmbox) has also received typeahead support, and then the notebook widget (used in most of the preference dialog boxes of GNOME applications) now supports switching tabs by using the scroll-wheel.

However, perhaps the most important change in GTK+ 2.6, is the support for persistent clipboard data, ie, data in the clipboard does not go away as soon as you close the application that you copied the data from. However, to make use of this feature, a clipboard manager following the relevant Freedesktop.org specifications must be running in the background. A sample implementation of such a clipboard manager is available at the following address.

GTK+ 2.6 has also received some significant performance improvements. During the GTK+ 2.6 release cycle, one of the main GTK+ developers, Owen Taylor, noticed that the icon theme was taking up a large chunk of allocated memory, and GTK+ was having to do a large number of system calls to read the data from the icon themes. So GTK+ 2.6 came with a tool called gtk-update-icon-cache” to create a binary index file for each icon theme, which could be used directly in a much more efficient manner.

However, the really major performance related changes in GTK+ will come with GTK+ 2.8 (to be included in GNOME 2.12). GTK 2.8 is slated to use Cairo for all the rendering and drawing related stuff, and with Cairo we will have the option of using hardware accelerated OpenGL for the rendering (using the Glitz backend). Of recent, some people have also started looking into ways and methods of reducing the memory usage of GTK+, and hopefully the results of their work will be incorporated into the next major release of the toolkit.

Menu Becomes Saner

The first change that any “normal” user is going to notice about GNOME 2.10 is the new menu structure. Previous GNOME releases used to use two top-level menus, one called Applications, and the other called Actions. GNOME 2.10 sports a brand new menu scheme, with three top-level menu structures (all accessible from the panel) entitled Applications, Places and Desktop. Application” lists all the GNOME applications along with an option called Run Application… which lets you specify the exact the command to run. Places has links to the user’s home folder, the desktop, bookmarks (made in the file chooser), all removable devices (which are mounted), network servers, and the recently used files list. Places also lets you search for files and connect to remote servers. The Desktop menu consists of submenus for desktop configuration and entries for logging off, locking the screen, etc. This menu also consists of a Administration submenu, which lists all the applications from the GNOME-System-Tools package.

 

 



GNOME-System-Tools – Enhancements All Over

The GNOME-System-Tools package has received a new component now caled the Shared Folders tool. This tool lets you share your folders using Samba or NFS. It also lets you set various permissions like read/write, browse support (whether the shared folder will be browseable or not), etc. However, the tool requires that you have the root password (which, I guess, is OK for a large percentage of the home desktop users), and I really expected to see some file/folder sharing feature in GNOME 2.10 which takes the advantage of the existing Rendezvous/Zeroconf support framework in GNOME-VFS. Hopefully this functionality will be present in GNOME 2.12.

Another new feature of the GNOME-System-Tools that I really liked is the group system. Instead of listing an user’s groups like cdrom, audio, floppy, etc, the program lets you specify the groups as user privileges, ie, Access to CD-ROM drives, Monitor system logs, etc. This is indeed a very cool idea.

Another thing, which to my pleasant surprise, that “just worked” in GNOME-System-Tools is my Intel IPW2100 wireless card. As soon as I started the network-admin tool, there was an entry for my wireless card, marked “Not Configured”. I clicked on Properties, and here’s what I got.

Nautilus – Minor Tweaks that are Effective

Nautilus, the file manager of GNOME, has seen almost no major user visible changes during this development cycle. Ctrl-L on the desktop now pops up a location entry window, which can be very handy at times when you need to get to a path very quickly.

However, the most significant improvement to Nautilus (at least in my opinion) is the new application list which pops up when you right click on a file and then click on “Open With”. Previously, the dialog was just a text entry widget (for typing in the command), which dumped you in _/usr/bin_ when you clicked on Browse. Now, however, a nice looking list of installed GNOME applications pops up, and you can simply double-click on an application to associate that application with the file-type in question. Of course, you also have the option to specify custom commands by typing them in.

The path button in the lower left corner of the spatial window also appears to be more prominent (at least compared to earlier versions). This helps to ensure that the user knows that this is a button that can be clicked on. Also, the icons for the entries in the Places seem to appear properly in this release – the behaviour was quite unpredictable in the previous releases (or it might have been a problem with my Gentoo Linux system).

GNOME Applets – Some Serious Love Applied

The GNOME applets (applets are small programs which you can embed in your GNOME panels) have undergone some major changes. The applets now support transparency, ie, when you set your panel to transparent, the applets will not have any ugly solid colour backgrounds jutting out over the general panel’s transparency.

There are two new applets – the CPU frequency scaling applet, and a Trash applet. The CPU frequency scaling applet shows the speed that your CPU is currently running at which could be quite useful for people that have systems (usually laptops) with some kind of CPU frequency scaling technology (like Speedstep-enabled one) enabled. Ubuntu users will be familiar with the Trash applet – it is simply a location on the panel where you can drag and drop the files you want to delete. A large number of applets have also been significantly rewritten. For example, the volume control applet is now much improved, and the mixer program shows only the sane options offered by the ALSA (or OSS). (Though I still don’t know what PCM means)

The old (and very confusing) drivemount applet has been overhauled as well, and it now uses HAL and DBUS to get a list of the removable devices. It is now another piece of the GNOME desktop that “just works”.

The weather applet has a new location list (and a new METAR parsing system). It can differentiate between day and night, and supports cool stuff such as animated radar images, etc.

The keyboard layout indicator applet now has a saner layout chooser in the keyboard preferences dialog, but the layout image (which shows a image of the physical keyboard layout) is still too small! For the sake of accessibility, this truly needs to be made bigger for GNOME 2.12.

The sticky notes applet now supports RTL, so hopefully users will be able to write notes using Arabic or Hebrew scripts.

Metacity – Designed to be Effective, and Invisible

Another application that almost every GNOME user uses everyday is the Metacity window manager. Though Metacity is not a user visible part of the desktop (in fact, it is designed specifically to be unobtrusive, it plays a very important role in the GNOME desktop. The only visible change to Metacity in this release cycle is the addition of a “Always on Visible Workspace” option to the window titlebar menu. There has also been some additions and optimizations to the built-in compositing manager, though it is still not built by default. This news should be of interest to users looking forward towards some really fancy eye candy on the GNOME Desktop.

GNOME-VFS – Time to Samba…

Browsing of Samba shares in GNOME have been an issue of user discontent for the past few releases. Most of the issues have had something to do with the authentication subsystem. GNOME 2.10 supports a new mechanism for handling SMB authentication which should hopefully fix most of these problems. However, according to the release notes, users will first have to patch Samba to avoid problems while logging in as users on shares that allow anonymous login. The new mechanism uses the same password on all shares in a single server, that is, no more annoying pop-ups asking for the password as soon as you try to change a share. However, I do not have a Samba server setup on my network, so I could not actually test the new system – I’ll leave that task to you the reader to do the actual testing and come up with a verdict. Let me know what you find.

The HAL support in GNOME-VFS has been also improved significantly, and CDROMs come up on the desktop with sane names and icons.

Gedit – Beckoning the Programmer

One of my most frequently used applications in GNOME is the text editor Gedit. Gedit now supports highlighting of matching braces and the current active line. These two features will be of immense help to people who are in the habit of writing code snippets on Gedit. The number of highlight modes have also increased. Other notable new additions include support for TCL and shell script syntax highlighting.

GNOME-Utils – Some Changes, At Last…

Another part of the desktop which has received some much needed “love” is the GNOME-Utils package. The GNOME-dictionary sports a very different (and saner) look now, and spelling suggestions now come up in a much more user friendly and elegant fashion – in a sidebar of the main application window.

According to the developers, the dictionary tool has now officially “entered the 21st century”, and it has now been ported to use all the new widgets and the new framework that has been introduced in GNOME earlier in the 2.x series. Users also have the option of printing dictionary entries, which can be quite handy at times.

The Floppy Format tool (gnome-floppy) has also been upgraded to include support for removable floppy devices (USB, etc) through HAL.

Yelp – Man/Info is back!! (or is it?)

Another tool in the GNOME desktop that has received a lot of improvements in the past six months is Yelp – the GNOME help browser. Yelp now uses the Gecko rendering engine for showing the HTML documents, and the capability to view man and info pages is finally back after being conspicuously absent for the past few major versions. However, there seems to be some last minute confusion with respect to the branch of Yelp that would be shipped with GNOME 2.10 – and probably we will be seeing Gecko rendering and man/info support in GNOME 2.12 (scheduled for September, 2005) instead of 2.10.

GNOME Games – Nibble over the Network

The GNOME Games package also has received some significant enhancements. Same-GNOME has been rewritten and it now sports a very different look – with fancier graphics and animation. Among the other games, Nibbles has received Rendezvous/Zeroconf support for LAN games (so you have multiplayer gaming that “just works”), and Aisleriot, Klotski, GNect have received better graphics.

Evolution – Changes are Evolutionary (or are they Revolutionary?)

Novell Evolution was integrated into the official GNOME release in GNOME 2.8 and the Evolution developers seem to have adapted nicely to the tight six-month schedule followed by the GNOME developers. Evolution 2.2 (integrated with GNOME 2.10) has support for third-party plugins (and some of the functionality found in previous releases of Evolution has been integrated in this release as plugins). It also has a new (and hopefully more reliable) system for handling IMAP, which should make quite a few users happy. The calendar now supports weather data and you can have attachments with weather events. However, from an l10n/i18n enthusiast’s perspective, Evolution has moved through a major evolutionary step (forgive the pun) – and it now supports display of mails written in Right to Left (RTL) scripts. This should make Hebrew and Arabic GNOME users really really happy.

However, I’m not very happy with the plugin configuration dialog box. I don’t think end users will find any sense in stuff like “Id org.gnome.evolution.calendar.weather”. Simply the name and the description should be good enough, just like the ones that one can see in the Gedit preferences window. Consistency in little things like this will go a long way to make GNOME easier to use.

Other Changes

Among the other enhancements, the Epiphany Web Browser now has support for extensions written in Python and also now has support for bookmark export/import. Gnomemeeting shares its addressbook with Evolution and now has support for Zeroconf/Rendezvous. File-Roller (the archiving program) supports *.deb packages, and the annoying “internal viewer” window has been completely done away with.

The New Comers – We all know them, don’t we?

GNOME 2.10 will also see two new applications, Totem and Sound-Juicer being inducted into the official GNOME desktop. Both of these applications should appear familiar to most users, since almost all distributions shipping GNOME have included Totem as the default video player and Sound Juicer as the default CD-Ripper for quite some time. Both are stable and quite well tested applications, and with the inclusion of these two applications, we see the beginning of the actual utilization of the powerful Gstreamer multimedia framework which has been shipping with GNOME for the past few releases.

Another new module in the GNOME family is the GNOME-Backgrounds package. These are a set of wallpapers (contained both GNOME branded and non-branded generic images) which are supposed to be installed in any GNOME setup.

Conclusion

From an overall perspective, this is perhaps the most feature complete release of GNOME ever (at least in the 2.x series). The number of major, earth shattering changes in this release have been minimal. Nevertheless, the improvements and enhancements have been small, but effective. There is very little to complain about with this release of GNOME – except, maybe that running it on my Pentium M laptop with 256 RAM can be a little painful at times. Hopefully this annoyance, too, will go away in GNOME 2.12. Another thing that I would like to see in a future release of GNOME is some kind of power management support (a frontend of some kind to acpid, maybe?). This would really help laptop users like myself.

For quite sometime, the core GNOME developers have been calling for ingenuity and experimentation from the community. I think the maturity of GNOME 2.10 offers the perfect springboard for the new era of innovation in the desktop and related applications. I would really like to congratulate each and every person involved in the realization of GNOME 2.10 for a job well done.

Copyright © 2005, Sayamindu Dasgupta (sayamindu randomink org)

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