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gnotebook: Nautilus Revisited: Unhappy Users Make All the Wrong Demands

Building GNOME 1.4, Nautilus 1.0 Provokes a Bad Reaction

  • March 23, 2001
  • By Michael Hall

Sometime, very soon, GNOME 1.4 will be here in final form and I'll feel whole again.

Sunday was a quiet day off, and I spent it with an eye cocked on the terminal while I watched bits of what will soon be GNOME 1.4 build. Pleasant enough experience, and not what I remembered from the last time I decided to rebuild the whole thing. It just involved intuiting a sensible build order for the first few packages, but once gnome-core is laid in, it gets easier and easier. I didn't feel like I was enduring the 99 Tortures of Hell to have a working desktop, and for the first time since some time last spring, the logo in the upper left corner of the menu bar at the top of the screen is a little GNOME flower icon instead of a Ximian ape.

You don't need intuition to figure out the build order for all those packages, because the GNOME Documentation Project has provided a helpful list in the GNOME user FAQ. Highly recommended and, having only dug it out of my bookmarks after deciding to just start building stuff, mostly or maybe completely accurate. If you've just grabbed the entire collection of source tarballs from FTP and have a vague inkling about what it means when a ./configure drops dead complaining of not finding a library with a name of suspicious similarity to one of the tarballs you've got sitting there waiting to be compiled, you'll do o.k.

So while I watched the build go by, I was ticking off the things I'd have to think about writing up for this upcoming GNOME release: the little touches that are different and better, the bits of it that make a real difference, how much of a "quality desktop experience" it will provide "the end user." The surprise of Nautilus is sort of spoiled because it was out weeks early, and I've already spent time on it, but it deserves another look if only because it provoked a strong reaction out and about in the GNOME world.

Nautilus Revisited, Briefly

Nautilus, once more for the people arriving late, is the new file manager for the GNOME desktop. After over a year of anticipation, it was released as version 1.0, the first stable version, a little over a week ago. I dutifully filed a review asking whether or not Eazel, the company primarily responsible for Nautilus, had "earned its place in GNOME," and concluding that yes, it had on the strength, if nothing else, of all that potential.

Ask a provocative question, get some provocative answers, I suppose, because the ordinarily quiet (if occasionally well-trolled) Gnotices had a minor erruption over the whole thing, with a band of stalwarts maintaining that Nautilus was a bitter disappointment: too slow, too unstable, and too bulky. One person even went so far as to argue that Nautilus ought to be broken back out of GNOME 1.4 to preserve the reputation of the overall environment. Others argued that it might be best to fork Nautilus on the spot, stripping it down into an interesting but lean replacement for gmc, the current (until 1.4 arrives in the next few days) GNOME file manager.

There can be no denying that Nautilus has some problems. A week of use since my initial review has caused some longer-term instabilities to manifest themselves, and some people are experiencing disappointment over the fact that not all the features the software supports - thumbnailing images, "previewing" MP3's with a mouseover, and the integrated web browsing courtesy Mozilla's Gecko - work very smoothly or well. We have not been delivered to a digital promised land, and the whole thing feels a little shaky at this point.

This has provoked some hand-wringing and hysterics in a few quarters, as well. Part of it might well be just deserts for Eazel-as-marketing-entity. We've been living under siege for a year, with the glowing, astonished reviews and previews piling up, lauding Nautilus to high heaven; and reality never quite lives up to marketing. Case in point: my daily use of Nautilus involves turning all the previews, thumbnails and other CPU-sucking eye-candy off. Now it's a very nice file manager. I still browse with Mozilla, preview images with gqview, and play MP3's with xmms, and I find Nautilus very usable and easy to pick up. It's a nice part of my GNOME experience, to the extent I ever use a file manager.

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