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A Sneak Peek at Nautilus from Eazel

GNOME, Eazel, and the Creative Process

  • September 8, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

For the past two years, the GNOME project has been a fascinating project to watch. From the initial releases, which left some wishing its developers had stopped with its flexible and versatile panel, to the latest series of developments toward a comprehensive application and desktop environment, GNOME has moved, sometimes erratically, from "near unusable mess" to "project with potential" to a reasonable choice for the average Linux user's desktop.

Ease of installation has been aided by Helix Code's splashy and simple installer program, and the problematic lack of an advanced mail client is being addressed by the upcoming release of the Evolution mailer and PIM.

One of the problems the project seemingly deferred for the length of its existence, though, even as it overcame serious stability issues, was the file manager--a graphical and GNOMEified adaptation of the venerable Midnight Commander (GMC). Though GMC is usable, it has met with complaints about its general accessibility, and there are points where it's fairly difficult to perform some basic tasks with it.

GMC's problems haven't been unknown to GNOME's developers, and plans have been in place for some time to eventually replace it. That's where startup Eazel comes in.

Eazel, as most are aware by now, was founded by Andy Hertzfeld, formerly of Apple. Several of Eazel's founding members were on the original Macintosh design team, and bring with them decades of work in user interface design.

Eazel's entry into the GNOME project has represented an interesting case study in the meeting of disparate cultures. Where the Macintosh's interface design was disciplined and focused, GNOME's development trajectory has been seemingly erratic, with accusations of usability being at the bottom of the list of the designers' priorities. Some of these accusations are misplaced: the GNOME project has a team that works on interface issues. On the other hand, there are still some problematic inconsistencies that crop up even though the quality of the overall project has improved steadily, and it's clear that Eazel has a lot to offer the project in this area.

Eazel's Nautilus, a file manager, will be part of the upcoming October release of GNOME 1.4. This newest GNOME release will represent a stepping stone between the 1.x releases and next year's 2.0. The presence of Nautilus, Evolution, and Bonobo will be the most distinguishing features of this intermediate release.

Darin Adler, whose position with Eazel is described by the company's publicists as roughly that of Vice President of Software Engineering, took some time to discuss his involvement with Nautilus with us, providing some perspective on what it's like to work alongside the GNOME team as well as some of the considerations that went into Eazel's decision to take up the task of enhancing GNOME.

Adler, like many working at Eazel, has roots deep in Macintosh history. He was the technical lead for Apple's System 7 release, and he brings nearly 25 years of programming (including some time with UNIX) to the table.

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