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A Sneak Peek at Nautilus from Eazel - page 5

GNOME, Eazel, and the Creative Process

  • September 8, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

The initial preview release of Nautilus was only recently made. Compiling the project from scratch at this point is still a tricky process, requiring CVS versions of many of the packages involved. Adler acknowledged the difficulty of keeping up with the project on a casual basis, pointing out that several of the core libraries are in nearly constant development.

The preview release, though, is a binary tarball or RPM with fairly easy-to-follow instructions that make it possible to get at least a glimpse of the file manager. The preview release is available from the Eazel Nautilus website.

For purposes of this preview, we used a binary release packaged for Debian by one of the coders working on Nautilus. Commenting on the project's stability is pointless at this stage in the process: the Nautilus team put their efforts up not to provide a day-to-day file manager, but to give the community at large a chance to see what their efforts are leading up to. Our experience over several days ranged from being unable to keep it running for more than a minute to leaving it up and being able to look into various features for several hours.

When run, Nautilus presents a relatively simple two-paned view of the user's home directory. The left pane has several tabs which allow for several functions:

Users can select a tree view of the entire file system, a notepad area, which allows for comments to be typed in and attached to individual files or directories, a file history that shows the most recently accessed files, and a help tree. The help tree presents GNU info files in hypertext, and also renders man pages.

There's a Web search tool built in to the sidebar, which allows access to many common search engines and renders the results of the search in the main window in HTML as they'd appear in any browser. The search engines available run the gamut from AltaVista and Google to Slashdot's own search page and Sunsite's collection of IETF RFC's. Nautilus renders the presented HTML competently, but also presents a menu allowing users to open the results in Netscape, Lynx, or their designated text editor.

When not being utilized by one of the sidebar tools, the right pane presents a file view that bears some resemblance to the existing GNOME Midnight Commander with a few exceptions. Most noticeably, graphics files such as PNG's and jpegs are rendered as preview thumbnails.

The tools for manipulating the view of the directory in use are more evident than they are in GMC. In addition to the standard 'icon view' and 'list view', users can select varying zoom levels for their view of the directory. The zoom level last selected for each view type is preserved, as well, allowing for a nice level of added customization.

A pulldown menu offers the choice to view the contents of a directory as music, which presents a list of all the MP3's in a given directory and an MP3 player widget that allows users to play files directly from the file manager.

Tar files and similar file archives are supposed to be supported for browsing, but we didn't have as much luck getting Nautilus to view these files as we did with some RPM's we had on hand. The file manager is able to deal directly with binary packages. Clicking on a package allows the user to view the complete name of the package and some additional information. It also provides a button to install the package on demand. Features like this are common throughout the Nautilus interface, presenting users with a logical set of applications they might want to use on a given file.

For instance, single-clicking on the thumbnail preview of a PNG file causes the sidebar to present a choice of editing the file with the GIMP, opening it with the GNOME file viewer EOG, or choosing an action as yet unspecified to the system.

A file search tool is built in to the basic tool bars, and has simple, plain-English parameters that allow for searching based on file names or contents. An accompanying web search button invokes the Google search engine in the main window.

There are some nice touches that aren't quite as obvious as the immediate options, as well. The file history dropdown provides a thumbnail image of the files most recently accessed, and it also allows previous web searches to be repeated without retyping the query.

Files may also be labeled with a set of emblems. The emblems appear just above a labeled files regular icon, and provide useful hints for prioritizing files, marking draft copies, or otherwise highlighting documents that might otherwise get lost in the shuffle of a cluttered directory. If the default set isn't enough, users can add their own using common graphics files.

Nautilus also promises to be fairly customizable for end users. A basic set of themes are provided, allowing for general manipulation of the appearance of the browser. Palettes of colors and patterns also allow users to drag-and-drop their customizations onto specific display elements.

Though we weren't able to determine much difference, Nautilus provides for three levels of user expertise: novice, intermediate, and expert. Novice users are kept from making customizations to the interface such as tweaking settings that allow for thumbnails to be displayed at higher resolutions or determining whether displayed images can be previewed if they're on remote filesystems.

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