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Preview: Nautilus PR2 - page 2

Making Significant Progress

  • November 10, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

Nautilus comes with a script for proper execution called run-nautilus.sh. This is the recommended command to use to get the program running, since it sets some needed variables.

On launching Eazel for the first time, you can set your experience level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), which will determine how many configuration options you can tweak. Beginners aren't allowed to change much, advanced users can set all sorts of performance tweaks. Each experience level also remembers its own settings.

Once an experience level is set, users can opt to sign up for Eazel's services. This is new to this release, and it provides a small taste of what Eazel's aiming for with Nautilus. The signup is simple, and is conducted through the embedded Mozilla component.

The services available at this point are pretty basic: there's a 25 MB 'net storage account that integrates with the Nautilus desktop and behaves like a local folder, and there's a software installation component that currently provides a small catalog of software, including the gecko-based Galeon browser, Gabber, the GNOME Jabber client, and Maelstrom, a game. The current software catalog is limited to Red Hat 6.x, but Eazel plans to expand that to other distributions as they come closer to a final product.

The point here is simply to provide a look at the direction Eazel is taking the GNOME desktop with Nautilus. The software catalog service will, for instance, simplify the installation of binary packages by ensuring dependencies are also downloaded with any new software the user selects. This functionality isn't new to Debian users, but it's dressed up in a nicer interface than dselect.

Beyond Services: What's Improved This Time Around
The last time we looked at Nautilus, it was interesting, but it wasn't anything to use on an extended basis. There were some stability issues that came and went from session to session causing it to die quickly some days, and run for hours on others. This time around, it's a lot less cranky, and a lot smoother.

One capability that existed last release as a command line switch only, and one highly unrecommended by many who tried it, is the ability to run Nautilus on the root window of the GNOME desktop. No big surprises here: it provides a trash can, a "home" icon, and the default icon GNOME presents for hard drives, which points at the root directory of the system. It's a comment on how stable Nautilus has become that we turned on its management of our desktop and forgot about it for most of the day. There's a sense of a small performance hit, but nothing like the sluggishness we experienced with PR1.

Nautilus now also offers more than simple thumbnails of graphics files. Each text file's icon, for instance, contains the first few words of the first line of text found in the file, showing more content if the display is zoomed in. It's also possible to stretch icons to larger sizes, revealing more of their content. Nautilus remembers the size of each icon on an individual basis, too.

A nice usability touch comes with moving icons around. By default, Nautilus uses the standard sorted approach for icon placement. On attempting to move an icon out of Nautilus' sorting scheme, it asks if you prefer to switch to manually arranged icons for that folder.

The embedded Mozilla component performs fairly well in this release, even though there are a few bugs here and there: it can't download files from hyperlinks yet, it doesn't allow access to sites requiring authentication, and it doesn't appear to handle name anchors. On the whole, though, it's very fast and provides seamless switching between file browsing and web surfing with almost no pause. In addition, the embedded Mozilla component provides rendering of HTML-ized info and man pages, which can be invoked with a simple address like man:ls or info:gcc. The complete GNOME users manual is also readily available, as is a manual for Nautilus itself. Chalk yet another one up for the rapidly growing family of Mozilla beneficiaries, no matter what you think of the browser.

There are also some welcome tweaks to performance within the file browser itself. There's a lot going on in the background in Nautilus, and components can and do crash from time to time, leaving the bulk of the software running. There are still elements of Nautilus that are particularly poorly behaved in this release, especially in the sidebar. The nice thing, though, is that when components crash, Nautilus tells you about it and recommends you turn the component off, making it possibly the most courteous pre-release software ever. It is also easier to shut Nautilus down without crashing it.

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