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GNOME 1.2: A Giant GUI Leap

Introducing GNOME 1.2

May 30, 2000

Disclosure: The writer has contributed documentation to the GNOME Documentation Project.

The week GNOME was released as version 0.13, my home connection to the Internet went down. Undeterred, I quietly bought a box of floppies and availed myself of the ISDN connection at the office. GNOME was too interesting to pass up. Over the course of two days (the second day was for recopying all the corrupt disks) I carried the new GNOME distribution home and unzipped it with my Windows partition and then booted into Linux to copy the files over.

At the time, GNOME wasn't much. It was definitely nicer to look at than it was functional, but it held a lot of promise.

Last year, when GNOME went into release as version 1.0, I was similarly excited, but at least endowed with a 56K dialup. GNOME had clearly come a long way. The project was making good on the attempt to provide a desktop environment without the nagging license issues KDE faced (rightly or wrongly). On the other hand, there was an underlying sense of solidity that was still missing. Faced with providing guests on my system with an environment, I avoided GNOME.

Now, though, with last week's release of version 1.2, GNOME has attained a level of reliability and overall "completeness" that elevates it to the level of "ready for prime time." This release is smooth, stable, polished, and, because it represents one of the last major GNOME releases of the 1.x series, a tempting preview of where GNOME is headed.

For purposes of this review, we took a look at Helix Code's binary release of GNOME 1.2. Most users new to GNOME and running one of Helix Code's supported Linux distributions will probably have the easiest time getting and installing Helix Code's GNOME distribution. We used both the Red Hat release and the version Helix Code has released for Debian users, which, though still considered "beta" in terms of Debian support, offers the same level of polish and stability as the Red Hat release.

Getting GNOME 1.2
After GNOME had reached the 1.0 release distribution, some of the enthusiasm for it as an end-user environment was undermined by the sheer complexity of the download and installation process. Even those taking the "easy way out" with a package manager like RPM were faced with an overwhelming number of packages to download and install. Inevitably, comparisons were made to KDE, which had thoughtfully provided an "all-in-one" package that would at least guarantee a functioning core environment.

Helix Code has solved the download and installation process in a different (and better) manner by providing an installer program that allows for selection of packages through a GUI. The installer, while allowing users some flexibility in terms of selecting optional packages, still guarantees installation of all required components. In the face of over 100 total binary packages, this is a welcome relief.

As a side note, those who use Debian or Debian-based distributions with apt-get can add a line to their /etc/apt/sources.list pointing to the Helix Code archives, making installation as easy as apt-get install task-helix-gnome. Helix Code is tracking the unstable (Woody) release of Debian, but we've had no problems using the environment with the frozen (Potato) release.

Getting the installer is also a simple process. Users need only log in as the root user and enter the command:

lynx -source http://spidermonkey.helixcode.com/go-gnome | sh

This starts a download of, and ultimately executes, the installer.

One thing worth noting for users who have gotten away with a relatively small root partition: for better or worse, Helix Code downloads its files into /tmp. Users selecting "everything" during the installation will be faced with a potential space crunch owing to the massive quantity of software being downloaded. We solved the problem by creating a symbolic link to a Helix Code installation directory located in a roomier partition.

The installer provides a good level of feedback, including a thoughtful running tally of the projected download time for users running the installation over a 56K dialup, and progress meters as each package is downloaded. Those curious about what's going onto their system will be happy, those who aren't will be able to get away with walking away from the process: it's reliable.

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