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Ximian GNOME 1.4: The Monkey Has Landed: The Ximian Desktop Experience

What You Get With Ximian GNOME

May 3, 2001

Editor's Note: This is the second in a two part look at Ximian GNOME 1.4. The first part detailed how to get Ximian GNOME and install it, plus how the setup wizard, GNOME Doorman, works

When GNOME 1.4 was released, we made the decision to wait on Ximian's release of their own distribution because we believe most desktop productivity users will likely experience GNOME through Ximian.

We mention this because we want to make it clear in advance that not everything in our review is reflective of Ximian's work: some of the enhancements and improvements over GNOME 1.2 are part of the core GNOME 1.4 distribution prior to Ximian's own additions. We'll try to note the difference, but it's our belief that Ximian is essentially GNOME to people who aren't interested in building a project of that size on their own, and we anticipate end users who simply prefer GNOME and have the bandwidth won't want to wait on the next round of distributions (Mandrake 8.0 excepted) to ship GNOME 1.4 on CD's. For purposes of space and simplicity, we'll refer to the environment and its elements as "GNOME."

Where last we left off, we'd stepped through the process of getting and installing the software and using the GNOME Doorman, a wizard-like interface for configuring the basic look of the desktop and selecting whether to use Nautilus, Eazel's new file manager, or GNOME Midnight Commander.

For purposes of the second half of our look at Ximian GNOME 1.4, we used a brand new install of Red Hat 7.1 and started from a clean slate with a user account that had all existing local GNOME configuration files removed so as to best get a handle on how the environment presents itself without any old settings. We also chose to use the default option with the GNOME doorman, allowing Ximian to set up our basic desktop and panel configuration.

What You Get

Ximian ships GNOME with an up-to-date collection of packages. Some of the highlights include:

  • AbiWord 0.7.13
  • GIMP 1.2.1
  • Mozilla 0.81 (built on April 25)
  • gPhoto 0.4.3
  • dia (a diagram editor) 0.86
  • gnumeric 0.64
  • xmms (a CD/Ogg Vorbis/MP3 player) 1.2.4
  • grip (a CD ripper) 2.95
  • Sawfish (the window manager) 0.38

In addition, the version of Nautilus arriving with the distribution is version 1.0.2, which arrived without Medusa, which is used to index hard drives to speed file finding operations under Nautilus. Medusa posed performance and security problems that were identified just before the core release of GNOME 1.4 and it's back on the design boards until these issues can be resolved. One improvement its exclusion represents is the lack of a lengthy access of the hard drive when GNOME is started for the first time as it sets out making an initial file index: something a lot of users described as disconcerting.

Ximian has also added a pair of applications unique to the company's release: MonkeyTalk and Red Carpet 1.0, both of which we'll look at further on in this review. Briefly, MonkeyTalk is a help application that connects users with a live chat session in a stripped-down version of the IRC program xchat; and Red Carpet is a package management tool designed to ease software installation and removal.