GNOME 1.2: A Giant GUI Leap - page 2
Introducing GNOME 1.2
GNOME's development has been a source of near-constant interest. With the 1.2 release, the project has adopted the Sawfish (formerly Sawmill) window manager, easily configured and themed.
Though still at release 0.27, Sawfish is stable and fast. By discarding Enlightenment, the GNOME team also discarded a lot of duplicate functionality, which will make things much easier on new users unused to the dichotomy between desktop environment/toolkit and window manager. Sawfish steps aside, and with the exception of providing control of window decorations and key-bindings, allows GNOME to provide the pager, taskbar, and wallpaper.
Despite including Sawfish by default, it should be noted that GNOME continues to work with compliant window managers like WindowMaker, FVWM2, IceWM, and Enlightenment.
Another change more likely to be noticed by users less interested in the environment's underlying architecture is the addition of a panel bar at the top of the screen reminiscent of the Macintosh's. It allows access to application and configuration menus and features a clock that links directly to the GNOME calendar application, going so far as to provide a choice of calendar views on the drop-down menu. A web icon also provides quick links to GNOME and Helix sites, including the bug-tracking site.
Finally, the panel itself is more flexible in terms of configuration than it used to be. Most of the applets provided deal well with the panel being resized down to miniscule sizes, and the panel can be resized and placed in a variety of ways.
Those more interested in the underbelly of the project will be interested to note that GNOME has begun to move away from its reliance on the imlib graphics libraries and has adopted gdk-pixbuf. End users won't tend to notice this change in any way that they'll connect with what they see on the desktop, though it has made some interface changes easier.
To those looking at superficialities, the biggest improvement in this release is the ongoing addition of icons to the assorted task and application menus that comprise the GNOME environment. Though previous releases of GNOME were easy enough to figure out, the added signposts the icons provide make a better overall visual impression. They also make it easier for quick navigation of a fairly complex environment.
Besides improving the eye-candy factor, GNOME documentation continues to improve in terms of coverage, even if the help browser itself is slated for major changes in version 2.0. The core of the GNOME experience for end-users, the GNOME panel, is covered in good detail, and some of the more curious applets in the environment are explained better. Users who feel the need to head for the documentation despite GNOME's overall ease of use will have an easier time than they have in the past.
Outside of things users can "see and touch" in the environment, there's a sense of stability and smoothness we missed in prior releases. There used to be a sense of a tradeoff in terms of flexibility and stability in the GNOME environment. Even though the panel, for instance, was easily configured and arranged on the desktop, there was an underlying sense that it was best to stick with the default configuration. Over the course of a week of playing (and getting work done) with this release, we've had no trouble in the way of crashes, hangs, or glitches. We wouldn't hesitate to sit a new user down in front of a machine running GNOME 1.2, and we'd have no fear of anything unexpected happening to them over the course of a full workday.