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GNOME 1.2: A Giant GUI Leap - page 3

Introducing GNOME 1.2

  • May 30, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

We've had two complaints with the GNOME environment that haven't yet been satisfied, though they're being addressed in a pair of projects.

First, the file manager, GNOME Midnight Commander, has its share of problems in terms of memory footprint and stability. In all fairness, GNOME's developers have identified gmc as a problem and the startup Eazel, Inc. has begun work on the replacement, Nautilus, which promises to bring a high level of sophistication to the Linux desktop.

Second, there's a level of confusion with regard to e-mail support. Balsa is apparently the "official" mail client, but development of that project has been slow and it still lacks a few features. We were pleased to note it now at least offers integration with the GNOME address book, but it lacks stability and a sense of being completed.

A few other GNOME-oriented mailers, including the solid Spruce and CSCMailer, are available, as well, but don't, for instance, seem to work with the GNOME PIM as well as Balsa.

This need has been addressed by Helix Code's work on the Evolution mailer/scheduler, a planned Outlook-killer, which just had its first pre-release and should be ready in time for GNOME 2.0.

Running GNOME
If usability and documentation were enough to carry an environment, GNOME would have it made. There's more to it than that, though. Any environment has to justify the overhead it imposes on a system. GNOME does an excellent job of providing the tools needed to get work done comfortably and easily.

As a simple framework for launching applications of any sort, GNOME is easy to configure and use. There's a lot of flexibility present in terms of how the panels are placed on the screen. Those sensitive to how much screen real estate they use will be pleased with how easily GNOME can be configured to hide itself (either automatically or at the request of the user). The panel is also resizeable down to a mere 24 pixels in height, making it much less intrusive than the default 64 pixels.

Out of the box, GNOME is fairly well configured. The pager and task bar are intuitive enough, and the panel icons provided (help browser, terminal, and Netscape) are enough to allow users to begin to orient themselves to the environment and begin to customize it. The panel bar placed at the top of the screen makes the "little foot" menu largely unnecessary. In fact, after a short time, we had whittled the default bottom panel down to screen-lock, logout, and screenshot tool buttons.

The GNOME environment is much more than a taskbar, too. A list of the applications and applets that come with GNOME includes:

  • GNOME PIM: a calendar, address book, and the GNOME Pilot package.
  • gedit: a text editor that defies description as a simple "notepad"
  • Eye of GNOME: an image viewer
  • xmms: a media player much like WinAmp.
  • Gnumeric: the Excel-compatible spreadsheet
  • Dia: a vector illustration tool
  • Pan: a net news reader
  • the GNOME ICQ client
  • a CD player and mixer
  • The latest release of the popular GIMP graphics program

These components, plus many more, are built around the GNOME core, and are all more or less integrated with it in some way. xmms, the media player, for instance, allows for drag-and-drop addition of files from the GNOME file manager to its play list (though, curiously, the default mime-type for mp3 files causes the command-line-oriented mpg123 to play the file in question, which is going to cause some confusion among new users when they try to figure out how to stop the player they can't see.)

There's also a wide array of applets that dock in the GNOME panel, providing mail checking, application launching, system monitoring, control of dialup sessions, use of "sticky notes" on the desktop, and more.

All of these individual pieces hang together well, providing a largely consistent interface.

One other touch we liked was the inclusion of binding the alt-f2 keystroke to launch the "run" applet, which provides a pop-up command line.

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