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Ubuntu 9.10 and GNOME 2.28: Advancing Past Meh

Eight Years Later: Are We There Yet?

  • February 8, 2010
  • By Carla Schroder
Many eons ago, GNOME 1.4 still lived, and it was good. It was extremely configurable and hackable. You could use either Enlightenment or Sawfish as the window manager, and could customize it to your heart's content. It was even friendly to homegrown GTK+ hacks. And then tragedy struck: the GNOME maintainers decided that 1.4 needed a ground-up rewrite, and thus GNOME 2.0 was born.

<em>pretty Gnome desktop</em>
pretty Gnome desktop

The only thing GNOME 2.0 had in common with 1.4 was the foot. The much-beloved flexibility of 1.4 was gone, gone with the wind, thrown into the bit-bucket without a backwards glance. The new and much simpler Metacity became the new window manager. Features were discarded wholesale in the name of "simplicity." Having no features is the ultimate in simplicity for sure. A number of humorous people created fake screenshots of the ultimate GNOME desktop, which was a blank screen with a single red button in the center labeled DO SOMETHING.

The first release of GNOME 2.0 was in 2002. As a devoted GNOME 1.4 fan, I kept re-visiting it, hoping that some of that old GNOME 1.4 magic would reappear. Alas, it never did, so KDE became my primary desktop environment, with dashes of XFCE, IceWM, Fluxbox, and Ratpoison as needed.

Eight Years Later

Fast-forward to Ubuntu 9.10. This is the first *buntu and the first GNOME that have gotten past "meh" on my WowMeter. All of my personal computers are as Linux-friendly as they can possibly be--none of them require closed, proprietary drivers, all use components that are well-supported in Linux. When it comes to testing distros, these machines are creampuffs. So any distro that has a hard time with them has to work at it. And yet the one distribution I have always been able to rely on is plain-vanilla Debian; none of its "user-friendly" offspring have been as reliable as their grandmommy.

But so far, after a week of running Ubuntu 9.10 I am dangerously close to being impressed. I'll see how well it holds up over the long run, but so far it is good. Installation from the liveCD was fast and uneventful. For the first time ever, NetworkManager worked right and set up my wi-fi interface correctly. Usually I have to rip it out and configure networking manually.

One thing Ubuntu has always been good at is beautifully-rendered, readable fonts. You young whippershappers may not care, but when you're old and your eyeballs are giving you fits you'll appreciate this.

There don't seem to be as many fancy desktop effects as in KDE4. For one example, the desktop cube only rotates on its horizontal axis, while in KDE4 it rotates on both axes. There are some shimmery, explodey, and transparency effects that are not present as they are in KDE4. For me these are minor details, since I don't use most of them. It does do wobbly windows. Woo.

Much is made of boot times, and it does boot faster, but not a whole lot. Some of the delay is in my ASUS BIOS, which amusingly includes one of those instant-on Linux environments. Which doesn't work, but hangs on a blank screen, so I have it disabled until I feel like troubleshooting it.

The default applications seem a rather random lot, and I still don't understand the logic behind enabling Avahi and Bluetooth by default, while blocking network printers. There are virtually no Avahi-aware apps, and I doubt that Bluetooth users are in the majority, but almost everyone uses printers. The default CUPS configuration is an over-complicated mess, so I always replace it with my own.

Applications

Some GNOME applications are still too limited for my liking. For example, I am using Gedit to write this review. It does not have an option to zoom font sizes larger. You can select a larger font, but that's not what I want, I just want it bigger onscreen. I am seriously grumpy at the trend towards hiding full filepaths in application titlebars. Where do devs get the idea that users don't want to know where their files are? It also lacks an "open with" option, which is one of my favorite KDE features. For example, when I write an article for online publication in Kwrite I insert HTML tags, then use the "open with" feature to preview it in a Web browser.

The CD/DVD Creator has a rather bizarre file selector. It opens in Nautilus, and when you enter a directory in the left pane to select files, the CD/DVD Creator pane disappears, replaced by the directory contents. Not sure how that is supposed to help Jane and Joe Sixpack. I guess the thing to do is open a second Nautilus and drag files from there. Once you figure this part out it auto-detects your CD/DVD writer, and you get some useful options like write speed, and write to disc or create an .ISO image on your hard drive. If you insert a disc that already has content on it, you get a copy dialogue.

The screenshot application has evolved into a useful tool, and it even has an option to capture the mouse pointer, which my beloved K3b still cannot do. Though it is either shy or lazy, because it disappears after each and every screenshot, instead of staying open until you actually want to close it.

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