New GNOME cuts the clutter

Five years in the making, the new version of the Gnome Linux desktop interface has been radically reworked

Five years in the making, the newly released version 3 of the GNOME Linux desktop interface has been radically redesigned.

The development team endeavored to develop a simpler interface for the shell, noted Jon McCann, one of GNOME Shell's designers, in a Thursday announcement.

For this release, the boxy look and feel has been replaced with a more aerodynamic, clutter-free visage. All the icons were redesigned, and new default font Cantarell was adopted. Applications can be called up by simply typing the first few letters of a program name. Frequently used applications can be pinned to a desktop dashboard.

Previous versions of GNOME allowed for multiple workspaces, or windows. The new version allows users to create workspaces on the fly, and to drag and drop applications into a workspace. It also includes a unified messaging feature, in which e-mail and instant messages can be responded to directly from a messaging tray. Also new is a search function that can be accessed by hitting the Windows key on the keyboard.

"There are a lot of quick tips and shortcuts that make using [the] shell even nicer," wrote Novell designer Garrett LeSage in a blog posting detailing some of the new functionality.

Fedora will include GNOME 3 as the default interface for its upcoming Fedora 15 release, due in May. The latest OpenSuse, version 11.4, offers GNOME 3 as an optional interface. GNOME 3.0 is also available in downloadable trial versions that can be loaded onto a thumb drive.

One Linux distribution that will not be featuring GNOME 3, at least as the default desktop, will be the Ubuntu release. While previous versions of Canonical Ubuntu used GNOME, the newly released Natty Narwhal will use the Unity interface as the default desktop instead.

Last year, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth expressed disappointment over how the GNOME interface was branded and said that it had become too confusing for users to operate. Interestingly enough, both Fedora and OpenSuse have dropped, at least temporarily, their use of Unity, their developers citing bug issues as the reason.

Miguel de Icaza and Federico Mena Quintero first developed GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) in 1997 as an open-source desktop interface. More than 3,500 volunteers have contributed code to this new version.

GNOME development is overseen by the GNOME Foundation, which is funded by companies such as Google, Oracle, Red Hat, Novell, IBM, Intel, Motorola and others.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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