A fresher Linux desktop

It’s been a long time in the coming but this year Linux will get a makeover, thanks to the Gnome project. In September the Gnome team, makers of one of the most popular desktop interfaces for Linux, will release version 3.0 of their desktop environment and they are promising “big user-visible changes”.

For the uninitiated Linux is different to Windows and Mac OS X in that there is not just one desktop interface available for users to enjoy, but many different options. And of the various desktop interfaces available, KDE and Gnome are the most commonly used. Ubuntu, for example, uses Gnome as the default interface, while Kubuntu is a KDE-based version of Ubuntu.

Started in August 1997, Gnome was designed to use only free software to create its desktop interface and in direct response to KDE’s choice to base its platform on the then-proprietary Qt toolkit. Over the years the Gnome 1.x desktop evolved to include more and more features until in June 2002 version 2.0 was released for the first time. Now, close to eight years later, Gnome 3.0 is close to being released.

Gnome Shell

The reworking of the Gnome desktop is meant to be a lot more than just a simple interface overhaul with a few animations thrown in. The most obvious of the changes will be the Gnome Shell which is meant to be a replacement for the traditional panel on Gnome. There will still be a panel at the top of the screen but there is also a new “overlay” which houses commonly used applications, a search feature for finding documents and applications, and recently used files.

To the right of that is a visual presentation of the various open applications and desktops to make switching between them easier. This is not unlike certain features in Compiz which give the same abilities. The benefit is that unlike Compiz the Shell is built into the Gnome desktop.


The other major change is the inclusion of Zeitgeist, or rather Gnome Activity Journal as it has now been renamed. The plan with the Activity Journal is to give users multiple ways of searching through their computer.

Using the Activity Journal users can manage files using tags, bookmarks, timelines, comments, source or type. Essentially Activity Journal logs actions and records meta data that define the various applications and files used. Returning users can then scroll through their recent files, or files related to a project or websites they have visited based on any number of criteria. The idea is that the Activity Journal gives users a better way of searching through their data than simply using the hierarchical filing system most often used.

The other notable change with Gnome 3.0 will be that old, deprecated libraries will be removed from the platform to streamline the interface even more. Being, as it is, almost eight years old, Gnome 2.0 still includes many legacy tools and Gnome 3.0 is an attempt to spring clean the entire platform.

Originally the Gnome team was planning on releasing 3.0 in March this year but has now decided to push that back six months to September. Given the teething pains that KDE experienced when it first released KDE 4, this is likely a good decision to avoid similar user fallout.

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A fresher Linux desktop