September 25, 2006

Good bits in GNOME 2.16

Author: Dmitri Popov

The GNOME Project recently released GNOME 2.16. While the latest release doesn't offer any breakthrough features, it does include a wealth of minor tweaks and improvements.

Ironically, the most intriguing improvement is the one you probably won't notice, unless you explicitly enable it. Metacity, GNOME's default window manager, now features several 3-D extensions to its composite engine. These extensions allow you to add some eye candy to your desktop by enabling window effects and different types of transparency. This feature is not enabled by default, though, and you have to compile Metacity with the --enable-compositor option to get it to work. For the time being, the new compositing effects can only be used with a handful of graphics cards.

Evolution, GNOME's email and calendaring client, has also received some candy treatment. The application now uses Cairo to spice up the overall appearance of events in the Calendar module. Each event in the calendar now has gradients and shadows (see figure 1). This is not exactly a mind-blowing improvement, but it does add more polish to the application.

Besides visual tweaks, the new release also offers several feature enhancements. GNOME's power management tool now has a new Power Information window that provides a wealth of information, including device information (battery info, change level, etc.), charge history, and power history. This information can help you to analyze battery performance, among other things.

Most users will also appreciate the addition of Baobab, a tool that helps to analyze and manage disk space (see figure 2). Baobab can scan entire filesystems or specified folders and present the disk usage graphically. It also allows you to view the contents of a folder as a graphical tree map, and using the built-in search feature you can quickly locate files from within Baobab.

While GNOME 2.16 offers many improvements, bug fixes, and GUI tweaks as well as some minor feature enhancements, the big question is whether you should upgrade right away. For most users, the answer is probably no. While you can compile the new release of GNOME from the source, it makes more sense to wait until it is rolled into your particular Linux distribution. With Ubuntu Edgy Eft around the corner, and other Linux distro upgrades in the coming month or two, there are not many reasons why you should upgrade GNOME today. And if you want to take GNOME 2.16 for a spin right now, you can grab a copy of the latest beta release of Ubuntu Edgy Eft and run it off the CD.

Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, German, and Danish computer magazines.

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