Reviewed: Gnome 2.28
The Gnome project's latest release, comes just in time to be bolted on to Karmic Koala. But with KDE making big strides forward with each point release of KDE 4, are the Gnome team doing enough to keep up? Only just... read on to find out more!
There's no mystery as to the focus of Gnome 2.28. "Made to share" shouts their website as it points you to the release notes, and their efforts are visible in the overhauled bluetooth backend which is integrated with the rest of the desktop.
Gnome Bluetooth is a collection of small utilities that help the desktop connect with bluetooth devices as well as for data transfer. Gnome supports lots of bluetooth devices, including mice, and printers, but the new release doesn't boast of the number of devices it now supports. The bluetooth enhancements in Gnome 2.28 are about making those devices easier to manage.
This is the first Gnome release that includes a frontend to help users add and connect to their devices. And it's pretty well integrated into the Gnome desktop. So you can now pair your mobile phone, and it'll show up in the NetworkManager as a device to connect through to the internet.
Integration is another major focus of this release. Besides the integration for mobile phones, Gnome 2.28 now offers both instant messaging and VoIP from the same app, Empathy, which has replaced Pidgin. It's got a slick new UI which lets you drag-drop contacts to arrange them into groups, a themeable conversation dialogue window, and more. It'll also let you make audio and full-screen video calls with your contacts. Empathy is integrated with Gnome's remote desktop app, Vino, using which it lets you share your desktop with your contacts.
If you're patiently waiting for Gnome 2.28 on top of Ubuntu Karmic Koala, here's a sneaky peaky.
Regular house keeping
Besides these most notable differences, there's a battery of minor enhancements and tweaks in Gnome apps under all categories. The webcam photo and video app, Cheese sports an updated interface, now optimised for smaller, wider spaces, such as netbook screens. It also includes a burst mode for taking shots in quick succession based on various settings.
The Gnome Media Player, Totem, has learned new tricks too and it can now navigate DVD menus. The developers have also worked in some speed improvements in its YouTube plugin (didn't know it had one? Read our video player roundup in LXF122). The Volume Control applet also looks different with new sliders for controlling the subwoofer, and channel fading.
The disk burning app, Brasero, will now automatically split data across multiple disks if it doesn't fit on one disk, which is a nice time saving feature. Talking to time, Gnome 2.28 now includes the time tracking app, Hamster as an applet. If you have one of those business laptops with multiple battery packs, Gnome Power Manager can now read them both. It also has support for spinning down disks managed by DeviceKit.
There are also some behind-the-scenes changes that you wouldn't notice. Gnome's very own Epiphany web browser has switched its backend from Gecko to WebKit. The only visible difference of this transition is that the browser can't remember login and passwords in online forms -- a bug which the developers hope to fix in the next release.
Talking about next releases, Gnome 2.28 includes preview of two of the biggest features that will define the project's big dot release, Gnome 3.0. One of them is Gnome Shell, which is a compositing manager for the desktop and takes on the tasks currently managed by the Gnome Panel and window manager to add functionality and some bling in launching apps, accessing documents, etc. Then there's Gnome Zeitgeist which uses tags, and bookmarks, and such to ease file management.
Our verdict: Light on new features, yet in terms of integration, the release is a major step up from the last one. Upgrade when it hits your distro's stable repositories, but only because you might as well. 6/10
New features in Gnome 2.28
New apps like Empathy and the bluetooth backend are tightly tied into the desktop.
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First published in Linux Format magazine