GNOME 2.4 Release Notes

1. Introduction

The GNOME 2.4 Desktop is the latest release of the popular, multi-platform free desktop environment.

GNOME 2.4 expands the offerings of the popular free software desktop, with a new web browser based on the most standards-compliant rendering engine available, improved accessibility tools, a number of new applications to make day-to-day desktop use easier and a continued commitment to creating a computing environment that "just works".

GNOME 2.4 includes 11 new applications and more than 100 user-requested enhancements, evidence of the user-driven community development process used to create each GNOME release.

GNOME runs on a variety of platforms, including GNU/Linux (commonly called Linux), Solaris, HP-UX, BSD and Apple's Darwin. GNOME includes powerful features such as world-class smooth text rendering, a first-class accessibility infrastructure, and a complete internationalization infrastructure that includes support for bi-directional text.

GNOME provides a user-friendly environment that "just works" for everyday users, without excess complexity, while at the same time providing the rich flexibility experienced developers demand. We have tried to avoid unnecessary complications or obscure features, sticking instead to a clear, unified vision of a usable, powerful desktop.

Of course GNOME 2.4 includes all of the improvements made in GNOME 2.2, which you can learn about in the GNOME 2.2 release notes.

The Desktop release contains all the applications needed to provide basic user functionality. Major applications such as Gnumeric and Evolution also are available, but are developed in parallel on their own release cycle rather than being included in the core GNOME release.

GNOME is part of the GNU Project, and is free software.

2. What's New In GNOME 2.4

2.1. Desktop

2.1.1. The File Manager

Nautilus, the GNOME file manager, has added important functionality since the release of GNOME 2.2, including an integrated drag-and-drop CD burner and the ability to change the properties of multiple files simultaneously.

Figure 1CD Burner

Other changes in Nautilus for GNOME 2.4 include:

  • Desktop objects are now handled in memory rather than as actual files in the desktop directory.
  • The desktop directory has been moved from .gnome-desktop to the user-visible Desktop directory in the user's home directory.
  • Text-beside-icons mode in the icon view
  • Startup notification support when launching files
  • Improved context menus
  • "Keep Aligned" mode on the desktop
  • Multi-rooted tree view
  • Support for ".hidden" files, allowing users to create a list of files that will be hidden by Nautilus

2.1.2. The Panel

The GNOME panel has been simplified with the elimination of the multiple panel types in favor of a single type that can be configured with the same characteristics as each of the old panel types, preserving functionality while simplifying use:

  • You can move and resize the panel using the keyboard.
  • The panel can be any arbitrary size.
  • Floating panels now have grab handles.

Additional usability improvements to the panel include:

  • A new property dialog for panels and drawers.
  • New Run Application dialog
  • Improved Xinerama support
  • Accelerators added to main menu
  • Bigger icons in main menu
  • Applets can be locked to the panel
  • The panel and all applets now comply with "Fitt's Law" — You can click on them at the very edge of the screen
  • Applets no longer change positions when their size changes.
  • The "Window Menu" and "Menu Bar" from the old Menu Panel are now separate, moveable applets.
  • "Force Quit" button.
  • Calendar for the clock applet.

In addition to those user-visible changes, significant improvements in behind-the-scenes panel infrastructure have been made, including:

  • Reworked panel gconf functionality, so configuration keys are now documented with associated schemas and notifications.
  • Global keybinds for the panel are no longer handled by the panel. That responsibility has been handed off to the window manager. (This is currently implemented in Metacity.)

2.1.3. Gedit Syntax Highlighting

Paolo Maggi and the Gedit hackers have added syntax highlighting to GNOME's workhorse text editor:

Figure 2Gedit Syntax Highlighting
With the use of the GtkSourceView package, Gedit now supports syntax highlighting for text written in Ada, C, C++, IDL, Java, HTML, Latex, XML, Perl and Python.

2.2. Control Center

The Control Center is the heart of "the desktop that cares." Jonathan Blandford and his collaborators have given the Control Center a new central control panel for GNOME's accessibility features (courtesy of Bill Haneman) and integration with Dr. Wright, an application that gives you timed breaks from your busy work day, written by Richard Hult.

Figure 3Typing Break

Other new Control Center features include:

  • Themus, Andrew Sobala's new tool for managing themes.
  • A new font management system.
  • A tool from Alex Larsson to take advantage of the new XRandR capabilities in X 4.3, which allow you to change screen resolution on the fly.
  • Usability improvements from Dennis Cranston and Christian Neumair to bring the Control Center into conformity with the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines.

2.3. Applets

Maintainer Kevin Vandersloot and the many GNOME Applets hackers have done substantial work on the GNOME applets package, one of the core sources of GNOME's functionality. A new Sticky Notes applet by Loban Rahman has been added, and major effort, primarily by Dennis Cranston, has gone into usability to make the applets behavior consistent with GNOME's Human Interface Guidelines.

Figure 4Sticky Notes Applet

Other improvements to the applets include:

  • Fitts' law complience for the applets. You can now click on the screen edge to control an applet.
  • IPv6 support for Modemlights and the Inbox Monitor
  • You can now edit/add/remove palettes to the character picker and select them from a menu.
  • Character Palette can now display any UTF8 character.
  • You can now select which channel to control with the Volume Control.

2.4. Games

No computer experience is complete without games, and GNOME Games' new maintainer Callum McKenzie has put together a package for users' enjoyment.

Included in GNOME 2.4 is a new blackjack game by Jon McCann:

Figure 5Blackjack
Other GNOME Games improvements include widespread use of Gconf for configuration and extenive attention to usability and consistence via the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines.

2.5. Accessibility

GNOME 2.4 includes major advances in accessible free software on the desktop with the first editions of the Gnopernicus screen reader/magnifier and the GOK dynamic on-screen keyboard. Support for people with disabilities has been a key goal and focus of the GNOME 2 desktop platform, and successive releases have included increasing support for accessibility. With 2.4, users will be able to evaluate GNOME with assistive technolgies.

The editions of Gnopernicus and GOK that will be part of GNOME 2.4 are well along in their development cycle; however the GNOME accessibility community — and specifically BAUM and the University of Toronto Adaptive Technology Resource Centre who are the maintainers of these projects — feel that Gnopernicus and GOK need further testing and development before they are ready for production use by people with disabilities. By including Gnopernicus and GOK in GNOME 2.4 we will make it easy for a large audience to explore these assistive technologies, and provide feedback to their developers. Essentially this is a large, public beta test of the GNOME desktop assistive technologies.

2.5.1. Gnopernicus

Gnopernicus is an open source screen reader/magnifier that enables users with limited vision, or no vision, to use the GNOME 2 desktop and GNOME applications effectively. By providing automated focus tracking and full screen magnification, Gnopernicus aids low-vision GNOME users, and its screen reader features will allow low-vision and blind users to access a large range of applications via speech and braille output.

Figure 6Gnopernicus
BAUM Retec AG is guiding Gnopernicus development, and is also the principal author and project maintainer. BAUM has been developing screen reading and magnification software, as well as other software and hardware products for the blind, for over 20 years. More information about Gnopernicus can be found at http://developer.gnome.org/projects/gap/AT/Gnopernicus.

2.5.2. GOK Dynamic On-Screen Keyboard

GOK is a dynamic on-screen keyboard that enables users to control their computer without having to rely on a standard keyboard or mouse. Supporting the majority of single-switch devices already on the market, GOK allows users with limited voluntary movement to completely control and interact with their GNOME 2 desktop via one or more alternative input devices, choosing from a wide range of input techniques and configurations. These input methods may be controlled by actions such as blowing and sipping to activate a pneumatic switch, an eye blink and/or directed gaze with an eye tracking system, head movement, muscle contractions, or limb movements.

Figure 7GOK

Using innovative dynamic keyboard strategies, and leveraging the built-in accessibility framework of GNOME 2, GOK makes desktop and application control and interaction tremendously more efficient for users with severe physical impairments. GOK directly presents on the dynamic keyboard the users' menu options, toolbar choices, and text manipulation commands, thereby saving the user the time and frustration of having to enter lengthy series of keyboard sequences to invoke those commands. GOK also includes a word completion dictionary to speed text entry.

The Adaptive Technology Resource Centre is guiding GOK development, and is also the principal author and project maintainer. The University of Toronto's ATRC research and development lab brings strong leadership to the project with expertise in alternative input devices and software, and also a sincere passion regarding accessibility issues. The team has already produced a full-featured onscreen keyboard for another platform.

More information about GOK can be found at http://developer.gnome.org/projects/gap/AT/GOK and at http://www.gok.ca.

3. Applications

GNOME 2.4 includes many new and improved applications.

3.1. Epiphany

With Epiphany, GNOME 2.4 brings a clean and simple browser to the free software desktop based on the same rendering widget used in Mozilla — the most standards-compliant rendering widget available.

Figure 8Epiphany

Developed by a team led by Marco Pesenti Gritti, Epiphany uses the simplest interface possible for a browser. Simple does not necessarily mean less powerful. Its design is based on the belief that commonly used browsers of today are too big, buggy, and bloated. Epiphany achieves simplicity by focusing on web browsing, and by tightly integrating with other parts of the GNOME platform, instead of reproducing that functionality in the browser.

Epiphany also works to ensure freedom of choice by being standards compliant. Respecting web standards, so that users can see the same content regardless of their choice of browser or platform, is an important step towards guaranteeing freedom of choice. Epiphany and GNOME seek to ensure choice by using Gecko, the most standards-compliant rendering engine available.

Epiphany introduces a dependency on Mozilla.

3.2. GnomeMeeting

GnomeMeeting brings free internet telephony (VoIP) and video conferencing support to GNOME 2.4, with full support for callto: and h323: URIs.

Figure 9GnomeMeeting

With its development led by Damien Sandras, GnomeMeeting can carry out video conferencing, PC-to-PC and PC-to-Phone calls, and text chat. Its full compliance to standards, such as H.323, means that it can communicate with any other compliant conferencing application.

The current feature set is documented on the GnomeMeeting website.

3.3. Gcalctool

Thanks to the efforts of Rich Burridge, GNOME 2.4 includes Gcalctool, a new version of the venerable Calctool calculator originally released to comp.sources.unix in the late 1980's. Gcalctool replaces the GNOME Calculator, which used to be included in the gnome-utils package.

Figure 10Gcalctool

Gcalctool has Basic, Financial and Scientific modes. Calculations are performed from left to right, with no arithmetic precedence. If you need arithmetic precedence, then you should use parentheses. Basic Mode provides standard calculator functions. You can store numbers in 10 different memory registers, and easily retrieve and replace the numbers in the memory registers. Basic Mode is the default mode. You can use all of the Basic Mode functions in each of the other modes. Financial Mode provides several complex financial functions. Scientific Mode provides many additional mathematical functions, including trigonometric and logical functions. You can also store your own functions and constants, when you use Scientific Mode.

3.4. Zenity

Written by Glynn Foster, Zenity is a new dialog creation tool that can be used to provide user input dialogs in shell scripts. It replaces gdialog, which was included in the gnome-utils package. Zenity's functionality is based on the dialog application.

Figure 11Zenity

3.5. Gucharmap

Written by Noah Levitt, Gucharmap is a full-featured unicode character picker. It allows users access to the full array of unicode characters, allowing you to paste them into another application when they are unavailable directly through the keyboard.

Figure 12Gucharmap

Gucharmap replaces gnome-character-map, which was included in the gnome-utils package. With it, users can:

  • find out all about each character
  • view in any font at any point size, switch among fonts quickly
  • browse characters by Unicode block
  • identify the first character in the clipboard
  • copy arbitrary characters and paste into other programs
  • search for a character by name
  • jump to a character by code point
  • drag selection into the charmap to identify a character
  • drag and drop out of the charmap
  • magnify the active character
  • see which font is actually being used to draw each character

3.6. GPDF

GNOME 2.4 includes a new viewer for PDF files. GPDF, written in its most recent incarnation by Martin Kretzschmar, is based on XPDF and features high-quality rendering of PDF files not previously available as part of the GNOME desktop.

Figure 13GPDF

4. Sysadmin, User, and Accessibility Guides

Thanks to the efforts of the GNOME Documentation Project, GNOME 2.4 comes with comprehensive and professional documentation. Careful attention has been taken to detail using free software's most complete documentation style guide. As in GNOME 2.2, each application shipped with GNOME 2.4 includes full user documentation.

Learn to how to use GNOME with the Desktop User Guide. The User Guide and other documentation, including guides to system administration and GNOME's accessibility features, can be found on the GNOME Learn page.

5. Internationalization

Thanks to members of the worldwide GNOME Translation Project, under the leadership of Christian Rose and Kjartan Maraas, GNOME 2.4 offers support for 29 languages (at least 80 percent of strings translated).

Figure 14GNOME in Chinese Characters

Supported languages:

  • Albanian (5 million speakers)
  • Azerbaijani (28 million)
  • Belarusian (7 million)
  • Brazilian Portuguese (175 million)
  • Catalan (7 million)
  • Chinese Simplified (over 1 billion)
  • Chinese Traditional (40 million)
  • Czech (11 million)
  • Danish (5.3 million)
  • Dutch (over 21 million)
  • English (341 million)
  • Finnish (over 5 million)
  • French (over 75 million)
  • German (100 million)
  • Greek (15 million)
  • Italian (60 million)
  • Japanese (over 125 million)
  • Korean (75 million)
  • Malay (over 17 million)
  • Norwegian bokmål (5 million)
  • Polish (44 million)
  • Portuguese (43 million)
  • Romanian (26 million)
  • Serbian (10 million)
  • Slovak (5.5 million)
  • Slovenian (2 million)
  • Spanish (over 350 million)
  • Swedish (9 million)
  • Welsh (575,000)

Especially notable here is the work by Danilo Segan and the other members of the Serbian translation team, along with Dafydd Harries and the Welsh team. Both teams have brought their language from an unsupported and virtually untranslated status, to a fully complete status in the short timeframe since the last GNOME release. This means having translated 16642 messages in just a few months, which is a most remarkable effort.

Another 13 languages are partially supported, with more than half of their strings translated.

6. Standards Compliance

GNOME works closely with groups such as freedesktop.org. Standards support is a big plus for GNOME users. Interoperability support improves the user experience by allowing GNOME, KDE, and other applications to work together more easily, and following open specifications helps ensure that user data is not trapped in proprietary formats.

GNOME developers are working hard with other members of the free software community through Freedesktop.org on the development of standards to allow interoperability. Those standards include: icon themes, recent files, thumbnail management, and the system tray spec. In addition, GNOME 2 supports CORBA, XML, Xdnd, EWMH, XEMBED, XSETTINGS, and XSMP.

7. Known Issues

All software, when it is released, contains bugs the developers know about but have elected, for a variety of reasons, not to fix before releasing. Free software is no different in this regard from proprietary software, except that with free software, we tell users about them.

We also encourage our users to report bugs so that they can be fixed. The best way to report bugs found in GNOME is to use the Simple Bug Guide. This will take you through the necessary steps to file a quality bug report, and make sure that it is tagged appropriately. If you're too advanced for anything with the word 'simple' in it, there is also the traditional bug form. More details on bugs already reported can be found at our Bugzilla. Among the most prominent GNOME 2.4 bugs:

7.1. List of known issues

  • The Stock Ticker applet is unable to download data in GNOME 2.4.0.
  • GPDF does not support printing in GNOME 2.4.0. It is planned to add this functionality later in the GNOME 2.4 release series.
  • The Panel stores configuration in format different from previous versions of GNOME. The configuration is migrated to the new format when the Panel first starts. After that, changes made to the configuration in GNOME 2.4 will not be reflected in older GNOME sessions and vice versa.
  • The desktop is now located in the directory Desktop, instead of .gnome-desktop. If you are running GNOME 2.4 in parallel with an older version of GNOME, you should place a symlink to the Desktop directory inside the .gnome-desktop directory so that you can access your new desktop from an old version of GNOME.

8. Looking to GNOME 2.6 and Beyond

GNOME operates on a time-based release philosophy, an attempt to continuously provide the best of our hackers' efforts to users as quickly as we can. Six months after GNOME 2.4, we anticipate that GNOME 2.6 will feature the next release of GTK+, introducing new file selector and "combo" widgets, powerful menu and toolbar widgets and further advances in accessibility, usability and internationalization.

9. Getting Involved

The core of GNOME's success is its many volunteers, both users and developers.

As a user, your contribution can be as simple as filing good bug reports. You can file bugs in our Bugzilla using the simple bug assistant. If you want to contribute more, you can join our active bug-squad.

For developers, there is much exciting progress to be made in any of our active developer groups - Accessibility, Documentation, Usability, Translation, Web, Testing, Graphics and Desktop & Platform Development. Many of these sub-projects have web pages on developer.gnome.org. Choosing a role that suits you may be difficult at first, but here is a guide to help you make your decision.

Helping on GNOME can be an incredibly satisfying experience, allowing you to meet a wide range of motivated, skilled, and helpful people all working towards a unified goal. Join us today and see what a difference you can make.

A. New Maintainers

GNOME 2.4 marks the arrival of a number of new maintainers since the release of GNOME 2.2:

  • Shaun McCance (yelp)
  • Marco Pesenti (epiphany)
  • Rich Burridge (gcalctool)
  • Erwann Chenede and Bill Haneman (gnome-mag)
  • Marc Mulcahy (gnome-speech)
  • Damien Sandras (gnomemeeting)
  • BAUM Retec AG (gnopernicus)
  • David Bolter and the University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (gok)
  • Martin Kretzschmar (gpdf)
  • Noah Levitt (gucharmap)
  • Ted Gould (gnome-media)
  • Callum McKenzie (gnome-games)

B. Thanks

The GNOMEs who bring you this software are too numerous to mention by name, but in addition to the folks mentioned above, a few contributors deserve special thanks for exceptional contributions toward making this release possible:

  • Dennis Cranston for gnome-search-tool
  • Mike Newman for his work on the zenity gdialog wrapper
  • Bill Haneman and Calum Benson for Keyboard Accessibility Status applet
  • Shailesh Mittal for IPv6 support
  • Irene Ryan, Eugene O'Connor and Pat Costello for documentation work throughout GNOME
  • Malcolm Tredinnick for settings for "dont-proxy-for-this-domain" in gnome-vfs
  • Frank Worsley for gnome_vfs_url_show suport
  • Anders Carlsson - Convert file attributes from stringlists to bitmasks in Nautilus, and also .hidden file support
  • Glynn Foster - Nicer Nautilus bookmarks dialog
  • Marco Pesenti Gritti - icon theme throbber support in Nautilus
  • Frederic Crozat - important Nautilus bugfixes
  • Jürg Billeter and Wolfgang Pichler - worked on the multiroot tree sidebar
  • Soren Sandmann - high-performance model for the Nautilus listview
  • Johan Dahlin - file size and count for the Nautilus multi-file property dialog
  • Bastien Nocera for use of the new samba library for smb support in gnome-vfs-extras, and also for DVD burning in nautilus-cd-burner
  • Ross Burton for write to cd context menu, bugfixes in nautilus-cd-burner
  • Bob Doan for cdrw blanking support in nautilus-cd-burner
  • Christian Persch for plugging memory leaks, improving the window/tab communication code, cleaning up the encoding and languages implementation, speeding up the tabs menu updating in Epiphany
  • David Bordoley for work in Epiphany's user interface, ensuring HIG compliance, cleanliness, and general usability.
  • Xan Lopez for polishing Epiphany's rough edges, including implementing drag and drop of urls of links to bookmarks toolbar and adding nice touches to the bookmarks views like sorting
  • Steve Chaplin, for making gnomine really shine
  • George Lebl, for changes that desensitize preferences in various apps if an administrator has locked down the preference's Gconf key
  • Jeroen Zwartepoorte, Eric Ritezel, James Willcox and Gustavo Giraldez for their contributions to gedit and gtksourceview

C. Credits

These release notes were assembled by John Fleck with contributions from Dave Camp, Sayamindu Dasgupta, Murray Cumming, Andrew Sobala, Luis Villa, Jeff Waugh and many more.