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Linux garden gets a new GNOME with version 2.28

A new version of the GNOME desktop environment has arrived with a new Bluetooth management tool, a WebKit-based browser, and a number of other noteworthy improvements.

Linux garden gets a new GNOME with version 2.28

The developers behind the open source GNOME desktop environment have announced the official release of version 2.28. This version brings a handful of noteworthy improvements such as a new Bluetooth configuration tool and user interface refinements in numerous applications. One of the most significant changes is the adoption of Apple's WebKit HTML rendering engine for GNOME's Epiphany Web browser.

GNOME is a collection of software applications, development frameworks, and core desktop components that together provide a comprehensive graphical computing environment for Linux and other compatible operating systems. It includes a file manager, a task management panel, a suite of basic utilities, and various programs for communication and multimedia. It is the default desktop environment in several prominent Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu. A new stable version arrives every six months with a handful of important incremental improvements that constitute a significant portion of the user-visible changes in subsequent GNOME-based Linux distro releases.

Bluetooth support got a major overhaul in this GNOME release. The new gnome-bluetooth project, which is a fork of bluez-gnome, provides improved desktop integration and a much better user interface for managing connections with Bluetooth devices. NetworkManager integration will simplify tethering, and PulseAudio integration will make it easier to fine-tune audio behavior for headsets.

The GNOME community has become increasingly enthusiastic about the WebKit rendering engine due to its potential for bringing richer presentation capabilities to the desktop and a stronger Web browsing experience. Adoption of the GTK+ WebKit port was previously held back by accessibility concerns and general lack of maturity. In GNOME 2.28, these issues have largely been addressed. Preliminary support for screen readers is now in place and the renderer is a lot more robust than it was six months ago. This has opened the door for WebKit to be used in various parts of the GNOME desktop.

The Empathy instant messaging application has gained support for using Adium themes with a WebKit-powered message view. More significantly, WebKit has displaced Mozilla's Gecko engine as the HTML renderer in GNOME's native Epiphany Web browser. This transition has been in the works for quite some time and is a major step forward for GNOME's browser. Epiphany is quite snappy in GNOME 2.28 and scores 100/100 on the Acid3 test. Using WebKit will help differentiate Epiphany from Firefox, which is shipped as the default browser by most of the major Linux distributors.

With the release of version 2.28, GNOME has taken its first major steps towards delivering a location-aware desktop. Some of the experimental geolocation features that we looked at earlier this year are now part of the desktop. Empathy, for example, has gained a map view that can show you the location of your contacts using a new XMPP extension.

There are a lot of new little features too, such as an overview display for the Hamster time tracking tool and a PDF annotation tool for Evince, the GNOME PDF viewing utility.

The GNOME desktop is currently undergoing a significant transformation as the developers move closer towards unleashing the 3.0 release, which will offer a next-generation desktop shell and window manager. The roadmap specifies that the next stable version, which is tentatively designated 2.30, could potentially be declared the 3.0 release. A lot of architectural work is being done under the hood to accommodate that transition, with deprecated legacy technologies such as Bonobo being purged aggressively throughout the desktop.

GNOME 2.28 represents a moderately compelling incremental improvement. WebKit-based Epiphany is definitely worth a try, and I'm finally starting to warm up to Empathy thanks to the bug fixing and user interface refinements delivered in this release. The enhanced Bluetooth support is also a welcome addition. Version 2.28 is a little bit light on new features relative to some previous GNOME releases, but that's understandable as a lot of development effort is currently focused on preparing for the next-generation GNOME desktop.

For additional details about GNOME 2.28, you can refer to the official release notes.

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