With its latest Precise Pangolin release, Ubuntu — the most popular open source operating system — has become the first Linux-based operating system to support the latest desktop version from the Gnome community.
The Gnome community project makes the look-and-feel software used by majority of operating systems based on open source software, such as Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSuse, Slackware etc..
The software, the core of which is called Gnome Shell, is in the throes of a radical overhaul after nearly a decade of stability, as the volunteer developers embark on making bringing the user-interface on par with overall trends in the market — such as the rise of the tablets and use of touch-interface.
However, the Gnome Shell’s new versions, 3.0 and 3.2, have been mildly ‘buggy’ due to the overhaul and uses up more system resources — such as memory and processing power — than the previous Gnome 2 version.
Many of the issues were fixed in version 3.4 and the interface responsiveness too has improved, with faster deployments and transitions. But, the 3.4 version is yet to reach any major operating system, with Ubuntu users being the first to get the privilege.
Ubuntu itself, however, offers only some of the 3.4 version software and has fallen back on 3.2 for the other bits of Gnome (including the Shell), however, users can easily add the full 3.4 suite using a supplementary software source.
Meanwhile, Ubuntu Precise Pangolin continues to use the ‘Unity’ desktop user interface developed in-house. It had rejected the stock Gnome interface about 1.5 years ago, claiming that it had become too old fashioned.
However, Unity came in for a lot of criticism initially for lacking an easy way to switch between different applications or windows. Most of the short-comings have been fixed in the latest version.
However, Unity continues to have a ‘task bar’ or ‘application launch bar’ like the Windows and Mac OS operating systems, while Gnome had got rid of the bar when it moved to the latest version (Gnome 3) a year ago.
Instead of using a bar to switch between applications, Gnome now uses a combination of mouse-gestures and window-overviews.
To switch, users move their mouse buttons to the top-left corner (without clicking anything), and the display ‘zooms out’ to show all the running applications in an overview mode. In the ‘zoomed out’ mode, it also offers ‘quick launch’ buttons to start the user’s favorite applications as well as an overview of the different ‘workspaces’ or ‘desktops’ that the user has running at that point.
Both Gnome and Unity have switched to a grid-based application display menu from the previous linear ‘unfolding’ menu system too.
Red Hat sponsored Fedora is expected to become the second major operating system to support Gnome 3.4 when it releases version 17 next month.
Gnome 3.4 is also available on geek-oriented operating systems such as Arch Linux.