Gnome 3.4, the third stable release in the 3.x series, is here. We couldn’t wait to try it out, since the last year has revealed Gnome 3 to be a desktop with a lot of potential, if a few rough edges. The first point to note is that Gnome 3.4 hasn’t set out to simply polish the rough edges, but has introduced a lot of welcome new features. The most significant is the work put in to the default web browser. Web (also known as Epiphany).
Thanks to its Webkit backend, it feels fast and passes the Acid3 test v/ith flying colours. What’s more, a new SQLite backend for the address bar has made that part of the interface much quicker too. We think it’s sad that many users will never notice these improvements, as most distributions will replace Web with Firefox in their default selections. The most striking changes are in its appearance, however, and it locks great. Every unnecessary part of the interface has been removed. No more status bar. no more menu bar. It’s very Chrome-esque, and is perfect for a wet browser.
Title bars be gone
When you first launch Web, it defaults to full-screen and. as in Unity, the title bar is removed to give you the most screen space possible. It feels a bit strange at first, but on our test laptop, we quickly got used to it.
Many of these interface developments have been integrated into the other new applications introduced since Gnome 3.2, including Documents and Contacts. One change that’s less visible is the introduction of document search to the Overview In the past, searching for documents in the Overview has included only recent documents, but now it uses Tracker to do a full search. This feels like a natural extension, and we can’t believe it wasn’t included in the first Gnome 3 releases.
More new applications
On top of the applications already introduced in Gnome 3.2, there’s another new application in 3.4. It’s called Boxes, and it’s designed to provide a nice interface for desktop users to access alternative machines from their current system. That is to say, it combines a virtual machine manager (used with KVM) with a remote desktop viewer.
Virtualbox is great, but constant fiddling with kernel modules can be a pain; on the other hand, until Boxes came along, if you wanted to use KVM you had to use the command line or the virt-manager application.
Don’t expect many advanced features, but you will find a quick and easy way to test the latest releases of your favorite distributions. With all of these new and updated applications, some of Gnome’s older programmes are looking long in the tooth. We’d love to see Rhythmbox, Brasero and Evolution get new-look interfaces, too; until they do. Gnome 3 won’t feel like the complete, integrated environment its developers want it to be.
One question long-time Gnome users may ask is if some of the more annoying ‘features’ of Gnome 3 have been removed. They haven’t. Users still have to hold down the Alt key to shut down (something our production editor, a new Linux user, found ridiculous). Alt+Tab still cycles through applications, not windows, and clicking a launcher in the Dash still doesn’t launch a new instance of an application, but gives focus to the already running one After three stable releases, if you’re still hoping the developers will switch these default settings, it’s lime you gave up. But these annoyances are not the problems they used to be, thanks to the increasing size and maturity of Gnome’s extension collection. Extensions exist to modify all of these strange behaviors, and are installable through your web browser. This release continues to bring out Gnome 3’s potential. We just hope that in the coming releases, the pace of new introductions will slow and some of the desktop’s older elements will get a bit more attention.