Product review: GNOME builds an open interface

Most Linux desktop systems in the enterprise are installed by adventurous techie types without blessing or support from the corporate IS department. The long-awaited GNOME 1.0 (pronounced "Gah-NOME"), however, should help spur adoption of Linux as a corporate desktop alternative.

Designed from the ground up by the Free Software Foundation using open-source libraries and software, GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) is the latest, and arguably greatest, GUI for Linux. Also, unlike the other popular free GUI for Linux, the K Desktop Environment (KDE), all of the components that GNOME relies upon are open source.

GNOME is based on GTK, the Gimp toolkit, and KDE is built on the Qt library toolset. The main difference between them is that GTK is free, open-source software, but application developers must pay to use Qt for commercial purposes.

For testing, I used a Compaq Deskpro EN with a 500-MHz Pentium III. After installing a fresh copy of Red Hat Linux 5.2 and all the latest bug fixes, I upgraded to the latest Linux kernel, 2.2.3, and then downloaded GNOME 1.0 from www.gnome.org.

Even if you tinkered with the GNOME beta versions, you will want to check out the "Installing GNOME" documentation (also available at the GNOME Web site), a step-by-step guide to downloading, installing, and configuring GNOME. There are versions of the document for Red Hat, Debian, SuSE, and PowerPC Linux systems, as well as one for those who want to compile GNOME from the source code.

After installing the GNOME packages, I had to edit an X Windows start-up file in order to launch GNOME automatically when X Windows starts. This is something that should be handled by the installation program or a script file.

GNOME automatically sets up a set of menus with many commonly used applications, as well as a "Red Hat menus" section for those used to the default Red Hat 5.2 X Windows menus.

I like the way that GNOME handles the taskbar and button bar. Unlike KDE, GNOME uses one panel for both application icons and for a list of currently running applications. If you don't share my preference, this (like most things Linux) can be changed if you don't like it. In this case, GNOME allows you to drag and drop applications onto the button bar.

As a long-time Linux user, I think GNOME 1.0 is a very important step on the Linux road map. While I like KDE's features as well and have been using KDE since before Version 1.0, I am going to switch to GNOME now that 1.0 is out.

Choosing a GUI for your Linux box is somewhat like choosing an OS. Different systems are better for different users. Those who wish to develop applications or have the widest range of X Windows customisation options should give GNOME a try.

Kevin Railsback is a technology analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center. He can be reached at kevin_railsback@infoworld.com.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

GNOME 1.0

The much-anticipated release of GNOME 1.0 provides corporate Linux users with a fully open-source alternative to the K Desktop Environment (KDE). GNOME's setup and configuration is relatively easy, although it isn't the snap that KDE is.

Pros: Integrates seamlessly into X Windows; open-source software.

Cons: Somewhat more difficult to install than KDE; fewer applications included than KDE.

The Gnome Project, Free Software Foundation, Boston; www.gnome.org, www.fsf.org.

Price: Free.

Platform: Gnome 1.0 runs on Linux, FreeBSD, Irix, Solaris, and other Unix-like platforms.

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