What's New in GNOME 2 for Users

Lots of rumors have been going around that GNOME 2 won't have any new user-visible features, but while this was the plan and would have resulted in releasing sooner (cough), it's not really what happened. ;-) So here's some hype for you. I'll try to keep this page up to date, send me additions/fixes.

This document is as best I can manage about features that are already in the code or almost certainly will be, rather than hoped-for features. Still, some things may end up in 2.0.1/2.2/whatever, one can't say for sure. This list is totally unofficial/informal, which is why it's on my personal web site, and so don't take any of this too seriously. Also, I'm writing in January 2002, and the chances are that by February this will be outdated. </disclaimer>

GNOME 2 devel is tracked on the dotplan site (they also have screenshots there). I'm too lazy too make more screenshots but if people send me links to shots for the stuff mentioned here I'll add them.

This page is only about user features, there are far more new developer features, the porting guide covers a lot of those.

I listed the stuff you've probably heard already first, just so you have to keep reading to the end...

Improved fonts and graphics

Everyone knows these:

Keyboard Navigation

This one is pretty nice. GTK 2 has all kinds of built-in keynav support, thanks to the accessibility project.

Among the keynav features:

There are still dialogs and such in the alpha that don't have proper keynav support, and still some outstanding keynav patches to GTK, but quite good keynav support should be in for 2.0.


Internationalization has two major changes:

One major implication of Unicode is that the same code paths will now be used for European and Asian text, so GNOME will almost certainly work out-of-the-box for people in all countries.

User Interface Simplicity

In general, we are trying to make the UI as elegant as we can, so nontechnical users can use it, and so technical users can use it more quickly and smoothly. Our focus is on better UI, not "more UI" or just adding more config options. So you'll see the UI getting cleaner, starting in 2.0 and continuing in releases after that.

Menu layout

This one is not yet in the alpha, but promises to make it a lot easier for users to find things. Read the proposal here. I am fairly sure it is targetted for 2.0.

Also, the menus are supposed to be more configurable with the new GNOME/KDE shared scheme for where they are stored.

Control center UI revamp

This is another reworking, beyond the reworking found in recent Ximian. The number of control panels is being reduced to a sane level, and each panel is simpler, more attractive, and easier to use. It's looking quite nice.

Panel preferences improvements

Panel preferences are being made more powerful in some respects (for example a "profiles" feature allowing you to save panel setups, e.g. one for each machine you log in to), but also the basic prefs dialogs are being made easier to understand and less cluttered.

Style guide and UI project

App developers have somewhere to go to learn how to make a consistent, usable application.

New Help Browser

Instead of gnome-help-browser or Nautilus, a new application called Yelp that uses GtkHTML2 to render info/man/docbook help pages will be used. Yelp has a dead-simple, incredibly easy interface, since you can't read help on the help browser. ;-)

The super-simple interface also means that Yelp starts up quickly and doesn't use a lot of resources.

GConf Configuration, gconf-editor

GConf will be widely deployed, which should make GNOME work properly if you log in from multiple machines, allows administrators to set up (and optionally lock down) systemwide defaults, and instantly applies preferences changes to all running copies of interested applications.

There's also a tool called gconf-editor which can be used to browse and configure all the raw configuration keys that affect GNOME applications.


Keyboard navigation is a key part of accessibility support that will be useful to all users, but there are many other aspects to it.

The core of accessibility support is a set of hooks in GTK that allow an external program to query applications about their GUI. For example, an external program can ask what buttons and menu items there are, their state, what their labels contain, and so on. This can be used by a screen reader to tell a blind user what's on the screen, for example.

An example of why this is interesting even if you don't have a disability: you could write a high-level scripting feature with commands such as "activate the File menu, choose Open, select all, copy" - no one's working on this yet so it won't be in GNOME 2, but a macro recorder and playback system would be a simple project using the GNOME 2 platform. This kind of scripting would use high-level user-comprehensible GUI features and wouldn't depend on special application support for scripting, it'd just work automatically with any GTK app.


Procman is a really, really nice system monitor application that replaces GTop. It's attractive and easy to use.


Metatheme is a way of collecting themes for various desktop components (window manager, GTK, background image, etc.) into one "metatheme" and then selecting them as a whole. It's both the system for building the composite themes, and a control panel for picking one.

Assorted GUI tweaks

Small things that matter, for example:

Footnote on clipboard, cut-and-paste

Several people have asked about the clipboard. GTK has always done the right thing for the clipboard. See http://www.freedesktop.org/standards/clipboards.txt. If the clipboard doesn't work it's because some application is not following the spec correctly; please file bug reports for those applications. Note that Qt 2 does not follow the clipboard specs correctly, so correct applications do not interoperate with Qt 2. Qt 3 fixes this problem.

gdm eye candy

It appears that this kind of login screen will be supported, you define the screen in a special XML format and can use scalable SVG images in it. This isn't in the alpha yet but I have seen it running, I promise!

GEGL Invaders

Um, apparently we have this, but I haven't seen it and am not sure I want to... ;-)


There are no doubt plenty of things I've left out, though we're kind of hoping to feature freeze shortly, and at that point we'll have to wait for 2.0.1 or 2.2 or whatever we call it to see more stuff. Since the platform will be held ABI-compatible for quite a while (most likely the next couple years), the focus will be on building out the user environment and applications.

Havoc Pennington