GNOME 3.14 is now out. It's a release full of polish from the desktop environment once preferred by most Linux distributions — and almost a story of redemption. After arguably losing its way around GNOME 3.0, GNOME is back with a vengeance.
GNOME Shell has matured immensely since their immature launch. Thanks to solid releases like GNOME 3.14, GNOME will once again be the default desktop on Debian, pushing out Xfce. GNOME 3's "classic mode" offers enough familiarity to be the default desktop on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7, too.
What's new in GNOME 3.14
GNOME 3.14 includes several redesigned applications. The Weather app has been reworked with a new layout, and now uses GNOME's built-in geolocation features to automatically display the weather for your current location.
The Evince app — GNOME's PDF viewer — now has less interface getting in the way so it can display more of your documents at once. It also supports high-resolution displays and offers improved accessibility features.
GNOME now has multitouch support, too. Gestures involving multiple fingers can be used to navigate the desktop interface. Evince, and GNOME's image viewer, Eye of GNOME, now support pinch-to-zoom.
The Photos app gained support for Google accounts, meaning photos uploaded from Android, through Google+, or via Picasa are now integrated. It already allows you to access photos from Facebook and Flickr. Photos can also now access local photo servers over the DLNA protocol.
"Captive portal handling" is another modern feature for GNOME. When you connect to a Wi-Fi network that requires a click-through — for example, in a coffee shop, hotel, or airport — GNOME will automatically bring up the web page you need to click, just like other modern operating systems do.
You can try GNOME 3.14 yourself by downloading this official live image based on Fedora. Boot it in a virtual machine, put it on a USB drive, or burn it to disc — whatever you prefer. Check the official release notes for more details.
Winning back hearts and minds
GNOME 2 was once the default desktop environment on Ubuntu and most other popular Linux distributions, from Fedora to Debian. It was a stable, simple environment. With GNOME 3 and the GNOME Shell desktop, the GNOME team made radical changes. There was no more taskbar or pop-up menu. The interface used lots of 3D effects, and performance was initially poor for many people, especially on hardware with poor 3D drivers in Linux.
Most controversially, the desktop environment was very simple, with even more features stripped away. In 2011, Linus Torvalds himself said of GNOME 3, "The developers have apparently decided that it's 'too complicated' to actually do real work on your desktop, and have decided to make it really annoying to do."
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.