Gnome 3.4 Review and Hands-on

Gnome 3.4 was released several days ago. This update brings a plenty of improvements to the user experience, including many bug fixes and small enhancements. Most of the applications have also gone through a redesign and have become more Gnome3-ish. Best of all, this release also brings an improvement to its performance and is now running faster and better. Let’s check it out what is in store in Gnome 3.4.

To get started, you can download the LiveCD from the Gnome site. Alternatively, if you are running Ubuntu 12.04, you can install it from the Ubuntu Software Center.

One thing that you will discover upon booting up to Gnome 3.4 is that most of its applications are more consistent with the Gnome 3 theme and layout. You can now expect all (or most) of its application to have a similar layout (rounder border, Close window button on the right etc) and that means easier navigation and smoother transition when you move from application to application.

Online Accounts

In addition to Google, Gnome 3.4 has added support for Windows Live and Facebook. These will be integrated into contact list as well as your Empathy so you will be automatically signed in to MSN messenger and Facebook chat everytime you run Empathy.

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Integrated Search

For the accounts that you have added in the Online Accounts, you can now search for documents, files, or contacts right from the Activity search bar. Simply type in the name and the corresponding contact/document will appear in the search result.

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Documents

The Documents app is already available in existing Gnome 3, but it is not user-friendly and only comes with limited features. The improved version in Gnome 3.4 allows you to multi-select, sort, organize and print your documents right from your desktop. There is also an option to edit directly in Google Docs. I would love to see it integrate with LibreOffice though, so I can edit my online documents offline and have it sync to online when I am done with the edit.

Contacts

The new Contact application shows your contact list from your online accounts. There are plenty of visual changes, including avatar, inline linking suggestions. If you have linked both Facebook and Google accounts, it will even prompt you if you want to merge the contacts when it noticed two contacts of the same email address.

Boxes

Boxes is an interesting application that allows you to easily connect to remote machines as well as use virtual machines. Its built-in KVM feature also allows you to create a virtual machine easily. It is still a work in progress and might not be available in many distros.

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Disk

The Disk Utility has been revamped and is now known as Disk. The new design makes it less intimidating than the previous version and is easier to navigate.

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Web Browser

The previously known Epiphany is now known as Web in Gnome 3.4. It has been redesigned and there is no title bar and it is maxmized by default, with no option to minimize or unmaximize it. The Gnome team seems to have taken the cue from the Global menu and has introduced a SuperMenu for Web – menu option from the Application Menu. While it seems to run faster, the inability to unmaximize the browser window is a big turn-off.

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On the whole, the changes, updates and improvement made in Gnome 3.4 are impressive. The application redesign gives it a more consistent look and feel throughout the system and updates to some of the applications have make them more useful than before. The only grip I have is the inability to unmaxmize the app window for some apps. I just can’t see the reason why it needs to maxmize each application by default and remove the minimize/unmaximize buttons from the window control bar. Worst still, the Web browser doesn’t allow you to minimize/unmaximize which make it very user-unfriendly.

If you are coming from a non-Gnome 3 background, the improvement in Gnome 3.4 won’t make it much easier to use. There is still a steep learning curve, especially for those who are coming from KDE or Gnome 2. For those who have used Gnome 3 since it first releases, I am sure you will love the improvement in Gnome 3.4 as well.