The first beta of GNOME 3.4 came out at the tail end of last week, which means that we are roughly on track for a final release at the end of March. The beta also marks the beginning of the UI freeze for this cycle, so now seems like a good time to check out the cool stuff that’s coming in 3.4.
The following are just the changes that I know about; I’m sure that there are plenty of others. There’s no shortage of things to talk about though: the amount of improvement in recent GNOME releases has been really impressive, and this release looks like it will be no exception.
Applications are where many of the big changes can be found for this release. Documents and Contacts had their first releases in 3.2. Now they’re back, and they’re joined by Boxes too. All three of these new GNOME applications feature updated user interfaces, which is the outcome of the ongoing application design work that I discussed in my last blog post. We think they’re better than what we had before; we hope you do too.
GNOME Documents no longer has a sidepane, and instead features inline collections and a big thumbnail grid that fills the entire window. The searching and filtering experience has also been greatly improved.
Contacts has been redesigned to include a new list layout and a cleaner contacts pane that features inline editing and automatic linking suggestions.
Several existing GNOME applications have also received big updates this cycle. Epiphany is the principal example here. It has lost its menu bar and gained linked back and forward buttons and a really nice new address bar.
Empathy also has a new video calling UI, and Seahorse, the GNOME keyring application, has been given a facelift.
There have been a number of improvements to GNOME’s user interface toolkit and visual theme this cycle. Application menus have now arrived, so that GNOME applications can place a menu in the top bar. This will be an important feature for future application design work, and a number of applications, such as Documents, Contacts and Epiphany, are already using it.
Smoothing rough edges and improving polish has been a big focus for 3.4. Several user interface widgets have also been substantially improved for the release. Spin buttons, which were rather tricky to use previously, have been re-engineered to make them easier. GNOME’s colour chooser dialog has also been modernised, and is vastly improved as a result.
The GNOME 3 visual theme has also received a lot of work this cycle. Many of the changes are subtle, but almost every part of the theme has been modified in some way. The overall effect is that it feels and looks much better.
The toolkit crew are also working hard to get smooth scrolling included in 3.4 and, I’ve been told, are almost done. This will be a major improvement to the whole experience if and when it is incorporated.
Core User Experience
Improvements have also been made to the GNOME 3 core user experience. One of the most important of these is the new ability for applications to act as search providers for the Activities Overview. GNOME Documents is already taking advantage of this, meaning that you will be able to search your documents directly from the overview.
These changes to the way that GNOME 3 does search means that any application will be able to provide search results for the overview. Eventually we hope that searching from the overview will allow you to tap into virtually all of your applications from a single place.
The Activities Overview also features a lot of small improvements, thanks to the Every Detail Matters initiative. This includes many bug fixes and visual improvements, such as restyled application and window labels. The overview should provide a much smoother and easier experience thanks to these efforts.
There are also some nice enhancements to the GNOME System Settings, including better looking power settings and enhanced graphics tablet configuration.
There are lots of other changes in 3.4, of course: there have been improvements to GNOME 3’s built-in screen recorder, a live wallpaper that subtly updates throughout the day has been created, and we have new, fully integrated authentication dialogs for networking. And I’m sure there are many other improvements besides those.
Altogether, the changes in 3.4 should provide a much nicer, smoother experience. This is also an important release in terms of what it means for the future. 3.4 contains the results of GNOME’s new focus on application development, which is something that will continue for a long time to come. It also provides new facilities for applications – such as application menus and integrated application search – that will become central parts of the user experience in the future.
Thanks to everyone who helped with the screenshots for this post!
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