The next release of GNOME desktop, version 41, is now in beta and its features and API are frozen.
GNOME 40 was released in March and, despite the huge leap in version number from 3.38, it was not intended to be radically different from the 3.x line in the same way that GNOME 3 was to GNOME 2. "Radical technological and design changes are too disruptive for maintainers, users, and developers," said Emmanuele Bassi from the GNOME Team.
Instead, the version number of 40 is to signify it's roughly the 40th release of GNOME – specifically, the 41st – rather than a 2.x-to-3.x level of change that 3.38 to, say, 4.0 would suggest.
Version 40 did, nevertheless, introduce quite a few changes to app-launching and navigation, as well as for the core apps. There is also an associated update of GTK (GNOME Toolkit) to version 4.x, and the combination of GNOME 40 and GTK 4.0 may give you pause for thought before upgrading.
Canonical developer Sebastien Bacher, for one, declared in January that "there are quite some moving parts in GNOME 40," considering both the new shell design and GTK4, concluding that Ubuntu would stick to GTK3 and GNOME 3.38 for version 21.04.
Ubuntu 21.10, expected in October, will include GNOME 40 but not 41 according to Bacher, who said last week "ideally we would have updated to 41 but feature freeze is today and we didn’t really have the resources available for the update."
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The GNOME team has now released the beta of 41 which "also marks the start of the UI, feature and API freezes (collectively known as The Freeze)," according to the post by Abderrahim Kitouni, a member of the release team, yesterday.
Kitouni warned that "this branch is based on the 21.08 branch of freedesktop-sdk and as such has quite a few ABI [Application Binary Interface] breaks," meaning that application changes will be needed. GNOME 41 is built with GTK 4.4, which was recently completed, and which contains many fixes and enhancements.
Judging by the what's new list, this release is more about fixing and polishing than anything dramatically new, which means it is a shame that Ubuntu 21.10 will not include it by default as there is likely to be little downside, compatibility aside.
The last 3.x release of GNOME, hope you have enjoyed it!"
It is also worth noting that coinciding with the beta release for GNOME 41 is the release of GNOME 3.38.9 which release team member Javier Jardón notes is the "last 3.x release of GNOME, hope you have enjoyed it!".
This is a big milestone, considering that GNOME 3.0 was released in April 2011, over 10 years ago. This may also seem premature considering that most distros have yet to migrate to GNOME 40.
The recommended route for those keen to try GNOME 41 beta is to download the beta image of GNOME OS, intended for test and development, and run it in a hypervisor such as GNOME Boxes. ®