There's no place like GNOME: Project hits 25, going on 43

Desktop environment celebrates milestone birthday with a beta

The two original developers behind the GNOME project started work 25 years ago, and the 43rd version of their brainchild is nearly here.

The GNOME project is celebrating its quarter century, not long behind that of the KDE project, whose version 5.23 was its corresponding birthday last year. They're close for a reason, but it's ancient history in Linux terms.

As we've covered in some depth before, KDE uses the Qt toolkit, which is written in and designed for use with C++. When the KDE project started, Qt wasn't GPL. As a result, Red Hat refused to bundle KDE with its distro (which is how Mandrake Linux got started – it was Red Hat Linux, but bundled with KDE).

A second issue is that Linux is mostly written in C, just like Unix before it. Some traditional Unix types remain suspicious of C++ and prefer to avoid it. The result was GNOME – a desktop written in C, using the all-GPL GTK toolkit. For years thereafter, if you installed Red Hat Linux, you got GNOME.

These days, GNOME Shell itself is written in JavaScript, although its foundations – such as the Mutter compositor and window manager – are implemented in C.

Which brings us to the newly announced GNOME 43 – the third iteration in the GNOME 40 generation or, as it was going to be called, GNOME 4.0. GNOME 40 was a fairly big change, especially in the theming department, but instead the project is in a phase of consolidation and integration.

The GNOME Javascript engine, GJS, now uses Spidermonkey 102 – the Javascript runtime from Mozilla's current ESR (Extended Support Release) of Firefox.

As ever, the Shell has received plenty of attention, with a Quick Settings panel that replaces the combined System Menu. Also refined are the app-launch grid, the on-screen keyboard, and the workspace switcher. Shell has also received some performance tweaks, as have the Calls telephony app, and the still relatively new Text Editor.

Several more components have been ported to GTK4, including the initial setup tool, the log-file viewer, and the new terminal emulator, GNOME Console. The Text Editor app also has improved functionality, with better drag-and-drop and clipboard support, better handling of links such as URIs, local paths, and man pages, among other changes.

The Software Center, Epiphany web browser, Nautilus file manager, cellular connection manager, Boxes hypervisor, and Dconf editor have all been updated. So has Mutter, which now has high-resolution scroll-wheel support, plus better direct-scanout handling – including across multiple monitors, which should improve performance of full-screen apps, such as games, or the Firefox browser when running full-screen.

Those are some highlights. If you want to know the nitty-gritty, there's a comprehensive list of changes.

GNOME 43 promises to be another consolidation release, with multiple small improvements rather than big changes. It's very likely that it will feature in Ubuntu 22.10 "Kinetic Kudu" and Fedora 37 this coming (northern hemisphere) autumn.

On the GNOME 25th birthday website, the organizers cheer "Here's to the next 25 years." This particular vulture very much hopes that by 2047, such primitive tools as Unix-like OSes and desktop user interfaces are fading memories, just as 1970s computing with punched cards and paper tape are today. ®

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