GNOME 46 beta has more tweaks than a coffee shop

The future desktop of Ubuntu 24.04 and Fedora 40 is nearly ready

GNOME 46 has entered beta testing, and is expected to be released in just over a month.

The new version of the GNOME desktop is nearly ready, and the release of the finished GNOME 46 is scheduled for March 20. The project just announced the beta release, with a lengthy change list.

The list of changes in this release is less dramatic than in some recent releases. We suspect that this is partly because some dust is still settling from the big changes in GNOME 40. That introduced version 4 of the desktop's underlying toolkit Gtk, and a controversial new theme system. Some sub-components are still being integrated with this, which will coordinate their look and feel with that of the underlying desktop. This now includes GNOME Music and the GNOME System Monitor – the latter of which is always handy for chasing down slow performance.

A key new feature for some deployments is that the GNOME Display Manager, GDM, now supports headless login sessions via Remote Desktop – meaning that remote users can connect and start a desktop session, even if the host computer has no screen. This includes with Nvidia GPUs.

The Files application, which is still internally known by its old name Nautilus, probably has the most changes. There are performance speedups in several places, such as switching between views – for example, icons versus a detailed list – because it doesn't reload the whole directory behind the scenes any more. It's also faster opening the properties of multiple files at once. There's a new built-in global file search tool, which is configurable, plus a search box in Nautilus's settings. When you set a password on a compressed archive, you now have to enter it a second time for confirmation. Scrolling and forward/backward support have been improved, and there's a new option for Simple or Detailed views of file timestamps. Files will also give a warning if you try to copy to a FAT32 volume a file bigger than that elderly disk format can handle.

GNOME Settings has been revamped, with some options reordered and moved around. Multiple preferences have moved to a new System panel. The Apps panel has been updated and contains a list of applications as well as a tool for managing default applications. There's better Wi-Fi handling including password-sharing, an improved Wacom graphics tablet screen, and improved handling of mouse and trackpad settings.

GNOME Software has also been improved. It can now show a Verified badge for official Flatpak packages, and it directly supports openSUSE Leap and can handle system upgrades.

The central GNOME Shell and Mutter window manager and Wayland compositor have some fresh features, such as discarding unusable fractional-scaling options, plus better tablet and phone support. Accessibility options have been improved and harmonized between Wayland and X11 sessions. The app search has been refined, especially for single-letter search terms.

The first-time setup wizard has been streamlined. It can automatically generate a pattern-based avatar, and setting up online accounts has been moved out into its own, separate tool. Speaking of which, this has better handling of online authentication, uses the system's default browser, and now handles Microsoft 365, CalDav and CardDav accounts.

Multiple GNOME accessories have improvements, including Maps, Connections, Calculator, Chess, Tweaks, Extensions, the Loupe image viewer, the Epiphany web browser, and the recently introduced Text Editor. There's a new terminal emulator called Prompt, and a new documentation viewer, Biblioteca.

GNOME 46 will be part of the forthcoming Fedora 40 release, currently planned for mid-April. It should also be the default desktop of Ubuntu 24.04 "Noble Numbat," which means many Ubuntu users will use this release for a couple of years to come. ®

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