A new Linux desktop, GNOME 3.0, is out and I'll bet you don't care.
GNOME 3.0 has a lot of features Microsoft advertised heavily for Windows 7, like windows which snap to one another so you can look at them side-by-side. Gnome also offers a YouTube site touting some of its new features. There are also a bunch of screenshots.
GNOME has been in the open source news because Canonical decided to abandon it as the interface for its next version of Ubuntu. Instead, a Canonical shell called Unity will be shipped.
A spokesperson told me that other distributors will be bundling Gnome with their Linux software, including Fedora, openSUSE, Debian, Knoppix, SELinux, Foresight, Mint, Mandriva, Gentoo, CentOS, and the BSD family. Most are stronger in the server space than the desktop space.
This has been one of the big problems for GNOME and rival KDE. Distributors have been promising "this will be the year of desktop Linux" for a decade, but nothing has captured much imagination, nor delivered anything but the look-and-feel of an early version of Windows or the Mac. There just aren't enough applications, and they're just too hard to load.
Now the world has moved on to phones and tablets, but you will be happy to know GNOME is following up. The new software does support touchscreens, and when that's what you have then you will only see options relevant to touchscreens when you look for help. GNOME.org believes this is an important feature.
Here's what they call the money quote:
Overall, GNOME Shell is a fundamentally new experience for users accustomed to the GNOME 2.x desktop and other desktops of that paradigm (Windows, Macintosh, KDE, etc.). Users get to experience the immersive full-attention concentration one might expect with a mobile device, but with all the functionality of a full desktop. Combining the benefits of multitasking with the benefits of single-minded focus on the current activity, GNOME Shell keeps the user in flow.
The bigger problem has always been more basic. If you're offering desktop software you're in a consumer business. You need to be scaled to handle millions of people, and to have most of what they do work seamlessly, intuitively. GNOME isn't even an operating system – it's merely the user interface. Thus it hasn't been able to scale organizationally to the real market.
Sysadmins and others who run servers like Linux because it's modular, fast, and bulletproof. They have the expertise needed to deal with hand-loading software, and they usually only do this once. They can handle the hassles of a user interface that's a few steps behind in order to save money and have a rocking installation.
That's not the way the consumer market works. Consumers don't even want to think of the user interface. They think of that and the operating system as being one-and-the-same. They think of the operating system and applications being a single whole, and they want to be able to add applications on a whim. This trend has incraesed in time, to the point where, in the mobile space, they're not applications at all but "apps," not general-purpose tools but purpose-built systems for accessing a single Web site or function.
GNOME may have caught up to Windows 7 in many ways, but in an app world that no longer counts for much. They may have won the last development war, but they're not even in the new game.