GNOME 41: The next-generation Linux desktop

This version of the GNOME desktop isn't an end to itself but a step forward to building a new, better GNOME.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

If you're just a GNOME user, there's a lot to like about the latest version of this popular Linux desktop interface. But, if you're a GNOME developer, there's more to love in it.

Firstly, as for the interface itself, it now boasts a new top utility for discovering and installing applications called Software. OK, so the name isn't anything to write home about, but it seems faster, and it's easy enough to use. 

The type to search function, increasingly important these days, also works well and has some smarts. For instance, if you search for "photo," the graphic editor GIMP will show up.

The new GNOME also has aggressive new power management. You can work these controls yourself or just use the new default power profiles. For example, when your laptop is running on battery power and falls to a certain point, the low power mode goes on automatically. It's handy.

Developers can also build their apps to ask for a given power profile. Thus, when you're playing a game, its software can automatically switch the desktop to performance mode.  

GNOME also recognizes the rise of Desktop-as-a-Service with Connections. You've been able to do this before with GNOME's built-in tools, but this makes it much easier. It supports both Virtual Network Computing (VNC) and Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) connections. This version also enables you to run a remote desktop at full-screen resolution. 

It also comes with a new Multitasking settings panel. This includes window management and workspace options such as disabling the Activities hot corner, configuring a fixed number of workspaces, and showing workspaces on all displays instead of just the primary display.

While these are all nice, one wonky thing about the GNOME interface is you won't find minimize and maximize icons on windows.  You can still add them with GNOME Tweaks. It's always nice to have Tweaks available anyway if you want to get GNOME to work just the way you want. 

But what I really like about this edition of GNOME is the new streamlined GNOME programmer documentation site. At long last -- and for better or worse, GNOME's Human Interface Guidelines (HIG), which uses GNOME Toolkit (GTK) 4, are now official. According to Allan Day, a Red Hat user experience (UX) designer and GNOME UX designer, the updated HIG provides "a much more comprehensive, integrated, and consistent design system."

Of course, not everyone loves the new HIG. It wouldn't be a Linux desktop if there weren't design disagreements. 

GNOME's built-in Builder IDE now comes with the power to build and run CMake projects. CMake is a newer open-source, cross-platform build, test, and package software, tool family. The older Meson build system is still recommended. GNOME 41 also comes with improved Flatpak Linux application installer support. 

Lastly, but increasingly important as Rust is used more often in Linux, GNOME now has better support for Rust. Rust now comes ready to code in GNOME, thanks to GTK4.  

If you want to try the new GNOME out for yourself, you may need to manually replace your old GNOME desktop. For example, the Ubuntu 21.10 release due out in October doesn't include it as its default desktop. Canonical is sticking to GNOME 40. Some GNOME 41 apps will make it into Ubuntu 21.10. On the other hand, the next release of Fedora, Red Hat's community distro, which is always right on the cutting edge, will include GNOME 41.

I think this is clearly a better version of GNOME, but Linux Mint's Cinnamon is still my favorite Linux desktop. That said, I'm very curious to see where GNOME goes from here.

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