Gnome Linux desktop updated

One of the two main desktop environments for Linux has been upgraded to improve its web-browsing system

The Gnome project has released the first test version of Gnome 2.22 this week, including a new web-browser engine, a new virtual file system and updates for virtual network computing and accessibility.

Gnome is, along with KDE, one of the two major desktop environments used with Linux-based operating systems. Aside from managing the graphical windowing portion of the OS, it includes a number of applications, such as a web browser, email client, configuration manager and other components.

Gnome is the favoured desktop environment for Ubuntu, the most popular desktop-oriented Linux distribution. According to Ubuntu, it is preferred by around two-thirds of Ubuntu users, and is also used in embedded devices such as Nokia's N810 tablet.

One of the more drastic changes in the latest Gnome release is a change to the back-end engine of the built-in Epiphany web browser. From using the same Gecko engine found in Firefox and related browsers, Epiphany will switch to WebKit, the KHTML-based rendering engine found in Apple's Safari and Mac OS X, KDE's Konqueror and other applications.

WebKit is integrated with the upcoming Qt v4.4 application development framework. Qt could soon become more widespread in embedded devices following Nokia's acquisition of Trolltech, Qt's developer.

Qt forms the basis of many well-known desktop applications, such as Google Earth, Opera and Skype. Qt is used to develop graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and is the main GUI toolkit for KDE.

Qt's derivative, Qtopia — also a Trolltech product — is already used in millions of consumer-level mobile phones, notably in Asia and through the manufacturer Motorola.

The new version of Gnome will include an early beta of Vinagre, a new virtual network computing (VNC) client. VNC is a graphical desktop-sharing system using the RFB protocol to remotely control another computer.

Other additions include swfdec-gnome, allowing users to run Adobe Flash files on the desktop; Anjuta, an integrated development environment for C and C++ programming languages; GVFS, the new Gnome virtual file system; and Mousetweaks, a project originating with the Google Summer of Code in 2007, and which offers accessibility features for mouse control.

Version 3.0 of Gnome's Ekiga VoIP client is expected to make it into Gnome 2.22, with a revamped user interface and SIP presence support. Gnome 2.22 follows on from Gnome's 10th anniversary release, version 2.20, in September. A second beta is due on 13 February and the final version is scheduled for March.

ZDNet UK's David Meyer contributed to this report.