By on September 15, 2004

The GNOME Foundation is set to release version 2.8 of the GNOME Desktop today. The major change in this release is the inclusion of the Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL), designed to make hardware ‘just work’. So, if you plug in your jump drive, the drive icon magically shows up on the desktop, no ‘mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/drive’ junk required. If you plug in a digital camera, your photo management app starts up.

In a ZDNet article, Jeff Waugh of GNOME marks 2.8 as a big leap forward.

“With six month release cycles with GNOME and enhancements like Evolution we can deliver visible end-user improvements much faster and integrate these types of things much faster than Microsoft can,” Waugh claimed.

“In terms of feature parity with the basic Windows desktop we’ve done it and we’re already there. When it comes to enterprise management we need to do some work there and when you compare GNOME to features like in OS X we’re almost there,” he added.

While the setup, configuration, and software management pieces aren’t anywhere near Windows yet, when you look at the user experience on a machine that’s already set up and running, I’d have to agree with Jeff. Thanks to the GNOME HIG, the GNOME desktop is slim and elegant, and really feels like a unified environment. There aren’t many options to pick that a novice user wouldn’t understand, but digging into the configuration system allows an experienced user a lot of flexibility.

The only thing that’s been keeping me from fully switching the last Windows machine in my house has been an easy way for my wife to just plug in the digital camera and have the computer handle the photo management. It looks like 2.8 may solve that.

For Gentoo users, I’d imagine that 2.8 will appear as a test version in a couple of days, and on the stable branch within a month. I imagine other distributions will see test versions in a couple of months.