Every time a new release of these open-source desktops for Linux comes out, I can't help thinking that it is only a matter of time before Linux grabs some serious market share from Microsoft (Windows - be it XP or Vista or even Server 2003 or Server 2008). Why? Because these desktops are making serious advancements in usability, and catching up to Microsoft (or exceeding its products) on many levels.
Some of the latest Gnome 2.20 features that really caught my attention include the following:
- The password-management feature that allows network-wide passwords (to servers you commonly log on to) to be saved (encrypted) in such a manner you don't have to keep re-entering them every time you access the network is a huge plus for me. They call this keyring management - I call it quite handy! Now, I will still have to wait for my favorite Linux distributions to support this, but I expect the major ones like Ubuntu will soon do so.
- There has been some nice simplification of the control panel applet with regards to desktop appearance settings. It consolidates various disparate settings panels (like theme, background, font) into one simple interface. I'm all for simpler UI's!
- File-Management in general looks a lot better and is more functional. This ranges from simple things like displaying a graphic of how much disk space is free/used on your drives, to automatic orientation of photos (i.e., auto-rotating pictures to be "upright" upon import from a camera).
- Email, web-browsing, PDF-Viewing, file-searching, and note-taking are also all improved. I won't get into details here, but the various changes will surely be welcome by most users.
- For developers, the new syntax-highlighting improvements in gedit should be very useful! I know I am going to definitely reap the benefits of this, especially when I need to quickly edit some code while on a Linux system where I don't have any particular "fancy" editor installed.
- For notebook computers, I find their approach to guaging how much battery-life remains to be quite innovative and useful, since they keep track of how your battery has performed over time, and use that data to better predict true battery life (quite particular to your computer).
- Not necessarily a Gnome (desktop) feature, but nice related product: their new Gnome Online Documentation Website - which is a huge improvement, and makes myself and others much more likely to be able to find the information we need quickly.
If you haven't given Linux and Linux Desktops a look in a while, it's always a great time to do so. Unlike Microsoft operating systems, you can get a Linux OS up and running in no time, with pre-installed applications, just by using a "LiveCD" or "LiveDVD" - I highly recommend that for evals!
Another thing I actually quite prefer about the Linux desktops (vs. the latest Microsoft offerings) is that Linux desktops tend to focus more on features that really matter to productivity vs. what I consider just superficial glitz (and, further coupling to MS-only closed technologies). And, I can get a default install (to a hard-drive) of Linux up and running in as little as 10 minutes, compared to hours and hours installing and updating Windows.
If you really want a feel for how Microsoft has bloated an operating system, with a very low bloat-to-value-added ratio, just check out Windows Server 2008. I installed the "web server edition" beta a while back (which took hours) only to find out it had grown to something like a 10GB install (from something like 2GB under Windows Server 2003 Web Edition). I started poking around in the folders to see just Gigabytes of crap (like high-res images, etc) - for what? For god sakes, I wanted to test a web-server!? I don't need 3D interfaces or anything else - just IIS.
Supposedly, Microsoft has improved this in later release candidates, but fact is, if I want a slimmed-down efficient server, Linux has my attention first (aside from fact that for IIS, I pretty much need a Windows Server OS - who would have guessed... more of that MS tight-coupling of apps and operating systems!) Likewise, if you want an efficient and useful desktop operating system, Linux is available and delivers value (heck, its FREE) and features that should take care of most destop users' needs (any needs that are non-Windows-specific at least).