Linux desktop environment GNOME 41 was released on September 22, 2021. Coming hot on the heels of GNOME 40’s paradigm-shifting workflow changes, does GNOME 41 deliver anything of substance? We spin it up to see.
Although GNOME 41 doesn’t pack the iconoclastic punch of GNOME 40, the developers haven’t rested on their laurels. GNOME 41 contains plenty of interesting improvements of its own.
One of the more significant changes is the introduction of the
libadwaita shared library. This is a GTK4 port of the
libhandy library. Many of the
libhandy developers are now working on
libadwaita, which provides a nice continuity and ensures the
libhandy team’s skillset is used to further the GNOME effort.
libadwaita library now provides the GNOME theming engine and forms part of the
gnome-themes-standard package. The theming engine gives GNOME the ability to use themes.
The default GTK theme is called Adwaita, but
libadwaita itself is more than a theme. It’s the software that enables themes to be used. Well-behaved GTK applications that follow the human interface guidelines look to
libadwaita for stylesheets and other theme information, such as theme variants like high contrast versions.
The human interface guidelines can be changed almost as soon as a decision has been made—they are just a set of standards, after all—and the Adwaita theme can be modified rapidly too. Because of that, the theming engine must be able to adapt quickly to accommodate those changes.
libadwaita initiative decouples the theming engine from the rest of GTK. This allows the engine to be reworked quickly while GTK moves at the more cautious pace that best suits its needs.
Ideally, GTK3 and
libhandy applications will be ported to GTK4 and
libadwaita as soon as possible—if they haven’t already been converted.
RELATED: What's New in GNOME 40?
GNOME 41’s internal settings have seen several changes, from power profiles to accessibility features.
Power profiles appear in the system menu (also known as the status menu).
You can manually switch between the different power profiles, or let the system decide for you. If you are running on a laptop and disconnect the mains supply, the low-power mode will be automatically engaged when the remaining battery life hits a user-defined threshold. The screen dimming is cranked up, and other power-saving actions are taken.
All of this is configurable, and you can access the power settings panel of the main Settings application from the system menu.
Applications can select power profiles now. Games and other resource-intensive applications can automatically select the high-power profile to give you the best experience while they are running.
There is a new multitasking panel in the Settings application. This lets you set your preferences for some of the dynamic desktop features.
- You can choose between dynamic workspaces or set a fixed number of workspaces.
- You can disable the hot corner at the top left of the screen.
- You can disable active screen edges. This is the feature that lets you drag a window to a screen edge and have GNOME resize the window to half-screen width, full-screen width, and so on.
- You can set workspaces to appear on your primary display only or also on secondary displays.
- You can decide whether you want to see applications from all workspaces when you’re switching from application to application.
Previously, you had to install the Tweaks application to access some of this functionality. Bringing this together into the Settings application is a great move. It’s where it should be.
The mouse and touchpad panel has been redesigned, with a colorful new page for you to try out your mouse or keypad settings.
Sadly you don’t get to move the bear on the bicycle along the road. You do get to try out your double-click speed, cursor speed, and scrolling.
There’s a new feature on this panel. If your preference is to work without desktop animations, you can disable them.
This panel is hardware-sensitive. It only appears if compatible hardware is detected. If you’re using a mobile device such as a smartphone, or SIM-enabled tablet, for example, you’ll see it. The panel allows you to configure your connections.
Wi-Fi and network connections, however, are still configured on the Network panel of the Settings application.
A number of default GNOME applications are seeing updates with GNOME 41 as well.
The Software application has been given some polish with visual tweaks like icons in the top bar and rounded corners on the featured applications carousel.
The explore page has colored tiles to select categories of applications.
Pages describing individual applications are greatly improved, with much better use of screenshots and information about the application, including the installed size, whether the application can access files, if it is suited to mobile devices, or contains age-sensitive material.
The “Software Repositories” dialog has been refreshed, and the updates page is clearer. You can see at a glance if any updates or upgrades are available.
The GNOME file browser has a couple of enhancements. The “Compress” dialog has been redesigned. A new menu item allows you to create a password-protected ZIP file. You’ve always been able to create ZIP files from within Files, but the password-protected option has been long-awaited.
If you browse to your Trash directory, a new information bar tells you whether automatic deletion of trash files is on, and a button will take you to the correct page in Settings to turn it on or off, and to set the retention period.
Because GNOME Calendar can now open ICS files, it can be considered a file handler. That’s significant because it means GNOME Calendar can be set as a default application. If you take a look at the default application page of your settings you’ll see that the default calendar application is probably set to a text editor. You can now replace it with GNOME Calendar.
The calendar has a new event “pop over” dialog. If you hover over a calendar event you’ll see a tool-tip summary of it.
Click the event and the new summary dialog appears giving a short overview of the event. Clicking anywhere in the calendar closes the dialog.
If you want to edit the event click the “Edit…” button. The full edit dialog appears. Clicking an event in previous versions of the calendar immediately opened the edit window.
Connections is a new remote desktop application that will allow you to manage multiple remote connections at once. It wasn’t installed by default on the preview version used to research this article, but I soon installed it using the GNOME Software application.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work. It wouldn’t make an RDP connection to a Windows 10 test machine. I tried Remmina, and that application connected to the test machine perfectly well. Perhaps it was a glitch in the test network, or perhaps it’s something that has been addressed in a later build of GNOME Connections.
Some native GNOME applications have had tweaks and minor improvements.
- GNOME Disk Utility: Can now create encrypted LUKS2 partitions.
- GNOME Maps: Will now show information such as opening hours and take-away information for restaurants and other food outlets.
- GNOME Calls: SIP functionality has been added to the Calls application. If you have a SIP account you’ll be able to make SIP calls from your computer.
- GNOME Music: Splashes of color—by way of oversized buttons—have been added to the interface.
- GNOME Text Editor: The GNOME text editor—not gEdit—now has more keyboard shortcuts and its “Preferences” dialog has been replaced with a displayed-on-demand sidebar.
- GNOME Web: The GNOME web browser now remembers pinned tabs between sessions.
Mutter—the primary window manager for the GNOME shell—has undergone a significant code clean-up. One result of this is better auto-rotation support on mobile devices.
Display rendering latency has been reduced to improve the user experience on monitors with low refresh rates. Workspace transitions will be smoother and virtually seamless.
Multi-touch gestures on touchpads have been improved and should work more consistently.
GNOME 40 was a hard act to follow. It simply isn’t possible for all releases to have a dramatic collection of changes and improvements. What GNOME 41 does is reinforce the GNOME community’s intention to continually improve the end-user experience.
Taken singly, the list of changes and improvements in this release—with the exception of
libadwaita—might seem cosmetic or trivial. But considered as a whole, they clearly indicate the GNOME community’s commitment to providing a solid and well-thought-out desktop environment.
If you’re interested in trying GNOME, check out the developers’ guide to getting GNOME.