A significant revision of the Gnome desktop environment arriving in mid-March will introduce simple administrator tools designed for locking down desktops and other tasks, according to developers.

Gnome (GNU Network Object Model Environment) is one of the two most widely used graphical desktops used on Linux and Unix systems, the other being KDE (K Desktop Environment). While the two are indistinguishable to the casual observer, each has its own fanatical supporters and efforts by Linux distributors to favour one over another have so far failed.

Gnome 2.14, set for release on 15 March, will introduce the Gnome Admin Suite, said developer Davyd Madeley in a recent web posting. One component of this will be the lockdown editor Pessulus, designed to make it simple to disable particular functions of the desktop, such as locking the screen, logging out and switching the machine off.

"This feature is useful in corporate environments and Internet cafes where users should not be allowed to edit panels, use the command line, etc.," stated Madeley. Another Admin Suite feature, called Sabayon, will allow administrators to create profiles for groups of users.

The most noticeable change with the new version may be various speed improvements, including speed-ups of particular features such as font rendering and logging in. The version will bring in a new memory allocator that should boost speed throughout Gnome, according to Madeley.

The time it takes a terminal program to display the contents of a dictionary on screen has been reduced from more than a minute to less than two seconds, Madeley said.

Other significant changes include new searching systems in the Nautilus browser and Yelp help system, new voice and video functions in the Ekiga messaging tool, improvements to the window manager, the introduction of fast user switching, and improved Exchange support in the Evolution e-mail client.

Last November Novell, which owns the SuSE distribution of Linux, was forced to back down on a decision to switch to Gnome and end support for the KDE desktop, following an outcry from users. The move was the latest of several efforts by a Linux distributor to simplify things on the user-interface front.

Early in November reports had revealed that Novell was planning to make Gnome the default interface on SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) and Novell Linux Desktop (NLD) lines. SuSE has historically been closely linked with KDE, and has indeed given KDE its most significant exposure.

The Gnome-KDE turmoil appears to have been connected to broader changes within Novell, but also illustrates the cultural incompatibilities between Gnome and KDE, according to industry observers. Novell is in the process of integrating SuSE, with its KDE connections, as well as Ximian, which makes Gnome-based software. Several high-ranking SuSE executives have left the company in recent months, including SuSE co-founder Hubert Mantel.