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No place like GNOME–update could improve Linux ease of use; new Mac and Windows tools improve performance and security.

Linux: No place like GNOME

The GNOME desktop team has released a major update: GNOME 1.4. GNOME, short for the GNU Network Object Model Environment, forms one of the two main desktop environments on Linux. Both GNOME and KDE, the other major Linux desktop environment, aim to improve the ease of use of what is often considered a hard-to-use operating system.

GNOME provides a Windows-like desktop, along with some 250 productivity applications, including Gnumeric, a spreadsheet program that can replace Microsoft’s Excel for many users.

GNOME and KDE both come highly rated. For example, C|net rated GNOME 1.4 a 7 out of 10. The main problem with both GNOME and KDE is that major updates take a long time to filter into Linux distributions. Because both GNOME and KDE are so large, it is a rather arduous process to download the huge packages and install them. It is much easier to let someone else perform all this work, especially for a desktop environment that is supposed to make Linux easier to use.

Right now, you can get GNOME 1.4 with Mandrake Linux 8. Other Linux vendors, such as Red Hat and SuSE, should follow with their next major releases, a release after 7.1 for both of these vendors.

If you don’t want to wait, you can turn to a company such as Ximian. Ximian collects together an entire GNOME release and bundles it for easy installation for the major Linux releases.

In fact, you can download the entire package for free. Ximian GNOME includes an update program, called Red Carpet, which helps you download changes packaged from the Ximian site and then update your local version of GNOME. Red Carpet claims to manage all the dependencies between packages and download all the necessary bundles to update a particular application. You definitely want a fast Internet connection to download GNOME due to the large size of the download.

In sadder news, it appears that Eazel is on its last legs. Eazel developed the Nautilus file manager and has had financial woes for some time. Nautilus provides a neat way to browse your files, but the Eazel business model of trying to sell services on top of Nautilus did not appear to provide solid income to Eazel.

Despite claims of its death, though, the Web site still seems to work. Perhaps all is not lost. -Eric Foster-Johnson

Mac: Share your wares

Web designers will want to check out Macromedia Flash 5, Macromedia Inc.’s latest version of its popular Web application. New features include a Bezier drawing tool for creating and editing vector graphics, flexible publishing capabilities, Web application server connectivity, printing capabilities, HTML text support, and more. Visit Macromedia’s Web site for price details and upgrade information.

PineHill Product’s webmaster software package, SiteToolkit is now available in a Mac OS X-compatible version (1.5). The new release lets users optimize HTML for selected Web pages on both traditional Mac operating systems and Mac OS X (you will need a Power Mac and Mac OS 8.1 or later). The toolkit makes it easy to speed your site’s page upload time, submit your Web site to dozens of search engines, save and retrieve information easily, and add custom META tags. It comes with a built-in FTP client and AppleScript support. Download a free demo version. If you like what you see, the full copy is only $15.95.

Information management tool FileMaker Pro now includes support for Mac OS X. The latest release, version 5.5, includes enhanced Web publishing features, new scripting and security features, and will more easily integrate with corporate data sources. You can download a trial version. FileMaker plans to release FileMaker Server 5.5 sometime this summer.

Craig Richards Design has released AdminPro 2, the latest version of its remote rile management software. The new release enables two-click CGI testing, uploading and downloading of image and text files, as well as the ability to create new directories, delete files and directories, modify permissions of files and directories, and remote open, edit and save files without having to download. You can download a 10-day trial version at the company’s Web site.

Vicomsoft has released version 7 of its network access management tool, Vicomsoft Internet Gateway. Vicomsoft Internet Gateway will securely connect all networked computers to the Internet using one account, regardless of the type of connection device. The new version has extended logging capabilities that make administration a breeze, VPN support, content filtering, and timed access controls for individuals or groups. The program can be downloaded from Vicomsoft’s Web site. -Christy Mulligan

Windows: Somebody’s watching me

Surfing the Net doesn’t have to leave you feeling like you’re being watched or followed. There is an abundance of free or inexpensive software tools available that will let you keep your Web-surfing habits private, and keep intruders away from your important documents.

Zimtu technologies has released a new version (4.0) of Siege Washer, which will erase all Internet-surfing history from your PC. Siege Washer wipes out information stored in your browser’s cache, cookies, history files, and drop-down address lists, and it even deletes information detailing how you use Windows and Windows-based software. If there are cookies you’d prefer to keep, Siege Washer allows you to do so. And perhaps the biggest bonus is that Siege Washer works while you surf, so there’s no need to reboot to cover your tracks.

Panicware has also released a new version of its privacy software Don’t Panic (version 4) that now includes support for AOL and Windows Me. Don’t Panic will now clean out your Real Player, Windows Media Player, and MSN Messenger history in addition to cookies, cache, browser, and drop-down URL history. Don’t Panic also clears auto complete forms and passwords, and Internet Explorer and Netscape users can block pop-up windows. Registered users of Don’t Panic can get the upgrade for free, others can download a free 30-day trial. The complete program runs $19.95.

Intelytics Inc.’s Personal Sentinel, a free shareware program, will let individual users monitor the security risks of a Web site on a per site basis. In addition, it can filter out unwanted content and advertisements and weed out privacy threats to your system.

If you’re simply tired of banner ads slowing you down, Internet Mute Inc.’s AdSubtract SE will block banner ads and cookies selectively, effectively speeding up page-upload time. AdSubtract offers a free version that will filter up to five custom sites and block banner ads, and if you’re willing to shell out $29.95, AdSubtract Pro will filter an unlimited number of custom sites, block pop-up windows, and erase your browsing history.

7FORCES Software Development’s free shareware program, Netscan will let you monitor and control all network activity on your computer while you’re surfing the Net or any other TCP/IP-based network. Netscan gives users instant screen updates of all connections made to and by your computer. Netscan gives TCP and UDP connection statistics, resolves DNS and Lookup port names functions.

Zone Labs Inc. has released version 2.6 of its firewall software, Zone Alarm Pro. Zone Alarm will protect any network, from any location, from the invasion of hackers or other unwanted guests. The program protection against e-mail borne viruses, a variety of customizable security levels, Automatic Network Detection for file sharing and mobile protection, the ability to block any IP address, one-click ICS/NAT support, online support, and more. It’s Windows Me-compatible, and can be downloaded from Zone Labs’ site for $39.95. -Christy Mulligan

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