Inkscape is getting on-canvas alignment handles
Martin Owens started designing a new canvas-centric way to align objects in Inkscape. A preliminary version is available in a public development branch.
Now when you select multiple objects, along with the selection cue and scaling handles you get alignment handles. Clicking those triggers alignment according to settings in the Align/Distribute dialog.
Not only that, clicking and dragging from a handle creates a new guide. Once you release the guide, objects get aligned to it.
How is that better than the existing Align/Distribute dialog? One important reason is that currently you need to move the focus away from the illustration towards the sidebar where the dialog is. With the canvas-centric approach you don't really have to switch focus anymore.
You can watch all of that in a screencast that Martin recorded:
Source code currently lives in a public branch called align-handles. It's expected that the changes will be merged to the main development branch once the design and its implementation are complete.
So far that are still quite a few open questions left, like whether alignment handles should be activated with a shortcut, or whether it's a good idea to use Align/Distribute dialog for setting the target. There's an ongoing discussion about that in the mailing list for Inkscape developers.
Apparently, due to the unfortunate situation with blocker bugs in v0.49, including the one with downscaling in Cairo, we are likely to see even more great features in the next big release — whenever it's out.
Another interesting detail is that better alignment seems to have gained momentum lately. Last year unstable version of Scribus got smart guides (a-la Adobe Illustrator and Visio), and Peter Sikking recently worked on a new design for the Alignment tool in GIMP with his usability students.