GNOME Panel / Ubuntu UI Musings

Reading Ubuntu 7.10 Pragmatic Visual Presentation Critique got me thinking about a better way to position applets and launchers on the panels in GNOME.

Imagine if you have locked all your applets and you’re trying to move a new applet to a specific location, you have to first unlock every applet which involves a right click, left click check-box, and repeating this for all locked applets. Once the applets have been unlocked and you have placed your new applet at the desired location, guess what? Time to lock them all again! Right click, left click check-box, right click, left click check-box, you get the idea. A method of locking/unlocking all the applets at the same time seems like a much welcomed option at this time.

I totally agree here. The panel should have a mode, (“layout mode”?) that darkens the rest of the screen so it’s obvious that you’re operating on the panels. Clicking off the Panel will exit this mode. I’m not sure what the best method would be for entering this mode. (An option on the context menu of every item on the panel?) Once in this mode, applets and launchers can be dragged around with the left mouse button. Moving the mouse cursor over an applet or launcher will highlight it with a red outline or something, so it’s obvious what will be moved. There should be a small lock icon below each. Clicking this will toggle the position lock. Speaking from experience, you usually want to do multiple unlock/move/lock actions at once, and with the current interface, it’s rather painful, as the author points out.

A quick mockup (I found an anchor before I found a lock, but an anchor makes sense):

Layout mode mockup

The author also touches on many other things that I don’t really see as big issues. Blurry icons? And he complains about icons not scaling properly with a resized panel. (See here.) For individual launchers, and the volume applet, the icons will scale fine. I’m not convinced scaling the Notification Area icons up would be desirable, as they would take up a lot of extra space and they can appear and disappear frequently, but that might be the user’s desired effect. Maybe an option for the user to say if they want them to scale, wrap, or neither… but all the icons in the notification area should definitely be consistent in behaviour, just as the launcher icons are on the panel.

notification area

Desktop Effects. He says they feel like a hack. I would agree that the defaults are truly terrible (wobbly windows? seriously?) and they certainly aren’t without their problems. As one would expect, they even introduce new defects. But after installing CCSM, and playing around with what’s available, I must confess I like them and I think they add a valuable layer of communication to the user: windows that aren’t responding fading to dark (see pic), new windows sizing and fading into existence, minimized windows flying to their position on the Window List applet (taskbar), desktop panning, zooming anywhere, live thumbnails for every application, etc. I do wish I could enable the one feature of wobbly windows to act as the system bell, and have the window wobble as a visible bell. I really liked that. But I can’t enable that single wobbly windows option without disabling something else I’m currently using. Also, the workspace switcher seems to be broken. I can’t drag windows from workspace to workspace within it.

not responding

Certainly, I agree the preferences menu could be more sensibly organized, but I think the Appearance capplet is great. A reference to the Appearance capplet within the mouse capplet is all that’s needed to improve the discoverability of the mouse cursor icons.

Two About menu items under the main System menu (one for GNOME and one for Ubuntu): they don’t bother me. There’s only four other items on that menu, and these are both important when users are reporting bugs for checking which versions of software they are running. The “Help” launchers are something I never use, and the first things I remove. But for novice users, maybe they’re helpful. I really wonder how often people read the included documentation, though….

Certain types of behavior should be unacceptable where user experience is concerned. It is unacceptable in my opinion for a Linux Distribution to knowingly ship broken Artwork with the distribution.

He’s clearly never used windows. 🙂 In all seriousness, if usable features had to wait on perfect aesthetics before mass deployment, Apple might be the only company releasing anything. In the Open Source world, users are depended upon for everything, including the aesthetics. If the software never gets out, it doesn’t get the attention it needs, bug reports aren’t filed as soon, and relatively stable (and usable) software is dis-serviced by not being allowed to gather the feedback it should. The article itself is a case in point. It’s also worth mentioning that Ubuntu Gutsy is not an LTS release. The Hardy Heron release will be, and that makes it especially important for Gutsy to get as many new features into users’ hands as possible. Linux distributions depend on the community and can’t evolve as effectively behind closed doors.

Hmmm… I suppose this post turned into more of a response to the post on Architect Fantasy (not my original intention), which I found interesting but didn’t agree with everything (which is totally fine).

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One Comment on “GNOME Panel / Ubuntu UI Musings”

  1. gggeek Says:

    Moving applets around is driving me crazy – and it’s in Karmic!
    How can such a basic usability breakage go unfixed for so long?
    In ‘standard’ mode:
    – not all icons (applets?) have a lock/unlock button to allow moving them around.
    – on small resolutions (netbook remix) there is often no empty space left on the panel to allow right clicking onto it and adding new icons
    – I can simply (by mouse) move panel to a state where I cannot bring it back to how it was set up before…

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