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GNOME 3.0 Ideas (Intelligent Desktop)

This is based off of a Summer of Code application I made in 2007, titled “Intelligent Desktop.” Recent discussions have reminded me to at least blog about it. And given my current employment status, I have the time. 🙂

Note: You may also be interested in File List Applet filelistapplet.

Messy Desk

The desktop – this gigantic area of screen real-estate – is a mess. Some people use their desktop to dump random files that they’re working on, or have recently downloaded. Others work tirelessly to keep the pretty background picture visible with minimal icon clutter. Still others find the Desktop useless because it fills up with icons too easily. In the Nautilus Desktop (GNOME’s default), icons can get placed on top of one another either by a bug in placement or simply because there is no space left, which really deters from the usability. Personally, I clump different themed files/folders into the corners of my desktop. When a file is added to the desktop procedurally, there is no obvious place to put it and thus no obvious place to look for it. This is compounded if there is a “hole” in one of my “icon clumps,” in which case the hole may be filled with the new icon making it extremely difficult to locate by both file name and screen location. I recently gave up on having mounted drives displayed on the desktop. Anything dynamic fails miserably as their location changes each time, and sometimes they even end up overlapping other icons. In any case, it seems the desktop requires maintenance to work, when it really shouldn’t.

An Intelligent Desktop would overcome icon clutter automatically and intelligently. It would also be a starting point to looking at potential benefits of a more dynamic desktop view. I’ll explain what I mean by this in a second. This is NOT that silly little notification that your desktop has old/unused icons on it.

Automatically Sorted, Categorized, Updated and Easily Searched

The desktop is a useful place to dump files, but retrieving them is a pain. In fact, browsing the desktop for that particular file (or folder) is a pain without a lot of maintenance. My idea requires an always-visible, on-the-desktop set of UI elements that I will call the Desktop Action Window (DAW). The easiest way to think of the DAW is as a sidebar for the desktop. (Don’t stand up quite yet, sidebar haters.) But rather than the DAW being a collection of meta-information or unrelated widgets, think of it as a controller to the desktop view (formerly just a desktop). Performing actions on the desktop via the DAW simply creates a new view of the desktop. The original/default view that is customized by the user will always be available. If you think in terms of Model-View-Controller, the current desktop is essentially everything. With the DAW, the DAW becomes the controller, the desktop viewing area becomes the view, and the model is partially hidden. The DAW should allow easy management of multiple views of the desktop, some automatic (Images, Movies, Recently Modified), some static (Default, Custom).

And you shouldn’t be concerned about a sizable widget infringing on your carefully chosen background, there are ways around that: the DAW could be hidden when no mouse movement on the desktop occurs (like the controls of a photo slide show), it could be semi transparent until the mouse is over it, it’s location could be customized, etc.

Some quick ideas for different actions in the DAW include:

  • An automatically generated list of types of files on the Desktop. Selecting one of them displays all icons of that type.
  • A text entry for string pattern matching.
  • Ability to easily hide all icons, except ‘always visible icons.’
  • Ability to have custom views displaying only icons that user specifies.
  • Ability to easily open file manager and display all files
  • Some form of icon pager or scrollable desktop view to allow for arbitrary numbers of icons to be displayed per view.
  • Ability to view and manipulate an arbitrary folder, such as Home, in the same way.

Mockups

This is where I stop the prose and leave you with a couple mockups. The “Overflow” view could probably be replaced with “New” or “Recent” for recently modified files. Anytime new files/folders/launchers have been added, the button could be flashing to grab the user’s attention. Better not to alter the default view at all, I think.

Update 2008/12/04: I’ve started implementing what I was thinking about with the automatic view filter as a GNOME panel applet. Check out File List Applet.

blog updates

I know I said I’d try to blog every 2-3 days…. Well, does silently updating backend stuff count? Not much, but I set up Feedburner, Technorati, and upgraded to the latest WordPress (2.1.3). At this rate, maybe I’ll even hook into Facebook and other social sites. Look out 2001, here I come.

Also played with iGoogle a bit – Google’s answer to a personalized homepage. Since I use a few of Google’s online services, it may prove useful for me. Currently, I have Google Calendar, Gmail, a couple world clocks (Vancouver/Japan/Sao Paulo), the weather, Google Reader, and Google Docs.

Cool. The new WordPress auto-saves posts. 🙂 I’m tired. I sleep now.

holy crap, I have a blog!

Ah right. Forgot about this. Okay fine, I knowingly neglected it. Not completely, though… I had a partially written post from a few months ago, but it never made the transition from Tomboy to WP. Things to report:

First thing’s first. January has come and gone (along with a few other months…):
me.age++;

I got a pretty sweet blazer from my brother. It’s a little big, and almost too warm to wear now, but I like it. Saw Children of Men with Kurt and Jesse. Great movie. Longest, craziest takes ever! Have also since been to a restaurant called the Foundation (on 6th and Main, I think). I had an awesome dish of beans and rice with papaya and lime sauce… so good, I must go again and try making it myself. We also went to an Ethiopian restaurant on Commercial and stuffed ourselves silly with our bare hands. Like men are meant to do. Food and service were really good. Price, ironically, was a little steep. Oh yeah, and now Kurt is in Brazil….

Speaking of travelling. I will not be going to Japan. I did not get accepted into JET. I had a bad feeling after the interview in February, so I’m not terribly surprised, but I am disappointed. I was looking forward to going to Japan again… even if I got stuck in some remote place. But more importantly, I must now decide what I will do. Do I look for a job? In Vancouver? 😮

I don’t really have any plans, at the moment, aside from enjoying my summer and learning up some computer stuff (in preparation for job interviews, i guess). I just finished my History exam, last night, so school’s pretty much behind me. Have a couple meetings left and that’s it! Felt kind of elated on the bus home, last night – I guess I’m happy to finally be finishing school. 😉 I plan on lots of rollerblading. Too bad the seawall will be closed. Really… that sucks. 🙁 I’ll have to go back and forth in English Bay or something.

I also meant to apply for Google’s Summer of Code. And, on the very last day, I had an idea and figured, “sure. why not?” So I put together an application as fast as I could not expecting to be chosen, and I wasn’t. My idea was really “out there” too. 🙂 Still, like JET, disappointed. That woulda been awesome. I’ll see if I can put together my idea for another post… and I may work on it anyways, this summer.

For some cheap amusement in Wii Weather channel, zoom into the Turks and Caicos Islands, to the north-east of Cuba. 🙂

gmail

Okay, so I returned from the cabin a couple days ago (one day earlier than planned). I kept a mini-journal of sorts on my zaurus, which I will update on this site soon. I just wanted to mention that, by Shirley’s grace, I now have a shiny new gmail account.

user: steven.w.j.brown
domain: gmail.com
email: user@domain
(replace the “user” and “domain” with values given)

Thanks, Shirley!