Posts Tagged ‘HCI’

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1024×768 Desktop

Lots of people customize their desktops. Many don’t, but I do.. a little. Here’s mine:


I actually had to remove the Time Tracker (Hamster) applet to scale my 1280×1024 desktop down to 1024, but I think that was all. And I only just decided to try moving the Tomboy and Deskbar applets over to the top-left corner… looks a little odd, but it’s much more accessible. It’s good to try out new things, right? πŸ™‚ (When the keyboard will do, Alt+F12 and Alt+F3 for Tomboy and Deskbar, and Super(windows-key)+Space for Gnome-Do are good shortcuts to keep in mind.)

How about you? (If you run Ubuntu, read this – which is why I tried scaling my 1280 desktop to a 1024, in the first place).

File List Applet – GNOME Panel Applet

This is kind of a proof of concept I’ve been playing with. The idea is that finding a file within a folder is often easier by type, and you are often only interested in the most recently modified file. The problem with a file manager is that although you can easily sort by either type or modification time, you cannot filter your view of all the other files you’re not interested in. I previously wanted to address this issue within Nautilus, (and I still believe this functionality would be wonderful in Nautilus), but I ended up doing this much less ambitious applet as a proof of concept.

This applet will let you add any number of folders to it, and will try to categorize the files automatically and intelligently. Currently, it’s more automatic than intelligent as it just looks at the mime-type. Even so, I’ve found it especially useful for keeping track of all my downloads:

Steven is catching up on the latest on and has downloaded a couple screencasts demoing the latest and greatest. These files are typically 2-10 megabytes, so they didn’t download instantly. Steven continues reading and forgot about the screencasts until a couple hours later. At that time, he can simply click on the File List Applet, select Downloads, select Video, and look at the top of the list for the newest files. Steven is happy. When finished, he can follow the same process to delete them – without once opening his file manager and being assaulted with ALL the files in his Downloads folder.

Ultimately, I would like to extend the idea to provide the same type/subtype menu system for all files under all folders – a type of summary – but I have not implemented that yet. There are other features in the cooking pot, as well, but I have to get started on some “RL” tasks… like my resume. πŸ™‚


I had a problem recording audio, so I ended up typing as narration. Unfortunately, this makes the YouTube one pretty unwatchable, but you can give the “HQ” version a try.


No tarball yet as it’s still extremely rough.
Browse the source here.
Branch the source: bzr branch


Update 2009/04/05: Updated install instructions here. (Some people don’t look at the comments….)

Installing will require some manual modifications.

  1. First, make sure you have the following packages (Ubuntu): python-xdg, python-gnome2-desktop, python-gtk2, python-pyinotify
  2. Then branch the source.
  3. Adjust the FileListApplet.server file’s location to wherever you keep it.
  4. Then copy FileListApplet.server to /usr/lib/bonobo/servers/.
  5. Restart the bonobo-activation-server. killall bonobo-activation-server
  6. Add it to the panel like other applets.

Update 2008/12/05: Added a couple screenshots.

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. πŸ™‚

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.


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.

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. πŸ™‚ 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).