Quite a lot of UI modifications have been made to Pidgin since 2.0, in a relatively short time. I’m happy to say, it’s gradually getting better. The window has a minimum size which prevents UI elements from being cut off, the text formatting has been collected into a drop-down menu, and it generally looks much cleaner.
I’ve been lurking on the pidgin-devel list keen on UI discussion, as I think it’s an area where pidgin can improve greatly. I spent an admittedly long time in The Gimp illustrating a couple UI ideas in the form of mockups.
First, this is the target conversation window mockup, done by Hylke Bons.
Now, this is what the conversation window currently looks like (minus the comments, of course).
I’ve basically modified the target UI slightly.
Full-size user avatar
It’s nice to see the avatar how it’s meant to be seen. It makes the conversation more unique for each individual. I think the vertical space will eventually be needed as pidgin implements more protocol features, anyway. Some people complain that too much space is occupied by such an infopane, but a button which toggles full-display and no-display (or small-display) could easily be implemented. I was thinking you could just double-click a tab, but when I tried it to see if that did anything, it let me give my contact an alias within the tab! Feature discovery! heh.
Something that has always irritated me with nearly every modal window: why not make text selectable? I can’t think of any reason why not to do it. It doesn’t change the UI at all, and will make it more useful to those copy-paste users – there’s a lot of them. (Get user info – which is terribly delayed, and fails often – should only be needed when the user wants to select information that is not displayed right in front of them.)
Any email links should behave like a mailto: link, displaying a menu with the options of writing an email to that address or simply copying the email address. The same should be done for links inside the chat window, “open in browser” and “copy link location.”
Pidgin handles many different protocols: MSN, Yahoo!, ICQ, IRC, etc. The idea is that you can use a single IM client to communicate to all of your friends. Many people use multiple protocols for whatever reason (some of my friends are on MSN, the rest on gChat, a couple on ICQ). But really, having a bunch of accounts for the same person cluttering your contact list does more harm than good. A good way to overcome this is to use the “Expand” item in the contact list context menu: right click on a contact, and select Expand in the context menu, then drag all this person’s different accounts into this expanded contact. When in a conversation window, you can change the active protocol used to chat with your friend by using the Send to menu item. But the problem is, you have to go up and check the menu to see what the active protocol is.
The entire Send to menu can be replaced by a protocol button in the infopane that acts as both the protocol indicator and selector. The space to the right of the protocol button can be used for protocol specific functionality, as they become available (video, voice, whiteboard, etc). Using the button to change the active protocol could change the available actions to the right of it.
A lot of discussion/debate/flame is going on with the purpose of reducing tab-size (removing the status, and close icons). Personally, I think the status icon in the tab is very useful for seeing the status of the people you have open conversations with and should not be removed. If you have 10+ conversations open, you can always right-click on a tab and get a nice list. Sean Egan (the lead developer) jokingly put forward the idea of having the conversation tabs on the side, which actually doesn’t look bad. Maybe the format-bar and info pane would have to go on the right of the chat window… not sure how that would work.
Update Aug 5th
- First of all, if you want the developers to hear your thoughts on this issue, you should discuss it on the pidgin-devel mailing list. If you just want to follow any discussion from the list, you can browse the archives.
- I noticed this post has been dugg.
- After a little feedback on the mailing-list, I’ve got another mockup. I’ve added a dropdown indicator to the button when the active conversation-buddy has more than one contact, and put example contact lists for clarity.
Update Aug 14th
It’s true. Pidgin doesn’t have a Send button. I had no idea this bothered some people, but I guess it could be made more obvious.