Category Archives: gnome

Random UX change for the sake of… change?

If you’re making a highly visible change in the operating system UI that affects every running application, it seems fair to ask that it’s done for a good reason and that there is empirical data that supports it. Or, if no empirical data is available, that the change is made to make the transition to your OS smoother for users of competing OSes.

The new placement of window controls in Ubuntu 10.4 (beta)

This is why Ubuntu’s recent change to move the window control buttons to the left side of the window in the latest beta confuses me, because it appears that a chance has been made for no real purpose whatsoever other than a vague hint that it’s preparations for “some innovative options” on the now empty right side. But those experiments won’t start until version 10.10, due out in October 2010.

There are a couple of problems I see with this redesign:

  1. The Ubuntu layout is not just about switching from right to left — it’s introducing a completely unique layout never before seen in an OS. See how the Close button is still on the right side of the button group while the buttons were moved to the left side? This means that neither Windows nor Mac OS users will benefit from the change, as both user groups will have to relearn things here.
  2. The actual icons/symbols on the maximize and minimize buttons are also completely different from both Windows and Mac OS.  While Windows uses a horizontal line to represent minimize, and a square box to represent maximize, Mac OS uses colors instead (yellow to minimize, and green to maximize/zoom). Again, this means that neither Windows nor Mac OS users will benefit from the Ubuntu change, which uses some stylish arrows instead (pointing up to maximize and down to minimize). The icons make little sense (isn’t maximizing more about changing the size of the window, rather than the direction? does minimizing a window always move it down — what if your task bar is at the top like I have it?). To make it even more bizarre, once a window is in a maximized state, the icon for restoring the window looks like the actual maximize button in Windows 95/98/Me/2000/XP/Vista/7.

Ubuntu’s design lead Ivanka Majic tries to explain why the changes were made, but fails completely. She instead lists some questions they were asking themselves without providing any answers:

- Why do Mac OS and Windows have the buttons where they do?

- What was the functional reason behind the Mac OS choice (or the Windows position for that matter)?

- Why, when most application menus are top left should the window controls go top right?

- Why, when we read left to right is the most destructive action first?

So, what are the answers? Given that I haven’t seen any, allow me to guess:

  1. Mac OS and Windows have different conventions.
  2. I don’t think there were any serious usability studies behind either of the choices.
  3. Why not?
  4. Because it’s the most common action on a window?

It’s things like this that makes me skeptical of so-called usability experts when they think they can get away with changing things for the mere sake of change, without any evidence whatsoever that it’s a change for the better.  Majic ends her blog post about the window control button placement by indicating the true reason why they went for a completely unique arrangement:

Personally, I would have the max and min on the left and close on the right.

Update: My insanely sharp colleague Jennifer Boriss writes about this topic more elegantly from a user experience expert perspective.

Downloading OpenSUSE 10.3 Alpha 1

Ubuntu has started to bore me lately. Nothing really new and exciting seems to be added to Feisty. And they just can’t seem to ditch the brown.

Ubuntu Feisty Fawn Herd 5 Desktop

I actually installed OpenSUSE before (I think it was 10.1) but I quickly went back to Ubuntu again. However, I can’t really remember why I didn’t like OpenSUSE so I’ll try it again. After reading about the progress of the new Gnome main menu, I don’t mind the hassle of installing it one more time.

OpenSUSE 10.3 Alpha 1 Main Menu

Just four years, eh?

Wow, only four years were required to fix a major usability issue in Gnome:

Bug 102501 – Drag-and-drop extract operation should run instantly in background

An impressive sign of just how dedicated these Gnome developers are! Do they ever sleep?!

I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought File Roller is broken when it’s just taking an incredible amount of time to respond to a user-triggered event. And I thought Gnome was about usability.

OK, so I’m complaining instead of fixing it myself, and the developer actually apologizes for the extreme delay in delivering a fix. But seriously, how can such an in-your-face bug like this exist for four years before someone steps up and fixes it? I should probably just close all my Gnome bugs, since most of them are enhancement requests, which I’m sure have an average life cycle of eight years or more…

Fedora Core 6 – False Marketing?

(Headline intentionally spiced up slightly…) After reading the release notes from the Fedora Core 6 Pre-Release, I just had to download and install it:

The Compiz window manager provides better visual feedback and a variety of desktop effects by using the AIGLX framework. More information is available from the Fedora Rendering Project.

Unlike OpenSuSE 10.2 Alpha 4, Fedora at least had the decency to provide a DVD .iso, which was fairly easy to download once I got bittorrent up and running.

Fedora LogoThe installation went fairly smoothly — on the second try. When I partitioned the 80 GB hard drive of my new computer last week, I intentionally left 6 GB unused because I knew I would eventually like to try installing other flavors of Linux than Ubuntu. However, because I made a mistake and left those 6 GB outside of an extended partition and already had four primary partitions, the empty space was not usable. Instead of notifying me of this, Fedora’s installer Anaconda crashed and forced me to restart the computer. After removing Ubuntu and resizing the extended partition (after all, I had only used Ubuntu on this computer for one week and already broken it with Beryl), the installation proceeded without any hickups.

intro-computer.pngTo make sure I wouldn’t run into any other problems, I chose the default options for everything. The only modification I did was unchecking the “sshd” option for the firewall, because I know I’m never going to want to log in to my laptop remotely using ssh. After waiting for all packages to install, the system rebooted and I was presented with a final walkthrough of some initial settings. Unfortunately, because of a (known) bug, the keyboard was not working during this walkthrough, so I had to skip the step of creating a user and instead restart and log in as root. For the record, I tried hitting Ctrl+Alt+F1 to switch to a terminal and manually add a user before logging in, but for some reason, no terminal would appear. Pressing Ctrl+Alt+F7 got me back to gdm thankfully. The first thing I did as root was to create a normal user, log out and log in again with the new user account instead.

OK, so that was basically my alibi for what I am now going to say to you, my patient reader: Having sticked to the default options, proceeded with the installation and properly logged in to Gnome with a regular user account, I was left in the freezing cold with no desktop effects whatsoever!

The Release Notes has the solution:

To enable the fancy desktop effects, follow these steps:

  1. System > Preferences > More > Desktop Effects
  2. Log out
  3. Log back in. compiz should be enabled now.

Great! Except for one minor problem: There is no System > Preferences > More > Desktop Effects! So I’m still stuck with a regular Gnome desktop using the boring metacity as window manager. Does anyone know what’s wrong?

I’m going to keep Fedora for a while, to get some new impressions after using Ubuntu for two years straight. I will publish another post later, covering my impressions of the distro today compared to the Ubuntu Edgy Eft (6.10).

MSN support in Gaim for Windows broken too

Staying on the subject of broken betas, I installed beta 3 of Gaim 2.0 for Windows, but it can’t seem to connect to MSN from my workplace. It seems this bug has been reported, but there is no fix or resolution to it. Too bad, because I prefer Gaim over Miranda IM. In this case, I have no choice but to go back to Miranda though.

It’s funny how both instant messaging projects seems to evolve in an extremely slow pace. Isn’t it interesting to develop chat programs these days?