Ask Ubuntu update for November 2012

Data dumps
Ask Ubuntu, as part of the Stack Exchange network of sites, licenses all the user contributed data by CC BY-SA 3.0 license. As part of the licensing, the data are made public by data dumps every quarterly. Starting this month, however, the data dumps would be made available every week.

This makes it much easier to keep track of interesting data queries and Jorge Castro shares some of them here. If you could spare some time, go through some of the data queries and flag the questions and review the posts and what not. It would help us improve our currently flailing answered rate. 🙂

We have users who run into a problem and then eventually find a solution on their own and then come back to document the solution themselves. As an attempt to reward such users by reviewing and upvoting quality answers from them, Jorge Castro blogs about how to “hat tip” to them.

Top contributors
Following are the top five contributors who have accrued the most reputation points in the month of November.

Hottest questions
Some of the hottest questions for the month of November:

If you are looking to help, the featured questions should be a good place to start. If you are interested in the site, you can sign up for the newsletter and you will be kept informed of quality questions and answers every week. In case you are struck and is looking for help on how to use the site, feel free to ask your doubts on the Ask Ubuntu meta or join us in the chat*.

*Requires 20 reputation to participate in the chat.


HIG for Ubuntu Unity

Last week, I started working on a personal project to create a good Unity configuration tool that doesn’t look out of place or outright ugly. During the process, I realized how awesome it would have been if we had some sort of design guidelines.

Having Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) would allow developers to create applications that blend with the platform instead of sticking out like sore thumbs. Like myself, there are many other developers who don’t have any idea about properly designing applications for Ubuntu. The closest we have to a HIG is a bunch of links to Ubuntu wiki, API and documentation.

Surely, if we were to compete with well-established developer platforms like Windows, iOS and Android, having a neat set of HIG for developers to refer to would go a long way in helping them create software that are well integrated with Ubuntu itself.

To my surprise, it so happens that other open-source projects do have a HIG. Some of them may not be complete but it is nonetheless better than nothing. KDE has it. XFCE has it. GNOME has it and by extension, distros with pretty much unmodified GNOME software like Debian and Fedora are covered as well. Even Ubuntu downstream Elementary has it and a pretty good one at it too. If I may add, it shows that these platforms care about creating a unified experience for the users. Ubuntu being one of the major Linux distributions seem to have forgotten about HIG altogether.

I do have to point out the default applications themselves aren’t very much consistent. That might very well have to do with the fact that there are at least 5 different toolkits (Gtk, Qt, Xul, Nux and whatever that LibreOffice uses) being used but that discussion is for one other day. 🙂

Anyway, I figure Canonical was looking for an interaction designer earlier this year to create HIG for Ubuntu among others but I am not sure what came out of it. With the added focus on developing a Ubuntu SDK sometime in the foreseeable future, I hope Canonical doesn’t overlook the need to create a HIG at least this time around.

A look at GNOME’s designs

I took gnome-shell 3.6 for a spin and it looks pretty decent on the face value. It is doing fine for a product that I would consider a work in progress. But there are considerable number of designs that I would think are flawed by nature.

Yes, yes. Yet another rant against the poor designs of GNOME but I couldn’t help it. It’s been in my TODO for way too long. 😉

Obfuscated unlock mechanism
The one that should be very obvious to most is having to slide using the mouse to unlock the screen and then type the password to unlock the screen. Why exactly is two different forms of authentication is required is beyond me. The idea of sliding to unlock is primarily for touch interfaces to prevent unlocking the phone by accident. On a traditional desktop environment, we shouldn’t have to do anything to unlock — the good ol’ way of entering the password should be sufficient. If the new shiny useless lock screen was designed with touch devices in mind, it should be implemented just on those devices.

No window controls for maximized windows
The next niggle is not showing the window controls for maximized windows. How exactly am I supposed to unmaximize windows once I maximize them? Oh yes, accessing the window menu using Alt+Space is always an option but do I really have to do all that just to unmaximize / minimize a window?

Or are we deprecating the feature of minimizing the window altogether? Actually, that seems plausible given there is no minimize button by default and I just had to put it back by tweaking the button_layout in dconf. Anyway, completely hiding the window control is even worse than Unity’s way of showing the window controls over mouseover and that is not exactly a good thing.

Lack of unobstructive notifications
The default GNOME notifications are distracting. It very much interrupts the workflow as the notifications require manual interaction to be dismissed. I currently fall back to Ubuntu’s notifyOSD as it doesn’t require immediate action but it isn’t perfect either.

Quicklists and progress bars
I really dig Unity’s minor but quite useful features like quicklists and progress bars. From having to quickly launch into a task to keeping an eye on the file transfer progress, these minor features were quite handy when I am using Unity. I am hopeful that implementing such features wouldn’t jeopardize GNOME’s long-term design plans.

Not everything that the GNOME designers have been doing seems backwards. They have made some chances that I commend.

Saving the all precious vertical space
Being a Unity user, I have been pampered with more vertical space as the window controls, title bar and the menu bar all gets rolled into the top bar and that gives ample of space when browsing the Internet and other regular activities. It is good to note that the GNOME’s current designs have similar guidelines and I would be eager to see more applications getting updated to match the designs.

In the meantime, I am using HTitle, a Firefox addon that hides the title bar when maximized as a stopgap solution.

The idea of being able to highly customize gnome-shell using the extensions is also impressive. I am afraid the various Unity lenses will never be able to match the versatility offered by the extensions.

And for some unknown reasons, flash videos have a much better performance in gnome-shell than in Unity. I am thinking it has to do with the differences in mutter and Compiz.

To bring about a closure to the semi-rant, I think gnome-shell has a bright future if the designers realize that they shouldn’t disregard all the form factors. Sure, target the tablet devices assuming they are the future but don’t forget the desktops and the laptops that are still around.

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