Re: Proposal for new thinking in Session management [from d-d-l]

On Mon, 2004-06-07 at 13:49 +0200, montr skummelt no wrote:
> Note, this was in part inspired by a comment at on the 
> story Simplifying GNOME file management.
> Goal:
> Make the session system less obtrusive, and more intuitive to use for 
> any user. To provide a new innovative look into session management that 
> makes the concept of "sessions" transparent to the user.

I think this hypothetical conversation is better suited to the usability

> Current Situation:
> The current Session System in GNOME asks the user whether to save his 
> session or not, when logging out. This concept has no meaning to the 
> user, and even advanced users, may sometimes use this wrongly. As an 
> example, I have sometimes myself checked the box while logging out just 
> to "make sure my session is empty" the next time I log in, even though 
> I've never used the session system.
> It is a powerful concept that is out of reach for the novice user as it 
> is currently, and the current system do not encourage the user to try it 
> out.

I think the of concept of session is archaic and broken.  I see users
interacting with sessions in two ways because of their work needs, not
their understanding of sessions.

Users save the state of the desktop because a task is incomplete and
they must logoff or shutdown.  The logoff scenario would be fixed by
fast user switching.  The shutdown scenario works for the most part.

Users use session management to set the default startup state.  Few
users understand this to take advantage of it, in part, because session
management isn't nearly as meaningful is start up and shutdown behavior.

> Proposal:
> I propose a new system, that ALWAYS saves the session without asking, 
> and gives the user the chance to open up his previous session when 
> loggin in. The system should keep a list of the last X sessions (ordered 
> by date), and allow the user to copy some of these sessions into a list 
> of "saved sessions", which the user can rename to make them more 
> memorable. It might be a good idea to come up with less technical 
> terminology.

This argument presumes tasks are never completed in a single session,
and that they are completed serially.  The crux of session management
being broken is that is has a crude notion of mutli-tasking that does
not match how I observe users in the office.

Under what circumstances will users logoff one session and on to another
to change their set of applications?  Users using IM, and service
requiring authentication will loath the interruption of the switch, let
alone the time it take to stop and start desktop.  This crude notion of
session requires a lot of work and time in the case where a coworker
interrupts your current project and asks you to spend a few minutes on
another project.

Computer users often work on multiple projects concurrently and run
multiple applications to complete them.  I note that in the real world,
cubicles have large desk, and workers often have many projects, in
various states of completion laid out on them.  Correct session
management would allow the user to start, save, and open sessions
concurrently.  Sessions could even be shared so office workers can pass
projects between one another.  Smart session apps would know that the
view of my mail on one session is different from the view of my mail in
another, and the same is true of file-managers, and document based

Users who use multiple workspaces tend to group windows in the same view
because they must interact together.  While there is no strict binding
between workspaces and projects/task, workspaces are unconsciously used
to organize and manage tasks.  Users switch between workspaces to switch
between projects.  

The problem is that workspaces cannot be saved and restored.  Marrying
the workspace to the session, so that adding a new workspace is starting
a new or existing session closely models how users worker.  Moreover I
suspect that users would have a better understanding of the value of
session and workspace if their use was more concretely bound and

I think auto-save session assumes the majority of apps are session aware
and can be restored to the correct state.  while all apps should be
session aware, apps that require authentication--a couple terminals to
my home dir, and some unmounted remote drives are of little help to the

> The above was the main part of the proposal. The rest is just UI ideas 
> which could probably be done better by others.
> Additional ideas:
> One could ask an interactive question when logging in, forcing the user 
> to make an annoying choice whenever logging in. That is pretty much out 
> of the question.
> However the splash screen could be used for instance by adding in a 
> button for 
> "start where you left off last time" and "start clean workspace" with 
> one of them being default (subject to user preferences). These are 
> displayed as long as the splash screen is shown and for a minimum of N 
> seconds with the default being chosen if nothing is done. This requires 
> a time bar that counts down and this question should only be asked if 
> the user has actually logged in before.

I would like to see this dialog start another workspace, not the
desktop.  I think I should be able to access this dialog from either the
panel menu or the workspace switcher.

> For the advanced user a "show list of sessions at start-up" option in 
> the session dialog might be a good idea.
> The dialog itself could contain:
> * A date-sorted list of last sessions
> * A "show date list on start-up" option
> * A stored-session list with renaming capability and a way to select a 
> default session out of them. Where "start clean workspace" is a 
> permanent item that can't be deleted. The selected default should 
> replace the "start clean workspace" button in the splash screen.
> * A "show stored-session list at start-up option.
> * A standard way of copying items from the last sessions to the 
> stored-sessions, and removing them again.
> * A "don't show anything on start-up" option
> When the user logs in the second time and sees a "start where you left 
> off the last time", he/she will not have to understand any concepts of 
> session management at all to take advantage off it. If the user is in 
> the habit of closing all windows before logging out (which is not 
> uncommon), this question can be used to change the habit of the user 
> with an "aha, if I just leave things, I can come back later to find 
> things exactly like this".
> If the dialog is cleverly thought out, the concept of session management 
> can possibly be abstracted away even here, just making the users think 
> of dates and type of work being done instead of the technical idea 
> "session".
> It will still allow advanced users to do anything they want to do with 
> sessions, but in addition introducing a little bit of that power to the 
> complete novice, which I think is very much part of the current GNOME 
> philosophy. In fact, I think this will make some GNOME-users think GNOME 
> has some new fantastic feature they have never seen before, even if 
> everything was already possible in the current system without them 
> knowing it.
> I don't know if the main part of the proposal will require serious 
> changes to the session system or not.
> A good counter-argument might be the amount of data needed to 
> automatically store the last N sessions, which should be considered.

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