Re: GNOME user environment brainstorming

On 24 May 2001 15:48:04 -0400, Havoc Pennington wrote:
> Hi,
> At Red Hat we were trying to come up with a list of stuff to hack on
> for future GNOME versions, and came up with a lot of possible TODO
> items for the GNOME user environment. Some of these are clearly in the
> GNOME 2 oe beyond timeframe, some might be hackable into current
> stable versions. The list is far longer than we can do ourselves, so,
> maybe it will give people project ideas. We'll probably do some of
> them though. No doubt user testing is in order to decide which of
> these ideas are lame.

I'd like to comment on some of these, if no one minds :-). Items which
are not included I generally agree with, I'm only including items which
I have some issue with.

> Anyway, here's what we came up with.
> Global User Level
> ===
>  Change /apps/nautilus/user_level to be /desktop/standard/user_level. 
>  Then use this setting throughout the desktop. GConf should install
>  the user level schema.
>  This enables us to agressively trim the available preferences in
>  Beginner/Intermediate without annoying people.

Global User Levels are something I dislike, though there is no hard
evidence that I've seen either for or against this particular method of
handling things, here are some problems I see with the concept:

1.) Pidgeonholing users into developer-defined groups.
     Users typically do not fit into groups that are predefined for
them, because users are human beings and human beings tend to defy
classification that is not very, very finely grained. In addition, it
could be considered insulting to be labeled a "beginner".

2.) A user's experience level is not consistent across an entire
computer system.
     Joe User may be exceptionally talented at handling task X, but may
be clueless when it comes to task Y. Global user levels do not easily
allow the user to switch between the two, without having each app handle
the prefs, which kind of defeats the purpose of *global* user levels,
and this still doesn't fix the other complaints I have.

3.) It hides preferences and features from users in a way not easy to
     If there is a pref or feature that is not in the user's currently
selected userlevel, they will almost certainly conclude that the feature
isn't there. If they do know about user levels, but like their interface
as-is, they would need to go to the selector and select "Advanced", then
enable the feature they want, then go back to "Basic", and repeat this
procedure. And just imagine how many questions and feature requests will
flood in because of users who are not familiar with the user level
system ("How do I do X, I used to be able to...").

4.) The user must think of everything in terms of user levels.
     "Ok, X isn't available here, I need to go to a completely different
section of the UI, switch to a different user level, and then come
back." If the user does not think in this fashion, then they are stuck
with the example in #3. Plus, it's pretty obvious that related
preferences should be grouped together, but user levels breaks that.

I believe that a better method to handle advanced preferences is the one
taken by MacOS, the disclosure triangle. The little right-pointing arrow
that expands a dialog, prefs pane, or whatever to show more complicated
options. The advantages of this approach are:

1.) It still hides the advanced prefs from the user, but not in a way
that cannot be easily overridden.
     The user still has to do extra stuff to see more advanced
preferences, but the amount of extra stuff they have to do is minimal.
So as opposed to going to a new location, switching something, then
coming back, they simply need to click the little arrow right there.

2.) It's not as restrictive as global user levels.
     If I open an expander in GApplication, it only affects
GApplication, and doesn't affect any others. This means that I can have
an advanced interface in only the applications I can handle it in. Plus,
it is a consistent way to handle this. Applications need not have their
own user levels (and location for configuring them), because all extra
information would be hidden by the disclosure triangle, and the
disclosure triangle means the same thing in every window, app, and

Now, the sideways feature of admins being able to lock down prefs is one
I'm all for. More power to gconf for allowing it. :-)

> Somewhere to Start
> ===
> A problem with the current desktop is that there's no clear "center" to
> it where you can find important information such as the control
> center, help browser, etc. We work around this a bit by adding
> shortcuts to the panel, but other than that you have to dive in to the
> forbidding and totally unusable Programs menu. If you change your
> panel icons, suddenly you can't find important stuff.

I'm grateful to _v_ for wanting to fix this, definately.

> Windows has My Computer in addition to the start menu which contains
> things like Control Panel, Dial-up Networking, etc.

The only thing I've ever seen anybody use My Computer for is opening
files, and that simply because they were told to do so by someone who
didn't feel like explaining Windows Explorer. I've gone to the control
center from the "Settings" submenu on the Start Menu.

Basically, I don't think a "Start Here" special folder would solve much,
since we'd still have to fix the menu structure anyways, the user cannot
find everything they will need through this folder, and the menus will
still almost always be faster. But really, this does need to be
user-tested. The Best of "Start Here" vs. The Best of The Menus.

>  - Joe Smith's Preferences
>      (user preferences, such as fonts/colors; this would replace
>       control center with a folder full of icons a la Windows/Mac, and
>       we'd want to rename dialogs from things like "Theme Selector" to
>       things like "Fonts & Colors")

I'd like to suggest it simply be called "Preferences", for reasons in
the "My Identity" section below (plus it'd help tech support in the
future to be able to say "go to Preferences" rather than "go to 'Your
Name`s' Preferences")

>  - System Settings
>      (using Darin's prefs vs. settings distinction; systemwide
>       settings that can be gotten wrong, vs. user prefs that
>       can't. e.g. dialup networking setup, time and date, etc.
>       Probably would contain Red Hat specific tools in our
>       distribution, but Ximian Setup Tools could also go here)

Well, I'm not sure I like this distinction (I'd prefer a single
"Settings" or "Preferences" UI item to splitting them into pieces, items
which require root perms to unlock/change can be done so in a manner
similar to MacOS X.)

>  - Programs 
>      (start browsing programs here - would have a folder hierarchy as
>       with Programs panel menu)

If a busted programs menu is one of the reasons that we need a "Start
Here" folder, how does this solve it...? :-)

>  - Network Server Configuration
>      (Red Hat specific probably; Apache, Bind, etc. config tools. 
>       jrb argues that it should not be split from System Settings,
>       the argument for the split is that System Settings is oriented
>       toward all users, this folder contains tools for admins
>       doing server config)

I'd call it "Services", personally, since Apache, Bind, etc. are all
services (and "System Settings" covers things like host name, etc.).

>  - Favorites
>      (Shared with Panel, a folder full of things that would appear in
>       panel Favorites menu - unclear how it interacts with Favorites
>       emblem)

I'd like to add "Recent Documents" to the list of special folders. It
should be a subdir of the Desktop which contains links to recently
opened documents. (gnome-vfs may be able to help us with this in the
future, perhaps through a gnome-vfsd -- which will also let us do all
sorts of cool things, such as monitor which apps have which files open,
and present the user with a single, integrated "these documents unsaved"
dialog when they logout, an advanced feature not present in any current

> There's some possible confusion about shortcut buttons on panel vs. on
> desktop, especially since panel icons require single-click, desktop
> double-click.

I have personally seen users who asked to borrow my computer to check
something on the Internet double-click on a panel button, then do it
again, and again, and again (since Xalf doesn't have the ability to
change the cursor when it is over another window). They are then
surprised by 8 windows showing up one after another. :-) I say make all
launchers respect a single pref for double/single click.

> My Identity
> ===
> - have control panel in user prefs folder to do "chfn" sort of stuff:
>    - give your full name
>    - give your phone number, office, address, etc.
>    - lets you set your GDM face (right now we have a separate tool for
>      this, should maybe be in a general "Identity" control panel)
> - On desktop, perhaps show "Havoc Pennington's Home" instead of 
>   "hp's Home"
> - For user prefs folder, use full name also, "Havoc Pennington's
>   Preferences"

I'm not sure I agree with the Deskop & prefs folder (assuming the prefs
folder is implemented) including the user's name. The user knows who
they are, so I think "Home" & "Preferences" will suffice. I don't really
think there needs to be anything extra tacked onto those things, whether
it's "My" or "$NAME". :-)

> Havoc

    Jim Cape

    If the United States Government spent as much on education
    as it did on the military, every student could fail in a
    solid gold desk.

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