Start Menu vs. Panel

I am the guilty one of ranting about how I hate Microsoft because of
my frustrations with trying to get some things accomplished.  I am
also responding to a number of MS bashers and general discussion.
I will attempt to summarize the problems presented by Windows, and
GNOME's current solution as well as posible other solution.  I reallize
that ranting about a problem without offering a solution is about as
useful as throwing gasoline on a fire to put it out.

1) Customization
The MS start menu cannot be customized easily--you either need 3rd
party software, the patience of Job, or it cannot be done.  You may
change every part of the included items in the start menu, but it
usually requires registry hacking.  As the entire OS is centered
around the registry, one mistake could mean the difference from
aesthetics and a non functional system.

GNOME uses a different form of customization, and therefore a mistake
can only result in an ugly interface.

2) Menu Structure
Start menu structure is generally regarded as unstructured.
Applications can add their entries to any arbitrary section.  As a
result, your program menu typically wraps to another column or requires
you to scroll off of the viewable screen.  Many times the software's
product is lost in a sea of other peoples products.  To combat this
problem, software vendors also tend to plant a shortcut on the
desktop.  You may restructure the program menu, but you will have
to remove the shortcuts to programs that you have removed.

The default panel setup is by category.  Applications are easier to
find, and you may restructure any of the menus as you see fit.

The current problem with gnome is with the uninstall process.  You
still have the windows style problem of removing an entry if you
change its location.  My proposal is to add a 32bit key for every app,
and the uninstall process searches for the 32bit key.  That way, if
the user decides to change the location AND the name of the entry,
the program will still be able to find the correct entry.

3) Menu actions
This is my biggest problem with MS software.  The default action for
Windows when a new window of any sort opens up, it will close all menus
that you currently have open.  This problem is compounded by the problem
that modal dialogs are the windows programmers best friend.  The email
software that was forced on me by IT opens a modal box everytime I get
new mail.  That's why I switched to netscape webmail.

I have not used GNOME that much yet, and am not sure how GNOME handles
the default menu situation.  Someone has reminded me that modal dialogs
are needed from time to time.  I strongly feel that GNOME programmers
should use them sparingly.  If GNOME does not do this already, I think
that it should allow the menus to STAY OPEN while you respond to the
new dialog box.

4) Default Panel Buttons
Windows start bar can only use the start menu.  Period.  If you want
a separate quick-launch button or menu, you need a separate launcher.
As a result, you need two "panels" taking up screen real estate.  The
only other items on the start bar are currently running apps, and the
system tray.

GNOME panel currently uses the one gnomeprint button.  It can be
reconfigured by the user to reflect his/her wishes.  I.e., if I want
a System menu, an apps menu, and a "Trash Can"; it is possible.  The
default is acceptable--as long as GNOME advertizes the fact that it
can be reconfigured.  If you "market" customizability, then the users
will expect to be able to customize it.  This is a web-page issue, and
not a coding issue.  The GNOME panel has the added benefit of being
able to embed applets in the panel.  These are good things.  We need
to keep these things.  We will refine it many times over by the time
we reach 1.0, and the final incarnation may be completely different.
Then again, we could have it right, and everyone learns to like it.

5) File Browser
The windows file browser is functional.  That is all I can say about
it.  It's not pretty, it's not the most intuitive, but you can use it.
It is based on a heirarchical view of the file system.  While we know
that the file system itself is heirarchical in windows, I think it
could be done better--more on that later.

GNOME Midnight Commander is also a functional file browser.  It has
the same premise and level of intuitiveness as the windows counterpart.
This is not a dig on MC, but a simple fact about this type of program.
Every GUI needs a device just like this, and should not be removed from
the system.  IMO file browsers are utility devices anyway.

What I like (this would be in addition to, not instead of MC) would be
based on "The Brain" by Natrificial Software.  You can check out the
web page at to see what I mean.  It is Windows
software, but it is an example of how an alternate user interface can
just feel right.  It needs certain improvements if it is going to be
used as an advanced file browser, but I like the concept.  I agree that
a project like this will be out of the scope of GNOME, but It would be
a good idea if someone decides to code an application like this.  (I may
do it in the future, but right now I'm just trying to get used to the
GNOME way of doing things.)

All in all, I think the panel is good as it is for the default setup.
It is already 10 times better in each portion of UI that can be compared
with Windows.  This is coming from a Windows basher.  I do have to
concede that Windows has a few good ideas, but I believe their
implementation could be better.  I like having a "start menu" as a single
point of access.  I like being able to switch to other apps via the
task bar (this should NOT be in the panel BTW, it is a window manager
item).  I like being able to view the current time at a glance.  I do
not like the static appearance of the windows.  I do not like the way
it treats menus (which most OS's treat it the same way--example where
convention is bad).  I don't like most of the native key-bindings (I
grew up on a Mac).

Can we move on to app specific details we all need to know for the UI
guidelines now?

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