Re: Global menubar (was Re: #4 on ToDo list: make the top panel prettier)

[resending my original reply]

On Jan 19, 2009, at 8:37 PM, Owen Taylor wrote:
> On Mon, 2009-01-19 at 20:34 +0100, Jonas Jørgensen wrote:
>> 2009/1/19 Owen Taylor <otaylor redhat com>:
> ...
>>> I have some opinion that the global menu bar is pretty tied to
>>> the application-centric model of the Macintosh .. it's not entirely
>>> clear to me that you can go to the global menu bar without adopting 
>>> that model wholesale. Which would be a pretty major change to the 
>>> way the desktop works.
>> I'm curious as to why you have that opinion, and I'd love to hear an
>> explanation of it -- because I strongly prefer the
>> menu-bar-in-top-panel approach, and I strongly dislike the
>> application-centricism of Mac OS :-)
> Well, on the Macintosh, to really use the computer effectively, you do
> have to understand the concept of an application being "current". This
> is exposed, among other things by:
>  - All windows of an application come to the front at one

(This happens in fewer cases in Mac OS X than in Mac OS 9 and earlier.)

>  - The ability to "hide other windows" to hide windows not from the
>    application
>  - The menubar staying there when you close the last window
>  - The dock icons activating an application
> The global menu is part of the "bundle" of concepts.

I don't follow that logic, and the Amiga is a counterexample to your
bundle theory. The Amiga had a global menu bar, but its applications
had none of the other attributes you list (except for applications that
had a "screen" of their own, and those became fewer as the baseline
graphics improved).

Even in Mac OS, there have always been applications that quit when
their last window is closed. Having the menu bar hang around neatly
avoids the long-running problem Windows and Gnome have had about how to
keep music playing and instant messages arriving without windows open,
but I think the weirdness outweighs the benefit.

> ...
> But large monitors have become cheap and common (22" could be said to
> be the standard size at this point),

It could be said, but only by someone unaware that notebooks are now
outselling desktop computers worldwide. ;-)
<> So if
there's a "standard size", it's about 14". (And 9" and 10" are
surprisingly popular.)

> and multiple monitors are not unusual. Given sufficient real estate, 
> most people stop maximizing all their windows. And at that point, I 
> think that it's a leap to say that selecting something in one corner 
> of the screen changes something all the way at the other corner of the 
> screen.

As desktop computer displays begin to routinely reach 30" and larger,
while notebook interfaces stay in the 10"~17" range, I wonder if they
will start having substantially different interfaces (for the same
reason that notebooks and smartphones have substantially different

> You might say that the global menu is just an extension of the concept
> of keyboard focus. Here's two predictions I'll make about keyboard 
> focus on a large monitor with non-maximized windows based on 
> "locality" (completely unsubstantiated from actual data)
> - Users will keep the mouse over or near the window they are typing on,
>   even when that requires extra effort.
> - Users will occasionally click on an already focused window before
>   starting to type in it.
> In other words, the user doesn't really have a strong mental model that
> there is global focused window that applies even when there their
> eyes, attention, and mouse cursor are elsewhere.

That may be true, in Windows and in Gnome. In Mac OS X the shadow of
the focused window, and the desaturation of controls in background
windows, seem to make it quite obvious.

> There are also some corner cases to the global menu model that have
> obvious answers in the "application" case, but less obvious answers in
> the "window" case. Do all windows from the same application have the
> same menu bar?

Not necessarily. You can see this even on Mac OS X, in applications
written in non-Mac toolkits: Firefox (Bookmarks vs. browser window),
Thunderbird (message composition vs. mail window), NeoOffice
(spreadsheet vs. presentation).

>                 What happens with windows without a menu bar? (From an
> app with other windows? As a standalone app?)

"File" > "Close" would still be applicable, and so would the standard
"Edit" menu items for any window that contained a text field.

Cocoa is designed such that child windows don't need to do anything
special to ensure that all the relevant menu items stay available, while
all the irrelevant ones become unavailable automatically.
<> If a global menu bar was
introduced, adding this kind of system into GTK would make it easier to
ensure that (for example) the Help menu remains accessible while you're
using a dialog.

Matthew Paul Thomas

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