Re: [Usability] window manager configuration

On Fri, Dec 07, 2001 at 08:13:39PM -0500, Havoc Pennington wrote:
> Gregory Merchan <merchan baton phys lsu edu> writes: 
> > Before sawfish allowed for compound functions to be done with the config 
> > tool, I'd implemented it in my ~/.sawfishrc. The benefit of borderless mode
> > is deep screen edges. I'm not suggesting that my configuration be standard
> > or even readily available. I offer it as an example of something that 
> > might seem odd, but that I find genuinely useful.
> Sure, I have no doubt that people find a use for all the config
> options in current window managers. The issue is just that those
> options in the aggregate are too numerous and ergo confusing, and the
> combinatorial explosion of possible configurations is really hard to
> deal with in terms of getting the overall behavior of the desktop and
> apps correct, not to mention QA/debug.

I think this is an understatement. :-)  Regard this problem as an opportunity.
Maybe in the solution to customer support for a dynamic environment there
is a solution to other problems. Let's not just run away from novelty.

> > > I believe the typical use-pattern a windows user would have on your
> > > small-screen system is to always keep their windows maximized, and use
> > > Alt+Tab or tasklist to move between them.
> > 
> > Maybe, but would he like it and might he find something else more to his
> > liking?
> I think the value of using an 800x600 laptop via the same UI as a
> regular desktop exceeds the value of a custom UI. I did have an
> 800x600 laptop for a long time, btw, until it stopped powering on one
> day, sadly.

It's already a different UI. The keyboard and mouse are in a fixed position
relative to the screen. The keyboard has a condensed layout achieved by
overlaying keys and not providing some. One would not expect the same
UI on a palmtop as one would desktop; a laptop, at least one the size I have,
falls in between.

> > I usually have the root covered by a window, such as Xchat right now. I
> > tried  sloppy focus, but since the panel does not accept focus I was 
> > often confused when I moved to it. Maybe on a larger screen I'd find 
> > sloppy useful.
> My opinion is that the panel and desktop should require clicks to
> focus them, even in the mouse-focus modes. This is analagous to the
> clicks required to focus widgets within an app.

It's certainly something to test. :-)

> > The only thing I'm fighting about is the approach. I described my setup 
> > hoping that it might show in part why some things are useful and not 
> > indicative of drug abuse.
> The main point about drug abuse (besides being a joke) is about

I know it was a joke. It's told so often that it has become a bromide.

> developers. Users aren't in a position to see the global picture,
> they're just in a position to see their own pet peeves, suggest lots
> of features, or say "XYZ other platform does foo, you should make your
> thing have an option to do foo." Also, in my experience users always
> suggest adding an option, instead of changing the default - as a kind
> of humility or something, or they think an option is more likely to be
> accepted since it won't annoy anyone else. It's up to developers to
> filter these requests into a coherent overall result, and to maybe
> decide "what the user really wants to achieve is better done via XYZ,
> instead of the option they requested." 

I certainly concur. That's why I suggest looking at what's involved rather
than just laughing and hacking (axe-style) away.

> I'm using "developers" broadly to include UI people.

I hope this is the rule and not the exception.
 [Aside: Designers, as those who look at the overall system in detail, should
  be included too. It seems a point of contrast between UNIX/X and GNOME that
  one can usually find why things are so for the former; perhaps this is just
  due to age.]

> Clearly developers should do their best to choose the right thing,
> clearly it's hard, but they have a responsibility to make those
> choices, instead of giving up and saying "let's make it an option
> since we can't decide and this flamewar will never end."  We have to
> recognize that the result of honoring all user requests to add config
> options is a crack-ridden user interface. And in fact we have to
> recognize that excessive config options is the #1 flavor of crackrock
> in the window manager world. Only then we can begin our
> rehabilitation.

Unfunniness aside, I agree. Because it is so common to have excessive
configurability, I suspect we're only looking at the symptoms. I posit that
the disease is application-oriented interfaces.

> The fact that some of the options in a huge crack-ridden prefs dialog
> are not crack-ridden, does not change the crack-filled nature of the
> dialog as a whole, let's put it that way.

If we have robust programs we should be able to provide a simple graphical
interface while not removing run-time configurability, perhaps by having the
tweaking program. The questions remain: what belongs in the interface and
what should be available in some other way so that recompilation is not

> At the same time, some battles can't be fought, because people aren't
> willing to do too much re-learning and re-adapting, so want to make
> GNOME like their old environment. Focus modes are a good example.
> > OTOH, if someone decided that only click-to-focus mode or some other option
> > become a requirement, I might start fighting about that.
> That's why I say people will be grumpy and force us to have certain
> options, such as sloppy focus, which no other operating system has and
> which are clearly not needed. (I use sloppy focus myself, and it's
> what Metacity defaults to right now, because I am a crack-smoking
> fool.)

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