Re: [Usability] In short, I hate windows.

On Mon, 2007-01-01 at 23:20 -0500, Jacob Beauregard wrote:

> My least favorite experience with trying ubuntu was trying 
> to browse through all of the preferences. Every last thing that 
> controlled the visual experience and display of information was a 
> separate choice on a drop-down menu, that each opened a new window. For 
> first time users, I imagine this can be very very frustrating.

I think the key phrase there is "first-time" users.  The first time you
use the desktop is indeed the time you are most likely to want to
browse/change a whole lot of preferences at once, and the menu is
sub-optimal for that.  You'll be glad to know (if you didn't already)
that all the preferences will be available to browse in a single
Windows/OSX-like control center shell, in 2.18.

On the other hand, the menu /is/ generally more efficient for the
long-term user's more common task, which is to occasionally tweak one
setting in one preferences window.  (Provided they know in which window
that setting lives, admittedly-- something else which the shell should
help them to learn, as it has a search facility.)

Personally I hope the new control center shell doesn't mean the menus
are done away with altogether, though, because (as a long term user) I
find the menus much more convenient.  Despite having used it for years,
I can never find what I'm looking for in the OS X control center nearly
as quickly-- I tend to use the menu in the dock instead, when I remember
it exists.

> Using tabs/frames to a desktop environment rather than windows.
> This would be a step to optimize the navigation between different 
> applications by a user.
> Frames are most optimal for multitasking and tabs are most optimal for 
> navigating between tasks.
> I would love being able to use tabs to navigate between different 
> applications. I would also love being able to use frames while using 
> multiple applications at the same time. The implementation of tabs would 
> probably be much easier than the implementation of frames in regards to 
> mobility.

Framed/paned window managers do exist (or certainly used to), I was
briefly involved in usability testing one a long time ago.

The main complaint from users was the inability to size each pane
optimally, as resizing one pane often adversely affected the dimensions
of another.  Consequently, some users felt they were wasting more of
their desktop space-- which wasn't actually true, for those that weren't
making any use of the desktop background previously.  There were just
more large "white" areas in some panes, where previously there would
have been desktop background, so the "wastage" was much more noticeable,
and negatively affected their impressions of the interface.

Others just tried to squeeze as many panes onto the desktop as they
would previously have had (overlapping) windows, which meant each pane
was smaller than the corresponding window they were used to. So they
ended up complaining about the amount of extra scrolling they had to
do-- another sub-optimal user experience.

It's possible that both types of user would have learned to adapt over
time, of course, the study didn't look into that.

All that said, the GNOME usability team /have/ always advocated the
development of a window manager with tabbing capabilities, that would
(in addition to the current metacity functionality) let you group any
arbitrary collection of top level windows into a single, tabbed

This was the thinking behind the HIG's much-maligned "don't implement
tabbed MDI applications" stance.  It's not that tabs aren't useful in
some cases, but that their implementation would be best handled by the
appropriate application-- the window manager-- rather than being
re-implemented in every application that wants to use them.  (And thus,
equally, denying the user that functionality in applications that don't
want to.)

Doesn't look like we're going to get such a window manager anytime soon
though, people are too busy implementing wobbly translucent windows and
spinny-cube desktop switchers at the moment.  But who knows what GNOME
3.0 will bring? :)


CALUM BENSON, Usability Engineer       Sun Microsystems Ireland
mailto:calum benson sun com            Java Desktop System Group                      +353 1 819 9771

Any opinions are personal and not necessarily those of Sun Microsystems

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