Hypothetical desktop ideas

Discussion in 'all things UNIX' started by Gullible Jones, Apr 13, 2014.

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  1. Gullible Jones

    Gullible Jones Registered Member

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    Because I haz opinions. Also I'm interested in seeing what people here have to say - both those with more computing experience than I have, and those with less.

    My preliminary thoughts are these:

    Avoiding repetitive input
    In general, having users repeat stuff is bad. If you have to open a menu tree, navigate through it, find an entry... and then repeat the same thing a minute later, that is annoying. Likewise having to type the same thing repeatedly.

    Possible remedies:
    - MRU lists. (c.f. Mac, Ubuntu Unity, Windows, etc.) They work, but are not easily implemented from scratch.
    - Launcher menus that stick around on the screen until you deliberately close them. (WindowMaker and Fluxbox both do this, but IMO could do it better.)
    - Desktop icons. Works, but can create interface clutter (more on that later).
    - "Favorites" menus. In my experience these suffer badly from "out of sight, out of mind."
    - Dock or panel icons. IMO these are good; they're not obscured, so they're never "out of sight, out of mind."

    Avoiding excessive input
    More generally, any requirement for too much user input is bad. This is why modern CLIs have autocomplete functionality.

    Things that can be done:
    - Use single-click instead of double-click where possible. This also has the benefit of making the interface more consistent.
    - Use mouse motion as a trigger instead of mouse clicking, where possible. e.g. Submenus should open on mouse-over, not on click.
    - Desktop icons. (But again, interface clutter - see below.)

    Interface clutter
    You have a dozen windows open. You minimize one application, open another with a desktop icon, move another around, try to find another in the task bar... Too bad you don't have a 20-inch monitor.

    The problem IMO starts with having to "minimize" anything in order to de-obscure something else. Eyes don't see everything, brains don't remember everything. A person cannot be expected to focus well while managing windows. Overuse of desktop icons adds to this issue, and of course the beloved taskbar doesn't help. (On Windows I find myself using alt-tab much more than the taskbar.)

    Things that can be done:
    - Expose-style 3D window presentation! Looks cool, but in my experience creates its own kind of distraction, and also has nasty hardware requirements.
    - Dynamic tiling window management. Personally I cannot stand this, and I doubt it would work well for most end users.
    - Fullscreen window management, with keybindings for everything. This is how I use Ratpoison, and generally it works really well. But the learning curve is a bit steep, and it might not be suitable for certain use patterns. Also there can be a bit of repetitive keyboard input, even with shell autocomplete.
    - Shading or lowering windows. Preferably lowering, since shading (IMO) adds interface clutter.
    - Mouse-enabled alt-tab, a la KDE (or Fvwm). I think this is best done with large text and larger icons.

    Tentative conclusions

    IMHO the perfect end-user desktop would look a lot like WindowMaker, but behave a little differently.

    The dock would be on one side of the screen, and never be obscured. Dock launchers would contain both icons and text. Singe-click would launch; drag-and-drop could change their position, or delete them (by dragging them onto the desktop). The clock and notification area would be in one corner of the dock.

    The main menu would open when clicking on the desktop. Clicking again would make it hang around until explicitly closed with the close button. Submenus would open on mouseover; clicking on their title bars would make them stick around as well. Dragging a menu entry into the dock would turn it into a launcher. Dragging a whole menu into the dock would create a drawer containing multiple launchers.

    Application windows could be raised with mouse button 1, lowered to the background with button 3, or shaded with a double-click (depending on user preference). They could also be dragged from one workspace to another, or dragged "into" the dock to create a launcher for the application.

    Workspaces would be found in a pager on the dock, or at least accessible from the dock. (Giving the pager its own floating window, like the desktop menu, might be better.)

    ...

    Most of the static stuff here could, I think, be done with Fvwm. The drag and drop parts would be hard though.

    Does this sound sane?

    What are your ideas on how desktop interfaces could be improved?
     
  2. mirimir

    mirimir Registered Member

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    Have you looked at CrunchBang lately?

    Right clicking on the desktop opens the OpenBox menu, and it stays open until you select something.

    There are many hotkeys, and they're listed in conky.

    The default theme is monochromatic, but I find it soothing, and in any case it can be changed easily.
     
  3. 0strodamus

    0strodamus Registered Member

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    Do you know of any mirrors for CrunchBang? I tried downloading the torrent file, but it was taking forever. I can't find a good mirror site.
     
  4. mirimir

    mirimir Registered Member

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  5. vasa1

    vasa1 Registered Member

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    Right-clicking on the desktop means I have to find a space free (not occupied by other windows) to click on. So I have this code in rc.xml:
    <keybind key="W-space">
    <action name="ShowMenu">
    <menu>root-menu</menu>
    </action>
    </keybind>
    and access it using the super key (Windows key) and the spacebar.

    Crunchbang's conky script has just a few of the shortcuts: the rest are in ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml. That's totally customizable. I have three "sets": my most common shortcuts are the super key plus another appropriate one (W+f for firefox, W+c for Chrome, etc). Less used shortcuts use Ctrl+Shift and the even rarer ones are placed in the Openbox right-click menu.

    So, as long as my memory is okay, I have most of what I need with without having to resort to nested menus.

    And I don't have a "desktop" at all ;)
     
  6. mirimir

    mirimir Registered Member

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    One can also right click in the panel/tab for workspace 1-2, even between two app icons.
     
  7. Gullible Jones

    Gullible Jones Registered Member

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    As it happens, yes...

    That's the problem. The menu closes when you select an entry, rather than when deliberately closed. It doesn't stick around. So you have to mouse through it repeatedly to launch a bunch of applications... And AFAIK Openbox does not have any way to change that.

    I'm saying that, instead, the menu should behave like an application window (as in WindowMaker) but still respond to mouse motion instead of just clicks (as in Openbox).

    I will probably post a mockup at some point...

    Re hotkeys, my normal setup is all hotkeys. My preferred desktop for "etting stuff done is Ratpoison; probably 80% of my time in front of a computer is spent in terminals and text editors. :) But this is not a typical usage pattern. I'm thinking more in terms of what I might want if I were an end user.
     
  8. mirimir

    mirimir Registered Member

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    I was rather hoping that there might be a way :(
     
  9. act8192

    act8192 Registered Member

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    NO-- Single click - I like Windows design for single vs double click. Single is subject to great error. For instance, you want to move by single click, or delete an .exe file using selection provided by right click, and instead, a single, accidental click will run that file. No go for me.
    MAYBE-- Mouse motion trigger- I generally dislike anything that moves, or does popups of contents or whatever. Single click on a menu can give me submenus without the fancy visuals. (Even here, with the new forum design I can't scroll quietly down through a list of post titles without seeing the first few lines of a post - all that motion really bothers me). Showing some submenus actually does make sense, so long as a submenu is short and fits on a screen.
     
  10. mirimir

    mirimir Registered Member

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    Indeed. Single click almost destroys the distinction between focus/selecting and opening/executing. With single click, navigating in file manager is very fast, but renaming a file without opening/executing it requires much care.
     
  11. Gullible Jones

    Gullible Jones Registered Member

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    Even with select-on-hover, or drag-to-select? Good points though.

    IMO the correct way to deal with the security issues of single-click is to never, ever allow programs to be executed by just clicking them in the file manager. Execution should require more thought on part of the user, e.g. a right-click menu.
     
  12. mattdocs12345

    mattdocs12345 Registered Member

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    I disagree. People tend to compertnalize and organize ides/locations/etc in into a structure. It's much more intuitive for a person to click Start --> Office --> etc and then to click Start --> Internet --> etc than to have a bunch of software randomly organized on a strip. This is where I think Windows8, Gnome 3 and Unity failed. Just look how many people after buying Windows 8 installed Stardock which requires them to do more clicks than traditional Windows 8 menu. When it comes to UI, being intuitive beats the number of clicks any time of the day. Otherwise we could have a plain desktop without any menus/icons and use keyboard shortcuts. Which would give least number of clicks.
     
  13. Gullible Jones

    Gullible Jones Registered Member

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    I don't think any desktop is intuitive insofar as they all involve pretty abstract concepts, but that's a good point. OTOH a "floating menu" (i.e. one that doesn't snap shut the instant you launch something) - which I suggested above - would combine both strengths.

    Edit: also, quick IMO beats organized when there are a small number of obvious choices.

    Edit 2: one thing that hasn't been mentioned is the idea of a launcher program, like the Xfce application finder, that stays in the background so you can quickly go back to it to launch stuff.
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2014
  14. Gullible Jones

    Gullible Jones Registered Member

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    BTW, I should say here that my biggest vexations when multitasking with stacking windows are all "out of site, out of mind" problems.
    - Launcher menus disappear after I launch stuff, even though I often need them again in 2 seconds
    - Taskbar icons are not in the center of my field of vision, so I forget which ones are where
    - Desktop icons are obscurred by windows, so ditto for them
    - In general I have to hunt around for things, because I don't remember where they were down to the nearest pixel, because I'm focusing on something else!

    IMO this is what the Ratpoison developers were on to, and is the main advantage of keyboard driven window management: not greater speed, but less cognitive overhead. Once learned, keystrokes are pure muscle memory. Hitting the winkey and typing 'chro<tab><Return>' takes longer in absolute terms than mousing up to an icon, but it can be done without thinking.

    (And on a related note: when I use stacking window managers, I almost always install dmenu, and end up launching everything by keyboard anyway. Probably also for the reason above.)
     
  15. mattdocs12345

    mattdocs12345 Registered Member

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    100% agree to that. If you got a user that doesn't need to use anything but Office, FF, Chrome, Skype and maybe Calculator then having organized menu will complicate things and make it unfriendly. In such cases Windows 8, Gnome 3 style and Docky approach is much more intuitive. So IMO the best operating systems are the ones that can provide a customized UI. Both Windows 8 and Unity tried to force dumbed down UI to all users both advanced and novice which backfired.
    Microsoft could have simply pinned down most common 10 applications to its bottom panel, sort of like apple does it with its operating system. At the same they could have kept traditional start menu. This would have pleased both the novice users that only ever use maybe five or six applications and the advanced users by giving them traditionally organized menu.
    This would also work perfectly in mobile systems. Just take a look at iOS on an iphone or ipad. It has exactly same bottom panel as Windows 7 (minus the start orb). Microsoft on the other hand instead of building up on its success decided to reinvent the circle.

    So IMO, it's much wiser to improve on what has worked for ages than to start something completely different. People don't like changes but they like improvements.
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2014
  16. 0strodamus

    0strodamus Registered Member

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