New Menu System for Ubuntu: Disrupting the Dropdown

January 24, 2012

Today, Mark Shuttleworth announced a plan for a, relatively, new way menu concept that will be used with Ubuntu’s Unity. The name of the menu system is dubbed as HUD, Heads Up Display, which any aviation or computer buff is probably already familiar with. There is a video and screenshot, as well as more on his reasoning, in the official announcement here.

The basic gist of it is that Menus like File, Edit, will be replaced by a drop down menu that completes while you type. In the example image, he shows typing the word “delete” into the HUD auto-populates a list with options like “Edit -> Delete” and others. In the examples show in the video, the user also searches things like Browser history in the dropdown and not simply dropdown menus.

The goal appears to do away with the traditional drop down menu, instead offering a way for users to essentially search all menus at once.

In many ways, this ends up being similar to Windows 7 Start Menu Search, as you can use that to search most types of files/commands on the computer. Although, of course, you can’t search drop down menus of applications. There is also a way to do something similar in OSX, although again not a direct equivalent.

Shuttleworth also mentions that Voice is the next step in their UI redesign.

Some Thoughts on the Change

As a disclaimer, I admit that I moved away from Ubuntu long before they switched to Unity as a Desktop Manager and haven’t ever felt inclined to try it out. I did, however, give Gnome 3 a good try, but ultimately found it disrupted my work flow too much and switched to XFCE. My understanding from reading about Unity is that some(many?), certainly not all, power users find it similarly disrupts work-flow and some of the design choices are made for the user, without being able to customize them.

Shuttleworth stated that, having learned from mistakes with other dramatic UI changes,they are doing more usability testing, including developers/power users, this time. He also suggest that there will be options to minify the reliance on HUD in Ubuntu, at least in the early releases. In a reply, he said that you would simply hit the “ALT” key to open the HUD, with nothing being changed otherwise.

If this is true that, that they are rolling the changes out much slower and not heavily forcing the UI change, I can see how this is could be a pretty neat feature. I am also all for rethinking the UI to be more productive.

Keyboard shortcuts are a huge part of my workflow, so my reliance on Menus is already limited to work in Gimp or other similar programs, where there is not a good set of, or easy way to remember, keyboard shortcuts. I, of course, do use menus every day too, but I can see how being able to type “preference” and find the options menu could be convenient, instead of having to peck around under edit, tools, file, ect, until you find it for the specific program.

With that said, one of my issues with Gnome 3 was the reliance on Mouse and an ill-designed window switching option, which also was largely mouse reliant. I can see how similarly putting too much emphasis on the keyboard could cause problems, especially for those who are using a tablet. So, finding a balance between keyboard and mouse will be quite important.

In any case, I do want to give it a try and it will be a good chance to check out Unity after it has had some time to marinate and be polished.

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