Dec 17, 2009

Improvements Coming To The Desktop Notification Area

The Canonical DesktopExperienceTeam (with help from Ayatana) is working on some nice improvements to the desktop notification area (or systray) for Ubuntu 10.04.

The current notification area is becoming more and more difficult for users to interact with. Each application behaves differently, they're not accessible, and they're even sometime styled differently. Ted Gould explains that this makes the interface difficult for users as they don't know what to expect. It provides a difficult situation for applications as there is no way that they can give the user a good experience as there are no standards to follow. And it makes the whole support system for software more difficult through documentation and long explanations of how to use the computer.

The DesktopExperienceTeam propose to migrate the different applets to using simple menus. This change should provide a more consistent interface and be an important step to improve the user experience with the right hand side of the panel.
With every application being a menu, and the panel knowing this and being able to assume it, then the whole notification area can be a menu bar. This makes it easy to browse application's menus, find what you want, and work with it. It also improves keyboard navigation and increases the accessibility. Menus are a nice mix between simplicity and expandability as they're easy to use and yet provide a way for applications to provide a rich set of functionality.

The proposed changes define two main areas in the panel:
• A "system indicator" area at the far right of the panel, gathering system features like sound, power or session management
• An "application indicator" area, just before it, grouping icons and menus from applications that wish to host a part of their interface on the panel Additionaly, we propose to turn all of the elements on the right side of the panel into regular menus.

This way, users will not have to worry about whether a function is accessible with a left or right click, or be suprised when a click on a panel icon suddenly hides or shows a full application window. Additionally, that will help provide:

An accessible interface: icons and menus will be introspectable by screen readers
Style consistency: as the menus will be rendered by the same toolkit as the panel, the context menus of KDE applications will be rendered in the same style as other applications running on a Gnome desktop, and vice versa
Constant layout: being integrated in a common menubar (as opposed to a collection of applets), icons and menus shouldn't be disturbed by resolution changes, like when doing a presentation and then returning to the desktop to see all applets totally disorganized
Menu scrubbing: users frequently browse menus in search of a feature; by turning the notification area into a set of menus, the users will be able to search the interface more easily

To understand more about what's coming in Ubuntu 10.04 and how to port applications the DX team tried to put up some documentation including a porting guide for applicationscode with examples.

In the notification area the messaging menu will also receive improvements. The DX team is providing specifications for how applications should integrated with the messaging menu.

A sketch for the Messaging menu in the nocification area for Ubuntu 10.04

Another part of Canonical's plan for panel perfection is a concept that the company calls the Me Menu. Based partly on Ubuntu's current presence applet, the new Me Menu will serve as a one-stop shop for configuring messaging status and social networks. Designed by Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth himself, the Me Menu is expected to be one of the highlights of Ubuntu 10.04.

Much like the current presence menu, it will offer tight integration with the Empathy instant messaging client, allowing users to control their status and availability settings. It will also integrate with the Gwibber microblogging client to make it possible for users to post status messages to Twitter,, Facebook, and other services directly through a textbox in the Me Menu. Another major goal of the Me Menu is to provide a single access point for account management. The user will be able to use the menu to launch account configuration for Gwibber, Empathy, and Ubuntu One. (source ArsTechnica)

I would really like to see GNOME Shell considering picking up some of this amazing work. I am really excited about the opportunities this work is bringing to the Ubuntu desktop and I'm very much looking forward the improved user experience in Ubuntu 10.04.


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