New Idea About Chat Program

I am a good user of social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. They have used very interesting features on their websites, such as instant messaging. By that I do not mean the chat application that Facebook uses, or the immediate update on Twitter messages. I am talking about the idea of instant messaging on settled messages.
For example, when a person posts a comment on Facebook and is able to keep a conversation from one person to the next. It is a minifeed that also includes the rest of the present contacts that are involved in the message box.

Twitter is a little similar, you are able to scroll through the many messages on your home page as well as the rest of the contacts who have posted messages on your Twitter.

I really like these interfaces. Your comments help you follow "conversations" rather than individual chats separated by tabs. I like those interfaces very much as well. They are simple, however, they take away attention from other people that you might want to chat with. In current messenger programs, you have to switch between your contact windows and the chat window in order to communicate. However, the model from Facebook and Twitter seems to be even simpler. You talk with the people you want as you see them on your contact list.

How about this?

Something that can keep you connected and seeing people as you want to talk to them. You could take it even further and add it to the Go! menu discussed here before.

I think it would be pretty cool if your messenger icon was actually the actual chat window. It is always available to send messages. Always in one window.

What do you think? Also, take a look at the gecko I put as my new mascot. I hope you like it.



openSUSE Needs to Rebel

Over the course of a few years, and after openSUSE was launched, the relationship of openSUSE internally has been one of constant rediscovery and also lethargy. openSUSE heaveily relies on the power of the community and their votes on certain issues, features, etc. Simply put, openSUSE is democratic.

In a sense, this means that openSUSE has developed a system that slows down the process of innovation and has become an acolyte of other Linux distributions such as Fedora and Ubuntu. Fedora, on the one hand, has the fairly advanced support from the Red Hat giant. A company that has enough capacity to make changes which are matured enough and set examples for other distributions to follow. Then Ubuntu has Mark Shuttleworth. A character with a strong personality and defying attitude to break the routine of being a "common" Linux distribution.

In turn openSUSE "had" Novell. A company which had slowed down its business quite a bit in the last years and has not recently been bought out by a company related to Microsoft. Consequently, openSUSE was born dead like a mummy. The problem was that the reliance on Novell to help openSUSE was great and Novell as a company never delivered as did Red Hat to Fedora. Also, openSUSE never had strong personalities to drive its distro development as does Ubuntu. Too fearful to change radically, openSUSE followed in the steps of its godfather Novell and lost personality, for everything was handled and voted on by the community.

Now, openSUSE still is in the middle of a good discussion that will, possibly, bring out a statement that will drive openSUSE's focus into better things. The problem is, however, that while openSUSE keep trying to define itself, input from everywhere is also being given. As democratic as openSUSE is, they let these people take the stand and opine, sometimes very uselessly about something that maybe they will forget. Timing is eating openSUSE alive, for while they are trying to find out "who" they are other distros are obviously ahead in the distro battle. Think of Ubuntu's change from X to Wayland, or their drastic change to a more netbook interface. What did the Ubuntu community do when these changes were announced? nothing! Did they leave Ubuntu is disgust for this authoritarian intervention on the part of Shuttleworth? no!

If openSUSE was trying to do similar things, they would be fearful that the community would get upset by these decisions and not do anything at all. Even in my own blog I get this comments all the time. Why are you trying to change the desktop? it is good as it is right now. They say. Or, those things that you propose are already doable in other ways, use a different software. The list goes on and on, why? because openSUSE does not have representatives strong enough that drive its development. I do not mean to diminish the efforts of those people who are currently trying to work with openSUSE. My idea is that they are still not a strong presence on anything really. My perception is that current community leaders are really trying to keep harmony and peace within the community rather than producing drastic change.

To all of them I say, wake up! Stand up and change. You cannot expect to get different results if you keep applying the same methods. In my mind, drastic change, strong intervention and a marked personality could potentially change it all. Forget about us, the bureaucracy of openSUSE for a moment. Decide for once to be the best and openSUSE will certainly see the light.

My contribution is on the desktop. To change openSUSE's visible image to make it recognizable and visually powerful, but I am sure that make up is not all. We need a stronger general image. A reliable Linux distribution, a strong development group, greater device compatibility, ease of use, discoverability, marketing, etc. These things will change openSUSE's course forever if we just stop looking at the people we might upset by changing and just change openSUSE right away.

That is why I call my blog openSUSE REVOLUTION, for I believe that a revolutionary intervention is critically needed at openSUSE. Start from scratch, not being afraid of building something out of the ashes. It is time.

In the meantime, I will keep on conceptualizing openSUSE's future desktop.

Thanks for the visits you all.



Here I Go! Rebel openSUSE!

Well, I know it has been a long time for me to come up with what I think, is the start of a good future. I can only do mockups but I am sure that if there is a programmer brave enough out there to take this idea and turn it into a reality, be my guest.

I have taken a lot of things into account in order to create these mockups, and they are far from perfect. I believe they make sense and I am sure that many could be inspired by what you see. openSUSE needs direction and image. Ubuntu went first and they are being radical in their own way. Sure, many people are not happy with their inclusion of the netbook interface into the mainstream of their desktop version but the effects are ameliorating and people in their community are accepting the change. Is openSUSE ready for a change like that? a change in image and character?

It has been a long time since openSUSE stirred the waters of the Linux world and it is time that the Gecko makes a come back. Community leaders are in eager search for the best strategy and manifesto that will define the future of openSUSE as a community. However, words are blown easily by the wind, we need stronger impact. We need not only a change in focus but also a change in image. Here I offer my humble contribution to the distro that I love and care about.

Please enjoy and leave me some feedback. Also, if you are interested in coding these ideas, I will gladly help you with the conceptual work for it.

The first mockup shows a couple of ideas that I had already presented in my blog. One is Desktop Typing. The easiest, key-combo free implementation of Krunner or Gnome-do, or whatever other launcher out there. Simply click on an empty area of the desktop and type the name of the app or file that you want to launch. Another is the inclusion of the Go! menu. This menu is very similar in nature to the menus in smart phones such as iPhone, Android, or WebOS. If you notice the Go! menu comes out of a top panel which will enclose the System Tray icons and at the end of the top panel there is the Shut Down button. The Go! menu is configured to be hovered and then appear. (if you know how these work, then I will say no more). And the Third thing is the use of a top panel like the one on a Mac computer.

When any window is maximized, the top Title Bar and Window Operation Buttons disappear and merge onto the top panel. A simple way to include beautiful fullscreen windows into the system. Also, there could be a problem with Desktop Type once the maximized window is enabled, therefore users looking to launch with Desktop Type can click on the top panel and then type. Alternatively, they can hover the Go! menu and find their desired app.

Finally, users can make visual contact with their virtual desktops by hovering the bottom of the screen to make these arrows appear and go to a different virtual desktop. Additionally, there could be a window list much like Mac OSX's or Windows 7 but sitting comfortably on the right edge of the screen which accumulates in similar fashion to what AfterStep did borrowing from NeXTStep.


Great Minds Think Alike

So, I just saw how OSX Lion has the new features showing up and I couldn't help but notice that their idea about launching apps looks a lot like their way of launching apps on an iPhone. The other thing I noticed is that it looks a lot like my idea of switching desktops, especially about the dots at the bottom of the screen. Who would have thought? Are we all in the end making the same resolutions about desktop interoperability?

You be the judge

To this

Enjoy :D


Rebel Inheritance: The Best About Launcher Menus (Part 3)

This is the third part of the series of articles that analyse the possibilities of start menus and new ideas to do for the openSUSE project.
We got ourselves to a good start compiling a series of expressions of launcher menus across different platforms. It was then the opportunity of talking about the negative aspects of launcher menus and now it's my privilege to discuss the positive aspects of them. My last article of these series, I will be gathering all this information and coming up with a couple of ideas for a new launcher menu.

One important aspect of what launcher menus have is the fact that they actually exist. this idea might sound a little abstract and dull. But in coming up with this positive aspect, I thought of how I would be launching applications if I did not have launcher menus. There might be other ways to launch programs. However, they simply look very non-transparent.
Other ideas invented along the road deal with folders where all the applications are placed, others are a bunch of icons sitting on the desktop. In the end they just seem more complicated and desktop cluttering.
The fact that there are menus with a simple list of icons and names always visible on the desktop is a great thing. This also makes it simple for those people who are more visually oriented, and do not want to deal with commands or anything of the sort.

Another great characteristic that launcher menus have is their power to unify with the rest of the OS. It is a principle of good design to have similar elements gathered together. This could explain a little, why some people disliked the Mac Dock. It was just simply a little out there and not very harmonious with the rest of the interface. While all of the windows and menus in that version of Mac OS was metallic, along came this glassy looking and icon-based menu. So, harmony is big in launcher menus. I like for example, the way Ubuntu set up their launcher menus. They kept the gtk look of the menus, used the same icons along them and they were big enough that people can recognise them easily. One launcher menu that could follow this idea is Windows. Their start menu is great, except their approach to desktop harmony is not a big. They have a black menu with white and blue in it. They don't look very similar to the composition of their windows except for the transparent glass look that it has.
This unity also spring out to the organisation that Linux menus have, for example. This is something that other OSs don't practice a lot. For example Windows, does an indiscrimate placing of items in their launcher menus. Linux GUIs try to change this by organising the menus in a certain way that makes it recognisable for users where they should look for a certain application.

A great property that all OSs Launcher menus offer is visibility. These menus are always visible and reachable, wherever they may be placed on the screen. They are easy to locate and work with. I personally like how some menus are very discreet with what they have to offer. They place small buttons or pull down menus that show how you could unfold them and get the rest of the applications you seek.

Eye Candy: This is one thing that I like a lot. Great graphics and pleasing views do a for a great day's work on a computer. No one wants to go back to older looking interfaces from the 80s. I am glad to report that there are extremely talented people out there doing what they enjoy the most, to visually enhance their environment. GUIs are no different. I am always one who changes colors, names, places, wallpapers, etc. So it's comforting to see how these things stick to computers as well.

Notifications: Other great properties that launcher menus or bars have, is that they also inform you on simple things, such as a new email in your tray, a new message through chat. Although this needs to be done with carefulness, otherwise your menus will have so much in them that clutter will be the only synonym you will think of when talking about your OS. I don't like for example, having a system tray icon that reports the status of an anti-virus. They are very annoying, or even notifications for updates. I prefer a whole application that tells me about what's new for my OS.

Search: It's good to see that nowadays, Launcher menus have search fields where you can quickly find a certain application, although I have noticed, that they do not always search by other terms different than an application name. So that should change if it hasn't already.

Anyway, this is a simple article. There you have it. If you can find more interesting features that add for positive elements on the launcher menus, let me know.




User Riots: What Does Not Work with Launcher Menus (Part 2)

Before I enter this subject, I would like to recognize the effort and great genius that the people who have worked with GUI design have done with Launcher Menus.  I am pleased to say that I have been an avid user of these small applications for all the years that I have worked with computers.

The subject matter of this article is a very unpleasant one for me. I am to critique the shortcomings of these menus and I feel that it would be necessary to clear a couple of things before I get started. First, the analysis being done right now focuses on the negative aspects of the launcher menus the way "I" see it. The article does not represent the work of a group of people, just me. Second, while the subject of this discussion is negative in nature, these are not to be taken as personal attacks against the people who so passionately worked on them. They are respected and thanked for their efforts. Third, I believe it is necessary to look at what "is not so effective" with these menus, in order to come up with a solution that can encompass all the negative aspects that these menus currently have. To be self-critical is a relevant element of design. The failures presented by these menu examples are to be thought of collectively and not individually. These are lacking elements that appear across many menus and different platforms.

Without further due, here are the areas that Launcher Menus deal with ineffectively.

Hand Position: Ergonomics
Various stats suggest that 85% of people are right handed. These could also be interpreted as the majority of people using computers are right handed as well. The majority of Launcher menus sit on the bottom left of the screen. It has been so for Windows since they created the Start Menu and for others after them, such as Gnome and KDE. I see a problem with this. First, although it is a simple pixel to find, it restrains the right hand. 85% of people have become used to an unnatural location for the Start Menu. Although some may argue that there are trackpads and all that, but truth of the matter is that most of the times, the screen cursors sits in areas that belong to the half where the hand is. In this case, the pointer will mostly sit on the right half of the screen because it is the right hand that is being used to control it. Then the right hand has to do an unnatural movement across to the left, and not only to the left, but down as well. It is trying to reach the Start Menu.

Probably then, the bottom left position for the Launcher menu is not the best. We might not feel it is a problem since we have become used to it, but I do not think it is well designed. It might work for left handed people but not for me.

Eye Position: Ergonomics
Another problem that I find (this is just personal experience) comes from the position that my eyes have to take in order to locate elements on the screen. A lot of times, the eyes have a natural tendency to place items from a screen higher so that the head and the eyes do not have to look down in order to see something. Every time, I have to look down to the bottom of the screen I squint a little and it seems more unnatural than having my eyes set close to the top edge of the screen. I actually feel very happy every time I use Macs, because they have the window menus at the top, although it is annoying to travel all the way down with the pointer to the dock to launch programs. In fact, a lot of action happens near the top edge of the screen. Applications have all of their editing elements atop which draws the eye to the top, and suddenly you have to launch a program. Then you look down and leave the position you were in.

Look at these ladies:
Well, these ladies show what I am talking about. Although these are pictures taken from stock images, they show something that happens all the time. Your eyes are generally wandering on the higher plane of the screen.

Crowdedness: Just TOO MANY!
One big problem that all these launcher menus have, and menus in general, is the one about sorting the elements withing the menu. How do you do it? what's the best method available? How does one manage the ever growing population of the launcher menus?

One thing that happens overtime, is that no matter how cool you are with your information, you will accumulate tons of it. It is no different with launcher menus. They get crowded fairly fast. Think of Windows, they have invented a couple of ideas so that they can manage your applications. From Windows 95 and on, they did not do much about it, the menus just got very big and covered the whole screen. The same happened with XP. But once Vista and then Windows 7 came on board, this changed. They decided to work more with favorites and seclude the rest of the applications inside the limited area of the start menu.

Although it looks better, it does not solve the problem. I actually think that it makes it worse. Because, now the menus cannot go all along the screen, rather they stay packed in, and hidden inside the launcher menu. As a help, Windows offers a search field at the bottom. But what if you do not remember how to spell your programs' names? or file names?


Spacing: Ergonomics?
I don't really know where this one goes, but it is a very hard one to explain. I just want to add this because I have always had issues with this one. I do not really know what is the right spacing between items on the list of programs and favorite applications, but I sure know what I don't like. So here it goes.
In the current windows 7 menu there are different kinds of spacing between the items list. The favorites and folder sections of the menu have more spacing than the menu with the programs. The programs are actually a little harder to pin down with the mouse pointer. Probably something should be done about that. But they are so many items (Don't get me started on how much trial software you get when you buy computers from the stores) that they need to pack them closer together to be seen.
On a Mac, the story is a little different but unsolved as well. They do not have a problem with spacing, necessarily, since the dock takes care of that fairly well. It is a more visual recognition approach and it works well. But just imagine what the dock will look like when you try to put the amount of items you have on a Windows start menu onto the dock. Then it becomes a problem.

And this is what I am talking about. As the dock fills with more icons, they need to gather the horizontal space needed to accommodate all of them. The dock shrinks the icons and the user has to go through this long line of icons until you visually identify the one you need.

On Gnome, for exaple, the story is not about small spacing and hard to pin, but rather the spacing is sometimes too big.

This image explains what I am talking about. Look at the size of each item and each description. It gets to the bottom of the screen so fast that in many cases you have to scroll up and down to sift through this long spaced menu. I run Ubuntu some times and I really get annoyed by this, especially because Gnome has the "simplicity" idea with them making 1 application per task. It is very useful, I appreciate it very much, but they become crowded too fast on the launcher menus.

Lack of Simplicity
This idea is also hard to work out. It depends heavily on the user and his/her idea of simple. But here is mine. I do not think menus should have long labels. Some have opted for shortening the labels and only leaving the application name and the icon. Such as the OSX Dock. Others such as Windows prefer full names and Gnome and KDE prefer them all. The icon, the application name, and a descriptive label. That to me seems a little too much in view of the idea that people become used to an application's use and identifiers over time. I do not ever read a label description. I generally recognize the application because I know the name and recognize the icon. The problem on OSX though is that they hide it. You never the the application label until you hover the icons containing it, and on Windows I just have to squint very frecuently because the items defer in labeling so much that you find yourself with a few entries for "Firefox." Such as, "Firefox (priavate mode)," Firefox, uninstall," "Firefox, folder." And the list goes on and on.

On examples like these, you don't even see the name of the application. Ubuntu thinks that people recognize items mostly by what they do, and although it is a good strategy, I always think of people saying "hey, if you want to transfer music to your iPod, you just gotta pop iTunes open and plug it" as opposed to "hey, if you want to transfer music to your iPod, you just gotta pop the music player open and plug it." Odd, right?

Too much going on
One last thing I want to mention, and I am not sure how this could be achieved, but there seems to be a great deal of things going on with the launcher menus. On Windows, for example, the menu is comprised by Favorite Applications, Computer Settings, Shutdown Menus (I don't like this one really), Program List, Search Bar, User Name Identification and Picture, Networking, Printers, etc. On OSX, for example, the approach is the opposite. On the dock there is nothing more than icons, although these icons can be anything. In a sense, you could say that the OSX dock gets a lot of things going on but depending on th user's inclinations. On KDE and Gnome the thing does not get better, although there have been some good ideas out there trying to simplify categories and other things. 
But there is a prevalent idea among designers that launcher menus "need" to be "access-packed." You can go anywhere with your launcher menu. But Why? why can't I choose where to place my own things? or at leas, why can't I have more separated items. I believe, it is good to have many ways to access important elements in your operating system, but how many is enough? I get confused, maybe 'cuz I am pretty stupid, when there are so many ways to get somewhere. I find it interesting when I help friends for example to access, let's say, Windows File Manager with the key combination Win Key + E. They always did it with: start menu> Computer. It seems to me that users are willing to use one way of doing things even though there are more methods. They become used to one idea per action.

Now, one that really takes my time is Kickoff. I believe Kickoff is the biggest magneto inside openSUSE. They simply put everything in there. But all I do with it is to launch applications. Everything else, I can access through the file manager and other simple solutions.

Just check this out. Kickoff has: Favorite Applications, Recently Used (everything), My Computer, with all the folders you are looking for, All programs, Shutdown Menu. Additionally, it packs icons, application names, and descriptions. When you see folders, it gives you a sub label with the address location (which sometimes is too long to display completely). They also include the user name and machine name, a help button, a search bar, a search bar icon, and above all, they do tons of navigation trough menus. you go back and forth through them, especially through the programs section. If you have a ton of items, then you scroll a lot.

There are lots of areas that can be improved for launcher menus. I hope that by taking a look at the annoyances I have found in them, we can come up with positive solutions for users. I believe that openSUSE can regain control of the desktop.

Next episode is about the GOOD ideas that have come out of the launcher menus and in the last article, a solution for these research. The creation of concept launcher menus. Stay tuned and thank you all for your great support.



Menu Spectrum: Understanding Start Menus Across Different Platforms

Here is the long awaited review of some of the developments on the launch menu sector. Please take notice that because of the great variety of menus out there, I will make mistakes in their names. They could be called "start menu," "launcher," etc. So please, bear with me through this post. Hopefully putting these menus side by side will help us make sense of what we use in order to launch applications on our operating systems.
It is important to understand these menus and the changes they have suffered over time. probably you will find valuable information that will aid us in making a better launcher application for openSUSE.

First of all, let's analyze what Microsoft did to work on this area.
Starting with Windows 95, where we find the first incarnation of the Start Menu.

Here the menu is located at Windowsthe bottom left of the window attached to the bottom panel. It contains a label that indicates what version of Windows you are using and also links to programs, documents and settings as well as additional useful activities to work with files. Finally as the very first link ascending is the shut down button. Can you see the difference, for example, with the latest Laucher on Windows 7? how the shutdown menu options are all included in the menu whereas Windows 95 only has shut down and would display different options with the shut down dialog instead.

Then along came Windows 98 with the more advanced incarnation of the Start Menu.

In this case, the Start Menu added a couple more links to the menu, which graphically remained the same. They added a "Log Off" link as well as a "Windows Update" link. If you notice also, the menu holding the Start Menu added extra links to applications such as Internet Explorer, Email, and also to quickly access the Desktop. To be honest with you, I hardly ever use the desktop button. It just does not do something useful to me. Because, what's something that you need to see on the desktop that you can't find on the Start menu? Very little. It could be useful if you want to quickly clear your desktop from windows that you don't want others or yourself to see.

Windows ME kept the same ideals as 98.

...and later came Windows 2000
they kept the same ideas from 95 to 2000. I guess their Start Menu invention was just too good to throw away. But then came Windows XP. It seemed at this time that Microsoft wanted to make things brand new. They had a revolution of their own and reshaped the menu that many use today. They have just tweaked a few things here and there but the ideas set on Windows XP are still present in Windows 7, for example.

If you notice, Windows wanted to make the menu prettier. In fact, the whole interface in XP was so... blue. (sorry, I can't get passed the strong blues all over the place). In the Start Menu they included a few innovations. They included a picture and a name of the user currently running the session of XP. The menu also got wider. They split the menu in two as well, one are for favorites and most used applications (they were added either manually or by tracking user habits) which by default included only Microsoft applications on it. At the bottom they enclosed the programs menu that expanded as you highlighted it. The right side of the menu contained three main areas of navigation, places, settings and help. and the bottom of the menu had the usual shutdown and log off buttons. This time Windows worked on size. They used bigger and more intuitive visual clues to find and work with the menu. The smallest icons found in it belonged in the category of programs, where they could have all the applications they wanted. The start button itself changed and turned green, with a bigger name on it, START.

Then came Windows Vista with its revamped menu. It had been too man years and the market pressure made Windows come up with something new rather fast. The menu changed again and new features were added. Can you notice how the menu "grows" over time but it does not "shrink" in options?

This time, Windows played on the side of its name. Windows contain glass and glass is what we got with Windows Vista. The whole interface was a mixture of dark tones and glassy effect. Translucency was the norm in the design and the Start Menu was not the difference. One could almost argue that Microsoft liked this "transparent" design because it would let you have an awareness of what you are doing on the background, thus minimizing the imponent presence of the menu on the desktop. They seemed to have tried to blend the menu into the desktop through the application of transparencies.
This time the Start button disappeared, instead they brought a circle with the Windows logo on it and some nice hover effects. People already understood what that bottom left corner was for and no one seems to have disagreed with this design decision. The also added a search bar to the menu. They must have figured out that people install lots of applications and navigating through them with expanding sub-menus can be difficult. The dual areas remained much like in XP and they also included a very tightly packed Shutdown Button. This time though, people did not like how you had to "discover" where the shutdown button actually was as well as the other options like suspend and hibernate. This time also, they changed the visual presence of the "Favorites" section and minimized the impact of the other "help" areas on the right of the menu.
They also condensed the Programs menu and kept it within the boundaries of the Vista Start menu. No more expanding sub-menus coming out from the Start Button and filling the entire screen.
Finally, we arrive at the latest creation from Microsoft, Windows 7. The menu seems to retain much of what was introduced in Vista.

This time, the menu added again some features. They turned the programs menu into a tree menu. They also added a secondary button (black arrow) on the Favorites section that once hovered, gives you a list on the right side of the menu, of possible actions you can do given a specific favorite application. Everything else is pretty much the same. But they also changed the panel. It turned into a very visually attractive bar with big icons that can be pinned to it. A dock of sorts.

In conclusion, as the creators of the Start Menu, I have to give it to Microsoft. They simply created something extremely useful and good for everyday use. They have kept their original ideas and have added visual effects and other good inventions to the menu. Much of what we have today in the world of alternative operating systems using graphical environments, comes from Microsoft.

What about the world of MAC. They are another great company with an awesome approach to computer gui design and it's worthwhile to see what they created when launching applications.

Starting with MAC OS

Here the applications menu idea was moved to the top along with the panel. I think this was a very smart approach to computing. If you think about it, the panel at the top along with the applications menu coming down from it work around the areas that the mouse pointer is usually at. Users do not have to drag the pointer from top to bottom (like on Windows) in order to reach that menu (although there are shortcuts, like the Window key) In this incarnation, the menu did not include any icons, just a very simple and basic menu with child menus coming down from left to right.

Later came MAC OS 9 with some new interesting features...

Here is something interesting. While MAC OS kept the top left applications menu, they added a few interesting features such as the control extensible bar at the bottom (or wherever you wanted it) to work with more technical features of the OS. If you notice also, the top panel does not house the active windows placed on the desktop, rather they are placed as a button (without a "host panel" to manage its presence on the desktop) at the bottom of the screen, if they are folders, and as a small applications menu window if they are running applications.

Next up, we have MAC OS 10/X with the introduction of what seems to be, the most clear visual clue that you are using mac, the dock.

This time the dock became the center of attention for MACs. It was big, adorned with nice looking icons and a zoom effect that would pop up on hover. Although it was a great invention, it was harshly criticized because, I think, of the minimalist approach and the zoom effect. Go here if you would like to read more about it.

Then other version of MAC have not changed the idea that much, they have instead added more features on top of the dock and the applications folder.

Leopard and Snow Leopard

Overall, the ideas coming from MAC OS have always been pretty straightforward, they have aimed at novice customers and the dock was the main bridge to link users faster with their most used applications and places. It was all customizable (the icons) by the user, meaning that virtually anything can be placed on the dock. I like the idea although I do think that it can be improved. For example, the fact that to launch applications is done at the bottom of the screen yet to work within the program you have to go all across to the top panel in order to reach the application's controls (I know this does not hold true for all applications, but I am just generalizing) is a little uncomfortable. But again, they are places easily locatable, top and bottom, that's it.

Then comes LINUX. As being a very diverse area of design and ideas from all over, Linux has generated very interesting design paradigms when it comes to the desktop. I will try to include the most visible ones, I am sure that I will be missing some, but given the size of research, I would rather work with the ones I consider most visible.

Starting with KDE we have a few ideas going around. The main ones though, are based on what Windows has done. I think that the main difference in KDE was just the fact that they grouped applications in categories. The main idea here seems to hide the populated menus from users by using categories.

This menu in KDE 3 is a good example of what they did before the 3 series. This one menu seems to come from Mandriva One. Notice just how similar it looks to the Windows Start Menu (before XP). I think KDE has always had this thing to them, that they can do everything that Windows does, plus more.

Along come other ideas, custom made menus for KDE. For example Tasty Menu:
I actually used this for a little bit. It was big, it contained a lot of programs around. But I did not like that after a while, I had to click too much to get to certain things. I also could not reach certain buttons too fast. I had to drag the mouse over an area of the screen that was too big. Just think of clicking the top corner to bring the menu down and then drag the pointer almost all the way down to the bottom panel to click "Shutdown." So I reverted to Kmenu.

Others have opted for the power of the Plasma desktop to create some launchers such as Lancelot.

Now, what you see here is a good idea of the menu. I like the tabbed interface for your programs. To me though, it looks very similar to what Tasty Menu wanted to do; to show you everything and yet lacking space to do so, so they reverted to proven ideas like sliding menus. Like the one for Programs. The Shutdown buttons are also at the bottom, something that can be worked out. It is overall a good idea, very flexible, very fast and simple. They play also with icons and visually recognizable items. They also include descriptions for items, but if you notice, they don't fit there all the way sometimes. Are they needed?

Gnome, for example has kept the Windows idea for a very long time. They do the same that KDE does with applications' categories.
This one example comes from a Fedora release. But the idea is the same. The Gnome Menu looks just like Kmenu except the spacing between the items. KDE's is thinner.

Then along came Ubuntu. they turned the Gnome Menu into something more broken apart in hopes of separating the sections' categories so that users find what they want faster. The idea has remained the same for a while, so I will just use one example.

The split the categories from one big menu to three smaller menus (of course, depending on the amount of applications that you have, my current gnome menu for preferences reaches all the way down to the bottom of the screen) and you also have to deal with the default Gnome's item spacing, which only gets reduced by custom styles. (I think this has been a complaint for a while, the lack of novice user style changes).

Other Gnome-based menus that look very much alike are the Mint Linux menu and the SUSE Gnome version menu. Take a look:

and SUSE...

The differences are mostly on the way they handle the display of applications. But the two pane system is the same. One side for Favorites and the other with Settings. They also seem to work on the side of simplicity, except their simplicity is big. These two menus take up considerable amount of screen space. I would not work with this on a Netbook.

Finally, openSUSE created Kickoff. I really like this menu. It has a good size, you can search through it fast and find what you need quickly. It contains tabs and the same categories found in other menus. There are also some ideas coming from the XP Start Menu. They only kept the categories contained within the space that kickoff uses. Not expanding menus.

I recall SUSE doings tons of talking about this menu and I believe, the result is a good one. However, I am convinced that we could go even further. To think outside the box to create something amazing. Take, for example, alternative operating systems. I love these ones, because they simply have no pressure to look and be like the rest. They are sometimes so small a platform that they do not want to feel so "mainstream" and "alike."

Take for example these menu from BeOS (I have to confess, I love this OS)

This one is very simple, all inclusive (places, favorites, and applications) and also a window tracker. It had the ability to dock the opened applications to it as a button. But I was a little taken back sometimes because of the arrow orientation from the menu. The child menus were appearing from right to left and yet the arrows pointing to the name followed the reading orientation, left to right. So my eyes would be expecting a child menu to the right and yet the showed to the left.

And of course, we have menus coming from the mobile world. Here are some examples:

I just put these three because they are good examples of what smart phones are doing today in order to put content on your fingertips. I like these ones a lot. They are so simple and they seem to be very free. By this I mean that when an application is installed, they are just added to the menu. You know what you just installed and where it will be, so smart phones have done away with categories, so to speak. They just "group" applications that are similar on the same screen. But it is very customizable, and users generally understand how to find them, and they do it fast.


The ideas presented in this list of "menus" is a very long one. I am probably going to set a record to myself with the longest entry so far, but it is necessary. This will be good food for thought. I will work with these and look for strength and weaknesses and talk about them accordingly. These menus represent the work of very talented people and the results have been quite remarkable. In fact, it seems that we just can't get rid of the "start menu" idea. It is still around since Windows 95 and it is here to stay.

PS: I did not include a lot of criticism on this post because I just wanted to gather them and put them on display. The criticism comes next.



Launching the Revolution: Kickoff's redesign ideas

The launcher menu paradox has almost been around ever since graphical environments were created. They provided a simple method through which users could access their applications pertaining to a particular task. Before the start menu, users had a folder view, generally, with the applications in a list. Earlier environments had to omnipresent shell which launched programs by just typing the name.

Later, along came Linux and graphical environments for it. Some of them have kept the basic idea of a start menu, like the one on Windows 95. KDE did it, Gnome did it and many others, even the high end ones like Enlightenment, did it. It should be admitted though that this is a very clever idea to work with. It is fast, simple, and very visually engaging. However, this launching model by todays standards seems outdated. At least, this is something that frustrates me every now and then because it is so common. It is time for a revolution, a change.

The first thing that we need to do in order to change the start menu is to understand it. I am sure that a lot of people have decided that it is just OK to imitate what others have done. This is not a bad thing, the launcher menu is something that's very clever already, but I want to see innovation. It is time to rethink the way we work with a launcher menu. It is important to remember that these ideas have developed in great length overtime and I do not intend to cover 100% of what has been done, but rather, focus on the things that saw the day of light. I will point out their strengths and weaknesses to ultimately work with the strengths to come up with the best possible idea about how to improve the start menu for openSUSE.
 This is the main reason why I have decided to split this study into 4 parts. It is such a daunting task that as I was doing my research, I realized that it will take very long to work something out that is useful and better than what we already have available for Linux.
The first part will be an analysis of the many ideas and projects that launched "start menus." the second part will cover the good aspects developed for start menus; the third article will talk about the usability and design problems and finally I will conclude with a proposal for a launch menu. This will be my idea on what openSUSE should do with their Kickoff menu.

So, wait for this first article to come out. It will be soon.

Thank you for your support.



Keyboard Uprising: Typing on the Desktop to Launch Applications

I am a big fan of Gnome-Do. I love the simplicity with which they handle program launching. I do know that there are other methods and applications very similar to what Gnome-Do does, like Krunner and Launchy. There have been many ideas going around about what is best to use when launching applications and I think that the options currently available are good and they do the job. However, can these launcher programs be pushed a little further? I believe that the current keystroke methods used right now are good and fast. Can they be simpler? More intuitive?

This question has hunted me for quite some time. I do believe that keystrokes for launching programs is faster than working with the mouse. But I also do not use more than that. I just launch applications. I understand that many of these launcher apps actually do more than that, such as mathematical calculations and things like that. But this is something that escapes my simple mind so I just do that by hand.

Let's just take 2 of these launcher programs and talk about the way they launch the applications you need. Gnome Do, for example is launched by pressing the Window button plus the space bar (This can be different though) after which a small glossy field appears in the middle of the screen. Then the user is supposed to type his desired application and gnome do will fill in the rest.

After some time, Gnome-Do keeps track of your most used applications and it fills in the rest of the name by understanding your habits. For example, I know just type the letter F and Gnome-Do suggests launching Firefox. That is what I do the most when I type the letter F, so Gnome-Do does the rest.

Another launcher that is very powerful is Krunner. If you want a more comprehensive list of functions for Krunner, go to this link

It works in a very similar fashion to what Gnome-Do does and I believe it was conceived a long time before Gnome-Do. This time, Krunner is launched by doing Alt+F2. Although this combination is good and Krunner is a very strong launcher, I do not like extending my fingers that much to launch a program. You may think that I am the laziest person in the world (maybe you are right) but I think that such keystroke makes you loose balance when typing. The same thing goes for Gnome-Do. Keystrokes are sometimes confusing, and you seem to spend more time finding the right key combinations to launch the launcher, more than you take launching the application that you want. Which is the intent of the launcher in the first place.

Here is the idea. Would it not be cool if users were simply able to start typing anywhere in the screen, the name of an application and Krunner or any other launcher program would pop up immediately to launch the program? To me this seems simpler than doing keystrokes to get launchers going. It could even be used to pop Kickoff open and automatically search through its menus.
I like this idea, but there are a few problems with it too. Originally, I thought that it would be good to have users click on the desktop, an empty area, and start typing. Currently, when you type after clicking the desktop area, you could select icons that have the letters you look for (I may be wrong about this one). Whereas, in other window managers, there is no effect. Typing on the desktop is something that has no use.

So, there is a "market" so to say, for laucher programs to go the extra mile. A desktop that you can type in. Just start typing and the apps you want will pop right away. Although, I think it could also be confusing for new users to see this message box show up out of nowhere and you don't know what to do. I guess some little information about this feature should be made available.

Another potential problem is fullscreen windows. Under KDE, full screen windows will cover the whole screen (hence the name, haha) not leaving any areas on the desktop that can be visible. The fullscreen window extends everywhere covering the top edge of the KDE menu as well. But this could be solved by not allowing windows reach a complete full screen. Much like MacOSX used to do it.

The Good Things
Again, I think tha the best thing about this idea is that it is faster than Launcher programs and would focus users more on what they want rather than the way to get there. A more practical approach. No keystrokes but just the ones you want. You would still be using your launcher application of choice, like Krunner.

What do you all think>?


Planing for a Revolution

Working on design for the openSUSE project is indeed a hard thing to do. I am not a Novell or openSUSE employee. I do what I do with my free time, which will be drastically reduced soon, because the school year is starting at the end of the month. I am hoping to keep posting as often as I am currently doing it and finding those things that are little, and can be changed for a better openSUSE.
Because I will have less time to work on this, I need to focus my energy and think more practically. I need to make something happen and work it out.

This is the reason why I got in touch with Jos Portvliet from openSUSE. We have been talking recently about how to make some of my ideas become a reality. His input is pretty valuable to me. It is, I think, the first time someone from all the way up there in openSUSE has shown willingness to work through some of these ideas. Jos thinks that the Revolution ideas are good but they need to be focused; and I agree.

We came up with a plan to have some things changed. But here I am officially looking out for help from designers that work on the openSUSE project. Sorry about this, but I am looking for people who are designers, highly critical of openSUSE's current layout design as well as their theming. Why? because the all-inclusive nature of Linux communities appeals to a great variety of people. All of them can give us an opinion, very valid too, but not all the time specific. A lot of times, all we get is rant, disagreement, but no solutions. Right now, with this project I am looking for people who know about development and design because the openSUSE/KDE desktop also needs creative solutions.

So here is a rundown of a simple idea expressed in plan form:


To make openSUSE a Linux distribution more friendly to novice users and adopters by creating a customized graphical user interface based on KDE but with different graphical elements than any other Linux distribution. This will make openSUSE visualy recognizable and branded to a higher level than it currently is.


Form a designers team. We will:
  • Revise openSUSE graphical stance.
  • Point out design improvement areas.
  • Create Strategy for New Look.
  • Propose strategy to openSUSE community.

Design Decisions
  • Work on reduction, simplicity, automatization and layout design.
  • Gather the most relevant design complaints from designers team.
  • Work on the top 3 design changes for the next release of openSUSE.
  • Gather programmers and propose new design ideas.
  • Implement other 7 suggestions for upcoming releases.

What we will do:
  • New KDE plasma style and arrangement (plasma style, desktop widgets, wallpapers, etc)
  • Kickoff's redesign
What do you think? Who wants to join me? If you are serious about this, please send me an email and we will figure out how we will work together and make these things happen.

This plan is not perfect and if you have great input to share on it, please do. Let's be a team. We can do it.

PS: Please, do not even think that is idea is in some way, a tool to take over the world. I am not working independently of the opensuse-artwork team. All we would do is gather material to work on it for the future. No forks, no new teams. Just a community effort. The opensuse guys work really hard on the graphics and they do a great job. What we are doing is a revision and proposal of ideas, nothing more.


The Yast Revolt of 2010: Ideas to Improve Yast Software Installations

Yast has been for a very long time the front face of openSUSE and SUSE, for that matter. It has been redesigned a few times and it has matured as one, if not the only one, best control center for the Linux Desktop. In many ways, having a graphical environment that allows you to configure otherwise hard tasks, is always welcomed. Yast is one of the strongest attraction points of openSUSE and it has suffered considerable criticism over the years as well. For once, it was criticized because it was a graphical environment that "dumbed down" things. Others did not like the layout, categories, etc. You name it and I bet that Yast has received these bad mouthing.

Although I love Yast and its graphical incarnation, I am yet to see innovations in the areas of simplicity and also with being current. Here are some transformations.

I am always very happy that SUSE has tried to make Yast very simple and powerful. I got to use most of the ones that I show here. But I will focus mostly on the installation section of Yast. Why? Because, I believe that new users coming to SUSE have to learn how to install software on SUSE. We know that Linux has a few package installation methods that can be hard to describe or make available to novice users using SUSE for the first time and wanting to get programs installed.

The current method seems to be a little too long and rather complicated. Starting with finding the Yast Install and Remove icon. These are the steps.

You see here that the longest way to find the application installer from Yast is about 5 clicks away from you. Some may say, "well, you can find it if you search for it on Kickoff." Others say "You can go to Computer and you will find it." While these two assertions are correct. I think that novice users do not even know how kickoff works, neither can they guess that the icon they are looking for is in the "Computer" tab. I believe, most users will first go to the Internet to find their applications. They'll discover that they do not work on Linux if they come from Windows or Mac. It would be hard for them to realize that their installations are done through a special Yast module.
For this reason SUSE created 1-click installs. Users go online to the openSUSE website, search for a package and then install it with 1-click install. I love this feature, it is much simpler than Ubuntu's Internet based installations. Following some tutorials, I generally end up adding repositories to the deb package system, then installing the program. SUSE solves those extra steps with 1-click install.

Once users reach the desired installation module within Yast, another interesting thing happens. It is an avalanche of information.

First of all, Yast opens two more windows to do the installation. The Yast module which contains all the categories is one, then the installation window, and finally the installation feedback window. 3 Windows until you see what is going on. It doesn't stop there. If you notice at the last window on the screenshot, you will see a few things going on. First (I was installing Dropbox, by the way, and ended up installing 400 MB of information, crazy) you see a window divided in 4 parts. The first two give you a number of packages to be installed and where they are coming from, the second one gives you feedback on the particular package that is being installed at the moment, third comes the progress bar for the individual package installed at the moment and finally there is a progress bar that shows the overall installation progress. That was a lot to type for something that can be done simpler. Do you think that novice users will want to see this? I think, pragmatism is a quality that characterizes novice users. They want the job done, simply and fast, and honestly, I do too. I hardly ever pay attention to all this feedback on this window.

Another idea that has flooded the market recently is related to cell phones. Once Apple created the iPhone and the iPod, they created an online store that would give you applications for these devices. iTunes for example, opens and connects to the online store on the spot, to make you see some apps that you might want. After they did this, many other companies have dome similar things. Websites featuring small and practical applications for a variety of  devices, music players, tv, phones, etc. The online interface provides a very stylish ad customized way to present users with options that they might want.

Thinking about this and also the 1-Click installation system done by openSUSE. I believe that SUSE created an online app store without realizing it. SUSE Has the technology already, they just need to tweak Yast, the installation module, to be like this. In my spare time I thought of something extremely simple to use that, I think, can be done without much pain.

Here are the mockups. These are not perfect, but they can get to be with your suggestions.

Tell me what you think.