Microsoft wants you to love Metro. Apple is bringing iOS and Mac OS X closer together with every release. But, Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu Linux and its parent company Canonical, thinks that if you want "real desktop user experience innovation" … "before it shows up in Windows or MacOS," you need to check out Ubuntu 12.04's forthcoming Head Up Display (HUD).
In a blog posting, Shuttleworth wrote that while Ubuntu 12.04, Precise Pangolin, which just went to beta, is still far from "job done" the new HUD desktop is ready for a wider audience.
Shuttleworth knows that there's been a lot of push-back first to Ubuntu's new-user friend Unity desktop and now to the next step beyond Unity, HUD. He thanks "Those who stood by Ubuntu, Canonical and me as we set out on this adventure. This was a big change, and in the face of change, many wilt, many panic, and some simply find that their interests lie elsewhere. That's OK, but it brings home to me the wonderful fellowship that we have amongst those who share our values and interests--their affiliation, advocacy and support is based on something much deeper than a fad or an individualistic need, it's based on a desire to see all of this intellectual wikipedia-for-code value unleashed to support humanity at large, from developers to data centre devops to web designers to golden-years-ganderers, serving equally the poorest and the bankers who refuse to serve them, because that's what free software and open content and open access and level playing fields are all about."
He then explains that the idea behind HUD was to "refine the experience for people who use the desktop professionally, and at the same time, make it easier for the first-time user. That's a very hard challenge. We're not making Bob, [Microsoft's infamously bad 1995 optional interface] we're making a beautiful, easy to use LCARS [the fictional interface to computers in the Star Trek universe]. We measured the state of the art in 2008 and it stank on both fronts. When we measure Ubuntu today, based on how long it takes heavy users to do things, and a first-timer to get (a different set of) things done, 12.04 LTS blows 10.04 LTS right out of the water and compares favourably with both MacOS and Windows 7. Unity today is better for both hard-core developers and first-time users than 10.04 LTS was. Hugely better."
For the developers, Shuttleworth lists the following advantages:
- A richer set of keyboard bindings for rapid launching, switching and window management
- Pervasive search results in faster launching for occasional apps
- Far less chrome in the shell than any other desktop; it gets out of your way
- Much more subtle heuristics to tell whether you want the launcher to reveal, and to hint it's about to
- Integrated search presents a faster path to find any given piece of content
- Magic window borders and the resizing scrollbar make for easier window sizing despite razor-thin visual border
- Full screen apps can include just the window title and indicators - full screen terminal with all the shell benefits
Shuttleworth is well aware that many Linux professionals and developers dislike Unity. He assures them that for the next version of Ubuntu, "we have focused testing on more advanced users and use cases, with user journeys that include many terminal windows, and there is a measurable step up in the effectiveness of Unity in those cases. Still rough edges to be sure, even in this 12.04 release (we are not going to be able to land locally-integrated menus in time, given the freeze dates and need for focus on bug fixes) but we will SRU [stable release updates] key items and of course continue to polish it in 12.10 onwards. We are all developers, and we all use it all the time, so this is in our interests too."
As for HUD, which Shuttleworth sees as "a totally new kind of UI for complex apps. We're deconstructing the traditional UI, expressing goodness from the inside out. It's going to be a rich vein of innovation and exploration, and the main beneficiaries will be those who use computers to create amazing things, whether it's the kernel, or movies. Yes, we are moving beyond the desktop, but we are also innovating to make the desktop itself, better." But, unlike Microsoft which is forcing uses into Metro in Windows 8, HUD will be "totally optional."