Linux users cautiously optimistic about Ubuntu's Head-Up Display desktop

Most users seem willing to give Ubuntu Linux's Head-Up Display interface the benefit of the doubt.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Users are willing to give Ubuntus new Head-Up Display desktop a chance.

Users are willing to give Ubuntu's new Head-Up Display desktop a chance.

When Ubuntu announced that it was going to switch to Unity for its primary Linux desktop, some users were outraged by Ubuntu's shift to a new interface. Many turned to Linux Mint in place of Ubuntu. So, when Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth announced that Ubuntu would be moving from Unity to Head-Up Display (HUD), I expected Linux users to be even more annoyed. I was wrong. Instead, they are taking a wait-and-see attitude to HUD.

Welcome to Ubuntu 11.10's Unity (Photo Gallery)

HUD, in case you haven't heard about it yet, seeks to say good-bye to the "menu" in the Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer (WIMP) interface, which has defined desktops for the last thirty years. HUD replaces this with a search style interface. HUD uses use a vocabulary UI (VUI). In it you'll start to type or say a command and, starting in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, the HUD starts a smart look-ahead search through the app and system (indicator) menus. This uses fuzzy matching, combined with a learning function so HUD will prioritize the actions you use do.

While HUD is still alpha software, Jono Bacon, the community manager for Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, assures me that HUD's code is well along its way. Casual users will get their first taste of it in Ubuntu 12.04 on April 26th. More adventurous users can try it now in Ubuntu 12.04's daily builds. If that's you, you're also invited to help test HUD out with Ubuntu.

A first look at Ubuntu Linux's Head-Up Display (Gallery)

The Linux users I've asked, many of them via my Google+ account, tell me that they're cautiously optimistic about HUD. True, some, like Drazenko Djuricic, a Linux user since 1996, "Hate it already." He asks, what are "they smoking. Gnome 3? Unity? Mac OS X-style menus on the top of the screen??? YUCK. I use "Lubuntu (http://lubuntu.net/)" now. It has a clean traditional desktop ... In other words: I can get work done. All this fancy stuff is all nice and OK and should have been added as optional extras (e.g. Compiz Settings?). But changing the UI paradigm every now and then ... seriously when will they stop this BS already??"

A programmer who goes by the non de plume, "Mikey G" adds, "Yeah, real original, basically a Siri for menus. Too bad you have to know what you are looking for before you search for it, unlike the traditional WIMP model where you can search through menu items to find things you didn't even know existed. GIMP comes to mind. Does not sound very useful for touch screen interfaces either, seeing how you will have to pull up an on-screen keyboard and type in save' just to save."

Tony Sandoval, a long-time Linux user, comments, "I think that some people just keep trying to fix something that isn't broken. Voice recognition software has improved a lot but it is not quite ready for the level of use that things like this want to do."

Another writer points out though that "Apple's Siri shows that voice-recognition software is up to the job. Shuttleworth is just taking it to the next logical step."

Charlie Kravetz, a retired IT guy who now volunteers with Linux projects, thinks "the time is now for this type of system. What an idea! To have the ability to find apps without menus, to be able to use voice to get to apps, screen-reader reads to you already. This could be something really fantastic for all of us."

Kravetz went on, "I also think the idea that you can tell the computer what you want to do, and have it give the application is great! Who ever would think GIMP when the desired outcome is ''blur a photo?' On the other hand, when I say BLUR and it tells me use GIMP that is great! Think of the ease of use."

Herman Aro agrees, "I think it will be a great switchable supplement and/or replacement to regular menus. This way you ease newbies and detractors into a more efficient interface. I think it will be HOT!"

You might think that William Shotts, creator of LinuxCommand.org and author of The Linux Command Line, wouldn't care for an interface so far away from the old-school Linux shell, you'd be wrong though. Shotts says, "I disliked it at first glance, but after reading Mark Shuttleworth's post fully, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. He seems to suggest that the interface is there to relieve some of the frustration that 'power' users feel about Unity, a frustration that I feel as well. The interface is being tested by developers and other advanced users to see if it can make the UI keyboard centric, which is a worthwhile goal."

Peter H. Salus, technology historian and author of The Daemon, the Gnu & the Penguin, a history of free and open-source software, can see Shotts' point: "I'd rather throw away the mouse and stick to the keyboard." Or, if Ubuntu is successful with HUD, eventually the microphone.

In short, Christopher Baluyut, a long time Linux user, seems to sum up most users' viewpoint when he says, "I'll give my full judgment when I get to use it."

But, if you really, really don't like what you're hearing about HUD or Unity makes you break into hives and want your Ubuntu Linux desktop the way it used to be, then check out Linux Mint's new Cinnamon, a GNOME 2.x, desktop. It looks to me as if Cinnamon is going to be as close asusers are going to get to the old Ubuntu look and feel.

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