January 24, 2012
Ubuntu Introduces the HUD System

Mark Shuttleworth says Introducing the HUD. Say hello to the future of the menu..

Say hello to the Head-Up Display, or HUD, which will ultimately replace menus in Unity applications.┬áHere’s what we hope you’ll see in 12.04 when you invoke the HUD from any standard Ubuntu app that supports the global menu…

Basically this looks like a combination of the current Unity “dash” menu and the quicksilver/launchbar/alfred program launcher/utility that Mac users will be familiar with. It allows you to not only launch and search for apps from the dash HUD, but also run menu commands.

There are other teams interested in a similar problem space. Perhaps the best-known new alternative to the traditional menu is Microsoft’s Ribbon. Introduced first as part of a series of changes called Fluent UX in Office, the ribbon is now making its way to a wider set of Windows components and applications. It looks like this: […] You can read about the ribbon from a supporter (like any UX change, it has its supporters and detractors ) and if you’ve used it yourself, you will have your own opinion about it. The ribbon is highly visual, making options and commands very visible. It is however also a hog of space (I’m told it can be minimised). Our goal in much of the Unity design has been to return screen real estate to the content with which the user is working; the HUD meets that goal by appearing only when invoked.

I’m not sure I agree with Mark about the MS ribbon interface, the fact he doesn’t know if it can or can’t be minimized is either commendable (going forward and ignoring the competition) or silly (having no clue what’s going on in the same problem space), but the goals are commendable. I see a few issues that will have to be addressed though:

  • Discover-ability of commands (with no menu, how do you know what’s available, and what if you don’t know what you’re searching for)
  • Mixing of different menus and app functionality in the same menu. In the video around 1:33 you see there are two identical “Compose a Message” entries that come up. Maybe a bug? Maybe two email programs, maybe the same named menu option from two different apps (your IM and your Email maybe?).
  • Depending if the HUD is app-centric (only shows commands from the current app) or global (shows commands for all apps and all the system) I see it potentially getting very cluttered.
  • Will there be menus and the hud? IE: if I just want to mouse over and use the old ways? They say they are deprecating menus slowly, but this still doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a good idea.
  • I like using the keyboard to do everything as much as the next guy, but I don’t want to be forced to do it. An example is in the video of using InkScape. It seems like it’d be very bad UI to have to go from using the mouse (clicking around and creating graphics) to going to use the keyboard to apply an inner glow or a filter, and then back to the mouse. Seems to me it’d be way easier to use the current way of using the mouse for everything.
  • Right now the Dash is slooooooooooooooooooooow. I hit <super> and on a core i7 machine with 6G of RAM it takes about 2 seconds to show cold and 1 second to show “hot”. On my 4 year old dual core mac hitting option-space shows my launcher of choice alfred almost instantly. They have to overcome this speed issue to make this usable for power users.

Those all said it is early days and I anticipate that most of these issues are anticipated and dealt with, and the “every app works like VIM” that they mention would be quite frankly, heavenly for about 80% of the time :)

Posted by Arcterex at January 24, 2012 03:25 PM