Sunday, May 9, 2010

Window decorations in ubuntu 10.04

I've just started deploying the newest Ubuntu release to the various computers in my house (5 right now + a work VM) and one thing I immediately noticed was that out of the box, the window decorations have moved.

They are no longer in the ages old upper right hand corner, but now over in the upper left hand corner. At first I was shocked and a little confused, then I started thinking. Why was I shocked or confused? Other than habit and training, I cannot fathom why the upper right hand side is any better than the upper left.

In order to better educate myself I first set out to see why the decorations would be on either side as well as try to figure out the logic behind moving them to the left in the first place. First up, I see in the ubuntu forums a vibrant discussion about the decision to move the icons in the first place as well as future plans to reuse the real estate on the right for other purposes.

After some more investigation, I find the ubuntu wiki page explaining their design decision for the default theme >here. I also see a bug reported by someone who was similarly confused by the movement here. One very interesting thing about this is that Mark Shuttleworth personally commented on the bug and declined to move the icons back as a fix.

After looking at this, I trolled the internet to see where exactly the "icons on the right" came from and stumbled across this history of GUI evolution from 1981 until 2009. Nostalgia aside, it was an eye opener to me that the MAC OS actually has the decorations on the left.

More importantly, it was proving difficult to find any discussions from Microsoft or Apple explaining why they made the decisions they made. It is becoming clear that the open and transparent manner that Ubuntu is being built is a real change in the game that closed companies that are the "first wave" like Apple and Microsoft are not going to be able to survive.

All that having been said, I still can't figure if either of these positions have an inherent advantage. In searching, I couldn't find much information that folks have truly researched OS level usability (although one would suppose that Apple and Microsoft would have done this. I DID find an interesting study on web search from a usability perspective.

As we've just spent a bunch of time working with search design on an application I'm currently working on, this was an interesting confirmation that some of our design decisions might make good sense.

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