New Notifications for Jaunty

The big innovation (and controversy) coming out of the Desktop Experience team here at UDS seems to be the new notifications work going on. This is a big concern of mine, as I’ve worked on that code locally, and have definitely wanted to see some progress here for ages. Unfortunately, the upstream is more or less dead or limping due to conflicting time constraints on the lead developer, Christian Hammond.

Weighing in, I think that Canonical’s work here is looking really good, and has a wonderful design, but I do worry about some of the edge cases. The biggest other concern is that no effort until recently was put into contacting Christian Hammond at all, so it’s essentially a fork/reimplementation, even if it is one that makes sense due to upstream’s stagnation (until recent developments). Now that Libnotify and Notification-Daemon are up for proposal for GNOME 2.26, it’s only now that we’re looking into replacing it… It’s both unfortunate and opportunistic of Canonical to pull this out of their hat at UDS.

For those that are not here at UDS Jaunty at Google, it is important to understand some of the changes that we have discussed here. The first of which is the removal of “Actions” from notifications. This means that there will be no more buttons inside the notifications at all. The way that applications currently use libnotify is somewhat abusive to the original spec, where they should query for capabilities and then use an action if the daemon supports it, but changing the daemon now to simply never show actions will likely leave you with notifications that say “Please click the button below”, and there is no button to press. Bugs to be filed, users to scream at us…

Notifications now are simply there to show you the data about what’s happening on your machine. This can happen in two ways; Synchronously, as you press a button like the volume or brightness controls, the notification comes up and shows you the change, and “normally”, how instant messengers like Pidgin with the libnotify plugin currently work.

Instead of having “Actions” inside of the notification window, they will be moved to a panel applet, which will allow you to get to the application in question by clicking it. There have been a lot of discussions on what this panel applet will be like, but it is probably the biggest missing component in the discussion so far, since we haven’t seen any prototypes on it, or what it’s interface will look like. The Design team that’s working on this seems to be doing so behind closed doors and beyond all contact by mere mortals like myself.

So, despite the conflict of the Bazaar vs the Cathedral in the situation we’re in, I’m feeling pretty good about the general work being done. I’m really hoping that I can be a part of it and it won’t be this cabal-like situation where I have to bring patches to Canonical’s door and sacrifice a goat in offering to the Gods of the New Notification Daemon. Or, you know, I could always get off my bum and send my resume in ;).

*: I had planned to insert all kinds of wonderful pictures and a link to the wiki here, but unfortunately Google has outright outlawed the usage of cameras inside the buildings on their campus, and Canonical has to wait for some more design work before the wiki is up. GNOME community developer 0, Enormous Global Companies 2.

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Just a GNOME hacker living in Kentucky.

19 thoughts on “New Notifications for Jaunty”

  1. Can you reference a documented existing upstream discussion concerning Canonical’s on going in house work on notifications? A mailinglist thread? An irc log? Anything publicly archived concerning upstream communication or has it been all private communication?


    To quote the Ubuntu Code of Conduct:

    Your work should be done transparently and patches from Ubuntu should be given back to the community when they are made, not just when the distribution releases. If you wish to work on new code for existing upstream projects, at least keep those projects informed of your ideas and progress. It may not be possible to get consensus from upstream or even from your colleagues about the correct implementation of an idea, so don’t feel obliged to have that agreement before you begin, but at least keep the outside world informed of your work, and publish your work in a way that allows outsiders to test, discuss and contribute to your efforts.

  2. The problem is, the only reference is what’s going on RIGHT NOW at UDS. We’ve been discussing this for the past three days here. They have some demo code done, but they’re waiting for it to clear Canonical Legal before they go public with it, so we’re very much in the cathedral waiting for the saints…

    The discussion is currently pretty productive, but almost all of the design work is being done in private by nameless entities.

  3. Upstream contributions to existing open projects have to clear Canonical Legal? That sounds…fascinating. How much of what Canonical has been doing has already been coded before the conference started?

    I realize you are sitting in a conference and there are face to face discussion going on. Is the upstream lead at the conference as well?

    I don’t expect you to dig reference information up right now. But you did say there were some albeit late discussions with upstream. Did any of that communication happen before the conference started? Is any of that discussion archived publicly? There’s no obvious activity in the upstream mailinglists about this work…not even a ping message telling upstream that some new ideas were being worked on.

    I’m sure its very exciting that Canonical is excited about their own innovative work, but if they don’t proactive discussion major modifications with the upstream developers, they run the risk of not getting upstream buy-in. The Ubuntu Code of Conduct speaks directly to the need to be proactive about communicating with upstream as a best practise. it’s in everyone’s best interests to hold Canonical’s corporate feet to the fire about doing a better job about living up to the standard set in that Code of Conduct.


  4. Hey Walton
    From ur blog and the comments above, I gather that there is no public discussion of this so far but I was curious as to why it is considered “better design” to remove the actions from the notifications. One would think that it is a hit to productivity if you have to click on another applet before having to do the required action. Are we going backwards? Are we making things too simple or maybe too complicated? Sorry to barrage u with all the questions, but thought that there might be some reasoning given at the conf abt the changes to be done, and not just that how it is to be done. Pardon me if the questions seem too naive 🙂

  5. Imho that’s a very bad idea. I love the fact that the notification from transmission allows me to click on the shiny button and open the folder with the downloaded files.

  6. The “facts” in this blog are incorrect.

    Canonical does not have a legal department, or even if we did, a procedure for clearing release of code intended for Ubuntu.

    It’s Canonical policy that all code heading for Ubuntu *must* be open source, and that you only need to clear our lawyer if you want an unusual licence.

    And as far as I know, if there’s any code, you’re talking about some dozens of lines on one hacker’s laptop! Just about all that exists right now is various mock-ups, which we hope will stir up upstream debate and agreement before we do go and code it!

  7. Scott: thanks for letting me know. David also came to me and updated me, but it was mostly just my fear of the legal problems and what I could remember discussing in the session. I’m very happy to be wrong!

  8. “The biggest other concern is that no effort until recently was put into contacting Christian Hammond at all, so it’s essentially a fork/reimplementation […]”

    Sounds like the usual Canonical/ubuntu behaviour to me…

  9. Frankly I’m over the way things are going with notifications.

    Much of this unnecessary bling is pandering to clueless former windows users, who seem to need the obvious pointed out to them.

    Who wants or needs to be reminded that they are connected to a “wired network” everytime they log on for Pete’s sake. I certainly don’t.

    At the very least, give people an option switch notifications off, or best case scenario a means to configure which notifications are supplied.

    Oh that’s right I forgot it’s all about hand holding now!

    Don’t give end users control over their systems by presenting them with too many options it just confuses them.

    Linus was right, this users are idiots thing that GNOME has perpetuated and is now seeping into Ubuntu is a disease.

    Not just any disease, a cancer.

    Perhaps it’s time to change not only my choice of DE but distro as well.

  10. Please don’t remove actions from the notification!

    I want to be able to quickly respond to a notification, without having to track down the app, find the context, then find the gesture to do what I want.

  11. “Please don’t remove actions from the notification!

    I want to be able to quickly respond to a notification, without having to track down the app, find the context, then find the gesture to do what I want”.


  12. I think the enhancement mock-ups for notification were great! I am sure that there are going to policies or preferences you can adjust to turn off notifications. I am guilty like many others of thinking in the past that Ubuntu should be more like this or that, but to be honest I have had to embrace the fact that a default ubuntu desktop installation isn’t really aimed at fitting my own personal needs.

    The purpose behind the new notification method is to be totally unobtrusive but still attention grabbing…. Part of the coolness of the mash up was to hover over it for a second, the notification would go transparent and permit you to get to window or text file that might be underneath it.

    I recommend that anyone that reads the comments of this blog and the blog itself to have faith that Ubuntu will do the right thing.

  13. what good is a notification if you can’t do anything with it?

    “download finished” – ok take me to the file
    “email arrived” – ok let me see the email
    “user has signed online” – ok let me IM them

  14. I’m really glad that You do all the design taking into consideration KDE representative arguments Aaron Seigo to enhance multidesktop cooperation between Gnome and KDE. Visual Notifications should be united and compliant to ONE standard.
    Shuould I add “me too” to support leave actions in notifications;)
    What I don’t really like is Psi pop-ups which are out of any notification system regardless of DE.
    I wish You a productive work:)

  15. Yeah, one of my favorite features in Banshee is the five second span I get to skip a new song in the notification for the ‘now playing’ song. If that has to go away my life will be poorer.

    Sigh. I’d love to see a mockup of how they expect to still provide me with that feature in the new system.

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