Tab frenzy

Have to admit I cringe every time somebody adds tabs to an application. Not because I have anything against appropriate use of tabs (and I’ll reserve judgment on which of the recent additions are appropriate for another day), but because it’s such a wasteful duplication of effort, with each instance doubtless having its own inevitable little bugs and inconsistencies.

The HIG advises against document-level tabs in an app, largely because at the time, the usability team hoped GNOME would have a tabbed window manager in its not-too-distant future. The tab-related activity in the past week has me thinking me that we need this more than ever! App developers shouldn’t have to implement basic window management features, and (perhaps more importantly) users shouldn’t be restricted to grouping documents from the same application into tabbed windows–with a tabbed WM, they could still do so if they wanted to of course, but they’d also be free to group windows by task or project, or indeed any other way they wanted.

Is it worth starting to think a bit harder about how a tabbed WM might work (I don’t think we’ve ever sat down to try to design one for GNOME, although I know at least one tabbed WM has been implemented before)?  Or is it just something that’s just never likely to happen?

I suck

I’ve been pretty badly neglecting my community duties recently… I have a backlog of ~2000 usability and HIG bugzilla emails to get through, and haven’t fixed any gnome-themes bugs in months. (I have at least started updating all the HIG images with the ones we got from the GHOPpers at the turn of the year, but still a good bit of work to do there, too.)

Sorry about that. I started making a bit of an effort this week to try and get through at least 10 of those bugzilla mails a day, and uploaded a few more of those HIG images last night too. I hope to continue in that vein for the next few weeks, at least…

Red cheese

Daniel, I suppose the first question is “why does it need to be red?” Anything that animates is going to catch the user’s attention anyway, so I don’t see any great harm in keying the background to the theme.

That said, since gtk+ 2.10, haven’t themes been able to support additional named colours, to highlight things like ‘errors’ and ‘warnings’ where appropriate? So shouldn’t Clearlooks and the other themes be providing these now? Or did we just never decide what the standard list of named colours should be? :/

Media at your fingertips

Was just pondering in the shower at the weekend (as you do) about what makes, say, MacOS X feel like a more cohesive desktop than even the latest and greatest GNOME.

One thing that came to mind was its integrated management of your media– in pretty much any Mac app where you might want to insert or edit multimedia content, you can immediately access your entire music, photo or video library in a familiar-looking window and drag it over from there.  It’s built into the file selection dialog, too: media browser  PulpMotion media browser  iMovie media browser  Open File dialog

Of course, Apple only really let you manage your media library with their own software: iTunes, iPhoto, Aperture, iMovie, Final Cut etc. But it did get me wondering if there was a place for a freedesktop ‘media library’ spec, that would offer our users the same sort of quick, searchable access to their media content (be it local, remote, stored on Flickr, split across three DVDs, or any combination of the above) in any application that required it. And, of course, to do what Apple doesn’t, and allow any app to manage that content, if it needs to do so.

Sun’s Web App UI Guidelines

Cool to see Sun’s Web App UI Guidelines finally go public. As Chip Alexander says,:

They are a set of building blocks for web applications that have been designed by user interface specialists, thoroughly thought through and usability tested. They can be used for developing full web applications, allowing designers and developers to focus on their application’s particular needs rather than the design of all the controls and elements inside.

The corresponding Woodstock toolkit for which they were written has been available under an open source (CDDL) licence for a while, but of course the guidelines themselves can be applied to any web app. (They do have a bit of a system administration app slant, though, for obvious reasons.)

The Usability Clinic is Closed

Big thanks to Máirín and particularly Garrett (as he hadn’t even volunteered beforehand) for helping me field the questions, and apologies to anyone who’d brought along something to ask or show us that we didn’t get to this time. Feel free to email me or the usability list instead (or in Alberto‘s case, just ask me in the office…)

Unfortunately that’s the last I’ll be seeing of GUADEC this year… off to visit friends in Birmingham tomorrow morning, and back to Dublin tomorrow evening. Bring on Istanbul!

Update: To the guys who asked me about keyboard layout switcher shortcuts, I was mistaken about OpenSolaris– I was thinking about input method switching, we don’t currently have a shortcut for layout switching AFAIK. (Or even a GUI, as IIRC the standard GNOME one is currently too broken on Solaris.) I still can’t think of a reason why Shift+Alt wouldn’t be okay as a default shortcut, but I’ll have to think about that a bit more…