Make. It. Simple. Linux Desktop Usability — Part 1


There is a tendency of desktop environments and applications to mess around with the proven concept of menus.

File, Edit,… menus circa 1980 in the Lisa’s user interface. Source: Wikimedia
Ribbon instead of menus. Source: Wikimedia
Google Chrome web browser using an unrecognizable icon instead of a menu bar. Source: Twitter
Firefox web browser a similar concept instead of a menu bar
GNOME 3 in Ubuntu 17.04 hiding what used to be the menu in a “hamburger menu”
Text editor in elementary OS 0.3
Xerox Star user interface (1981). Source: GUI Gallery
Hamburger menu in XEROX Star GUI

Menu shortcuts

Look at the GNOME 3 screenshot again. Note what is also missing? A visual clue that Save is Ctrl-S. The menu entries for “Copy”, “Paste” and so on are entirely missing — not just their shortcuts like Ctrl-C, but the whole menu entries.

GNOME 3 in Ubuntu 17.04 missing the “Edit” menu and all shortcuts
Edit menu in XFCE on Xubuntu 16.04

The global menu bar

Fitts’s law, which had a brief mention above, should be a familiar concept in UX circles by now. It also implies that having global menu bars is better than having per-window menu bars, because you can reach the top of the screen much more easily by moving the mouse quickly there, rather than having to point somewhere with precision.

Early prototypes of the Lisa GUI, around 1980. Source: License: Fair Use of a historic artefact
The global menu bar consists of only one menu with just 6 items in GNOME 3 on Ubuntu 17.10
Clock at the center of the global menu bar, 2017
Apple logo at the center of the gobal menu bar, around 2000, in a beta of Mac OS X. Source: Wikimedia
XFCE bar at the top of the screen in Xubuntu 16.04
Windows 95 task bar and start menu. License: Fair use
Source: Twitter

Search in menus

A really, really useful feature is being able to search for commands in the menu bar, especially for applications that have sub-menus. The Mac can do it:

Typing in a topic will show the relevant menu items since Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard
Plotinus. Source: GitHub
No global menu in Firefox 57 even when if explicitly enabled in Ubuntu MATE 17.10



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Author of #AppImage and contributor to hundreds of open source projects. #LinuxUsability, digital privacy, typography, computer history, software conservation