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Function heirarchies and getting the computer to do what you want it to do

It appears that Shuttleworth has noticed a lot of the hate about Unity. He also seems to have a good understanding of why it exists and he has a plan.

We’ll resurrect the (boring) old ways of displaying the menu in 12.04, in the app and in the panel. In the past few releases of Ubuntu, we’ve actively diminished the visual presence of menus in anticipation of this landing. That proved controversial. In our defence, in user testing, every user finds the menu in the panel, every time, and it’s obviously a cleaner presentation of the interface. But hiding the menu before we had the replacement was overly aggressive. If the HUD lands in 12.04 LTS, we hope you’ll find yourself using the menu less and less, and be glad to have it hidden when you are not using it. You’ll definitely have that option, alongside more traditional menu styles.

“Overly aggressive” in making changes? That is probably the best way to put it.

The plan is about HUD – head-up display.

This is the HUD. It’s a way for you to express your intent and have the application respond appropriately. We think of it as “beyond interface”, it’s the “intenterface”. This concept of “intent-driven interface” has been a primary theme of our work in the Unity shell, with dash search as a first class experience pioneered in Unity. Now we are bringing the same vision to the application, in a way which is completely compatible with existing applications and menus.

The basic idea is that of a look-ahead search through the menu tree that is context based and inferential. You may not know exactly what you want or how to spell it but you can guess and see what is in the menu tree that might fit. Instead of walking through the menu branches taking guesses about which one might have what you want, you can have the system help you find it.

Shuttleworth is not working in a vacuum and he is aware of the other efforts on the same problem.

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.

He notes that the ‘M’ in WIMP is for menu and refers to the menu idea having a 30 year history with no revolution. Back when the functionality of programs was rather small, grouping them into a hierarchy of the 5 to 7 things a human could have in mind at one time wasn’t a hassle. These days, that 5-7 comprehension idea is getting stretched so far that the complexity and capability of modern applications is getting cumbersome. We live in interesting times and it appears we will be seeing a revolution in how we access the capabilities of our computers and applications.

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