Notifications, indicators and alerts

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Let’s talk about notifications! As Ryan Lortie mentioned, there was a lot of discussion across the Ubuntu, Kubuntu, GNOME, KDE and Mozilla communities represented at UDS about the proposals Canonical’s user experience design and desktop experience engineering teams have made for Ubuntu 9.04.

See the mockup as a Flash movie.

There are some fairly bold (read: controversial) ideas that we’d like to explore with, so the opportunity to discuss them with a broader cross-section of the community was fantastic. There were several rough edges and traps that I think we’ll avoid in the first round as a result, thanks to everyone who participated. Some of the things we work on in these teams are done directly with partners for their devices, so they don’t see this level of discussion before they ship, but it’s wonderful when we do get the opportunity to do so.

Some of these ideas are unproven, they boil down to matters of opinion, but since our commitment to them is based on a desire to learn more I think of them as constructive experiments. Experiments are just that – experiments. They may succeed and they may fail. We should judge them carefully, after we have data. We are putting new ideas into the free desktop without ego. We know those ideas could be better or worse than similar work being done in other communities, and we want to gather real user feedback to help find the best mix for everyone. The best ideas, and the best code, will ultimately form part of the digital free software commons and be shared by GNOME, KDE and every distribution. So, for those folks who were upset that we might ship something other than a GNOME or KDE default, I would ask for your patience and support – we want to contribute new ideas and new code, and that means having some delta which can be used as a basis for discussions about the future direction of upstream. In the past, we’ve had a few such delta’s in Ubuntu. Some, like the current panel layout, were widely embraced. Others, like the infamous “Ubuntu spacial mode”, were not. C’est la vie, and we all benefit from the evolution.

Experiments are also not something we should do lightly. The Ubuntu desktop is something I take very personally; I feel personally responsible for the productivity and happiness of every Ubuntu user, so when we bring new ideas and code to the desktop I believe we should do everything we can to make sure of success first time round. We should not inflict bad ideas on our users just because we’re curious or arrogant or stubborn or proud. Despite being occasionally curious, arrogant, stubborn and proud 🙂

So, what are we proposing?

First, we are focusing some attention on desktop notifications in this cycle, as part of a broader interest in the “space between applications”.

I think Canonical and Ubuntu can best help the cause of free software by focusing on the cracks between the major components of the desktop. In other words, while there are already great upstreams for individual applications in the free software desktop (Novell for Evolution, Sun for OpenOffice, Mozilla for Firefox, Red Hat for NetworkManager), we think there is a lot of productive and useful work to be done in the gaps between them. Notifications are things that many apps do, and if we can contribute new ideas there then we are helping improve the user experience of all of those applications. That’s a nice force multiplier – we’re hopefully doing work that makes the work of every other community even more valuable.

Nevertheless, expect bumps ahead. Ideas we are exploring may / will / do conflict with assumptions that are present today in various applications. We can address the relevant code in packages in main, but I’m more focused on addressing the potential social disruption that conflict can create, and that’s more a matter of conversation than code.

Notifications are interesting, subtle and complex. There are lots of different approaches on lots of different platforms. There are lots of different use cases. We’re trying to simplify and eliminate complexity, while still making it possible to meet the use cases we know about.

There has been good work in the community on notifications, and even a spec that is *almost* at 1.0 in that community, with existing open source implementations. Our proposal is based on that specification, but it deprecates several capabilities and features in it. We will likely be compatible with the current API’s for sending notifications, but likely will not display all the notifications that might be sent, if they require features that we deprecate. If this experiment goes well, we would hope to help move that FD.o specification to 1.0, with or without our amendments.

The key proposals we are making are that:

  • There should be no actions on notifications.
  • Notifications should not be displayed synchronously, but may be queued. Our implementation of the notification display daemon will display only one notification at a time, others may do it differently.

That’s pretty much it. There are some subtleties and variations, but these are the key changes we are proposing, and which we will explore in a netbook device with a partner, as well as in the general Ubuntu 9.04 release, schedule gods being willing.

This work will show up as a new notification display agent, not as a fork or patch to the existing GNOME notification daemon. We don’t think the client API – libnotify – needs to be changed for this experiment, though we may not display notifications sent through that API that use capabilities we are suggesting be deprecated. We will try to ensure that packages in main are appropriately tuned, and hope MOTU will identify and update key packages in universe accordingly.

Why a completely new notification display agent? We are designing it to be built with Qt on KDE, and Gtk on GNOME. The idea is to have as much code in common as we can, but still take advantage of the appropriate text display framework on Ubuntu and Kubuntu. We hope to deliver both simultaneously, and have discussed this with both Ubuntu and Kubuntu community members. At the moment, there is some disagreement about the status of the FD.o specification between GNOME and KDE, and we hope our efforts will help build a bridge there. In Ubuntu 9.04, we would likely continue to package and publish the existing notification daemon in addition, to offer both options for users that have a particular preference. In general, where we invest in experimental new work, we plan to continue to offer a standard GNOME or KDE component / package set in the archive so that people can enjoy that experience too.

The most controversial part of the proposal is the idea that notifications should not have actions associated with them. In other words, no buttons, sliders, links, or even a dismissal [x]. When a notification pops up, you won’t be able to click on it, you won’t be able to make it go away, you won’t be able to follow it to another window, or to a web page. Are you loving this freedom? Hmmm? Madness, on the face of it, but there is method in this madness.

Our hypothesis is that the existence of ANY action creates a weighty obligation to act, or to THINK ABOUT ACTING. That make notifications turn from play into work. That makes them heavy responsibilities. That makes them an interruption, not a notification. And interruptions are a bag of hurt when you have things to do.

So, we have a three-prong line of attack.

  1. We want to make notifications truly ephemeral. They are there, and then they are gone, and that’s life. If you are at your desktop when a notification comes by, you will sense it, and if you want you can LOOK at it, and it will be beautiful and clear and easy to parse. If you want to ignore it, you can safely do that and it will always go away without you having to dismiss it. If you miss it, that’s OK. Notifications are only for things which you can safely ignore or miss out on. If you went out for coffee and a notification flew by, you are no worse off. They don’t pile up like email, there is no journal of the ones you missed, you can’t scroll back and see them again, and therefor you are under no obligation to do so – they can’t become work while you are already busy with something else. They are gone like a mystery girl on the bus you didn’t get on, and they enrich your life in exactly the same way!
  2. We think there should be persistent panel indicators for things which you really need to know about, even if you missed the notification because you urgently wanted that coffee. So we are making a list of those things, and plan to implement them.
  3. Everything else should be dealt with by having a window call for attention, while staying in the background, unless it’s critical in which case that window could come to the foreground.

Since this is clearly the work of several releases, we may have glitches and inconsistencies along the way at interim checkpoints. I hope not, but it’s not unlikely, especially in the first iteration. Also, these ideas may turn out to be poor, and we should be ready to adjust our course based on feedback once we have an implementation in the wild.

We had a superb UXD and DEE (user experience design team, and desktop experience engineering team) sprint in San Francisco the week before UDS. Thanks to everyone who took part, especially those who came in from other teams. This notifications work may just be the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a very cool tip 🙂

One or more of our early-access OEM partners (companies that we work with on new desktop features) will likely ship this feature as part of a netbook product during the 9.04 cycle. At that point, we would also drop the code into a PPA for testing with a wider set of applications. There are active discussions about updating the specification based on this work. I think we should be cautious, and gather real user testing feedback and hard data, but if it goes well then we would propose simplifying the spec accordingly, and submit our notification display agent to Long term collaboration around the code would take place on Launchpad.

349 Responses to “Notifications, indicators and alerts”

  1. orlando_ombzzz Says:

    “When a notification pops up, [..] you won’t be able to follow it [..] to a web page”

    IMHO, you should not kill the link-in-notificacion-pop-ups functionality


    i) they are potentially useful
    ii) links don’t qualify as members of the “creates a weighty obligation to act, or to THINK ABOUT ACTING” set

  2. Endolith Says:

    Notifications won’t be logged? I hate the idea of losing data or missing information, and I would be paranoid about missing anything.

    And actions on notifications are a convenience, not an obligation. Something pops up and you want more details, so you click on it. It’s better than having to find a disconnected application to open, which may be very non-obvious from context.

    If notifications are only going to be used for truly ephemeral things, then what’s going to provide the other functionality instead? The other types of notifications are necessary, too. I hope you’re not going to take a step backwards and make them open intrusive windows. That’s the whole reason notifications were invented.

  3. kikl Says:

    My naive comments as a user:

    According to my understanding, notifications are short messages generated by the operating system or applications that tell me that something has just happened. I don’t have to react to the notifications, so they might as well disappear automatically after a while.

    I think notifications can be useful but very often they are a nuisance. I wouldn’t want messages to pop up all over the place and at any moment in time on my computer. Furthermore, notifications appear to be things that you cannot control as a user. They appear to pop up out of the blue and vanish just as miraculously. As a user, I want to have the feeling that I am in control of the computer and I don’t want the computer to be in control of me. Therefore, I hope mark’s project is more about giving the user an easy way of controlling the use of notifications.

    There are three notifications I encounter very often.

    1. The ubuntu network connection wizard (I don’t know the proper name, but it’s a great program!) notifies me that a wifi connection has been automatically established each time the computer is started. This information is valuable to me, because I know that I can start using the network and the internet. But, I really don’t need the window to pop up, because the changed icon in the panel tells me this anyhow. If you’ve never used ubuntu before, it may really be a help. But meanwhile I wish I could just shut it off completely. In addition, the notification doesn’t disappear automatically, so I have to klick it away each time.

    2. Thunderbird notifies me automatically, when I receive an E-Mail. I hear a beep and a small window appears on the lower right side of the display showing me the header of the e-mail I just received. The window disappears automatically after a while. It’s actually very well done, because it gives you just enough time to decide whether you really want to react. So in many instances, it’s o.k. But it’s clearly a distraction and sometimes, when I really need to concentrate on my work, I don’t want to be distracted. I wish I could turn off all notifications in these instances.

    3. The Flash player integrated into firefox notifies me that I can exit the full screen mode each time I enlarge the window to the full screen. Again, this is useful and really necessary, if you’ve never used the player before. But meanwhile, I really know this. It’s a nuisance, because the notification obscures the video each time I enlarge it.

    I wish there was a centralized tool that I may use to control all notifications that may appear on the computer. If certain notifications are valuable to me, I may grant them a high priority. If they aren’t I may shut them off completely. If I don’t want any notifications to appear, I can suppress them automatically.

    I don’t know if this is possible, because most of the notifications are probably controlled by the application programmers. But, if the centralized tool actually makes sense, the application programmers may really want to include their notifications in the tool.

    These are my two cents and I hope it helps.



  4. Thomas Says:

    Its nice to see that you keep looking for ways to improve the Linux desktop. I think notifications are an area where improvements can be made 🙂
    But as others have already pointed out, you seem to be heading in the wrong direction:

    -> I _want_ to act on (most of my) notifications! Seeing that someone IM’ed me is no good if I can’t immediately write back. Seeing that someone calls me over a VoIP-app is no good if I can’t immediately pick up the phone. etc. etc.
    -> I want to be able to dismiss notifications. Maybe I need to access the screen below them. Maybe I’m watching a movie in fullscreen and the notification gets in my way, or maybe I just want to ban the notification before all the people in the room are able to read what I’m IM’ing/mailing with other people.
    -> Maybe I’m setting in front of my PC with customers or other acquaintances that I wouldn’t want to be able to read all my IM-chats. A feature _easily_ disable notifications would be nice
    -> If I come back into the room and see a notification disappear, I would want to be able to check out what that notification was. So a history would be nice (I do not want YOU to decide that I don’t need to know of notifications I missed)

    Also, as others have pointed out, with growl and mumbles there are already existing notification apps. Have you had a look at them/maybe even contacted the authors to look for possible cooperation?

    (On an unrelated note: I agree with other comments that flash is definitely not the way to go, especially for someone who wants to improve the OpenSource world. Even if Gnash exists, the format itself is NOT free).

  5. “Growl” Concept for Ubuntu | Says:

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  6. Lima Says:

    Uh, I did this, I think, one year ago. Just playing with GTK to know if I could do it.

    This was what I came up with:

    Unfortunately, I don’t have the code anymore. 🙁

  7. carlos Says:

    please look at this mockups

    read the feedback. they are just amazing! try to implement them and many (like 95%) people will be pleased.


  8. Clemens Says:

    Hi there! Sorry if this came up in the comments above already, but it’s kinda late here and I didn’t have time to read everything. Anyways, I read most of the above, and kwah’s comment ( ) instantly gave me an idea. We already got the user – switching panel, together with a status setting for instant messaging. If you consider the notifications under the same aspects as instant messages from the clients already integrated in the user switching panel, you’ll get a central tool how to handle “disturbances” in your use of the computer. Like if you set your status to “busy/do not disturb”, only really urgent notifications should pop up; ubuntu could queue them if you set your status to “away”, so you can read them later on, and so on. You’d get a nice, simple, already implemented tool to tell ubuntu whether you’re in the mood getting instant notifications 🙂

    Greetz, Clemens

  9. nargh Says:

    And of course, there are notifications you don’t want to ignore:
    Like the ones produced by smart-notifier – about your harddrive failing.

    Notification transparency, on the other hand, just requires Compiz to apply transparency to the notification windows type.

  10. Albert Says:

    This is very good, it can be improved if the time each notification is visible depends on the amount of information being read by the user. For example: 1 line = 2 seconds, 5 lines = 8 seconds, …

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  12. brad Says:

    Hello — Last time I was introducing a Windows user to Ubuntu, as we were login her out of her Windows session, one of the little Windows notification balloons appeared, and she commented on how she really didn’t care for the notifications.
    I hope that if you implement this idea, there’ll be an easy way to switch it off.
    I’m fond of the Synaptic Package Manager’s method of showing that it’s finished it’s task by flashing in the bottom task-bar.
    But hey, you’ve done such a fine job so far…

  13. Bill Gates Says:

    Mark Shuttleworth if you want to win for me in the market, then you need to hire a designer! has approximately 200 employees and has no 1 designer? Aff! Head that you have! If you want to win the Uncle Bill Gates and the Mac OS X needs to do much more if not Pilates THE BEACH!

  14. Freed Says:

    Mark Shuttleworth urgent hire a designer ubuntu 9.04 please !!!

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  16. titaniumtux Says:

    Here’s my only concern about no notification history…what about when you lock the screen and someone leaves you a message?! Say you log in, then come back to your desk much later. Granted the notification (the way it’s been so far) waits for you, but for what you’re proposing, it wont!

    That’s my number 1 concern, because those could be important messages!

    Otherwise this is great, notifications should all be in the same part of the screen (I hate getting ’em ’round the notification area, the lower-right of the screen, the middle for volume and brightness adjustments…). Good work so far, but please implement a notification history for those messages from the locked screen!!

  17. gp Says:

    nice ………….but will these UI enhancements work on KDE aka kubuntu ?

  18. Leroy Says:

    Very convenient and smart, it works like magic!
    May I suggest you change the colour from black to another colour to make it even more striking!

  19. Ben Says:

    Actions and ability to close the notification are useful features.

    Situations where actions would be helpful:
    -Receive an email notification, click to read it.
    -IM chat invitation or voip call, click to converse.
    -Someone connects via bluetooth, click to browse files.
    -Network connection goes down, click for help resolving it

    Most of these actions could be omitted from the notification and put in a tray icon menu, but is that really intuitive? I think most users (particularly those form a windows background) would tend to click on the notification before looking under a tray icon menu.
    I agree that these notifications should automatically close after a given period of time. However removing the functionality to dismiss and react to notifications is just dumbing things down. Basically leave things the way they are and I’ll be happy.

    Mark Shuttleworth says: Thank you for this list of use cases, it’s very useful! At the moment, we plan to make *all* of those action possible through the panel, with a linkage from notifications to the panel in cases where there are follow-on actions as you describe. If you can think of more cases like this, please do post them as this is a critical part of our plan and the more cases we can consider now the smoother the rollout process will be.

    Initially, mail and IRC will be handled smoothly, the others will be a bit rough.

  20. tardigrade Says:

    For me the idea of the transient notifications is dubious. I think a notification that I can’t act upon would frustrate. Also I don’t see the point of having a new mail that I want to open but can’t click straight to and have to open Evolution first, look for the email, scroll to it and then open.

    I have a few ideas as well. They may or may not be interesting to some people.

    1] I need the option to pin the notification to act on later.

    Say I’m on a phone call in Skype, this could go on for an hour or so. In that time I could have anywhere from 3 to 30 notifications. Lets say I have 7 in that time. I don’t want to deal with them during the phone call but some of them I do want to act upon. However by the time the call is over I will have forgotten about the 2nd, 3rd and 5th notifications completely.

    So I think it’s a good idea to be able to single click on a notification to pin it to either a scrollable stack on the desktop or a stack on the app launcher. I can then act on those ones that I would have otherwise forgotten about after my call. Also because I’ve chosen which ones to pin I don’t have to scroll through all the ones that I didn’t want to look at and then delete them, I only have the notifications that I want to see, the ones that I actively chose to save because they are important to me.

    2] Action to open

    If I have an email come in and I am notified I want to see the from address and subject line. If it’s an email that I’ve been waiting for then I want to be able to double click on it and get taken straight to the email in question. At the moment Evolution flashes at me, annoys me, and then for every new email notification I have to go into Evolution and see if it’s anything that I want to look at or not, only to find 7 times out of 10 that it’s junk and I’ve wasted my time. So for me action on a notification and knowing the important details of that notification is a key thing.

    Also can I suggest that I have the option to only get email notifications from contacts in my address book. That would fantastic. No email notifications for spam just emails from my contacts. That would a useful productivity tool.

    3] I need to be able to dismiss a notification

    I notice from the demo that you can click through the notification. That’s great but wouldn’t work if we need to click on a notification to action it. So we still need dismiss also if I’m working in an application and I suddenly have 5 new notifications I don’t want to have to wait for a notification to disappear. That’s really annoying especially if I’m on a phone call it’s distracting. I should be able to select all and group dismiss the notifications.

    So for me it’s critical that we have 3 actions available for a notification.
    1] Pin (single click),
    2] Act (double click),
    3] Dismiss (mouse over X pops onto the top corner of the notification to click on)

    Mike Rushton’s idea about the battery low actions is also brilliant. You could then do immediately in one move what would otherwise take you a visit to three different apps to do. Lower brightness, disconnect wi-fi, and bluetooth, switch off speakers and any active programs like Banshee. Great if you’re on a train and trying to finish a doc. You could create a pre-set for such an event that enables one click to act on the pre-set and do all these things at once.

    Maybe these options could be accessed via spinning the notification around to reveal these extras on the reverse side.

    So application notifications double click to open, utility / system notifications double click to spin and access useful actions on the flip side. Single click throughout still just pins to the stack. Otherwise the notification disappears and is deleted as per the video demo.

    Stacked notifications could auto purge after 12 or 24 hours so I don’t get a huge build up. The idea being that even if I pinned the notification, if I haven’t actioned it within a set time it wasn’t as important as I first thought it was.


  21. Chris Hutt Says:

    A lot of people seem to be saying that an absence of a ‘close button’ is a problem because the notifications take up screen space and may obscure something you want to get at. From the video it seems that if you move the mouse pointer to a part of the screen covered by the notification it fades out of the way to let you do what you want to do.

    I love the idea of having no actions on notifications but I think it would be a good idea to have some kind of history feature where all notifications from the current session are displayed and scrollable with the mouse wheel so you can see at a glance what you may have missed while taking that coffee break, or to find out how long ago you received that email you should have replied to.

    Great concept though.

    Mark Shuttleworth says: Based on strong feedback that experts will want to review past notifications, we will log them for users. Thank you for the commentary!

  22. Clemens Says:

    Hi there – somehow Akismet filtered my first comment, unfortunately.

    The user switching – panel already supports setting a general status level for instant messangers, irc and stuff, I believe it would be a great idea to integrate the above seen notifications in this status level. Like if you’re “away”, notifications could queue and you could read them as soon as you’re back from your coffee break, or if you’re working, you could set the status to “do not disturb/busy” and you’d get only very important notifications.
    Greets, Clemens

    Mark Shuttleworth says: That’s a very interesting idea. I definitely agree that we should think of more useful consequences for keeping the presence indicator accurate, that way people are more likely to use it. At the moment, it’s not very relevant unless you’re strongly dependent on IM.

  23. g4b Says:

    Actually for me some unified error message queue would be more interesting, than having more notifications about stuff I really dont want to know.
    However having a common interface, where errors, warnings, notifications and so on can go in, and be displayed by output plugins, would be great.
    Especially notifications like “Lost connection to: …” and DNS errors, like “ could not be found”, mostly hardcoded in many apps, should use some common ground and only use blocking modal error message windows as fallback. Its annoying to have apps blocking you, just because they cant download your mail atm, and want to hear an “OK” for that.

    It would be however in any case very important to keep this thing clean, and not too gnome specific. Since then everything has to be copied in kubuntu / xubuntu / … . so the basic system should be non-gui with gui-plugins, x11/dbus/… interface, and so on.

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  25. Pete Myers Says:

    Great. Can’t wait.

    I think that the notification shouldn’t display any buttons – but when I move my mouse over it, some buttons should fade in so that I can follow up on the notification if I want to.

    I agree that seeing a button in the notification makes me feel forced to deal with it. But, if I spot a notification that I find interesting – then I will want to interact with it. So, I want it to interact with me if I initiate it.

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  28. Dundee Says:

    I like it. Looks nice and seems more useful than current notifications.

  29. Oisin Hurley Says:

    An integration of presence across all the (relevant) apps is certainly something that the community in general should strive for – think of the potential for reduction in annoyance when you are in your flow time. One reservation I have is Mark’s definition – “Notifications are only for things which you can safely ignore or miss out on.” My personal preference is only have notifications for things I need to know about – but I guess there are times when one is begging for an excuse for a displacement activity.

  30. kikl Says:

    I had a brief glimpse of the alpha 3 release of jaunty jackalope. I see that you’re making a lot of progress. In particular, certain notifications (network) may be easily shut off. There’s a central tool for positioning the notifications – although I found out, you can do that already using the panel toolbar. Many other things, but off topic…

    Kudos to canonical and all the developers! Keep up the great work!



    Just a crazy idea:

    Automatically adapting the user interface to the personal profile of a user. Notifying (Notification!) the user each time a change in the interface is suggested.

    For example: If the user uses only two games 9 out of 10 times in the application menu, then these games may be presented in the menu as first highlighted and enlarged options, since they are most likely to be clicked.

    With time, the user interface is automatically custom-tailored to the particular user’s profile… (It’s just a dream ;-))

  31. Brian Says:


    I love the idea of notifications. My $0.02 on this would be a weather alert/warning pop-up for your location, (whether it be built-in or a plugin/option). A lot of people that use laptops, are either at work or out at the coffee shop or college libraries would benefit from this type of pop-up. If i’m sitting in the lib or coffee shop and I need to either walk or drive or commute somehow that involves being out in the elements, if the weathers about to change and I see a pop-up that i’m now in a severe thunderstorm watch or warning I may wait to go outside. Who knows, maybe in a really severe weather event i could be saved from potential injury if i see some bad weather is on the way. Maybe this is far fetched to some, hence why its only a personal opinion/suggestion.



  32. Alessio Gaeta Says:

    +1 for Greg’s comment (
    I’m using Gnome (Debian/Ubuntu) from years and I still try to click on “New software updates available” balloon tip, expecting that update manager will be launched…

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  35. Joe "Floid" Kanowitz Says:

    Hm, I saw some of the motivation for changing the graphical appearance of “Notifications” just now: Shortly after booting, my “notification area” has greeted me with a “crash report detected” and “There are 8 updates available.”

    …and since it greeted me with both within one second, and the persistent anchors are small icons in the “notification area,” one popped up covering most of the other, rendering it unreadable if I hadn’t caught it fast.

    That certainly isn’t useful, and since these aren’t “windows” as far as having window-manager decoration and familiar behavior, I don’t know if I can raise or lower them or what clicking would actually do. Since the information conveyed is a little “Microsoftian” — it’s really just drawing a balloon on the screen pointing to the persisting items in the notification area, not telling me much new, either. [In fact, there are probably enough pixels within the “Updates Available” notification to show the number, though people would complain about the font; if the *notification* for the crash reporter used the additional space to say “Firefox bit it 4 hours ago at 3:45 AM your time,” it’d at least be telling me enough to confirm I don’t care without having to click on it!]
    Since they were unhelpful, I end up wondering why they were there at all when I already have bright orange things clamoring for my attention in the “area.”

    Of course, there’s a problem in that the “Notification Area” is the standard for “having something that acts like the Windows system tray,” so it becomes as much as a mess as the system tray, with anything seeking a smaller presence on screen [that doesn’t want to be specific as a GNOME applet] winding up there. Right now I don’t have any bright ideas as to how the “X11 desktop community” can get beyond that; both GNOME and KDE (and XFCE, and anyone else at the party) would have to agree on the bare requirements for any new solution.

    In the short term, letting the ‘icons’ declare whether they’re “notifications” or just “notification area applets” would at least potentially permit using two instances of the “Notification Area” gnome-panel applet, though even that has pitfalls re: creating more places to look.

    I keep bringing up the Mac, only because it’s the only surviving system doing anything particularly different in UI at all, so a useful “existing experiment” when thinking about how any of our GUIs could be rearranged – there, maybe even more obviously before OS X brought new persistent elements in, the top of the screen [where GNOME users have the top panel] is the menu bar, so by definition it’s “context-sensitive” and things you might not care about disappear until, for instance, you’d bring the Finder back in focus. Of course, now I’m looking at my top panel and trying to decide if there’s anything I ever wouldn’t care about… it’s a bit of a mess visually, but most items are either information I always want present [clock, weather, CPU scaling, volume status] or shortcuts to tasks I perform constantly while working. So much for that idea — and on the Mac, the shortcuts just move into the dock which eats the same or more pixels at the bottom of the screen anyway!

    Here’s a funnier problem: I just decided to click on the crash report, then decided I didn’t feel like authenticating, and upon whacking “Cancel,” the notification disappeared from the area entirely. Whoops. Off the top of my head, I don’t know how to get back to that handling application other than perhaps through the command line [if it’s bug-buddy, not even sure about that]. This is why we’re all so adamant about logs!

    This comment is now such a mess that I’ll also sneak in a response to “kikl” above: Are you aware that this is what Windows has been doing since XP or so? Some people, particularly when they’re just sitting down with the computer, find it useful; others get annoyed because constantly-rearranging UI elements blow out our abilities to use our spatial and motor memories to remember “where something is.” The trick is to offer both options, and thinking about it now, XP/Vista actually get that pretty much right with one critical flaw: In the reworked Windows “Start Menu,” the “recently used” items are on the left, against the screen edge (and with that benefit for lazy mousers), but the “All programs” entry to the classic menu is floating over on the right, requiring more coordination and an extra click. The flaw, I think, is that most people who benefit from MS’s “recently used” list would be patient enough to mouse over to it (or make that movement while they’re busy reading how it’s rearranged today), while those with a “spatial” memory for the complete list know where they’re going and would feel (and stopwatch-test as?) less slowed down if they could thump the mouse against the screen edge and unfurl the map.

    I do wish I had time to edit this down, but in lieu of that, I’d still rather throw my ideas against the wall and see if they inspire y’all rather than keeping them to myself!

  36. kikl Says:

    Hi floyd, Ill briefly respond since you addressed me in particular. But since this is off-topic Ill be very brief. You said: “constantly-rearranging UI elements blow out our abilities to use our spatial and motor memories to remember where something is.” I agree, therefore the changes should be very gradual and the user should be notified of any proposed change and have the possibility to refuse the change. In my opinion, a very experienced user needs a very different user interface than a complete novice. Therefore, the UI should very gradually develop with the amount of experience the user gains. That’s the basic idea.

    If you want to discuss this further, we could exchange e-mail addresses.



  37. It’s the Infrastructure Stupid « DoctorMO’s Blag Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth says that he wants to improve the Notifications, indicators and alerts, he’s not just talking about a fancy way to show notifications. But a better way of providing […]

  38. gg Says:

    rename mumbles to bubbles, add callbacks (if it hasnt, im not quite sure, dbus notifactions anyone?), there you go…

  39. gg Says:

    correct myself, use mumbles add xevent to bring event window to front after you double click the notification… where is the problem?

  40. Maik Says:

    Dear Mr. Shuttleworth,

    I didn’t know where to turn to so I ended up here. It’s nice to see some ideas and changes for the upcoming Ubuntu release but however it would be nicer to see some more hardware support. It would be great if you and the developers focus on that part a bit more.

    For example some wireless cards like the Realtek RT2860 and some High Definition Audio soundcards. I have tested some other linux distro’s where the wireless card worked right out of the box (openSUSE, Mandriva for example). Installing Ndiswrapper and the Windows driver to activate the wireless card isn’t always that effective and most of the time it doesn’t work properly. It takes 10 to 15 minutes before it’s activated after the desktop is loaded.

    The issues with the HDA soundcards is an overall problem in every Linux distro that’s around. So it would be nice to see Ubuntu being the first distro that solves these problems and let it work out of the box. If that is possible of course. 🙂

    Overall I am satisfied Ubuntu user for a year now and i say: Keep up the great work.

    With kind regards,


  41. Alfem Says:

    These notifications seem really similar to our Hermes project, included in Guadalinex, Linex and Molinux.

    Hermes shows piled messages (some of them are clickable) whenever an important event occurs.

    It is coded in python, but i18n was not a priority so I am afreid comments are still in spanish.

  42. matthew bradley Says:

    I like it, but I’d like it to behave like this…

    hover the mouse pointer over a new notification to prevent it fading away (no click required).

    with the mouse pointer hovered over the notification, use either the scroll wheel or keyb up and down arrows to scroll back through all the notifications received during the current session only, retaining any click actions for each notification if valid.

    i’m sure the compiz developers could come up with some nice animations for flicking back and forward through them.

  43. CJ Says:

    Will notifications be prioritized? How would it handle a “queued” mass of unimportant notifications holding up a single important notification?

  44. paul Says:

    Will there be some facility for a root user to send an alert to all the users on a system? This is something that ubuntu has always lacked.

    To that end, any way for a user or a system administrator to decide what notifications should be persistent?

  45. Fazil Lathif Says:

    I have been using ubuntu for past three years…. I’m lovin’ it …
    Please keep it coming… ubuntu is bringing a lot of (useful)changes to the GUI..

    Long live the ubuntu developers…

  46. kalon33 Says:

    Yeah, seems really professional, and the goals behind this new notifications really make sense.

    Good luck to implement this ! I really can’t wait to see it into action. Where could we get (or where will we get) in Launchpad the code and packages to test it ?


  47. Michael Vanderheeren Says:

    I like the idea about the notifications. Finally everything will be the same. That’s a big thumbs up for usability. Next up should be the splash screens of different applications. They should all have the same color, same place of the logo, … After that it would be great if all windows (like the background preferences and theme window) would have a sort of banner, with a big icon and some text, stating clearly what the window is meant for…

    Mark Shuttleworth says: Do you feel better now?

  48. Lucas Westermann Says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing this implemented! Sounds like a very good idea that seems to be being planned out quite thoroughly. Just like the fast-user-switcher that also handles things such as shutdown/reboot/IM status (I’m currently trying to figure out if I can get the same functionality in ArchLinux using your patches). One thing I might want to add would be notifications when on battery power, and if it’s at a critical level allow a few options (suspend, shutdown, ignore, etc.) on click?

    All in all it looks like it will be very well done. Keep up the good work (goes for the teams as well)!

  49. s22 Says:

    Recently I experienced some bizarre phenomena while chatting about Ubuntu on IRC: I would not see messages from other users until I typed something myself. Then all of the messages typed by other users since my last transmission would be displayed. This created a lot of confusion on both ends, but the Ubuntu community was generally tolerant of this strange behavior and diligently tried to assist me with the various problems I had gone online to seek help for. After typing a number of commands in the terminal window, I saw the following message there: “Bus error (core dump)”. Suddenly, everything became clear: I had a defective motherboard.

    Those bus errors must have been going on for a long time, causing all sorts of erratic behavior, and I never knew what was happening because the error was only reported in the terminal window after issuing a number of text commands. So now I’m thinking: how can we make Linux better? If the kernel knows when bus errors occur, there should be a way for it to pass that information to the GUI, so the GUI can notify the user that the hardware is failing. Then the user will not suspect that something is wrong with the software. I have to admit that Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular is fairly impressive, from the standpoint that it kept running long enough for me to do a number of things before shutting down, despite the bus errors and core dump. But it would be even more impressive if the OS could tell the user when they have bad hardware. So I just wanted to put this out there for people to think about.

    It’s obvious that Ubuntu’s developers want to rule out problems which aren’t their fault. You can easily check the installer CD for defects, and test for bad memory too. But there is no easy way to learn about other hardware failures even though the kernel knows when they occur. I had run a memory diagnostic all day on that board and the RAM was fine. But after I learned about the bad capacitor epidemic, and that my own system board was a casualty of this, it occurred to me that millions of people might be suffering from system instability problems caused by faulty hardware. Now that I have seen how the Linux kernel can detect bus errors and keep on running long enough to report them, I know this is a problem which can be resolved. I hope the Linux community will start discussing this and soon hardware fault reporting will be a common feature of the popular desktop user interfaces, not just the kernel.

    I suppose that any hardware subsystem which is failing might generate a bus error because it won’t respond to data transfer requests in a timely fashion. A bus error might even be caused by a cable fault. And then there could be noise on the bus or poor signaling due to faulty capacitors. If you really need the board because of the interfacing options that it supports, you might want to find out what’s wrong and repair it. In that case, it would be nice to classify the exact nature of the error. But the present ambiguity does not have to be a disadvantage: the typical user just wants to know the board is bad, and that is what developers should address first.

    Even if hardware fault detection and reporting never progresses beyond the point of saying “bus error,” I think the GUI should play some role in conveying this information to the user. You could also have an LED indicator on the front panel, similar to the “check engine” light on your car. If the OS detects bus errors, it could set a flag in CMOS/NVRAM, the same way it updates the clock. The firmware could read this register at boot time, and turn on the light if necessary. You could reset this flag if you wanted, and then wait to see how long it took before the light turned on again. That might tell you if the error was caused by some kind of rare power anomaly, or if the board is really defective.

    If you are logging power faults through the sensors on the UPS, then the OS might be able to guess whether or not the bus error was due to a hardware failure. That kind of information would be very useful, not just to the end user, but also to the IT guy who has to manage a rack of servers and keep them running continuously. I think everyone would agree that the less time you spend troubleshooting defective equipment, the better. It’s well within our capability to do something about this, and it does not necessarily have to involve a radical change in hardware or software design.