Less is more. But still less.

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

One of the driving mantras for us is “less is more”. I want us to “clean up, simplify, streamline, focus” the user experience work that we lead. The idea is to recognize the cost of every bit of chrome, every gradient or animation or line or detail or option or gconf setting. It turns out that all of those extras add some value, but they also add clutter. There’s a real cost to them – in attention, in space, in code, in QA. So we’re looking for things to strip out, as much (or more) as things to put in.

I’m not sure we’ll go as far as Microsoft has with their new Windows Phone 7 UI (links to .PPTX), which uses a design language called Metro. It’s radically pared back, and very cool work. It will be interesting to see if they’ve gone too far, or if users take to the more abstract feel of it.

It’s not hard to get people enthusiastic about the idea that less is more. However, it’s quite hard to get people to agree on which bits can be less. It turns out that one person’s clutter is another person’s most useful and valued feature.

Less, it turns out, is still less.

So, for example, consider tooltips on the panel. In bug #527458, there’s some discussion about a decision I made to deprecate tooltips on panel indicators. For quite a lot of people, that’s a little less too far.

On that particular decision, we’ll have to let time tell. For the moment, the decision stands. I’m the first to admit fallibility but I also know that it would be impossible to get consensus around a change like that. If those tooltips are, on balance, really just clutter, then unless someone is willing to take a decision that will be unpopular, they will be clutter forever. And it’s easier for me to make a decision like that in Ubuntu than for virtually anybody else. I apologise in advance for the mistakes that I will certainly make, and which others on the design team may make too, but I think it’s important to defend our willingness to pare things back and let the core, essential goodness shine through. We have to balance innovation and change with clarification and focus. We can’t *stop* innovating and changing, and we have to be willing to remove things that someone will miss.

The bug is a good place to continue the discussion about that particular issue. But I thought it would be useful to issue a call to arms, and invite suggestions from people on the Ayatana list as to what elements of the existing Ubuntu desktop can be trimmed back, on balance making the whole better.

There’s a growing awareness and excitement about the importance of design in free software. A few years ago, folks laughed out loud when it was suggested that design is a good thing for the free software community to build expertise in.  And it’s been slow going, admittedly. It’s hard to bring clarity in a crowd. Or mob. We’ve been doing our part to lead that at Canonical and in the Ubuntu community, both through internal work and through public forums. If you’re interested in design and Free Software, then Ubuntu and Ayatana and related forums are great places to participate. And your participation is welcome!

100 Responses to “Less is more. But still less.”

  1. Jackflap Says:

    Just a quick question. This was also mentioned previously by Alex. But you say:

    “I apologise in advance for the mistakes that I will certainly make”

    What is your methodology for assessing mistakes? How do you quantify whether a change has been a success or not?

    On a certain level I can understand not relying on consensus from the community since they’re mostly made up of power-users and programmers, and are certainly not primarily designers.

    But what is your long-term process for pinpointing the mistakes?

  2. kikl Says:

    Well, I love the overall motto: “Less is more” I can’t agree more.

    How do you know which options are “necessary”, “valuable”. Well obviously, this may differ from user to user. So, there probably is a perfect user interfacer for each and every user, however then you have as many interfaces as you have users. That’s not going to work. Furthermore, the perfect interface may change with time for a certain user as he becomes more and more experienced…

    The default interface must be such that it covers the needs of say 90% of the users. This is something that can be tested. Why not set up a couple of ubuntu desktops, which monitor the actions of users. After a while you will get a pretty decent statistic, which tells you what is essential and what isn’t for the standard ubuntu-user. Actions, which are performed often must be one-time clickable. Actions, which are not used often may be burried in some menu. This information could really streamline discussions about what must and what mustn’t be removed from the interface.

    Oh, and one little comment. Remove, remove, remove stuff from the default interface. But leave a single button as an option for geeks or power users, who want to customise the interface according to their needs.

    With regard to the panel tooltips.

    I like streamlining, but I wouldn’t want to remove the tooltips alltogether. The tooltips are only displayed if you hover above the respective button. So intitially they are invisible, which is good. A complete novice, who doesn’t know anything about ubuntu, may value the tooltips a lot. However, they do become superfluous clutter if you are accustomed to the interface.

    Here’s my suggestion: Keep the tooltips, but monitor the user actions. If a user uses a certain application very often, say each time, the computer is booted, then it is safe to assume that he knows the purpose of the tool. Then stop displaying the tooltips for these tools. Keep the tooltips for tools, which are not used often. This has to do with the idea of an automatically customised interface.

    Since the panel is used on a regular basis, the tooltips should disappear quite fast after the initial install… So maybe removing them by default would not hurt any ubuntuuser. But, for someone who is a first time user – and we want many more of those, right – these tooltips do make a difference! Please consider!

    All the best and good luck!


    PS: I’ll repost my comment with regard to tooltips to the linked bug…

  3. kikl Says:

    One short comment about making mistakes.

    In German we say:

    Es irrt der Mensch, solang er strebt.

    In english it is kind of like:

    “man errs as long as he strives.”

    (This is god talking to mephisto, who wants to seduce Faust;-))

    One more divine comment:

    To err is human to forgive is divine!

    So keep on working, making mistakes, learning and improving!
    but don’t ask our forgiveness;-)

    I hope you get my drift, your work is much appreciated!

    All the best


  4. Allen Says:

    I think that choice is very important and Ubuntu and Linux in general provide that in abundance. Unfortunately, having choices and actually being able to act on them are two different things. For example, why not have a single page for configurations that any user can just click on in order to determine where window buttons are located instead of having to go to a gconf editor? And what’s up with that Purple in the Lynx :)?
    Thank you.

  5. Matt Goode Says:

    How about if you held a key down, let’s say Alt for argument’s sake, and then hovered over anything that would normally have a tooltip then it would display it. If it wasn’t held down then no tooltip. This need not be a default setting – perhaps one for those who find tooltips annoying?

  6. oliver Says:

    Nothing against experimentation to find out the limits of simplification. And I also agree that a leaner, simpler, less cluttered desktop would be great. But please keep in mind that this tool is used by lots of people for productive work! You’re experimenting with the tools that people rely on (or at least want to rely on). I’m having a really bad feeling with installing Lucid on my Mom’s laptop for her daily use when I know she is being used as guinea pig for UI experiments.

    I would greatly appreciate if you could add hidden switches to revert an Ubuntu installation to its old-fashioned, cluttered, but familiar state. I’m willing to personally experiment with new desktops and new UI ideas, but please keep in mind that some want to “just use” Ubuntu.

  7. Jef Spaleta Says:


    I did not mean to imply the top level Music directory. A sub-directory in music would suffice if it works. The point is if Canonical is going to be asked to be a champion of XDG then there needs to be a discussion about why the U1MS is not storing into an XDG Music directory or subdirectory thereof. And then if need be work can begin to address the short comings of XDG as a specification so that U1MS purchased music can be listened to from any XDG aware player.

    Now maybe XDG needs to be extended somehow for this to make sense. But this is where the discussion inside Canonical needs to start…not with patching externally developed applications. If XDG can’t be made relevant for the U1MS case, then Canonical has no business being asked to lead the charge to see XDG widely adopted in applications they don’t develop.


  8. philippe Says:

    For me it’s a timely post as I was thinking of tools tips on Kubuntu. As used now, they are probably useless or at best redundanst. Example: a tool tip from Kopete in the system tray tells me what service I am connected too. That’s information I already know. What I really want to know however is who’s online. Or the network manager? The tool tip tells me I’m connected, something usually signaled by the icon. Instead I would have preferred to see the connection parameters. On the other hand, the Mixer tool tip tells me that the volume is at 50% or 80%.

    I think a lot more thought could be given to tool tips.

    Please continue challenging designers as well as users with your decisions. Perhaps you could ask the Kubuntu team to put the buttons on the left too. I feel left out.


  9. Matt Campbell Says:

    If less is really better, then why not remove Compiz and revert to Metacity? I’m serious. Granted, mine is probably a minority opinion, but to me Compiz is just clutter. For that matter, on my work machine running Windows 7, I set my theme to Classic (approximately the look of Windows 2000). I prefer clarity over a trendy or novel appearance. (I don’t like gradients either.) So does Compiz really provide something that many users find valuable in everyday use, or does it represent a compromise on the “less is more” philosophy for the sake of an eye-catching look? I just want to understand the trade-offs better.

  10. Sean Fell Says:

    I think the new menu buttons are easier to use besause moving mouse to RHS takes more time most icons are LHS so move up down is easier.

  11. David Says:


    “Here’s my suggestion: Keep the tooltips, but monitor the user actions. If a user uses a certain application very often, say each time, the computer is booted, then it is safe to assume that he knows the purpose of the tool. Then stop displaying the tooltips for these tools. Keep the tooltips for tools, which are not used often. This has to do with the idea of an automatically customised interface.”

    I really wouldn’t have a desktop which “thinks” about my usages. It would generally lead to strange and unwanted results. I prefer to have a static UI, so I can know by heart how it behaves (even if most of the time I don’t need this tooltip or that alert message…), and not find my desktop usability changing over time.

    It makes me think about the auto-hidden entries in menus on Windows/Office/etc., when the menu just shows recent used entries. This feature really turned to be a pain for users.

  12. Russell Healy Says:

    Continuing on the theme of the “growing awareness and excitement about the importance of design in free software” I would suggest we need some way to also grow awareness and focus on applications that a large portion of potential users need, but for which quality lags.

    Free software tools that are used by developers are the best in class. This is largely because their users care about them so much, because they use them. However tools that are not so frequently used by developers do not receive nearly as much attention, as is to be expected. The result is that tools that are not used by developers, but which would attract so many business/other users on the desktop, are just not up to scratch.

    I think the most important of these tools is a presentation tool. Open Office Impress is 75% there, but it falls far short of Powerpoint and Keynote. Of the office suite tools, I would say a presentation tool and a spreadsheet tool are the most important, followed not far behind by a word processor (so much more is done in email these days than used to be – I think the word processor has long lost its king-of-the-hill of office suite status.)

    I am an avid Ubuntu user, and have been since Feisty, but recently I have begun presenting in a serious way, and Open Office just didn’t cut it for creating slick presentations (animations, etc). I had to buy a Mac. So now it’s kind of annoying, having to switch operating systems/keyboard layouts all the time.

    Having had the Mac experience, I really appreciate the quality of design, particularly the fanless underside of the laptop, and the perfect fit of hardware and software. Surely there is a business opportunity here – Ubuntu on well-designed hardware, built for each other.

    So those are my two key points: Ubuntu needs an office productivity suite on par with Office and iWork, and a line of hardware products that just work with Ubuntu.

    Obviously this comment is only tangentially related to the post, feel free to point me to a better place to discuss it.



  13. Jose Says:


    First, my opinion on W7PhoneUi: Good that it has its own style, not just copying others like it seems to me the new Ubuntu copies from Mac(colors and style).

    You know, because Africa has not amazing brown beautiful things to make an original design we copy Apple “Universe” colors, window button placement, and so on. I don’t like mud wallpapers either, so maybe Ubuntu is improving here.

    But W7PUI needs to be felt before commenting, it uses the Iphone “finger moves the screen” paradox.

    Less is more only if you can do the same you do in complex ways with simpler ones, and sometimes just thinking more you can do just it. E.g before google, you wanted to do a multiple word search:

    1)You went to altavista(it took time)
    2)You went to “Advanced search”(additional time)
    3)You codify your words “(WHo)AND(is)AND(Mark)AND(Shuttleworth)(additional time and you could do wrong and have to repeat it.
    4)You had as a result a lot of noise in form of ad images that wanted to distract you, and images took time to load.
    5)The first result pages were sold to deeper pocket company so you need to to discard a lot of additional noise.(more time)

    Google simplified it:
    1)You had the google bar and put “Who is Mark Shuttleworth”, click an icon and you receive instantaneous relevant text info(signal).

    Apple simplifies things but what they make, they make it perfect and pretty in every detail.

    Maybe Ubuntu could bring some competition if instead of only using a TOP-DOWN approach, give prices to those that win in an open contest defying the rules(thats what creativity is). Something like 6000euros to he who is able to transmit better the Ubuntu community values, 6000 euros to he who makes and gives the better photo wallpaper, 6000 euros to those that simplify GTK widget drawing witch IMHO is a mess and so on.

    Agreed that Ubuntu and OSS in general needs to find its way to a better design and it is a good thing to test different approaches.

  14. Hasan Says:

    Hi Mark
    It’s great to see Ubuntu 10, am running into some issues while running it as guest os in virtualbox. But its beta and looks awesome. it would be good to have built in support for the popular div codecs, mpeg codecs and quicktime. Plus replace the delivered movie player with a more cross platform player such as VLC.

    Any new users who are currently on Mac, Win platform are more likely to know VLC type players and movies, music (and email, browsing) really are the most of the workloads on most people’s computers.

    Video can be added by user but it may be good to have that delivered with the os install.

  15. Earl Says:

    I have used Ubuntu since 4.10; it was my first introduction to Linux. By 5.10 I was a full-time Ubuntu user; no more dual boot. I was never happy with the desktop and never will be. I don’t care how you change it, I will never like it. That’s OK because you probably won’t like my desktop either. That is why I use Linux, so I can change it.

    I think other things in Ubuntu need work more than the desktop. Grub, X and upgrading without breaking the install to name a few.

    BTW, I like the Human theme and always have. It would be a nice option in 10.04. At least use colors with names I recognixe.


  16. Anonymous for a Reason Says:

    I’m sorry, Mark. I used to be a big fan of yours. Don’t get me wrong, I admire what you have done for Linux and the community. You single-handedly helped make Linux great. But I think perhaps you were better off when you were just the CEO.

    First there was the issue of the buttons, wherein you made your stance quite clear. Now there’s the removal of tooltips. This isn’t innovation. There isn’t anything new or even useful about this. This is taking something small, and changing it for the worse. This is de-innovation. If tooltips getting in the way is really that big of an issue, you can just delay their appearance for a fraction of a second. Removing them entirely also removes a large amount of functionality.

    You say that the Bug is a good place to discuss it, but I have my doubts, considering your statements the previous Bug (#532633). Yes it’s your distribution to do with as you wish, but please, open your ears.

    It’s one thing to admit you make mistakes. But it’s another to make mistakes, be told you’re making them, and then continue to stick with them anyway. You’re alienating your users and fans over trifling issues that were better left unchanged. There is so much more that could be done to make Ubuntu better. This isn’t it. It saddens me greatly that this is the direction Ubuntu chooses to go.

    I have a hunch that you will consider this a “nasty comment”. It’s not. It’s meant to be a warning and an eye-opener. Its deletion would make it clear to me that you have indeed stopped listening to your users.

    I wish you the best in your future endeavors, and I hope that the decisions you make will be the right ones.

    In the meantime…

    $ mv /home/Ubuntu/user /home/Fedora/

  17. Neal Stone Says:

    I dumped Ubuntu a week ago and moved to Fedora 12. So far pretty impressed especially with performance.

    Ubuntu was a great two year ride, but time for me to move on to a more free Linux OS.

  18. Neal Stone Says:

    My comment was not spam. Just a comment about my decision to move to anotehr distro.

  19. Allen Says:

    I used Ubuntu for a few years. It was a great starter for getting into Linux. While a good distro, I wanted to move to something that is 100% free software more in line with the GPL.

    So with that I must say goodbye to Ubuntu in the next week or two as I search for a replacement.

    So with

  20. Tom B Says:

    First, a disclaimer (so you know where I’m coming from): I’m a convert from Windows (and before that, Macintosh in the pre-OSX days). I’ve been using Ubuntu as my only OS since v7.10.

    A while ago (I don’t recall what version it was), Ubuntu removed the control-alt-backspace key combination to reboot X to make things “easier” and “less confusing”. For me it did neither. Now, ironically enough, this is one of the *few* key combinations that I use — normally, I depend on the GUI to control things. While this keystroke issue was, of course, resolved, it illustrates a very important point: change the defaults if you feel you must, but *always* provide a way for users to put the darn thing *back* if they want. An example from 10.04 would be the position and order of the window buttons. As someone who uses those buttons *a lot*, I will tell you that I fully intend to put the darned things back where they “belong” if they indeed are moved. Changes that seem fine for one person will upset the whole workflow for another and be unacceptable. Asking people to change the way they work, because *you* feel it’s a better solution isn’t very “user-friendly”. Some of us are pretty stuck in our ways.

    One of the things people like about Linux is the way it allows them to work *their* way, and not Gates’ or Job’s (or Shuttleworth’s for that matter). Button positions, tooltips, and other such brick-a-brack (icons on the desktop, anyone?), need to be configurable. And, since they are GUI elements, the configuration should be a GUI Preferences window, rather than digging into the depths of /etc using VI or EMACS. I know that last point goes against the grain of First Generation Unix/Linux people, but there you go.

    Just my $0.02.

  21. sylvain Says:

    I greatly like the idea of “less is more” and the zen feelings it brings in the noisy universe we live in. I know from experience on how difficult it is to design such interfaces. It is a lot harder to find minimalistic ways of doing stuff than adding buttons and effects all over the place. You can see an example of that on my micro-search engine that I am coding at http://www.artimap.com where I got rid of nearly all special effects to be able to offer a slick and fast experience even for users with slow browsers and computers. But is is not only that, it’s really about trying do do something in a relaxed and efficient way. Computing takes a big strain on the body (we do not always feel it but is still there) and reducing it is important. I think that what Mark is trying to do will again bring a lot of benefits to the community.

  22. whiskey Says:

    So let’s see, Mr. Shuttleworth. How can this *not* be an option?

    Touchscreen interfaces are nice, provided one has the hardware to use them. But how about old hardware?

    This is important, you see, as not all of us currently have the means to buy a touchscreen enabled computer. Would you say that *most* in the Ubuntu user base have currently a touchscreen enabled computer? Would you say that *most* of them are going to buy one in the foreseeable short term?

    I migrated to Ubuntu not only because it was the friendliest distro, not only because certain other OS was incredibly bad and made me loose a lot of important work… But because I cannot afford more expensive hardware.

    Now, I agree, innovation is a good thing and sometimes less is more… But, as with the Netbook Remix version, why not make all this changes an option? I still have the need to see how much of my battery remains, I want to be able to turn the volume up and down and see some kind of response.

    I respectfully urge you to reconsider your decision and provide us with an option (even an opt-out alternative would be nice). The time will come when touchscreen enabled hardware is ubiquitous and we’ll still have all those advancements just a couple of clicks away.

    I truly concur with you when you say this is not a democracy, but I also think that making this changes optional would be of great service to the community at large.

  23. Charlie Page Says:

    While there are many UI decisions to be made, one place that less is always less is the integration of apps. I go so far as to argue that one of the reasons less is less in GUI we are talking about is that a messy desktop detracts from the applications (look at the extreme, smart phones which essentially don’t have desktops, just a list of apps to pick from).
    That brings us to where those smart phones fail, and where Windows 7 is wonderful, integration others, such as Server 2008 R2, MS Office, etc. Hands down MS offers much more with the integration of its various products than Linux’s separate projects do.
    Bottom line, a great desktop, no matter how great, isn’t going to trump works together great (assuming all the applications in question are great). I wish the Linux community would get as fire up about a seamless experience across applications as they do about the desktop.
    Arguing over gnome, etc is like arguing over the door. The interior of the house is why you use it, not the door. And right now the Linux house could use some good plumbing etc.

  24. Marck Says:

    Removing clutter is a great objective, but removing tooltips is removing key functionality with no equivalent replacement.

    Let’s not forget that the user must trigger tooltips to even see them. By default no one sees tooltips. The user has to activate them by hovering over the icon, that’s part of the beauty of the design:

    With minimum interaction users have information available when they want but hidden otherwise, which is pretty much ideal.

    The suggested work-arounds from the design guidelines are just awful. One suggestion is to overload the application’s menu with dynamic status. Really? That pretty much *is* a tooltip, only more confusing, less aesthetic and requires more action from the user to see it and dismiss it.

    They also recommend just using pop-up dialogs. That means we can replace “hover, glance, get back to work” with “right-click, find dialog in menu, click, wait, glance, move pointer to dialog, click on close, get back to work”. That sounds better? The interface we are moving to is what we used to have until some enlightened person invented tooltips.

    What about a compromise that allows a user to disable tooltips? Or disable them by default and see how many users turn them back on.

    And like so many have pointed out, an LTS is not the right time for a guess, even a very educated guess.


  25. Alvin Says:

    I agree innovation and change is necessary and of value. That being said there also is value in following existing conventions and standards. It is easier for people to switch operating system if there are common features. There is no real reason why the gas pedal is to the right and the break to the left in a car, but for some reason none of the car manufacturers switch them around.

  26. Joseph Le Brech Says:

    With the advent of compiz, i was thinking the window controls (maximize, minimize, close) could be hidden behind the corners of the windows and would be available for every corner.

    In order to reveal the controls the user would need to middle-click a corner and that corner would fold to reveal the control on the other side of the window.

    Are there any chances of seeing anything like that in the near future with Ubuntu, as the 3d desktop is maturing. currently the same paradigms are just transposed to 3d and there’s not much new.

  27. Robert Palmqvist Says:

    Thanks for communicating back with us users and the Ubuntu community. Feel free to innovate and change all you want. What would Linux be without the ability to make it into what you want? I just love Ubuntu on the desktop and I am starting to fall in love with Ubuntu server too. I don’t mind some firm leadership and I think it starts to pay off in Ubuntu. Keep up the good work and it goes out to everyone at Canonical. I can’t wait to try out whatever you may throw at me next (even though I have to admit that the new placement of the windows buttons is hard to get used to 🙂

  28. Edward Says:

    Less is often more. But just as often its just less. So where does the line go between a simple and a dumbed down interface. Microsoft has picked one place, but the problem is different for proprietary and for Free Software.

    Proprietary software may need a bright line between user and producer, but FOSS needs to turn users into producers of software in a self sustaining virtuous circle. User interface options are about making choices and it is in making these choices that users advance to become producers of software. Removing options means removing choices and after a point it says to the user; just accept what is. The decision has been made for you elsewhere, don’t get involved.

    I feel as a long time Ubuntu user that Lucid has probably gone beyond what I consider optimal in making choices for me, especially with the window buttons thing. So I don’t plan on moving to Lucid from my current Karmic laptop install. I rebuilt my desktop machine recently and moved it to Sidux. I’m looking at Arch for my laptop.

    I’ve had a good run with Ubuntu, but thank God that when choices/options within a distro are eliminated, FOSS allows us to vote with our feet between distros.


  29. Brad Stone Says:

    I fully understand the “less is more” concept, but I think that designers sometimes confuse form with function.

    We want our computers to look cool. But at the same time we need to get stuff done. If we fall into the trap where the former trumps the latter, then we have failed as designers.

    Case in point is bug #392265 filed way back in Jaunty. The email indicator icon wasn’t doing its job to alert the user that they had new email. With the release of Karmic, the bug was marked as fixed. Unfortunately, due to new design standards the bug actually got worse in Karmic. Designers were so busy focusing on the whole issue of icon color design standards, that they failed to realize the function of the icon. The entire reason for the icon’s existence had been neutralized.

    Computers give us one huge advantage over mechanical devices; the ability to easily allow the user to reconfigure them. The catch here is that programmers need to make this configuration user friendly. Take the 60 second shutdown countdown that was introduced in Jaunty. A simple right click on the panel would allow you to remove this nuisance. Then came Karmic and suddenly the user had to crank up gconf-editor and weed through option trees to get rid of it. This, in my opinion, was a significant step backward toward providing good design to the user.

    My points in summary are: 1) Never sacrifice function for form. 2) Always make it easy for the user to alter the default design decisions that you impose on them.

  30. zelrik Says:

    Hi Mark,

    I wanted to give you some feedback on how I use my desktop. I am a minimalist kind of person:

    – I threw away both top and bottom taskbars
    – I installed the latest version of Gnome-Do and AWN
    – I use AWN as my main taskbar and hide it on the left so that all my windows are full screen most of the time. There is the minimum in it: volume control, networking, notification area, taskmanager, and clock/weather.
    – I use Gnome-Do instead of the main menu (which I threw away too)
    – I switch workspace with shortcuts…

    For me less is definitively more 🙂

  31. Damon Says:

    Great points there. I agree simple is often better. For Ubuntu what I would really like to see is one single panel or dock instead of the two panels on top and bottom. I think that would make the desktop look much cleaner.

  32. Ryan Says:

    It looks from the number of comments posted, this is just another drop in the bucket. 🙂

    I think Mark Shuttleworth can’t go wrong. Canonical has a vision for an efficient, modern and productive desktop. If people strongly disagree with the design decisions, they have the freedom to use a different distribution, or even a commercial product if that suits their needs better.

    I would try to make a point about Ubuntu being free (as in beer), where people don’t have their money mixed up in their complaints, but unfortunately money is only a small part of the investment that people make in their software. Thus, it is respectful for developers of free software to be careful about their decisions, and I think Canonical has been a good leader to this end.

    The point is I would like to voice my support of where Canonical chooses to lead Ubuntu development because:
    1) I have been impressed with their work so far.
    2) Not everybody can be happy with default behavior of their system, so somebody needs to make decisions about how it is presented, whether the decisions are “better” or “worse”.

    For example, I don’t enjoy the Microsoft experience, but apparently many people do. The very things I dislike about Windows are some of the very things that some people really like about it 🙂

  33. Tom Says:

    I don’t have a problem with removing the tooltips, but it is very important that the information that used to be in the tooltips still be easily accessible. This is currently not the case for the battery icon. Here the tooltip used to contain the remaining battery percentage; this has been replaced solely by the time estimate (in the interest of space, strangely enough), which is completely useless as it depends on the current power consumption and jumps around quite a bit.


    Mark Shuttleworth: Help us improve the algorithm for the estimate, then the time will be even more valuable than it currently is! The system is in a much better position to estimate that than a person is, and the time is what really counts, right? That’s what would help you decide whether you can get something done in time, or need to make a plan for a plug.

  34. Eric R. Reitz Says:

    “When you minimize a window in another OS, the window can be seen shrinking down into a button/icon on the taskbar/dock…”

    So does your mom follow you around and constantly remind you how to tie your shoes? I doubt it, and it would annoy the heck out of you if she did. This is not 198?. People understand how computers work. They are far more sophisticated when it comes to computers and it is high time we start treating them like they know what they are doing instead of treating them like they are 4 year olds. The best interface is still the command line. If you really want to revolutionize the OS market then learn how to make a GUI that puts down enough bread crumbs to guide people to more efficient and productive ways of doing things. Think of the GUI as an educational program not a final destination.

  35. seeker5528 Says:

    Jose said:

    “Apple simplifies things but what they make, they make it perfect and pretty in every detail.”

    It’s not pretty, it just looks that way. 😉

    Granted the things Apple stuff is designed to do often works pretty well, but it also seems like if you want/need to step off the golden path even just a little you run into a lot of ‘You can’t get there from here’ type situations.

    I can see the viewpoint expressed ‘Less is more. But still less.’, but looking at it a slightly different way I think that, in some cases, designers/developers try to take ‘Less is more’ into consideration in their design, but forget about the ‘more’ part and just end up with less.

    Later, Seeker

  36. Philip Says:

    I find the Windows Phone 7 colours on black, garish, uninvolving and off putting, dominating a users data, despite their claimed objectives. Their obscured text is not grand enough to create interesting shapes, but gives me a disquieting feeling that I’m missing a part of the screen, that the screen is actually too small and annoying. The black background dominates pictures, killing simultaneous colour contrast. On a silver phone, perhaps a flat mid grey/silver screen colour would allow for a strong dynamic range of the data, words and pictures, allowing words and icons to range between black and white, which, when controlled, can subtly suggest a hierarchy of importance. This isn’t good design. There can be amazing beauty in scaled text, a single letter, space and the tension created, but this is cold, corporate and passionless. Just try to feel what is right… or get a professional, but not these Windows guys. If I can help..?

  37. JanC Says:

    @Jef: I guess it could be as easy as adding a symlink, so no need to change the music store?

  38. Aquina Says:

    My organization is working on a security enhanced fork of Xubuntu. Within the last two years we managed to make the system much more secure by default. Our efforts ragned from writing various AppArmor profiles, editing dozens of configuration files, writing scripts and removing bugs.A default Xubuntu 9.10 installation received 50 pts when testing it with «Lynis». Our distribution actually has a score of 90%. The biggest problem we face however is the problem with package dependencies. “Less is more” also applies to that matter. We did some analysis with povray, springgraph and diff which showed us where the problems begin. They start with “ubuntu-desktop” “xubuntu-desktop”… Please double check dependencies or make them optional. I also advise someone to create a draft maybe on lauchpad.

    Mark Shuttleworth: We’d be delighted to incorporate your app-armor profiles straight into Ubuntu, which would improve your ability to keep up with our releases, and bring your work to a wider audience. Contact the security team, #ubuntu-hardened would be a good place to look, or just contact Kees Cook by email.

  39. Jeff Dickey Says:

    @Joseph Le Brech… geeky-neat idea but from a usability perspective, would cause no end of problems. I’m thinking particularly of two main groups who’d have problems:
    – People who are not completely immersed in the tech; who use the computer as a tool and dislike/get confused by “complexity” in the interface;
    – People using alternate or even more basic interface hardware. You really SHOULD be able to do everything with one button. More let you accomplish tasks in fewer steps

    Given that I often deal with supporting and training both groups of users, and my sympathies more closely align with the first group as the demands on my time continue to increase, anything that actually ADDS perceived complexity (especially in the guise of a “less is more” approach) would be psychologically and likely financially unappreciated, to say the least.

  40. Brian McCullough Says:


    I think that I agree with your reasoning and its effect on Ubuntu 10.04. In particular, I’m grateful for the added emphasis on plain language in the UI. I also think that the negative reactions to the relocated window buttons is an excellent example of popular resistance to ANY change (alias “The Facebook Syndrome”).

    … But then, I’ve loved PulseAudio since day one, so what do I know? 😉

  41. Trevor Turton Says:

    The Metro presentation is brilliant, the best material I’ve seen from Microsoft in a looong time! I like the slide heading “Principle: Content, not Chrome”. In any UI, if the widgets are glitzier than the content, someone has lost the plot. Widgets should be like toilets – conveniently available, easy to access and use when you need them, and completely unobtrusive when you don’t need them, which is most of the time.

  42. kwakarider Says:

    G’day Mark

    I have been using Ubuntu off and on for the last 2 years.
    Why is there so much focus on animation and eye candy, more energy should be spent on fixing the well know usb speed bug.
    Yes a little eye candy is nice, though the the OS is useless if you are unable to use it to its full potential.


  43. francesco44 Says:

    I am left handed, by use a mouse with the right hand. As the scroll bar are on the right it is better to put the close button on the right. Ottherwise you have to “cross” the screen many times a day. Also, if the part on the left is free of button…then you can use it for messages…..which are better there than on the right side as we read from left to right.

    Buttons on the left are a specialty of OSX…..which never pleased me as other peculiarities….like putting discs in the garbage to unmount them….very confusing;

    Ubuntu is almost perfect especially 10.04 Lucid Lynx. The only thing I would like would be a small program, very straighforward and clear to save hardisks, files, compare files…merge files, etc….We all use many computers, at work, home, etc…to maintain the whole is still difficult. I believe Cloud one will be a solution…but i never hqd the time to try.

    Best regards and thanks for your clever work.


  44. Larry Thiel Says:

    I am glad to hear arguments on all sides of this kind of issue. There are only two aspects I have objected to:

    1- Making basic UI changes in an LTS release thereby causing retraining expenses for the companies targeted by an LTS release (which may have been waiting 3 years for a new LTS).
    2. Making basic UI change decisions without some amount of public discussion about why.

    Mark is right. These are things they must do and I appreciate his articles about it. There is no person in the world with whom I always agree. Disagreement happens less often with good disclosure.

  45. Mark Shuttleworth rilancia e ambisce a Windows Phone 7 | Giovanni Raco Says:

    […] perché Shuttleworth ha affidato a un proverbio anglosassone il titolo di un intervento sul proprio blog personale in cui loda la nuova UI di Windows Phone 7 (oggettivamente piuttosto accattivante) e […]

  46. » Mark Shuttleworth rilancia e ambisce a Windows Phone 7 Says:

    […] perché Shuttleworth ha affidato a un proverbio anglosassone il titolo di un intervento sul proprio blog personale in cui loda la nuova UI di Windows Phone 7 (oggettivamente piuttosto accattivante) e […]

  47. Philip Says:

    I suggest creating a single ‘One Ubuntu’ installer – probably on DVD with the configuration options to install the version you are after and, maybe, publicize an emergency recovery option to mend corruption, if that doesn’t already exist. This will streamline and strengthen your brand image, as I feel it’s too fragmented now. All the iterations can be marketed as facets and point to the one source. Those confused by all the choices are going to see that you can get everything from the one installer, their particular needs met. If you want to streamline, then it can’t be such a bad idea to follow Apple’s example, the ease of a single, configurable installer. If you provide the individual images for burning to CD, for those who know what they want, they should be found as an aside to the this main DVD.

  48. maximalred Says:

    I would like to see in the new ubuntu 10.04 more support for that new game, or old game, it is open source now, the Myst online URU for linux that would be nice, more support for ipod touch 2nd players, so we don’t have to use windows anymore for that, and anything else I am not thinking of at this time, how is its facebook support for flash games? or flash based web sites, like the muppets, it seemed to be really slow under ubuntu linux last time I checked

  49. asp Says:

    Themes vrs Usability.

    I understand that Canonical needs a corporate theme/design, but am unsure why this should impact an end user. Things like button placement/existence should be determined by usability testing rather than marketing departments, no?

  50. David Says:


    “Here’s my suggestion: Keep the tooltips, but monitor the user actions. If a user uses a certain application very often, say each time, the computer is booted, then it is safe to assume that he knows the purpose of the tool. Then stop displaying the tooltips for these tools. Keep the tooltips for tools, which are not used often. This has to do with the idea of an automatically customised interface.”

    I really wouldn’t have a desktop which “thinks” about my usages. It would generally lead to strange and unwanted results. I prefer to have a static UI, so I can know by heart how it behaves (even if most of the time I don’t need this tooltip or that alert message…), and not find my desktop usability changing over time.

    It makes me think about the auto-hidden entries in menus on Windows/Office/etc., when the menu just shows recent used entries. This feature really turned to be a pain for users.