#3: The Extra Dimension

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

This is one post in a series, describing challenges we need to overcome to make free software ubiquitous on the desktop.

Apple calls it Quartz. Microsoft calls it something else but it’s most visible in Aero Glass – the transparent theme in Vista. In the free software world we have Xgl and AIGLX (Ubuntu is going down the AIGLX road). In essence these technologies all do the same thing – they introduce a level of malleability to the once-rigid world of windowing systems.

This is of course a recipe for eye-wateringly poor user interface decisions – windows that wobble being my current favourite, fun as they are. But it’s also an opportunity to rethink and improve on many areas of user interface at the system and app level which have been stagnant for a decade or more. The proprietary guys have a head start – but we have the edge of being able to try lots of interesting ideas simultaneously across the full colourful spectrum of the free software universe.

We’ll be adopting a lot of these ideas in Feisty – I hope that some of them will stick and demonstrate real usability or productivity enhancements.

32 Responses to “#3: The Extra Dimension”

  1. Suzan Says:

    First of all: happy new year Mark!

    I use Ubuntu with Beryl for a while an like it a lot. Wobbling windows are sweet but … more a toy than a usability feature.

    I really do hope, the “3d desktop” will much more real demonstrate usability enhancements.
    But, what is a real usability feature? For me, the cube was a usability feature, believe it or not. Coming from windows, I don’t use different workspaces very often. “Bad” habit perhaps. But with the cube I’ve got kind of a feeling for that. Now I always use my 4 workspaces and enjoy it.

    Rock on!

  2. Tracey Says:


    I truly believe the FOSS desktop needs much more than XGL/AIGLX/Beryl to compete with these platforms in the areas of usability and/or productivity.

    I’m talking about real use of Human Interface Guidlines. Take a look at the independent application developers for Mac OS X. These small teams put together beautiful applications with small teams. No one in the free software world seems to pick up on this.

    I was reading http://theocacao.com/document.page/396 [The Year in Mac Development] and I was thinking there are no apps in Linux this beautiful. Take a look at this small example and you see the difference right away: http://transmission.m0k.org/screenshots.php

    The Linux desktop doesn’t need bling, we need better interface design. Less option boxes, more attention to usability and detail.

  3. Vincent Says:

    I truly hope Ubuntu will go with Beryl, as it would then be developed even faster than it already is, and even more ideas for new accessibility features will arise.

    In terms of looks, the free software world is already ahead of Vista IMHO. Wobbly windows, Annotate, the 3D effects for windows… I could not have thought of them, and I believe it very unlikely that something like that will be thought of in the closed source world.

  4. Batu Says:

    Those are nice things but i think its beter to solve more basic problems first… like constantly locking ati cards (or not startting with live cd)
    that will be more attractive for newcomers than 3d effects.

  5. S.Yasa Says:

    Even eye candy could provide usability and increased productivity from its users. One of the features I deeply enjoy of Beryl is Window viewer and Cube. I really hope Ubuntu goes with Beryl.

  6. Tyler Says:

    I’m a fan of the 3D desktop too. I’ve tried both Beryl and Compiz and even if Beryl is developed faster, Compiz gave me more stabilty and I think stability is more important than features, especially in a productivity environment.
    Anyway I don’t care which one Ubuntu will choose by default cause I can always change that into my favourite choice πŸ˜‰

    Happy 2007 Mark, to you and all the Ubuntu community!

  7. Roy Schestowitz Says:

    > “In the free software world we have Xgl and AIGLX?”

    I suspect Beryl/Compiz are the equivalent, but I could be wrong.

  8. Jon Says:

    I use Beryl currently with Ubuntu and I find it pretty useful.
    I have found myself using my second monitor less.

    So bundling it would be a nice feature.

  9. Tal Says:

    Oops, I am sorry. I didn’t notice but I meant to publish my previous comment to this article.
    I would like to repeat my comment here again.
    So If it OK, here it is again:

    When I heard that there will be a 3D Desktop feature in the next version of Ubuntu, and that I will be able to move (literally) from one window application to another in the desktop 3D space (the mouse will function as a small spaceship in space traveling to the application icons for running FireFox for example).

    I was wandering if there will be a feature of sharing the desktop with my friends in a 3D way. I mean that I will be traveling with the mouse from my desktop to my friends desktops and exploring and playing with theirs applications?
    It will be like traveling in space but a virtual one.
    Flying with my virtual spaceship mouse from one desktop to another, finding new softwares running in other computers, meeting my friends with my spaceship mouse, finding theirs spaceship mouse spaceship coming visit my desktop to play and so on.
    The Desktop world will be the perfect virtual space of computers, connecting me with other people in the most abstract and intuitive way of traveling in virtual desktop space.

    The next step will be creating virtual cities of desktops and there I will be able to put my virtual desktop in the street of one of the available virtual cities. after that I will be able to travel in that city in the most intuitive way, meeting new neighbors desktops, visiting my friends desktops in other cities, exploring this virtual universe.
    When I will get tired I will sit in a bench in one of the virtual parks of those cities, meeting new people, talking and sharing pictures, asking how is the weather and how great it is living like that in 2012.

    Don’t you think it will be great that virtual will meet reality in the most virtual way?

  10. S.Yasa Says:

    Just to add in another point, It would be great if Beryl/Conpiz could be used by Ubuntu to enhance Fitt’s Law. I stumbled upon this after reading this


    I find the scalling feature of Beryl to fit pretty well with Fitt’s Law.

  11. Matt Says:

    I am keen for WM compositors, but at this point my main reason is for improved ‘smoothness of interaction’ — something GNOME (at least using the current metacity with the proprietary nvidia driver) lacks to the extent found in Windows and MacOS.

    I just want the basics done right at this point, 60 fps on modest hardware and the current stable of metacity functions accurately implemented. Im not overly excited about beryl, i think it has disregarded the basics in preference of pointless eye-candy.

    You realise the importance of WM’s when you use Beryl and notice how disruptive little short-commings can be.

    I like a few things found in Beryl … sliding to the next workspace and expose are probably top of that list.

  12. tinin Says:

    Really great, Mark. You’re making the right decision.
    First, to be competitive and big, then you’ll have influence over graphic card manufacturers.
    This looks promising πŸ˜‰

  13. Randy Says:

    “We’ll be adopting a lot of these ideas in Feisty – I hope that some of them will stick and demonstrate real usability or productivity enhancements.”

    That is good news. I use Kubuntu and have tested Beryl. I’m very interested in how this can be used to further productivity. I do see some potential there and I hope that is where the focus will remain. There is a real opportunity here to enhance the UI and increase productivity.

  14. Gypsy Road Says:

    When are you going to run a TV commercial in the United States to let the unwashed masses know about Ubuntu?

    It’s time to do it, NOW.

  15. Love Calculator Says:

    I made the switch almost two years ago because I hated Windows and everything that’s wrong with it. It didn’t take me a long time to start loving Linux – the “clean” feeling of the system, not needing to spend a lot of time on maintaining it (no virus/spyware related problems; package management, etc.) and productivity (console) are by far my favorite strong points.

    However, here’s another story from the other side of userland – I sold linux to my sister purely on Gnome’s ability to customize the look of everything – that’s all she cared about and – despite many minor problems – she’s hasn’t even considered re-installing the other OS since then (over a year ago – Breezy inauguration). And it’s the case with most people – wobbly windows are what makes one OS better than another. Now, if you could only make my mother change her opinion about Ubuntu (“freecell sucks here!”)…

  16. Simon Says:

    Hope you had a merry Christmas and a happy new year Mark! you deserve it!

    I always crawl back to Ubuntu.

    Anyway, I hope Ubuntu will got he Beryl route, I like it’s ideas better then Compiz and I feel it could be a great asset to have.

    Looking forward to the next release!

  17. Michael Reilly Says:

    As a reply to Suzan, wobbly windows are actually very much a usability feature. Sure they look cool, but they are also more organic and easier on the eyes. Plus, it makes sticky windows more intelligent, as an acceleration is required rather than a distance. I’ve been using beryl for a few months, (on Debian Sid, sorry Mark!) and I can’t stand not having wobbly windows, everything feels too sharp and unforgiving.

    Then again I also consider the water effects to be a usability feature, as I find it easier on my eyes.

  18. bluebones.net » Ubuntu and AIGLX Says:

    […] (Mark Shuttleworth calls providing this kind of facility one of the challenges we need to overcome. He hopes to see usability/productivity enhancements as well as pretty bubbles and lines of fire. I hope so too.) […]

  19. ASF Says:

    Besides usability and productivity enhancements throught AIGLX/Beryl another “little” thing that I think is really important, an improvement to qualify Ubuntu as a first class OS, is turn on by default smooth fonts (just like Microsoft ClearType technology) that enhances the clarity of screen type and makes reading easier on LCD displays.

    Do it, and make the quality as good or superior of what is gotten with Windows or MacOS X.

    It would be really a nice differential a Linux distro.

  20. Mark Says:

    Hey Mark, all the best and all that πŸ™‚

    I use Edgy with Beryl on top and I have found it really cool, I am unable to add sounds to window events though, so I hope you get that feature built in. I am with you on the Wobbly windows to be honest, they are indeed a matter of taste and I hope you clever guys at Ubuntu think hard about which features will be easily accessable as users who do not know what they are doing may get their desktops into a real mess πŸ™

    The basics are good enough to start.

    Be good πŸ™‚

  21. Nick Says:

    I’m truly looking forward to the Edgy release, which looks to be real exciting, especially with the new progress being done on th desktop experience. I myself had some tweaking to do to get Beryl/XGL working with dapper, but that’s more to the fact my notebook uses an ATI card. Hopefully, with edgy, AIGLX will work on the ATI card as well as it does (or better) than that on NVidia (I can’t afford a new notebook :).

    What I’d also like to see is maybe fuse Beryl/Compiz with the features of Sun’s Project Looking Glass. I don’t know if that’s feasible, or even possible, but I can dream, can’t I?

    Good luck and Happy New Year!

    – from a relatively new ubuntu user (4 months since I moved from another distro)

  22. Victor Says:

    If only the free software community can get greedy wireless chipset manufacturers like Broadcom to cough up those driver specifications… I hate having to use proprietary drivers to force my WLAN hardware to work, but it’s sadly necessary.

  23. Mr Frosti Says:

    I think that malleability of a windowing environment might be the most significant advance in computing interfaces in a decade. We live in a world where technical limitations of yesterday still linger in our interfaces of today. The concept of the 3D application is something that is unrealized, and this is where that advancement will continue. People think spatially, breaking down th wall of rigid pseudo 3D environments will be remarkable.

  24. Esteban Barahona Says:


    Is the 3D desktop really necessary? User Interfaces haven’t changed much for many years, isn’t 3D effects the same ideas but on 3D? I never thought of a ui as a “desktop”, and honestly, using “desktop-inspired” elements everywhere isn’t always that direct and usable. Files? Carpets? Are users supposed to find this more “easy” to understand than plain ‘information’?

    Nah, I’m passing the 3Desktop (not saying that 3D isn’t useful “inside apps”). But have already spent some time thinking of improving free interfaces: http://www.zensui.org/IxD // that’s my FOSS project; ZenSUI + Ubuntu = Zubuntu? jaja, I don’t know… maybe more like Java VM (but not ugly).

  25. watkin5 Says:

    W.r.t. Beryl vs Compiz, there’s not a big difference at the moment, with the Beryl plugins being ported upstream to Compiz, when they’re stablish.
    I’ve found Compiz to be more stable and faster the Beryl. The distros should go with compiz, so 3D desktops don’t get a bad reputation for eye candy over usability.

  26. Harlin Seritt Says:

    The green pool is leaking… I repeat…. the green pool is leaking…. shhh

  27. Jason Tokarz Says:

    Regardless of usability, I think functionality such as ‘wobbly windows’ is a necessity on the Linux desktop.
    Because first impressions count. If new users are to be attracted to Linux then we need our gimmick, something to grab the interest of a new user.
    For the average user, arguments like “Linux is more stable” and “Linux does not have any problems with viruses and malware” don’t work because the average user has built a tolerance and crashing computers are just a fact of life and something they have learnt to accept.
    Obviously there is still much work to be done beyond this but without it Linux may not get it’s foot in the door!

  28. christthi Says:

    Something that not enough developpers seem to neglect in the way distros are evolving these days is that distros are getting heavy an very unaccessible to the people who can’t afford the hottest PCs or Macs out there. So I think that a major challenge for the years to come is to make desktop environment that will be universal and accessible, rather than heavy on designs. Ubuntu has been doing quite well until now on this field, as Kubuntu is great for being a strong answer to Vi$ta for the people who are still on the fence between Microsoft and Linux, while Xubuntu does a good job at being usable for older computers (at least the ones from the Pentium 2 generation and above), and for Ubuntu, well, it can satisfy the needs of everyone who’s on an average-performance computer.

    But there are growing concerns expressed in the Ubuntu community abotu the direction that a distro such as Xubuntu is taking. To me, Xubuntu can and should easily progress without being more hungry for RAM and 1ghz’s.

    This is more than a technical question, but an environmental and social matter too. While Linux distros are free and made code that does not pollute anything, computers, on the other hand, are extremely harmful for the environment as rubbish. Meanwhile, it’s full of old PCs out there taht are still perfectly working, but have been discarded by people for being unusable with modern OS’s. With distros such as (K)Ubuntu, mandriva and openSUSE getting wonderfully refined and eye-candy, PC users continuously feel the urge of upgrading their machines, or changing them for latest generation of PCs.

    On a global level, that makes a massive number of computer hardware being trashed (recycling, thanks heavens, is getting more and more mainstream, but parts are not as easy to recycle as complete computers are). On the other hand, that makes also a lot of financially disandvantaged people unable to use the most top-of-the-line software, while they could only use small and simple distros to run the computer they found in the dumpster!

    This is why distros like Puppy, DSL or BLAG seem to be getting very popular. In the long run, with computer users more and more mobile (just look at the pen drive craze, and now the iPhone might generate a hype for mobile and Pocket PCs) the need’s gonna be there for something simple, elegant and tiny.

    Think SMALL!

  29. NoWhereMan Says:

    I’ve got this new Packard Bell laptop bundled with Windows. I’ve just wiped it out and installed Ubuntu. I can’t still make my wireless card work, but that’s not really that big deal as I don’t really need wireless at the moment. What really piss me off is that my VIA Unichrome *has* a quite good (entry level, but who cares?) 3d acceleration but I still can’t make AIGLX work because the MESA driver lacks the maintainer. 3d is cool, yeah, but what about people that *could* have fancy graphics and can’t not because of poor or outdated hardware, but just because of lack of support?

  30. Lyceum Says:

    I have to say that I do find the 3D stuff very useful. I think the spinning boxes keep me organized, and the veiw with Alt Tab lets me know what program I am movving to. And the wobbly window, well they just make me smile. πŸ™‚

  31. amturnip Says:

    Windows are easier for me to spot when they wobble upon arrival. Dialogs, especially. Good feature.

  32. Shuttleworth from Ubuntu Gives Talk at CERN at JStorage Says:

    […] #13 Pretty is a feature #12 Consistent Packaging #11 Simplified, rationalised licensing #10 Presence #9 Pervasive support #8 Govoritye po Russki? #007 Great gadgets #6 Sensory Immersion #5 Real real-time collaboration #4 Plan, execute, DELIVER #3 The Extra dimension #2 Granny’s new camera #1 Keeping it FREE […]