Anjal: GNOME's Evolution for Netbooks: Page 2

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Without exception, where Evolution has a longer and more abstract description, Anjal has a shorter, more concrete one. That may seem like a small change, yet you would be surprised how Anjal's more direct language makes it easier to navigate, even if you are already familiar with Evolution.

The same is true of the interface. Except on the list of mail folders in the left hand pane, Anjal makes no use of right-click context menus. In much the same way, by using web browser-like tabs instead of Evolution's buttons for changing tasks, and separate windows for new emails and configuration settings, Anjal achieves a unity that Evolution cannot match. Although the main reason for these changes may be a netbook's smaller size and lack of resources, the user experience also benefits from Anjal's radical simplifications.

Re-evaluating Feature Creep

Anjal's simplifications can be exaggerated. In some cases, Anjal assumes a reasonable default, or moves a feature rather than eliminates it. Nor can you always be sure if a feature has been removed or rearranged, or simply has not been implemented yet, although the amount of code that Anjal shares with Evolution does suggest that the feature set is reasonably complete -- unless I missed something, Anjal does not include any unique features.

At any rate, Anjal provides a case study of how a standard application can benefit from a thorough housecleaning. Essentially, Evolution's interface represents the thoughts that GNOME had ten years ago about what users needed. Back then, GNOME's users were more likely to be stone geeks, while now the majority are unlikely to have seen, much less written a line of source code. Considering this shift in audience, it would be strange if the requirements for a mail client hadn't changed as well, with fewer people demanding a full range of options.

Also, while each new feature over a decade may seem like a good idea at the time, in retrospect, some might need to be re-examined. For example, do most users really need a separate basic search field and an Advanced Search? How many will choose which plug-ins to enable or disable unless they are having specific problems? And does anyone change the color of quotations from the default dark gray?

Once you start with these questions, you might also wonder what might be automated. Instead of specifying which address book should be used for autocompleting addresses, is there not enough power in a modern computer to search them all (assuming that the average reader has more than one?) If Expunge is a useful feature, couldn't it be done automatically -- especially since most users probably have no idea what it is? Does a mail client really need a separate function for replying to a list, or could that be taken care of behind the scenes?

Naturally, for each user, there will be a list of essential features. Experienced Evolution users will probably miss in Anjal the ability to set message filters, or to set a standard signature. But the point is, once you get over the surprise that some features are simply not present in Anjal, you may find that the list of essential features is smaller than you imagine.

Whether Anjal will succeed on its own merits is uncertain. Even if the limits imposed by netbooks' size and resources require a new interface, users might very well not want that interface to be had at the expense of features. Yet, even if that proves to be true, Anjal may still be useful if it leads to a streamlining of Evolution itself. If so, then users could easily feel that Anjal is an exercise that is long overdue.

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Tags: Linux, Linux desktop, Gnome, netbooks, netbook

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