Ubuntu 10.10 Alpha: Slouching Toward Ubuntu GNOME: Page 2

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According to Mark Shuttleworth's blog,"The design team has lead the way, developing ‘touch language which goes beyond the work that we’ve seen elsewhere. Rather than single, magic gestures, we’re making it possible for basic gestures to be chained, or composed, into more sophisticated ‘sentences’. The basic gestures, or primitives, are like individual verbs, and stringing them together allows for richer interactions. It’s not quite the difference between banging rocks together and conducting a symphony orchestra, but it feels like a good step in the right direction."

In Maverick, Shuttleworth goes on to say, a few Gtk-build applications such as the Evince document reader will have limited Multitouch capacity. So will the Unity netbook desktop.

Still another step toward Ubuntu GNOME is the introduction of the sound menu. Ubuntu already has the so-called me-menu and broadcast indicators applets in the panel to centralize the use of social networks and chat. Now, in Meerkat, the sound indicator is being introduced to centralize controls for sound in the same way.

Shuttleworth blogs that "You can have multiple players represented there, and control them directly from the menu, without needing a custom AppIndicator or windows open for the player(s). The integration with Rhythmbox and, via the MPRIS dbus API, several other players is coming along steadily."

Shuttleworth calls such features "Category Indicators," but, so far as I can see, opinions about them are divided. On the one hand, they do have the advantage of placing controls for widely used features where they are easily available. But, on the other hand, what is wrong with the controls that already exist, especially those that are added to the system tray? Also, while many people have multiple social networks open at the same time, does anyone really want multiple music players open at the same time?

I suspect that user consensus about Category Indicators in general and the Sound Indicator in particular will take some time to emerge. No matter what the final verdict, some users will no doubt simply ignore them.

From all indications, future releases -- perhaps even upcoming releases of Maverick -- will only add more of these changes. At some point in the next few years, Ubuntu's version of GNOME seems destined to have enough of these changes that it can no longer be considered mainstream GNOME. But for now, with the Maverick alpha, all we can see are indicators of this general trend.

What Rough Beast

These changes in Ubuntu GNOME inspire mixed feelings in many. Some think that Ubuntu should be praised for making innovations in the desktop, and probably some, such as Multitouch, will eventually find their way into mainstream GNOME and other desktops.

Still others note that Ubuntu is introducing these changes unilaterally, rather through the GNOME project, and -- even though the changes are available under free licenses – the company is not being a good community citizen by acting in this way.

Historically, it seems that Shuttleworth and other leaders of the Ubuntu team, having been unsuccessful in urging projects to coordinate their releases and to cooperate more closely, has decided to go their own way, developing for their own purposes rather considering the needs of the community as a whole.

Personally, I think that both these views are true simultaneously. I also wonder at times, especially when Shuttleworth blogs about complicated color-coding in Ubuntu documents or about the virtues of indicators, whether the Ubuntu designers are not occasionally in danger of falling prey to the curse of interface designers and obsessing over minutiae that nobody else cares about.

However, the verdict on Ubuntu's innovations is still to be reached. Probably, nobody will be able to judge accurately until all the changes are complete. For now, we can only look at indicators of the directions Ubuntu is taking, like the Maverick alpha, and see the dim outlines of the future slouching toward us with increasing rapidness.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu, Gnome, Shuttleworth

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