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Ubuntu 12.04 replaces application menus with 'heads up display'

The end of the road for app menus?

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The 12.04 ‘Precise Pangolin’ release of Ubuntu Linux will allow users to abandon conventional application menus in favour of a “HUD” command line from which commands can be summoned simply by typing them.

For decades graphical user interfaces have depended on anchoring functions in software using menus that vary from GUI to GUI and application to application; keyboard shortcuts are just as diverse.

A blog post by Canonical founder and former CEO Mark Shuttleworth takes the wraps off the new design in which users type the function they wish to access into a global ‘heads-up display’ command bar.

This searches through Unity-based apps, returning possible matches (including fuzzy ones) as might a search engine. This can adapt to the commands (including eventually voice commands) most are often entered by the user.

“Searching is fast and familiar, especially once we integrate voice recognition, gesture and touch. We want to make it easy to talk to any application, and for any application to respond to your voice,” said Shuttleworth.

“When you’ve been using it for a little while it seems like it’s reading your mind, in a good way.”

The level of application control offered by the new HUD, or as Shuttleworth calls it the “express your intent” interface, is potentially very powerful. An example offered is of a user who can change his or her status on IM or Skype without having to enter and leave an application to do so, avoiding the need to interrupt the flow of work.  

This suggests an ‘unlearning curve’ where users have to abandon application menus that have become second nature for Ubuntu’s HUD. It could work better for keyboard-driven users rather than those who have taught themselves to generalise their relationship to applications through mouse control and feature hunting.

“Instead of cluttering up the interface ALL the time, let’s clear out the chrome, and show users just what they want, when they want it.”

The new HUD will be enabled in April's 12.04, one of the twice-yearly releases offered with long-term support, with voice-driven commands promised for future releases. Menus won’t disappear for those who prefer them in 12.04 although it is clear where the long-term direction of the controversial Unity interface is heading.

Ubuntu remains hugely popular despite some drift of power users to the rival Linux Mint distro.


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