Home > General Development > Weigh Your Options Before Building a Customizable UI Weigh Your Options Before Building a Customizable UI Submitted by anonymous 2005-09-12 General Development 10 Comments Customization typically offers users the ability to manipulate shiny objects, but not much real power. Wouldn’t it be better to put the time into supporting a more powerful and flexible user interface? About The Author Thom Holwerda Follow me on Twitter @thomholwerda 10 Comments 2005-09-12 8:36 pm Well on BeOS almost every customization I did was with Tracker addons to add more useable functions to that right click. Under MacOS did the same but usually a few too many cause reboot headaches. Under Windows, I try to make the OS look as much like not Windows as possible, but thats difficult, and no Tracker add ons sigh! 2005-09-13 8:57 am XemonerdX Under Windows, I try to make the OS look as much like not Windows as possible, but thats difficult, and no Tracker add ons sigh! It’s not hard at all… Install BB4Win or LiteStep (or any of the other shell-replacements) and tweak away. 2005-09-12 9:39 pm Well, I disagree with the author in regard to customizable menues. I like to modify the menues, to my liking and modifying the hotkeys. But apart from that I agree, especially on the whole skinning issue. But it’s mostly an issue on Windows and Mac. On linux you don’t have that kind of trouble, unless somebody designed a skin very poorly. In windows it’s problematic to say it the least, because skinning is not truely supported. dylansmrjones kristian AT herkild DOT dk 2005-09-13 12:46 am jessta Ratpoison is really customizable and no useless fancy graphics to distract. Most of the customisation involves binding key combinations to open applications with different options enabled. I <3 ratpoison – Jesse McNelis 2005-09-13 4:37 am lpetrazickis Opera is the only application I’ve ever used that makes button customization easy and sensible. It’s very easy to make meaningful changes that rearrange the whole interface, expose hidden functionality, and hide useless bits. Firefox is loosely similar, except that it does not allow you to do anything radical (without hacking XPIs and the like). 2005-09-13 6:31 am Personaly I hate skins. 2005-09-13 12:09 pm The way I see things (and this is something I’ve spent a lot of spare cycles thinking about — as if that matters to anyone), the whole problem with customizability isn’t on the application-level, but on the OS-level. What follows are my thoughts which I understand reflect my biases and what I interpret as how things should be done. I’m sorry if you don’t agree. Most computers are in use at businesses. The most-used business applications are e-mail and word-processors. The way current GUIs are designed do not focus on bringing data together — they more provide an interface and try to make it as useable as possible. Flame me all you want for this next sentence, but I know I’m right (from my perspective ): Microsoft does it the best. There’s only one bar. It’s across the bottom of the screen and relatively out of the way (although it SERIOUSLY doesn’t need to be so thick). It provides quick access to programs (Start button) or even your favorite programs (Quickstart). It’s easy to see what’s currently open (taskbar) and it has a place for icons that need to run but don’t require much user interaction (system tray). On top of that it even tells you the time, even if it is a bit small for some users. And it does all of this IN ONE TRAY. KDE is the most similar to Windows, but it tries to improve, only to fail, horribly. It takes up so much space as to be a bother with it’s gigantic icons. It’s not very easily customizable (so I can drag some things around, but not others? What?). There are a few other things I just don’t like about it, but the main problem is that it’s so big as to waste space. When typing/editing a document, the most amount of page should be available to the user so they don’t have to scroll — scrolling’s annoying when you’re pouring over your own text. Also, the clock is ugly. Seriously. I see digits like that in the morning when pounding the snot out of my alarm. I don’t want to be reminded of a blaring noise everytime I look down there, but that’s /certainly/ more a personal issue than anything. Gnome tries to go a step further by giving users lots of customiable bars that, again, end up being a waste. As most of you know, Gnome (at least as experienced in Ubuntu 5.04) gives the classic access to programs (the foot menu) and some other locations/settings. It has a ‘taskbar’ and a clock and a system tray-esque area. But splitting it between the top and bottom again just takes space away from open applications. I feel like my eyes are being sandwiched. It’s even worse because each applicaiton that’s open then has it’s own title-bar and menu bar and whateverotherbar. OS X is probably the next best thing to Windows when it comes to accessibility. It has a nice, universal bar at the top that is relatively thin and almost always useful. My personal big problem with it is actually the Object Dock (or whatever it’s called — sorry, Macs can’t play Battlefield so I haven’t much bothered with them ). Unless you hide it, it’s in the way even worse than KDE’s bar. Not only will programs not maximize behind it, but in levelling off with the top of it, the OS leaves blank space to either side of it (presuming your dock isn’t /that/ big)! Empty space! Such a travesty! Of course there’re things like Blackbox which make everything small and out of the way, but (at least with BB specifically) the very smallness of it becomes an issue. Sure my mouse accuracy could be better, but I find that using BB is very often an exercise in clicking to open my menu again because I missed an option. Not to mention how annoying it is to customize those menus (I know some people love text files and that’s fine — they have their place — but seriously! would it kill to have SOME sort of drag & drop?) So, my personal opinion is that Microsoft does it best. But is it, then, all that great? Heck no! The taskbar wastes space in of itself. Sure you can dock it to the left or right, but then it’s just thick and annoying. So what should be developed? I don’t know. The best I’ve been able to imagine up so far is a GUI made mostly of konfabulator-like widgets. Sure it would be roundy and annoying, but it’s not all that bad. If one takes MS Outlook and boils it down to it’s constituent parts and GLUES those to a desktop (so your desktop has a calendar that you can edit, a to-do list and some sort of easy e-mail access (maybe an actual /box/ for the inbox that, when clicked on, the most recent e-mail comes to the front?), etc. It makes the main functions accessible. Perhaps to the left (or a floating menu that can be kept out of the way but still clickable? or even behind whatever’s open?) can be some sort of program access, arranged by type of program (Office, Games, Administrative, etc). I’m not sure. I don’t know the solution. I’ve got ideas but no programming knowledge to put them into effect. I like what the people at TriangleOS have put together as a concept, but I’m still waiting for the final product. Anyway, sorry for the lengthy rant. jrr jrronimo at gmail dawt com 2005-09-13 1:31 pm Daniel Borgmann Don’t you think that depends a lot on screen size and resolution? That’s actually why the panel is one of the few areas where I believe that customizability is really helpful. You seem to be almost obsessed about screen estate, but for me it’s the opposite. I always increase the size of my two GNOME panels, because the default size is too small for me. The space taken by my upper panel is practically irrelevant, while it provides a huge amount of additional functionality. 2005-09-13 1:18 pm You can see it in action in the Oberon OS distribution. May be you could try the Plan9 OS approach as is great too. Microsoft & linux flaws are evidents. Even today you cannot use regexp everywhere. . . . 2005-09-13 2:01 pm “Cranky user” yeah, this guy just starts spouting about how he feels personally with little to back him up. Sure I agree with him on Preference menus being very important to setup properly, but besides that, this might as well be a gnome zealout bashing KDE Customizable = options, just because you don’t use them doesn’t mean that no one else does either. If you’re one of the user lemmings that always uses what you’re given and never want to change anything, then that’s fine. But just because you don’t need it, doesn’t mean that rest of us should be forced to use the vanilla GUI setup as well.