Yenya's World

Mon, 23 May 2011

Lost GUI features

Contemporary GUI applications have several problems which, if I remember correctly, previous systems did not have. I wonder whether somebody else also considers it being a problem:

Creating a new file
Almost every TUI text editor (like vim) happily accepts a non-existent file as a command-line argument, and the straightforward interpretation is "user wants to start working with a new file". On the other hand, most GUI applications simply complain that the file does not exist, and some‒like‒exit after that message. Other GUI apps, like Gnumeric, present a warning, but then open a new work with the default file name (Book1.gnumeric in the case of Gnumeric) instead.
Working directory
The file open/save dialog of contemporary GUI apps does not offer by default the working directory from which the application has been started, and uses some silly default (such as ~/Documents in case of Even gThumb needs to be explicitly told that the user wants to browse the current directory with the "gthumb ." command line.
Iconified applications
Once upon a time, in a stone age of GUI computing, there was a twm window manager. When the application window was not needed on the screen, twm could be used to iconify the application. All applications, and all instances of them, could be iconified and then restored back the same way. Then Windows 95 happened, and it started to minimize the applications to the bottom panel instead of iconifying them to any place in the desktop. It also reused the desktop icons as application shortcuts instead of representing the minimized running applications. Unfortunately, the panel was too small for so many running minimized applications. Users stopped expecting to be able to restore the application after minimizing it. The applications which required to be minimized and restored back frequently (music players etc), developed their own means of minimizing, the notification icon area. So we have the iconification back, only not usable from all applications, and with each application implementing it in its own crappy way.

So what other important features of the "desktop of the past" do you consider missing from the present GUI systems?

UPDATE 2011/05/23: Iconified Apps
I have just discovered that XFCE4 in Fedora 15 allows the desktop icons to be switched between the Application launchers/shortcuts and Minimzed applications modes. Yay!

Section: /computers/desktops (RSS feed) | Permanent link | 8 writebacks

8 replies for this story:

Jiri Appl wrote:

Actually KDE apps still adhere to the first two points. Or at least kwrite and kword do. As for the iconified applications, kwin supports showing only the title bar of a running application.

Jiri Appl wrote:

Actually KDE apps still adhere to the first two points. Or at least kwrite and kword do. As for the iconified applications, kwin supports showing only the title bar of a running application.

Obvious Troll wrote:

Well, why don't you go and fix it? It's not like they're Microsoft apps, right? ;-) On a more serious note, I completely understand your frustration. I have to spend hours fixing (i.e. reverting crappy GUI decisions) applications every time a major release comes out. It feels as if there were some saboteurs writing bad code to make us switch to commercial software. I already did that in the case of Microsoft Office.

Yenya wrote: Re: Obvious troll

Why don't I fix it myself? Well, I expect the said behaviour is intentional so the patches will not be accepted. And I don't want to fork it. As for MS Office - their Ribbon UI is a prime example of what I _don't_ want to use.

Obvious Troll (not anymore) wrote: Re: Yenya

I am not convinced that it's entirely intentional. To me it seems more like something no one thought or cared about enough to fix. Anyway, you could either make it an option in settings or, in the case of creating a new file, turn the alert into a dialog. Regarding MS Office, I still have the pleasure of using the old UI as I have Office 2003. I wish they left the old UI as an option, but apparently one just _can't_ have it both ways. Anyway, the features are more than enough for the work I do and as long as there is some backward and forward compatibility, I should be fine. Maybe the problem lies not in the fancy new UI, but within us. Maybe we're getting obsolete almost as fast as our computers, and are being phased out by the young and progressive users. And maybe I should grab my cane, take out my false teeth and end this rant :-)

Milan Zamazal wrote:

IMO a sane user uses just as a document viewer or to edit (when being forced to do so) documents delivered to him. So complaining about a non-existent file makes sense to me. It's not a bad idea to use separate directories for different purposes so it makes sense to offer something else than cwd (that is typically $HOME) as the default directory. Of course, a civilized application should be extensible and so the default directory should be settable to anything (including cwd) by the user but that's another problem. As a user of an extensible tiled wm I don't understand why to waste screen space for either window bars or any kind of icons. A music player definitely doesn't require to be "minimized", my wm simply puts it automatically in its own workspace bound to a given hot key and the most frequent player operation (play/pause) is bound to a multimedia key on my keyboard without the need to display the player at all.

Yenya wrote: Re: Milan Zamazal

IMO tiling WMs suck. The main problem with them is that they resize xterms, and I want my terminals to have exactly 80 characters width. Another problem is that without window decorations, it is not easily visible which window has focus (which is also my objection to most themes of the non-tiling VMs; some of them display focus state only by changing the title bar, not the whole decorations). And music player in its own workspace? Having to switch to that workspace every time I want to do something nontrivial with it? No way.

Milan Zamazal wrote:

Tiling WMs are not for everyone, but they don't waste screen space and your complaints about them are invalid. If you always use the same font for your xterms, you can arange your workspace to make them 80 characters wide. Or you can use a floating window group (workspace). You can customize frame decorations to make the focused frame more visible if you want. I don't understand what's the problem with switching workspaces, you just press a hot key to switch to the player's workspace and another hot key to switch back to the original workspace. Don't forget that tiling WMs are based more on logical than visual concepts – and it's not easy to get free of some stereotypes (my own experience).

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