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Thursday
Jun102010

User Interfaces: Do We Fight Innovation?

Installing Ubuntu 10.04 on my desktop was my afternoon project once I got home today, and it went swimmingly.  They've really made it a streamlined process to get from A to B for the end user, and I like most of the improvements (although integrating "social" aspects and the "Ubuntu One" cloud thing I'm undecided on so far).  The first thing that I noticed though wasn't the slick new skinning, or the crazy Prince inspired color scheme (Purple Rain anyone?).  It was the fact that they moved the window controls to the left side of the apps, instead of the usual right.

I immediately started searching for a way to move them to the right side again, but it seemed like I was stuck with it.  When I finished the obligatory "apt-get update", my cursor immediately snapped to the upper right corner of the terminal, only to be left in the cold of an empty title bar.  I was starting to get annoyed.  Thinking I couldn't be the only one pissed here, I fired up the ol' browser and started to Google for an answer to why I had been forsaken to the hell of Bizarro Desktop.

Then I started to actually think about what was happening here.  Why am I so annoyed by such a small detail?  Mac users deal with it after all.  Who says it's better to have the controls on one side or the other anyway?  I honestly cannot come up with a single argument to support controls on the right except for the hollow "that's what I'm used to" that every other Windows user would probably say to this.  And actually, as briefly mentioned by Ubuntu Overlord Mark Shuttleworth in a bug report on the subject, this does open up some extra room for notifications, widgets, etc.:

"Moving everything to the left opens up the space on the right nicely, and I would like to experiment in 10.10 with some innovative options there. It's much easier to do that if we make this change now. I appreciate that it's an emotive subject, and apologize for the fact that I haven't been responding in detail to every comment - I'm busy moving house this week. But the design team is well aware of the controversy, your (polite) comments and more importantly *data* are very welcome and will help make the best decision." - Mark Shuttleworth

So this begs the question: If people are so peeved by such little changes, what can be done to create new and improved UI designs in the future?  Let's say something as cool as the interfaces in Minority Report, Iron Man 2, and The Matrix become a reality.  Are people really going to want to use them enough to switch their standards?  Are we going to be stuck in the 2D desktop forever?  The 3D attempts usually die out after a few pretty screenshots.  I'd absolutely LOVE to see some of these become more useful then a burst of wow factor to impress friends and coworkers, but the truth is they tend to be slow, inefficient, and useless for day to day tasks.

Someday, things may change.  Hopefully, we're not shooting ourselves in the foot because of what we're "used to".

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