Wishy Washy Ubuntu [Updated]

A little while ago, I posted that Ubuntu is getting a new interface design which includes window management buttons on the left. In addition to this, the close button is now the third button from the left, and minimize and maximize icons are up and down arrows.


This seemingly arbitrary redesign of a central UI concept — window management buttons — has received some flak in the community. Alex Faaborg mentions that the up/down arrows are reminiscent of scrollbar buttons. The community has called out the lead designer to explain the reasoning behind this new direction, and Ivanka Majic responds haphazardly:

After the internal debate and analysis (which went something like the picture below) we decided to put this version in the theme and to use it. I have had it running on my machine with the buttons in this order since before the Portland sprint (first week of February?) and I am quite used to it.

Is it better or worse?

It is quite hard to tell. The theme has been in the alpha since Friday. Now that you have had a chance to use it what do you think?

Personally, I would have the max and min on the left and close on the right.

Aza Raskin, creative lead for Firefox responds on Twitter:

It’s this kind of wishy-washy design speak (from the lead Ubuntu designer) that weakens our field in open source http://bit.ly/axDRbf

Eloquenter. Point: Aza.

Had you asked me yesterday, I’d have cared slightly less about the design of maximize or minimize buttons or even whether they’re left or right (exciting new platforms and UI paradigms intrigue me more these days and these traditional OSes now seem quaint), but this kind of — Aza puts it rightly — wishy washy design speak belittles the whole interface design process.

Not all UI designers think like Ivanka and the Ubuntu design team.

I don’t even care to discuss left or right or up or down. But I will say that window management buttons, minimize, maximize and close, are vital parts of an operating system. That doesn’t mean this is by any means a sacred goat that should never ever be touched, it simply means that when you do touch it, you’re walking on the razors edge (don’t look down, you’ll lose your head).

I’ve said this before: usability is not a Jackson Pollock painting.

If you were designing a faucet, would you switch the locations for hot and cold water? How about making a door-handle go up instead of down to open? What about the direction you turn a key to unlock? Should we drive on the left or the right side of the road? Should americans switch from the imperial system to metric?

Whenever you change a completely vital aspect of a system, do not justify the change by asking: “Is it better or worse? It is quite hard to tell”. That will not fly.

Anyone can make up wishy washy design speak. In fact, here’s a snatched-from-the-ether list of similar justifications:

  • “Steve told me to do it.”
  • “Our branding team told us we had to mess with the buttons in order to stand out from OSX and Windows. It was either left-aligned, close button third-from-the left, or centered buttons.”
  • “It started as a joke, but then we kinda liked it.”
  • “We wanted to be more like OSX, but without blatantly copying.”
  • “Oh right those buttons. What do they do again?”
  • “The close button is a destructive action, which is bad. So we placed it in a really awkward place. The shut down operating system button, however, we placed in the top right corner of the screen, right at the edge, you know, where Windows has its maximized application close buttons. We think it looks good.”

As long as we’re playing “make up an excuse”, there are plenty better ones to pick from.

[Update]: Here’s a super quick mockup, which should hopefully serve to illustrate that the new theme aesthetics could easily work without changing basic window management layouts.


Why The iPad Doesn’t Have Multi-Tasking

One of the things discussed about the new Apple tablet, other than its lack of Flash, is its apparent lack of multi-tasking. Multi-tasking, of course, being the ability to listen to music or radio while playing Flight Control. I’d like to talk about that, because I’m pretty sure I know why there’s no multi-tasking, and if you’ll let me attempt prescience for a moment, I’m going to let you in on the secret.

Multi-tasking doesn’t work well enough yet. That is also to say that when it does, Apple will feed a system update which adds this feature; to the pad and phone alike. It’ll be just like when you all got copy and paste.

I’m an Android fellow. I cannot accept the closed platform that is the Apple ecosystem. The fact that I’d have to open iTunes to get stuff on to my phone instead of being completely unrestricted1, is something I couldn’t ever imagine settling for. Additionally, I am enjoying multi-tasking on my Android phone today; I’m listening to podcasts via Google Listen while browsing Wikipedia, and it’s a bliss I’m sure iPhone OS users will appreciate soon enough.

Even so, the Android implementation of multi-tasking is an example of why Apple hasn’t done it yet. Gruber was boggled by the need for a task killer on the platform, and frankly — so am I. Which is key to this issue. A single-tasking platform closes every app when a new app is invoked. The robo-logistics are simple: “Home” means “Save & Close”. Because this is simple, it works. Transparently, easily, and without the need to peek inside the system to see what’s running and what shouldn’t be.

Both Android and iPhone OS are pioneering new ways to interact with computers (which incidentally is why I now prefer these OSes on principle, over Windows, Linux and OSX). The new trend is to tuck away the filesystem; to whittle down all the nerdy stuff. To make it feel obsolete and unnecessary. You don’t drop your music into a folder, you drop it onto your phone and then sort it using meta information such as artist, year, album and so on. You also no longer window manage. You don’t open an app, you enter Google Listen. You don’t close an app, you press “Home”. If you were playing a podcast, it keeps playing even as you enter the browser to explore Wikipedia. If you weren’t playing a podcast, the system cleans up any stray processes for you, so the system doesn’t spend memory that isn’t needed. It’s all very elegant, and once you get used to it, closing apps feels very 1990.

Except it’s not as elegant as it sounds. Because apps themselves decide when they’re done using your battery and not all apps are good citizens. Sometimes you’ll click “home” with the intent of not going back to your game of Robo Defence. But Robo Defence isn’t sure what you want, so it’s just paused your game. Which means goodbye battery. Which means you need a task killer, whose sole raison d’etre is giving you a neat list of which apps are running in the background and the ability to forcefully close them.

I’m sure Android will get there. Development is moving at a blinding pace; in fact things may already be better in version 2.1. In the meantime, I’ll be loving my Google Listen background process. Even if it means I need a task killer. Once Android grows up, I’m saying a fond goodbye to my task killer, and I will never look back. But I’m not a normal user. I’m not one to be impressed by Apples “only launch when perfect” ideology, I much prefer Googles “launch early, iterate often” approach. I’m also smart enough to understand why Apple postpones multi-tasking until they get it right. Which is when you’ll get multi-tasking on your iPhones and iPads.

[Update]: Michael points out in the comments, that the iPhone has been able to play podcasts in the background since launch. My bad example. Please appropriate “Google Listen” with “Pandora” and my example will make sense again.

  1. Incidentally, I currently use an Android file explorer app to connect to my NAS and copy things from over the air. []

Webdesigner #316: “Just Get A Mac” (Mac vs. PC Round 2, TwentyTen Edition)

Slowly, one by one, my colleagues are switching out their desktop PCs with portable Macs. Except for me. Consistently, I’m suggested to “just get a Mac already”, implying the OSXperience will change my life for the better.


Here’s where I think it will change my life for the better, and where it won’t.

Pros of getting a Mac

  • Coda becomes available to me.
  • The keyboard layout is great for PHP and Javascript with great locations for $, { } and [ ]. This is a big one.
  • Expose is great for switching between open apps.
  • Getting to the desktop, finding a file, dragging it to an app in the dock for it to open, works great. This doesn’t work nowhere near as nicely on Windows.

Cons of getting a Mac

  • The selection model is virtually useless. If you didn’t start your selection next to the right character, you might as well start over.
  • You can’t live with the dock, you can’t live without it. It pops in whenever you don’t need it, which is when you scale a window.
  • Scaling windows is a miserable pain, especially if you don’t have Cinch installed. Sure it’s “clean” that I can only scale in the bottom right corner of a window. But what the hell is up with that?
  • StrokeIt (systemwide mouse gestures) is not available to me.
  • Directory Opus (superb file manager) is not available to me (and Pathfinder is not an alternative).
  • Expose is horrible for switching to minimized apps, i.e. it can’t.
  • There’s no fullscreen feature, and maximize behavior is inconsistent.
  • Since there’s no fullscreen, there’s no inherent app background, so clicking the space between app panels invokes the desktop. Stupid stupid.
  • OSX creates .DS_Store files in every fricken folder everywhere, and I can only disable it for network drives.
  • OSX hides period-prepended filenames (as it should by default, but if I disable this feature so I can more easily edit a .htaccess file, my desktop becomes cluttered with other files I really don’t want to see).

For the record, I dislike both Windows and OSX now.

Microsoft, Apple, j’accuse!

Motorola Milestone (European Droid) Mini-Review

A few weeks prior to the holidays, I splurged on a Motorola Milestone, which is the european version of the US superphone called the “Droid”. I’ve now had the device for day to day use for a couple of weeks, and I’m now ready to tell you that while it’s certainly a great device, it’s not without its flaws. Which deserves a review. For the remainder, I will be referring to the device as the Milestone, but to my knowledge the only difference between the Milestone and the Droid is that Milestone is 3G, has a different boot logo. Plus, “pinch-to-zoom” works in the browser.

The Milestone is gorgeous. It has a really nice rubbery matte feel on the bottom, and the glass is clear, sharp and totally droolworthy. It’s a quite heavy device, more-so than you’d think, which is actually good; it makes it feel as sturdy as it seems.

Certainly, Google Android, the mobile operating system running on the device, is what propels the Milestone to greatness, and make no mistake, this is a great device. Aside from simply providing a super fast and smooth experience, the Google account integration means after the initial setup phase, you already have your your email and your calendar available to you with no extra work. I upgraded from a Nokia phone that was so old that I had no way to export and import my phone-numbers. Which, as it turns out, wasn’t a problem as Android simply imports your contacts, so most of the phone numbers I’d already entered. Which is so great. So, so great.

Daily Use

The phone was purchased to be a sub-sub-notebook on the road, a place to gather my meeting appointments and todo-lists, quickly access email, calendar and some maps. For all those things, Milestone with Android is incredible. I’ve been positively surprised at every turn; this is built smart. Everything works, everything syncs. You can’t not love this.

Transferring data to the device is as easy as connecting the device it to your computer and copying stuff to the SD-card in the phone. Which is such a hammer-punch to Apples brass ones. The sheer bliss it is not to have to open iTunes just to copy music to the device makes Apples handcuffs seem like a mindbogglingly stupid decision. If you add to that the ability to multi-task, for instance editing your calendar and to-do list while listening to a podcast, you’re really looking at a device that’s gunning for great.

The real question is, whether it’s Android I love, or the whole package.

The Good And The Bad

The really great:

  • The Milestone is gorgeous, and not in an “urban hipster” sort of way
  • Sliding out the keyboard is a clickety pleasure
  • The super hi-res WVGA screen is delicious
  • Pinch-to-zoom in the browser works superbly (this is a Milestone-not-Droid feature)
  • While Google Maps features turn-by-turn navigation, you also get “MotoNav”, which’ll further make your Garmin and TomTom obsolete

Aside from this bulleted list, there are some awesome apps on the market which I’m told aren’t available on other platforms. Such as Google Sky, which is like an overlay for a starry night, telling you which stars you’re looking at with surprising accuracy. Also, Google Listen, whose mobile podcasting subscription features rival that of iTunes’ (whose podcasting features have been its sole raison d’etre on my PC).

The not so great:

The capacitative buttons. At the bottom of every Android phone you’re likely to find contextual buttons: back, context-menu, home, and search. While useful1, it’s a problem that they’re in a capacitative glass area that’s part of the screen. Which means if you’re holding the phone in landscape mode and navigating or otherwise dragging the screen content, you’re extremely likely to accidentally activate one of those buttons. Which doesn’t happen a lot, but is really annoying when it does.

Another thing is the fact that most europeans can’t yet purchase paid apps / full-version apps in the Android Market. I’m told this has something to do with carrier billing and Google Checkout not yet available in my country, both issues I don’t care about. I can pay Visa, PayPal, whatever — just let me pay damn you! I shouldn’t have to do the Android equivalent of jailbreaking your phone (“rooting it”) just to buy the full version of Robo Defense!

Going on, I know I should’nt expect much from a mobile camera, but this one doesn’t impress me, despite it being a whopping 5 megapixels.

Most importantly, and probably the biggest detraction from the Milestone is the slide-out keyboard itself. Engineering a phone with a slideout keyboard, I assume, is way harder than building one without it; so there had better be a damn good reason to do so. And yes, using the physical keyboard is better than using the onscreen one. But only a little bit. All the buttons are more or less flat, meaning the difference between using the slideout keyboard and the onscreen keyboard in landscape mode is very little. And very sad. Add to this a directional button thingy to navigate, select and click (the gold thing on the image) which simply never does what you want it to. The bottomline is that the decision to add a slideout keyboard seems like an afterthought. Unfortunately, because I’m a big fan of tactile feedback.

Another thing is the fact that when I walk around with the Milestone, the keyboard will more often than not slide out just a little bit, enough to annoy me (and to activate the screen consuming a few minutes of power) — it betrays the feeling of sturdy; something which can also be said of the battery lid, which hasn’t yet fallen off on its own but feels like it could.

It’s Still A Great Device

The best way to describe the Milestone is that it’s my favourite new device of 2009, despite its qualms and flaws. Most of its troubles feel trivial compared to what you do get, and the rest of the issues are software things Google will probably fix, if not in Android 2.1, then in some undecided future.

That said, the recently rumoured Nexus One seems like the Milestone/Droid without the keyboard troubles, which is simply a phone that’s just a little bit better. If it becomes available to me, I’m selling the Milestone and getting one.

Google Android 2.0 rating: [rating=6]

Motorola Milestone hardware: [rating=4]

Overall: [rating=5]

[Update]:  US Droid phones now have “pinch to zoom” as well.

  1. Pressing and holding the “Home” button invokes an alt-tab-like app switcher []

Where’s Google Webdrive?

[flash width=”600″ height=”400″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/v/ANMrzw7JFzA?hl=en_US&fs=1&start=258″]

During Googles special Chrome OS presentation a few thursdays ago, I noticed an incongruity between the core ideology that you’ll have no files stored locally and the complete lack of a Google Webdrive announcement. I’ve embedded the above video to start at about 4:20 where the presenter is talking about data in the cloud:

I mentioned all data is in the cloud. so what does that mean? […]

All data in Chrome OS is in the cloud. So as a model, anything that you put on the machine, is instantly available to you from anywhere, so, which is something we are very very excited about.

While the presenter only demos bookmarks, tabs and notepad documents as being data you can currently store in the cloud, the phrase, “anything that you put on the machine” tickles my interest. We know that in Google Docs, you can store your documents, spreadsheets and presentations. You can also upload PDF files. Using Picasa Web Albums you can store your photos. If you sync your Google Chrome bookmarks these will also be stored in a special Google Docs folder. So that’s documents, pictures and bookmarks. Well that’s certainly something, but it doesn’t take much imagination to notice the shortcomings: I’d be surprised if Chrome OS won’t allow you some kind of access to music or video1.

This deafening webdrive silence can be interpreted in a number of ways. Either Google will eventually launch a music and video service which lets you purchase videos that are stored online, or Google will launch a webdrive which lets you upload your own music and videos to playback in Chrome OS. Or both. Either way, this is quite an undertaking, and probably explains why Webdrive hasn’t launched yet. I’ll bet you Googles o’s that between now and Chrome OS launch day, we’ll be either a store or a webdrive richer.

  1. Perhaps even netbanking authorisation files, though one may assume Google will push for file-less access methods for this. []

More Like A TV

During Googles Chrome OS announcement Thursday, one thing struck me as being the killer app that’ll bring the system into our homes. It’s the startup speed. In this video, a Chrome OS engineer explains how Google, by shelving 50 year-old hardware are able to make the system boot in 4 seconds; like a TV:

[flash width=”600″ height=”400″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/v/mTFfl7AjNfI&hl=en_US&fs=1&”]

The general Chrome OS philosophy is being touted as it being the browser without the operating system. Google wants to deliver the initial Chrome OS netbooks as “companion PCs”, portables that won’t replace your main computer, but simply give you an incredibly streamlined web experience, the webpages being the apps. The Google-provided list of approved hardware ensures that you get to the browser fast and then… well that’s pretty much it:

  1. Build web-apps
  2. Get more people on the web, faster
  3. Profit

This web-only nature of Chrome OS dissapoints a few. My friend and colleague came in the office yesterday and pointed out that prior to the presentation he was all ready to nuke his operating system and install Chrome OS, in hopes that he would get the Google experience: really fast, really simple, really useful and otherwise hassle-free. Which it’s set to deliver, except of course for the fact that he needs his apps. Certainly it is a wee bit early to ditch your filesystem and your apps in favor of alternatives in The Cloud. Connections could be faster, wi-fi access could be more ubiquitous, available cloud storage could be larger. Mostly, there aren’t web-app alternatives for all the things his computer and current OS does.

Then again, maybe that’s just a matter of time. Google promises GPU and local storage access to web-apps, which begs the question: if it behaves like a real app, if it looks like a real app, and if it does as well as a real app, is it a real app? Perhaps Chrome OS heralds the arrival of an era of software-as-services, where we pay for access instead of acquisition.

Google is doing something incredibly smart here. On one hand, by setting requirements to the hardware, Google is ensuring that the first computers sporting Chrome OS will be full-size-keyboard-netbooks built and tuned exactly for sofa-side Facebook and Wikipedia. These portables aren’t marketed as personal computers, they’re simply windows to the web. Chrome OS will be profitable from the start, simply because it makes the web more like a TV. On the other hand, Google is building for the future. They’re ensuring that webapps — of which Google themselves currently controls the best of the bunch — will run faster and do more things.

So, sure, it’s a bit early to go full-on Chrome OS on your main computer. Photoshop.com likely won’t cut it at Vogue yet and no matter how fast Facebook runs it means squat if you need to edit HD video. Give it 5 years, however. Google may be on to something here, and I for one can’t wait to ditch the file system.

Conjecture: What To Expect From Google Chrome OS [Update: In The Ballpark]


Google is showing off their Chrome OS at an event later today. Because I find it infinitely fascinating to see what kinds of rabbits the folks at the Googleplex pull out of their hats, I’m going to convert my anticipation into wild speculation:

  • The grand idea is to make Chrome OS to PCs what Android and iPhone OS is to ultra-portables.
    Update: Pretty much right.
  • When you log on to your system, you’re also logged into Gmail, Calendar and so on.
    Update: Kinda. Your session from last time is restored.
  • Like with Android, Chrome OS will be able to use custom designed interfaces, like HTCs “Sense” UI.
    Update: Too early to tell, but probably not.
  • There’s going to be an App Store. Duh.
    Update: Totally missed the mark on this one. NO app store; websites are the apps.
  • Chrome OS will be branded like the Chrome Browser in a deliberate attempt at blurring those oft cited lines between the web and the desktop.
    Update: Pretty much.
  • The look of Google Wave is a strong pointer — if not exact replica — of Chrome OS’ UI look.
    Update: Nope.
  • A significant part of the demonstration will involve showing how fast Chrome boots and gets you online. The plan is, no doubt, to respond as quickly as your phone does.
    Update: Almost. The goal is to get Chrome OS to launch as fast as your TV does, and certainly faster than you can make a sandwich.
  • Like Apple when they launched the iPhone, JavaScript is the SDK. The question is whether Google has tricks hidden in their sleeves. We’ve heard about WebGL, various sandbox type apps and even their new “Go” programming language. Perhaps something unique will materialize. Perhaps not.
    Update: Perhaps not far off the mark, but still too early to tell. For now, websites are the apps, with upcoming APIs for OS notifications, panels, GPU and CPU acceleration and local storage. But no mention of any new programming languages.
  • Chrome OS will run Android apps. Possibly: vice-versa.
    Update: Nope. No Android apps. No binaries at all, in fact.
  • The plan is to not go head to head with Windows or OSX in the immediate future. As with all other “launch-early, iterate often” Google products, Chrome OS will woo devices that are smaller than laptops but larger than phones and grow from there.
    Update: Pretty much. Google will specify hardware requirements which range from “this netcard” and “no harddrive only solid state disks” to “the keyboard has to be full-size”, the result being some really nice netbooks at the end of next year.

The event starts in ~three hours at which point you can catch a webcast.

A Window With A Chrome Finish

The once-mythical GooOS has materialized, and it’s carved in Chrome. Google has just announced that they’re entering the operating system arena with their own offering, Google Chrome OS. Here are the facts:

  • Linux-core
  • Initially targeted for Netbooks, later also for full size desktops
  • New windowing system
  • Focused on getting you on the web quickly
  • Open source
  • Will run on x86 (Intel) and ARM processors
  • Will be available this year as a download, OEMs second half 2010
  • The business model: happier users that spend more time on the internet

Well this is exciting. Translated roughly from pressreleasish, this means that Google is now entering a cold war with  Microsoft, Apple, Ubuntu, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and pretty much everyone else who has a stake in the web. The computer. The smartphone. It could work too; imagine it’s a little over a year from now, and your mom wants a new laptop. You surf onto dell.com and when you get to pick between operating systems, you can either pick Windows 7 Starter at an added price (and no ability to change the desktop wallpaper), or you can pick Google Chrome OS at no extra cost. Both run Gmail and Facebook. Which sums up the extent of the chromic bomb Google dropped last night.

For Your Mom


Chrome OS may succeed where many others have failed. It may succeed by simply leveraging the ignorance that’s keeping people on Internet Explorer 6; the very same ignorance that makes your mom think Google is a browser (which I remind you, it wasn’t always). Why should’nt it be? With Android, Google got their fingers dirty with Linux. With Chrome, they surprised many (possibly even themselves) with the ability to bring the minified Google interface to an application, without getting flak from the “pretty is important”-brigade. Opportunity awaits in operating system country, and it’s fueled by I don’t care what my computer runs, as long as it works. It’s a match made in the cloud.

Canonizing Linux

It’ll be interesting to see what the implications are for Ubuntu. Whether there are casualties or opportunities created when a new massive open source project is announced, is a very tricky discussion. One could argue that Firefox is in trouble with the existence of Google Chrome and certainly something similar could be the case for Ubuntu with the emergence of Chrome OS.

Or, it could mean the opposite. The market is a pretty large cake, and even the smallest slice is larger than it seems. So on the flipside, if Google Chrome OS takes off, it’ll mean that high profile apps will suddenly also appear on the Linux platform. Sure, right now Google proclaims HTML5 and CSS to be the new SDK, but so did Apple when the iPhone launched. Given time, I find it likely that “real”, compiled apps, will still be necessary for a number of things. So just possibly, Chrome OS means Ubuntu users will finally get Photoshop on their platform. And perhaps it won’t even be slow.

The System Font

One of the core tenets of Linux has always been free (as a bird). Which means it’s not so compatible with non-free stuff like Helvetica and Flash Player being bundled with the system. So let’s indulge in speculation for a moment: Chrome OS will be Google branded and so when Google opens the source of the OS, it’ll likely result in Chromium OS (as it did for Chrome). Whether this will solve the non-free problem, or upset the gentle Linux eco-system further, remains to be seen.

Timing Is Crucial

According to Robert Scoble, there’s a reason why Google announces Chrome OS this week:

Why did Google announce Chrome OS this week? Well, of course, Microsoft has a big announcement coming on Monday (I’m embargoed). (#)

While I do find it somewhat odd that Chrome OS is being launched without even a single Comicbook to go along, the timing could simply be a matter of coinciding with Windows 7 going gold (which I read somewhere is scheduled for this monday). However, if we are to read any significance in to Scobles comments (which history suggests we shouldn’t), Microsofts upcoming announcement is likely to be somewhat related to Googles Chrome OS announcement. Could it be that Microsoft is finally shedding the DOS baggage and rebooting Windows with a new product, codenamed Windows Begins? With Google Chrome OS just announced, such an announcement would certainly lack the same punch.

Then again, it’s probably just yet another Microsoft attempt to copy Googles success. In fact, it’s probably Google Docs, but from Microsoft: Microsoft LiveBing for Workgroups (you know, because it’s collaborative).

Perhaps, Finally, People Will Stop Using Internet Explorer 6

Search is not Googles core business, Google Adsense is. And so, the more web-apps Google can make and place Google ads in, the better Google is doing. And so it once again boils down to Microsofts gift to the internet, the curse known as Internet Explorer 6, an obsolete browser which which reads web-apps like a conservative christian would read The Origin of Species; try a few pages, then give up and burn the rest. In the fight against Internet Explorer 6, the operating system as chosen by OEMs is the final frontier. So in a way, Internet Explorer 6 probably paved the way for Chrome OS. Thanks?

In Defense of Good Design

[zenphoto src=”OSX_100.png”]

Only a little while ago, every webdesigners go-to knowledgebase — A List Apart — published: In Defense of Eye Candy. The article, on the surface, challenges the conception that eye candy for the sake of eye candy is not only okay, but it is more successful than the eye-candy-free interface. I was asked my opinion of this and I disagree (as avid readers of this yarnball of rants would expect). If you wish to skip the eye candy in this article, the conclusion is as it usually is these days: Google’s website is eye-candy free, and they do pretty well.

Continue reading

No Tab Left Behind

With the new Safari 4 beta, Apple is taking a page from the book of Opera and Google Chrome and moving their browser tabs all the way to the top:


While not an incredibly original idea, it is a good idea and there are a number of reasons why. First of all, it optimizes the amount of vertical real-estate, which—with the upcoming surge in lo-res Netbooks—will matter more than you think. Secondly, it moves an important multi-tasking feature right up to the literal application top, where discoverability is great. Finally, it helps users understand what exactly tabs are: individual content windows with their own unique address-bar and history.

This is clearly a usability improvement, and I’m sure that now Apple has canonized what is (probably) an Opera invention, it’ll make both Mozilla and Internet Explorer scramble to get with the program. So much the better: thanks Apple.

There’s one aspect Mac users will miss out on, though. On Windows systems, when a browser is maximized, tabs that are topmost will fondle the very edges of the screen, an area of extremely valuable realestate. The little secret that makes this top screen edge price go through the roof is the fact that, to reach it, you have only to push your mouse upwards; soon enough your cursor will bump into the edge. When a browser window places its tabs there, that means you only have to worry about left or right to pick your tabs. Not even a shopping cart is left behind in such a system.

Alas, Apple has permanently reserved this top area of the screen for the ubiquitous file menu, which I’m sure a number of people appreciate. Not those who want to get the full flavor of topmost tabs though, they’ll be left out in the cold. Perhaps Apple should place tabs at the bottom of the screen instead? (Oh wait, that’s where The Dock lurks, spring-loaded to pop out when innocent cursors are nearby).