Heads-up Ubuntu fans

Not content with having thrown out the “traditional” computer desktop in favour of the radically new Unity desktop, Mark Shuttleworth now hopes to transform the desktop even further. And this even before most Ubuntu users have got used to the last changes.

Shuttleworth’s latest plan is to introduce a new “heads-up” interface, one that will completely remove the need for traditional menus along the top of the screen. In their place will be a heads-up display which will remain hidden most of the time and only appear when needed.

That’s not the end, however. The menu system that will appear will not be a traditional drop-down menu system with the usual “file”, “edit”, “tools” menus. Instead users will simply type in the menu item they want and the system will pull up appropriate options.

As Shuttleworth says in a post on his personal blog the desktop interface and the menu system which we are now so used to have been with us since the early days of computing. All the way back to the 70s when Xerox Parc was the driver in PC technology, in fact. “We can do much better!” says Shuttleworth.

The new heads-up display menu system is expected to be included in the April release of Ubuntu although at that stage presumably not all applications will be supported. In a demonstration video it is obvious that the new HUD (heads-up display) is intended to work across all applications and shows both Firefox and Inkscape being manipulated by the new HUD.

Shuttleworth calls this new approach to menus the “intent-driven interface” and although it initially seems a radical step forward it is also very much in keeping with the general direction of Ubuntu’s Unity interface which has been steadily moving away from traditional file controls to great use of search-like controls.

The Dash in Unity for example can be viewed multiple ways depending on what is typed in and can be used to find files, applications and system settings all through the same interface. HUD takes this a step further to add similar controls to the menu system for applications.

To use the HUD users will invoke the HUD and type in the item they want. If this is done in Firefox, for example, the same input box could be used to search browsing history, bookmarks or the control menus. In Inkscape the same interface could be used for saving a file, undoing changes or changing the colours of an image.

All of the changes in Ubuntu’s interface, including this heads-up display, don’t immediately make sense, unless you consider where Ubuntu is going with this. For now Ubuntu is still a messy combination of old and new menus and interfaces but the direction is clear: the voice-activated desktop.

Gradually Ubuntu has been removing many of the traditional control features in Ubuntu that require pointing and clicking with ones that can be controlled by typing in commands. The next logical step then is to enable voice input for Ubuntu and users would be able to do many of their basic computer manipulation simply by speaking. It’s an appealing option and one that Shuttleworth is clearly aiming at.

HUD is not guaranteed to be released in the April release of Ubuntu but that is Shuttleworth’s initial target.

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Heads-up Ubuntu fans