Window indicators

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Figata… l’unica cosa… tutto quel Comic Sans… :(

The Ayatana Indicators work has given us a crisp, clean basis for indicators in the panel. We’ve said they will all look a particular way, and behave a particular way. And we’ve said they will be placed on the right of the panel.

But why limit indicators to the panel? Let’s make it possible for applications to use indicators themselves, for all the things that indicators are good at:

  • Conveying a particular state, such as whether or not the application is connected,
  • Providing a handle for the indicator menu, to modify that state

We’ll start with “window indicators”, or “windicators” for fun. Windicators are indicators displayed in the window title bar that behave just like the indicators in the panel: they have an icon which shows state, and clicking on the icon brings up a menu. Applications can create, update and remove window indicators using an API more or less like the AppIndicator framework first put to use in 10.04 LTS.

Window indicators follow the standard Ayatana indicator pattern, but are specific to a particular window.

Window indicators, or “windicators”, shown in a sample application window.

We’ve carefully placed all the panel indicators on the right, and we’ve carefully put the window controls and window title on the left. So now we have all this space on the right. As a pattern, it would fit to put the window indicators there.

Cody Russell is leading some work in Canonical around the technology which actually draws the window title bar and borders. It’s called “client side window decorations”. We are moving the rendering of the window decorations into the app itself, so that you don’t have the window manager and application drawing those pieces separately. That simplifies certain things (of course it also makes some things harder).

One of the most interesting consequences of the client-side decorations work is that it means that the application could more easily draw into the titlebar (because the application is drawing the title bar). And that makes it even more natural for the application to control the right side of the window title bar as well.

Less chrome, more content: banish the status bar

I’m on a “less is more” kick with our design efforts, and one of the things I want to banish is wasted vertical space. For netbooks, that’s particularly important. And a lot of applications have status bars at the bottom, for no good reason other than it was that way in Windows 3.1.

Typically the application status bar has:

  • Some status icons (“online”)
  • Some tools (“Yslow”)
  • A transient status message (“Saving draft…”)

We can replace these with a combination of windicators and temporary, overlay status bars. I really liked the Chrome browser’s use of overlay status messages, so kudos and thanks to them for the inspiration. The net result of those two steps, in apps where we can, is to save about 5% of the vertical space for your stuff – real content.

Prioritising examples for implementation

If you’re interested in this idea, please join the Ayatana mailing list and participate in the design discussions there. We’d like to develop some patterns that are generic, so that we can use a common icon and possibly also common indicator menu entries for addressing the same issue in diverse applications. Of course, applications will be free to use the mechanism for things that are unique to them.

Candidates for 10.10

It would be fantastic to implement a few of these window indicators for 10.10. Please help us choose the most useful cases! Currently on the list are:

  • Online / offline status indicator and toggle options for the mail client, chat program or Gwibber, the broadcast messages application.
  • An “unsaved” indicator, that tells people that the contents of the file they are working on have changed and potentially lets them save it or set autosave properties.
  • Progress indicators, which show that an action is in progress, and possibly also indicate the extent of the progress. The associated menu would enable one to pause or cancel the operation, and perhaps define the behaviour on completion of the action.
  • A “basket” indicator, which shows if any items have been selected for purchase,
  • Sharing indicators, which would show if a document is shared with multiple people, and enable one to setup such a share.
  • Volume indicators, which would show the loudness of application audio streams, and enable one to set the volume for that specific application.

The key thing is that these indicators are entirely application-specific, and ideally only relevant to the window that you are actually looking at.

Just like Panel Indicators…

From a visual design point of view, again the goal would be to ensure that indicators are symbolic. They would follow the same styling as Ayatana indicators:

  • Monochrome by default, with shape indicating the function of the indicator
  • Semantically colored: with red for critical problems, orange for alerts, green for positive status changes and blue for informative states that are not the default or usual state.

Integrated with the Netbook Edition Smart Panel

Last week I blogged about our decision to adopt a single, global menu for all applications, in the panel. And I also said we would explore putting the window title *and* menu into the panel, when the window is maximised. Of course, that means that we need to accommodate the window indicators in the panel as well.

So: when the window is maximised, and we are using a smart which can include both indicators and window titles, the window indicators will be inserted into the panel as well. They will appear on the right of the panel, and be the leftmost indicators. For example, here is the application, maximised (note the dodgy Ubuntu logo in the top left – that’s the panel, not the window title bar you’re looking at):

Mockup of maximised window, with smart panel and window indicators.

In this configuration, the system achieves “singular purpose”: the entire screen is devoted to a single application, yet the Ayatana elements continue to serve their purpose, either systemic (the battery indicator) or application specific.

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