Jason in a Nutshell

All about programming and whatever else comes to mind

Ubuntu rethinks desktop notifications

Posted by Jason Baker on December 23, 2008

Mark Shuttleworth talks about desktop notifications in Jaunty.  I find this to be an interesting subject, despite my hatred of notifications.  Why?  Well, it seems as though I’m not the only one who dislikes notifications.  Microsoft is also trying to change things in Windows 7.  To quote Ars Technica:

The taskbar’s system tray has also been improved. A common complaint about the tray is that it fills with useless icons and annoying notifications. With 7, the tray is now owned entirely by the user. By default, new tray icons are hidden and invisible; the icons are only displayed if explicitly enabled. The icons themselves have also been streamlined to make common tasks (such as switching wireless networks) easier and faster.

Well, maybe they haven’t quite come over to my side just yet.  But it sounds to me like they’re starting to rethink the notifications area some.

Anyway, back onto the subject of Ubuntu.  If the video Mark posts is what the end product will look like, I think this will be a step forward.  The notifications are simple and unobtrusive.  There’s one thing that’s sure to be controversial though:  the new notification system is set up specifically not to allow for user input in notification windows.

At first, this does sound like a somewhat limiting idea.  But Mark brings up a good argument against allowing notifications:

Our hypothesis is that the existence of ANY action creates a weighty obligation to act, or to THINK ABOUT ACTING. That make [sic] notifications turn from play into work. That makes them heavy responsibilities. That makes them an interruption, not a notification. And interruptions are a bag of hurt when you have things to do.

I couldn’t agree more.  One somewhat more useful thing that this causes is the fact that notifications don’t eat up any of your desktop.  How many times have you seen a notification, but had to either close it or wait for it to get out of the way because it was in the way of what you were wanting to do?  It happens to me on occassion, and it’s annoying.

At any rate, it looks like Mark is attempting to make good on his promise to make Linux look more beautiful than OS X.  After all, love Apple or hate them, they’re the guys to beat when it comes to UI prettiness.  I’ll save the subject of whether or not that means a better user experience for another blog post.


One Response to “Ubuntu rethinks desktop notifications”

  1. Phil H said

    I’ve always – well, for the last 5 minutes – wondered why this wasn’t made more generic. Notifications == stream of information. So publish it as an RSS feed on, and allow us to define some filtering/aggregation rules. Different people want to see different things, so give them that flexibility.

    One avenue would be thresholds of importance, so that you can choose only to see the most important items, but you know that every Tom, Dick and antivirus would think their notifirritations were Very High Priority.

    Usefully, server admins could then subscribe to the RSS feeds of important servers (suitably security-protected) and have notification of Bad Things and Good Things.

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