The Ubuntu Technical Board is currently conducting a review of the top ten Brainstorm issues users have raised about Ubuntu, and Matt asked me to investigate Idea #25801: Help the user understand when closing a window does not terminate the app. In other words, figure out to signal to the user that an application will continue to run after all of its windows have been closed.
This is more than a good idea, it’s an important gap in the usability of most of the desktop operating systems in widespread use today.
It’s also come up in our user testing: Charline’s research on Unity identified a lack of feedback to users and she observed the same absence of good feedback in the Rythmbox interface, where Rhythmbox can continue running in the background, playing music, with no windows visible.
We do have a few useful elements to work with.
We have been making some changes to the panel, replacing the old system tray with a set of menus known as indicators. One of the innovations there is that background services reflected in indicator menus can signal that they are running, using the triangle on the left – as applications in the Unity launcher do.
We have also been encouraging application developers to think carefully about whether or not an application needs an indicator, or exclusive use of an indicator. We want to reduce clutter in the panel, generally. So we need a solution which will cover 3 different types of applications: those that use their own indicator, those that use a category indicator (such as the Messaging Menu or Sound Menu) and those that don’t have an indicator at all.
The proposal in the Brainstorm idea is a reasonable option, and would work well for all 3 types where the applications without indicators could animate towards their icon in the launcher. This solution does have limitations from an accessibility perspective and an additional solution would need to be designed to cover the accessibility use case. It would be important to mock them up and test them with paper prototypes or simulated (flash?) interfaces. It’s inspiring to see creative proposals – the best way to have a great idea is to have lots of ideas, so more are welcome!
The next steps would be for an animation designer to design the animation and an API designer to design the API. It is also important that the accessibility solution be investigated at the same time.
If you would like help working through ideas on this subject it would be best to jump onto the Ayatana mailing list or #ayatana and look for Otto Greenslade who is working with Mark on exactly this sort of problem. The Ayatana list also has plenty of engineering resource which would mean we would be able to talk about feasibility too. For the accessibility aspect, I would be very interested in working on this as a first point of contact and then we can involve people from the accessibility team for further review and discussion.