Those pesky buttons

Many of you have been asking for some correspondence regarding the button position in the window manager.

Here it is.

At Ubuntu we have a golden opportunity not only to make our OS as good as the competition but to make it better. The button position discussion and analysis started with:

– Why do Mac OS and Windows have the buttons where they do?

– What was the functional reason behind the Mac OS choice (or the Windows position for that matter)?

– Why, when most application menus are top left should the window controls go top right?

– Why, when we read left to right is the most destructive action first?

– Are we smoking crack to think that the learning curve for getting used to a new position is ever going to be worth any real or perceived benefit of new positions?

As part of a major theme update it felt appropriate to ask these questions.

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.

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  1. Posted 25 March, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    If you want to do what’s logically best, without regard for how unexpected it is, then surely the right thing to do is to put the destructive action (close) as far away as possible from the non-destructive actions (resize). i.e. put close top right, and resize and everything else top left, or vice versa.

  2. Posted 28 March, 2010 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Lot’s of valid points in these comments. And an obvious trend toward dislike of the change, even from those who have give it a good chance. I am one of those.
    As someone who works on a Mac during the day I’m already used to having window controls on the left. However, the order change has definitely been an issue for me, I find myself maximizing windows I wish to close in Lucid, or closing windows I wish to maximize in OSX, or simply have to stop and think about what I’m clicking *every* time I go for window controls. Not very effecient.
    I understand the idea of not doing something just because everyone else is. However the concept of “user friendly” is completely arbitrary and in fact boils down to familiarity (otherwise why is ctrl-v for paste? Or the “about” dialog found under “help”?) In this context the change is not user friendly.
    Really there was no problem here at all, 9.10 controls fit the criteria in this article. Want window controls right above the file menu? They’re there, the little button in the top left has them all (including my favorite option, to keep any window on top). Don’t want the most destructive action on the left? It’s not, it’s the furthest from the left. PLUS it keeps with a convention meaning it’s instantly “user friendly” to most “common users”, experienced with MS Windows, Gnome, or KDE. Everybody wins. No change needed.

  3. Peter Aikins
    Posted 29 March, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I agree with Ivanka’s opinion that the minimise & maximise on the left, close on the right is the nicest.

  4. Posted 30 March, 2010 at 5:59 am | Permalink


    In the center of the window below the title you can move your mose pointer and then display the tree options. Remember when in the panel there’s an option to hide it when is not being usit it?

    Apply that idea to the title-bar if you want an idea, send me a mail.

  5. Stephen Thomas
    Posted 30 March, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    This is madness. It’s change for the sake of change. There is *no* good reason to break people’s expectations in this way.

  6. Raymond Fisk
    Posted 31 March, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    This is precisely why Ubuntu continues to suck after all these years. Nobody cares about core functionality. Imagine if this generation had invented Unix! Unix would have been a big, bloated MSDOS.

  7. Nikolay
    Posted 5 April, 2010 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    The most disturbing thing here is the big-brotherish attitude to majority of Ububtu user base. People who have not even heard of gconftool-2 and gconf-editor are left entirely in the wild with no choice at all. The message Cannonical is sending to those people is clearly “My way or highway”. Is this not exactly the attitude of some other companies which motivates people to move to Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular? I truly hope this is not an irreversible trend.

  8. Posted 6 April, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    It is often pointed out (mostly by staff and staff wannabes) that this isn’t a reason to stop using Ubuntu.


    But , hey! aren’t there other nice alternatives like for instance Linux Mint? Before, brand loyalty retained me in Ubuntu from even trying other stuff. I was happy and satisfied and new that whatever problems arise I could fix and keep using “my” ubuntu.

    Now, I feel suddenly liberated, actually.

  9. Posted 6 April, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    On Windows (and Ubuntu as of today) the close button is furthest right and extends to the end of the window (even if the graphics doesn’t). This means you don’t have to aim the mouse exactly at the button if the window is maximized. You just *throw* the pointer to the top right corner and click, and the window closes. Not having that functionality quickly gets really annoying, because you need to find a pesky little glass bead and click it. It’s not good design.

    If the max and min buttons should move, then the min button should move to the top left so you can have the same features there. Or to the bottom right, hehe. But I think they can stay where they are. No reason to change this.

  10. Sean
    Posted 6 April, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    Why, when we read left to right is the most destructive action first?

    Well, it’s not if you leave it the way windows has it — top right, minimize-maximize-close.

    Sounds like canonical is getting a case of mac-envy/apple-fanboi-ism

  11. Sean
    Posted 6 April, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Another comment. I have a mac and a windows pc on my desk. When I use mac I go upper left of windows for the min/max/close and on windows I go upper right for min/max/close. I can deal with it. However I prefer upper right. If I could get the mac to move the buttons to the upper right I would do it.

    HOWEVER, the menu bar at the top of the screen on the mac is the BIGGEST pain in the a** I have ever come across for UI design. It’s just not natural for me (and I suspect others) to have to move the mouse so far away from the app window to access the menu. Especially since I NEVER have windows maximized.

    Anyone know how to remove the social-app features in lucid? Add that to my long list of things to tweak / remove on ubuntu installs. Actually, I’ve been moving more and more to debian since the network-manager-no-static-ip fiasco. I figure since I have to do so much customization now with ubuntu I might as well start from scratch on a debian install.

  12. Posted 11 April, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    In the whole post I cannot find any logical explanation.
    Just because we read from left to right… – well, then you should put everything to the left, the desktops, the trashcan, user presence or even all tray notification icons and everything. There shouldn’t be either a remaining right side – everything should be left – perfectly as I am left-handed. 😉 – No, joke apart, I want the old style back!

    Yes, menus are on the left – but closing a windows is the opposite operation to choosing a new app from the menu – so another reason why it fits well to the right.

    Did you want to reduce necessary mouse miles or what? Who really wants to reduce mouse miles driven, uses hotkeys, otherwise a good separation of operations is quite good.

    And something else: If you want to get people migrated from Windows you should focus on other things when trying to be better and not on habits that all Windows users do have learned. I have a hard living convince people trying Linux. Decisions like this make it really hard for the typical Windows user that fears the change.

    And please: Don’t look at MacOS – just because “owned” by designers this does not mean any real gain on productivity, their focus is to look cool. I for myself want to get my stuff done.

  13. Posted 12 April, 2010 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    While trying to get familiar with the buttons on the left side, I noticed that for reducing mouse miles all dialog buttons should be on the left side, open office navigation and font pane also and and and… => Please bring back the old style!

  14. Michael Marquardt
    Posted 18 April, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Really, I feel (and I gave the new positions a week to get used to them) that they hamper productivity.

    The whole point of putting them on the right, to me, has been to seperate them from the File and edit menus. If I want to quit from the left side of the screen, I can already do that from the file menu, or the window position menu (window->close). Both of these actions were almost impossible to do accidentally. On the right, safely separated from common operations, was the close button, and, less importantly, minimize and maximize.

    Now, (or at least, half-an-hour ago, as I finally found out how to fix this with gconf-editor) I hesitate when going to the menus, since I don’t want to hit close my accident, or, still-disruptive but not nearly as bad, minimize.

    Please, please, please do not make this the default for 10.04 final.
    I tech-support for several people who are not very computer-savvy who I talked into switching to Ubuntu, and this will be a usability nightmare for them. They have enough trouble with the idea that “the start menu is on the top.”

  15. Baptiste
    Posted 21 April, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Once again, Canonical folks seem to act like they live in a vacuum and break Linux conventions. Later, you will pester upstream (Gnome) developpers to use the “waisted” top right corner for something else. Other linux users will have to submit to your ways, or projects will in effect be forked. This lack of respect for the Linux ecosystem that supports Ubuntu is really annoying.

  16. Posted 22 April, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I’ve closed the windows a few times by mistake, which is why I suppose Windows has the buttons on the right. On Mac OS the menu bar is a long way from the window control unless you have a very small screen.

    What I’d like to know is how many people discussed this decision for how long? i.e. how wide was the ‘evidence base’ for the decision. Is it a Google approach (user test 25 different shades of blue) or a iPhone approach (Jonathan and Steve work it out). I think there is room for both and some processes in between. At least we can change the button placement on Ubuntu.

  17. Posted 22 April, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    @KeithPeter “What I’d like to know is how many people discussed this decision for how long?”

    Complains are useless, not because they are invalid but because they are falling on deaf ears.

    My only worry is that whatever is gong to be put there is going to be something nasty. If it was something good, you’d hear about it right now, rather, it is being kept in secret. Moving the buttons now would then be an attempt to “soften” the impact. It makes sense, which is scary.

  18. Posted 22 April, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    @rgz: It wasn’t actually meant as a complaint, just a request for information about the decision making process. I’m interested in that for a number of reasons (teaching material – I’m intending to get some students to try out the live CD with different button placements for one).

    I do think that an LTS release might not be the best place to try out radical new interface ideas.

  19. Posted 23 April, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I am not sure if there is any more than the sketch shown in this post. For the Windows 3.x for instance the close button was needed to be double-clicked to make it close.

    It is not the problem that we can’t change it – we can, but:
    a) the default dummy user will maybe not figure out and
    b) for the experienced user it is just annoying and
    c) at the same time doing such changes Canonical wants to reduce either configurability to avoid frightening the user and
    d) I would say that at least 90 % of new users come from Windows and maybe need to use both during a (maybe longer) transition phase – especially annoying different position of the buttons in this case and
    e) that Microsoft evolved to current button position and then kept since 95 maybe do to the fact that the optimum is reached (don’t give much on MacOS here because their priority is to be cool and different, while my priority is productivity, efficiency and reduced annoyancy).

    But the real bad thing with the current situation is: Neither Mark nor Ivanka is responding any more to the community (Mark unsubscribed from the bug – so most likely he is not following any more) – I think I have watched and listened to all their comments and my resumee is that there is no real good argument for that change. IMHO they simply mad a mistake but now they don’t admit.

  20. Posted 25 April, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    What!? You’re not even sure if this is better or worse? How _can_ you justify pushing such a big ui change without having proper arguments for it?

  21. Steve
    Posted 26 April, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    For years users have been trained to do a fundamental task in a particular way, so much so that it has become a completely subconscious reflex action, and now you are breaking that reflex for no good reason resulting pain and anger because you have *substantially reduced the efficiency of all of those users*.

  22. James
    Posted 1 May, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    This is a HORRIBLE idea! If I wanted OS suX I would buy a Crapple! =P

  23. Erik Nilsson
    Posted 1 May, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    My mother and father, who have quite a problem keeping track of obscure concepts as windows, applications, files and folders will suddenly get some of the few concepts they learnt (how to close a window for instance) removed for them and they’ll have to relearn it.

    That’s just not user friendliness.

    All of the reasons for this change seems whimsical at best.

    The picture doesn’t answer most of the questions at all. I’ll give you some possible answers for some of them.

    – Why, when most application menus are top left should the window controls go top right?

    Well, there could be a lot of reasons for it. I’ll give some suggestions: You cram to much functionality into too little space, you can utilize that it’s easy to find the corners of the screen with a mouse. Of cource the main reason is: That’s how the last version of Ubuntu worked, it’s _consistent_.

    – Why, when we read left to right is the most destructive action first?

    It isn’t, now is it? The close window goes to the farthest right… Also I think that suggesting that’s very important is to read to much into it.

    – Are we smoking crack to think that the learning curve for getting used to a new position is ever going to be worth any real or perceived benefit of new positions?

    Yes. Sorry. I’ve understand that you’re experimenting with putting other stuff there. Fine! When that functionality is available, please do whatever you want, if the new functionality is good and we like it, the relearning might be worth it. But as it stands, you’re making people relearn the way their computer works twice. Once now and once again when that new functionality gets there.

    Why, o why did you sacrifice the sound principle of consistency for no apparant benefit?

  24. Posted 9 May, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I’d have to disagree with one of the comments. User friendly doesn’t always just mean familiar. There’s a lot more to it than that.

  25. Tommy
    Posted 9 May, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    The moving of the button positions was a bad move. I don’t think you guys really thought this one through and it was just a move to be “more like a mac.”

    I’m a UI and UXE designer, so user experience is my forte. I also use a mac for 99% of my computing both professional and personal, so I really like macs and the platform.

    Anyways, the problem with moving the buttons to the left is the fact that your menu items are also to the left and under neath it. I know you cite the menus as the reason for moving the buttons over, that is precisely why that is a bad idea in terms of usability.

    The menus on the mac are not contained in the windows, but on the OS’s menu bar. This makes it so that the app windows are separate from the App itself. YOu can close a window without exiting an app.

    Apps in Ubuntu follows a more MS Windows method in that the windows themselves are the apps and closing the window is what exits you out of the app. Having the buttons over the menu items makes it more prone to accidents, increases app bar height (which affects design) , and you basically just alienated a bunch of users who may have just not gotten used to how to minimize a window vs closing an app the old way.

  26. Alvaro Coronel
    Posted 10 May, 2010 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    Please put the buttons back where almost every person on the planet expects them to be.

    It is a nuisance, a no-no with end users who already are quite hard to sell on the whole “Linux” thing.

    Thanks in advance.

  27. Posted 10 May, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    I think the ubuntu windows looks very good, i will go with it.

  28. Martin Eriksson
    Posted 11 May, 2010 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    There is no what so ever good explaination for the buttonchange. Yes, having the buttons to the left is probaly more logical and”smarter” but how do i explain for my mother why the buttons changed? Also have you no clue about where from the ubuntu-users come? Do they replace their mac for ubuntu or do they dualbbot windows and ubuntu and also try their best to get their widowsfriends to try ubuntu? If one had the buttons to the right for years does it feel natural to have them a the left? This buttonchange is so damn stupid i have no words for it! You call the buttonchange “pesky”, thats you not understandig i think. The buttonchange is a very serious business indeed. im so dissaponted you dont GET it.

  29. Martin Eriksson
    Posted 11 May, 2010 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    I agree with Brad and Stephen Thomas and anyone else that think this is madness and jchange for the sake of change. Is so silly and done with youthfull (or maby old neardness) sake with no clue about the rest of the word. I love my ubuntu and sure, having the buttons to the left is theoreticaly a good idea but it sucks in real life.

  30. Joop deBruin
    Posted 11 May, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    I found this move quite annoying. I tend to use the keyboard and only use the mouse while in a mouse intensive situation (think GIMP). Here’s a change that demands a change by a right click on the desktop and a one or two click into a window customization app. I won’t obsess about it, but wish that the Canonical crew would think about making changes without informing users how to revert back. A start up notes page on first boot after upgrading and only with HIGH LEVEL changes that only affect the end user!! I don’t care if the wallaby IP stack in the hootchy gootchy plonk now has better error control. I DO want to know that a major UI changed occurred and how to change it back if I don’t like the change.

  31. Posted 12 May, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Here is my hotfix:
    Add repository -> ppa:bisigi/ppa
    There are a few cool themes there – I prefer the balanzan

  32. Walter
    Posted 12 May, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I’ve been using Lucid for few weeks now.
    Adapting to the new button placement is taking some time but it’s hardly an inconvenience. I cannot understand all these negative comments, really.
    The buttons can be easily switched back to how/where they were, if for whatever reason, they’re a serious inconvenience, so I don’t see the problem.
    Also, the reasoning behind this is now very clear (see Mark Shuttleworth’s post on Windicators) which is a positive change that should be welcomed by everybody.

  33. Posted 12 May, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    @Walter: To make it short: For me at least mouse kilometers increased a lot.
    Apart from that I often need to support Windows PCs so it is annoying that such frequently used features have not the same style in both OS.

  34. Posted 14 May, 2010 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    The theme is absolutly cool!!!

  35. mircea
    Posted 14 May, 2010 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I think the wisest move will be to have the Preferences-Appearance dialog offer a simple way of changing the default button position. Ubuntu Tweak already offers a lot of easy customization on many issues. I think Ubuntu and Linux in general may appeal more to users of concurrent OS-es if it will be easy to customize the LAF as close as possible to their current platforms.

  36. Posted 17 May, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    The problem is that the buttons can’t so simply be changed in position (look at some of the optional themes. Due to change of the close button position the fluent graphic is destroyed (because of the rounded engraving around the buttons – hope you understand what I mean).

  37. Posted 18 May, 2010 at 2:33 am | Permalink

    Again i feel like i need to point out this -like 99% of ubuntu-users come from windows and atleast 90% of us still dualboot windows. I myself are old enough to have used amiga-os and had my buttons to the left from mid 80’s to mid 90’s and it was great so i understand where the idea comes from. But in the late 90’s i was forced into windows for various reasons and even if im in ubuntu 80% of my computertime still 15 years of windows use put the buttons to the right. I think this button move to the left is a very naive move full of youthfull stupidness.
    Where the buttons is at is not up for discussion about what is the “logical” placement of them. What is important is what os the new and old ubuntu user comes from primary. Do they come from Amiga os or osX or do they come from windows? Should we alienate the windowsusers from our os by making a natural relex something complicated. I dont really know whatyou do at the designteam but i think you should have better things to do the changing the placement of buttons. Grow up damnit!

  38. Posted 18 May, 2010 at 2:43 am | Permalink

    This is by far the hugest bug in the history of ubuntu i think

  39. Posted 18 May, 2010 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    You guys/gals have a problem of what was not a problem.

  40. Joop deBruin
    Posted 29 May, 2010 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    @Walter, So Mark Shuttleworth is now Steve Jobs – he knows all and the “masses are just asses”? Perhaps he could consider taking this UI change and shoving it up his mASS.

  41. Posted 30 May, 2010 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    Here i am again. I tried to have the buttons at the left for weeks now but i cant stand it. Aneasy way to change them back is ubuntu tweak. This chaning of the buttons is pure naivety and ignorance. as an earlier poster says “you act like this is the first version of ubuntu.

  42. Posted 30 May, 2010 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    Im so very dissapointed becouse i love my ubuntu and the last release is better then ever but its so ignorantly f**ked up by the same people who made it generaly looking better. What the f**k was you thinking? I men in the f u t u r e there should be no need for those buttons and the future will come soon i hope and all you accompished in the short meantime is to make all linux users and possible pre-windowsusers confused and allienated only becouse of your ignorant bright thought of whats logical. Its your fault i and maby a milion others spent minutes looking for the buttons. I cant imagine the naivety of the minds that sat dicussing this and thought they had a briliant idea. Im so upset about this you probably cant imagine. You f**ked up a GOOD thing with childishness.

  43. nospam
    Posted 30 May, 2010 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    Martin Eriksson,
    you browser has probably an add-on to spell check your garbage-post.
    spare everyone’s sanity not using using the f*** world in every sentence.
    Thank you.

  44. yogesh
    Posted 23 July, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Im so very dissapointed becouse i love my ubuntu and the last release is better then ever but its so ignorantly f**ked up by the same people who made it generaly looking better. What the f**k was you thinking? I men in the f u t u r e there should be no need for those buttons and the future will come soon i hope and all you accompished in the short meantime is to make all linux users and

  45. Frederico Araujo Men
    Posted 18 March, 2011 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    Canonical should follow a new strategy for the launch of Unity.
    Below is a link to view the model of the idea.
    Community participation and a greater period of development is important.