Feb 10, 2012

Small Details Matter A Lot!

For me, today is one of those sad, sad days. Everything was fine until I did read this blogpost on OMG Ubuntu!. It struck me like lightning. Is it already April the 1st? No. What the hell did happen there? What went wrong. I've been using this happily since it's introduction. It's not a great feature, it's an AWESOME one! This made the Unity Launcher matter to me. Now it's basically back to what every other launcher on every other OS does. Big bummer ...

I still remember very well the first time I stumbled over it. I remember how I played with it and later showed it to my flatmate and told him how awesome this feature is. And he agreed. It was love at first sight. We both use it and we both like it today. Back then it still was buggy, didn't work as expected all the time and had its quirks. But it was a feature that made the launcher stand out from others. At the time we all could see the potential. And I do not think that this potential has suddenly disappeared.

So, Mark Shuttleworth writes on the Ayatana Mailing List a few things on this topic. I do understand the reasoning behind the removal. But, in my opinion, completely axing the feature is a bit extreme. He writes the following:
So, based on that, we made the following design choices:
  1. To start with the launcher always visible. This is the least surprising starting position. Nothing happens unless the user commands it. 
  2. To expose an option of having the launcher hide, or be fixed.
  3. Not to offer a dodge option, because users who don't want it always there are perfectly capable of using it in plain hiding mode, and users who don't know what 'dodge' means don't have to spend time trying to parse it.
Point one is pretty clear, good and what should be the case and is expected. Second point doesn't say much besides "no dodge". Third one is a bit tricky. Yes, users who don't know what "dodge" means shouldn't be confronted with it out of the box (point 1). And, yes, users who use dodge can also use plain hiding mode, as they can use always visible mode (hey, they are advanced users!). But what the hide mode users really want is a good implemented dodge mode! As that's the evolution of simple hiding.

To me, dodge is definitely a feature for advanced users. It's basically an improvement to the always hide mode. It's that small detail that transforms the launcher behavior from good (that it hides) to awesome (that it dodges when it would waste space otherwise). It's nicer and makes one feel like the launcher has some intelligence to it. If I have my desktop visible, I want the launcher to be visible. There is no reason to hide it except laziness of the programmers to implement a better behavior. Especially as likely the next thing I do is launch one of those pinned "important" apps of mine. With a hidden launcher that needs more effort from my side.

There has only been one thing that still is annoying about the dodge feature. In the current release it shows as soon as you touch the left screen edge with you mouse. This is annoying for some programs. Especially graphic applications, like Gimp or Inkscape as they have icon toolbars there. But guess what!? They fixed that by introducing edge resistance (which is awesome too!) in the newest alphas for the next LTS. So now that dodge would have been perfect they axe it completely instead of making it an option for advanced users. Personally, I would rather axe the always hide mode.

A sad, sad day indeed. I just say, details matter and this is one of those details that did matter a lot. And definitely not only to me. This is the additional attention to detail and polish that is needed to make something awesome. I hope they leave it in for the LTS release as an hidden option. Furthermore, I hope someone will add this feature over some Compiz plugin to later versions of Unity. It's been too useful to just disappear completely.