Saturday, May 23, 2009

Project that should be integrated into the Gnome Desktop

I'll be honest with you: I'm not excited about where Gnome 3.0 is going. I don't oppose the project. In fact, I think it has some really cool and innovative ideas. I think that, like many other innovative interfaces, it will be largely rejected by the people who have grown up with the WIMP interface. I think they should instead evolve the WIMP model to make it better. With that in mind, here are some up-and-coming projects that I think Gnome should consider mentoring for inclusion.

Earcandy is an audio system add-on which automatically identifies your running multimedia applications (by inspecting .desktop files) and avoids audio interference between them.

Are you playing music while surfing YouTube? Playing a Flash video mutes the music, and stopping the video unmutes it. Got an incoming VOIP call? Your video is muted. There are reasonable defaults, but the behavior is configurable.

This project is still young, but has great promise and does something immensely useful for desktop users.


As I'll talk about later, I really think that there needs to be an easy and quick way to view files. There's no need to open the mammoth that is OO.o when you just want to read, not edit a file. And let's be honest, most users view files several times as often as they edit them. Can you imagine Audacity audio editor being the default MP3 application? How silly would that be.

Of course, Apple has had Cover Flow (link to video) for a while as a way to easily get large previews of files (and even watch videos). Goobus is kind of a Cover Flow clone for Gnome. It's a little unwieldy because of the hotkeys necessary, but the developer is asking for someone to help develop a Nautilus plugin to integrate Goobus better. Want to help out?

Tracker Search

Tracker was included in Ubuntu early on in its life and was panned as a resource hog. Ubuntu went so far as to disable Tracker search in Nautilus. Fortunately, the guys at Tracker weren't detered and have gone on to develop a n extremely fast and SPARQL-compliant indexing / search engine. The development branch even does thumbnailing, album art lookup, and multi-lingual word stemming.

Integrating Tracker search would allow a lot of application to offload independent work that they do now onto Tracker, making that information available to all applications equally. F-Spot could use it to store tags and meta-data (though why would you really need F-Spot if Tracker and Goobus were adapted to use with Nautilus?). Totem could use movie and music info plus tagging to create a nice little music manager, or Rhythmbox could query Tracker instead of keeping its own database. Even menus could use Tracker to speed up the menu time by querying instead of parsing files. Recent files would be available to all applications by service (Video, Music, etc.) or by MIME-type. Epiphany, Gnome's default browser, could move its tagged-based bookmarks into Tracker and keep browsing history there.

Wow, that's a lot of info. Gnome's Zeitgeist would have access to all of it in one spot. Zeitgeist would no longer need to add filters: the applications would handle that part.

Gnome could then move to a tag-based view in Nautilus. Tags would look like folders to the user, with the possibility to switch between tags and physical disk layout. Users would not be overly confused by a new desktop concept, but their desktop experience would be much more enjoyable.


Do you have any suggestions? I'd love to hear them.

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  1. Nice suggestions. I hadn't come across EarCandy before (thanks!).

    I'd also suggest integrating Wallpapoz. Relatively vanilla GNOME gives the impression of being able to have either desktop icons or different wallpapers on each desktop, which somewhat undersells the Linux desktop. What I currently have on this computer is a large collection of wallpapers, split thematically by desktop, automatically changing every minute.

    Aside from this, there should be a focus on dialogs (these aren't as exciting, but they're the big usability failing at the moment): the file dialog is notorious for having spurred a Firefox about:config entry to substitute a generic one; whilst the printer dialog is a total PITA for anyone dealing with multiple trays, paper sizes, and orientations on the same printer. The need really is for a new dialog project, allowing them to be swapped in (or integrated ;-)) at some point.

  2. Good post! Would be really useful additions to the Gnome Desktop.

    Going to try some of these myself..

  3. James,

    Thanks for the suggestion. I hadn't heard of Wallpapoz before (I change my backgrounds about once every couple of months). I'm 100% with you on the GTK+ dialog problem. In my imaginary "Tracker is in Gnome" world, the open dialog will show you all available documents which can be opened by that application, be searchable, have tags listed on the left, have a F-Spot style time line on the top, and list most recently used files first.

    I'm not a big printing guy (just an HP Laserjet) so I won't even pretend I have a supportable opinion on that subject.


  4. I've been wishing to do a similar article for a while. Good stuff !

    I hope more people could post ideas like this.

    I even tried to start a meme, some time ago, but it didn't worked.

  5. Nice article. I have a suggestion for something that wouldn't be too involved, I think, but very helpful to have integrated into the Gnome desktop. I have been trying to find an app that would allow me to quickly and easily color-code FOLDERS. Not backgrounds. Not wallpaper. Folders. Gnome color-chooser looks like what I'm after, but if the package downloaded from the repositories, then it did so really fast, and hid itself somewhere really clever in the bowels of my computer. Tried getting a package from Launchpad, also, and it seems to be configuring, albeit without any helpful messages or clues for a lay-person like myself. It is also taking a LONG time. Even if I do succeed in getting the Gnome color-chooser to work, I think it should be part of the desktop, or at least some simple task-bar applet or other. Apple had this (for me) extremely efficient tool readily available as far back as their System 6. The biggest challenge of my life has been trying to stay at all organized, and I find that color-coding is one of the simplest tricks to help me out with that. I can't think that I'm some mutant statistical flyer, here, either. So that's my big suggestion. Color-coding for the folders, that is easy and fast to apply. Maybe even something to go into a right-click menu. Apple had color-coding in the early nineties, MS has it now, and I really hate having to make excuses for Linux when people ask me about stuff like this when I'm evangelizing the Book of Tux to them. Like many people, I just want to get some work done on my computer. If Gnome stays focused on that, MickeySoft could be a fading memory. Thanks.

  6. I have no solution for you, and the way themes work in Gnome, I don't see colored folders being implementable. What you can do RIGHT NOW is use emblems. The right side panel can display emblems, and you can drag and drop onto folders. The default Ubuntu theme uses emblems which are all of the same color, but you can change that.

  7. Personally I hate Tracker, and disable it on new installs, so I'll disagree with you there.

  8. So it was YOU that got Tracker decoupled from Nautilus on Ubuntu, eh? ;) j/k

    Tracker used to suck. It was implemented too early by Ubuntu (there is a list of too-early-to-add Ubuntu technologies). The front end still sucks and does virtually nothing.

    The development branch, on the other hand, is hot shit, and integrating it into applications and presenting more features to the end user would be a great step forward in the desktop.


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