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Thursday, 26 January 2012 17:42

Could Ubuntu Linux 12.04 turn Canonical into the new Apple?

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Xerox PARC, Apple, Microsoft: these companies and more have contributed to the ubiquitous but evolving WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointers) user interface. According to Mark Shuttleworth Ubuntu is poised to revolutionise the menu this April.

Canonical's Ubuntu Linux is often considered the most popular and accessible Linux distribution available and its chief driving force, Mark Shuttleworth, is no stranger to innovation.

Almost two years ago Ubuntu's 10.04 Lucid Lynx release met with controversy and debate after the user interface was rejigged to display window buttons (minimise, maximise, close) on the left-hand side (as per MacOS) instead of its traditional right-hand side (as per Microsoft Windows).

While such a change is not radical so far as innovation goes it does reflect the willingness of the company to experiment and reject tradition in favour of new things.

The coming April 2012 release, 12.04, codenamed Precise Pangolin, is set to once again breed extreme feelings of like or dislike within its user community but with a change which competing operating system manufacturers will surely be watching.

Specifically, the traditional WIMP metaphor - windows, icon, menus and pointers - a critical part of the GUI over 40 years - may soon be known as the less-pronounceable WIHP if Shuttleworth has his way.

Shuttleworth's vision is to replace the historic 'menu' with his futuristic vision of a 'HUD'. In fact, Shuttleworth dubs his proposed makeover as a user 'intenterface'.


That's right; it transcends being an interface and instead, via a translucent pop-up HUD, allows the user to express their intent. Rather than navigate through the programmer's menu hierarchy the user can now press a key and scroll through the available commands and options that match. Via learning the HUD moves your most-used commands to the top.

On the one hand this sounds like a ridiculous burden; press 'D' for delete but be forced to trudge through unrelated actions like 'Document Properties' or 'Darker' or 'Dictionary'. On the other hand, imagine just pressing 'P' for Preferences without needing to think, for every app, whether this is under Tools, Options, Edit or other general menu categories.

Shuttleworth pitches the HUD as connecting users directly to what they want, providing screenshots and a video to elaborate.

In Ubuntu 12.04 the HUD will appear wherever the global menu works but is not mandatory. The HUD can be used to supplement the existing menu mechanism if the user so desires.

From here Shuttleworth sees the next evolutionary step being voice control.

In the sad absence of Steve Jobs, could Mark Shuttleworth be the next visionary to massively redefine what it means to interact with a computing device?

 

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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