New stuff for ubiquity-slideshow!

Remember that slideshow when you did a fresh install of Ubuntu Karmic?

For Lucid, ubiquity-slideshow is rocking, if I may say so myself :)

First of all, a quick refresher: this is a really simple project with the goal of providing an introductory slideshow that runs when people install Ubuntu. The ubiquity-slideshow packages are all content packages, then Ubiquity displays that content at the right time.

The slideshow is implemented with Webkit, since all the cool people use Webkit. (It also renders things nicely, it’s flexible, quick, we can quickly throw it on the web, people can make content really easily, and Javascript allows us a good split between interactive goodies and actual functionality like installing the operating system).

As far as content is concerned, I try to keep this different from other introductory slideshows in the content that I maintain. It doesn’t try to sell the product as people install it, instead providing some exciting points of action for getting started. Not as vague as you get in Windows’ slideshows, but not an in-depth how-to either.
The idea is really summed up in the first slide: Through this I want to encourage new users to explore Ubuntu and really discover how awesome it is (instead of what buttons to press).

(I admit it: I am obsessed with whitespace)

So: Lucid… Lots of new stuff here.

First of all, the project is now providing separate slideshows for Xubuntu, Kubuntu and Ubuntu installations. It’s also really easy to add more, so anyone who wants in on neat slideshowy action can!
I’m hoping to get an Ubuntu Netbook Edition slideshow in there, too. It isn’t perfect at the moment, so if you have any suggestions for what needs to be done or said, please let me know or write to the ubiquity-slideshow mailing list on Launchpad!

Translations aren’t horrific to work with any more. It’s still possible that strings may change before documentation freeze, but the gist of it is we just have one translation template that has all the text for each slideshow. You can go through the list on a rainy afternoon and have your favourite distro’s installer slideshow completely translated for your locale.

Speaking of strings being changeable, if you see any errors, things that sound strange, things that are useless, things we need or things that you could say better, please file a bug or let me know. I keep a recent copy of things at http://people.ubuntu.com/~dylanmccall/ubiquity-slideshow-ubuntu

Michael Forrest and Otto Greenslade, from the design team, sent me a mockup and some graphics to fit with the exciting new Ubuntu branding. I worked them into the CSS and played with the text a little. Thus, behold, the proposed new look for the Ubuntu slideshow!

The whole thing can be seen on the web. It is a little bit larger than the one in Karmic.
Imagine it in Ubiquity, without a border, inside the awesome new Ambience theme, gracefully connecting to the title bar. Mmm…

Keep in mind this is still a proposal, just fully implemented (granted a few clunky bits).
Any constructive feedbacks or cries of “stop, you maniac!” are certainly not in vain :)

Thanks for listening!

Yet another reason why menu bars are evil

Seif Lotfy posted excitedly about Ian Cylkowski’s in-depth Nautilus redesign mockup.

I found it very nice and refreshing, too. However, I noticed one strange thing: the menu bar just up and vanished. Ian`s incentive intrigued me:

Hidden Menubar: I’m not going to take sides here on whether we should still be having a menubar in applications or not; it’s another minefield of opinions and flaming. I’m personally fine with a menubar inside the application, but I also happily use applications that tuck away the menubar under a single icon (think Google Chrome). But I do think that we should have the option here. In my mockup, all the menubar settings can be brought up with the settings icon (first icon after the pathbar). But if you would like to see the menubar permanently then this, too, should be an option.

Being one of those people who considers the slightest growth of an options dialog a crushing defeat, I just have to debate that. Hopefully this won’t cause the flame-war Ian predicts. That would be a bad start for my first aggregated blog post. (Hi, Planet Ubuntu!)

What I would like to do is go over why Chromium’s menus are great, and why they absolutely are not just “tucked away under a single icon” but intentionally designed that way and inseparable from that particular approach. It’s about simplifying the menu so it relates to the two distinct subjects the user interacts with: the application and the current page.

There are millions of things I dislike about menu bars, but that would take all year to discuss. (And I have different things to fix). I’ll just vent about two problems which relate closely to each other:

  • They traditionally consume 100% width. A small menu bar looks wimpy. Half of that menu bar will inevitably be wasted space no matter how hard the developers try to cram stuff into there.
  • There is a strange urge to duplicate everyone else’s menus for consistency and have as many of these as possible. For some reason the uniqueness of an application is expected to vanish at the menu bar, which becomes an abstract world with words like “File” referring to web pages, photos, applications and video clips alike. Menu bars are popular things for accessibility, so I wonder if this abstraction helps in that regard or hinders.

Having said that, GNOME applications deserve some credit for usually replacing the title of the File menu with Music or Photos. Yet, the generic top-left-most menu is still there in spirit.

As we can see from the gnome-terminal screenshot, though, the File menu’s spirit is weak. Challenge of the day: name one file related thing there, then explain why adding and editing profiles should be in different places.

So, Chromium is interesting because it is one of few applications to finally take a bold step against the ’90s fashion in menu bars. First of all, the distinct lack of a menu bar clears up the interface considerably. There are still menus, however, because menus are important to categorize functionality in a pleasant fashion. Then they accept that, to an end user, the browser is not interacting with “files” but with web pages. So, the File menu becomes a Page menu. Completely. They also throw away all the baggage that the File menu used to have.
…and that is where the magic happens. Now the menu has a far more powerful, meaningful context. Actual useful functions can be put there that are of importance to people and relevant to what they are doing. Things like zooming, printing, copying and pasting inside pages.

The remaining stuff happens in the context of the Application menu (the wrench). Quitting, opening windows, changing preferences, dealing with bookmarks; anything that is related to the application as a whole, not the current page. Since Chromium was designed with a logical scope, that is everything else it does (except what extensions add).

I think we can do a lot better than the traditional menu bar. Just yanking it out, though, won’t do us much good.

Word clouds

I discovered an awesome new toy: Wordle.net! It gave me an interesting urge to generate vaguely inter-related word clouds from the current stories on some major free software related blogs. I think it would spoil these to add commentary; I just found them kind of interesting :)

I guess a really adventurous person could do a meta-Wordle of all these…

Planet GNOME

Original (wordle.net)

 

Defective By Design

Original (wordle.net)

 

Boycott Novell


Original (wordle.net)

 

Monologue


Original (wordle.net)

 

Miguel de Icaza


Original (wordle.net)

 

FSF Blogs


Original (wordle.net)

 

Images of Wordles are licensed Creative Commons License

UDS Day 1 (only a day late)

So, yesterday was the first day of my first UDS!
Arrived at the airport around 8:30pm local time. The plane was scheduled for 30 minutes earlier, ruining my rather harebrained scheme to meet up with Andrew SB there and share a taxi. (I later met him at the hotel and apologized profusely). Ended up getting to the hotel around 9:30 pm. Somehow, my room-mate and I managed to be completely invisible to one another. For that night and the next morning, the only trace I had of the fellow was his laptop computer. (I’ve been racking my brain for a particularly apt “lucid lynx” metaphor to describe the behaviour).
I FINALLY recognized his computer – and, therefore, him – later in the day.
Following an awesome demo during the plenary session, I have been completely convinced: Quickly is beautiful. It’s simple, it doesn’t _look_ like something particularly amazing, but by golly it is!
I already love the atmosphere here. Still trying to figure out who everyone is, but once I get my head around that, I feel like this is really empowering :)
The sessions so far have been very inviting for participation. (And there is always the room’s IRC channel projected in plain sight for everyone, for those who aren’t aware).
There was a really productive discussion with the desktop team about the upgrade experience for Hardy Heron users. There is interest in presenting users with what is new and what they should be careful about before and during the upgrade. This is really important for Hardy -> Karmic because we will have changed many default applications. There are also sure to be some packages installed by the user which end up being removed with the upgrade.
Someone drew a parallel to ubiquity-slideshow, and I made a note of that in Gobby. It would be fun to have something like it during the installation. A big issue, though, is that Webkit isn’t installed in Hardy and it would be silly to engineer a particularly complex solution. A simpler slideshow style application – or using gtkhtml – would work better. (May be a good direction to move in as a whole, now that Karmic is done).
Besides that, it seems that this type of information could do with being more personalized to the user’s particular situation. And besides THAT, upgrades are slower than clean installs from my experience; nobody is going to sit and watch a slideshow, but they may read a nicely formatted list of notes relevant to their situation.
Another important thing – and, personally, I love this – is the thought that upgrades should be more decisive in presenting the end user with a desktop that is close to the defaults. It is a bit controversial, so I hope there is a lot of community involvement around the point, but I think there is some great reasoning for it. For example, a lot of users may have applied their own settings because they didn’t like the old defaults, but the new ones – especially with the delta between Hardy and Lucid – may be more interesting to them.
There was also a great discussion about Ubuntu Fridge. There is a strong concensus that, at this time, it isn’t working. It is unexciting and usually starved for content. It is also not very colourful; very plain :(
Unfortunately, it all got pretty caught up, around the middle, with talk about Canonical’s IS department and WordPress vs. Drupal. Still, a lot did get done. Knowing that people agree around an idea helps a great deal. I look forward to contributing to this one if I can!
Personally, I think it would be fun to drop the one-dimensional blog feel. Someone (sorry, as I said I’m still matching names to faces) mentioned that we could post occasional fun things to break the mold, “like a real fridge,” just in lower volume and with more certain quality than on a planet. Thinking about it, I think this type of content could be maintained nicely in a sidebar of some sort. Two benefits: the colourful stuff stays in plain sight to keep the Fridge looking more dynamic, but the flow of more “important” information isn’t broken.
By this being a single web site run through a more centralized group of people (as opposed to a completely automated planet), lots could be done to arrange different types of content in useful, exciting ways.
Just thinking out loud, of course :)
Over and out!

W3C: BoycottNovell is invalid

Out of curiosity for just how nasty BoycottNovell is from a web design standpoint, I ran the W3C validator on one of his article permalinks. (Direct link removed to spare those kind souls unneeded bandwidth consumption).

Here is the aftermath:

Clearly, Roy Schestowitz is a secret Microsoft employee. Through his web site, he spreads the use of Microsoft’s broken version of the web with completely invalid HTML. With this number of errors, it could only possibly be malicious. This is all part of an evil scheme to destroy peace and freedom.

Here is another damning piece of evidence straight from the page source:

<!–[if IE]><style type=”text/css”>.ratemulti .starsbar .gdcurrent { -ms-filter:”progid:DXImageTransform.Microsoft.Alpha(Opacity=70)”; filter: alpha(opacity=70); }</style><![endif]–>

Yep, that’s right. Not only does Roy’s web site not validate, it contains exclusive design elements that only Internet Explorer users can see, which are probably patented to boot! Only those users of non-free Microsoft software are permitted the full design experience. This, while modern, non-Legacy browsers that most people prefer are more than capable of alpha transparency on elements, even with rgba colouring.

We must put an end to this by researching Internet Explorer shills like Roy. We should also boycott all web browsers that can render his rag. By promoting such error-ridden design, they are helping Microsoft, a convicted monopolist.
Yes, I’m looking at you, Mozilla. You have just moved WAY DOWN on my credibility index.

Another reason why free software works (if there aren’t enough already)

I was really pleased with how my little forum post worked out, so I’m dumping it here as well!

Here is the catch that makes the free software platform so awesome: No one entity owns the whole of an end product like Ubuntu or ever will. (Same with all the individual projects it mirrors). There are contributions from everywhere, including groups that conventional businesses would label competitors. Heck, the sudo program is sponsored by DARPA and the USAF. It gets used by governments around the world.
Suffice it to say, this is completely against the status quo. It takes some getting used to, but it all makes sense in the end.

The ecosystem is largely made up of small businesses and individuals delivering support, advice and code for little chunks of the Linux audience. Indeed, support also equates to releasing a super-stable distro like Red Hat. That really comes down to what one’s priorities are.

Products are often released under the GPL or LGPL license, or a license following the same general philosophies (like MPL, Creative Commons or BSD), all in the same spirit of cooperation. Sometimes because a license demands it, sometimes by mere convention or good manners, but most often because it Actually Makes Sense.

It all adds up into a fine purée.

One key thing is that the free software world is building an environment in which to operate comfortably, and the necessary “making a living” part can grow on top. This is different from the Microsoft and Apple way. They have thick, obtrusive roots within their platforms through which they suck money no matter what people think of their stuff. As long as outside developers are reliant on their platform to operate, Microsoft has no trouble.

Free software provides the only level playing field. It is healthy for competition, since everyone is the competition; there is no gatekeeper to divide the official way from the unofficial. It is infinitely flexible. The platform is a neutral, self-regulating entity that everyone needs to care for to survive.

But why care? It’s all soulless corporations who want to earn a profit, so what’s the problem?
What happened with computer software development was amazing, and we are starting to see it again with content on the web. Computers unlocked an amazing ability for even tiny groups of people to produce fantastic, rich content and then to share it internationally without breaking a sweat. Thick corporations don’t have a chance to grow as they did with heavy manufacturing.

Free software is about cooperating because it makes life easier for the individual people behind it. The bottom line is that free software is not about soulless corporations. Being free and open means that people can be people instead of hiding behind walls of neutrality and secrecy. The fact is people tend to care about people. (Especially those influenced by our society’s ideals – and especially geeks, it seems).

It is a lot like how our environment is a neutral thing that we are all influenced by and we need to pay attention to it because what it does affects us all, whether bank accounts profit from it or not.