Update at 13:06 UTC: Corrected NetworkManager description, thanks Mathieu for pointing out.

A few months ago, Matt Zimmerman kicked offa new tradition of a quarterly review of the most popular Ubuntu Brainstorm ideas. He did the December review, now it was my turn to coordinate the March review.

7zip desktop support (#26504)

The 7zip compression format becomes increasingly more popular these days; Ubuntu releases up to 10.10 did not support it on the desktop support as well as older formats like zip or bzip2.

Ubuntu developer Sebastien Bacher responds:

The 7z format has in fact been supported by file-roller for quite some time but it does require the installation of the command lines utilities to work. The issue is pretty much addressed in Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty) though since file-roller [...] will ask you if you want to install “p7zip” when you try open an archive using that format.

The other part of the brainstorm request is to also add support for it to gvfs, i. e. that you can browse a 7zip archive as a virtual storage device.This can’t be supported, as the library which is used for this (libarchive) only supports streamable format for efficiency. 7zip is not streamable, and thus would provide a very poor performance.

Empty directories in the Nautilus file manager (#26335)

In tree view mode, nautilus currently displays an expander symbol even if a directory is empty. This looks slightly confusing and makes it harder to see which directories actually have content.

This is indeed a long-standing known problem (the upstream bug is almost ten years old!). Rodrigo Moya, one of the GNOME maintainers in the Ubuntu desktop team, explains why fixing this is actually a lot harder than it might seem initially: Checking each folder to see if it’s got children or not might be time and CPU consuming when displaying lots of subfolders; it gets worse if you are browsing a directory on a remote or slow virtual file system like gphoto cameras or compressed tarballs.

One possible improvement would be to do the test asynchronously and display/hide the expander arrow as the subfolders are checked, and possibly restrict this to local file systems with a maximum number of directory entries. This would create an inconsistency, though.

So unfortunately it is not very realistic to see this being addressed soon.

Login screen (gdm) improvements (#26482)

This item suggests adding features to gdm which make it more useful, such as adding a clock, widgets, or a guest session without requiring an already existing running user session.

Ubuntu and GNOME developer Robert Ancell has a lot of experience with both gdm as well as his own LightDM project.

He points out that in GNOME 3 a clock was added to the login screen and looks similar to the proposed design. So we will get that in Ubuntu 11.10. Other changes to gdm should be discussed and proposed in the upstream bug tracker.

For 11.10 there is an existing proposal to use LightDM by default. LightDM offers a a lot more and easier possibilities for customization and theming, so any contributions for writing widgets or other improvements will be welcome.

Easy side-by-side window arrangement (#26152)

With nowaday’s modern big screens it often is too wasteful or even impractical to run applications fullscreen. A common case is to arrange two applications (such as a web browser and a document editor) side by side. This hasn’t had any particular support up to Ubuntu 10.10, aside from moving and resizing windows manually to fit.

John Lea of the Canonical Design Team explains how the main use case has been implemented in Ubuntu 11.04:

Windows can be opened into semi-maximised state where they occupy 50% of the screen width simply by dragging the window to the left or right border of the screen. A preview shadow informs the user that if they drop the window in this location the window will be resized. This interaction provides a simple, clean solution to the problem without introducing any additional window chrome.

Note that the remaining part of the request, resizing two adjacent windows at the same time, is not currently provided. It is quite a complex interaction which can also trigger false positives, and probably also requires some deeper design studies to get the user experience and definition of “adjacent” right. There are currently no plans to implement this.

man usability (#25975)

First-time users of the man utility often wonder how to quit the program again after they are done reading. Neither the manpage itself nor –help explain that, or other keys for navigation.

Colin Watson is one of the man-db upstream developers. He responds:

I’ve made a change upstream for man-db 2.6.0 which will address this, by adding “(press h for help or q to quit)” to the default prompt string which is displayed on the bottom line of the screen when reading manual pages. I think this is a reasonable balance between providing guidance and taking up too much screen space, and people who get fed up of seeing it can always follow the documentation in man(1) for customising the prompt.

[...] It will definitely be in Ubuntu 11.10.

Naming of Ethernet connections in the UI (#27250)

When connecting to a wired network, it automatically gets assigned a name like “Auto eth0″. Many people will not know what this is, or even if they do, distinguishing between one or another is difficult.

Our NetworkManager maintainer Mathieu Trudel-Lapierre adopted this problem, and wrote a detailled blog entry about how connection naming will be done in Ubuntu 11.10. In particular, network-manager will make the meaning of the default profiles clearer, and notifications will contain “Wired network” in addition to “eth0″. We still need to keep the actual interface name for more experienced users who want to customize their network configuration.

For the case of telling apart multiple ethernet adapters, Ubuntu 11.04 already layed the foundation for integrating biosdevname, which will provide more meaningful names to Ethernet ports than just enumerating them in an arbitrary order, provided that the BIOS provides names for these. It is not enabled by default yet, but might be in 11.10.

Save dialogs should have the three most recently used folders (#26471)

When saving files you often choose the same couple of folders to store your data. Sadly, the drop down menu for the save-as-dialog box only shows the last folder where you have saved a file. Another common use case is to save a document in e. g. Firefox somewhere, and wanting to open it in another application again.

The desktop world is moving towards better tracking of what the user did most recently, so we asked the Zeitgeist developers about the feasibility of this. Manish Sinha discussed the idea within the project and also with the GTK developers, and summarized the possible options in an email to the technical board list.

We don’t currently know about any developer who wants to work on this. GTK developer Federico Mena Quintero said that it is not too difficult to do, and that he would be happy to guide someone who wants to pick this up. So if this interests you, please give him a ping.

Configure auto-mounting of internal drives (#26946)

Ubuntu (and GNOME in general) does not automount internal hard drive partitions in general, as this might cause unwanted data disruption on e. g. Windows system partitions, and also has a performance impact. However, in some use cases it would actually be practical to do so for selected partitions.

David Zeuten and Martin Pitt, the current udisks upstream maintainers, discussed options how this should be integrated and found an agreement (see the response in brainstorm for details). In short, the gnome-disk-utility program will grow some options which allow you to configure individual partitions similar to this:

Automatically mount this drive:
( ) Never
(X) When I log in
( ) On computer startup

(note that this is in no way a finished design or even user fiendly strings).

The current timeline for this is to implement this for GNOME 3.4, which would be in time for Ubuntu 12.04.

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