Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'future'

Paul Sladen

In the year 2000 IBM showed off the WatchPad, a computer on your wrist, but one perhaps ahead of its time and still needing a little bit of design-love. Of course, we love highlighting beautiful design when it does finally come along, and in the last few days the beautiful Pebble smartwatch has appeared over the horizon.

As well as being “just a watch” with a long-lasting e-paper display it has a Bluetooth wireless connection, opening up all sorts of possibilities for expansion; particularly showing notifications, SMS messages, or status and calendar updates without having to check a mobile phone directly. Once it’s on your wrist the possibilites are there for all sorts of apps (not just fancy clocks!).

In under one week they’ve raised $5 million in pre-orders from 35,000 individuals—taking the Kickstarter record for the largest amount raised through crowd-funding. A finished product does not just happen by itself, it requires lots of expertise; industrial design for the water-tight casing, ergonomics to make sure it fits on your wrist, electronics layout design for the battery, buttons and e-ink screen …and some firmware (embedded computer software) to make it all work.

Andrew Witte (second from the left in the dream team) is the Lead Engineer working on the firmware and an Ubuntu fan. Andrew’s desk on a typical day has a sprawl of cables, a Lego car, some low-level JTAG programmers, USB prototyping cables, several half-finished Pebble boards …and, in the middle is Xubuntu (Ubuntu running with an XFCE desktop) for the development and debugging.

Lots of open source is also being used to make the watch tick. The firmware development toolchain is CodeSourcery GCC for compiling, OpenOCD for working with the JTAG, and GDB (the GNU debugger) for finding all hard to solve bugs. One of the main parts of the Pebble is the Bluetooth interface for talking to smart phones, for which many hours have been spent testing with Ben Lam’s Python-based ‘LightBlue’ framework and utilities like hcitool. If that’s all getting a bit technical, Andrew notes that The Gimp and ImageMagick (both in the Ubuntu Software Centre) are used for processing the bitmaps and pictures before they are sent to the Pebble watch prototypes.

The race is on for the first person who can get a prototype in August 2012 and integrate Ubuntu’s libnotify-osd work with the Pebble watch, in time for Ubuntu 12.10 in six months time! For those with a pre-order, it will be possible to vote on additional-colour in addition to Artic White, Cherry Red and Jet Black. We’re hoping that Ubuntu Orange wins!

The Pebble Kickstarter campaign runs until 18 May 2012. To vote later for a colour (such as Ubuntu Orange!) you need to pre-order in the colour-Pebble category ($125+shipping).

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John Lea

Introduction to task switching

A key part of any operating system user interface is how it enables the user to switch between multiple tasks. In most desktop operating systems tasks are encapsulated into windows, and the most frequently used method of multi-tasking is window switching. Desktop OSs have multiple methods of window switching (e.g Alt-tab, clicking on indicators, notifications, etc…) however the most common means of window switching is via using what is variously termed a Launcher, Taskbar or Dock. Traditionally there has been a 1:1 correlation between each window and its representation in the Taskbar (see Windows2000 or Gnome2).


(Ubuntu Hardy Heron used Gnome2 which featured one taskbar icon per window)

With Windows XP, Microsoft introduced a way to aggregate multiple windows that belonged to the same application into a single task bar button. This change was primarily focused towards personas who made heavy use of multi-tasking; this feature only switched on when the number of windows represented in the Taskbar exceeded the length of the Taskbar. It gave the benefits of increasing the number of windows that could be comfortably represented in the available task bar space, and reduced the time and effort it took the user to visually scan a crowded Taskbar and identify an application. The cost of this change was that an additional click was required to switch to a window that was not the most recently focused window of that application.

Windows XP desktop
(The WindowsXP desktop that introduced the concept of representing multiple windows with one taskbar icon)


Unity’s current window switching functionality

Fast forwarding to 2009, when working on the original designs for Unity we knew that window switching was one of the key areas of any OS’s user interface, and we set out to design a window switching paradigm that would surpass the utility and usability of the contemporary competition at the time (Windows 7 and OSX Snow Leopard). The Launcher was only 50% of that equation, the other 50% was a set of functionality we termed the ‘Spread’.

The Spread designs were completed, prototyped and tested well before the launch of Unity with 11.04, but unfortunately due to the huge number of other items that needed to be completed before we could launch a brand new desktop shell, the decision was made to postpone the development of this feature and use the Compiz equivalent of this functionality as a stop-gap measure.

Ubuntu 11.04 desktop
(Compiz window switching in Ubuntu 11.04)

While using the Compiz window switching functionality enabled us to hit 11.04 launch deadline, there are a number ways in which it could be improved. Since then many many bugs, mailing list and forum postings have also requested the same set of functionality that was postponed as a result of this decision. Requests we frequently receive include:

  • Please make it easier to tell one window from another, all terminals look very similar!
  • Make it easier to select windows using keyboard navigation and shortcuts
  • I would like to be able to easily close windows from the window switcher view
  • Can you make it clearer to see which application’s windows are currently being displayed (in the switcher view)?
  • I find it difficult to see which window is currently focused in the window switcher view, can this be improved?
  • Can you find a way to make window switching faster?

Window switching requirements

After researching the window switching problem space and examining the use cases that a window switcher needs to support, we distilled the findings into a set of design requirements. These were:

  • To aid window identification, the window previews should to be as large as possible, taking maximum advantage of the available screen real estate.
  • Window switching needs to be very intuitive and easy to understand for new users. In user testing, a user who has never used Ubuntu before must be able to switch windows without encountering any difficulty.
  • More experienced users should be offered an accelerated method of ultra-fast window switching.
  • Users should be presented with all the information that is pertinent to making a window switching decision, but no more.
  • The window switching mechanism should follow the activity/task hierarchy, in order to minimise time needed to identity the required application, support intensive multi-tasking use cases with very large numbers of windows, simplify the Launcher ordering problem, and make the most efficient use of the Launcher’s screen real estate.

A very brief introduction the ‘Spread’

So now with 12.04 almost behind us, we have dusted off our original Spread designs and given them a light spring clean ahead of development starting in 12.10. So without further ado…

This design shows when happens when a user clicks on the Firefox icon to spread the available windows. The maximum amount of screen real estate is dedicated to making the window previews as large as possible. Moving the pointer over any of the previews will display the window name in a window title bar, and a close button is included so that any window can be dismissed directly from this view. When in this view users can also directly switch to spreads of other running applications by clicking on application icons in the Launcher.

In addition to pointing and clicking with a mouse or trackpad, power users can perform all window switching actions without taking their hands off the keyboard. Holding down the SUPER key will reveal the Launcher with numbers overlaid on top of the individual Launcher icons.

Pressing a number performs the equivalent action to a left click, so if a app is already focused pressing its number will reveal a spread of its windows.

When the spread is revealed, numbers are displayed in the bottom left corner of the previews. Pressing a number will then select the relevant window and close the Spread. Added together this allows a power user to switch to any window of any application just by using the SUPER and NUMBER keys. In addition users will be able to navigate the Spread by using cursor keys to move the orange focus box and ENTER to select.

Another new feature is the ghost window ‘New Window’ option. Previously if a user wanted to open a new window for an application that was already running they had to either middle click on the application’s Launcher icon or press CTRL+N. The problem was that new users had no easy way of discovering these options. When using the Spread, a user can select the ghost window to open a new window of the currently focused application. This feature has even more benefits in a multi-monitor context, and if a application does not support multiple windows this option is not displayed.

Other features include the ability to filter the windows by typing…

and of course this new functionality apples to the SUPER+W spread of all windows on the desktop.


Multi-monitors, workspaces, and all the other gory details

This article only takes a very brief look at a few of the Spread’s features, and barely scratches the surface of the Spread design. A lot of thought has also gone into designing how the spread works in multi-monitor and/or multi-workspace environments, and if you are interested in learning more and reading all the gory details of how every corner case and eventuality is handled, head over to Unity Switching section of the The Toolkit to read the full spec.

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Mika Meskanen

Big thanks to everyone who turned up at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Orlando to discuss Ubuntu’s future on new devices!

Now, following Mark Shuttleworth’s keynote announcement and a number of initial UDS sessions on tablets, TVs and smartphones, we are setting up new channels to pick up the conversation.

We’ve got three new mailing lists for everyone to participate in. Just follow these links and sign up (click ”Join the team” on the right-hand side):

See also our previous post: Getting in touch with us

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Paul Sladen

To join the Ubuntu Monospace beta and give feedback, apply to the ubuntu-typeface-interest team on Launchpad and follow the PPA instructions after being accepted.

Timeline


Hardly a day has gone by in the last six-months without the design team being asking when the Ubuntu Mono monospace is going to be available. Like all of the work on the Ubuntu Font Family, the monospace has been working its way through the phased testing process, gradually being made available to more users, as issues are improved and developed. It’s now at the state where it’s ready to share with the early-access beta team. Depending on how many issues are found it can then proceed to being released via font.ubuntu.com and then finally into a future version of the Ubuntu operating system.

Development on the Ubuntu Mono started back in August/September 2010 with Amélie Bonet at Dalton Maag taking the lead. The Ubuntu Mono consists of four fonts: regular, bold, italic and bold-italic. The full set are true monospace fonts, each character being exactly 0.5em wide and 1.0em high, regardless of the weight. Just like a typewriter there are 12 characters per inch at 12 point. On a typewriter or line-printer, creating “bold” is a matter of printing over the top, building up the ink but keeping the same spacing. The Ubuntu Mono Bold follows this principle.


What took so long?

Making a font takes a really long time, for Ubuntu Mono it has also been necessary to re-learn and re-discover much of a lost-art behind monospace font design; hopefully the experiences from the development (recorded in the bug tracker and design blog) will help others working on monospace development in the future.

In a variable-width font, the letters ‘m’ and ‘w’ are much wider than the letters ‘i’ or ‘l’ leading to two problems. The wider characters must be squeezed to fit, and the narrow characters bulked-out to fill the space. Out of all of these, the Latin ‘i’ and ‘m’ have taken the most time, with many experiments run over several months to try and discern a solution (a compromise is going to be necessary somewhere).


To serif or not to serif?

  • Ubuntu Regular (proportional) on the top line, notice the ‘m’ and ‘@’, both much wider than the versions below. In a proportionally-spaced font the designer has a wide array of options in terms of setting the advance-width of a character, or optimising the kerning by setting customised spacing for certain pairs of letters next to each other (‘AV’, ‘Te’)
  • Ubuntu Mono Regular (fixed-width) in the middle, making characters work is not just a case of squeezing harder! One needs to find a designed alternative: the ‘m’ has a raised middle stem helping to keep the sensation of lightness and space, and for the at-sign (‘@’) the surrounding circle does half a revolution less, leaving the ‘a’ at the top instead of the bottom.
  • Ubuntu Mono Italic (fixed-width) at the bottom, is not just a slanted version of the monospace. The ‘a’ becomes single-storey matching the proportional italic and the letters ‘a’ ‘d’ ‘u’ gain tails in Latin. In Cyrillic Kursive (italic) the character forms often change completely.

The main Latin-based characters that vary are "j1flirt". In the end the ‘r’ was finalised without needing a serif, but the other glyphs have been provided with serifs of some form in order to “fill out” the whole of the cell in which they sit: the numeral ’1′ has a slab serif across the bottom, and for ‘f’ and ‘t’ the cross-bar goes the full width across instead of just the right-hand side. The commas and quotes also gain “typewriter” serif tails.


For more details (along with experimental the PDF diagrams) see bug #677134 (“Style: Mono: discern shape of serifs for i l t “). (Please try to have used the font by testing for one week in your normal use to help filter out knee-jerk reactions).

Where we are now

We need to test the readability of the font, particular the Cyrillic and Greek which have had less testing. We also need to test the technical aspects of the monospace font in as many terminals as possible, including the line-spacing. For this, a set of box-drawing and solid-fill characters have been included in the UbuntuBeta Mono. If working correctly when these are tiled side-by-side each should exactly touch, leaving no overlap and no gap.

This exact 2:1 ratio between height and width means that it can hopefully also be used as an 8×16 bitmap console font. Perhaps in a future version of Ubuntu you’ll be able to see Ubuntu Mono right from the moment the bootloader or CD menu appears! In order to do that, the fonts are being “hinted” to force optimised bitmap forms without “drop-outs” or gaps that appear from the fitting of the complex curve onto a low-resolution grid of pixels. As of this week Jason Campbell at Dalton Maag has handed over his hinted versions of Ubuntu Mono to Vincent Connare for tweaking. The most recent update from Vincent earlier today was “I am reviewing the Monospaced now!”, so hopefully that will reassure everyone that things are a-happening in the background!

Finally, remember that the Ubuntu Font Family is about quality, it’s better that we all get a high-quality monospace font in the long-run than to rush something out of the door too soon. Good things are worth waiting for!

Thank you to a commenter in a previous blog post for inspiring the title.

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Inayaili León

We all know Ubuntu is great, but we want even more people to know just how great. With this in mind, we thought we’d give the visitors of ubuntu.com the tools to spread the word about Ubuntu.

As of today, you can see Tweet and Like buttons on some of the key pages of the website, such as Ubuntu for you, the Features pages, or the Download page.

Sharing features on Ubuntu for you page

This is the first step towards something bigger. In the pipeline are the introduction of more ways of sharing the Ubuntu message with friends, family and (why not?) your entire social network. For now, we’ve focused on the two most popular services.

Sharing a page from ubuntu.com on Twitter
Sharing your favourite pages of the Ubuntu website on Twitter is a breeze. Before tweeting, you can customise your message too.

We’d love to get your feedback, hear your suggestions, and know your ideas on how you can tell the world just how lovely Ubuntu is. As an Ubuntu lover and active member of the community, what tools do you think would help you and be most valuable in sharing your experience of Ubuntu?

Finally, if you love Ubuntu, help us spread the word: visit ubuntu.com and share those links with as many people as you can!

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Inayaili León

Natty Narwhal isn’t the only thing new today in Ubuntu. Along with it, and as you may have already noticed, we have updated some areas of the Ubuntu website, including a fresh new homepage.

What’s new?

This overhaul of the website focuses on improving and refining the experience for users who are new to Ubuntu and who we want to entice and convert. We have taken a better look at how Ubuntu’s most important features and characteristics were (or weren’t, in some cases) being shown, and whether visitors’ most important questions were being answered.

Several things have changed. Firstly, rather than having separate sections for Desktop and Netbook (and as a consequence of the move towards Unity), we have created a single section called, simply, Ubuntu. We have also added a direct link from the main navigation area to a new Download section, making the different download options more visible.

Under the new Ubuntu section, Ubuntu’s features are given the spotlight. Rather than having a long list of screengrabs as before, various tabs take you through a more detailed tour of the most exciting and useful features.

The Web browsing features page
The Web browsing features page

In the new What’s new? section you can see what has changed from previous versions of Ubuntu.

Interactive tooltips in the What’s new? page
Interactive tooltips in the What’s new? page

The new homepage is cleaner, more focused and it shows off some of Ubuntu’s features from the outset. The new design also solves one of the biggest performance issues the previous version suffered from: very large file sizes, which rendered the page too slow to load.

Ubuntu website’s new homepage
Ubuntu website’s new homepage

These larger updates to the site started earlier this year. In March, the Business section (which was previously divided in two sections, Server and Cloud) underwent a major restructuring. The main objective was to make it easier for businesses to find out about all that Ubuntu, and Canonical, have to offer them.

The new Business section
The new Business section

Why the change?

These updates didn’t just pop up from nowhere. Last December, we carried out intensive user research to see how the website was performing. During these sessions, we interviewed users of different platforms and with different backgrounds. We analysed their paths through the websites, we heard their questions, took note of their concerns and observed their “awe moments”.

The findings from our analysis showed that although users found Ubuntu compelling, they were having difficulty finding answers to their questions on the Ubuntu website, and some of the most interesting features didn’t have the prominence they deserved.

The findings analysis phase
The findings analysis phase

This happened not only for end users, but also for business users, hence the update of both sections.

Whilst the overhaul is visible in both the design and structure of the website, we have also been trying to (slowly) improve what’s hidden behind the scenes.

We (as Canonical’s Design and Web Team) are conscious of the fact that both the markup and the code behind the website can be greatly improved. Our ultimate goal is to make the code that powers Ubuntu’s website as good as Ubuntu itself. We want it to be indicative of our standards.

This will make the website more easy to maintain and it will reflect on how accessible it is (which is a consideration that we’re striving to keep present throughout the entire process, not only in the coding phases of the project).

Steps in the right direction

To create these new pages, we have compartmentalised the new code so that we could experiment with creating better code. Our goal is for the new code to be more accessible, more flexible, more modular, less convoluted, less redundant, more performant and more robust. Our markup can be cleaner and more semantic.

One of our main concerns regarding the current website’s design and code is its lack of accessibility at some points. For this matter, we spoke directly with the Ubuntu Accessibility team to register their worries and suggestions. The main items that transpired from this session were:

  • Some colour combinations don’t provide enough contrast between background and foreground
  • Text should be easier to resize, using relative units (such as ems) rather than absolute ones (like pixels)
  • The copy should be clear and concise
  • Some of the text is too small
  • There are visibility issues in links and navigation

This chat was helpful as it helped to consolidate the issues we were aware of, surface other problems and most importantly provide us with a real world view of how these can disrupt users.

We have begun addressing some of these in the new designs and will continue to do so in the coming months.

What the future holds

You can expect more and better updates to ubuntu.com within the next few months.

The main focus of our work will be making the website more accessible and easier to navigate by following current web standards and bringing it up to the Ubuntu and Canonical standard of quality; the code should be easier to manage, the content easier to update, and the message clear.

We’re confident we’re heading in the right direction. We’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions and comments.

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Iain Farrell

The theme of this week’s update is one of cool stuff that we came across this week in the world of open source.

You’ll know from Christian’s blog post a while ago that we’re really interested in the idea of interacting with your computer physically. Christian experimented with the webcam in a laptop but imagine what could be done with a Stereoscopic box of tricks like that clever Kinect setup for the Xbox!

Well, wonder no more because as it transpires we can play with it on Linux right now. Both Engadget and OMG! have written up stories and it’s quite exciting to see that this is working so soon after its release. If you’re interested in how it actually works you can head over to Wired who wrote an interesting piece about it for those with a taste for popular science.

Staying with exciting interactive technology John Lea on our team came back from a conference in Germany this week, The ACM International Conference on Interactive Tabletops and Surfaces – no less. Some representatives from a company called Archimedes Solutions demonstrated a tabletop surface running games. You can see a video from April this year showing off a castle defence game amongst others on Youtube.

Away from the new hotness the reason we’re a bit quiet is that we’re cracking on with the Natty cycle and getting our ducks in a row. There’s a lot of activity on Launchpad and we’re engaging with the artwork community. More on all of this later!

Splendid weekends everyone!

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Mat Tomaszewski

The future of books?

Check out these lovely ebook touchscreen concepts from IDEO.

The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.

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Christian Giordano

Getting physical

Introduction

With the ingress in the market of products like Nintendo Wii, Apple iPhone and Microsoft Kinect, developers finally started realizing that there are several ways a person can control a computer besides keyboards, mice and touch screens. These days there are many alternatives, obviously based on hardware sensors, and the main difference is the dependency on software computation. In facts solutions based on computer-vision (like Microsoft Kinect) rely on state of the art software to analyze pictures captured by one or more cameras.
If you are interested on the technical side of it, I recommend to have a look to the following projects: Arduino, Processing and OpenFrameworks.

Usage with Ubuntu

During a small exploration we did internally few months ago, we thought about how Ubuntu could behave if it was more aware of its physical context. Not only detecting the tilt of the device (like iPhone apps) but also analysing the user’s presence.
This wasn’t really a new concept for me, in 2006 I experimented with a user proximity sensitive billboard idea. I reckon there is a value on adapting the content of the screen based on the distance with who is watching it.

We came up with few scenarios which are far to be developed and specified, hopefully will just open some discussions or, even better, help to start some initiatives.

Lean back fullscreen

If the user moves further from the screen while a video is playing on the focused window, the video will go automatically to fullscreen.

Fullscreen notifications

If the user is not in front of the screen, the notifications could be shown at fullscreen so the user can still read them from a different location.

Windows parallax

Since this is the year of 3D screens, we couldn’t omit a parallax effect with the windows. A gesture of the user could also trigger the launcher appearance (see prototype below).

Prototype

With few hours available, I mock up something very quickly in Processing using a face recognition library (computer-vision).
Despite it could be hard to detect the horizontal position of the user’s head without a camera, we are in no way defining the technology required. The proximity could be in-facts detected with infra-red or ultra-sound sensors.

Parallax and fullscreen interaction via webcam from Canonical Design on Vimeo.

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Iain Farrell

Just an average day in 2014

While I’m not convinced that Sweden will actually win the world cup there’s lots to like about this “five minutes into the future” look at how we might share content and interact with devices in a few years time. I’m setting a reminder in my calendar. I’ll catch you in 5 years, see if we made it ;)

There are more videos on the http://www.youtube.com/user/TATMobileUI.

Discovered via the delightful Steve Clayton’s blog.


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