Xfce design SIG

Mișu Moldovan dumol at xfce.org
Sun Jun 19 19:29:50 CEST 2011

On 29.05.2011 17:21, Simon Steinbeiß wrote:
> Up to now there haven't been any bottom-up design initiatives in Xfce,
> mainly users could file a bugreport/feature request, bug the developer
> on irc or use the mailing-list. What I want to propose together with
> Jannis Pohlmann is an Xfce design SIG (special interest group) that
> doesn't consist of a fixed number or panel of members, but instead
> features a very open approach: anyone can join the design SIG and
> contribute to a task or propose a new task. Naturally this doesn't mean
> that everything/anything the design SIG proposes will be picked up and
> put into code by developers. The idea is that users and developers try
> to get to a point where they say "This is what we think a good
> $application (as in: image viewer, file-manager, etc.) should look
> like."


I'm an Xfce contributor mainly involved in localization, but with
interests in usability and design (I use my own true dark GTK+ theme). I
appreciate Xfce for its extraordinary flexibility which allows me to
configure my desktop just the way I find it more productive.

Lately I've been trying and using for some time the alternative GTK+
desktops (LXDE, Unity, GNOME 3.0) and I've been chewing some ideas for
improving Xfce that draw from the experience of using the alternatives.
I have also followed the evolution of other desktops (KDE, OSX and
Windows mainly, but also the likes of ROX, Haiku and Syllable).

I've read the pages at https://wiki.xfce.org/design/start and I think
you are doing a great job, but my ideas are much more radical in
comparison (not necessarily better, mind you). If I'm allowed to, I
would like to list them:

  1) minimizing the waste of vertical space (so precious on a widescreen
display). Currently a typical app like Midori in Xfce, in a maximized
state, loses vertical space to: top panel, title bar, menu bar, toolbar,
tabs, status bar and bottom panel. That's a bit too much. Some apps try
to compensate for this by merging some of these elements (e.g. Chromium
merges the title bar with the tabs and the menu bar with the toolbar).
But the right approach seems to be to do it at the desktop level, like
Unity, which merges the menu bar and the title bar in the top panel for
maximized native apps.

I wonder if Xfwm4 could integrate in the title bar the menu bar and/or
the tab bar for native GTK+ apps? Maybe using a GTK module in the same
league as gnome2-globalmenu (now rewritten in Vala)? This OPTIONAL (but
default) enhancement, coupled with only one panel, would give users a
lot more vertical space. And it would work for unmaximized windows too.
I've also wondered for ages if it would be possible to implement tabs in
the window manager for apps that do no support them (eg. Thunar). Maybe
by grouping windows of the same app that have the same dimensions?

As for the status bar, it seems destined to become an element that is
only displayed when necessary, as seen in Chromium, Firefox 4 and GTK 3
apps, so there is no need for an Xfce-specific solution. Can't wait to
see this and other goodies in action when Xfce will use GTK 3.

  2) diminishing the scrollbar (as seen in Ubuntu 11.04 and OSX Lion).
Given the fact that scrollbars and their buttons are rarely clicked
(because of scroll wheels and keyboard usage), they are generally a
waste of pixels. They should be slimmer or invisible when static (as in
mobile OSes) and showing buttons only when the mouse cursor crosses the
scrollbar area. It seems GTK+ theming is not enough for this, Ubuntu
11.04 has bundled some specialized extra packages (*overlay-scrollbar)
that implement a new GTK+ widget that enables this dynamic behavior.

  3) putting the Win key (aka Super) to good use: window manager
keyboard shortcuts. I've been using such a setup for several years and
after seeing that Unity is trying something similar in Ubuntu 11.04, I
wonder maybe it's not such a bad idea to dedicate this key to the
actions of the window manager. From a usability perspective, Win-Q seems
a better fit for closing a window than Alt-F4. And it's easy to use it
for everything: Win-F puts the app full screen, Win-1 gets me to the
first workspace, Win-LeftArrow changes to the left workspace etc.

I am aware this would be rather radical, but the shortcuts are
configurable and to help a bit, Xfwm4 could display the associated
shortcut in the tooltip that appears when the mouse hovers on the window
buttons. There is also the benefit of using only one hand for any
shortcut, as most keyboards have two Win keys.

Other more general ideas related to Xfce are:

  a) proxy settings should be centralized in the Xfce settings manager
for all Xfce native apps. I wonder why this is not a general GTK+
setting? I am aware of the environmental variables, but still...

  b) there should be a downloadable live CD image and a virtual image of
the stable Xfce release available prominently at xfce.org, so that
interested users could rapidly test a default Xfce desktop. I've seen
the list at http://xfce.org/download/distros, but there are too many
choices there, some are outdated and none of then seem to showcase Xfce
apps such as Midori. For the record, live images do boot in VirtualBox
and the like, but a full-blown virtual machine would be a bit better.

Well, besides getting you bored, I hope I haven't enraged you too much!
I would love to debate this kind of issues and use my limited time and
testing/design/development abilities to help implement the consensually
agreed enhancements.

If any... Because I think one of the best things in Xfce is the
conservative spirit, the fact that only tried and true solutions get
implemented. I hope Xfce will also adapt what the experiments of Chrome,
Unity, OSX etc. turn as viable enhancements.

Thank you for your time,


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