Eric Dunbar eric.dunbar at
Mon Dec 19 13:53:59 GMT 2005

On 12/19/05, Tollef Fog Heen <tfheen at> wrote:
> * Eric Dunbar
> | (not to mention the faulty paradigm of menubar-in-window which makes
> | it much harder to use menus, especially for people with limited or
> | degenerating fine motor skills).
> I disagree with you calling it a faulty paradigm, since it enables
> another important paradigm: focus-follows-mouse.  I'm also one of
> those people who like to maximise screen estate, so I tend to turn off
> the menu completely and just have the application itself on the
> screen without a lot of visual clutter around.

They are not necessarily incompatible!

It is quite possible to keep focus-follows-mouse with a fixed menu
bar. It combines the undisputed advantage of using fixed targets with
the advantage offered by focus-follows-mouse.

On an "average user" basis I've seen fixed-menu bars (FMBs) used far
more frequently and effectively than focus-follows-mouse (FFM). FFM
requires a lot more advanced computer using skill than FMB (or even
menu bar-in-window), and, when I've introduced people to FFM they
invariably don't like it (I like it sometimes, but, on the whole I
don't... it simply doesn't make for smooth work flow... I find it to
be a "novelty" item).

There is one place where I do see a *real* advantage to menu-in-window
and that's on those ginormous screens (1600*1200 & up). There you can
safely have menu-in-window without sacrificing screen real-estate.

But, until the two paradigms can be used as equals in the same OS*,
this debate won't be easily examined, even if there's good research
out there (and, there is).

* And that's where OSS windowing systems have failed to live up to
their potential to-date -- the focus has been on copying Windows
(since that's what most developers know and hate) and not pushing the
envelop to any great extent :-(.

PS  you wrote:
"I'm also one of those people who like to maximise screen estate, so I
tend to turn off the menu completely and just have the application
itself on the screen without a lot of visual clutter around."

I'm curious Tollef, did you come from the Windows world for your early
GUI experiences? I too like to maximise the screen real estate when
I'm in Windows or in Linux and often go to full-screen mode. It's
annoying to have all that wasted real-estate devoted to window title
bars and task switchers -- items which don't add to the computing
functionality. Unfortunately, that forces one to go to the single
application paradigm, and, sometimes you lose the menu bar (which is
Ok for basic web browsing or word processing but not for real work).

An observation I've made (anecdote ;-) is that Windows-only USERS (not
"hackers" or computer "experts") really like the full screen mode of
MS IE. Once I introduce them to F11, I often find these people coming
back to me, asking how to get back to that "nice layout" (these people
aren't interested (very different from apathetic) or knowledgeable
enough in the nitty gritty of computers to learn F-keys... these are
the same people ill-served by menu bar-in-window).

I am NOT advocating that GNOME abandon menu bar-in-window (and,
judging by your past post, I know Tollef that you don't see the world
in black-and-white... can't say the same for all Linux adherents :-(.
I merely see room for a competing menu bar-in-screen paradigm. The
complexity of the task isn't enormous, we just need some devs with
real Mac GUI experience to get involved (or, some visionary
straight-up Linux developers) (of course, since early Mac users didn't
need to know how to program to use their computers, it never attracted
the same sort of hacker community that came to DOS/early Windows... so
that non-existent Mac hacker community couldn't jump ship to Linux).

(continuing train of thought)
In a way, there's a bit of irony at work here. The hackers were the
first to jump ship from Windows to Linux so they're the ones who
defined and created GNOME/KDE/fluxbox/etc., and, given that they were
hackers, as a community they weren't particularly concerned about
accessibility (since they already had complex solutions to simple

What I hope is going to happen is that the distros of the future will
focus on true accessibility -- making "free software"-based computing
a tool for the user, rather than the user a tool of the software*.
Less is more!

PS Am interested to see where PCBSD goes. It seems like Ubuntu is
sending shock waves through the OSS world. Now, if only
Canonical/Ubuntu could do the same for GNOME that they've starting to
do for OSS *nix -- show vision and leadership to make GNOME better,
not simply to make it Windows**.

*GNOME/KDE are quite good by historical standards (they're certainly
approaching Windows usability in many realms), but, they fall SHORT of
what they could be (which is a Good Thing(tm) because it means there
is room for creativity... I'd rather see that creativity happen sooner
than later so that Linuxers don't get completely locked into the
Windows way of doing things (tm)... which is precisely what GNOME/KDE
were supposed NOT to do).

**The beauty of OSS is that multiple paradigms CAN co-exist. The Mike
Birds of this world can hang on to "their way of doing things(tm)"
whilst the average user can move forward. However, co-existence of
these paradigms doesn't necessarily mean that EVERYONE must work in
some ways. The mail server thread highlights that. The mail servers
can and will continue to function for the foreseeable future, but,
most people don't need it. It exists as a REAL option. It's now time
for experimenters to move forward on GUIs, even if they don't become
the default in GNOME.

PSS Simply focusing on GNOME since that's what most Ubuntuers
(Ubuntuists?) use, not because it's necessarily better or worse than


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