Removal of notification area

Davyd McColl davydm at
Fri Apr 23 14:02:59 UTC 2010

For what it's worth, I'd like to put in 2 (perhaps long-winded) cents here.

The short story and suggestions:
I think that culling the Notification Area could be problematic (more below,
if you have time and patience to read). I would suggest:
1) Keep the Notification Area applet alive -- try to populate it less with
standard apps, but leave it in the default install for other apps (if it's
empty, it doesn't even have to consume much, if any panel real estate)
2) Provide a "Notification Area to System Menu" bridge (as suggested by
another on this thread) to ease the lives of devs and users alike. Make the
System Menu smart-hide things area with easy config (eg drag-n-drop) -- like
the Win7 notification area.

The long story (don't bother reading if you don't have time):

Don't peg me as a hater -- these are just some observations (some of which I
will illustrate with Pidgin, since that's an app which comes immediately to
mind in this situation):

1) Already we have the case of apps which don't "play nicely" with the user
notification applet such as Pidgin and Skype (both probably out of
portability concerns). Now, personally, I don't want to use 2 different IM
clients (home, Linux; work, Windows), so cross-platform for me, and some
others, is a win. It's also a nice way to make people comfortable when they
cross over from another platform to Ubuntu. In other words, I don't want to
use Empathy -- and I don't see why I should *have* to. Now we're adding
another mechanism to make development for cross-platform apps more
difficult? I expect some fall-out here, and the user is the one who will get
the bad end of it, when devs don't get around to or can't be bothered to
support this "no notification area" concept.
2) Whilst I like the floating click-through notification concept, it doesn't
help for being able to tell, after being away from the desktop, when, for
example, I've missed an IM. I really hope no-one expects that the user
should have to scan all open applications for updates in lieu of a
"systray". Since I don't use empathy (finding it clunky, and, well, just
"not pidgin" enough for me and my set ways), I don't know if the user status
icon can show that there have been IMs since the user stepped away from her
desk -- but I'm assuming not? The pidgin tray icon lets me know straight
3) I've had a look at the spec at for the "menu"
concept, and I have to ask: what, apart from the fact that moving the mouse
will open another app's menu (which may actually confuse new users who don't
expect that) is the difference between this concept and the current
notification area with clickable icons? It doesn't seem all that abstracted
to me...

Point (3) brings me to wanting to support the idea of a notification area
bridge, since the spec just currently creates more work for application
developers who already have a notification area icon in place -- and more
effort for people who have abstracted notification icons for cross-platform
development. Of course, if there's a bridge, then we're back at the dreaded
situation where we have the many notification-like icons -- a position I
assume the initial concept was trying to move away from. It's a bit
catch-22: on one hand, developers want to make their interface more like a
Mac (at least, that's how it looks, with the moving titlebar icons and this
desire to cull the notification tray), on the other hand, there are more
people who are comfortable with the "old way" and lots of app devs who will
have to put in extra hours to follow this paradigm, for what looks like (to
me) not much difference, if every notification-icon-using dev just uses a
"session menu item". Also, I can see how the notification area applet will
probably never die, but the users who still want it will have to install it
on top of the default installation to handle all the apps which haven't
moved over to align themselves with Ubuntuism.

I'm just wondering if these points (or something similar) have been brought
up or thought through before? Feel free to flame away: I want Ubuntu to be
the best distro in the world -- I just want to be able to recommend it to my
newb sister too.

On a side note, the Win7 handling of notification icons is great here: you
see what you want; icons which have something to say appear for a short
while and are hidden again and choosing what to see is a simple drag-n-drop
operation -- quite well done from the company we all love to hate, to be

Finally, apologies for the verbosity. But there was a warning at the outset

The competent programmer is fully aware of the limited size of his own
skull. He therefore approaches his task with full humility, and avoids
clever tricks like the plague.
- Djikstra.
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