Notifications: uselessness of

Matthew Paul Thomas mpt at
Thu Feb 26 18:18:11 GMT 2009

Hash: SHA1

Lars Wirzenius wrote on 25/02/09 17:14:
> It doesn't matter what it is that pops up on the screen: be it a
> notification bubble (old or new design), a new window that causes the
> task bar to change, or an application that causes its task bar button
> to blink. Or something else.
> I don't like it when those things happen. All applications should, in
> my opinion, strive to interrupt the user as little as possible,
> especially by default. If the user really wants to be notified of
> every incoming e-mail, that's fine, but by default, in my opinion, the
> Ubuntu desktop should consider the vast numbers of people who use
> their computer as a tool, rather than as a toy.

I agree entirely. Developers often think their software is more
fascinating to people than it actually is, which leads them to make the
software more "chatty" than it should be. (The pathological extreme of
this can be found in the Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines, which
seriously recommend that a "non-critical system event" should display a
notification balloon "once every 10 minutes if users must resolve within
an hour, once every hour if users must resolve within a day".)

One pleasant side effect of our work on notifications is that it has
given us the excuse to rip out some gratuitous notification bubbles,
such as the one saying "Your laptop battery is now fully charged". And
when an interactive notification is really necessary, an alert box or
other window that opens in the background will usually be less
distracting then a bubble that floats on top of your work.

> The notifications I would like to see are for serious things: when I'm
> about to lose data, or cause a security breach to happen, or endanger
> someone's health or property. Trivial stuff like new e-mail or IM
> messages or highlighted lines on IRC should be turned off by default.

Agreed. (And it is off by default, as far as I know.)

> Because of this, I find all the work that is going into making
> notifications prettier to be misdirected.

We're starting small. This isn't a "feature", it's not something that
would make sense to mention in a brochure or anything like that, but it
should be excellent anyway. And as for "making notifications prettier",
that amounts to about 5 percent of the notifications work we're doing.

- --
Matthew Paul Thomas
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