Opening windows without user action

Matthew Paul Thomas mpt at
Thu Feb 26 19:41:00 GMT 2009

Hash: SHA1

Several people have made these points over the past couple of days, but
I'll reply only once. :-)

Aigars Mahinovs wrote on 24/02/09 02:55:
> However, the system should _never_ open windows without user action.

That is a nice ideal, and certainly developers should be sparing about
opening windows unasked.

But as an absolute, that rule simply does not work for graphical
operating systems running on real hardware that can experience errors,
and it simply does not work for graphical operating systems that accept
human-relevant connections from a network.

If your hard disk starts to fail, the system needs to display something
that will notify you in time to migrate to a new one. If someone is
trying to call you over IM, the system needs to display something that
lets you answer the call quickly before the person gets bored and hangs
up. If you're on the Internet and there's a software update to fix a
security vulnerability, the system needs to prompt you to install the
update soon so that you don't get attacked. If three months ago you set
a calendar alarm for today, the system needs to display something today
that lets you know it's happened.

Until now, Ubuntu has often used persistent interactive notification
bubbles for these kinds of things. These have been functionally
equivalent to alert boxes, only yellower and floatier. Real alert boxes,
and especially other types of window, can communicate much more
expressively and at lesser risk of accidental clicks.

> Linux is about user being in control.

Any sentence of the form "Linux is about <noun phrase>" is a fallacy.

>                                       Viruses on Windows take away
> control from users by creating new pop-up (and pop-under) windows. Any
> new Ubuntu user coming from virus infected waters will automatically
> associate a window that magically appears on his desktop as a virus,

Sorry, but limiting the Ubuntu interface to whatever malware doesn't
look like -- on a different OS, even! -- is not a tenable design
strategy. You might equally say that any Windows user will automatically
treat anything free as suspicious, or anything coming from Africa as a
scam. That doesn't mean it's wrong for Ubuntu to be free or to have
African origins.

> many veteran Linux user will see that as a violation of user trust in
> the system. The system can poke user via notification or maybe even
> icons in really important cases, but window control is user's domain
> and the system has no business messing with that.

We think the reverse is true. Notification bubbles should not be
overused, but when they are used, they should be for things that do not
need response or acknowledgement. If a program does need response or
acknowledgement, it should use a more substantial window. And except for
a few highly-recognizable icons (envelope for messages, speaker for
volume, battery for power, etc), panel icons are pretty hopeless as a
method of notifying people of things.

- --
Matthew Paul Thomas
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