Mark Shuttleworth Unveils New Head-Up Display for Ubuntu 12.04

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Every time I write about Ubuntu and its (not-so) new Unity interface, I see lots and lots of comments decrying it as useless, an abomination, the worst thing to ever happen to computers, etc. Personally, I’m not so flummoxed by it, but there’s no denying that Unity has been a divisive addition to Canonical’s flagship Linux distribution. The choice to move application menus up to the global bar at the top of the screen has been frustrating to many, and a lot of power users find Unity too mouse-intensive. Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu’s Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator For Life, yesterday unveiled the next step in the Unity evolution: the Head-Up Display.

According to Shuttleworth, their testing revealed that “users spent a lot of time, relatively speaking, navigating the menus of their applications, either to learn about the capabilities of the app, or to take a specific action.” The goal of the new Head-Up display is to — eventually — replace menus altogether. Instead of clicking through menus, users type the command they require in a search box. It may sound a bit counter-intuitive at first blush, but take a look at this video for a few examples:

Certainly typing “undo” is not a particularly good example of efficiency, but it’s important to remember that not everyone can commit “CTRL+Z” to memory. If you know what you want to do, typing it into an assisted search box may well be faster than navigating nested menus or memorizing arcance key combinations. As Shuttleworth notes, “Hotkeys are a sort of mental gymnastics, the HUD is a continuation of mental flow.” And for power users who railed against the importance of the mouse in Unity to date, the HUD should be a welcome first step toward a better all-keyboard experience.

Shuttleworth also mentions that the long-term goals of the HUD include full voice integration, allowing you to simply say the word “undo” rather than type it.

Before you start casting aspersions, do read Shuttleworth’s blog post about the HUD. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.