Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What you would really want in a Netbook UI?

I was reading Gizmodo the other day. I know what you're going to say, it's not the best place to get information but who cares about that? Those guys are funny! Anyway, I came upon their take on Intel's alpha release of Moblin (a linux os optimized for netbooks).

The writer talked about how performance optimization is all well and good, but what he is interested in is finding the perfect graphical UI for a netbooks' smaller screen.

It got me thinking about what I'd want in a Netbook's user interface. None of the desktop environments I've seen to date takes into account the small screen size of the recent netbook revolution.

All I've seen being done is people putting together their own versions of a glorified application launcher with ridiculously huge icons and calling that a customized UI for small screens. Underneath all that dressing is always the run of the mill light weight window managers. The same stuff that were designed to run on your normal screen sized computers.

So, I thought about what would be nice to have on netbook screens and these are some of the things I think most important.

Screen real estate is limited so lets squeeze out as many pixels as possible without disabling usibility.

Less User Interface Chrome Please! We don't have to go back to an x window look but there's nothing wrong with adopting Google Chrome's way of stripping off the sides.

There's no call for a huge ass title bar. I find the Microsoft Windows trend of increasing the size of the title bar every new version really annoying. See and compare for yourself the windows 98, xp and vista title bars. They are definitely getting bigger. It should be a crime to waste that many pixels on a simple title bar. I admit they look pretty but what a waste of space!

Full screen mode for every application would be nice too. I mean like the full screen mode on firefox, only it's handled by your window manager.

My last idea, I don't know if this is already available outside of browsers is full screen zoom out. You get screen magnifying functions as part of accessibility in most operating systems. Their function is always to zoom in and make things bigger. I want a zoom out that would affect the entire screen. I think that would be cool. If your screen resolution is not high enough to fit, zoom out. I expect to sacrifice a certain degree of readability but it should be possible to make some big things fit the screen area.

These are little details but lets face it, you'll be gawking at all this most of the time on your machine. You're not looking at the beautifully designed application launcher with the big shiny icons when you're browsing or typing a document.

Have you thought about getting yourself a netbook? What kind of UI improvements would you like to see to suit the small screens?

Disclaimer / "I may be talking complete non-sense here": My experience with netbooks is limited to an asus eee pc with xandros os. I've used xfce, gnome, kde, other very light weight desktop environments and windows managers.

External Links:
Giz: Intel shows off Moblin, their own netbook-optimized linux OS
Moblin: http://moblin.org
Xfce: http://www.xfce.org

User Interface Chrome


  1. အင္း ၿမန္မာလိုပါေရးရင္ေကာငး္မွာဘဲ TZA လိုေပါ႕။

  2. @Khin Oo May Yes, I should write in Burmese to get more of a Myanmar readership. One of these days, I'll sit down with a Burmese spelling book and refresh my knowledge. For now, I haven't been writing Burmese for years, I'm likely to embarrass myself.

  3. http://www.asktog.com/basics/firstPrinciples.html

    If they ignore everything else in that document ... at least re-read Fitts' Law and consider making proper use of the edges and corners of screen space. Your complaint about those useless title bars is an intuitive reaction according to Fitts' Law: it takes so much longer to actually hit a menu that looks like it's near the edge of the screen but isn't.

    Bruce Tognazzini and Don Norman are good reading when UIs are bothering you. Jakob Nielsen has good science too ... though his approach to aesthetics is best ignored.

  4. Thanks Jachin for passing on the article. You are as always very well read. I value your opinions and input.