Shuttleworth Offers a Heads Up on Head-Up Display

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of the Ubuntu Project, announces HUD, short for Head-Up Display, which he calls the future of the menu.

The next long term support (LTS) release of Ubuntu is scheduled to roll out in April of this year, and users should expect to see "the first step in a major new approach to application interfaces." In his blog post announcement, Shuttleworth introduces HUD, which he says will eventually replace menus in Unity applications. See his post for a video demo of HUD in action.

Shuttleworth calls HUD the "intenterface," saying, "It’s a way for you to express your intent and have the application respond appropriately." According to Shuttleworth, the HUD concept has driven a lot of the work done to unify menu systems across Gtk, Qt, and other toolkit apps the past couple of years. Basically, users type text into a search bar and Ubuntu helps complete the entry, thus locating the file, app, or action. The idea is less mousing and menu clicking, and faster connection to what the user wants. "The tree is no longer important, what’s important is the efficiency of the match between what the user says, and the commands we offer up for invocation," Shuttleworth explains.

Worried about the change? Shuttleworth says that you don't have to adopt the HUD immediately, but it's there if you want to check it out. "It’s smart, because it can do things like fuzzy matching, and it can learn what you usually do so it can prioritise the things you use often," he says.

Clearly Shuttleworth is excited about moving to HUD and away from legacy menu systems, but he also acknowledges that recent menu changes might have been handled better. "We’ll resurrect the (boring) old ways of displaying the menu in 12.04, in the app and in the panel," he says, adding, "In the past few releases of Ubuntu, we’ve actively diminished the visual presence of menus in anticipation of this landing. That proved controversial. In our defence, in user testing, every user finds the menu in the panel, every time, and it’s obviously a cleaner presentation of the interface. But hiding the menu before we had the replacement was overly aggressive."

What's next? Shuttleworth is eyeing voice and says that he and his team want to make it easy to talk to any application and for the apps to respond to voices, but he acknowledges that the full integration of voice into apps will take some time.

Meanwhile, HUD needs testers. If you want to help test the new Head Up Display, you'll need to run the latest version of Precise Pangolin and then follow a few steps outlined by Nicholas Skaggs in his Testing the HUD! (Head up display) post.

I'm not sure whether Shuttleworth's enthusiasm is contagious, or maybe it's just that HUD really does sound cool, but I'm upgrading my Ubuntu and ready to check out the future of the menu now.

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