I previously discussed some of the new social networking aspects coming in Ubuntu 10.04. These mainly focus on the brand new Me Menu which is a personalised menu that holds and controls all your social networking and assists with broadcasting to microblogging services. Some related changes are the new changes to the indicator applet and attached messaging menu.
Currently, in the Ubuntu 9.10 (the latest stable version of Ubuntu), the indicator applet and messaging menu looks like the following screenshot taken from my computer.
Looks relatively bland. It essentially list the current communication or social programs for instant messaging, microblogging, e-mailing and general social networking. It also list any recent communications, stating the user name of the contact you’ve spoken to recently (not shown in above screenshot). Many new improvements are planned for the next iteration of the messaging menu and indicator applet (currently at version 0.3). The following design mock up of the messaging menu emphasises the most important and visible changes for the end-user.
As you can see, there is a lot more content in the new messaging menu. One of the important points is the ability to access certain programs actions directly. So, for example, if I wanted to send an e-mail to someone, I could just click the messaging menu and hit ‘Compose New Message’ which would very easily let me start writing and e-mail without the need to find my e-mail application, start it and locate the ‘compose new message’ button, which can easily vary in location and appearance between applications. By adding this action to the messaging menu, this has the effect of not only making the option easier to find, but also – potentially more importantly – it abstracts away the specifics of the application itself and draws the focus towards the user, their desire and their content.
In my opinion, application abstraction is very important. Most users do not wish to ‘use Evolution’ or ‘use Thunderbird’, they want to ‘check their e-mail’ or ‘compose a new e-mail’. Allowing them to do this regarding of the e-mail client they use reduces the learning curve significantly. The same principle applies to many other applications, including those outside of communications, such as productivity applications. Users tend to want to ‘create a new document’, ‘draw a picture’, and ‘check a budgeting spreadsheet’ rather than ‘open OpenOffice Write and create a blank OpenDocument Text file’, ‘open image editing software and create a new blank image’ and ‘open spreadsheet application and locate/open relevant file’. Even saying the specific non-abstracted alternatives takes a long time, but essentially the users content should be priority over the application itself in the vast majority of cases. One says that work is on a spreadsheet, an image or a document and not an Excel, GIMP or Writer file.
The new messaging menu brings on this concept of application abstraction with the instant messaging system. You can see in the second and third sections of the menu, instant messaging contacts and recent microblogging activity (mocked up as messages from ‘sabdfl’) are shown as independent of the application which controls them. In this case, it would be likely be Empathy (for instant messaging) and Gwibber (for microblogging) that controlled these sections, but note the application name itself in not even mentioned, as it is not relevant to the actual social actions, which again demonstrates abstraction away from the specific applications and a focus on user content.
The final two sections indicate e-mail notification from GMail and IRC conversations with XChat. In these cases, definitely so with the GMail e-mail notifications, it is relevant to display the application name as this is an important part of the relevant content itself (the e-mail account).
Hope this quite summary gives you a good idea of what changes are coming to the messaging menu and its attached indicator applet in Ubuntu 10.04. More information is available about the new messaging menu at its design specification while these is additional information about the new indicator applet available on the applet’s Lauchpad pages.
What are your opinions on the new messaging menu? Will it affect your social use of Ubuntu? Will it affect your work flow? If so, how?