During the controversy about moving the window controls in Ubuntu to the left, Mark Shuttleworth hinted that the newly available space on the right of the window title bar could be put to a new use:

Moving everything to the left opens up the space on the right nicely, and I would like to experiment in 10.10 with some innovative options there.

Now it is clear what he was talking about: Shuttleworth has introduced window indicators (“windicators”) on his blog. Window indicators are like the indicator applet on the panel, but live on the right hand side of every window title bar. They would be used to show state for a particular application, and would be interacted with using an API similar to the one used for the indicator applet.

Here are the example window indicators given:

  • online/offline status
  • unsaved changes
  • progress
  • “basket” showing items selected for a purpose
  • sharing status
  • application-specific volume

Shuttleworth also proposes using window indicators and Chrome-inspired temporary status bars to replace traditional status bars. This would save precious vertical screen space on netbook displays. On netbooks, window indicators would also be integrated into the panel like the title bar is in Ubuntu Netbook Edition. Shuttleworth blogged about a global menu bar for netbooks as well.

These changes would be implemented in the next version of Ubuntu, 10.10 “Maverick Meerkat.”

My Thoughts
I’m not convinced that there’s enough benefit in window indicators to justify the problems they would create.

It will be a challenge to get applications to adopt window indicators. Thanks to PulseAudio, it’s easy to show a volume control for every window. But most applications that use sound already have a volume control built in which would have to be patched out for Ubuntu. I can foresee problems with applications such as web browsers which use sound through plugins which show up as separate applications to PulseAudio. But most other window indicators will require even more modifications to applications. If GNOME doesn’t adopt window indicators, then applications will need specific code for Ubuntu and every other distribution.

Currently window title bars are not drawn by the individual applications, but by the window manager or window decorator. Window indicators require applications to interact with their title bars much more. If an application draws it’s own title bar, it’s called “client side window decorations,” which are mentioned in Shuttleworth’s blog post. (Google Chrome has an option to do this in order to draw tabs over the title bar and save screen space.) Giving applications this control could create inconsistent title bars and cause problems for other window managers (just read what Compiz and KWin developers have to say). A better option for implementing window indicators would be to have an API for the application and window manager to communicate over.

Instead of window indicators, I’d like to see something simpler: the menu bar collapsed into a button and moved into this area. Especially in web browsers, there’s been a move away from having a traditional menu bar. Chrome, the Firefox 4 theme mockups, and the latest version of Opera have all moved what used to be the menu bar into different places. Firefox 4 and Opera have added a button to the title bar. Why not standardize on a button in the title bar for the application menu? It would be consistent, reduce clutter on the screen, and save screen space. There are already global menu bar hacks which move the menu bar, so it could be possible to do this without changing applications.

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