Unity Launcher Can Even Be Better If…

(1) The Unity launcher appears to look better when the backlight is set to toggle. That is, when an application (app) is running its icon backlight is On and turned Off when it is not. This makes the running app more distinct against the non-running ones.

Take a look at the comparison. The one on the left portion of the image has Backlight Always On while the second one is set to Backlight Toggles. With backlight on toggle you’ll know at a quick glance which apps are active without even bothering with the tiny pointers. Besides, those pointers – whatever they are called – look out of place. Given enough apps are running, the launcher will soon resemble a ruler with markings from top to bottom.

(2) Here is another idea where the launcher could be improved. SORTING! No matter how the apps are ordered on the launcher, all running application’s icons must be displayed above non-active ones. How the ordering is done can be static (first come first served) or by app usage (meaning the more you use the app the more it will rise to the top). This comes in handy when you have lots of applications opened. Chances are, not all of these have a shortcut on your launcher. What  happens after is that all the apps that don’t have a shortcut will appear at the bottom part of the launcher like some third-class app – unwanted and ignored. That is not always the case.

(3) How the launcher will “squeeze” the icon(s) at the bottom when there are too many to fit the entire height of the screen is a very nice effect. But the icons when squeezed are rendered poorly. It could use better anti-aliasing so that the icons don’t appear with jagged edges. Look at the image at the right. Notice the jagged edges?

(4) Last but not least is when there is more than one instance of an application open there are no titles to the windows when switching in between. This makes it hard to tell which one is which. Since all windows are presented to the user like picture frames on a wall, the windows are scaled down to fit the screen. Imagine 5 of these windows side by side.

How do you effectively choose the correct window without having to resort to ‘trial and error’?

By memory? Yeah right! The window list is there after all to make it easier for users to switch between different instances of the same application. Don’t make it even harder by reinventing the wheel and forgetting what seems to be non-essential details but are actually very useful.

I still think there has to be a way to show the windows of the same app with the least clicks. Right now it takes about 3 clicks to get to the document. How about, (a) hover on the app’s icon with multiple windows running and out comes the window thumbnails for easy selection, a la Windows 7 style? This has already been implemented in DockbarX. Or, (b) right click the icon to display a list of the open windows? I prefer option (a). I don’t even own a copy of Windows 7 and haven’t upgraded since XP, yet I think they (M$) got that part right.

Again, it would be awesome if features like the ones mentioned above, and more, can be enabled/disabled through a Unity plugin configuration manager without having to install Compiz Configuration Settings Manager (CCSM).

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Notice: This article was published on May 16, 2011 and the content above may be out of date.