Feel a “natural flow” in your desktop (Panel at the top)

As my friends know, I’m addicted to read KDE/Free Software/Open Source/etc.. blogs when taking my morning coffee, and what I’m going to explain is a good example of why I love it.

Before continuing reading, be aware that I’m not an usability guy, I lack any kind of design or usability sense/knowledgement, In fact, I have been I’m using KDE for years and I never succeed to configure my desktop in a beautiful way (only by copying the others configs), so please keep that in your mind when you read this post.

A few days ago, Celeste wrote an excellent paper about "Tabs in the Taskbar". After reading it I decided to move my panel to the top of my main screen. The result has exceeded my expectations. What I got is more than a better relationship between the panel and the applications, what I got is something I’ve named a "Natural flow", let me try to explain what I mean.

The first thing I noticed after placing the panel at the top of the screen was that I forced less my eyes. Because of my work, I need to be aware of the notifications (kmail), but at the same time I’m usually writing code so I’m never watching the bottom of the screen, in fact if there is a part of the screen that I totally ignore it is the bottom, so move my eyes to that part of the screen every time I got a notification was painful.

The second thing I realize a few hours after, was a harder connection between applications and the taskbar. For example I have always ignored the "request attention" thing of the taskbar items, now I guess that because my eyes are "half watching" the taskbar all the time I’m able to notice the blinking quickly. Also the taskbar is acting now as a "Tab bar", it also works for applications that are in a different screen or not are maximized thanks of KWIN maximize/minimize effects,

The third and final thing, is something that may sound stupid to you (It did to me!), it is that menus/notifications/plasmoids etc show up from the top to the bottom. In earth thanks of gravity objects fall down, and I think that it’s because of this that I feel this behavior more natural than the other one.

That’s all! keep the panel at the top a day and decide where you like it more.

Ps: Please, do not flame in the comments, the objective of this entry is to share my experience with other people not to start an usability flame or something like that. Usability is a complex subject, and I ignore all of it.

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  • http://salout.github.com/ Robert Riemann

    maybe are notifications quite light in contrast to the heavy desktop. ;)

  • Beat Wolf

    Ok, i’ll give it a try (seriously, i give it 4 days)

    • http://www.afiestas.org afiestas

      Tell me what you think after!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003407033228 Gana

        i do use win 7 32 bit service pack1..yes the theme aparpes in personalise menu with black bg even tho the baackground actual file is in the theme folder and basically if i apply it nothing changes..just noticed..the sound of regular windows theme change aparpes screen kinda turns grey for a second or so and when it regains colour no new theme applied i used universal theme patcher x86 (considering i read right and thats the one for 32 bit),anyways nothing changes not colours..not fonts not the desktop .im just courious since its most probably on my side..and it could indicate a problem also unpatched >rebooted >installed UX Style rebooted .tried applying the them ..same result

  • http://tuliom.blogspot.com/ Tulio Magno

    I also use the panel at the top of the screen and I agree with you it’s better.

    Recently I also discovered that I can live without the task bar. Now I have only the panel at the top it helped me to use reduce the mouse usage.

  • http://hanswchen.wordpress.com/ Hans

    As I wrote on Celeste’s blog, I don’t like this approach one simple reason: a panel at the bottom makes better use of Fitt’s law.

    Let’s consider the following case: a maximized window. With a bottom panel, you have something to hit in every screen corner (typically window menu, window close button, application launcher and clock to show calendar (I think)).

    If the panel is at the top instead, you don’t make use of the bottom screen edge as well. Typically applications show a status bar there, and only a few have controls (such as a zoom slider) there. In other words, it makes it harder to control windows (move, close etc.) with very little benefit in my opinion.

    However, on my netbook I’m fine with a panel at the top. To give more display area to applications, I maximize most windows automatically and hide the window border[1]. In the left bottom corner I have an autohidden panel with a device manager and activity bar, and a screen edge action in the other corner.

    On both machines I use Colibri[2] for application notifications and set them to appear in the top-right corner. Since the notifications can be clicked through, they don’t interfere with my work (e.g. if I want to close a window). Furthermore, less important notifications (such as file transfers) are displayed at the bottom.


    [1] Although slightly out-dated, you can find my netbook setup here: http://hanswchen.wordpress.com/2009/02/21/some-screenshots-from-my-netbook/
    [1] http://kde-look.org/content/show.php/Colibri?content=117147

    • http://www.afiestas.org afiestas

      Be careful with colibri, it doesn’t support the notification standard (afaik It doesn’t implement actions) so applications that contains critical parts of they interface as notifications may fail.
      What you say have sense too, but you know right now I’m exited with the panel at the top :p and like I said I can change my mind tomorrow, but by now I’m a top panel fan :D

  • Josh BA

    I am giving it a try today. So far I have to say that I like it a lot (I did not think I would). I think the biggest factor to me liking it is that my computer is a laptop on a table only about a foot higher than my chair. it places the taskbar right in my natural eyeline.

  • Carlos Cordoba

    I’ve using the taskbar at top since many years now (5?). I’m not surprised by your observations. It feels much more natural because your eyes are always looking at the top, not at the bottom. That’s the reason I like yakuake a hell of a lot too. It always give me the last line of the terminal at the middle of the screen.

  • KDS

    I had to google for that blog, you could add a link… If someone wants to read the post: http://www.obso1337.org/2010/using-tabs-in-the-taskbar/

    P.D. Thanks for the tip! :)

  • Martin

    I also use this configuration since quite a long time because it’s reducing the distances my eyes have to travel around the screen as well as those of the mouse, which is very helpful when you are forced to use a touchpad at times.

    Maybe in the future kde could have some kind of layout setup wizard at first login, making suggestions based on some simple questions like “type of machine”, “size of screen”, “pointer input device”?

    cheers,
    Martin

  • Danakil

    I use a top panel since 2 years and i love it. The only thing That bother me is when the notifications covers the close/minimize buttons of the Window title bar. Also the taskbar entry + the title bar application name seems a bit redundant.

  • Jan

    Another “top panel user” here :) Cant remember for how long i am doing this now, but one of the reasons is that all menus and tasks on the screen are closer together when the panel is at the top, so i dont have to move the mouse all over the screen when opening the menu or switching tasks.

  • arwa

    I do not think that there is such a big difference between a taskbar at the top or the bottom. The question is how much you are used to what are you using. Changing this probably will result in more attention to this new situation what might be the reason why you see notifications better currently. But this might change after you will get used to the new position.

    With todays wide screens I think a taskbar at the left or right is even more interesting. But at least in KDE4.3 the placing of plasmoid-icons does not work well in a taskbar with a large width. (It has to be large so that entries in the task manager plasmoid can be read.) The Icons cannot be placed in a grid, e.g. three per row. Or am I missing something?

  • kriko

    @Hans
    About that – what if someone could make a “close” button as an applet, which would work on focused windows?
    That way you could put it into the right corner of top panel and that would be it.
    I like top panel too, but unfortunately this is the precise problem why I’m not using it.

  • http://linea-dombra.blogspot.com kurtz77

    I push my customization until kmenu. Now it is on the right side of my taskbar (wich is always on the bottom side of the screen).
    My right wrist thanks it, and also my mouse! :)

  • Adam

    Another thing to try is left side mounted task bar. I love it on my netbook and desktop. Be sure to change tasks to icons only (I use smooth tasks) so things aren’t sideways. It keeps Fitt’s Law as the top right are still the window buttons and top left is then launcher.

    Also, on widescreens (especially netbooks) doesn’t it make more sense to waste space on the sides not the top? Or you can do what I’ve (and others here) started to do and not use a task bar at all. It takes a little while to get used to it, and as a crutch you can raise the number of virtual desktops.

    Either way, after using left side and top task bars, I never want to go back! :)

  • http://hanswchen.wordpress.com/ Hans

    @afiestas
    Yeah, good point about Colibri. However, I still prefer it to the regular notifications because it’s more subtle, and I can separate it from the other notifications (in terms of location).

    And hey, the panel can be moved for a reason – if you like to have it at the top, nobody is going to force you to change. :)
    (½OT: I understand your excitement – felt something similar when I moved my tab bar in Firefox to a sidebar[1]. One of the best changes I’ve made to my web browser!)

    To be honest, most of the problems I describe don’t really affect me since I’m a heavy keyboard user. Sure, I often use the mouse to move/resize windows, but it’s usually faster to use Alt + left/right click rather than dragging the window border.

    To close windows with the mouse, you can use Smooth Tasks[2] and set middle click on the taskbar to close windows (similar to how you close tabs in many applications). Or what kriko proposes.

    @kriko

    What if someone already made it? ;) [3]
    Unfortunately it hasn’t been updated in a while – I don’t think it works in newer KDE SC versions, although I haven’t tried it.
    I used to have a close button in the top-right corner on my netbook, but removed it because I didn’t use it. As said, I’m a heavy keyboard user, and especially on my netbook I try to avoid the touchpad.


    [1] https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/5890
    [2] http://kde-look.org/content/show.php/Smooth+Tasks?content=101586
    [3] http://kde-look.org/content/show.php/ActiveWindow+Control?content=91258

  • http://www.valdyas.org/irina/ Irina

    I thought I might like it, but after half a day I changed back again because it was driving me crazy. I keep windows maximised vertically (but not horizontally) on my wide screen and what’s at the top of my screen is usually the application’s menu bar; having something still above that is disconcerting, and not finding the little icons with numbers for kmail and akregator and choqok at the bottom right where I’m used to finding them is even more disconcerting.

    I’ve also tried having the panel on one side, like a NeXT dock, but most of the things I want in it aren’t the right shape or orientation for that.

    (But I still love my DejaVu Sans. Thanks again!)

  • DanaKil

    @Hans
    @kriko
    I’m the author of ActiveWindow Control and indeed I made it so that I can use it in a top panel. Unfortunaly, I’m not a skilled coder and I don’t have much time so it is not updated. Note that the KDE Svn version in playground is a little bit better than the kde-apps version.

    Maybe I should give it some love one day (or if someone is interrested by this taks… :) )

  • http://www.johannes-eva.net/ Johannes

    The main problem with the panels on the top is that it’s a little bit more “difficult” to close a window. I’ll give your idea a try, but I think that the close-window-button is a major issue.
    Cheers!

  • cherax

    The top/bottom issue is important if you have only one bar that must do everything. This, to me, is the biggest drawback of the “new” KDE. Task-switching and the task-launching have always seemed like very different functions to me, so I prefer to have two separate bars, and I auto-hide both of them to maximize screen space.

    In Xfce, I’ve set a bottom panel with launch icons, the menu button, and the system tray (clock, etc.). A top panel serves as a task switcher, and nothing else. While I could use a second Xfce panel for this, I much prefer tint2, which looks nice and can be customized; in particular, it can show separate embedded taskbars, one for each desktop. Then I can switch from one program to another, and one desktop to another, all with the same taskbar. Very efficient and easy. Both bars auto-hide.

    Like you, I much prefer the task-switcher at the top of the screen. I use it more than the bottom panel, and it lies on my natural sight-line.

    I believe that tint2 would work with KDE as well.

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  • DXI

    @cherax

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying, but I don’t see the drawback you speak of. Plasma allows multiple panels, so you could easily, say, create a second panel containing only a task manager, place it at the top of the screen, and remove said task manager from your main panel at the bottom. Same with the systray, if it suits your fancy – or for that matter any widget on your main panel.

    The embedded taskbars, now that one’s trickier. I’ve never used tint2 so I can’t comment on its feature set, but you’re certainly not limited to one monolithic panel anymore with KDE4.

  • cherax

    Hmm, didn’t know that about KDE. I don’t believe the earlier 4.* versions I tried could do what you describe, or I just couldn’t figure out how. I was quite disappointed with KDE’s limitations and bugs back then, so I stopped using it. Maybe it’s time for another look. Thanks for bringing me up to date.

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