unity has no way to indicate which dialog is claiming for attention

Bug #883000 reported by Jens Finkhäuser on 2011-10-28
This bug affects 5 people
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone
Ayatana Design
unity (Ubuntu)

Bug Description

Since switching to Ubuntu 11.10, the way unity notifies you when a window has been updated has deteriorated.
- In 11.04, the upper left corner of the screen was turned blue. As a result you could see that *some* window needed your attention, and start finding it. This is no longer the case.
- In 11.04, the window switcher showed window icons. As a result, for applications that switch the icon when some event happens, you could find the window firing the event very quickly. This is no longer the case.

I'd invite you to use skype with multiple parallel conversations to find just how many messages you miss because of these changes. Now I'm not hung up on the exact way 11.04 did these things, but the state in 11.10 is so much worse that it's becoming unusable.

This bug does not have anywhere near as much heat and attention as it should have. This is a massive usability regression.

I've changed the title to '[Oneiric] No more window notifications in Unity' to make people notice this bug, as the original title didn't quite describe the problem.

summary: - Window update notification
+ [Oneiric] No more window notifications in Unity
Bilal Akhtar (bilalakhtar) wrote :

Your use case is valid, I'd say, but since this was a design discussion to abandon the BFB, I'm marking this needs-design so that the Design team can give feedback on this bug

tags: added: needs-design
Changed in unity:
status: New → Incomplete
Changed in unity (Ubuntu):
status: New → Incomplete
Omer Akram (om26er) wrote :

I 12.04 the plan is to implement whats specified in bug 893196 so I'll be marking this bug as duplicate.

Thinking about this again, this really isn't a duplicate *at all*.

What #893196 is talking about is ensuring the user can easily find out which *application* caused a notification. What I'm talking about is ensuring the user can easily find out which *window* caused a notification.

Please re-open!

Matthew Paul Thomas (mpt) wrote :

Jens, you're right, this has nothing to do with bug 893196. Reopening.

John Lea (johnlea) wrote :

@unwesen; this is a duplicate because this functionality has been removed to be replaced by the functionality described in bug #893196. Remarking as a dupe.

But the described functionality does nothing to offer a solution to the same problem.

Matthew Paul Thomas (mpt) wrote :

Reopening again. Please stop marking this report as a duplicate of a completely unrelated bug. Bug 893196 doesn't even *mention* the word "window", let alone describe any way of telling which window is requesting attention, let alone describe anything that is mutually exclusive with Unity doing that.

Whether "functionality" has been removed is not relevant. What is relevant is that the problem exists and previously didn't. It could be solved in any of several ways.

John Lea (johnlea) wrote :

@mpt; thanks, for your comment, I have updated the description of bug #893196 to make it clear that this bug is about alerting the user when a window has been updated. Marking dupe because bug #893196 outlines the desired solution to this problem. If you would like to discuss me, please grab me and we can have a quick meeting.

Changed in ayatana-design:
status: New → Incomplete

#893196 is about alerting the user if *any* window of an application has been updated. This issue is about informing the user *which* window has been updated.

Granted, the two are related, but the solution outlined for #893196 does nothing to solve this issue here.

Matthew Paul Thomas (mpt) wrote :

John, if you need help in understanding a bug report in your project, it is your responsibility to ask for more details. Relatively few Ubuntu contributors work in the same office, so it is inefficient to limit the people who can correct your understanding to those people able to grab you for a quick meeting. (And you haven't been in the office today anyway.)

That said, let's try explaining this one more time.

1. Applications can have multiple windows open. For example, a word processor or Web browser can have dozens of windows open.

2. Applications don't request attention; windows do. For example, if one of those dozens of browser windows is a Google Calendar window, and it opens an alert for an appointment, that particular window requests attention, not the Web browser in general. (In code-speak, the hint _NET_WM_STATE_DEMANDS_ATTENTION is set on the window.)

3. An application tile wiggling can show which application owns the window that is requesting your attention. But it does not show which window is requesting your attention, if the application has more than one window open. (This means that your revision to the description of bug 893196 is simply incorrect.)

4. How often the application tile wiggles has nothing to do with this problem whatsoever. It is completely and utterly unrelated.

5. Bug 893196 is about how often the application tile wiggles. Therefore, it has nothing to do with this problem whatsoever. It is completely and utterly unrelated. That is why this report is not a duplicate.

If there is any particular part of that you don't understand, please specify which part. There are several different ways this problem could be solved, and I'd be happy to discuss those, in this bug report, in person, or in any forum you choose. But that is unlikely to be productive so long as you don't understand the problem in the first place.

Just so there's no need to re-read the entire thread, let me add to what mpt said:

I mentioned skype because it's reproducible: skype changes the window icon for chat windows with unread messages.

The old behaviour of Unity was that in the window switcher (alt-tab), window icons were displayed. As a result, it was easy to pick out which skype window demanded attention. As a side note, other applications like to change their window title to achieve the same.

So this issue can be solved in two ways, one very specific, the other very open-ended:
1. Restoring the previous behaviour where window icons were displayed would solve it for those applications that switch window icons like skype does.
2. If there is a generic way to detect when a window has raised a notification, Unity can highlight that window itself - in the window manager, in the window switcher, or in any other way that might make sense. If the application additionally changes window icons or titles, so be it.

Sebastien Bacher (seb128) wrote :

skype is a messaging applications, receiving a message there should append an entry to the messaging menu, those entries should be specific to the concerned contact

note that unity never had a "claim for attention at the dialog detail level", even when the the corner was turning blue or the launcher icons were showing the granularity has always been by "application", so it's not really a regression

Changed in unity:
importance: Undecided → Wishlist
Changed in unity (Ubuntu):
importance: Undecided → Wishlist
summary: - [Oneiric] No more window notifications in Unity
+ unity has no way to indicate what dialog is claiming for attention
summary: - unity has no way to indicate what dialog is claiming for attention
+ unity has no way to indicate which dialog is claiming for attention
Changed in ayatana-design:
status: Incomplete → New

Your argument is that if the world doesn't conform to your vision, the world must change?

The per-window notification does not come from the blue corner, but from the fact that
a) skype changes window icons based on it's internal window status, and
b) the unity window switcher displayed those icons.

That's the second point in my initial report. This doesn't exist any longer, and therefore it's impossible to decide which window changed its status. The fact that this is skype, a messaging app, is entirely incidental.

Sebastien Bacher (seb128) wrote :

Hum? No, that's not my argument, maybe I didn't understand the issue though, it got confusing and mpt seemed to explain a different issue than your then when he wrote

"3. An application tile wiggling can show which application owns the window that is requesting your attention. But it does not show which window is requesting your attention, if the application has more than one window open. (This means that your revision to the description of bug 893196 is simply incorrect.)"

But it's likely I didn't understand what he was trying to say, or that his point was orthogonal to yours, sorry if that's the case

For the record I've no "vision", I'm just trying to help triaging unity bugs so it's easier for the hackers to figure what needs to be worked

> That's the second point in my initial report. This doesn't exist any longer,

what you mean? I don't use skype but the launcher does follow icon changes, try opening the system settings and browse different panels, the control center icon in the launcher will change ... is the issue that something similar should happen with skype but doesn't?

> The fact that this is skype, a messaging app, is entirely incidental.

It's orthogonal but the point is still revelant, we should work with the skype team if we can to have it integrate nicely with the messaging indicator

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Well, let's get back to the initial problem, then.

Some applications (by example of Skype) have multiple windows, and need/want to notify the user when a specific window requires attention. Chat applications are the example where I noticed them, but you could come up with many examples.

I've uploaded a screenshot of how such an application might look in the window switcher. In the screenshot, I've circled the area where - I believe - previous versions of Ubuntu/Unity displayed the window icon superimposed on a snapshot of the window. http://ubuntuone.com/1aQPOvotCWxa6MaQ2mrkku

This allowed applications to indicate which of their windows needed attention, by changing the window icon of such windows. Depending on window manager, it would be possible to display the icon in the window decoration, and draw attention to a particular icon in this manner. The point is, changing a window icon is a useful and portable method for informing users of windows in need of attention.

Later versions of Ubuntu/Unity stopped displaying these window icons completely. If a particular application requires attention, that was - and is - displayed in Unity. But to drill down from that information to decide which window requires attention has become impossible without examining the window contents themselves. As such, whether by accident or design, there now exists a user experience regression in that users require extra steps and/or time to come to a decision as to which window of which app demands attention.

Now I don't care whether you just superimpose the window icon again, or find some alternate means of notifying the user of window content changes. However, as at least one application (skype) already changes window icons to inform the user, my guess is that the least effort would lie in displaying window icons again, in one form or another. As an alternative, I could envision *detecting that* a window icon has been changed at run-time, and outlining such windows differently in the window switcher, or window manager, etc. The point is, the exact mechanism doesn't matter to me, I just want to see where things have happened, and quickly.

It is entirely true that working with the Skype team to use Unity-style chat integration would be desirable; however, as a fairly interested follower of Skype's activities I would assume that your chances of successfully doing so are slim. The Linux Skype client has been all but abandoned (although it still functions just fine). Hence my remark of a vision (using the messaging menu) that the world (i.e. existing software unlikely to change) will be asked to conform to. I am sorry if that was confusing.

One last note for clarity: 'launcher icons were showing the granularity has always been by "application", so it's not really a regression' - I agree, the launcher icons were always at application granularity. The blue corner was in fact always at "whole desktop" granularity. But it used to be easy to drill down to window granularity; that is no longer the case, and for the above reasons a usability regression.

The upshot is: to use multi-window applications in which each window may notify the user of changes effectively, some...


Sebastien Bacher (seb128) wrote :

Thanks a lot for the update, until you post that alt-tab screenshot I didn't realize you were talking as well about icons in the previews of the alt-tab ui, the "claim for attention" and "notice what received a message" always got linked to the launcher bar on the left to me, I didn't realize before that the issue existed as well in other desktop places. Setting the bug as confirmed

Changed in unity (Ubuntu):
status: Incomplete → Triaged
Changed in unity:
status: Incomplete → Confirmed

Excellent news! I should've thought of that screenshot earlier :(

Well, I don't mind *where* I can see it, so I didn't think it was useful to link it to the alt-tab UI. Apparently that was wrong!

John Lea (johnlea) on 2012-04-25
Changed in ayatana-design:
status: New → Opinion
Changed in unity:
status: Confirmed → Opinion
Changed in unity (Ubuntu):
status: Triaged → Opinion
John Lea (johnlea) wrote :

@unwesen; thanks for your detailed bug report!

Marked 'opinion' because the official Ubuntu pattern for surfacing alerts is to use the indicators and/or the notification system (while will be enhanced during the 12.10 cycle). Agreed with your comment regarding the difficulties of improving the integration of Skype's default client, but skypekit + custom linux front ends seems to be the future.

However also note that if a window is issuing an alert, clicking on the application's launcher icon or selecting the app icon in alt-tab should always bring the window issuing the alert to the front of the z-stack (the alert overrides raising of the 'last focused window')

@johnlea: what if there are two or more windows trying to grab my attention? With a multi-window messenger, that's a common enough case - sod's law has it that everyone will try to reach you when you're afk for your lunch break. So the alt-tab behaviour you describe is helpful, but still doesn't solve the problem.

I understand why you mark this as "opinion", but would strongly urge you to reconsider.

At this point, I know too little about how your notification system stands in relation to freedesktop.org standards. I understand that https://wiki.ubuntu.com/DesktopExperienceTeam/ApplicationIndicators is referenced on http://www.freedesktop.org/wiki/Specifications/StatusNotifierIcon, but what real-world implications that has is not something I know.

I can therefore imagine that KDE applications, or pure GTK/Qt/Motif/<insert-toolkit-of-choice> applications won't use your system either. It seems that for a software that is predominantly concerned with providing an integrated user experience (such as Unity or any other desktop environment would be), ignoring how legacy/third-party software acts can only lead to sub-par UX.

Of course the same argument can be made for applications, but if they don't interoperate with desktop environments, they only hurt themselves - a DE hurts the whole distribution.

Still, I can't make that choice for you. In the meantime, I just won't use Ubuntu for communications, as it just can't meet my needs.

I guess it might help if I explain that the reason I'm so pushy on this issue is that I really would like Ubuntu to remain the OS with the best UX out there. I'm not doing this to be annoying ;)

Sebastien Bacher (seb128) wrote :

it seems like also that part of the issue described there is "alt-tab doesn't make easy to distinguish between instances of an applications" or "there should be a way to easily see windows icons since some applications use that mechanism to convey informations (i.e skype)", maybe it's worth opening specific bugs about that?

@seb128: Instances of an application I hadn't even considered. Interesting.

As for "window icons", it's not so much that I think it's necessary to show them, I think it's necessary to show that they changed. The easiest way would be simply to show them, but I can imagine others.

Geraldo (geraldoamaral) wrote :

Using Ubuntu 12.04 here and unfortunately the blue triangle is gone. :-(

If the "ubuntu designers" don't like it anymore and dont't want it on by default, there should be at least an option to activate it.

In 12.04, if some window wants attention, only the tiny arrow on the left side of the individual application launchers turns blue. Sometimes it is barely noticible and not as good as the blue triangle.

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