Unity - selecting instances of a minimised application is not intuitive or simple

Bug #896709 reported by Chris on 2011-11-26
This bug affects 6 people
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone
Ayatana Design
unity (Ubuntu)

Bug Description

In Unity, if a user has multiple minimized instances of a running application for example Document Viewer or an editor, then it is not obvious how to re-open a specific instance. <super>w will show all running instances of applications however this becomes increasingly cumbersome with a larger number of windows and requires multiple operations for every minimized window that is required.

A researcher is working on a paper but needs many reference documents open and needs to refer to several of them constantly. If that person is new to Ubuntu and Unity they will have a great deal of trouble knowing how to select the exact documents they require. Even if they are familiar with the <super>w shortcut, they may have so many windows open with similar types of documents that selecting the correct one is difficult. Cross referencing to several documents requires multiple operations of an awkward procedure to bring multiple instances to the foreground.

Use a simple and intuitive mouse operation on the existing launcher that will show only windows associated with that application. An example might be a mouse hover over the launcher icon for that application, or it could be given as an option for right-click on the launcher. This would be the simplest and most intuitive solution and could be added to the existing right-click menu.

Provide an integrated addition to the launcher that works like a 'drawer' on the launcher icon. This would add extra functionality to the launcher and make it much more versatile. The document name rather than the application name would need to be used on the instances drawer, so that the user could quickly and easily select the correct window to bring to the foreground.

The same as solution2, but add the extra functionality of drag and drop to the drawer. This would return some of the sorely missed object oriented functionality to Ubuntu that was lost with the demise of the classic bottom panel.


ProblemType: Bug
DistroRelease: Ubuntu 11.10
Package: unity 4.24.0-0ubuntu2b1
ProcVersionSignature: Ubuntu 3.0.0-13.22-generic 3.0.6
Uname: Linux 3.0.0-13-generic i686
ApportVersion: 1.23-0ubuntu4
Architecture: i386
CompizPlugins: [core,bailer,detection,composite,opengl,compiztoolbox,decor,imgpng,resize,vpswitch,move,gnomecompat,regex,place,grid,mousepoll,unitymtgrabhandles,snap,session,wall,animation,fade,expo,workarounds,scale,ezoom,unityshell]
Date: Sun Nov 27 08:00:23 2011
InstallationMedia: Ubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot" - Release i386 (20111012)
 PATH=(custom, user)
SourcePackage: unity
UpgradeStatus: No upgrade log present (probably fresh install)

Chris (fabricator4) wrote :
Launchpad Janitor (janitor) wrote :

Status changed to 'Confirmed' because the bug affects multiple users.

Changed in unity (Ubuntu):
status: New → Confirmed

Thanks for your input. Have you considered the ALT TAB functionality? Tabbing until the application with the multiple references is highlighted, pressing the down arrow will show previews of only those references, similar to Super W but only showing the windows associated with a specific application.

In your scenario any type of interface would be in my opinion cumbersome to use, be it a lower panel like old Gnome or the launcher solution you suggest. In my opinion for this type of interactions with the computer it is better to have a single window application with multiple tabs.

Changed in unity (Ubuntu):
status: Confirmed → Incomplete
Chris (fabricator4) wrote :
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Yes, I've considered Alt-Tab, Alt-` etc, and it's very good, however the original problem is unchanged: "selecting instances of a minimised application is not intuitive or simple" I'm not talking about what my preferences are, or what I think of Unity, I'm talking about new users who are having their first Ubuntu experiences. Keyboard shortcuts are great and I'm all for them, and would be disappointed if they did not exist.

If you consider bug #1 as very important as I do, then consider if the first perceptions of a new user are also very important. One of the most confusing things about Unity at the moment is finding minimised windows when there are more than one from any particular application. I'm not talking about children using a computer for the first time, I'm talking about professional non-IT people who have been using a computer (usually Windows or similar) all their working lives and are used to having several documents open and only one click away. While clicking on the launcher icon will bring focus to a single minimised application, the next thing a new user will look for is how to select between more than one instance of the same application. Since there is no mouse method to easily do this, intuition goes out the window (pun not intended but gratefully received) and confusion results.

As I said, keyboard shortcuts are great, but users will come to use and rely on them once they've mastered the GUI and feel comfortable. Expecting them to find them from the get-go and still feel comfortable with the user interface seems to be backwards thinking.

As far as "any type of interface" being cumbersome to use, I have to disagree strongly. On this machine right now I have eight applications open on this workspace alone. There's a system monitor, this browser, two tax invoices, two images in edit, and two nautilus windows: all of these are only one click away. Other workspaces with Xchat and Transmission are likewise just one click away. Things get cumbersome under Unity, because (1)the presence of minimised windows is not obvious at all times and (2) they are more than a click away, and (3) for new users the method is not obvious or intuitive.

What is this marvelous interface I have? You've probably guessed it's non other than the rather dated looking Gnome 2 on 10.04 LTS. Don't get me wrong: it's obvious that Unity is the way forward, but it's currently lacking things that make some operations simple and intuitive and which we now take for granted in Classic Gnome. My bug report is not an attack on Unity (though I would understand if I've hit a raw nerve) but a wish for it to become something more than it is currently.

To respond to your suggestion to use applications with tabs: I see your point but there's two very important caveats: Many of the applications that are installed as standard with the LiveCD (and are available for Ubuntu) do not use tabbing for multiple data files. The only one I have open at the moment with this facility is the browser - tabbed browsing is indeed a gift. I need two separate file browsers open because Nautilus with split windows just doesn't have the screen real estate to display the d...


bowser (bwbernard-wong1) wrote :

I would just like to say that I agree with Chris.

Since Unity is ostensibly designed to attract new users, I think the experience of new user (rather than Ubuntu veterans) should be paramount in this discussion. It is not uncommon even for relatively inexperienced computer users to say, open a bunch of documents or pdf files. If the instances are minimized, it is natural for the user to reach for the Unity bar and attempt to open an instance. In Windows 7 if you hover the mouse above the application's icon window preview will show all the instances in thumb nails and the user would simply have to choose and click one. In the Cairo dock each instance has a separate icon, it may not be very eficient but it is easy enough to use.

In Unity there is no way to choose instances of minimized instances of program with simple point and click. Just no way!

 When you click on the icon all instances will be unminized. That is rather unsophisticated for a launcher. Yes, alt+tab and <super> + w + ` (not work in Natty) works fine if you already know the hot keys but it is neither obvious nor intuitive. Remember the rationale for Unity is to reach for new users and Mark Shuttleworth's ambition of reaching 200 million users. I suspect most of those new users wouldn't be keyboard jockeys and probably wouldn't be too interested in learning a whole bunch of rather arcane and arbitrary key combos to do simple task because Unity's design has focused so much on the keyboard and neglect simple point and click use cases.

Finally I agree with Walter that many applications *should* have tab, but often they don't. I have yet been able to find a native Linux pdf reader that supports tab. So until the evince devs decide to create tab support what are users supposed to do if they have to cross reading a bunch of pdfs?

Thanks for your answer Chris, I didn't interpret it at all as an attack to Unity. In my opinion managing a lot of opened windows in Gnome 2 was intuitive because having a bottom panel with links to them was the main paradigm since Windows 3.1, and it is really hard to change paradigms, new users now are not computer illiterate but come from these previous paradigms, but let's leave the bug open as your opinion is valid and shared by a lot of users.

Changed in unity (Ubuntu):
status: Incomplete → New
status: New → Confirmed
Sebastien Bacher (seb128) wrote :

Thank you for your bug report, your summary seems to mix different issues.

- dealing with minimized dialogs is an interesting case, gnome-shell decided to drop the minimize action from their ui, the recommended workflow there is to focus what you need rather than unfocs what you don't need, maybe unity should be doing the same

- double clicking on the launcher icon (or clicking once again after the software is focussed, which the first click does) will do an expose of the running instances of the softwares, that should make them easier to browser

- there is another bug which request for the expose feature to have titles by default which should make easier to distingish different instances of a same software

This bug also affects me, a very good point made by Chris. Unity could use minor improvements such as those suggested when dealing with multiple instances of the same program.

Omer Akram (om26er) wrote :

I have added ayatana-design project as affects and set the status to incomplete as per unity bug triage convention. The status will be changed after we get input on this issue from Design.

Changed in unity:
status: New → Incomplete
Changed in unity (Ubuntu):
status: Confirmed → Incomplete
Chris (fabricator4) wrote :

I don't personally minimise windows myself; I don't consider there is any real difference (functionally wrt to using the DE) between minimised windows and those that are hidden by another window. Some people do work this way however and I'm not sure that eliminating the feature completely would be a good idea.

The second click on the launcher icon does indeed do what I want it to: display all instances of a running application. The puzzle here is why it is not more obvious - once you know it, it then becomes "obvious". It actually goes most of the way to solving something that many people are finding awkward about the new environment. One reason could be due to the inconsistency in the way it works - A new user does not care if one of the instances already has focus or not - they might be expecting a double click on the launcher icon to bring up a selection list of all running instances. When something unexpected happens it may not make sense. Similarly, even an experienced user may not necessarily want the instance that is focused on with a single click; I know this puzzled me as it always seemed to bring the wrong window into focus.

Here's a thought that will improve the consistency of the interface, and make it intuitive and easy to use: If a user clicks on the launcher icon and there's only one instance of the application running, then of course that window should be given focus, but if there are multiple instances then that single click should _always_ show all running instances regardless of whether the focus at the time was one of the instances or another application.

This would make the feature simple to use and very easy to find, ie. "intuitive"


The windows 7 task bar really gets this right. I love seeing previews of any windows I have, minimized or not, when I hover over the tile in the task bar. If Unity could implement that, we'd have a winner. The fact that windows brings that window to focus just by hovering, even switching tabs in a browser is icing on the cake. I'm in full support of where unity is going, and enjoy using it in most cases, but this case is awkward at best for unity's handling of minimized windows.

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