Comment 231 for bug 532633

Revision history for this message
Bruno Girin (brunogirin) wrote : Re: [light-theme] please revert the order of the window controls back to "menu:minimize,maximize,close"

<disclaimer>this tag may include content you can't see the funny side of</disclaimer>
<workaround>please read the whole post and go have a walk before replying in anger</workaround>

Oh dear! A pre-release version of the next Ubuntu includes a massive change to an essential element of user interface: the close button is now on the left! The world is going to end!

OK, so what? If I look at all the window managers I've used in the past apart from Gnome, I count: Amiga OS (1.3), Motif, CDE, Ye Olde Mac Classic, Mac OS-X, whatever the WM was on SunOS 4.x and the old HP-PA, Windows 3.1 to Vista. The only thing I can say is that the positions of the Close, Minimise and Maximise buttons has been quite varied. In fact, the only OS in here that ever had the Close button in the top right corner was... Windows 95/NT4 and above. Every other one had it in the top left corner.

The current argument reminds me of the time when we upgraded customers from Windows NT 3.51 to NT 4. Microsoft did something terrible with NT 4: they replaced the application launcher window with this weird bar at the bottom that had a "Start" button and they moved the Close button from top left to top right! How dare they? My customers were up in arms. Granted, considering said customers were FX and equity traders, some of them had an IQ inversely proportional to their earnings and found it difficult to adapt to the change, but still. Every time I visited them, I was told: "We'll call your boss, you'll lose your job over this! We'll go to the competition! Microsoft will crash down in flames for doing this!" Did I lose my job? No. Did they go to the competition? No. Did Microsoft crash down in flames? Hell no, otherwise we wouldn't have bug #1!


Having said this, is this a major change? Yes. Should it be pulled back? No, not now and here's why:

1. Despite the fact that this thread seems to indicate that the whole Ubuntu community is up in arms, this is not the case because the sample of users in this thread is a self-selecting one. The users who see no problem with the change will never find this thread because they won't go looking for it. On the other hand, every single user who disagrees with the change will go to Launchpad, find the thread and add his own negative comment. So whatever data this thread contributes to the problem is by definition biased and should therefore not be used in the decision. On the other hand, that same data provides an interesting set of test cases as it shows a varied range of opinions and experience, which is useful for my second point.

2. Such a usability change can only be validated or invalidated by widespread user testing. No amount of polls, reviews or limited usability studies will tell you whether the change is a good one or not. And, guess what? A beta release is exactly the right way to do such testing: it's stable enough that you can give it to non-technical users but you still have the option to correct bugs before the final release. I suspect this is exactly why Mark Shuttleworth said that the current button layout would stay *for the duration of beta 1 at least*. And I believe that, if beta testing were to show that the change has a definite negative impact on usability, it would be reverted before full release.

So, how, as a community, can we perform user testing on this change? Install the beta, use it, try it out as it comes out of the box. And for those who say that they support non-technical users, get them to play with it. But don't tell them anything, let them find out what's new. I'm sure you'll be surprised by who adapts well to the change and who doesn't.

Now can we please all calm down and help make Lucid the best Ubuntu yet?