A proposal to improve the behavior of the notification system.

Bug #1624181 reported by JaSauders on 2016-09-16
This bug affects 2 people
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone
notify-osd (Ubuntu)

Bug Description

Hello friends. I'm writing this message as a proposal in regard to the way notifications work in Ubuntu. For several years (I wish I wasn't exaggerating there) I've noticed odd times where my notifications seemingly did not work. I had difficulty isolating exactly when this would happen. Given my work flow, I suppose it was difficult to identify the pattern. Only recently I learned something and it all made sense: Ubuntu notifications of the "normal" urgency do not work when videos, such as local videos or YouTube, are currently playing.

For all but a minute, I was relieved, as I had finally understood out the pattern. I never saw this documented elsewhere or spoken about. Once that settled in I began finding myself somewhat disinterested in the predictive behavior of the notification system. It doesn't take long to identify a massive flaw in this design. Take for example a desktop with dual screen, or even a laptop with a second monitor attached. Many people are multitaskers. Earlier today I had a video playing on my 2nd monitor. Somewhat ironically, it was an Ubuntu video podcast. Because of the simple act of playing a video, I received no notifications in that frame of time. I was actively working. I was constantly watching my screen. I was doing things. The video was not my primary means of computer usage at this point in time, however because of the design of the notification system, it dictated that my notifications be silenced -- yet I was there. I was working. Those were notifications that were needed.

I can list countless other examples. Rather frequently I find myself letting a YouTube music stream run, containing 3 hours of background music while I worked. There was no video, but because it was YouTube, notifications were silenced as per the guidelines of the notification system. Other times I may find myself playing a live concert, or a video with stand up comedy, etc. I know I'm not alone with this. For people that actually depend on notifications, it's an easy majority that would prefer this behavior didn't occur like this.

Upon tinkering with other distributions more, namely Gnome based distributions as well as elementary Loki, I realized just how much more logical other approaches are to the notification system. This assumed behavior dictating what notification displays on the screen versus which don't based on system processes is not helpful. It's obstructive to the user experience, whether that be their work flow at their day job or personal time on their computer. It casts more questions and frustration than assistance. The ability to silence your notifications via a simple drop-down slider is absolutely brilliant. It puts the power of the notifications in the hands of the user via one, single, simple click. Likewise, these other systems provide a history of notifications. The act of walking away from my computer for all but 30 seconds can mean a missed notification. I don't mean missed as in, "oh darn I didn't see it", but I mean missed as in... it's simply *gone*. There is no history. There is no retrieval. There are no means available to see what transpired in that 30 second window. Meanwhile, on other platforms, I walk away and look away from my screen with an odd sense of confidence knowing for an absolute fact that whatever may happen that requires my attention will certainly get my attention upon my return. With Ubuntu's current behavior, it's a simple coin toss. If you're there at the time, and of course not playing any YouTube music, a local video, or anything else of that capacity, you can actually see what happens thanks to the notification system. With videos playing on a second monitor or a YouTube music track in the background, it's simply "tough luck."

This proposal is an attempt to encourage developers to strongly consider altering this behavior. The current state of the notification system simply feels like it was designed for a C+ grade, and stopped short of an otherwise instant home-run. This degree of integration in other environments really, really shines. Sadly, it makes Ubuntu look a bit subpar in comparison. It pains me to say that, though the simple fact remains -- I am not alone. In fact, it's a considerably popular opinion that many others share.

I hope that this information provided an insightful look into the usability of a user -- one who uses Ubuntu, thoroughly enjoys it, and wants it to improve in any way possible. Thank you for your time, patience, and consideration.

ProblemType: Bug
DistroRelease: Ubuntu 16.04
Package: notify-osd 0.9.35+16.04.20160415-0ubuntu1
ProcVersionSignature: Ubuntu 4.4.0-36.55-generic 4.4.16
Uname: Linux 4.4.0-36-generic x86_64
NonfreeKernelModules: nvidia_uvm nvidia
ApportVersion: 2.20.1-0ubuntu2.1
Architecture: amd64
CurrentDesktop: Unity
Date: Thu Sep 15 21:46:52 2016
DesktopSession: 'ubuntu'
GtkTheme: 'Ambiance'
IconTheme: 'ubuntu-mono-dark'
InstallationDate: Installed on 2015-09-17 (364 days ago)
InstallationMedia: Ubuntu 15.04 "Vivid Vervet" - Release amd64 (20150422)
MachineType: To Be Filled By O.E.M. To Be Filled By O.E.M.
ProcKernelCmdLine: BOOT_IMAGE=/boot/vmlinuz-4.4.0-36-generic root=UUID=c25681e4-6e30-4021-ab9f-8937d41d8017 ro quiet splash nomdmonddf nomdmonisw
 xserver-xorg 1:7.7+13ubuntu3
 libgl1-mesa-glx 11.2.0-1ubuntu2.1
 libdrm2 2.4.67-1ubuntu0.16.04.2
 xserver-xorg-video-intel 2:2.99.917+git20160325-1ubuntu1.1
 xserver-xorg-video-ati 1:7.7.0-1
SourcePackage: notify-osd
UpgradeStatus: Upgraded to xenial on 2016-05-24 (114 days ago)
dmi.bios.date: 04/10/2013
dmi.bios.vendor: American Megatrends Inc.
dmi.bios.version: P2.40
dmi.board.name: H61M/U3S3
dmi.board.vendor: ASRock
dmi.chassis.asset.tag: To Be Filled By O.E.M.
dmi.chassis.type: 3
dmi.chassis.vendor: To Be Filled By O.E.M.
dmi.chassis.version: To Be Filled By O.E.M.
dmi.modalias: dmi:bvnAmericanMegatrendsInc.:bvrP2.40:bd04/10/2013:svnToBeFilledByO.E.M.:pnToBeFilledByO.E.M.:pvrToBeFilledByO.E.M.:rvnASRock:rnH61M/U3S3:rvr:cvnToBeFilledByO.E.M.:ct3:cvrToBeFilledByO.E.M.:
dmi.product.name: To Be Filled By O.E.M.
dmi.product.version: To Be Filled By O.E.M.
dmi.sys.vendor: To Be Filled By O.E.M.
glxinfo: Error: [Errno 2] No such file or directory: 'glxinfo'

JaSauders (jasauders) wrote :
Launchpad Janitor (janitor) wrote :

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

Changed in notify-osd (Ubuntu):
status: New → Confirmed
vexorian (vexorian) wrote :

So yesterday I experienced an epiphany. I was making a quick script and realized it would be best if it used notifications to tell me some stuff. But notifications weren't working at all. That's when I realized, I haven't seen notifications in a loooong while. This affected my ubuntu experience negatively. For example, I have lately performed system updates much more rarely than before. I am a long time ubuntu user, I started back when it was called Breezy.

I spent the last 12 hours googling and googling researching why on earth notifications don't work anymore. I tried everything. Closing Firefox. Moving back to a single monitor setup. And sometimes notficiations came back, but briefly. This was driving me crazy until I found an answer that mentioned video playback. Right, ever since I have two monitors, I almost always have a youtube playback open (often for music). Needless to say, this design flaw really bit me hard.

I suspect this problem is much larger than it first appears. It might be affecting many users, but they don't notice, because they just don't realize notifications are missing. How would I know if I missed a notification?

It's not like there aren't any ways to improve the situation. Just add a dconf-editor entry to ignore video playback. You can even extend the thing and detect the case where there are multiple monitors, so if there's a video playing, just show the notification in another screen. Or how about, once the video playback ends, you show all the missed notifications? Honestly the worst problem with all of this is how there's no way to know that those notifications ever happened.

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