Improve workspace functionality under Unity

Bug #1027949 reported by Eduards Bezverhijs on 2012-07-23
This bug affects 18 people
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone
Ayatana Design
unity (Ubuntu)

Bug Description

I would like to get back with the idea about handling workspaces in Unity. I know, there were couple bugs filed on this topic and most of them end up in status “Won't fix”. Probably this is due to authors position not clearly expressed / backed up with real world usage, more incompatible ideas thrown in in the same bug, which renders the bug unreadable and unclear.
With this I would like to express the “power” user's opinion which I am. I really hope that Unity is not designed just for casual users and designers listen to power user needs as well.
I'm hoping for constructive discussion and criticism if needed.

Workspaces by design are meant to extend a space, organize the apps/work on desktop which should reduce clutter. In unity, I can't understand how they are meant to be used to achieve the goal.

If average user uses handful of applications there is no need for workspaces at all. If he wants to use workspaces for some strange reason, application switching just adds distracting workspace switching animation to the workflow. If he wants to group applications in workspaces, there doesn't seem to be good way either as launcher shows all apps as alt-tab does, changing couple of apps in this case is shifting the screen in some direction. There is a scale plugin which handles workspaces, for most users it's not needed and they don't know the existence of such thing.
One thing which comes to my mind is if user want's to see more than one pair of applications side by side then workspaces would come handy, but this fits in the power user group as then he perfectly knows what's on every workspace he use. Casual users usually come from windows world and will use minimize instead. But this is not the point and maybe I'm wrong :)

Power users know exactly how they want to work, they have tons of applications opened at the same time as well.
Me for instance, I have laptop with 8G of RAM, I work on many different projects, so I would like to group applications based on projects, currently I have 5 workspaces, one for common things like email, some other company stuff, one for my personal needs and 3 for projects. Each of the workspace have at least one firefox instance opened (via the -P –no-remote), most of them have libreoffice writer and terminals opened, specific workspaces have specific programs opened, on average about 6-10 apps per WS, seprately in each WS that is manageable amount of apps, taken together it's a nightmare. I have work in-progress situation on every workspace, I don't want to store my progress of each project in my head or notes, so I never close anything in workspaces until it's done (just save docs/work), so when returning to it I can continue where I left off.
In this kind of workflow launcher is unreadable, it's hard to distinguish what application is where, it has all the stuff shown with squeezed icons at the bottom, not nice at all. Similar to this:, but in my case it might get even worse :)
In addition, when I'm working on project X I don't really care for project Y apps or my personal apps. I don't want to see some random game I opened on private workspace all day long when I clearly won't use it until the evening, the same applies for half-way watched movies etc., the idea is clear.
There are couple of things to be shared across the workspaces, like skype, keepassx, music player to mention some.

What I propose/suggest and many others already did - one setting in ccsm which says “Show applications for current desktop only”.
This setting would be for power users, not the default, launcher behavior would remain the same as in current form:
* if user want to see application across the workspaces, he can pin it to the launcher to see it's icon, current behavior w/o changes
* to have app in every workspace, use “Always on visible Workspace” from window menus, no changes
* interactions with visible icons - no changes

So to me this seems basically about showing / hiding certain icons, not much more, unity already knows which application is on which workspace as it switches to it when clicked, it handles workspace switching as backlight and pips (>) are changing, etc. It should be very easy to implement and will help power users a great deal.
For me this is a thing which prevents me using Unity which in other aspects are fine. I tried, it doesn't work :(

Launcher is a place where user can see all opened apps, in most cases application in particular WS is the only one user wants, for instance, firefox, if that is opened in particular WS, then clicking on it always gets where user want, there is no choice to be made, just a single click. All apps in that WS are related to particular context and workflow, it's really easy to work like that.

Please comment or raise an issues on this proposal. If this doesn't fit in, please explain why and suggest how to get rid of the mess in launcher / improve multitasking with loads of apps.

Bazon (bazonbloch) wrote :

Very good description. Bad workspace management is the most important reason I don't use Unity.

Bilal Akhtar (bilalakhtar) wrote :

Needs a word from the design team, that's why I'm marking it incomplete in Unity for now.

tags: added: needs-design
Changed in unity:
status: New → Incomplete
Changed in unity (Ubuntu):
status: New → Incomplete
Lev Kokotov (lev-kokotov) wrote :

Fully agree with the author. Unity needs to be configurable for power users.

Also, I would love to see a generally more complete system configuration utility. With every Ubuntu release, the number of configurations that can be made by the user through the official configuration app decreased. For example, in 10.04, changing themes was a matter of right click -> Change appearance. In 12.04, you need to run "hack" bash scripts and install third-party applications to change themes at all.

Ubuntu tries to move towards the Mac OS/Windows simplicity and obviousness. That's not necessary a good move. The OS should be easy to use for beginners - yes, however power-users should also have the opportunity to easily configure the system to their liking. That's what Linux spirit is all about!


Andrea Grandi (andreagrandi) wrote :

What about "extensions" just like Gnome 3, Chrome, Firefox ecc..?! Those teams don't assume to have done the most complete and perfect software in the world. They want a clean and simple interface and this is ok. But they also give the possibility to develop and install extensions. I would like to have Unity's Extensions in Ubuntu Software Center, just like now I can install Chrome's extensions. Does it sound so bad to you?

Vladimir Bebeshko (vbebeshko) wrote :

Guys, I think, the subject of discussion here is not extensions. It sounds bad for me as a user. I just want an option to show only applications from the current workspace in the launcher. That's all. This is a simple programming task, because, as Eduards mentioned, Unity already knows which application is on which workspace now.
And extensions is a whole bunch of functionality, not connected with simple and annoying problem described here.
This problem affects me.
Fully agree with author. The desccription is very clear.
Please, draw attention here!

John Lea (johnlea) wrote :

Note the current plan of record is to implement 'The Spread' window switching and workspace interactions defined in:

Eduards Bezverhijs (mjasnik) wrote :

I have read it, mostly it seems really good. Finally there will be indication on which workspace I am, but what will happen with indicator if user will have 3x3 or 2x3 ws... Alt+tab is refined, window selection is better, etc. A good step in direction of usability. Interestingly, will it be backported for 12.04.

But that doesn't address the full launcher problem in case user opened loads of apps, as it was indicated in my original post. Plus, user really don't care about gimp with personal photos on personal workspace while he works at office and don't use it, he really don't care about firefox instance opened in personal workspace with launchpad or omgubuntu or other 11 tabs while he's working with different firefox dedicated for specific tasks at office for project x, when he switches for project y, he don't care about firefox with project x tabs or other project x related opened apps.
The issue still remains and has to be addressed properly.

Jörn Dreyer (j.dreyer) wrote :

The Spread only takes care of window switching. And nicely by the way. But this bug is about switching workspaces in the sense of tasks. Much like KDE activities that hide unrelated windows.

In my opinion showing apps running on other workspaces only clutters the launcher. On smaller laptop screens this fils the launcher quite fast, making the launcher ansuitable to see what is running.

+1 for an option in myunity to hide windows on other workspaces

Bazon (bazonbloch) wrote :

Maybe interesting if you ended up reading this: extension for Gnome-Shell:

Ken (kkinder) wrote :

I commented on the other bug as well, I use each workspace for separate projects. A separate IDE window, separate web browsers, separate email clients. Switching to Chrome and having to push me back to the other workspace defeats the purpose of workspaces. Also, why do we (the users) need to justify how we use the software? If you don't want to code it up, fine, let us code up a patch and send it in. But the arrogance of, *no, you don't matter" is really offensive.

Eduards Bezverhijs (mjasnik) wrote :

So, no response at all... Sad :(

John Lea (johnlea) wrote :

@edzis; we have a lot of work to do to improve window switching inside a single workspace. As this work benefits all users (both workspace users and non-workspace users), we want to get this work complete before moving on to workspace improvements. Unfortunately we only have limited resources, and we really need to fix the single workspace issues before moving on to improving how we handle multiple workspaces. So to summarize, we would like to improve workspaces, but we won't have the resource available to start this work for quite some time.

However... if anybody outside Canonical is interested in taking on the challange of improving the workspace functionality in Unity this would really help get this area of the shell improved sooner. It's a big project that would require a bunch of time, but if anybody is interested in taking on this project ping me on Freenode IRC #ubuntu-unity (I'm JohnLea).

The Mountain Lion, Elementary Pantheon, and Cinnamon currently provide the most comfortable ways to work with workspace management. Main goals are easy reorganizing of the workspaces you currently have like opening of the app on the desired workspace, easily rearranging of apps between the workspaces, rearrangement of workspaces themselves, easy way to add/remove more workspaces.

Nice feature of Mountain Lion is that you can make the full-screen app behave as separate workspace and keep the ability to switch from it to another workspace back and forth.

I believe, that's almost everything which is really required from workspace functionality. In other words you never know how much workspaces you really need, despite the point people might have habits for example of placing messengers to one workspace, another keeping for browsing, another one for development, some for writing documentation and so on - that's not working for the end user.

I'd suggest copying the behavior of the workspace management from the resources mentioned in the beginning of my comment, as it seems to be really user-friendly.

Andrea Azzarone (azzar1) on 2015-09-23
Changed in ayatana-design:
status: New → Opinion
Changed in unity:
status: Incomplete → Opinion
Changed in unity (Ubuntu):
status: Incomplete → Opinion
To post a comment you must log in.
This report contains Public information  Edit
Everyone can see this information.

Other bug subscribers