Ubuntu Tries to Do Away with Menus, Enter Heads Up Display, or HUD
By on January 25th, 2012

Over the last few years, Canonical and Mark Shuttleworth have become extremely innovative about User Experience (UX). Ubuntu really has some UX experts in its team, and the kind of things that have been coming out of Canonical for the last few months shout out loud that Canonical is putting them to good use. The recent UX change for Ubuntu is “Heads Up Display” or HUD, and it surely looks like a good feature.

Heads Up Display, or HUD is a new way of interacting with applications, where you do not go through multiple menu hierarchies to reach a menu item. Instead, you simply type it and HUD will search it for you, in live. Moreover, HUD remembers what you typed last and prioritizes those commands in search results, so is also very fast for common tasks. It bridges the gap between the command line interface and application menus, and does it wonderfully.

As mentioned by Olli Ries in a blog post, who was once the Principal Director of engineering at Novell, and is one of the Product Strategy Engineering Managers at Canonical presently, plans for HUD were underway even before the last Ubuntu Developer Summit.

What does “Heads Up Display” have to Offer?

Heads up display will create “a new generation of application interfaces”, as claimed by Mark Shuttleworth.

In his interview at OMGUbuntu, John Lea tells us about the use-case of HUD.

Currently the HUD provides a fast and efficient way to complete any journey that involves using an application menu.  It also assists in making functionality more discoverable; just type what you want to do and the HUD will match and display the available options, even if some of those options are normally hidden in a sub-sub-menu.

This is especially useful to users who are transitioning from proprietary apps to free software as it removes the work of having to learn where the functionality they previously used in proprietary apps resides in the free software alternative.

However, if you are more comfortable with menus, or even if you are remotely worried about remembering commands on end, Mark Shuttleworth has made it clear in his blog post that HUD will not replace menus, but will augment them. So, you do not lose the usability of an application in which you are not well versed. On the other hand, you will find it easier and faster to use familiar applications.

The future of HUD

The current release of HUD is just the beginning of an awesome journey. It is more like a preview of what is going to come. Though, what is going to come will blow your mind. Canonical has made it clear that they plan to bring in speech recognition into HUD and then, you can speak to your application! Not just this, some natural language processing with recognition of context will take Ubuntu to a whole new level, in the world of Linux distros. Furthermore, some nifty features like suggestion and auto-complete from history can be improved further.

I am sure, when Canonical set out to create HUD, they did not just have Ubuntu desktop in mind. It might also want to integrate it into Ubuntu TV for an enhanced user experience.

The area of speech recognition has always been of special interest, but has never been pursued until now. Ubuntu will be the first operating system to have this feature, and John Lea’s vision with HUD, is everyone’s dream of the future.

We want to lead the widening of human-computer interaction bandwidth, and we envision a world where a user speaks to their computer while simultaneously directing focus with a mouse (or other pointer) and sometimes reaching up and touching the screen to directly manipulate an object.

So, about HUD, yay or nay?

Heads Up Display is an innovative feature. It presents a fresh learning curve for all of us, who have been working with menus and CLIs for over a decade now. Clearly, Menus were to go away at some point of time, and perhaps the time is now. The way HUD integrates features from the CLI, back on top of the GUI; I must say I am impressed.

It reminds me of the time Gnome shell came out, and it looked classy, usable and extremely productive. With all the language processing and menu-tricks up its sleeves, Heads Up Display is clearly a winner.

As in case of any UX change, Unity had haters too. For a brief initial period, I myself was not a big fan of Unity, but with time, it grew on me. HUD integrates strongly with Unity, and increase productivity for power users. However, HUD and Unity today are facing the same challenges that the first GUI faced back in the days of CLI. Clearly, people are worried if it will do away with menus totally, and they would have to learn multiple application-specific menu navigation. Let us see how smartly Ubuntu addresses this problem. For now, I cannot help saying “I am sold, HUD”.

You can see HUD and its awesome features in action, in this YouTube video. You can also read an interesting interview of John Lea (who leads the Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu TV design team), by  at OMGUbuntu.

How to get HUD?

HUD is exclusively available for Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, which is the next major release of Ubuntu. However, you can try it at the HUD PPA.

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Author: Chinmoy Kanjilal Google Profile for Chinmoy Kanjilal
Chinmoy Kanjilal is a FOSS enthusiast and evangelist. He is passionate about Android. Security exploits turn him on and he loves to tinker with computer networks. He rants occasionally at Techarraz.com. You can connect with him on Twitter @ckandroid.

Chinmoy Kanjilal has written and can be contacted at chinmoy@techie-buzz.com.

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