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Zetta - A new start menu

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Zetta - A new start menu

Fri Oct 17, 2008 11:36 pm
This is an idea for a new start menu in KDE4. I'll post a text-only version here, with links to the pictures. For the full version, see my blog.

The Problem

Currently, KDE4 has three start menus: Kickoff, Traditional Menu and Lancelot. Then there’s Raptor, the menu everyone is waiting for.

With this many alternatives, is there really a need for another start menu? Since I’m writing this post, my answer would obviously be ‘Yes’. Among the three menus I’ve tried, the traditional KMenu is still my favorite. Granted, it’s the one I’m most used to, but the others bug me for one common reason: browsing among the applications is a pain.

Kickoff requires many clicks if you just want to see which applications you have installed on your system, something that many persons I’ve talked to dislike. While Lancelot’s solution is very interesting, it still doesn’t hit the sweet spot for me. And the Traditional Menu simply lacks some nice features the new menus have.

The Target

I use the start menu for mainly three tasks:

  • Browse applications
  • Session actions, such as logging out
  • Launch rarely used applications

Sometimes I also use the “Recent Documents” feature, which I unfortunately forgot to include in my mockups.

Zetta is going to focus on these three points. More specifically, Zetta is aiming for to be
  • a menu used to browse and launch applications, and access session actions
  • a start menu some will prefer
  • an experiment to try new ideas
However, Zetta is not
  • going to aim for the role of ‘default menu’
  • based on usability studies
  • necessary consistent with the rest of KDE
  • a menu for those we often refers to as ‘new users’
  • the menu’s real name¹
¹ I couldn’t come up with something better. Some of you will probably understand why I choose such a name after seeing the mockups.

The Menu

Enough with all the talk, we want to see the pretty pictures. In this section I’m going to give a brief explanation on how Zetta works.

Tada! The first invisible start menu in the world?

This picture just shows a regular KDE4 desktop. Actually, my mockups are based on pictures from the KDE 4.1 Release Announcement. Now everything looks like normal, but let’s see what happens if we close KRunner and click on that blue KDE icon in the left corner.

*Click*

This is the Zetta Menu. Nothing really revolutionary, but there are probably a few things you’ll notice:
  • The buttons are covering the panel
  • The left part looks like the traditional menu
  • ‘Favorites’ is already selected even though we just clicked on the menu icon
  • The fonts are horrible!
As you can see, the menu isn’t ‘Oxygenized’ and doesn’t fit the overall Plasma theme. The reason is simple. The shininess of Oxygen isn’t really my style, and here I focused on the actual menu rather than its looks.

OK, so let’s divide the menu into its components and examine each thoroughly.

The Head

“So zetta… fast!”

This looks pretty familiar. The left part shows the user information: picture, user name and host name. The triangle indicates that you can switch users here, although I haven’t really thought about how it would work.

The right text field is, obviously, used to search for applications. It works in a similar way to the search bar in Kickoff.

The Body

KMenu merged with Dolphin?

The menu to the left shows the categories. I would prefer a ‘hover to activate’ system, but I don’t see a problem with making it configurable:

Hover mode: Similar to KMenu, the menu reacts on mouse hover (with a predefined delay).
Click mode: Click to change category.

The ‘Favorites’ section is shown be default, even when you haven’t hovered over/clicked on any category. This makes it possible to quickly launch your favorite or recently used applications. The hover delay prevents you from accidentally switching category when moving the mouse pointer to the icon view.

The icon view to the right resembles the one in Dolphin. The applications are shown as icons with their names displayed under. They can be rearranged with drag’n'drop or sorted by e.g. name. To add an application to your favorites, you can either use the right click menu or simply dragging the icon to the ‘Favorites’ category to the left.

Now you might wonder how it would look if there are subcategories in a category. To show this, I’ve made a mockup of the ‘Games’ category.

Many unknown games for a known reason; mockup creators get tired too

Note that I’ve shrunk the icon and font size to be able to show more applications. The subcategories are shown as groups. Additional subcategories aren’t supported in this mockup.

The Foot

What happened to my pager?

I came up with this idea during a math lecture. Starting with the foot, I drew a whole menu beside my math notes.

Why are the buttons covering the panel? It makes the menu more compact, thus reducing the distance you have to move the mouse pointer.

Talking from my own experience, I never use the pager/taskbar/whatever item in the panel when I open the start menu. And when I thought about it, I’d never clicked somewhere in the panel to close the menu.

I agree that it looks a little bit scary at first, but I wonder how it would feel when you’ve gotten used to it?

Click on the KDE icon to close the menu. You might miss the ‘Switch User’ button, but as said above, I’ve let the Head of Zetta take care of user management.

The Extras

Here’s some more food for thought:

Application description

I’m not sure if there’s room to show the description under the name. Maybe the additional information can be displayed in a hover box? (Think Konqueror 3.5.x)

Icon size

The icon size should be configurable. But how about changing the size directly in the menu? Ctrl+Mouse wheel would be nice, but not easily discoverable. I was thinking about if a zoom widget would make any sense.

Zoom widget from the Open/Save dialog in trunk

Foot

I want to hear what you feel about the ‘covering the panel’ behavior. But please don’t judge Zetta solely because of this. If you feel everything else is alright, the foot can always be placed in a traditional way.

Oh yes, I added the ‘Switch User’ button just to fill the empty space

Size

This is a no-brainer: you should be able to resize the menu. I really like Lancelot’s way of doing this (dragging the borders).

Too many categories!

The icon and font size of the category items shrink/expand depending on the space available.

Keyboard Navigation

Being able to use the keyboard is important to me, but I haven’t given it much thought yet. Where should the focus be when the menu is opened? In the search bar like Kickoff?

Orientation

The menu should work in a pleasant way wherever you end up placing it. Right now I’ve only focused on where I usually have my KMenu icon, in the down left corner.

The End

This is only a concept at the moment, all of the pictures of Zetta was created by me in a graphics editing program.

You can add comments in the blog, but it might take some time until they’re approved. The best place for discussion would be in the new KDE forum.

Thank you for taking time to read this, I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Zetta.

Last edited by Hans on Fri Oct 17, 2008 11:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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User avatar jrick
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RE: Zetta - A new start menu

Sat Oct 18, 2008 12:03 am
Interesting ideas. The big issue I see (if I were to use it, at least) is that I don't want icons in a menu. See your scroll bar? You can only see about half of the applications in your favorites list. If you make them into a list view (like the "Details" view in Dolphin), you could fit many more items on the same page. Also, you would have a maximum of only 1 item cut off, as opposed to an icon view, where I can see 3 icons cut off.

Last edited by jrick on Sat Oct 18, 2008 12:04 am, edited 1 time in total.


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RE: Zetta - A new start menu

Sat Oct 18, 2008 12:17 am
jrick wrote:Interesting ideas. The big issue I see (if I were to use it, at least) is that I don't want icons in a menu. See your scroll bar? You can only see about half of the applications in your favorites list. If you make them into a list view (like the "Details" view in Dolphin), you could fit many more items on the same page. Also, you would have a maximum of only 1 item cut off, as opposed to an icon view, where I can see 3 icons cut off.


Maybe make it possible to change the view? Then it would really be KMenu and Dolphin merged.

I like the icon view, it gives you a nice overview. And it isn't that space consuming either. In the game category, I can count to 20 visible applications. Kickoff with the same height after removing the bottom "tabs" only shows 9-10 applications.

The idea with Zetta is that you have a mouse wheel. Select your category, move your pointer over the icon view and use your wheel to scroll up/down.


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User avatar ivan
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RE: Zetta - A new start menu

Sat Oct 18, 2008 8:35 am
Interesting. If Kickoff looked like this, I'm not sure that Lancelot would even exist - this looks not-annoying-enough to start something new :) , and it looks usable.

The only thing I see that could be a problem is the icon mode. It is all well when you have 3 icons per row and not many rows per section, but in the games.png, you could easily lose yourself. As you said, you can count up to 20 visible applications, but that number is too large. When the number of items is greater than 5-7, the human brain starts the serial-search mode - it doesn't *see* all items at once, it starts going from one to another until it finds what it searches for. Why do you think that new KDE4 applications have uncluttered their toolbars compared to the KDE3 ones.

Note that I'm not saying that Kickoff or L did this the right way, but the advantage of those is that your brain looks serially in one direction - top to bottom - and not left-right-top-bottom.

p.s. Don't let my or anyone else's comment stop you in making this project. I think this could be a very good refreshment for the people who hate Kickoff and want something more like the old KMenu and don't need L's extra functionality.

Last edited by ivan on Sat Oct 18, 2008 8:52 am, edited 1 time in total.


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RE: Zetta - A new start menu

Sat Oct 18, 2008 9:33 am
ivan wrote:Interesting. If Kickoff looked like this, I'm not sure that Lancelot would even exist - this looks not-annoying-enough to start something new :) , and it looks usable.


Wow, that's so nice to hear. Thanks a lot. However, I'm glad that Lancelot exists - although the Traditional Menu currently is my favorite, Lancelot is the start menu I've placed my hopes on. And it still is.

The only thing I see that could be a problem is the icon mode. It is all well when you have 3 icons per row and not many rows per section, but in the games.png, you could easily lose yourself. As you said, you can count up to 20 visible applications, but that number is too large. When the number of items is greater than 5-7, the human brain starts the serial-search mode - it doesn't *see* all items at once, it starts going from one to another until it finds what it searches for. Why do you think that new KDE4 applications have uncluttered their toolbars compared to the KDE3 ones.


Seems you and jrick share the same opinion regarding the icon view. I didn't know about the "serial search mode" of the brain, very interesting. Seems i still have much to learn.

My inspiration for the icon view was, to no one's surprise, Dolphin or filemanagers in general. For example, I have 105 files in my download directory . Even when I show them all at once by maximizing the window, I can quickly find a specific picture (with previews shown). My brain skips the text (i.e., the filenames) and only scans the previews - or maybe I should say "skim", as that's closer to what I do.

I thought the problem with games.png was that the "games" all share the same icon, and the badly rendered fonts take some of your attention.

Note that I'm not saying that Kickoff or L did this the right way, but the advantage of those is that your brain looks serially in one direction - top to bottom - and not left-right-top-bottom.


Well, Kickoff and Lancelot has this kind of view for a reason, and you've even kindly explained it to me. I think it's a valid argument. I will think about it and maybe do another mockup after my exam on Tuesday.

p.s. Don't let my or anyone else's comment stop you in making this project. I think this could be a very good refreshment for the people who hate Kickoff and want something more like the old KMenu and don't need L's extra functionality.


I won't. The thing stopping me would be my lack of programming and artist skills. That's one of the reasons I wrote here - there might be persons interested enough to help making the project come true.


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User avatar ivan
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RE: Zetta - A new start menu

Sat Oct 18, 2008 11:34 am
Well, to be honest, I haven't paid that much attention to things like the serial...view and stuff... at least not at the beginning. But I have learnt a lot stuff just reading KDE devel lists and blog discussions.

As for the images, and Dophin, it is true. But unfortunately not all applications can be easily recognized only by the icon, so users would every now and then have to read the titles, and there lies the problem. So, the icon view is perfect for - well icons :) - when the items can be easily recognized by their respective image representations, and the list/details view is for name recognition.

If Zetta could remember the user choices for different application categories - whether to show them as list or as icons, i think it would fix this issue. (although that approach has its disadvantages - mainly the inconsistency)

Cheerio!


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User avatar Hans
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RE: Zetta - A new start menu

Sat Oct 18, 2008 6:15 pm
Looking through my KMenu, most applications on my system actually have icons that are easily recognized. But then I probably belong to the group 'power users', persons who like to play with stuff like kmenuedit. :)

Another advantage of the list view is that it can show more information without distracting the user (such as description). It seems the list view would be preferable if you don't know what you're looking for (i.e.., just want to see which applications you have installed) while the icon view is for "find and launch".

What do you think would make most sense - to be able to quickly switch between the two views (on a global scale), or to configure the view for each category?
I think I prefer the first method. Then there won't be any inconsistency and you can easily switch between "scan" (text) and "skim" (icon) mode.


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RE: Zetta - A new start menu

Sat Oct 18, 2008 7:41 pm
Hans wrote:I think I prefer the first method. Then there won't be any inconsistency and you can easily switch between "scan" (text) and "skim" (icon) mode.


Same here.


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RE: Zetta - A new start menu

Sat Oct 18, 2008 11:17 pm
To be honest, I can't decide which method would be better. They both have pros and cons. (and I don't want to write the classic "make that too configurable" answer - it is not KDE4 style :) )


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Skim and scan

Tue Oct 21, 2008 10:53 pm
A little update. As usual, the full version is available in my blog.

Three days have gone since I wrote the first post about Zetta, a new start menu for KDE4. I admit I expected more comments, especially since many complain about Kickoff; the huge amount of text probably scared away many potential readers. However, the few responses I received in the KDE forum was really helpful.

Today I’ll be talking about the two modes in the application view: skim mode and scan mode. I choose these names to give you an idea of what they’re for, but in Zetta they’ll most likely be addressed as icon view respective list view.

[size=large]Skim mode[/size]

You’ve already seen the skim mode. The icon view gives you a nice overview of your applications and you can quickly find what you’re looking for.

Skim mode

However, if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, e.g. you don’t know how the application icon looks like, you have to scan the items in two directions - left to right and top to bottom. This is a problem, and it needs a solution.

[size=large]Scan mode[/size]

Now you probably see why I choose this name. The list view provides more information while being easy to read - from top to bottom.

Scan mode

The star shows if the item is in your favorites, and provides a simple way to add/remove it as a favorite. (Obviously I love Supertux, but despite that I mixed up the name and description. A common mistake after you’ve had an exam in linear algebra, or so I’ve heard).

The disadvantage of the scan mode is that it takes more space - the list can be quite long if you have many applications in one category. I’m not very happy with how the subcategories are handled, but I haven’t figured out a better solution yet.

Another thing I’m thinking about is how to switch between the two modes. A keyboard shortcut is a given, but should I put a switch button somewhere too? I’ve thought about a ‘toolbar’ which you can show and hide, but we’ll see how it turns out.

As usual, I appreciate all constructive comments.

Last edited by Hans on Fri May 29, 2009 12:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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RE: Zetta - A new start menu

Wed Oct 22, 2008 8:38 am
Cool :)

Concerning the /covering the panel/ idea, I have absolutely no objections, as long as you can close the menu by clicking its icon again.

As for the lack of comments, it is to be expected - Murphy's law - I had more /media/ coverage in the beginning just because I didn't want to have it :) (tried to hide everything for as long as I could) And besides, everybody is waiting for the next prodigal child - Raptor.


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RE: Zetta - A new start menu

Wed Oct 22, 2008 1:40 pm
ivan wrote:Cool :)


No wonder you didn't complain about the new list view, as I ripped it directly off Lancelot. ;-)

Concerning the /covering the panel/ idea, I have absolutely no objections, as long as you can close the menu by clicking its icon again.


Nice to hear. Yeah, that's the idea.

As for the lack of comments, it is to be expected - Murphy's law - I had more /media/ coverage in the beginning just because I didn't want to have it :) (tried to hide everything for as long as I could) And besides, everybody is waiting for the next prodigal child - Raptor.


Heh. I wouldn't want that much attention either (will I get it now according to Murphy?). Just, you know, a few more comments here.
Raptor is a cool concept, but not really my cup of tea. Although I shouldn't really say that without having tried it.


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RE: Zetta - A new start menu

Thu Oct 23, 2008 7:21 am
Hans wrote:No wonder you didn't complain about the new list view, as I ripped it directly off Lancelot. ;-)

Hehe, well, you added the favourite star to id (ala Applet Browser) :) (it will probably be added to Kickoff as well, if it is not already... for L, i don't know)

I don't know whether Murphy will help you now. Just wait and see :)


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RE: Zetta - A new start menu

Thu Oct 23, 2008 10:57 am
Well, I think there are so few comments because it's very hard to judge the efficiency of a menu by looking at concepts. It's also quite similar to other menus and as such probably neither astounds nor annoys people enough to comment. I personally use the menu only to look up names, or discover applications, because I launch everything with KRunner or by Konsole. For that purpose I think other concepts, perhaps more like a filebrowser, would be better. With more visual hints and descriptions. But that doesn't really fit in a new start menu.
Nevertheless, I think a lot of people would be grateful to have a different default menu, especially if it could please both the people that like kickoff and those that hate it, and your concept looks like it could just do that.


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User avatar Hans
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RE: Zetta - A new start menu

Thu Oct 23, 2008 9:06 pm
Andre wrote:Well, I think there are so few comments because it's very hard to judge the efficiency of a menu by looking at concepts. It's also quite similar to other menus and as such probably neither astounds nor annoys people enough to comment.


True. I thought about reviving my Flash skills to make an interactive example, but in the end I decided that the mockups were enough.

I personally use the menu only to look up names, or discover applications, because I launch everything with KRunner or by Konsole. For that purpose I think other concepts, perhaps more like a filebrowser, would be better. With more visual hints and descriptions. But that doesn't really fit in a new start menu.


Same here (except I use Katapult, xterm or keyboard shortcuts).
What do you mean with "visual hints"? Screenshots?
I think Raptor is going to show some more information about the apps (like this) but I'm not sure about including such a feature in Zetta. As I wrote in the first post, maybe show the description in hover boxes à la Konqueror 3.5.x.

Nevertheless, I think a lot of people would be grateful to have a different default menu, especially if it could please both the people that like kickoff and those that hate it, and your concept looks like it could just do that.


Remove "default" and it would fit Zetta's purpose. Hopefully this menu will please those who are used to the old KMenu way, "two clicks to launch an application", while still providing something refreshing.


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