Here Comes The New Ubuntu Unity Spread Design

Be prepared to be amazed because this is huge and would change the way you interact with multiple applications in Unity. The Compiz window manager has been around in Ubuntu for quite a long time, in fact I cannot think of a time when it wasn’t present. The good old days where people in fact use Ubuntu because of the fancy cube effect and other effects. With Compiz, you have a huge list of Compiz plugins like Spread, Expo, Alt-Tab and many more etc. And this has remained the way it has for the past few years, sticking out like a sore thumb in light of the new modern, gorgeous Unity interface. Well, all that is about to change soon.

John Lea, the lead designer of the Ayatana Team has just provided insights of the new Spread that has been designed. We will be covering the new design here but the detail he goes into is overwhelming. It gives an idea of how every minute thing is thought of during the design process. All right, enough  with all this beating around the bush. Let’s dive straight into it, shall we?

Until now, the spread behavior that you invoke by pressing Super + W is provided by the Compiz Plugin. However, this was only intended to be temporary since the new Spread was being designed meanwhile in the background. The new Spread design describes in detail the behavior under different circumstances like Multi-monitor, Application Spread, Workspaces etc.

As a reference just is the old spread,

As you can see it lacks many things like, application titles, search mode, closing applications in this mode and many other vital functions. The Spread plays an important role in multi-tasking since it provides a bird’s eye of your desktop. To be able to do basic things like search, close and other interaction can make life much simpler.

With that view point, here is the new Spread as shown by John Lea.

Some things to be pointed out are,

  • Number overlay on each application provides keyboard shortcuts
  • You can search the application title to quickly select the window you are looking for
  • Close button appears when you hover over each application window
  • Application windows now respect the screen size and automatically vary in size
  • Better grouping making maximum use of the screen size available

Here is the new application Spread shown below,

This application spread is activated when you click on the firefox button when firefox is currently the focus. It shows you an overview mode, where you can perform actions like opening a new window, closing, moving window from one workspace to another. This provides for quick management of multiple windows of the same application. You can already notice that each workspace has its own wallpaper! You can also zoom into one workspace by clicking on it. You are then provided with view as shown below. You can go back to workspace view by clicking on the workspace button shown on the upper right of the screen.

The searching among applications is shown below,

This new design also brings better multi-monitor support. Currently if you have two monitors and you can activate the workspace view by pressing Super + S, you will see in total eight workspaces on each monitor. This can be confusing and also makes the applications on each workspace appear small that you cannot distinguish between them. With the new design, each monitor gets its own set of 4 workspaces with only 4 shown on each monitor.

Phew! That was a lot of information…but we are still not complete. This was pretty much the summary of the new design proposed by John Lea. He goes into describing every scenario out there. If you are interested you can have a look at the google docs document here.

Here’s a much shorter Summary,

  • Close, Move interaction now part of the Application and Normal Spread.
  • Ability to perform special actions like Add a new window right from the Spread mode.
  • Ability to set a different wallpaper for each workspace. (will be integrated into the Ubuntu Control Panel)
  • Ability to filter application using the search function
  • Improved multi-monitor support
  • Enhanced keyboard support in the Spread mode for Power users

This is all great and exciting. But when can I use this? Well this is all mockups at present. However, it is planned to land in Ubuntu 12.10 if it meets all the quality requirements at that time.

Can I use in other desktop shells like Gnome-Shell, KDE, Cinnamon? I am afraid not since those desktop shells do use Compiz.

What are your thoughts about the new design? Excited? Let us know!

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