Everyone’s been dogging Linux distros, hoping that someday it’ll fall by the wayside and that the army of geeks supporting free software would bow out already and switch over to Windows 7. There’s always been a flurry in the media every other year that “this is the year Linux takes over”… and it never does. But that doesn’t discourage the army of geeks, programmers and software developers from supporting it and making the software more user-friendly with each version. Right now, if I didn’t have a boat-load of Windows games keeping me tied to the platform, my PC would have been running the latest version of Ubuntu, including the new HUD system Canonical’s been trialling.
First, look below to the video that goes through a few ways in which the HUD can be used. Canonical’s been developing this system for over two years now. The first hint at where Ubuntu was going was the switch to Unity as the default interface. While similar to the new taskbar in Windows 7, the way in which you interacted with the OS changed drastically.
Gob-smacked yet? HUD takes away most of the context menus we’re normally used to and replaces it with a logical, thought-driven system (Shuttleworth calls it VUI, for Vocabulary UI) that learns to look for what you need as you type. Remarkably, this is exactly what the Search function in the Start Menu in Windows does, but to a larger extent it’s slower because it’s only looking for indexed files and system options or information windows. HUD simply integrates into every corner of the OS, from social networking through to menial tasks such as editing a photo. In my opinion, HUD is also far more flexible and organised than Microsoft’s own Ribbon interface, which just consumes more pixels as time goes on.
More to the point, there’s no hunting for system menus for new beginners to Ubuntu. From what I’ve seen, it’s a logically-ordered system. If you needed to copy something a few files back from your User space to the desktop, launch the HUD and simply type “copy [filename] to desktop” and HUD searches for the file and copies it to the desktop promptly. If you need to delete all mails in your trash, simply type “empty mails in trash” and the HUD will look into Thunderbird without opening it, empty your trash, and then come back and tell you that the operation was completed. Or at least that’s what Canonical hopes to achieve in future.
Its almost… magical, the only word I can use to describe it. The closest this comes to is Siri, in fact, and I can even see a voice-operated HUD in the near future (the writing’s been on a the wall for a long time). HUD dramatically changes the way you look at an interface and interact with programs. You’ll notice in the video that Ubuntu 12.04 with HUD enabled does away with all the menus at the top-left of the programs, like Windows and OSX have. Those are replaced by extra icons that either can’t be integrated with HUD or simply require greater user interaction.
But let’s face it – most of you don’t actually need anything like this. Linux itself is relevant to a small minority of our readers to this site, the HUD even less so. Where I can see this winning hearts is for power users like me (Shuttleworth echoes my thoughts in his blog). I use my keyboard for nearly everything I do on my PC – the keyboard shortcuts are my saving grace. I may be able to pilot my 1600dpi mouse like a pro, but when I’m working with large batches of files or information, the mouse becomes a cumbersome object.
HUD makes this all easier, and will continue to evolve into something far greater and more intelligent as time goes by. There’s a lot of talk about integrating switchable, bootable images of Ubuntu onto cellphones like the Motorola Razr as a dual-boot solution when plugged into a dock. With the convenience the HUD offers, its definitely going to change the way we think about computers in future.
P.S.: More to the point though, does anyone notice how HUD writes down your system commands? Each order is followed by a greater-than operator, “>”. I’ve been writing guides and walkthroughs for people for years in the same manner, and the operator helps users understand the path their actions take them through the system menus. It looks like someone’s caught on to it, and its now becoming a social norm! Too cool!