Ubuntu Made Me Happy: Notifications

Ubuntu is good at staying out of my way. The last thing I need when I’m writing an important email is something popping up and breaking my concentration by saying “You should install this update (or tell me you’ll do it later).” When I’m working, I want to work. I don’t want my computer creating distractions for me. For this reason, when it’s time to install some updates Ubuntu’s Update Manager always starts behind all of your running applications. It’s there to remind you to update, but it never steals your focus. While software updates are important, they never require immediate attention, so I like that Ubuntu doesn’t nag me to install them.

Sometimes notifications are time-sensitive, and they require an interruption. Since it’s often difficult to tell which notifications are important to me, Ubuntu notifies me without completely interrupting me. A shaded box appears at the top right corner of my screen with a message. It’s there if I have time to look at it, but it quickly disappears and does not nag me if I don’t. If I need to click on something behind the box, it nearly disappears and stays out of my way.

As an example, Empathy, Ubuntu’s instant messaging application, shows me the contents of a new instant message without disrupting my work. In addition to notifying me, it also turns the Messaging Menu icon (grey envelope at the top right of the screen) a bright blue so that if I temporarily ignore a message I don’t forget to reply to it later when I have some free time. Also, I like that the notification shows me who is messaging and what they want. This means that I don’t have to switch over to a different browser tab or open an application to figure out whether it’s something I can ignore. Ubuntu made me happy because its notifications do not intrude on my work.

Ubuntu Notifications

3 thoughts on “Ubuntu Made Me Happy: Notifications

  1. I love that this is built-in to the new Ubuntu messaging app. Of course Microsoft Windows has it’s right-bottom corner notification tray but that isn’t as universal since the OS itself can trigger interrupting notifications in the middle of the screen. Sometimes that makes sense, when you’re installing a new program, etc., but then sometimes not.

    OS X has nothing built-in but it does have Growl which is incredibly powerful and allows you to change where the notification shows up, what color it is, and allows different 3rd party applications to plug into the notification system (and you can select which programs get to utilize Growl and which don’t). Is this one in Ubuntu just with the messaging app or is it like Growl in that it’s a completely different program that you can customize?

    GMail has desktop notification that works similar to this but I don’t have control over where the notification shows up.

    Finally this is yet another reason why as of this writing Android (and webOS) are far better than iOS, as iOS 4.x and prior suffer from horrible notifications that pop up in the middle and interrupt your work. Many who jailbreak have more elegant solutions so it’s possible Apple will rip off of those and build it into iOS 5. Windows Phone 7 has notifications like Android but they’re not as powerful in their current system because they disappear after some time (to keep the nice pretty interface going). At least in the mobile OS world, webOS is the pioneer of notifications and Android really took what they did and moved it up to the top.

    • In Ubuntu, the notifications are built into the OS (NotifyOSD) but there is an API so that developers can enable an application to use the notifications. For example, Thunderbird developers have been trying to integrate their app better into Ubuntu and they plan to implement notifications.

      Many more applications than the IM app currently use notifications. System messages are displayed such as volume indicators, battery messages, Wifi connection, etc. Other applications (cd burner, bit torrent client, gwibber, ubuntu one, etc) also use the notifications. You can find more information here: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/NotifyOSD and https://wiki.ubuntu.com/NotificationDevelopmentGuidelines

      Of note, Ubuntu developers created this using a freedesktop.org Desktop Notification Specification (so that applications can implement them by following standard Linux design guidelines) and they designed them using pretty good use-cases: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/NotificationDesignGuidelines

      Part of the design decision was to not (at least currently) make them configurable. This was because designers (namely Matthew Paul Thomas) are against adding extraneous options and prefer to get the design “right” so there’s no need to change them. This was one of the criticisms when they were first developed (9.04). I like them a lot, and I haven’t really thought about customizing them. They just feel like part of the system, which is one of the things that made me post this to begin with. In many applications that use them, there is a preference in the application to disable the notifications from that app.

      Besides customization, these notifications look, feel, and work very similar to Growl.

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