Minimise and maximise buttons were recently removed from the window titlebars in GNOME 3. Discussions of the change have been ongoing for some time, but the decision only just happened, and the change came as a surprise to many. Personally speaking, I think the removal of the buttons is a definite improvement, and it’s a move that I’ve been in favour of for a while. Though Owen gave a really excellent account of his reasoning for the decision, some people are still wondering why the buttons have been removed, so I thought I’d try and explain why I think it’s a positive change. As with most major design decisions, the removal of the buttons is an attempt to balance a number of factors: there isn’t a single reason that you can point to.
First, let’s consider the issue of minimise buttons. Why remove them?
- They don’t make sense within the current shell design. There’s nothing to minimize to, like a dock or window list, and it’s potentially confusing, since users will not know where their windows have gone.
- Minimise buttons could be replaced with hide buttons, but that would require a new way of organising minimised windows in the overview and we’d need to establish an effective way of communicating where the hidden windows have gone. These changes would add complexity to the overall design (and subsequently to user interaction), and that would go against the aim of producing something that is simple and straightforward to use.
- Workspaces and the activities overview can replace the need for minimisation. Want to see a particular window? Go to the overview. Want things to be neat and tidy? Organise them using workspaces. A lot of work has gone into designing and implementing both the overview and the new workspaces functionality – we want to focus on the best parts of GNOME 3 rather than carrying incomplete legacy functionality. And focusing on one set of functionality results in a more streamlined user experience.
Without minimize, the GNOME 3 desktop is a more focused UI, and it is a UI that has a consistent high level of quality. Yes, moving to a minimiseless world might take a little getting used to for some, but the change makes sense and has clear benefits.
Second: maximise. Why remove these buttons also? A few reasons:
- It emphasises dragging the title bar as the primary way in which windows can be resized. (Double-clicking the title bar is available as a quick shortcut for this operation.) Dragging is already the mechanism by which windows can be snapped to fill one half of the screen, and there are possibilities for extending this snapping functionality in other ways in the future. This consolidation means that all the snapping resize operations are accessed through dragging, and this consistency of operation is predictable and satisfying.
- Drag-to-snap is more enjoyable than pressing a button to resize. This approach also enables some fun and novel interaction patterns, such as dragging a maximised window down to ‘peek’ behind it. These kinds of user experience advantages are extremely beneficial.
Again, removing this button streamlines, but it also adds a significant extra level of satisfaction to user interaction as well as a consistent interaction pattern that we can further exploit in the future.
Thirdly and finally, there are a number of reasons why removing both maximise and minimise is beneficial:
- Isolated titlebar buttons are touch-friendly.
- Multiple buttons on the right of the titlebar was incompatible with centered window titles: the arrangement was visually unbalanced and did not work well with narrow windows. Having only one window control on the right enables us to keep the window title in the middle; this is desirable because:
- It prompts users to read windows vertically from the centre (which is something that we can exploit in future application design).
- It opens the possibility of having another control on the left hand side.
Clear advantages here also, then. Add them to the other benefits and, on balance, it is clear that removing the two buttons makes GNOME 3 a better product. I’m definitely having a better experience since they were removed.
[Edit: I can't guarantee that comments will get published, since I don't have time to review them all. Many apologies!]