The GNOME Project has been working hard to evolve and improve GNOME 3 since it was initially released in April 2011. We’ve made substantial progress, introducing new features, like GNOME Online Accounts, the lock screen and integrated input sources. We’ve also adjusted and refined many parts of the core UX, including improvements to the Activities Overview, the new-look Message Tray and ongoing work on System Settings. This is important work, and there is more that still needs to be done.
However, the core UX isn’t just about the Activities Overview or System Settings. There is another, crucial aspect of the new experience that we are in the process of building: core applications. And there’s one type of application that is especially important for the GNOME 3 user experience: the content application.
Content is one of the most important parts of a user experience. People care about content. Software is often just a means to get at and do something with it, whether it is the means to share holiday photos with your family, create documents for work, or play that new album you just bought. If we are going to provide a competitive, first-class user experience, we have to do content well.
Those of us who work on GNOME design have been thinking about content for some time. (Creating a new way to access content has actually been one of the goals of GNOME 3 from the very beginning.) If you’ve been following the development of GNOME 3, you might remember Jon’s blog post on the subject and some of the early mockups we had for presenting content in the shell.
The designs have moved on since then, but the goal remains the same: to provide a better way to access and work with content. We are aiming to make it quicker and less laborious for people to find content, and we want to provide effective tools for people to organise it. We also want to create content tools that are in tune with today’s users, with things like fast search and cloud integration. This new approach to content is also designed to be complementary to the file browser rather than a replacement for it.
To this end, we’re aiming to build a suite of new GNOME content applications: Music, Documents, Photos, Videos and Transfers. Each of these applications aims to provide a quick and easy way to access content, and will seamlessly integrate with the cloud. Through these applications, we want content to become a key part of the GNOME 3 experience.
The design of the new content applications follows some key principles:
- Provide fast and effective search.
- Tailor the view to the type of content. Music doesn’t need to look exactly the same as my documents, for example: we can optimise for each content type.
- In most cases (there are a few exceptions) order content according to what was used last. Among other things, this provides a useful reminding function for content that you might be interested in.
- Use a separate view for browsing and viewing. This uses screen space effectively and allows the UI to be focused on the task in hand.
- Automatically access content that is stored online (through GNOME Online Accounts). One of the goals behind these applications is that a new user should be able to enter their online account details during initial setup, and immediately have access to all their cloud content.
- Enable people to manually tag or organise their content, but don’t let that organisation become restrictive or burdensome.
- Include functionality that is relevant to the content type. You want to be able to play music and videos, share photos, print documents, and so on.
- Let users open their content using specialised applications. While the content applications will provide some basic functionality, there will be many cases where someone wants to use a specialist application to work with that content.
- Integrate application search into the Activities Overview, so that a single search can simultaneously tap into all of the content applications.
Mockups and designs for the new GNOME 3 content applications can be found on the wiki.
We are making good progress towards the creation of these applications. Documents has been with us for a while, and is getting better with each release. (It has also enabled us to create a set of interface components that can be reused in other applications.) Totem is on its way to becoming Videos. Photos is in the early stages of development. There has even been a bit of activity around Music. Transfers is still only on paper, but there has been some interest in it.
This is the current state of Documents:
Making these five new applications a reality is the next step for GNOME, in my opinion. Once we have them and they are integrated with Activities Overview search, GNOME 3 will be much more compelling. If you want to help GNOME take its next step and get involved in the development of a shiny new GNOME application, just get in touch. We’d love to have you involved, and there is plenty of work to do.