March 23, 2010

Buttons on the left, users on the right!

As you can see here, window buttons moved to the left in Ubuntu's new GTK theme. What strikes me in this is not only all the fuss around the maybe now famous bug #532633, but why Ubuntu did so?

On Mac OS X, buttons are on the left too - with the close button being the outermost one (whereas in Ubuntu, it's the innermost). Having worked with Macs, it would probably not make much of a difference for me - although some users voiced their concerned about applications that natively displayed buttons on the right despite their configuration, introducing a consistency problem.

However, was moving everything to the left beneficial for the user? Let me remind you Office 2007. I do not need to mention how much heat it had to endure when Microsoft introduced the new UI. Was it really  that bad? Maybe, maybe not - I haven't had enough experience with the software to say if the new layout was really defective. For my part, I didn't really like it but that's another story. You may also recall GNOME's X Screensaver dialog replacement a couple of years ago. One thing is certain : in all cases, changing users' habits is a very delicate thing. Users have to see the benefits of it - concrete benefits.

Maybe putting buttons on the left was a good design idea and was truly beneficial. However, if such change is unnecessary in the eyes of the user, such modifications may backfire. And sometimes more than you expect. I mean, it's only window buttons, after all!

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