“System Indicator”?

One of the stated goals of Canonical’s Ayatana project is to reduce the amount of real estate used by the systray. This was one of the rationales for the Indicator Applet introduced in Ubuntu 9.04.
In preparation for UDS Karmic I decided to take a look at my Kubuntu 9.04 systray (as well as a few systray like items that in KDE 4.2 aren’t or can’t be in the actual systray). It looks like this:
KDE 4.2 systray
I also experimented with removing some of these items to see how I experienced it.
Moving from left to right:
USB stick/SD card (Device notifier) – I don’t see any need for this to be on the panel/systray by default at all. Make a appearance when you’ve got a device to notify about.
Sound (Kmix) – I rarely need this. I’ve got multimedia keys on my laptop (and they work – including the notifications about volume setting). This could easily be somewhere else, less readily available. It certainly doesn’t need to be visible in the systray at all times for everyone.
Display (X Resize and Rotate) – I think I’ve only ever used this when setting up my laptop to work with a projector. I have a vague recollection of this only being started by default as a workaround for a bug, but don’t quote me on that. I definitely don’t need to see it.
Passwords (Kwallet) – I am sometimes vaguely interested in if the wallet is open or not, but I virtually never click on it. Generally if something needs access to the wallet the application asks for it. No need for this on the systray.
IRC (Quassel) – I click on this on all the time. Sometimes it’s just to get to IRC to see what’s up, sometimes I right click on the icon to connect to Quassel’s core component), and when I want to get to a channel where I was highlighted, if I don’t click on the notification action, I can click on the Quassel icon to get to the correct channel quickly and easily. I would not want this to be harder to get to.
RSS (aKrogator) – I click on this pretty regularly to read feeds when I’m taking a break from working on something. This is useful. It’s not just for getting to read feeds, but also for triggering manual checks for updates. I could live with this being two clicks away, but like it in the systray.
Clipboard (Klipper) – I use this all the time. It’s a great thing to have and the systray is a lovely place for it.
Email (Kmail) – I use this very regularly to get to Kmail. I have a lot of windows open and finding the one that’s Kmail is hard. If I can click on the systray icon and get to it, it’s very handy. I do not use notifications for mail, I don’t even pay much attention to the number on the icon, I mostly just need a quick way to get to kmail. If the icon weren’t reliably in the systray, that would a step back for me.
Network (Plasma Widget Network Management) – I really don’t care about this much beyond am I connected. I could live without seeing this if I got notified on disconnect (currenlty I just get connection notifications).
Battery (Plasma Widget Battery Monitor) – I moved the battery from the panel onto the desktop where I don’t see it unless I minimize everything (i.e. almost never unless I explicitly look). I found that the battery low/battery warning notifications were generally sufficient. Until after the battery warning notification I almost never looked. Afterwards I tended to peak at it fairly regularly. Based on this, I don’t see a need for direct access, just an easy way to get to it once the battery was low. For bonus points it might appear in the systray after the battery hit warning level.
So once I got through looking at what systray and systray like items I was interested in, I was left with wanting something that contained an easy way to get to the things that had been removed and this:
KDE 4.2 systray without useless stuff
Jordan Mantha’s message on the Ayatana mailing list is what got me thinking about this. Having looked at my own needs, despite using a different desktop environment, they appear similar. “system-to-user” indications are a fruitful place to find opportunity to reduce the footprint of systray/notification area. I’d be interested to see Ayatana take this on.

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11 Responses to ““System Indicator”?”


  1. 1 Dread Knight May 13, 2009 at 02:01

    I pretty much never use klipper. I think the battery should be displayer like it does in gnome: actually in the system tray, when you’re not connected to power plug. I don’t want to see kwallet as well. And I think the USB thingy is next to useless, peraps usb drives should display in that quick-access plasmoid somehow….
    Have you noticed that both in kde and gnome default setups there is usually no home folder / dolphin / nautilus shortcut in the panels with a single click but you find the trash applet/shortcut straight forward?
    It makes me feel like a homeless living at the garbage bins instead of a real home. I think it’s way more important to have home folder accessible rather than garbage! Because non-geeks like mom and dad don’t even modify the panels and such, as well as some of the people at college.
    Noticed a girl with vista for example, had quicklaunch with default things, no icons on desktop… and she was clicking the start menu and going on the upper-right side of it to open “My computer”, which took a bit of time and coordination. Not cool.

  2. 2 ethana2 May 13, 2009 at 02:57

    1. weather (clock applet though)
    2. wifi
    3. rhythmbox
    Get out of there already, Rhythmbox. Not everyone uses a window list and needs workarounds for it.

  3. 3 Jussi May 13, 2009 at 03:07

    Wow, you and I have very different User habits. For example,I use kmix and the device notifier very often, and I dont have the rss feed item – I removed it. also, I have several other icons, skype, ktorrent and the calendar/scheduler. The only ones I think need to go are resize and rotate as you mentioned, as well as the kwallet.

  4. 4 7Penselen May 13, 2009 at 04:58

    It is better to spend this time on making good documentation or even make a small introduction animation for the first time users like in Windows XP, so people can modify their own toolbar and decide themselves which icon they want to see. If I press the right mouse button on the left side of the traybar I can set the Icons I want or don’t want to show.
    I think you or anybody else can decide for one other which icon is useful and which not.
    I have hidden klipper and the xrandr tool and I like the way how KDE4 offers it’s mounts of USB sticks. The applet shows what is available and then I can decide to open it or use format or do other commandline stuff with it or filling USB sticks for an install party.
    The sound icon and the Skype icon I use regularly.

  5. 5 anon May 13, 2009 at 07:53

    I think this is a step in the wrong direction. Let’s see, we have:
    usb unplug – category 1
    sound – category 1
    display – category 1
    passwords – category 1
    irc – category 2
    rss – category 2
    clipboard – ???
    email – category 2
    network – category 1
    battery – category 3
    category 1 items do not need to take up screen space the whole time. If I need to change it, I can do it from a control panel or similar.
    category 2 items require attention when an event happens. this does not require an icon per application that sends event.
    category 3 could be argued as being unnecessary until (here) the battery is low, but is the best candidate for taking up screen space the whole time.

  6. 6 Scott Kitterman May 13, 2009 at 09:45

    @anon: The most common event for me for what you describe as ‘category 2’ is “I feel like looking at it”, so I want them directly available and not some level of indirection away.
    For some simple means not very many things visible. For me, simple means I can click on the stuff I most often want to click on immediately and not have to hunt/dig for it.

  7. 7 Erigami May 13, 2009 at 10:28

    I can safely say that I don’t care about any of those things. Maybe messenger/IRC notifications, but otherwise, I don’t want to lose those pixels.

  8. 9 Scott Kitterman May 13, 2009 at 23:51

    @ everyone: Thanks for the comments. This was meant to be exemplary, not the basis for a one size fits all solution. I think the comments are a good argument for why any solution in this area needs to be adjustable to fit the needs of each user.

  9. 10 Anonymous May 14, 2009 at 06:52

    “For bonus points it might appear in the systray after the battery hit warning level.”
    NO. Don’t confuse the user! Either it’s there all the time or it’s not. No exceptions.

  10. 11 Scott Kitterman May 14, 2009 at 09:27

    @Anon: I give users more credit than that. How far should that be taken? Currently the print status icon is just displayed (be default) when a print job is in progress. Should that be displayed all the time?
    I know everyone wouldn’t want the battery visible only when low, but I’d find it a nice option.


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