back to article HUD's up! Ubuntu creates menu-free GUI

Canonical has unveiled HUD, which it has billed as the "menu of the future" for its next Linux desktop. Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, due in April, will feature the first release of Head Up Display, or HUD, which distro creator Mark Shuttleworth has predicted will ultimately replace menus in Unity applications. HUD dispenses with drop- …


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  1. Forget It

    Still not clear to me what's going on beneath the HUD.

    1. Nathanial Wapcaplet

      Let me explain:

      You start to type in, for example, U-N-I-T-(Y) and it opens the Linux Mint download page for you :)

  2. Anonymous Coward


    Wasn't Unity supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread?

    I found it so rubbish, I stopped using Ubuntu.

  3. FIA


    RISC OS from Acorn in 1989 (and possibly Arthur in 1987) had the concept of a 'context menu', there were no menu bars, you pressed the middle button on the mouse and you got a menu, which related to whatever was under the mouse pointer.

    No mess, no clutter, no mouse movement required to bring up a menu.

    It's now 2012 and the aproach to removing menu clutter is auto-complete?? Really??

    When did good UI deign take a back seat?

    1. Ru

      Plenty of X WIndows managers carry on the tradition

      Haven't used fluxbox for a while though.

      1. keithpeter

        Linux = Choice

        Have a look at CrunchBang linux, has a very nice fluxbox out of the box so to speak. CentOS 6.2 has support beyond my retirement date and is using Gnome 2.xx I have that one on the spare partition as a familiar environment.

    2. ElNumbre

      Buttons = Better

      I've always enjoyed more buttons on a mouse.

      A mouse - meh.

      A Mac mouse - useable

      A standard PC 2 buton mouse - better

      A 3 button Acorn Mouse - really good (apart from the square edges)

      My Logitech mouse with 11 configurable buttons - awesome in the extreme.

      But that's just me.

      1. magnetik

        "A Mac mouse - useable"

        Please, can you give that old "macs use one button mice" myth a rest. OS X has supported multi button mice since 10.0

        1. John Bailey


          The taunt just works.

          1. magnetik
            Thumb Down

            Oh please, there are plenty of things to make fun of Apple about. The "one button mouse" jokes are old, tired and boring. Come up with something original.

      2. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Mac Mice are usable

        If you don't mind carpel tunnel syndrome.

    3. janimal

      So did I, and my ageing divorced parents - all on Mint now

      1. C-N

        me too

        Don't go into my office, hide all my books and shuffle the contents of my desk drawers, and then expect me to be pleased. I'd like to be able to maintain some productivity while I get used to your new menu what-ever-you-call-it.

  4. Natalie Gritpants

    1970 called, it wants it's CLI back

    Nice though it is to be able to type the command names in once you know them you will need either menus or toolbars for starters. Either that or a big book for new users to read, or maybe an Ubuntu training course.

    I do like CLI for often used programs but I also like being able to start a program the first time and just use it.

    As for the interface appearing/disappearing - horrible, same goes for menus changing on context (I don't mind greying out).

    1. LaeMing Silver badge

      The command line is dea....

      Oh, nevermind.

      1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

        Back in fashion

        What next, bell bottoms, big afros and [shudder] polyester suits?

  5. ThomH Silver badge

    Sounds like the menubar search in OS X?

    You know, under 'Help'. You type into it and it instantly produces matching options from the various actions exposed on the menu bar. It even has a handy shortcut so you access everything without touching the mouse — command+shift+/. So, for example, I'm in Pages and I want to show the style palette but I'm not sure where the command is. I press command+shift+/, type 'style', see that one of the options is 'Show Styles Drawer', cursor key down to that and press enter.

    Apple's thing is a more limited than that described here, since it's only things you'd put in the menubar, but not massively so and it turned up years ago. And even then it was just Apple following the general industry trend towards adding search to things.

    1. mafoo


      Exactly what i was thinking.

      For example, in safari it will find bookmarks for you (as its in a menu)

      Im not sure how useful this unity approach is. Menus often provide visual feedback - for example a list of the IM networks I'm connected to in adium and what each of their status is. In a unity app you would have to take up a large amount of GUI space to display this information that could simply be placed in a menu.

  6. Wile E. Veteran

    What an innovation!


    Type in the whole freaking URL to find a bookmark. That is SO much easier than two mouse clicks (one on the menu, one on the bookmark). Relying on "natural language" which requires a lot of typing instead of a couple of mouse clicks is SO much easier.


    Using a command line is easier and quicker without wasting all the resources on all the shiny shiny eye-candy.

    I'm glad I dropped Ubuntu in favor of BSD..

    1. jcipale

      I went back to SuSE and run mwm as my desktop. Much happier then having to put up with the screen-barf that is unity. I used to be a huge advocate of ubuntu. Now I advocate dumping it to the dustbin of OS'es ala Warp2.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Discoverablility: the ability of a user to learn about features and capabilities of an interface by exploring it.

    One of the biggest complaints neophytes have with command line interfaces is they are NOT very discoverable - how is a neophyte to "discover" a command like "apropos" on the command line?

    Menus can be a great deal more discoverable: you move the mouse over the options until you see one that looks promising.

    HUD may be the greatest thing since the digital watch *for an experienced user* - but how is it for a novice?

    (strange: normally you see Gnome and Canonical both going in the direction of making it easier for Granny Fanny and harder for experienced users.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Discoverability

      Along the same lines, menus are nice when you know a particular utility exists, but you can't remember its name.

    2. Ru

      That's the word I was looking for

      Assuming that the tasks the program is capable of are intuitive, searching for a task via a search box is not really much more hassle than using a menu. There's something to be said for a more keyboard-driven interface too, especially when it comes to RSI...

      The problem comes when the application is complex and the operations one might be interested in are not intuitive. A nice hierarchial menu is an excellent way to lay these out... all non-menu based GUI systems to date just seem to make this harder. But then, this sort of application (an IDE springs to mind) is not the sort of thing than a clueless newbie is likely to be getting their teeth into.

      As for command line discoverability... the 'consoles' that are traditionally found in FPS games certainly used to provide a facility to find out what could and could not be done... just entering a backslash was one way to list available commands. The CLI on my router does the same using the 'help' command. That is arguably more inuitive than a mouse-driven menu system.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why not just dispense with xwindows altogether? Just boot to a bash shell and put in auto complete. Saves a lit of time and effort

      1. Paul 129


        We use xwindows to allow up to open more shell sessions n copy between them easily.

    4. admiraljkb

      re: Discoverablility?

      No doubt. The power features keep getting further and further buried making it more difficult for me to use when something goes wrong, or if I want to do something "unexpected" like Save As in Word instead of save. Instead of one click, its two or three, or more to do something that used to be EASY. It seems like they've all been taking away from the UI rather than adding, and then calling the feature removal a feature in itself. :)

      BTW - Microsoft has now joined in on the OS front with Metro. Pretty soon we'll all be on KDE and LXDE to escape Gnome/Unity/Metro (yes I lump them all together). :) Remember back in Win3.x when we were using Norton Desktop and HP's NewWave to escape Program Manager? I suspect we'll be back there for using alternative GUI shells on Windows by the end of the year...

    5. csumpi


      This was my first thought, too.

      I use the search box on windows and dmenu with xmonad on linux, which work great because I already know the name of the application.

      But if this replaces all menus, including context menus, how would I ever know that there is a duplicate command for the selected object for example? And isn't right click / select duplicate from the context menu less work then hitting a shortcut for HUD, typing "dupli", then arrow key select the correct duplicate option from the choices that come up?

      This might be a great feature in addition to menus, but not completely hiding the menus and replacing them.

    6. steogede

      Appropriate names

      >> One of the biggest complaints neophytes have with command line interfaces is they are NOT very discoverable

      A neophyte discovers a command by typing in what they think it might be called or what they want to do - so long as the command is sensible named and they show it in its context (i.e. the breadcrumb/hierarchy) I should be easy to find, find as you type goes a long way to helping with this. Failing that, I am sure the menu will be there for those who need it.

      Presently a neo-phyte, thinks what they want to do, then they think about what heading it might be under and what the command might be called, then they search for it. "HUD" allows them to do the same thing, except it searches for them.

      "HUD" reflects the way that I already use my web browser (vimperator/penta-dactyl), search engine, and the unity desktop search. I have been wanting to be able to do this with desktop applications for years. There is nothing more annoying than know what you want to do, having a good idea what the command might be called and not being able to find it without searching for ages.

  8. Fibbles

    I'm glad i switched to xubuntu. Canonical have ruined a reasonably user friendly distro with some truly horrendous UI design.

  9. keithpeter

    Press the alt key and type...

    @David D. Hagood

    HUD was apparently aimed at desktop power users who need to access less used commands in unfamiliar applications, and at users moved over from windows.

    Sort of Ubiquity like, it works ok and I quite like it but I'm not sure what percentage of the time I'll actually use it. Only works with applications that are integrated into the global menu so no LibreOffice at the moment which is my second most used application.


    One thing that isn't on any of the sites is that the ALT key is hardwired to HUD at the moment. I want that keybindable to something less widely used!

    1. K. Adams

      "the ALT key is hardwired to HUD... I want that key bindable to something less widely used!"


      HUD is a neat idea, if it works, but the thought of it "ultimately replacing menus" doesn't sit well with me. Standard menus (or even a version of the much-maligned "ribbon bar") should always be available for use, because:

      -- -- 1. for some users, menus will be faster.

      -- -- 2. for some users, contextual keywords for some commands may not be so obvious.

      -- -- 3. for some users, keyboard interaction (typing) may difficult, and should be minimised.

      -- -- 4. for some applications, contextual function access may not fit well with the app's purpose.

      -- -- 5. for some applications, contextual function selection may produce unexpected results.

      For those scratching their heads over the phrase "Sort of Ubiquity like..." in @keithpeter's original post (above): Ubiquity was a Mozilla Labs initiative to produce a context-sensitive task command system for Mozilla Firefox. Basically, it allowed you to select and manipulate web content through a natural language user interface. For example, you could highlight a real-world (postal) address, pop open Ubiquity, then type "map this," and Firefox would go find a mapping website to generate a map. You could then select the map and use Ubiquity to send the map to a colleague with the command "email this." I was surprised at how well it worked, at least in the video demonstration provided by Mozilla Labs. You can view the Ubiquity intro video here:

      -- -- Mozilla Labs: Introducing Ubiquity

      -- -- -- --

      1. BlueGreen

        the much-malign "ribbon bar"

        There. Much better.

        Now more to the point, there's an awful lot of squealing over an interface that AFAICT nobody's had any experience with. Give it a chance, please. Although I grant on past form, you may expect the worst.

        1. Jason Hall


          I would agree with you there, except recent history has shown us that the 'UI designers' for Ubuntu don't know what the f*ck they are doing.

          1. BlueGreen

            @Jason Hall: but I totally agree!

            see my post <> on magic bookmarking improvements in FX 4. Just incredible how they managed to screw that up.

  10. keithpeter

    Adapts kind of

    "Another potential problem is that it's unclear how far ISVs and open-source software projects must modify their Ubuntu apps to work with HUD."

    Uses menu text and any help documentation to make 'suggestions'. Remembers history with app (could be amusing for some of you lot when that involves Web history). App must integrate with Global Menu, so I suppose use relevant GTK libraries as many older apps do behave ok with the Global Menu.

    Big issue is likely to be speed. If you tap Dash and wait.......... on your current hardware, this isn't going to be much use.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Happy to use a Search Box

    I'll use the terms "Linux distro" and "without a shit UI", and see where it takes me.

    I really do loath having to type into a box to find/run a program that I know is there, when a menu-based system can accomplish the same in one click (press button, twiddle mouse a bit to go down the menu tree, release button).

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    At least it's not the Ribbon (to use it's short name) or, in full, the Aesthetically-challenged User-confusion, Desktop-support-call, and Help-desk-continued-employment Generator

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I bet that works great on a tablet...


  14. The Original Steve

    Sounds like...

    ...Windows Vista and Windows 7 in terms that you can type in an application, document, URL, control panel applets and paths. Think OS X has something similar too.

    Difference is both Windows and OS X still keep the menu's as the primary interaction method. Search is easily accessible (press the windows key on the keyboard) however the UI is still discovery driven.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Head Up Display? Don't make me laugh!

    Have these people ever seen a proper HUD? Like the ones in Fighter Aircraft?

    Now they are a work of art.


    Don't make me laugh.


    Come on Canonical get your eye back on the ball. This sort of crap is a mere diversion. Why don't you get fixing all those bug reports that you have had sometimes for many years instead of messing around with this POS.

    I started using Ubuntu five years ago. 11.10 was the last version I shall use unless you change direction and go back to producing the best in class Linux Desktop. I didn't go to Mint like many others but I now run CentOS on all my Linux boxes. It is a breath of fresh air (IMHO).

    Anon coz my boss is a Ubuntu Fanboi and I don't want grief at work tomorrow.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Head Up Display

      For extra irony, please note that "head down" is the position that most users have when they are typing.

      Icon: Because this idea is surely just the UI designers at canonical pulling our legs.

    2. rciafardone

      I am frozen on 10.10

      nuff said

  16. Piro

    Oh dear, Mark

    "The ribbon is highly visual, making options and commands very visible. It is however also a hog of space (I’m told it can be minimised)."

    Yes, it can indeed be minimised, taking no more space than a traditional menu bar, and with 2010, can be customised to your needs.

    I'm not even going to start on how lost your normal end-user would be.

    Also, even for power users, I'm far from convinced. Maybe we just want to click a button quickly to switch tracks, instead of typing in the track name.

    I use Launchy, and I use the Windows 7 start menu type feature, and although I appreciate the additional functionality, they can in no way replace traditional structures as well. They both need to exist.

    What if you're just discovering functions in an application, by going through the menus? You might be new to it, and not be sure what it can do yet.

    Menus (and indeed, the Ribbon) give you that chance.

    1. Sarev

      and the elephant in the room

      Menu items can have associated icons. Many functions have quite similar textual names and users rely on icons to quickly and easily distinguish between them. This HUD, in its current form, is pretty useless because:

      1. you have to switch from mouse to keyboard, which is a PITA for more casual use cases

      2. there are no icons, just a sea of text

      3. it does that shitty Windows UI think of only showing you the first few items in a list of potentially hundreds of options, even though the screen is quite a lot higher than 80 pixels...!

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Commands You Can't Remember The Name Of

    Anybody else remember the Permutated Index? One of the most useful things in the Unix manual. I wouldn't at all mind a utility that replicated this (command line, shouldn't be too hard, I suppose).

    So far as Ubuntu is concerned, they should fix the user interface, for at least several years to come, at 10.04, which is attractive and understandable to the maximum number of PC users. They have already shown that they have other ideas, so time for other Linuxes.

  18. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Well, that's Ubuntu out of the window then...

    WTF are they smoking at Ubuntu Towers?

    As others pointed out above, it's bad enough having to guess what sort of name an application might have... having to guess what *commands* it has is somewhere to the absolutely bloody insane side of crazy.

    There are bloody good reasons for hierarchical menus. There are bloody good reasons for attaching them to the windows they're associated with. There may even be good reasons for the abominations that Mr Shuttleworth has committed upon the desktop - hey, I didn't really want to do more than one thing at once.

    I've *wanted* to like it. I've tried it severally and often, and I find that I can't. I think it slows me down and gets between me and the computer - maybe it's because I use it as a tool, not a toy. I'm remembering that child's game where you have to tell someone else what to draw, and wondering just how bad a CAD drawing is going to be when you tell it what you want. It might work with a *good* speech recognition engine, but I'm not convinced.

    So while I've been an Ubuntu fan for years, I'm afraid that's it. Enough.

    1. Nathanial Wapcaplet

      WTF are they smoking at Ubuntu Towers : Durban Bushweed. Far too bloody much of it for my liking.

      I'm beginning to look on Canonical as damaging to the reputation of Linux in general. This Unity b/s has cost me 160of my perfectly-good desktops going back from Lucid 10.04 LTS back to Windows 7. The national bosses "can't risk Unity being permanent".

  19. yeahyeahno

    Video does not download

    "In a video demo here (beware – it downloads to your desktop)"

    No it doesn't I watched it in place, no downloads to my desktop, and all I did was press the play button.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    What is it with GUI designers these days?

    This is the dumbest design I've seen.

    Because of several reasons.. First of all we're talking about a GUI here, a /Graphical/ User Interface. Graphical means that most navigating will be done using a controlling device such as a mouse. You can see this put to use in the demo itself; in an internet browser you don't press tab a dozen times before the right link is selected, you use the mouse to click on it. In a drawing program you don't use the cursor keys but the mouse to navigate and select (parts of) your work.

    So why would I want to move my hands back to the keyboard if one hand is already sitting on my mouse? Another problem; I can type blindly with both hands, not with one. Worse; when I'm using the telephone I keep it in my left hand after which I can do some one finger typing with my right. But the other way around? During my work I use the right hand for my trackball... I can't type easily with my left hand alone. Then what ?

    Another problem is the difference between developer and end-user. What the developer may consider to be the perfect logical name for an option may be totally lost on the end user. So how is the end user ever going to find the option required ?

    Finally; related options don't always share the same name. What if I need to do some copy / paste or cut / paste while I'm not too sure anymore what Ubuntu uses for key shortcuts (everything seems to change in Ubuntu on a whim, so why would I assume these options to be the same) ?

    Select one file, get the menu, type copy', then select the option. Then back to the mouse again, go to the right folder, then get the menu again. Type 'paste'.... This is indeed really the future. This is SOOO much quicker than selecting a file, clicking the (always visible) "copy" icon, then moving to the right location and then click 'paste' again.

    Geez, and I thought Metro was a bad idea.

  21. Steven Raith

    Could be good...

    Providing standard menus are still there, minimised out of the way, Lion-Full-Screen-Esque.

    I have the opposite problem to most people posting here - I can remember the name of the option I want, but I'm fucked if I can remember what menu it's in....


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