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openSUSE 10.2 will have a redesigned KDE start menu created by the KDE and usability team at SUSE, after doing usability testing with other start menus. At aKademy 2006 in Dublin, Coolo will give a Start Menu Research talk about what we learned during this project.
If you want to test it, openSUSE 10.2 Alpha 4 includes a version which has most features already implemented.
The team didn't like the standard KDE menu anymore, both its design (eg the recently/most used application section at top) as its lacking functionality compared to other modern start menus (eg desktop search). Another opinion was that starting your every-day applications not found on the panel was both to complicated and required to many mouse clicks.
With this start menu research we also hope to enrich the on-going discussion how the start menu of KDE 4 should look like.
The team evaluated the start menus of common desktops including KDE 3.5, the GNOME main menu developed for SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 Desktop and Windows Vista Beta 2.
Central to this research is a usability study where about 30 users of different types are divided up into four groups to perform a test cycle with three phases:
- Questionnaire: user's habits during use of their commonly used start menu
- Observation: execution of 13 different tasks stored on videotape for later evaluation
- Questionnaire: user's evaluation of the given start menu (joy of use, suitability to the task, controllability, etc.)
The whole team then began to discuss the central functionality that an improved start menu should have, and with the test results in mind, brain-stormed and produced mockups. For further discussion and testing a prototype, code-named 'Kickoff', was produced and iteratively refined.
To validate this design, a fourth group of users repeated the usability tests with the prototype to get data for a comparison of old and new designs.
To be summarized by the usability experts...
Description of Kickoff
The start menu distinguishes itself from other application buttons on the panel with a non-square button. Hovering the button opens the start menu without needing a mouse click. Also its tabs switch while moving over them or after a short pause on them. This means that can start your favorite/recently used applications and documents with a single mouse click from now on!
This tab is active when the menu opens. It shows applications that you will probably use most often. If not, you can remove entries with the context menus and add most items from the other tabs including search results, via the context menu or by dropping them onto the My Favorites tab. The entries can be rearranged by drag and drop.
When the menu opens the search line edit gets the focus. Typing switches to the search result tabs which will show the first few items found in every category:
- Email, and web addresses are recognised appropriate actions offered.
- Addressbook entries within KAddressbook are searched
- Applications and their descriptions are searched
- Bookmarks of Konqueror are searched
- Executables in your PATH
- Simple sums are evaluated
If you have Beagle running you will get additional results like:
- Web pages visited
- Control Center modules
- Emails and chat log files
- Other content search results (documents, images, music, ...)
'Search Index' opens Kerry with your current search term to show all search results.
'Search Internet' opens Konqueror and queries your default search provider with your current search term.
This tab leads straight to the programs and documents that you have used most recently. The upper part of the menu contains programs, while the lower part contains documents.
This tab contains three sections:
- 'Programs' contains shortcuts to the system settings and system information
- 'System Folders' contains shortcuts to your home folder, your document folder and remote folders.
- 'Media' shows the hard disks and other storage media in your system with information on their size and free space.
This tab allows you to discover other applications installed on your system. Categories are marked with an arrow on the right and will show their content if you click on them. If you are not viewing the top level of the menu then a tall back button is shown on the left to go a level up. Clicking on the the 'All Programs' tab takes you always directly back to the top-level view.
Rather than clutter the menu with multiple ways to leave a session, we combined them in their own tab. This tab contains two sections:
- 'Session' allows you to logout, lock the session or switch users
- 'System' allows you to shutdown, suspend and restart your computer
- Video of the prototype with which the usability testing was perfomed
- svn://anonsvn.kde.org/home/kde/branches/work/suse_kickoff - source code location in KDE's SVN