Open Source

Esfera: A fascinating UI concept for window management in Ubuntu

As usual, the Linux development community has come up with another idea for the desktop that will astound users. Read on as Jack Wallen explains the idea of Esfera.

On the Ayatana mailing list recently a new concept bubbled to the top that has some serious potential to bring to the desktop a world of new possibilities. This concept, dubbed Esfera, came about when the default Ubuntu 10.4 theme moved the window buttons from the right to the left side. This move obviously freed up all that space on the right side - a side users were accustomed to using. Seeing this as an opportunity for growth, mailing user Pablo took it and ran with it. What he has proposed really struck me as something Linux CAN do and SHOULD do. It will be another revolution in the desktop thanks to the Linux community.

But what is Esfera?

Imagine you have a new control on your desktop windows. This control accepts gestures that can do various tasks. One of those tasks would be to flip the window over, giving you a new space to use. This space could be used for:

  • Notes
  • Related files
  • Links to other open windows
  • Hidden information
  • And much more

Or, instead of turning the window, imagine the window has another layer. So instead of pages within a document, it's like pages within a window itself.

Here are some other ideas off the top of my head:

  • Quickly switch windows from landscape to portrait mode.
  • Rotate windows to any angle you want
  • Shear windows and stack them like books or open them like (literal) windows
  • Shrink windows to icons (ala Enlightenment)
  • Toggle a level of transparency
  • Copyright information hidden on the back of a document
  • Back-to-front printing

The ideas are limitless.

I know this has been attempted one other time - that time being with Metisse. But that attempt was too grandiose and complex, so it was scrapped in favor of Compiz. But if this idea can retain a level of simplicity, while maintaining the ability to work with Compiz, it could revolutionize the desktop.

As a writer, I can instantly see the benefit of having access to the back side of a window. As a consultant and administrator, the perks of this idea are also readily apparent (imagine slapping a network diagram on the back of the Network Manager tool on your Ubuntu would never forget where that diagram is).

Of course what this very idea does (besides open up huge possibilities) is showcase the flexibility and open nature of the Linux operating system. It is this sort of thinking that keeps Linux at the forefront of innovation. And these types of ideas will continue to make the Linux desktop the single most impressive desktop available.

I believe end users are ready for such levels of complexity on the desktops. And if they aren't, I know that users like us are. The standard desktop metaphor has grown tired. It's time for something new and something REALLY impressive. I believe Esfera is just that. I hope the Ayatana development group follows through with Pablos' idea. It will add yet another layer of WOW to a desktop already impressing users across the globe.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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