Open Source

Ubuntu's HUD: Light-years beyond any menu system

Ubuntu continues to take Unity into the future of desktops, and with its new HUD system, the desktop has now gone boldly where none has gone before. Jack Wallen introduces the Head-Up Display.

Before I dive head-first into this week's post, I wanted to mention that this post is my 300th  Linux and Open Source blog entry for TechRepublic. It's been such a wonderful part of my life to help the mighty TechRepublic nation stay in the know as well as grandstand on a podium made of soap boxes for Linux and open source.

Thank you all for continuing to stop by and read my words. I wouldn't be here without you! And now...let me hop back on my box.


Last week I raved about how much improved Ubuntu Unity was. During that love-fest I briefly mentioned the HUD (Head-Up Display). This new "intent-driven" menu system takes what Microsoft tried to do with the MS Office Ribbon interface, and made it actually work — and work incredibly well. I thought I should expand upon my brief nod to the HUD and explain how this baby works. Once you've tried it, you will want to switch (or switch back) to Ubuntu 12.04.

What exactly is HUD?

Mark Shuttleworth said, of HUD:

This is the HUD. It's a way for you to express your intent and have the application respond appropriately. We think of it as "beyond interface", it's the "intenterface".  This concept of "intent-driven interface" has been a primary theme of our work in the Unity shell, with dash search as a first class experience pioneered in Unity. Now we are bringing the same vision to the application, in a way which is completely compatible with existing applications and menus.

I think his term "intenterface" is dead on. Why? Because instead of having to dig through an endless amount of nested menus within your applications, you simply open up the HUD (by hitting the Alt key) and then typing what you want to do. For example: I'm in Firefox and I want to go the extensions page. I hit Alt (to open up the HUD) and type add.

Figure A

Figure A

The results (Figure A) allow me to choose from any menu entry, within the Firefox menu system, that relate to the word "add".

You can then either click the correct entry with your mouse or use the arrow keys to select and then hit enter to open up the correct result.

The HUD is surprisingly accurate and makes using menu systems (especially larger ones) much more efficient.

Now, at the moment, not all applications have the HUD interface working properly. One such application is LibreOffice. The developers are still working out the kinks, so at the moment, it is not enabled. It can be enabled by installing the app lo-menubar. I'm fairly certain, by the time 12.04 is released into the wild, all major applications will enjoy HUD integration.

One of the goals for the HUD was to help further the integration between QT and GTK interfaces. Obviously, the HUD does far more than that. But, if you think along the lines of unifications, HUD does a perfect job of making everything on the Ubuntu desktop seamless. No more would developers have to worry about QT vs GTK menu appearance or functionality. Just develop with HUD in mind and you're good to go.

And, of course, HUD also makes using the Linux desktop even more easier. No more will the end user have to poke around menu systems trying to figure out where Conditional Formatting lives or where any given filter is on The Gimp. HUD takes care of all of that.

In the end, what HUD does is advance the Ubuntu Unity desktop ahead of the competition. I think we were all fairly certain it was nothing more than a matter of time before Mark Shuttleworth and the Ubuntu developers managed to make the Ubuntu desktop an obvious choice. But most never assumed they would take the Linux desktops light-years ahead of the competition.

Bravo to Ubuntu and Unity — what you are doing is nothing short of incredible. You keep up this type of work and there will be no doubt who is the reigning King of the desktop.


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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