Top-left, top-right: why not let me choose?

As I mentioned in this post, the migration of Ubuntu’s window controls from the top right to the top-left were a precursor to other changes which would make use of the now-empty corner of the title bar. I’m still not sure why the controls had to move before any of these new widgets even exist, but at least now we have a little more information about the plans for the top-right corner of Ubuntu windows, as Mark Shuttleworth has posted a blog entry about the so-called “windicators” that they plan to put there.

On the whole I approve of the idea of adding more functionality to the title bar – it’s largely wasted space at the moment. But there’s one thing about this proposal which concerns me: the user has no choice about the position of the windicators. From the proposal it appears that the user can either accept the window controls at the top-left and the windicators at the top-right, or they will have to live without the windicators completely.

When you look at this suggestion in the context of the plans for the Ubuntu Netbook Remix it makes a lot of sense. By positioning the windicators at the top right they appear alongside the main panel indicators in the planned version of UNR which combines the window titlebar with the menu and the top panel into one composite element. But just because this positioning makes sense for UNR, that doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense for normal desktop installations.

My personal preference would be to retain the close button in the top-right, but move the minimise and maximise buttons (which I rarely use) to the top-left. Windicators would appear in the top-right, but to the left of the close button. Of course this layout wouldn’t suit everyone. Perhaps you would rather have the windicators in the centre of the title bar, with the application name to the left and the window controls to the right? Perhaps you would prefer not to have windicators at all, or perhaps you could live without the maximise button if you’re one of those people who religiously use a double-click on the title bar for the same purpose.

The point is that a single layout arrangement, dictated from above, doesn’t suit everybody. So why not make it configurable? Why not turn the title bar into a container-like element, with the ability to host various widgets that are aligned to the left, right or center. The close button would be a widget. The minimise and maximise buttons would be widgets. Even the window title would be a widget. Windicators would probably be treated as one composite widget, rather than making the user deal with each one individually.

In this scenario the window title bar is more akin to the existing Gnome panels in Ubuntu. If you want to rearrange your window widgets you could just drag them around, much like you can with objects in a panel. If you want to remove a widget entirely you could do that too – although a sanity check would probably prevent you removing the only close button. All this configurability would be hidden away in a tab on the “Appearence” preferences panel, making it easy to get to when needed, but not so obvious that it distracts the average user who wants to stick with the defaults.

I suspect that the basics of this scheme are already in place. The fact that there are instructions floating around for using gconf-editor to switch the window controls back to the right would certainly suggest that title bars are already treated as simple containers for other widgets. So why not expose the functionality in a nice user-friendly way? Why can’t I tailor the title bar to my needs as easily as I can the Gnome panel?