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The new Unity interface in Ubuntu since version 11.04 has a global menu bar. This menu bar shows a behaviour that I find very surprising, it hides the menu entries as long as the cursor is not above the menu bar.

When the cursor is somewhere else it looks like this:

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and when you hover over the menu bar it looks like this:

enter image description here

I can personally think only of disadvantages of this approach, it makes it harder for me to directly move the cursor to a specific menu, instead I have to first mouse over the menu and then move horizontally to the target menu.

As this feature remains the same in the latest Ubuntu version it seems to be a deliberate choice and I assume Canonical put a lot of thought into it. So I assume there are advantages to doing it that way that I just can't think of at the moment.

What are the usability advantages and disadvantages of hiding the menus in this way?

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The only advantage I can see is in giving a nice full name of the current application, other than that this seems like a terrible idea. –  Ben Brocka Oct 19 '11 at 14:08
Not a Linux user myself, I was wondering if this is something that can be turned off or not? –  Bart Gijssens Oct 20 '11 at 6:52

2 Answers 2

Playing devil's advocate here: it may be good for first-time users, so they are not overwhelmed by too many choices. When they by chance (or confidence) get to slide the mouse over the title, they will discover they can do more with the application.

The problem with this approach is that the default interfaces of all applications have to be really easy. Which is not the case, and is out of Canonical's control. So this move will probably end up frustrating the power users and the new users alike.

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Well, in general there's a UI school of thought that says you shouldn't have to "scrub" a GUI to understand it. Also, a novice user might also simply wonder, how he might open a file. It isn't as though the menu only has advanced options. –  Ken Feb 12 '12 at 23:30

A lot of people who use Linux keep their hands always on the keyboard. In this case you can press the alt key and then press the key for the menu you would like to access.

If you notice, a lot of applications are doing things like this. For example with Firefox that style menu doesn't show unless you press the alt key. I understand the disadvantages that you described above, and in this case you don't seem to gain any real estate (as is the main benefit for ff), but you do gain a less cluttered interface. This, I imagine, is the main reason they went with the decision. And while it can be disputed if it is a better interface, I personally like simple interfaces to cluttered ones.

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Keyboard? Isn't the interface designed for use on both tablets and PCs? –  e100 Oct 19 '11 at 16:45
I think that menu would be the least of your problems if you were using the gimp on a tablet. I would be very handicapped without having keyboard shortcuts in that application. –  Matt Lavoie Oct 19 '11 at 17:48
Firefox does things that way because the menu is rarely used beyond the address bar features. Something like GIMP is almost unusable without easy access to menus, depending on your use case. –  Ben Brocka Oct 20 '11 at 13:25
FWIW, there seems to be some lag when you press "alt" and wait for the menu to show up. –  Ken Feb 12 '12 at 23:30

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