Whisker Menu for XFCE exemplifies poor usability of today’s desktop menu systems.

The other day I was looking at new Linux distributions on DistroWatch.com.  I came across this offshoot of Arch called Manjaro.  Use of XFCE as the desktop really caught my eye.  I have been using Xubuntu since Canonical decided to release Unity.  I do not like unity.  Then the Gnome developers made some decisions with which I don’t agree (read Ignorant Guru’s blog…use Google).

I have been quite happy with XFCE.  I liked it in the early days, but something always seemed amiss and eventually, I would slide back to my usage of KDE.  Then, KDE4 happened.  I was not happy.  I still can’t stand to use it for long.  My opinion is that the desktop is a place to hold stuff like my real desk.  I don’t need it to do fancy things, just hold my stuff.

I don’t spend hours looking at backgrounds, although I do like XFCE’s ability to put a different background on each monitor, and I do change them often.  I don’t like icons on my desktop.  I have to close a window or many to get back to the desktop.  I prefer to have my icons either in the menu, or as I have my own setup, Cairo Dock, which sits on my main monitor on the left.

Now all of that is out of the way, I’ll get back to the reason for this blog.  Actually, I have two reasons.  First, today’s developers have no idea how to make intuitive software.  Don’t get mad at me, I’m a developer and see the direction of many softwares forcing users to click many times to do small tasks.  User’s should not have to refer to a help document to use the desktop.  The second part of this first reason is workflow, which brings me to Whisker Menu for XFCE.

A desktop should not force the user to work hard.  The Whisker Menu does just that, makes the user work harder.  Main menu’s for desktops are usually on the left side of the desk.  Mac OS was once on the right, but is now on the left.  Windows is on the left. Default Gnome is on the left.  Default KDE is on the left.  Left is where we usually find the default main menu for desktops.

The Whisker Menu, when opened, puts all the main sections on the right side of the menu popup, instead of above or below as most other menu sections are.  This causes the user to move the courser to the up and right to find the section they wish to open, instead of the natural up or down from the “open” main menu button.

Then the user must choose their software on the left of the menu sections.  So now the user has had to make a ‘7’ mouse motion to get their software, which opens centered to the right of the menu.  The user must now move the mouse in the opposite direction, again.  These may seem like small ‘extra’ steps, but subconsciously, the user gets fatigued.

The Whisker Menu’s current (default) setup would be perfect for a right sided menu, but fails for a left sided menu system.  The developer seemed to go out of their way to make this menu ‘different’.  A good ‘fix’ would be to move the menu sections to above the menu button, and the software choices to the right, when the menu is on the left, and as it is now when the menu is on the right side of the desktop.

Having the Whisker menu flow correctly, the user would have a more natural flow from menu button to menu section to software choice to the opened software’s GUI.  The first thing I did in Manjaro was remove the Whisker menu and install the default XFCE menu.  Flow was much better.

Another gripe I have of several of the menu’s today, from Microsoft, the Whisker Menu, etc. Is forcing the user to view the menu in a reserved amount of space, causing the user to scroll.  A better choice is to show all options and let the user use their eyes to look down all the choices.  But instead this reserved menu space is small, so the user must look down the menu, scroll, look back at the menu top, then look down the menu again, then repeat this process over and over until the end of the menu choices.  A long list will get tiresome.

A user should not be forced by software to work so hard to complete simple tasks.  The purpose of the desktop is as a place to view things, such as email, web pages, code in an IDE, etc.  Getting to that point should not exhaust the user.