Ubuntu HUD 3 Months In

I’ve been using Ubuntu Precise Pangolin’s HUD feature, which is now included with Ubuntu’s Unity desktop.  You may recall I went a little crazy about this feature when it came out of beta. So after a few months of using it, what are my experiences?

Firstly, it’s clear that the HUD needs a speedy machine. My first use of the system was disappointing because I’d hit the HUD key (more on which later) only to have to wait about 350ms before anything happened. Speed, in the case of quick-fire casual use of something like this, is crucial. So, I replaced my 5-year old Dell with a new machine (Geek out! Intel i5 3550 3.3GHz Ivy Bridge, 12Gig RAM, NVidia GTX 500 Ti, OCZ Agility 3 SSD SATA-III).

With the speed problem completely cured, I then found that there was something I didn’t like about the default left CTRL key that launches the HUD. So I changed that to the caps lock key. Higher up the keyboard and less awkward as it’s under my little finger. It’s also the key I’m used to using for Enso Launcher on my laptop at work. Enso uses a quasimode by default. Although you can configure it to a full mode, I have kept it as the default because I find all the good things that are said about quasimodes to be true.  However, Enso is of course just an application launcher while the HUD is much more of a grown-up CLUI. Having to keep your little finger on the caps lock while typing anything more than a few characters is pretty tricky. So a full mode for the HUD makes more sense, although I’d still like the choice of a quasimode to see what it would be like.

So, is using the HUD as amazing as I expected? The verdict so far is: almost.

First of all, caps lock wasn’t a good idea, since it still works when invoking the HUD. You then start typing in caps when you come out of it. But the main reason I think it may be less than amazing for using applications I’m used to is that I’ve spent so much effort learning keystrokes for  them. So my first instinct is use the keystroke. However, for apps that I’m less used to, or that don’t have keystrokes for things, it starts to get more interesting. I can never remember where the “rotate” function is on the menu for the Gimp, for example (mainly because it’s a sub-menu of “transform”). Bring up the HUD, type “rotate” and bingo.

But for applications I’m not familiar with, the HUD really comes into its own. While it is true that it’s still a problem to not know what functions are available because you don’t have a menu to scan, it’s not that much of an issue moving from, say, one word processor to another. All word processors have a word count (and all image editors have a re-size, etc.), the problem is finding it. With the HUD, you don’t have to look.

So far then, a qualified success I’d say. I’m not using it as much as I thought I would, but I think that’s because necessary habits have been formed through years of using stupid menus and icons. The future, I think, looks bright though.