Ubuntu’s HUD: Heuristic Universal Discovery



To those who know me, it’s no secret that I value simplicity.  Before switching to Linux full-time in the early part of this century, I had been a full-time user of the Classic Mac OS.  Specifically, Mac OS 9.2.2.  Mac OS 9’s steady decline in 2002-2003, and my outdated PPC hardware, led me towards a value PC and Fedora Core 1.  I was not new to Linux, but it had never been a full-time affair until this point.  Of course, simplicity was not waiting for me at the gates, because back in those days it was a common affair to not have a working XFree86 (remember when it was called that?) upon first boot.  That’s beyond the scope of this article, but once I ironed everything out, I discovered Gnome 2.x, the early days.  In this era, you could see the first saplings if Gnome’s pursuit for over-simplification.  Who remembers the user backlash against spatial file browsing within the Gnome community?  Take it or leave it, Gnome 2.x offered me a comfortable and familiar refuge.

I’ve had various stints with KDE, which have all been very pleasant.  In fact, I write about it all the time; but I’ve always been a Gnome man.  Of course Gnome has gone it’s own way towards over-simplification and Ubuntu has shown its defiance with Unity.  I like Unity far more than vanilla Gnome, and generally I like it more than anything else.  Now, let me qualify that.  If you’re a Powerbase reader, you might know me as a KDE user, but I’ve vowed several times to return to Unity as soon as Gimp gained single-window-mode.  Well, it has and I’m back!

Gimp 2.8 has changed the way I work forever, and for the better.  In combination with HUD, it’s pretty much the best thing on earth.  That’s why today, I’m officially renaming Ubuntu’s HUD.

Heuristic Universal Discovery

Gimp is the perfect example of a program that many of us have used Heuristically for years.  Sure, there is the official documentation.  There is even the classic book Grokking The Gimp.  However, for the most part, literature for Gimp is scant when compared to its commercial contemporary, Photoshop.  So many of us have learned to use it Heuristically.

Heuristic ( /hjʉˈrɪstɨk/; or heuristics; Greek: “Εὑρίσκω”, “find” or “discover”) refers to experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning, and discovery. Where an exhaustive search is impractical, heuristic methods are used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution. Examples of this method include using a rule of thumb, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, or common sense.

Many users approach Gimp with a specific need, like cropping a photo.  I can’t imagine that someone would read a book just to learn this one task.  An average user would simply employ heuristics, using experience and common sense to locate– within the vast menus– a command that might tackle this task.  With HUD, there is no need to search.  Just hit the Alt key and start typing ‘crop’.  Could it get any easier?

The menus in Gimp are dense to say the least.  The arrangement of these menus hasn’t changed dramatically at all since I started using it over a decade ago.  Suffice it to say, I know them very well.  Regardless of that knowledge, nothing will ever be as fast as hitting Alt and typing ‘resyn’ and hitting enter to perform resynthesize.  If there is anything that Ubuntu is doing right, right now, it’s this HUD!


Now, have a look at what you’ve discovered.  You wanted to crop your image, and by the time you entered ‘cro’, you discovered File > Create > Logos > Cool Metal.  Now you can put together an advertisement for that garage sale you’ve been planning all spring!  Humpff…  You thought you needed Microsoft Word ‘97 for this job, didn’t you?


Like it or not, these sort of fresh ideas are the only thing pushing the Linux desktop forward these days.  Gnome wants to take a step backward and try to ‘bling’ its way into your heart.  KDE, no matter how excellent it is, lives on tried-and-true desktop idioms and only pushes forward in aesthetics.  Unity, as much as you force yourself to believe that it’s uncool, is really innovating and with each release becomes more and more compelling to the nay’ sayers.

About Dean Howell

Aside from being a huge Sega fan, Dean is an LPIC certified Linux professional with over a decade experience. In addition to spending his free time burning through the classics from Sega and evangelizing open source, he's also the editor-in-cheif of The Powerbase.
  • Kurt M.

    HUD may work when you know what you want to do and know the keyword, but what happens when you’re not sure what you want to do or you don’t know the keyword?

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/3KH2BX2YSCAMEZNICA5LZFH2TI Giovanni

      If you don’t know what you whant to do, then nothing could help you. I mean, not even a human being right next to you. If you don’t know the keyword, well, the menus are there, you may dive in.

    • http://profiles.google.com/deanhowell2 Dean Howell

      I have to agree with Giovanni. The HUD is not imposed. If you are unsure of how to operate the keyboard, you may ignore it all together. It seems that you might not have read the article. The HUD is a “heuristic” tool.

    • http://twitter.com/andrecerda Andre Lacerda

      But THAT is exactly the advantage of the HUD. You don’t have to know the exact keyword, the results show you a lot of associations. I mean, imagine you’re editing some text in libre offce, then you want to insert numbers in your pages. Just type NUMBER and it will lead you to INSERT>FIELD>page numbers. How can it be easier trying to search into those menus to find this?? I even didn’t know that i i had to go to insert>field, i thought it could be edit, or format, or something like that. After you use the HUD, man it’s a pain to use anything else.

  • Pingback: Links 2/6/2012: SolusOS 1.1 Released, Fedora 17 Reviews | Techrights()

  • Pingback: Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter Issue 268 | Ubuntu Linux FAQs()

  • Björn Persson

    “Just hit the Alt key and start typing ‘crop’. Could it get any easier?”

    I’m not hating on HUD, slowly becoming a fan myself, but Yes. It could get any easier. In this case, Shift-C is the easier way. :)

  • Pingback: Intro To Gnome 3 | OpenSource.Cipto.US()