Saturday, April 30, 2011

Why the overlay scrollbar is crap

The overlay scrollbar is one of those crazy wheel reinventions for no reason in the new Ubuntu, here a few basic reasons why it sucks:
  • it's inconsistent, when windows are maximuzed or close to the screen border it will pop up on the right, otherwise it will pop up on the left
  • it's inconsistent as it is hardly used by anything, even among Gtk+ applications only a tiny fractions make use of it and there is no chance that any of the non Gtk applications will ever make use of it
  • it's invisible and thus much harder to hit then a visible scrollbar
  • it's impossible to hit in a single straight line when approaching a window from the right, it will only pop up once inside the window, but when that happens it will pop up on the outside of the window, so you have to move your mouse close, stop, then move back to click it
  • selections have the same color as the scrollbar, thus when a widget has a selection that goes till the edge it will blend into the scrollbar, making it not only look weird, but in the worst case completely invisible when scrollbar and selecting merge into one
  • it's much smaller then a classic scrollbar, real scrollbars fill the whole height of the window, overlay only fills the tiny portion that is the visible part of a document, thus you have a much smaller area to click on for page-up/down events
  • it doesn't pop up under the mouse, but a few pixels to the right, this makes it incredible frustrating to use, as the regular pattern of "graphical reaction -> I am hovering over the item" becomes untrue
  • the thing you want least in your GUI is randomly blinking stuff, yet overlay does exactly that, whenever you move your mouse around the screen overlay scrollbars pops up and fades out
  • if you are off by a single pixel to the right it will disappear instantly, forcing you not only to travel that pixel back, but to travel all the way to the left to make it reappear and then back to the right to actually click it, making it not only hard to hit, but actually punishment, as you get reset to an earlier stage then where you failed
  • buttons that are clickable and dragable at the same time without clear visual indication that they are special
  • it's extremely tiny, yeah the point is to save "screen real estate", but seriously, a scrollbar is worth more then four pixels that look more like a graphic glitch then a user element
  • it violates Fitt's law on maximized windows
To sum things up, the overlay scrollbar is baffling. It is not just a cosmetic change or a small tweak, but a drastic change in usability for the worst while providing no new features of its own. The way it punishes the user for slipping a few pixels off to the right makes it fell more like a frustrating and badly designed maze game where you are not allowed to hit the walls then an actual user interface element.

The only good part about the overlay scrollbar is that one can still purge it from existence:

sudo apt-get purge liboverlay-scrollbar.*

PS: I am using a trackball without the luxury of a separate scroll-wheel. I can certainly see how having a scrollwheel might make it more tolerable, but that doesn't change the fact that its completely awful for actual point&click interaction.

1 comment:

Anon said...

If you have to watch a video to figure out how a fundamental part of UI works, then it's not usable. Basic UI features should be intuitive. The new scrollbar is not. It confounded me when I first encountered it in 12.04. I figured I could quickly figure it out, and make it work. I had to watch a video to learn the mysteries of this new scrollbar technique. That's poor usability right there. And in using this thing I've had nothing but frustration. I'm using a netbook, and I'd gladly sacrifice the pixels for the old scrollbar method. In trying to "unity" their desktop across computers and smartphones, there are some things Ubuntu should not try to force upon computer users, and this is one of them.