Warning: rant dead ahead.
Why do the neither of the taskbars in the two main free software desktop systems behave in a sane fashion?
What I want is basically what Windows can do – a double-height taskbar so I can have several apps open and still see the titles on the window buttons, but with space economised to the left and right by using small icons for tray apps, QuickLaunch and so on. And I want it to fill up left to right, then top to bottom, so it’s easy to mentally thread it into one long row. And when I close a window, I want as few buttons to move as possible.
Windows fails to achieve perfection in only a few small respects. When you expand the taskbar to double height, the start button goes to the top left rather than the bottom left. In neither configuration is the Start button or the bottom row of window buttons a mile deep. And it doesn’t allow tray icons to wrap round the clock.
In Mandrake 10.0 KDE, you can get something a bit like this, but for some reason it decides to populate window buttons into the double height taskbar top to bottom before left to right, which means that when you close the first window you ever opened, 100% of your window buttons move vertically, and 50% of them also move horizontally! Nothing is where it was a moment ago! It’s incredibly disorienting, and I never found a way to change it.
In Ubuntu 5.04 GNOME, which I’ve just installed on my laptop, you can have multiple toolbars (the default install has two). However, the widget which displays the current window list can only appear on a single bar. So, to get two rows of buttons, I have to double the height of the bar. However, it now “helpfully” expands all the other widgets (like the “Show Desktop” button) from 24×24 to 48×48, thereby squeezing the available horizontal space. Doh! By the time I have all the other widgets on the bar at that size, there’s barely any room for window buttons at all.
It’s not as if my requirements are odd. “UI stability” is a reasonably well known UI maxim – so what’s going on with KDE? “Maximal space for window buttons” doesn’t seem like an uncommon use case – so what’s going on with GNOME? Or have I missed something?