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Understanding GNOME Apps Menu

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Window options vs App options

One of the global app menu approaches is to differentiate between the specific opened window option and the application general options. With the last Nautilus (3.6) it’s very easy to know what this means: when the user wants to open a new ‘tab’ on the current window, it’s necessary to click on the window menu. But if the user wants to open a new window, then it’s necessary to click on the global application menu:

Nautilus Global Menu

Understanding GNOME Apps Menu

This approach is not actually the best one as it’s not always clear what’s an app or window option (it does make sense with multi-window applications, but what about when there is only one window?). For that reason, on the article I mentioned at first, there is a proposal based on three points in order to ease the developers understanding of this global app menu:

  • Explain the app menu to users. Every modern OS has a friendly introduction which explains the most basic, non-obvious concepts. For GNOME, this could be as simple as a single-screen “Welcome to GNOME” app, which helpfully points out the Activities screen, notification bar, and app menu.
  • The app menu has the most basic options. An app always has one, and it always has the core, global functions in it: “About,” “Preferences,” and “Quit.”
  • Other menus have All The Options. People who are used to them expect that a Windows-style menu bar, or a Chrome wrench style menu button, will have a complete listing of the app’s functionality. If an app has either of these (and modern GNOME apps should prefer the GTK+ menu button to space-eating Windows-style menus), it will contain all of that app’s options, including the ones in the app menu. This makes GNOME more accessible and less frustrating.

The second and third point make things clearer and, from my point of view, logical. When you look for the ‘Preferences’ menu or ‘Help’ or ‘About’, this usually changes depending on the application you are using. Having ‘Preferences’ inside the global app menu make this menu completely useful to me.

On the other hand, with the latest versions of Nautilus, Web, Documents and other core applications a new menu button has appeared. This menu button is like the ‘Chrome’ button that you can use to access to all the application options. But the global app menu tries to put logic on this and make users life’s easier.

Web window menu


Sadly, this global app menu seems to have a lot of weak points:

  • How will this menu work on other desktops (XFCE, Unity, etc)? Will it look fine?
  • How will GNOME convince 3rd party application developers to implement this menu?
  • The principles of the app menu are not 100% clear. And this will affect (somehow) users and developers

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  • Taryn Fox

    The app menu appears as an entry in the normal menu bar when it’s seen in Unity and elsewhere. As for points 2 and 3, I’m working on that with my App Guide project at !

  • Reda Lazri

    I hate the old menubar menus, but I’m still not crazy about the idea of a menu like that. Especially for small windows like Empathy and Calculator(seriously, the menu is taller than the actual calculator!!!). I find it crippling to have the menu and the program at different edges of the screen.

    It’s acceptable, though, on maximized programs as long as the layout is more intuitive. As for the small windows, IMHO, it’s a messy idea –period.

  • Connel Hooley

    I much much much prefer Elementary’s one menu to rule them all approach, do you think mum and dad know what window or app option is?

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  • 7svito

    There must be only options: New window | Preferences | About Help Quit
    Others just must go away to wrench. Look how Empathy bloated its App menu.

  • chrys

    I dont likr this app menu. Its not really intuitive. Why does i implement something that is not 100% clear what shueld it be? So i have in worsed case more points i have to look for options. It slows down the productivity and not intuitive. The oter thin: gnome wanne have good accessibility. Blind people like me needs many time in searching options… Really annoiing.
    Will see what the future happens

  • Alex

    By default, the app menu will appear as in the menubar when run outside GNOME Shell. However, it will still have the same name of the application, breaking usability. The ¨solution¨ proposed by the GTK devs is to make two UIs, one with the global menu and one without it.

  • Philip Witte

    Sadly, I’m not convinced by Gnome’s App Menu. Seporating the available options from the window you’re working from is confusing, especially to new users (watch the ‘my mum tries Fedro 17’ youtube video). Not to mention it complicates the code… developers have to write in: “are we in Gnome? Yes: app men. No: put those options in the ‘other’ settings menu”.

    Elementary OS got this one right, IMO.

  • bill lee

    Also, global menus break focus-follows-mouse, because as the pointer moves from the application window to the global menu the chances are it will give the focus to a different window than the one that originally had it. Again I get the feeling that this is another change for change’s sake that provides no benefit and breaks things that used to work. Sorry for being harsh, but this is my opinion.