Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Using the Ubuntu HUD ("Heads-Up Display") to View Web Page Source Code

The user interface in Ubuntu Linux, called "Unity," has four main elements, all of which have caused some controversy.
  1. First, there is the "Launcher," a fairly normal dock on the left hand of the screen. The controversy is because it stays on the left hand of the screen. I can't say that I mind too much. On my monitor, which is fairly wide and not too tall, I wouldn't want it on the bottom, stealing my precious vertical space.
  2. Then there is a global menu, much like that on the Mac, which sits at the top of the screen instead of on top of a window. Since my computing history began with the Apple II, progressed to the IIgs, and then to the very similar Macintosh, this location is actually an improvement on what went before. The problem is that the menubar disappears whenever I move my pointer from it. The benefit is a nice, clean screen; the drawback is that this behaviour will frustrate new users and annoy a good proportion of the experienced ones (including myself). I think the chorus of complaints was loud enough to eventually produce a fix for this.
  3. There is a Dash or Dashboard that lets you find almost anything by beginning to type its name: programs, music, files, and even information from different web sites, if you choose. You pop up the Dash by holding down the "Super" key (the one that is often marked with a Windows symbol). I've used this from time to time to launch a program that isn't in my dock, but I have long-established methods to find everything else.
  4. There is a HUD (Heads-Up Display) that is revealed by quickly tapping the ALT key. If you start typing here, it displays all the menu commands in your current program that contain the term you are typing. I haven't had much use for this, even in theory. I like menus.
Well, as it turns out, I have found a use for the HUD. Once upon a time, you see, web browsers had an easily-reached menu item called "View Source Code" or something to that effect. Typically, it was in the View menu. Now, in Firefox, I find that it  Tools Menu and the Web Developer submenu as Page Source. This is equivalent to putting the plans for a road bypass  in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard.'

I liked having that menu item in plain site. I could point people at it and explain that this is the difference between an internet that was created by academics for general use and any equivalent that was created by a business. I also used it to learn how to make my own web pages, though blogging software seems to have made this a less vital skill for most people.

 So, I ran Firefox, tapped ALT to bring up the HUD, and typed "Source." The result is as you see below.
 Just pressing "Enter" at this point shows the page source.

The Unity interface has many critics. I am one of them. On the other hand, it doesn't get in my way too much as I work, and if the disappearing menus can be made permanently visible, I will be mostly satisfied. On the other hand, I don't actually use any of the innovations in Unity to any great degree. I've only just started using the Dash and HUD at all, and that in a limited way. Nevertheless, there are times, and this is one, that I am grateful that they exist. 


Update: Just after all those nice things I've said about changes to the UI...I've just discovered that the file manager, Nautilus, has had its statusbar permanently removed. I relied on that to discover how much free space was on a drive. Grrr. I may end up using something other than Nautilus. Something with Miller Columns would be nice. 

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