Why I love (and hate) Panorama

I’ve been trying to get back to living my life in a task-centric manner, and Firefox Panorama, without necessarily being designed for those goals, is perfect for it. Someone else put the words in my mouth: when you’re trying to do task-centric computing, what you need is not just a place to dump tasks (a task organizer) but also a good task switcher. Virtual desktops (in either Linux or OSX) can be used to dump tasks, but they lack effective visual task switchers. Once you get used to Tab Candy, in contrast, it is an effective way to give you an overview of the tasks you’re handling and move between them in a quick, fairly non-distracting manner.

Unfortunately, it also drives me nuts, because it isn’t comprehensive. I’m very rarely using new desktop apps these days, but I’m still stuck with a lot of old ones (particularly until there is a competent, secure, self-hosted web-based word processor) and not being able to interact with them through panorama is driving me insane; it means switching back and forth between two different mental models on a regular basis, and that is painful. I’ve literally found myself trying to drag application windows into my Panorama desktop. That’s just not good, and I really hope someone uses the Panorama idea for a complete desktop soon.

(Note that despite the original name of tab candy, I don’t think ‘tabs’ is really the important thing here- the important thing is grouping data/applications together, and then having a good high-level overview of the groups when switching between them. That clicking on a collection-task brings up a ffox window with a bunch of tabs, rather than a desktop with a bunch of windows, is (I think) an implementation detail; I’d be happy with a similar organization for ‘traditional’ desktops without tabs as a starting place.)

22 thoughts on “Why I love (and hate) Panorama”

  1. I have to agree – it’s one of the things I’m hoping Gnome Shell will improve on. Tabbed applications are a huge improvement over having separate windows for every web page I have open, but they have a few deficiencies too – mostly in that they’re limited to per-application, and that they don’t work well when you have more than a dozen or so open. A desktop *should* be able to do a better job of that.

  2. On Linux, Gnome-shell is available, it’s a window manager which exactly works like Panorama. So you could manage your desktop applications such as your tabs.

  3. And therein lies one of the main problems with applications trying to provide their own micro-window-management… something that was discouraged in GNOME from the start by the HIG, but apps went ahead and did it anyway (mainly because we never got a window manager that could do it properly instead.)

    Gnome-shell should finally start to give us some of what we’d hoped for 10 years ago, but now that it’s having to compete with other apps doing their own similar thing, it could get messy…

  4. Well, it’s not like Firefox will force you to use Panorama, right? If your operating system has a proper task management interface, then you can simply use Firefox as before. In Linux, I absolutely love the multiple desktops, and what I do is I simply put different windows of Firefox in their respective desktops. I really doubt I’ll have much use for Panorama in Linux, but we’ll see. Now, in Windows, since it doesn’t have multiple desktops, which is a blithering shame, I’m thinking Panorama will just be the most brilliant and useful thing ever in web browsing. After tabs themselves, of course.

  5. I have used google chrome for a while and I am happy to see some of the same tab experience or somewhat across the different open source browsers.
    This has good uses but I hope that don’t clutter the interface with all the search recommendations or other ad like stuffs.

  6. I use kwin 4.5 and i think its exactly what you want:

    on moving the cursor to the upper left corner all my open workspaces are presented with the opened windows arranged and i can drag and drop them from one desktop to another – just as in panorama. For adding a new workspace there is a plus-button (new in 4.5) . My taskbar is configured to show only applications on the current desktop and my browser is configured to open everything in a new window instead of using its own tabs.
    No idea if gnome shell can do this, but it is exactly like in the panorama video, but with applications and without the “mental barrier”.


  7. GCU Prosthetic Concscience, cool- i admit i never tried gnome shell myself, but i defenitely will when its released! I hope this will bring task/window management back to the software thats best in it – window managers.

  8. Weird, my earlier comment got eaten.

    gnome-shell fans: what gnome-shell did last I looked at it (admittedly a couple of months ago) is not the same as panorama. But I’ll look again.

    crabman: I’ll definitely take a look at kwin; I’ve been meaning to take a peek at KDE again lately but haven’t set the time aside for it.

    calum: of course, standing there saying ‘stop’ while not actually providing alternatives doesn’t help much, which was the situation for a long time. :/

    alex: prism only reverts me completely to the old, busted paradigm, which isn’t really a great solution ;)

  9. First we move from windows that can be nicely managed via virtual desktops to tabs because windows are too heavy on the applications and winodw manager suck, then we go to organizing those virtual subwindows into virtual subgroups. Interesting…. ;-)

  10. I think ‘nicely managed via virtual desktops’ gives too much credit to virtual desktops. They don’t generally have the spatial/visual cues that Panorama brings to the table.

    But yes, this is all a bit convoluted.

  11. @Luis – I agree, Gnome Shell is not currently the same as Panorama. But it (and some of the more speculative Gnome 3 concepts) does look like a step in that direction, of a desktop environment that helps manage your workspace, rather than just being a place to put windows.

  12. I guess KDE could be worth taking a look at. The Plasma people are developing methods for future KDE SC versions right now that adress those problems in some new ways. For example they working on the semantic desktop with tries to accumulate applications, desktop widgets and information and provide them task oriented. In other words the computer groups tasks for you. And therefore a manual method to achieve this shouldn’t be that far away.

    Also the Gnome Shell stuff sounds interesting. It is indeed another approach to that matter. Just have a look at this, too.


  13. I admit I’m not super-optimistic about automatic aggregation of tasks, but it can’t hurt to take a look. What is the best way to poke at KDE 4.5? opensuse + some magical build channel, or…?

  14. Luis, you keep saying stuff like:

    [Virtual desktops] … don’t generally have the spatial/visual cues that Panorama brings to the table.

    Could you explain?

  15. Colby: it is hard to explain; it is good to read the linked post and and better to watch the video embedded there. But in a nutshell, when I hit the keybinding for Panorama, I get a visual representation of the tabs in the various groupings, not just numbered or labeled boxes; I can adjust the size and location of the groupings, so I get spatial memory of where things are (not just ‘left/right/up/down’); I can reorganize applications within and between the groupings by moving them around in a tangible way; etc. And it’s all in a big, clear, single field of view, rather than having to move between the desktops like you do in Linux virtual desktops or Apple Places, or use the tiny applet view in the panel. I imagine some of the various GL-based WMs have played with similar things (apparently inc. KDE 4.5?) but I haven’t seen anything like it.

    If I were reimplementing it in Linux, I might consider replacing the traditional file-centric desktop with a panorama-like view that could contain both files and application windows.

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