To provide a richer selection and explanation of the various help and support options available for Ubuntu, they should be linked to from the help window. The window should be accessed from a single “Help & Support” item in the System menu, instead of from a submenu. This design also makes the help faster to access, and it simplifies the System menu.


In Edgy, help and support options are accessed from a “Help” submenu of the System menu. This has several problems. People usually can’t know, ahead of time, which submenu item will lead them to the answer they want. The meanings of the menu items aren’t clear, since they can only ever be two- or three-word summaries of very similar ideas. The tooltips are little help, because you need to hover over each item for a second before the tooltip appears, so most people won't bother. And trying each of the options in turn is awkward, because you have to keep reopening the menu and submenu.



Mac OS X and Windows Vista both solve these problems by having a single menu item for help and support. In OS X, it is a Help menu with only one item; in Windows, it is a single item in the Start panel.

Putting the help options in the Help window itself allows for better explanations. For example, the Windows Vista help window contains items like “Post a question or search for an answer in Windows newsgroups” and “Search the Knowledge Base for help with specific problems”. These are more explanatory than any equivalent menu item could be.

Following a similar design in Ubuntu would also make the System menu simpler and more elegant. In Feisty, the “Preferences” and “Administration” submenus have been replaced by windows, thanks to gnome-control-center. This specification would do the same for “Help”, which currently is the System menu’s sole remaining submenu. Eliminating this final submenu would also make opening the help itself quicker.

The Ubuntu Documentation team have already done some of the things needed for turning the submenu into a single menu item. Relevant material from the (unhelpfully titled) “Ubuntu Book Excerpt” has been and will continue to be incorporated into the Ubuntu Help pages, making that menu item redundant. And the help viewer’s search function now provides one-click access to search for the same text on — a smooth path from the shipped help to online help, making the “Online Documentation” item unnecessary.


(The presentation of the search results is not finalized yet.)


This specification is not about the actual sets of support resources available, and it is not about where or how they are listed. They should remain listed at and respectively. The design recommended in this specification changes the position of the links to those pages, but nothing about the content of the pages. It is also not about adding a new menu or launcher to the panel.


Initial mockup:




HelpAndSupportAccess (last edited 2008-08-06 16:39:57 by localhost)