Sunday, April 8, 2012

Chrome's multitask mode - an April fool's 2 years too late?

Ok, I was away on holidays for the last week so I missed everything. Thanks to Simon Thum, I found the Chrome team's April fools joke: Chrome's Multitask Mode. Allegedly a mode for Chrome that allows to use multiple pointers simultaneously.

Great, except that it's just an April fool's joke, they didn't actually implement it. Even though, well, it's been a standard feature in the X.Org X server since September 2009. Yep, right. Fedora 12 had it, for example, and every version since. It's ubiquitous on the GNU/Linux desktop. GTK3 has support for it.

Being able to use two hands is quite useful, research papers on the benefits go back well over 20 years. Use cases are generally as dominant hand/non-dominant hand methods (e.g. an artist holding the palette with one hand while painting with the other one) or as equal bimanual interaction (aligning a rectangular mask around an object). All this isn't new, and as I said above this is all a standard feature in X since 2009. You really just [1] need to add it in your application. So Chrome's April fool's joke is pretty much a joke about not implementing a feature. Which, well, uhm... ok. Haha.

The video is a bit outlandish, with a guy playing golf and a shooter simultaneously. However, listening to just the audio on the video largely makes sense (except the switching off your computer part). Using two mice became natural for me quite quickly. I even conducted a user-study about users using two browser windows simultaneously to research and gather information about a specific topic. Yep, they could do it, including typing up the results in a decidedly single-user Abiword without major conflicts.

Now I'm waiting for next year's joke, maybe it's about how we drive cars with, wait for it, steering wheels.

[1] I say "just", but implementing it is really hard. It opens a can of worms about assumptions in user interface paradigms that aren't quite that simple to deal with. From a technical point of view, it's a "just" though...


alon said...

On topic: you are completely right, when I saw this april fools I also thought WTF?

But going off topic a bit, usability of multiple cursors on a laptop is still not easy to use. I just tried using my trackpoint on my laptop as a second pointer.
- first of all this requires xinput create-master, xinput reattach - I'm not aware of a gui
- second of all a wrong xinput reattach crashed my gnome-terminal
- third when it did work, I noticed a bug with cursors: when I move one of the pointers over a terminal's edges, causing a cursor change, both cursors get set.

Granted, this is all fixable. It could be awesome (ok, just really nice :) if if just worked.

Peter Hutterer said...

I certainly agree that it's arcane to enable. There is no GUI because though the technology is in place, it's barely used. It's also nontrivial to auto-pick which device needs a new cursor and when.

Please file a bug for both of the issues, the cursor bug should be on and assigned to me.

Lars said...

Actually Chromes multitask mode april fools joke is 44 years too late.

The mother of all demos (that the post refers to) include a session with remote collaboration using multiple pointers.

Here is a link with the part of the demo discussing collaboration with using multiple markers/bugs/pointers:

Peter keep up your great work! Eventually, people will get it. What is the best place to look to get started with MPX/XI2?

Unknown said...

Peter, does X distinguish between a touch and a mouseclick or does it treat a mouseclick as a touch?

Peter Hutterer said...

Applications that support multi-touch can differ between touches and mouse clicks (if the device/driver support that too). For legacy apps, a touch looks like a button 1 press/release.