It was announced in another question that the desktop version of Unity will keep the global menu by default. Here are the facts:

  1. The global menu was introduced into UNE to save vertical screen space because at Netbook resolutions the vertical space is limited.
  2. On a modern desktop with a high resolution, there is ample vertical space making this unnecessary
  3. On the announcement of UNE global menus, Mark Shuttleworth himself said the following:

"There are outstanding questions about the usability of a panel-hosted menu on much larger screens, where the window and the menu could be very far apart."

The benefits of a global menu don't seem to carry across to a high-resolution desktop and instead seem to bring draw backs (increased mouse travel, large distance between the menu and its associated window).

The other worrying factor is that applications seem to be moving away from having a menu bar, and instead of innovating on this and defining new guidelines for moving away from the menu, we are giving it prime place right at the top of the desktop. If applications continue moving away from the desktop we will have an inconsistent experience concerning where to locate application related options/tools depending on which app you are using (e.g. Chrome).

Finally, the current global menu bar implementation doesn't work for all apps, and doesn't even work for all apps in the default install. This means that the default desktop implementation will be inconsistent.

So, there are a bunch of reasons why moving to a global menu is a bad idea, so we need some pretty convincing arguments for why it is a good idea.

What are the reasons for the global menu implementation in the desktop version of Unity?

  • I suggest not answering this question until the Unity-related specifications have matured and been approved, unless you're working on the Unity design, or are a stakeholder of it with knowledge of the design rationale. Whether Unity should or shouldn't use a global menu isn't the question, and if people try to answer that, it's going to get biased and argumentative. What is asked is the design rationale for the decision, and since the decision hasn't been formalized yet (and isn't necessarily final either), it's not possible for anyone not involved in it to answer with authority.
    – mgunes
    Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 11:10
  • I'm not a fan-boy. Since I use Xubuntu. I feel qualified to comment on this question without too much emotion. The question seems pointless. It should not matter to a USER why a design decision has been taken. Surely what matters is the USABILITY of the thing?
    – outofstep
    Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 12:03
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    Just thought I'd add an interesting blog post to the mix.
    – 8128
    Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 15:20
  • Don't justify this by refering to Macs, the global menu is the worst feature of the Mac Desktop and frankly one of the reasons I can't use it. It makes no sense in the modern world with HD sized screens and multiple monitors.
    – user10095
    Commented Feb 2, 2011 at 18:58
  • I think the global menu will definitively be great for systems with limited screen estate but when (and only when) every (important) applications will be supported. As long as firefox and LibreOffice (and others?) are not supported, I think this just give an unfinished and uncoherent look to the UI and make it difficult to sell the idea to switch to Ubuntu to potential users. For setups with a high resolution, I think it is useless to want to save a few vertical pixels and the global menu create too much need for eye ans mouse travel. My case is worse because I use a high resolution dual sc
    – user9668
    Commented Feb 2, 2011 at 22:13

4 Answers 4


On the one hand, we are making menu's "bigger" and "easier to hit" by using the edge of the screen, as noted in the first answer. On the other, we will actually deprioritise them, by using the panel primarily to show the application name (or window title) and only showing the menu when you mouse towards the panel, or use accelerator keys related to the menu. In that way, we're leading the trend of making menus less central to UI.

Ted Gould blogged some research he did on the use of menu's. Informally, his findings support the idea that menu placement is less an issue as we use them less than we tend to think we do.

This was an important question for us and one we believe is settled in a way that's supported by research. We supported the original pitch to make the global menu a feature of GNOME, which was unfortunately rejected.

  • As for showing the application name / window title in the panel: does that mean that, for unmaximized windows, the text in the titlebar and that in the panel will be the same? Wouldn't that be a little redundant? Or are you only talking about maximized windows?
    – Bou
    Commented Nov 3, 2010 at 13:26
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    I can't say I totally agree, but thanks for getting back to me. Re Ted's research; he only demonstrated on a single fullscreen application, on a single monitor, so really we could do with a lot more of that.
    – Kazade
    Commented Nov 4, 2010 at 9:54
  • Is being able to see the menu not a prerequisite - for most users - for being able to use accelerator keys? Also, how does hiding the menu help in decreasing the distance traveled from an app to the menu item? It's only further complicating things, at least for newbies.
    – Mussnoon
    Commented Jan 26, 2011 at 17:50
  • Sorry Mark I cant agree with you .global menu is a foolish decision atleast for me and my friends ,moving mouse pointer to top panel is really an extra pain .so i just removed appmenu via synaptic.I am happy to know that global menu is optional in 12.04 :)
    – Tachyons
    Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 12:06
  • What's worse, keyboard users are slowed beyond belief. To even KNOW whether there are any menus at all, you'll have to grab the mouse, plow to the top of the panel and "see" whether there's an 'Extra', 'Edit/Preferences', 'Options', 'Tools' menu at all. Ridiculous. I've spent 90 minutes minutes for the last time this time finding a way to disable it. Sadly, it seems every release, we have to jump through different hoops to get there. It's driving me away from Ubuntu - even though I hardly use menus (being the CLI type of user; For us, Fitt's law is a big joke. There is no target!).
    – sehe
    Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 18:01

First, one of the same reasons Mac OS has always used a global menu applies equally here. One of the key principles -- tautologies, really -- in UI design is that "bigger" things are easier to "hit" with a mouse.

What is less obvious until one thinks about it, is that things on the edges of the screen have infinite height or width (depending on whether they're on a horizontal or vertical edge).

By keeping a menu at the top of the screen, the user only has to "aim" horizontally -- vertically, they need only "throw" the cursor to the top of the screen.

Second, the idea that "Desktop" Unity doesn't need to conserve vertical space is just silly. In recent years, I've used wide-screen 17" laptops with 1920x1200 displays, often with an additional external monitor of the same resolution, and I find myself wishing for more vertical space all the time.

Screen real estate is always at a premium -- not just on netbooks.

Finally, with regard to the remark about usability issues with the distance between the menu and application windows on large screens, I'm not at all certain where that's coming from. Mac OS has been getting along just fine for years, including as my primary desktop environment. There are undeniably implementation issues with the global menu's actual functionality with some apps, and inconsistent or poor design practices have certainly led to some applications relying overly much on menu bars, or laying their menu bars out in strange ways, but these are not fundamental problems with the global menu paradigm.

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    I have no doubt that the global menu made sense when Apple designed it, resolutions were far lower then. It's also not a case of "getting along fine" it's a question of "what's best?". On a high resolution there can be a large distance between the menu and the window it is working on. The mouse travel including focusing the window, moving up to the menu, back to the window etc. increases as the resolution goes up. There is a limit where the movement time outweighs any "fitts law" benefits. If it can't be "proved" to be better than Ubuntu's current system, then it is a foolish change.
    – Kazade
    Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 10:56
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    @Kazade: Until today, I'd never even heard of anyone arguing mouse travel time. It's such a strange complaint. Does your mouse acceleration not work? And just how often are you going up to the menu bar? I think your applications are broken if you're hunting through menus more than every 10-20 minutes... Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 10:58
  • Mouse travel time is a logical thing. The distance from the window to the menu bar will increase the further the window is from the menu bar. If we are changing from the current system (a massive change) there should be good reason for it. Maybe it is more efficient with a global menu and that is the question I am asking. What is the reason the desktop is changing to a global menu? Is it more efficient on large desktop sizes? Or like the Window controls is it just a personal preference being applied to the default install (not a good reason)? Or are we blindly copying OSX again?
    – Kazade
    Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 11:19
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    It's not only mouse travel time, but also the required eye movement, and a loss of focus because of that.
    – JanC
    Commented Nov 3, 2010 at 2:12
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    Size is only one part of Fitts' Law - the other part is distance to the target (which results in travel time). Further, the farther away the target is, the bigger it should be. Global menus can still be a good idea, but effective size isn't the only variable in the equation. Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 22:22

In the argument that the window is far apart from the window, for people who keep their windows maximised, that wouldn't matter. The more windows you have open, it seems like a little more room is wasted when not using global menus, which is why I like Mac OS's design choice.

Also, I don't think many people are going to be dragging their windows to the bottom of the screen, or even halfway down the screen. I assume they would hold it at the top and resize the bottom boarders to see as much as they could within the window.

It's not just a matter of effectiveness. It's a design choice. It's nice to see someone other than Apple adapting global menus.

Take your time to try out and enjoy the design choice before making an assumption that it will not work for anybody.


Conserving desktop real-estate is a null argument. If the aim is to maximise usable desktop space, why allow users to resize application windows? Why allow them to change screen resolution? Why allow them to change the size of icons on the launcher? Why allow them to change anything? If the designers know best what the user really wants then any change a user makes must necessarily be a change for the worse.

The placing of the application menu window is just as much a matter for user preference as resizing a window. Why not make menu placing as easy for the user to manage as it is for them to resize a window?

The Cross Dash and Box icons for closing, minimising and maximising windows change their position depending on whether or not an application is windowed or maximised. Why not add a fourth icon (Stripes, perhaps) for advanced window options? With the addition of this menu a user could choose their preferred placing for menu items for each window.

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