What is so new about indicators?

What did we have before?

Are there technical or usability differences?

  • Did you just steal my question from OMG Ubuntu?! :o ;) omgubuntu.co.uk/2010/11/…
    – Roddie
    Nov 23, 2010 at 16:31
  • 1
    Indeed I read your question and thought it deserved more visibility. Was I wrong? BTW, I am really interested in knowing the answer.
    – Agmenor
    Nov 23, 2010 at 16:42
  • Absolutely not! I hoped you would not read it as an attack, I'm also interested to know the answer! :)
    – Roddie
    Nov 23, 2010 at 16:50
  • @Roddie: the answer you got in OMG Ubuntu from MariusLV from also deserves move visibility ;) omgubuntu.co.uk/2010/11/…
    – MestreLion
    May 11, 2013 at 4:47

3 Answers 3


Basically, The system tray is an application running on a given X screen that can display small icons provided by running applications. Windows XP calls this feature the notification area. The concept of System Tray is very well documented by freedesktop.org.

Here is the documention for indicators:

Indicators are ways to group applications that have some similarity - or belong to a family of applications with a degree of similarity - in a single system tray, improving usability. Let me try to use an illustrative image:

alt text

This indicator works as a proxy (central point sounds better) to different applications that keep a similarity: all are related with communications. You can use the same indicator to open and send emails, or to chat with some friends, browser your contact, or access twitter. All indicators are groups of system trays.

BTW, I really like the idea of group system tray tasks into the same indicator. It's a huge usability improvement :-)


Indicators is a project of the Ayatana team, focussed on usability and design. The indicators they have invisioned to replace the traditional "system tray" have the following goals:

  • Support for KDE and GNOME

    • That means that developers only have to do the work once. Which is rather nice.
  • Creating a space for innovation

    • The most obvious example is the messaging menu, which unifies email, irc instant messaging, and ("Your App Here") into a consise menu that will always behave in the same way
  • Cleaning up the clutter

    • many applications put up indicators for various reasons - and not always good ones. Indicators make it easy to combine various tasks into a single indicator, leaving the user with a clean indication area, where they actually understand what everything does.
  • Accessibility

    • there were some accessibility problems with the old system, with indicators they can be addressed. (An example: some system tray applications would paint their window in a weird way such that screen-readers weren't able to read their text)

You might be interested in the Canonical Design Blog and the Ayatana Project.

  • Not the forget the ability to use Keyboard. Super+S and I's set to rock the indicators.
    – Owais Lone
    Nov 23, 2010 at 21:18

I know this question has been answered a lot of time, but here my own answer :)

The main difference between the "system tray" and the Indicator applets is that "tray icons" are application-wise ( so one icon per application ), while Indicators applets are task-wise ( so one icon per task ).

System tray Example:

Launch Banshee and Rhythmbox and you get 2 tray icons, with different options and usage.

Indicator applet Example:

Banshee and Rythmbox should integrate with the same indicators, with same icon, options and usage

Obviously you can abuse of Indicator applets ( like the StackExchange or Ubuntuone one :P making them one per application. That is wrong. )

  • 1
    There is nothing wrong about single application indicators. There are two areas in the indicator area, one for application indicators (like stackapplet, transmission etc.) and one for system indicators (like messaging, sound etc.) wiki.ubuntu.com/DesktopExperienceTeam/ApplicationIndicators
    – Isaiah
    Nov 23, 2010 at 18:54

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