Ubuntu Phone: How I Felt In Love With Windowed Landscape Mode

Windowed landscape mode on Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition - YES this is how my PHONE looks like:

Just only this week, after few months of full-time using Ubuntu Phone I learnt how easy it is to switch to Windowed Mode. This knowledge came to me as I was researching more on the newer MX5 Pro Ubuntu Edition phone which offers Convergence over a remote (wireless) display. My older MX4 does not offer convergence - not like MX5 does - but turns out that under the hood the platform is de facto exactly same on both devices. MX5 has a hardware support for connecting a remote display wirelessly, and Convergence only kicks in automatically once an external screen is detected. 
Apparently on Ubuntu Tablet, with a bigger display facility it is also possible to switch on to "desktop mode". I was lacking this on my MX4, but it turns out, that only the user interface chose to hide some settings from me, assuming that on my form factor some features/modes wouldn't be useful/usable. 

Again, I love that overall Linux openness to the idea that the user can choose for him/herself and doesn't need to agree with what someone else figured out is good or bad. As long as you don't mind to work some magic up in the terminal, you can move away from anything that is "default"!

Ubuntu Touch with Unity8 distinguishes 2 modes of operation: Staged and Windowed. Switching between them is just a command away (fount on NotYetThere.org):

#for Windowed mode:
gsettings set com.canonical.Unity8 usage-mode Windowed
#for Staged mode:
gsettings set com.canonical.Unity8 usage-mode Staged

Sadly, on the website I found this information it was also stated:

"(...) The gsettings flag is considered temporary and experimental, it might disappear at any time. Also, we might disable windowed mode on form factors where it doesn’t really make sense, like on the Nexus 4 screenshot above. (...)"

I would not like the feature to go missing in the future, nor would I like that someone takes it away on a specific form factor just because he/she believes it makes no sense there. This is at large a reason why I am writing this post, to voice up in favor of keeping this feature going strong!

You can also use an app for switching the modes (and for few other tricks), the app is UI Tweak Tool and it is available via Open Store.

Another reason for sharing is, that I tried and I felt absolutely in love with Windowed mode in a locked landscape view and a dash auto-hide turned off!!! I found it both super useful and extremely geeky, I am sure if people look at my holding my phone over the shoulder, they think I am some sort of hacker-magician computer wiz! 

When I shared some screens captured from my phone on Google+ I got asked about side-stage mode in a landscape orientation. One that you supposedly activate by three-finger-dragging. Well no, haven't tired it, but I know exactly what it is about from the newest Android. Great that it got implemented (did it? still looking for a video of this) in Ubuntu Touch, but to me it is the windowed mode that is fresh, geeky, amazingly usable and convenient. And side-view is just me-too follow-up now that Android pushed it out.

Before I go into more details, let me just show you a quick video of my user experience under those customized UX, and hopefully you like it, share, and we will start seeing Ubuntu Phone users spreading a new worldwide phenomena of people using their phones in landscape mode with multi-windowed apps running in parallel! Enjoy, and be inspired:


What is good

Multitasking! I love the idea that I can see multiple apps simultaneously. For a small screen like on a phone, at least you can benefit form using 2 apps side by side. 
Side-bar - you know, the Unity Dash, it is finally useful! By default, the side bar auto-hides, and to bring it up you need to swipe from the left edge of the screen inward. That in my experience isn't very smooth. Can be a bit tricky to get used to performing the gesture properly, so that it gets recognized. And also it becomes a higher art to master it to the point when you do not trigger the side-bar accidentally. In the new UX setup I keep the side-bar always visible, and I only scroll it up and down, without worrying about the gesture to draw the bar out of the screen edge. This way it also become REALLY handy, switching between apps from the side-bar now is really fast and convenient! For months now I barely ever used the side bar, as I didn't like the gesture to operate it at all. Now I am all of sudden a full-blown side-bar user and I love using it! I used to question the purpose of it on the phone, and now I find it super useful! 
Wallpaper - Finally you can actually enjoy it while you are using your phone, not only on the locked screen!
External Mouse/Keyboard if you connect it via USB now brings you an experience truly reminding you of a desktop Linux!

What is not good

Side-bar/Home button - I love the side-bar now, it is so useful and handy in this new UX mode, However I just wish that hitting either the dash button on the side-bar or home key (which maps to the dash button) would toggle between showing and minimizing the home scope window when in Windowed Mode. One tap to make it appear, another to make it go away. 
Home=Scope - This is strongly subjective, but I just don't see point in the Ubuntu scopes. There has been so much discussion over it, but to me, it's a failure. It could definitely be something better, esp. if it was more interactive, but it isn't. I do see few good things about it, but not nearly as much as things about it that simply irritates me. Now, that I am enjoying the new UX mode, I would absolutely love it it the dash button on the side-bar was firing a similar interface to than known from Ubuntu Desktop. True, the traditional one expects you to start typing something into the filter field, and on the phone with an OSK it would be much less handy, but IMHO it could be easily solved: by default do not give filter edit box any focus, so the OSK would not come up, and on the empty filter just list all the apps, that touch users can immediately scroll around and launch the desired one by touching it. If you want then you tap on the filter and the OSK shows up. Or if you happen to have a keyboard connected externally, just start typing and it goes to the filter. Would be truly AWESOME, and the side-bar with traditional dash would be AMAZING on the phone, even in staged mode or portrait orientation.
Resizing windows - turns out that some windows limit the minimal size you can resize it to. However, if this is application-side constraint then there's no discussion, it is up to the developer. I wish the OS would provide a system-wide mechanism for scaling the zoom within windows though. I personally don't mind small fonts, and I would love, if the app does not provide it, to use system feature to zoom the window content to smaller scale. Just a nice idea. Great thing is that you don't have to worry about aiming exactly at the edge or the corner of a window with your finger to control it's size, because Ubuntu Touch recognizes 3-finger touch on a window, which brings up the move/resize helpers (neat!):
Desktop icons - There is no such thing. I wish there was though!
App switcher - You know, the analogy to Alt+Tab on desktop, it works differently in Windowed mode. For example, I cannot seem to be able to kill an app from it, like I can in the Staged mode. Perhaps this is going to be updated soon, as I already saw a video of an updated interface uploaded by Popescu Sorin here: Ubuntu Phone pre OTA 14 quick view.
Persistency - this is the saddest. After restart, all the settings are back to default. Sure, could be hacked around by scripting things, but it's just sad that it's even necessary.
Power - this is not a  con per se, but just a thing about Windowed mode. Since background apps can still be visible they don't go to sleep. So no power is conserved. Unless you close windows of apps you do not use. I performed a test to see if minimizing an app can cause it to go to sleep. I used webbroser because it is easy to tell if it went to sleep or not. In the default Staged mode after you bring the webbrowser back from the background after a while it was there, it has to reload the last page it had opened. So if I minimize the webbrowser and after a while bring it back, it should do the same. Well, truns out it does not reload, the content is immediately ready,meaning, the app was running in the background, thus kept eating your battery. Unless you can make minimized apps to go to sleep by mean of some hack, remember to close apps for conserving power.

Phone caller - This is the biggest disappointment of all, because even in the staged mode the phone caller app does not adapt itself to landscape orientation. Some buttons will be overlapping others, or will be placed totally out of the frame. This is something that I think will need to be addressed in the future.
And guess what!! After posting, a google plus user +Kugi Javacookies helped me with simple manual qml hack. To see it: Ubuntu Touch Onscreen Keyboard QML hack for transparency.

Onscreen keyboard - Especially in the landscape mode, and even more so in the windowed mode, the onscreen keyboard can overlap the window to which we are typing text, so we end up not seeing what we're typing. Below is an actual screen of me using Terminal app where the osk covers part of it so I cannot see the command prompt. Also included is a conceptual retouched screen with OSK set to 70% opacity, which I shared online hoping it could get someone inspired to bring the setting for this feature into the future Ubuntu Touch updates:
DISCLAIMER:Apparently this is already being addressed as a resolution to a bug/feature report I filed at:

So by the time you are reading this, might already be obsolete, hopefully ;)
Lock screen - Ignores your orientation settings. When locked your screen it always goes to portrait mode, and only upon the login it rotates back to your custom setting. But at least it remembers whether or not your side-bar auto-hide is enabled:

then login and turns into:

03.12.2016 - Updated my Ubuntu Touch today

Currently running on my phone is Ubuntu Touch 15.04 r478, which came with some pretty sweet wallpapers built-in. And my phone is still looking great in the Windowed Landscape mode, like here I am checking stats on my blog while also testing my Open Software Hub project:
Playing my snake game written in FreePascal Lazarus:
And taking photo of my Ubuntu laptop where I am browsing phone's photos in nautilus via sshfs:


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