One of the main overarching goals of Ubuntu, in the UI design department, is to simplify and remove, as much as possible, the interface to make room for the actual content, the stuff users care about. For the past few releases, several changes were implemented with this aim. The latest element to get a complete makeover is the venerable scrollbar.
Several Ubuntu developers and designers are now working on a redesigned, overlay scrollbar, which doesn't take away from the content at all.
"A wit said of Google Wave 'if your project depends on reinventing scrollbars, you are doing something wrong.' But occasionally, just occasionally, one gets to do exactly that," Mark Shuttleworth, the creator of the Ubuntu project, explained.
"Under the Ayatana banner, we’ve been on a mission to make the desktop have less chrome and more content," he added.
It's inspired by scrollbar elements in mobile operating systems, like Android, but it's been adapted for the specific requirements of the desktop. The simplest way of getting an idea of what it's going to look like is to watch the video.
By default, the scrollbar will only be a slim bar that's not part of the chrome but rather overlays on top of the content and is only displayed in the active window.
However, in order to allow users to browse content by dragging the scrollbar, a handle is displayed when actually scrolling.
"The goal is to help people immerse themselves in their stuff, without being burdened with large amounts of widgetry which isn’t relevant to the thing they are trying to concentrate on. And when it comes to widgetry, there are few things left which take up more space than scrollbars," Shuttleworth further explained.
You can install the new overlay scrollbar from a PPA and from Launchpad if you're feeling particularly adventurous. There's no word on when it will become the default in Ubuntu, but it could be as early as the Natty Narwhal release.