Back in 2019 I opined that Ubuntu needs a better image viewer than the one it currently offers (which is Eye of GNOME, if you didn’t know, a core GNOME app).

Alas, that hasn’t happened yet. Ubuntu still uses an image viewer that doesn’t offer all of the features that rival operating systems do (yes, even the ChromeOS image viewer can do more out-of-the-box).

But hope is on the horizon.

GNOME design genius Allan Day has recently revised his mockups for a more comprehensive GNOME image “previewing” experience.

Before we look at why his proposals have a dork like me excited, I need to throw a big red disclaimer in your general vicinity:

The mockups you see in this post are mockups. Nothing shown here is final; there’s no committed code, nothing to try out, and no guarantee that what you see will ever end up somewhere you can use it. Don’t get angry about what you see, and don’t get too attached to how things looks.

I know, I know: it’s obvious to state, right? But some readers do skim straight to the images, then post ’em elsewhere with a rant, all under the assumption it’s of real, working code or a concrete-set design that can’t be changed.

Remember: a LOT of GNOME mockups changed dramatically between their conception and their implementation, and an even greater number still never became anything at all — so keep it in mind!

An image viewer that does more

Mockup credit: Allan Day

Windows, macOS, ChromeOS, Android, and iOS all ship with photo viewer apps that lets you do more with an image than simply see it. All provide options to resize, rotate, and crop; some let you add annotations, text, and callouts; some even let you perform basic image enhancement.

And it’s not just standalone apps; modern mobile apps that have an image picker (from Instagram to WhatsApp to Telegram to Twitter) also give you the chance to edit or modify an image before sending it wherever you plan to.

Preview on macOS

Therefore it’s not an unreasonable ask modern Linux desktops to keep pace, and Ubuntu, which uses GNOME, is no exception to that (okay, I think I’ve mentioned Ubuntu enough to get away with posting these mockups on here and not on 😅).

Allan’s latest mockups are a trove of ideas, showcasing a richer set of capabilities than currently available in any app (that I know of) at present — capabilities I would LOVE to access right where I go through my images (dedicated image editors exist, but they are a rather giant mallet for this analogously-small nail):

  • View, navigate, and zoom in/out on images
  • View photo metadata/file properties
  • Crop images (free and fixed ratio)
  • Rotate/flip images
  • Resize images
  • Basic level adjustments (e.g., brightness, contact)
  • Markup tools

This fantasy image viewer app (which remember doesn’t exist yet) would also adapt beautifully to smaller screen device, including mobile ones throughout all of its imagined viewports:

Mockup credit: Allan Day

But for me the real “punch the air like a e-sport champion” moment comes from seeing embedded markup and annotation tools available on-canvas:

Mockup credit: Allan Day

These edit tools include a paintbrush, highlights, rectangle, arrow, and a text tool. There’s also a simple colour picker, and on-screen, always-visible undo/redo buttons.

Obviously the debate rages on about how much “editing” a photo viewer can offer before it’s not longer a viewer but a dedicated editing tool.

For me, Allan’s mockups strike the perfect balance. When I open an image viewer it’s usually the first step in a bigger chain i.e., I’m not viewing a particular photo and then closing the app, I’m looking for a particular photo to use someplace else.

Putting editing tools within the app one uses to view images is, IMHO, helpful. They’re there when you need them, and out of the way when you don’t.

The closest thing for GNOME desktops right now is Shotwell’s image viewer. Were it a little more modern (i.e. GTK4), had markup tools, and was better at navigating a group of images for quick comparisons, I’d be happy with what currently exists.

But instead, I’m here pining that these mockups make the leap from design to desktop.

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