Canonical is burying Ubuntu's traditional brown theme and is adopting a new visual style for version 10.04, which is scheduled for release in April. The new theme was revealed last week as part of Canonical's broader effort to overhaul Ubuntu's branding and visual identity.
The new theme includes a richer color palette and a number of stylistic enhancements. The change that has generated the most controversy is the placement of the window management buttons in the left-hand side of the titlebar. In response to some of the concerns that have been raised by users, Canonical designer Ivanka Majic has written a blog entry that describes the reasons behind the change. Majic is also seeking additional feedback from the Ubuntu community.
The designers looked closely at the placement and configuration of the window management buttons on other platforms and considered a number of factors, such as the use cases for maximization, the potential advantages of moving the window management buttons into closer proximity with the menu elements, and the challenges of diverging from the configuration that is currently familiar to users.
When I first started testing the theme, I didn't really have an opinion because I generally don't use the titlebar for window management. I have keyboard shortcuts configured for all the standard window management operations. To move the window, I typically use alt+click dragging, because it lets me click anywhere inside of the window. That's more efficient than having to aim for the titlebar, which is a much smaller target. For similar reasons, I configured Compiz to let me close a window by using alt+right-click anywhere inside the window's boundaries. (When I use other operating systems that don't have alt+click dragging, I'm always amazed by how profoundly the absence of that feature detrimentally impacts my productivity.)
Although I rarely ever touch the titlebar, the new layout consistently confuses me on the rare occasions when I attempt to do so. The resulting disorientation has started to bother me and I'm beginning to sympathize a bit with the critics. It's possible, however, that users who rely more heavily on the titlebar for window management will adapt more quickly.
Our readers have already broadly discussed their preferred titlebar button positioning in the threads of our previous articles about the new theme. Unfortunately, I think that the hyper-focus on the minutiae of widget placement has detracted from the opportunity to take a look at the bigger picture.