Canonical’s design team responds to theme criticisms

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.

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14 Responses

  1. Victor says:

    That blog entry mentioned in this article really doesn’t explain much more than giving a picture of a white board. The questions asked during the analysis are visible what are the actual reasons for the switch? I can’t find that anywhere in his blog entry.

    This article also kind of goes off on a tangent about keyboard shortcuts and alt+dragging. What’s that got to do with the window control buttons other than that they are an alternative to using them?


  2. madhu says:

    Very vague article

  3. Pablo says:

    I think it’s a very good initiative from Ubuntu. It is an excellent way to differentiate from other OS. You just have to get used!

    and Happy ? day to everyone!

  4. Aaron says:

    Meh. Who cares about position of window buttons, when GNOME is still shipping with two panels?! We bitch, piss and moan when buttons are relocated, but don’t think about the wasted screen real estate with two very empty GNOME panels.

  5. cookiemonster says:

    Why don’t they just go ahead and have a configuration dialog which asks you during installation (and is easily accessible after installation) which simply states:

    1. I wish this looked like a PC
    2. I wish this looked like a Mac

  6. Carl says:

    If they leave the windows on the left I am switching distributions. I’ve been thinking about it anyway, probably Fedora, Mandriva or Mint.

  7. slumbergod says:

    I thought people were only complaining about the colour scheme. There isn’t anything wrong with the interface and pretty much everything is customisable anyway.

    I’ve been thinking about switching to another distro also. At the very least I won’t be installing 10.04 in a hurry after the disasters I had with installing Koala.

  8. rip LunarBird CLH says:

    I consider moving buttons to the left side a very bad idea. I mean – it forces many peoole to change their habits out of the blue without any obvious reason to do so. Luckily I can change it back with a simple command (it was on UbuntuGeek). But it can frighten out some windows newbies from Ubuntu and here I thought Ubuntu’s aim was to be user-friendly.

  9. Noah says:

    The firs thing I do with a new install is move everything I need in the top panel into the bottom one. It all fits, easily, freeing up space. Then, for a maximized window, the close button in in the upper right corner, making it super easy to hit. I really don’t understand why there are two panels, or why moving right-to-left will help anything.

  10. Taffy says:

    A question to Slumbergod; Could you state what the disasters were when moving to Koala? You are not the first to say this and I am curious. I have updated each of the upgrades for the past 4 years, usually within 2 to 3 days of one becoming available, I have never experienced trouble. I must admit that I completely re-installed 9.10 because of the change in the file system and the change to the way grub worked, my /home partition was recognised without problem and the many files I had backed up were not required.

    Just what were the disasters?

    On the issue of this blog, I have no opinion on it whatsoever, I’ll just configure the way I want to anyway.

  11. Nils Geylen says:

    The article doesn’t say much indeed.

    As for left to right: I’ve always found that the obvious placement. It’s where your Home buttons is, it’s where the Menu is, it’s where the Start button is… It’s how we read.

    Never got why you had to move the mouse all the way to the other side of the screen to perform a basic task.

    True, things have changed, lotsa widgets and addons etc. go right and Chrome/Chromium doesn’t even let you move them.

    It’s an interesting UI question, but it seems Canonical isn’t in the debate here.

  12. digi says:

    agree. I use short-cuts too, and actually on my laptop eliminated the title bar completely for full screen windows (compiz is great) so I have more screen space. Compiz also makes the lower ubuntu bar unnecessary. Add gnome-do and alt+f1 and you’ll find little use for the top bar, which became a small hidden thing on the side of my screen. My laptop is now nearly an inch in diagonal screen size more efficient.

  13. Tim says:

    Previously I installed ubuntu for new users because it was a slightly better gui layout.
    I am getting to many complaints.

    Good bye Ubuntu

    Since you don’t listen to the majority of your contributors who are strongly against this crap. You have seriously pissed me off. I won’t cry when you die ubuntu.

  14. David says:

    Man Tim sounds downright dirty about it. But hey, it took some getting used to, but I love, love, love the buttons on the left. I would have never thought to put them there, but it is a move that actually seems to speed things up a bit. If only everyone would put them there, namely the only system missing it–M$, then it wouldn’t be so hard for everyone.

    Another thing that can speed things along is if you switch your keyboard layout to Dvorak. It has taken months to get used to but I can now type almost as fast as I could before and it is so much easier to type that fast. Soon enough I think words will just fly onto the screen, but for now, Dvorak is close enough.

    I also use the Alt-Left to move and the Alt-Right to access a program’s system menu (the menu with all Minimize, Maximize, Move, Resize, Close).

    Good work guys. I love my Ubuntu system.


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