Ubuntu 10.10 Ambiance Theme Gets An Update

Early screenshots of the new Ambiance theme.

You may be familiar with the Ambiance theme since its debut in Ubuntu 10.04, but the Canonical Design team has just confirmed changes to the theme that are due to be released with Ubuntu 10.10.

Early screenshots of the new Ambiance theme.

Several things have been updated in this latest preview into the new Ambiance theme. Scrollbars, scrubbers, buttons, menus, window controls, title bars, GNOME panels and indicator menus…just to name a few. To read about these changes in more detail, you should head over to the article posted by Otto from the design team.

One thing that seems to not be mentioned about the screenshot is the background being used. If you look closely, you’ll notice that it resembles the background released with Ubuntu 10.04 very closely, but there are several subtle differences. Notice the two very orange flares as well as the hyper-white flare on the right. The gradients also appear to be much more refined.

I’ve been using this theme for a couple of days now since it was leaked and I’m in high approval of the changes. Especially those to the window control buttons, which now have a much more pleasant appearance and a better overall feel.

Radiance and Dark themes are also in the works, but (as noted by the design team) are not yet ready to be released. If you’d like to go ahead and test these themes in Lucid or Maverick, they’ve provided the packages at the following link:

http://people.ubuntu.com/~stefanor/light-themes/

Enjoy the new theme updates and let me know if you come across the new wallpaper anywhere!

Linux: Things I’m Looking Forward To

Closed source Skype 2.1.0.81 in Ubuntu 10.10.

Open Sourcing Skype

Skype is already available in Linux and usually works well. However, Skype to due to release an open source client (keeping the back-end closed source). Fortunately for Linux users, this means that you will likely get to use only one messenger client such as Empathy or Pidgin without ever opening the old Skype client and still have your Skype buddies listed in Empathy or Pidgin.

Closed source Skype 2.1.0.81 in Ubuntu 10.10.

While the announcement was released in November 2009, there is no expected date of arrival. So unfortunately, Linux users could be waiting anywhere from a few more weeks to a few more years.

I’m looking forward to never having to launch the Skype client again and simply using Empathy alone to chat and call all of my Skype friends!

Dropbox 0.8.x

Anyone who has ever used Dropbox knows that it is dang good at what it does. You need something backed up? Drop it in your Dropbox folder and forget about it.

Current Dropbox 0.7.110 in Ubuntu 10.10.

Experimental builds of Dropbox 0.8.x have been in the works since February 2010 and appear to be progressing nicely.

With Dropbox 0.8.x, we will gain a new feature called “Selective Sync” which will enable you to pick which files and folders from your Dropbox to sync, giving you more overall control.

Dropbox 0.8.x also  brings a wealth of performance improvements to the table. With faster startup times and lower memory consumption when idling, this update is sure to be well received. File attributes are now noted and properly synchronized, so if you make a script executable on one computer it will be updated on all others as well. This is very handy for Unix/Linux users.

Rhythmbox Last.fm Plugin Updates

Being a Last.fm user myself, I find myself scrobbling a lot of music and very few options to manage my profile. I’d love to see this plugin integrate the ability to “Love” and “Unlove” tracks that you are playing from Rhythmbox itself.

Rhythmbox + Last.fm plugin in Ubuntu 10.10.

According to OMG! Ubuntu!, a developer by the name of Jamie Nicol will be improving this plugin in the  Google Summer of Code event. The details of what will be improved with this project are vague to say the least, but very promising.

Ubuntu 10.10 Sound Indicator Applet

The sound indicator applet is receiving an update which will manage to bring all of your sound controls into a clean and simple menu.

Case scenario mockup (image source).

With this project well underway, you are already able to view what’s playing in Rhythmbox and pause/play the song from the menu. The artist, title and album are also implemented, leaving album art, playlists, back and forward controls, and a song progress bar to be anticipated.

Windicators (aka Window Indicators)

Windicators, as Mark Shuttleworth describes them, are indicators located in the top right side of a Window’s title bar that indicate specific states of applications that users should be alerted of.

Mockup of Windicators for Ubuntu 10.10

From the mockup, you can see that Windows producing sound will likely have per app volume control windicators. Those dealing with stores and shopping carts will feature a shopping cart windicator to help you manage and navigate what you’ve stored away to buy.

I’m really hoping that this Windicator will be used in applications such as web browsers and the Ubuntu Software Center (which, by the way I think should be renamed to the Ubuntu App Store) so that web sites like eBay or Amazon and the Software Center can take advantage of this feature.

Theme enhancements for Maverick

There are a number of theme enhancements that are set to land in Ubuntu 10.10 and will help to polish the user interface.

One improvement will be closer maximize and minimize buttons. The improvement, as I image it, can be seen below, but is not meant to represent a final product in any way.

Closer max/min buttons mockup.

Scrollbar steppers don’t appear clickable. One design I’ve been hoping for, but have yet to see anything implemented, is some nice themed steppers. Nicer of course than my crude artistic example below. ;)

Mockup of a clicked or hovered stepper.

Also mentioned is “Changing GTK to allow for a rounded stepper,” which is why I rounded the button in the mockup (if you click to view the larger version).

There are several other changes to be made for the theme, but as far as I’ve seen they’ve yet to appear in updates.

Compiz 0.9

One of my favorite features in Ubuntu is desktop effects which are powered by Compiz. It seems like compositing windows managers have been changing at an incredibly unpredictable rate since I first started using Linux.

I first started using Beryl to get cool effects for the desktop way back in the early stages of Ubuntu. Soon after, Compiz-Fusion became the next big thing. This developed as a bit of a merge between Compiz and parts of Beryl.

Not long thereafter, various Compiz related branches were merged and the project became known simply as Compiz again. What’s cool about this is that in the merge, Compiz was being ported from C to C++ (also known as Compiz++) giving it a large number of benefits (that I won’t get into here).

Ubuntu 10.10 using the Cube in Compiz.

The good news is that Compiz 0.9 unstable has been released and is ready for regression testing! Hopefully it won’t be a great deal longer before Compiz 0.9 matures and is released into the wild.

Vavle’ Steam Client

If you don’t already know about Steam, according to Wikipedia it’s “a digital distribution, digital rights management, multiplayer and communications platform developed by Valve Corporation.”

The Steam client..

Its been rumored that the Steam client will be coming to Linux, but all we can do is wait in anticipation and see what happens.

Steam recently became available to Mac users, so it may not be too far fetched. If it does come to Linux then it will bring a plethora of games to the platform that would have otherwise never been available.

Here’s to hoping that someday soon I will be able to play Counter-Strike: Source without booting up into Mac or Windows (or using Wine).

Ubuntu Boot Screen Fixes

While there are ways to fix the boot screen yourself, I tend to prefer them just working automatically. This isn’t the case in Ubuntu 10.04 if you’re using the nVidia or ATI video drivers.

Ubuntu 10.04 Boot Screen

Being only in Alpha 2, Ubuntu 10.10 still uses the boot screen of 10.04 as pictured above. While this is a very nice boot screen, it does have several problems.

As I said earlier, if you’re using nVideo or ATI drivers then you’ll have problems where the boot screen’s resolution is horribly wrong and your boot screen looks more like a crash.

Ubuntu is on the track of speeding up boot times, but if your system hasn’t booted before the animated dots make their cycle then you get to see it again. While this isn’t a horrible failure, its still a very unpolished design and desperately needs some attention. Still worse, the shutdown screen uses the same animation which gives it the illusion of loading, not unloading.

Grub Boot Loader

I’m hoping that if they take the time to address the boot screen that they will also take time to polish the boot menu for dual booting users. In its textual state it looks like something straight out of the days of DOS, and since Ubuntu is “Linux for Human Beings” I would say its time to ditch the textual Grub interface and move on to a polished Burg menu…based on Grub, but graphical.

Ubuntu 10.04 SVG Dropbox Folder Icons

Here is how the new icon compares.

After a little bit of work, I was able to put together a folder icon for the Dropbox folder that is inline with the design of the home folder icon.

Here is how the new icon compares.

I’ve not created all of the icons to be used for this, only the one that you will see in Nautilus or your file browser, but I may eventually make the others as well.

Thanks to some work from Dropbox user “Charles A.“, I was able to modify a folder icon and add the themed icons.

Close up preview of icon #3 of 4 total icons.

Feel free to take what I’ve done and extend it further or improve on it! I’m by no means an artist. ;)

If you modify this icon, I only ask that you mention me and pass me a link to your improvements!

-Download (v0.1: 193kb)

EDIT: I’ve updated the package to include all 4 icons for images of (square) sizes 16, 22, 24, 32, 48, 64. You can grab the updated package below.

-Download (v0.2: 343.4kb)

Ubuntu 10.04’s Themes…

ubuntu-10-04-ambiance-01

If you’re a regular to the world of Linux news then you’ve surely heard the news of Ubuntu 10.04’s new “theme shakeup” and probably seen screenshots of the two new themes that are still in the process of being tweaked and finalized.

I’ve been using the new wallpaper and themes since they were first introduced and I’ve began to love and hate them at the same time. I’ll try to explain why.

<rant>

The theme that I’m using of the two is called Ambiance (the other is Radiance, which is brighter) and it seems to be the best based on appearance in my opinion.

Ubuntu 10.04 Ambiance

As you can see from the screenshot above (click to view a larger image) the title bars have a smooth gradient touch that even works well with transparency (seen in the windows that aren’t focused).

The window controls have moved to the left-hand side by default and have also been reorganized, which can be task to get used to as I’ve only finally began to feel comfortable with the controls on the left-hand side.

Side note: If you’re interested in easily moving these controls around and re-arranging them, you’re in luck!

I can only imagine that the thought process behind the brainstorming session for the window controls position and layout was something like the following poorly executed logic.

Windows is obviously very popular and people relate to their traditional window controls. We can use alternatives to these so we are “different”: “x” for close, “/\” for maximize, “[]” for restore, and “\/” for minimize. Now we can move the controls to the left side of the window to please all of the apple fans. Save. Commit.

The window controls are probably one of the most important design points to any theme. While it appears that Ubuntu is going for a more polished and professional appearance, its going to be near impossible get the polished feel of Mac OS X and the traditional simplistic controls from Windows to integrate together using the new colors that Mark Shuttleworth and his team have chosen.

Many people across the Ubuntu forums and blogosphere are repeatedly comparing Ubuntu’s new theme designs to Mac OS X. While they are correct in identifying the similarities, they are missing the fact that Mac OS X is a continually highly polished operating system with the user interface being one of the main attractions. Rounded window controls and gradient windows aren’t going to be enough to attract users the way OS X does.

The Ubuntu 10.04 Ambiance window controls don’t even have decent hover effects for the current window (window with the red/orange close button).

I for one want to see uniform and consistent icons for all applications as well as attention to folders, drives/devices and thumbnails on the desktop and in other folders. The default orange folder icons have been around for far too long and are in desperate need of some updates.

Moving on, the scrollbars have very little hover attention. While its generally a good idea to be subtle with interface hovers and interactions, the current implementation seems to harm more than help. Rather than fading darker on hover or introducing a bolder border (as XP does), it simply brightens by minimal amount. This isn’t enough visual confirmation to assure the user that they are indeed interacting with the scrollbar.

The scrollbar up, down, left and right arrows have absolutely no hover or press affects. This is a major interface failure and I assume it will eventually be corrected before the theme is finalized. Until then, its a major bug in my opinion.

The buttons. If you look at the screenshot again (from above) you’ll notice how boring and unimpressive the new buttons are (apparently I’m not alone). One thing that I’m impressed with is the was they’ve created a common design between fixed combo boxes and buttons. While the general design of the buttons is just not impressive at all, the thought behind consistency here impresses me.

What doesn’t impress me is the choice of colors for selected and enabled controls..

Window controls (buttons, checkboxes, radio buttons, tabs, etc)

Highlighted button example

To me, this idea that purple and orange are going to be widely accepted among new and current users is just absurd.

I’m sure many people tend to just deal with skins and themes rather than trying to find alternatives that are more friendly. I find that I never need to adjust themes in Windows or Mac, but Linux themes seem to have a history of being poorly designed or poorly executed.

I can see how making the Terminal transparent can be attractive to users who know how to even open it, but what were they thinking when they decided to make it purple?

Seriously? A Purple Terminal Window? WTF?

Anyone serious about Linux is going to be using the terminal. Even those who are not so serious about Linux will be subject to opening the terminal to enter obscure commands as solutions to problems that they don’t remotely understand.

I just don’t see purple being as commonly accepted among the male user-group as I do among the female user-group for integration into the default theme. The point in that being that the themes should be more gender neutral with the purple coloring. Especially in the tooltips, OMG! ;)

Another common complaint that I’ve seen among fellow Ubuntu users (and a recent blog post) is the default title bar font which is very bold and not very attractive. One thing I wish they would adopt from Mac is the use of text shadow. In CSS this would simply be something like “text-shadow: 2px 2px 2px #ccc;“. Mac OS X uses a brighter shadow to enhance the appearance of the title bar font in a very slight and elegant way.

While this is a major change from the previous default Human theme, Ubuntu still presents itself as unpolished and unprofessional. Developing a truly unique and efficient interface is without a doubt a difficult task. The previous interface promises that were abandoned are proof of that. However, the importance of introducing a polished interface can’t be stressed enough.

Developing a truly polished interface takes time. This is one thing that is not on Ubuntu’s side with the release of Ubuntu 10.04, which is to include the new theme, scheduled for April 29, 2010 (less than 2 months away).

What they should have done is start this new theme back in the developmental process of Karmic and only installed it through the community-themes package. This would allow people to easily test the theme and provide a fair amount of time to turn feedback into progress. If they had followed this model, the new themes would be very matured by now and especially by the final release of Lucid.

While the final release may produce a polished set of new themes for Lucid, just remember that they could have been (read: should have been) more polished and thought out. ;)

</rant>

In case you were interested in seeing the Radiance theme..

Ubuntu 10.04 Radiance

While there are many other flaws that I’ve encountered in the new themes, the ones mentioned above are in my opinion the ones that are most important. If you’ve got opinions about the new themes, voice your opinions and share your ideas!

Opera Google Wave Skin

opera-google-wave-skin

I’ve been using a new theme lately for Ubuntu that is based on the appearance of Google Wave. One thing that I hate about Opera in Linux is that it doesn’t automatically inherit the current themes appearance. The only way to make Opera match your current theme is to download a skin for that theme or to make one yourself.

I’ve decided to modify the standard skin by updating the background behind the tabs and changing the scrollbar images to match the rest of my current themes scrollbars.

There are still several more tweaks to make, but for now I’m very satisfied with the integrating feel that these small changes have made.

opera-google-wave-skin

I may upload this Opera skin later, but not while I’m still tweaking it. In the meantime, if you want this skin then just contact me and I’ll send you what I’ve made so far.

Ubuntu New Wave skin for Opera

opera-standard-new-wave-03

I’ve recently been flip flopping between two themes that are offered in Ubuntu 9.04 and I like to have everything integrate nicely.

So, I spent a little time putting this skin together, or modifying it rather, so that it helps give Opera a more integrated feel into the Ubuntu New Wave environment without sacrificing the graphics and layout that Opera has by default.

You can find this skin in the Opera section along with a few others that I’ve uploaded or simply take the direct link to the skin page.

You can also find out more details about the skin there as well as a complete change-log with previous versions of the skin.

opera-standard-new-wave-03

Click the images below to see a larger version.

opera-standard-new-wave-02

opera-standard-new-wave-01

An Opera Skin to Match the Ubuntu Dust Theme

opera-google-chrome-dust-skin-01

I’ve been using Ubuntu 8.10 for a while now, since the first alphas were released, and I’ve been watching the artwork for Intrepid Ibex develop.

Now I think I’ve decided which theme I will be using in Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex and that is the Dust theme. You can get an idea of what it would look like on the Dust page, but I have mixed the dust theme with one of the proposed wallpapers for Intrepid Ibex that seems to mix well.

After mixing those, I realized that I couldn’t find a good skin for Opera to match the rest of the desktop so I set out to make my own.

I’m really not a big fan of the current default Opera skin, so I set out to find a skin that I felt was universally considered intuitive and easy to follow. That theme to me was the Google Chrome theme.

I had checked weeks ago on Opera Skins and found that no one had made a Google Chrome theme yet. Fortunately, this time I found one and it was done pretty well.

I grabbed the skin Chrome 1.92 and extracted the contents. Then the fun part began. All I had to do was replace a couple of images to make the header tie into the Dust theme title bar and desaturate the rest (or a great deal of them).

After that, zipped it up and tested it out. Here is what I got:

Opera is on the left, compared to Firefox on the right with a theme that was developed by someone else to match the Dust theme.

I will most likely make a Dust skin from the default Opera skin as well, but for now I’m enjoying the Google Chrome-Dust theme. :D

I’ll upload it to the rest of my Opera skins soon. I just need to polish up a few graphics and implement the Dust scroll bar (as seen in Firefox) for consistency.

UPDATE (2008-10-08 @ 6:06 PM):
The “Opera Google Chrome Dust” or “Dusty Chrome,” which ever you prefer, is now available in it’s initial release:
http://www.kyleabaker.com/goodies/opera/skins/opera-google-chrome-dust/

Opera 9.5 just got a face lift!

38x46

Good news today for Opera browser fans! The Browser received a much needed face lift today. The desktop team has (on a side project) put together a new skin for the browser to enhance it’s appearance, improve functionality and bridge the gap between a few more cross-browser usability issues.

The new skin is now installed by default in the latest Opera 9.5 snapshots from the Desktop Team’s blog. However, if you need some time to get used to the new skin, they have also packaged the previous skin in the installer as well and it is called the Opera Classic skin.

Well, what are you waiting for? Go download this bad boy as you continue reading the rest of this post! You can grab the download from the original post (which is here), or you can just use the links I’ve gathered below for you. ;)

Now that you’ve got the download process going on in the background, I’ll tell you a little bit about the changes that you may notice.

The new skin has replaced all of the old icons that you may be used to and with glossier and shinier new ones. The back, forward, refresh, stop, etc. buttons are all easily recognizable, but different.

It didn’t take me long at all to like the new skin! I actually liked it from the instant I restarted Opera!

One thing, however, that I used quiet often that has been changed is the panel toggle button that extended up the left-hand side of the window. You could click the talk and narrow button to show or hide the side panel and it’s windows.

A new button has been placed to the left of the tabs that does the exact same thing now. I’m still getting used to it, but I think it’s a good change..as many of you may not have known about the older button in the first place. :P

The New Tab button is now moved to the right side of the row of tabs. It moves as the tabs row grows and is designed..or placed there to be more conveniently placed. This change is also one of the areas that Opera is working to bridge the gap between usability in Internet Explorer 7+ and Opera.

If you’ve used Internet Explorer 7 or 8 (beta) then you known that the new tab button is on the right side of the row of tabs and follows the tabs. Well, this is the same behavior as Opera now. :D

The panels icons are also new. Although they take a little more time to get used to than the navigational icons, they are still a much needed update!

One thing that I’m not in favor of is the background color of the windows in the panels tab. The windows are, in my opinion, too dark and slow for the eyes to glance through.

I’ve spoken with some of the developers and they have told me that the skin is by no means finished. They are taking feedback from everyone, tweaking the theme, releasing it and then taking feedback again.

If you have any suggestions or feedback at all for them then you should go post it in the blog so they hear your voice! You can make a difference in the development of Opera!
http://my.opera.com/desktopteam/blog/2008/06/05/looking-sharp