Ubuntu 10.04’s Themes…

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.


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. 😉


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!