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Redesigning Ubuntu – behind the scenes on 10.04

by Dave Walker

There has been a whole host of innovative features being worked on in the build up to Ubuntu 10.04; some of the technical things include noticeably faster booting, other aspects include artwork and imagine redesign. Community leader Dave Walker shares his behind-the-scenes views on the latter…

Words by:DaveWalker
Dave Walker

Dave  (@Daviey) is a Ubuntu community leader, consultant specialising in business IT, server and telephony systems.

The next version of Ubuntu – codename Lucid Lynx – will be the 10.04 release, and is scheduled to be released and declared stable in April.  As a long-term support version, coupled with increasing popularity, this is undoubtedly the most important Ubuntu release to date.

I was privileged to be invited to the Canonical offices in London recently to preview the image changes and comment on how we might adopt them; offer opinions on how I feel the community would interpret the changes, and offer feedback.  I expected this to be an art and design type meeting, meaning I did have some concerns about how useful I would be since I can’t even attempt a bluff at being artistic.  However, it did turn out to be useful, with lots of fruitful discussions.

For the last 6 years, Ubuntu has traditionally had a theme of brown and earthy colours; which I feel many have come to accept, and perhaps even like.  Over the years we have witnessed the colour being toned down and having less significance in the desktop.  Following some 8 months of work the colour has been dropped from the distribution design, so it was quite a risky move.  The design has attempted to focus and convey Precision, Reliability Collaboration and Freedom.  It will undoubtedly take time for the changes to cascade into all usages.


The new colours have a heavy focus on orange, and aubergine (purple). The colour orange is intended to represent Ubuntu community focus, with aubergine symbolising Canonical commercial interests; with a varying ratio of both for things depending on the type of use.  However, the designers at Canonical have been very careful to keep crucial elements of the previous designs to ensure some of the brand is kept familiar.

I don’t think I have ever fully appreciated the work involved in being an artistic designer.  When I’ve encountered artwork designs previously, there has been an ever-increasing move towards minimalism which, to me, implied that the work and effort involved to create it was equally minimal.  However, viewing the designs and being talked through the process of how they evolved gave me a new found respect for designers.

The changes aren’t simply limited to palette change, but more a whole brand unification and polish.  The whole rework was an effort to help Ubuntu “grow up” to reflect it’s increasing maturity.  It is thought that the current Ubuntu font, named “ubuntu-title”, had an almost childlike appearance and on reflection I think this statement has merit.

The new font, which will be simply called “ubuntu” has been designed with cooperation between Canonical designers and a world class design agency.  At the time I saw the proposed versions the full alphabet wasn’t yet complete, and I became aware of the huge attention to detail that these committed people were working towards.  One thing that particularly caught my eye was the discussion on things such as how the edge of the letter ‘C’ should finish, “Should it be sharp and flush or slightly angled”.  The wider masses would never be aware how much effort had been put into this.
Ubuntu darktheme

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    • Ubuntu4life

      EPIC !

    • Harold

      I don’t like the buttons being on the left of the window when it should stay on the right.

    • I personally think that ubuntu is a great leaping board for Linux on the whole and it has already done sooo much.

      I am a kubuntu user purely because I prefer the KDE GUI over the Gnome one, but since kubuntu can draw from the ubuntu repositories they it is all good.

      I just cannot wait for 10.04 and 10.10.. and hope that the attention to detail will be carried over to the other variants of ubuntu, which it has done as yet

    • You meant October 2010 right?

    • foo

      I loved the new logo, but didn’t like the new theme.

    • rick

      One of my pet peeves about GTK themes is the inclusion of low contrast scroll buttons. I was disappointed to see that Canonical has spent so much time on their theme redesign and turned out another theme with the vertical scroll button that blends into the background. Maybe nearly everyone uses a scroll wheel mouse these days. I consider it a usability problems if you have trouble finding the scroll buttons because they are the same color as the background. Just about everything else can be easily changed in a theme.

    • Mike

      I like the new theme, but the buttons on the left is lame. I keep going to the wrong side of the titlebar. They also switch the spots of the minimize and maximize buttons, keep hitting the wrong one. I know you can change all this, but it’s strange that they would change the default like that, it’s gonna screw up a lot of people.

    • Dan Saint-Andre

      A large number of features and details changed with v9.10 and will continue to change with v10.04. Sadly, documentation for the various consumers has not kept up.
      Now that almost every aspect of workstation configuration is event-driven and dynamic — think large room filled with mouse traps and ping-pong balls — everyone from grandma to guru needs different sorts of documentation. I hope that the Long Term Support (LTS) edition pays adequate attention there as well.

      Concerning artists and Ubuntu:
      Artists want to do artwork and not tinker with config file details. Their digital-medium of preference involves specific devices which are difficult or impossible to attach and use optimally under Ubuntu or linux in general. Given Inkscape, Blender, Gimp and others, there is wonderful software available on linux.
      However,configuration and integration of tablets, pointing devices, and displays requires X11 setting manipulation and has long been an arcane practice. Now that this is event-driven dynamic, the incantations have become even more obscure. [See separate remarks about “documentation.”] My son is a digital artist and I am a long time linux hacker. It took minutes to add his digitizer and display to various win-dose (XP, Vista, 7) workstations. We have not summoned the right spirits (sic) after weeks of effort under v8.10, v9.04, v9.10. We only hope that v10.04 LTS slays many of the X11 configuration and deployment demons.

    • Earl

      I have been using Ubuntu since Warty. I feel other things deserve more focus … changing monitors and upgrading without breaking the system for instance. These are more important than color schemes and boot times to me. I will probably stick with Ubuntu despite all of it’s flaws though because it mostly works.


    • Matt

      I have to agree with Harold. The UI design change moving the window buttons is not only a huge change for the vast majority of us (that is, those of us without the Apple hardware/software bundle), but I feel has happened very suddenly and without warning. It’s not like the community was up in arms wanting this feature.
      For me, the UI change interferes with my productivity and makes setting up Ubuntu “my way” that much more of a pain. If Canonical wants to make this change and still be user and enterprise friendly, I feel they really should make the change something simple for the user to edit in the standard ‘themes’ window, not in gconf.

    • RussellBarnes

      Apologies, we’ve corrected the ETA for 10.10 to October 2010.


    • Bas

      I don’t like the colour and I don’t like the theme. They say that Lucid will be better looking than Mac. I don’t see it. That colour is disgasting. The theme is not glossy and 3d!

    • Trapat Mukerjea

      I seriously oppose the very idea of this new theme which totally looks like an Apple Mac OS X ditto. I found this article online which does a comparision of the new Ubuntu theme and Mac OS X desktop –

    • I have to add my voice to the choir of those complaining about the new close-window-buttons position. A mistake, really.
      Apart of that, grat job. But this change alone is a show stopper.

    • Jeroen

      I don’t like two things in the new design:

      1. The mac-like buttons on the left of the title bar. It’s clear almost no one likes it. Please make it an option for former mac-users!

      2. Please get rid of the orange. I think it’s a cheap colour.

    • Swift Arrow

      I feel cheated.

      Some things I love about Ubuntu are the childish font, the circle of friends, and the mud-brown theme. These features give it a character of it’s own.

      Looking at the screenshots, it’s obvious that the people who did the design are TOO influenced by their current workstation. They’re basically trying to morph ubuntu into a mac – like interface. The purple especially – hate.

      The first thing I’ll do on my new Lucid Install (when it finally comes out) is change the theme, and try to ressurect my ubuntu-title font.

      Or maybe it’s time I switched to Debian…

    • Swift Arrow

      Not to say that the new design isn’t slick… It lacks the open source character that the old design has. It is / will be beautiful, but it will sorely miss the quirks and bits and pieces that make ubuntu homey.

      I wouldn’t have a problem using it, only because I’ve ceased being too concerned with the window deco… as long as everything functions and is in the right place… which brings me to the window buttons. PLEASE just make the positioning customizable via the appearance settings! That would be so much more mature than shifting it on everyone.

    • Ari Torhamo

      The new position of window buttons kind of makes sense to me, as it’s easier to move the cursor there. That’s also where other most often used window items are, like menus, back and forward buttons, sidebar etc. I also like the general colour of the new wallpaper, but some how it doesn’t look quite finished. It’s a little rough (in the lack of a better word) in my eyes.

    • I can’t say I’m really fussed either way when it comes to the theme. What frustrates me is the lack of progress on the interface of the apps. Take a look at the screenshot in the post that shows the File Browser – this is not a good interface for what should be a very simple app.

      I know this isn’t the direct responsibility of Canonical and that they are relying on the Gnome / KDE projects for these elements, but this is what makes a difference to people – not the “decoration” at the top and bottom of the screen.

    • Mauricio

      I really do not care about the position of the minimize/maximize/close buttons, because I always close windows with CTRL+Q, minimize with double click over the top window bar and almost never maximize windows. The power of the linux desktop is the great flexibility in personal configuration. If I install Lucid and i do not like the dfault theme, I easily will change it. I really like and, in fact, was waiting for year for a minimal art for desktop bar icons, so i love the new ones Mac-like. I like the dark themes, but always come back to clear themes because they let the shadows to be shown, and that makes my desktop to look more 3D, icons look better 3D when they are over a clear surface. That is the reason I do not like the default background/wallpaper, because it is dark (easy to change, in fact, I use to change wallpapers almost daily, like buying the newspaper).
      I am really more interested about the other new features that Lucid will bring for me, usability, user friendly and bug fixes.
      I love the way Mac OS X looks, I respect a lot to Mac art developers. So, if Ubuntu learn about Mac I would be glad for it. You can take the best of the world and learn, right?

    • Tracy

      I hate the close/minimize/maximize buttons on the left side. Move them back or make it an option to select where you want yours positioned…..

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