A Look At Ubuntu's Redesign and Rebranding

If you haven't heard about Ubuntu, it is an excellent free and open source operating system based on the Linux kernel. It is a very good alternative to Windows and Mac OS X, and is increasing in popularity. Ubuntu uses the GNOME desktop environment, and is known for its orange and brown default "Human" theme.

One very common complaint from new users to Ubuntu is the ugly brown default theme. It seems to give them a bad first impression of the operating system, based on how it looks at first. But now they've come up with a completely new design, which makes the brown look like a beautiful photo of autumn foliage.

Okay, I shouldn't be so harsh, as it is really not bad at all. In fact I think it's quite nice, and might just need a bit of customization and some time to get used to it to have a truly superb theme.

Let's start out with a screenshot, to get an idea of what we're dealing with.

There is also a lighter version of this theme, which you'll find a screenshot for on the Ubuntu Wiki page. I personally prefer the darker theme, and will focus on that one for today. Not that it matters, though.

First Impressions

At a first glance, the first thing that I notice is how the overall design has some noticeable influence from Mac OS X. The default wallpaper somewhat resembles the Mac Aurora Borealis wallpaper, the icons on the top panel look almost exactly like the OS X ones. And I think you can tell what the placement of the window buttons looks like.

Overall, the look and style of this is not bad. Here are some general things that I noticed when I first saw the theme.


I think that the new colour scheme of Ubuntu is a great improvement of the old one, with the lighter brown and nice purple instead of the old, ugly brown and orange.

I really prefer the lighter brown used in this version over the darker browns used in previous default themes for Ubuntu. It gives sort of a "dust" look for the windows,

If I were to change one thing about the colours of this new design for Ubuntu, it would be to make the purple in the default wallpaper a bit more subtle. Right now the purple is a bit overwhelming, and might take some time to get used to. Of course, I, and most people, would probably change to a different wallpaper soon after installing Ubuntu.

Position of Window Buttons

Probably the biggest change in the redesign of Ubuntu is the placement of the window buttons. Previously they were on the right side of the window and, as you can see, they have now been moved to the left.

Here's the strange part: The buttons are on the left side of the title bar, but they are still in the same order as the previous default theme. The order of the buttons is the same as in Windows, but they are on the same side of the window as in Mac OS X.

Maybe it's just to be fair, so that new users coming from both operating systems will both have a little surprise.


A truly fantastic little detail that is often overlooked in the design of most operating systems is the way that tooltips are styled. They are often quite boring, mainly because they are only ever seen by the user when they are hovering over an object that has a tooltip. After all, design is really in the details.

The tooltip in this design shows good use of transparency, rounded corners, and a nice border, to top it all off. It is the little details like these that make a design really stand out from the rest. I just hope that all tooltips will look like this, and not only the ones for the "Places" menu.

The Idea of "Light"

One of the aims of the new design is to give the idea of lightness. It is "lightware" which is meant to be the opposite of bloated software, and it is trying to be reflected in the design of the operating system.

From the Ubuntu Wiki:

We're drawn to Light because it denotes both warmth and clarity, and intrigued by the idea that "light" is a good value in software. Good software is "light" in the sense that it uses your resources efficiently, runs quickly, and can easily be reshaped as needed. Ubuntu represents a break with the bloatware of proprietary operating systems and an opportunity to delight to those who use computers for work and play. More and more of our communications are powered by light, and in future, our processing power will depend on our ability to work with light, too.

The New Logo

Not only is the default theme of Ubuntu updated with a new look, so is the Ubuntu logo. It seems that just about everything related to Ubuntu is being rebranded.

The logo redesign is supposed to reflect the precision and engineering of Ubuntu. It is great to see that the "circle of friends" part of the logo hasn't been removed, as I have always thought that it looked very nice, and conveyed the meaning of Ubuntu and open source software very well.

Is It Really That Important?

The rebranding of Ubuntu has included many changes in the look of the operating system. Without worrying about whether the changes are good are bad, are they really necessary?

On one hand, the user's first impression of the brand of Ubuntu can be very important. The first thing that the user sees when booting up their system can really be the deciding factor in whether they like it or not, and can have a big effect on the overall experience of Ubuntu.

On the other hand, the effort and resources involved in this change of branding could be better spent in other areas. For example, many users have complained about hardware compatibility issues. The time and effort put into a rebranding might be better placed into improving hardware compatibility, improving performance, fixing bugs, and just generally improving other aspects of Ubuntu.

Also, many users will know that it is not the look of the operating system that matters, but everything that is going on underneath. Most users will also probably change to a custom theme anyway, to personalize the look of their computer.


Overall, I think that this redesign is a huge step for Ubuntu, but in the wrong direction. However, people's opinions differ greatly. You'll find that the opinion of the people at Slashdot to be very different from that of the Ubuntu Forums.

What do you think of the new design? Do you love it, or do you hate it? Would this alone put you off of installing Ubuntu? And if not, would you changing the theme be the first thing that you would do?

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  1. March 5, 2010

    Yes, I love this OS, I am using it for a year , but I know it better than windows that I've used for 5 years.


  2. March 5, 2010

    I'm fairly sure the left-side window controls are just Jono's setup and that the actual install will be right-side.

  3. Yaro Kasear
    January 23, 2011

    Still looks butt-ugly. None of the Ubuntu devs have any sense of aesthetics.

    Still, a vast improvement over orange and poop brown.