Pretty is a feature, but ugly is subjective

I have a problem, and I admit it. Every time someone whines — and yes, I’m using the word “whine” deliberately — about the graphical design in Ubuntu, I tune them out.

To me, complaining — and yes, I’m using the word “complain” deliberately — about the default desktop is pointless. To me, this thread is proof. And this one. And any others like that.

Fact is, one of the first things people do when they install a system is to change the way it looks. Even if the default was a gift straight from heaven, one of us — probably me, actually — would immediately change it. And an ugly one — even one that’s ugly to you and me — gets changed even quicker. I can vouch for that personally.

Now if the opposite was true, if you couldn’t change it, then you’d have something to complain about. But so long as you can change the theme, the look, the style, the color … then I fail to see why the default matters at all.

Yes, I know: Pretty is a feature. Every time somebody gripes — and yes, I’m using the word “gripe” deliberately — another malcontent whips out “pretty is a feature” as if it were a magic incantation. As if that phrase was somehow undeniable proof that the current style is ugly.

News flash: No matter what the default is, someone’s not going to be happy. You could craft the nicest, most beautiful desktop (or mockup, although I fail to see the point), and I’ll be the first person to turn my nose up at it.

Pretty is a feature, but ugly is subjective. You can’t make the desktop that attracts hordes to Ubuntu because that same desktop is ugly to another distinct horde. And so we’re back to where we started: Someone else decides what’s beautiful, and you change it.

So why bother complaining? You’re going to change it anyway, no matter what it looks like. Somebody might like it, but someone else is going to hate it. I can guarantee that.


24 thoughts on “Pretty is a feature, but ugly is subjective

  1. biengo

    I still find the ubuntu corporate-look an extraordinaryly valuable asset. and as to giving in to those who seem to know what the average guy wants, does anyone remember the engineering feat that was “The Homer”? I guess if someone who cannot grasp the easiest implication of the free and the soft in free software was to sit in the driver’s, he would reach to the pedals as well as any whining baby in the real world.

  2. miklos

    Is “tune them out” synonymous with “ignore them”? If yes, you have an interesting way of doing so! 🙂 Great title for the post, caught my eye and made me think in a “life in general” sort of way.

  3. Rambo Tribble

    Yes, it seems to be human nature to gripe about trivial matters. Oh, wait, what was it we were doing here?

  4. xabbott

    A lot of people don’t want to change how the OS looks. Most people go only so far as to change the background. Looking good is important.

    Changing the default isn’t about pleasing everyone. It is about pleasing the majority. When Microsoft released the brown Zune…well we all remember what happen. >.>

  5. leo_rockway

    I’m one of the guys that thinks Ubuntu’s default look is ugly, but I really don’t care since you can change completely the way it looks.
    By the way, I’m a KDE guy as well, so I couldn’t care less about Ubuntu’s default colors haha.
    All jokes aside, if you can change the colors then there’s no point in complaining.

  6. Chris Lees

    I agree that you can change the theme easily, and people will change it once they find the Appearance dialog (though some people think it’s like Windows and you can’t change it, so they switch to Kubuntu instead because it’s got a blue theme).

    Ubuntu’s brown is distinctive, which is good; but it’s not especially attractive. I’ve had brown themes before now that look fantastic – see Sauna Dark on Gnome-look for my favourite.

  7. Mikko

    I suppose many people who come for the first time to Ubuntu don’t realize everything can be customized. They get a bad first impression of Ubuntu and Linux in general.

    It might be good marketing idea to get rid of that brown theme. Or at least rename it to CaffeLatte 🙂 But I suppose the color is considered an important part of Ubuntu’s branding.

  8. rhY

    Ugly is not subjective. Human psychology has all kinds of interesting things to tell us about color, about comfort, and about first impressions. Brown isn’t just ugly, it’s evil:

    Originally Posted by action_owl View Post
    u can change the colors and themes in like 5 min TOPS, whats all the fuss?


    Yes, *I* can change the colors and themes, probably in 20 seconds. So can you. So can people posting in the Ubuntu forums in general, most likely.

    So what about the other 99% of the world? The vast silent computer illiterate majority that leaves the same grassy hill and blue sky on their XP machine for 15 years, because they don’t know how to change it, and are ACTUALLY FRIGHTENED?

    Is Ubuntu the OS for EVERYBODY, or for the indignant (and often rude) brown elitists posting in the forums? I think we have, oh I don’t know SEVENTY other distros for those kind of people. I was excited by Ubuntu, because it is EASY TO USE, has a clean layout (not clean enough though), and can run 99% of what an AVERAGE person needs, and of course it is free, open source, and I also like the PHILOSOPHY of Ubuntu (humanity towards others, etc…), though I do also kind of hate the name, like others have suggested.

    But then Ubuntu turns off nearly every n00bie or neophyte with a heinous brown and orange layout that looks like a dog got run over by a pumpkin. It is so incredibly unappealing that often before I get to change the theme and show off compiz, clients in the room start loudly saying, “I DON’T LIKE IT!! I WANT WINDOWS!”. This is a real world result I have seen at least three times, PERSONALLY, and I don’t even do IT full time.

    Human psychology is an important aspect to interface design, and it has clearly been completely ignored, and almost entirely at the expense of Ubuntu, Debian, Linux, and the entire Open Source community, all due to the loud and vocal minority posting on some arcane forum that almost nobody else in the real world even knows about. It’s selfish, it’s short-sighted, and, most paramount, it’s egregiously stupid. It clearly underscores the problems of the entire movement, a movement I think is increasingly important from a political stand point as corporations continue to merge, consolidate, and stifle the human spirit and economy.

    Vista is horrible. It’s slow. It’s buggy. It’s bloated. It’s ugly. Now is our chance to finally make some headway against this hegemonic goliath, and free humanity, and tragically, a few elitists are digging in their heels against the common man, Linux, and ultimately human freedom. I wish somebody higher up in the organization would stand up and take some responsibility for this horrifically stupid and narrow minded design flaw, and correct it, before Microsoft comes out with a semi-decent OS again (which they are now rushing out, by the way, so the clock is ticking).

    Remember, our human freedoms and rights are also fighting Apple and it’s DRM iTunes army, and Apple’s products and interfaces are almost unilaterally GORGEOUS, and they control their hardware (and do a decent job). We cannot stand by and piss away one of humanities last chances at freedom and open control just because a few entrenched Ubuntu fans have gotten used to what is obviously a very, very bad thing for Ubuntu, Debian, Linux, FOSS, Humanity, and ultimately the planet.

    Brown is not just ugly. It’s EVIL. When I think about it from a logical stand point for even a moment, it makes my legs quiver with rage, and my heart break with sorrow.

    You will probably continue your nonsensical attacks against my hat, laugh it off as no big deal, and continue to support brown for your own selfish reasons. But I’m going to be here still. Shouting, praying, pleading and begging for someone with power to listen to my plea and help save humanity which I honestly feel that Open Source has the power to achieve. My passion is not fake, it’s not forced, and it’s not funny. It’s based on the empirical evidence at hand, and the concepts that Thomas Jefferson wrote about when he discussed Liberty. Concepts that now label me and others in the US as terrorists for MENTIONING the bill of rights in public while being attacked by police run by a fascist regime.

    When your children are being water boarded by the CIA in a Microsoft/Exxon/Viacom run world, think about how important brown was to you and how it ensured the sheepish (and often foolish) masses would not be liberated.

    This idiocy makes me tremendously sad, even more than the anger.

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