Here’s my thoughts on the this topic:
I think it is a sensible effort to drive for consistency across desktop icons for applications. As we ship more and more applications as snaps, and ideally directly from the upstream developer, then maintaining that icon consistency will become harder and so getting those icons upstream should be a goal. As a side note, the script idea to allow any icon to be augmented to look more integrated is also a nice idea, and could be something which becomes more and more useful in the future.
There is indeed a requirement to be careful around using trademarks in this way, for example Mozilla specifically say:
“Don’t alter a Mozilla logo design or combine it with other images.”
But perhaps they would allow it in this case? We should reach out and ask them, and I can help with that. Ditto Chrome, etc.
Later in his post, Sam points out that GNOME have an icon refresh initiative. I’ve looked at those new upstream icons, and they look really great. I would love to see us get aligned with GNOME on that front. However, please read on…
Regarding Ubuntu dropping it’s visual identity: No.
Ubuntu has spent a lot of time establishing it’s look and feel on the desktop, and that thought and consideration carry through to server and CLI based initiatives. The desktop ‘feel’ comes from extensive UX research and is backed up with evidence which has been shared with the GNOME design team where it is relevant. When we switched to GNOME Shell we took the decision to preserve as much of the feel as we could, and that was the right thing to do for our users (since they told us that’s what they wanted) and we firmly believe that it was the right approach. We’ve always been upfront and perfectly clear & open about our plans.
Nothing is changing here.
The ‘look’ has always been an important part of Ubuntu desktop, something that the Yaru team understands deeply. We want to keep the “In the wild” recognisability of Ubuntu desktop. As Ubuntu users we get excited about it, at least I know I do, and it helps to build and reinforce our community. We’re always going to want to be able to make Ubuntu stand out.
The Yaru team have moved us on to a new iteration of the look of Ubuntu desktop while keeping that familiarity which has been built up over the years.
That all said, I don’t think that icons are the hill we should die on. The upstream GNOME icons are looking sharp. We could get uniformity by using those icons if we think it will look right, and present a bit more GNOME in our desktop at the same time. Yaru is in development. It will continue to try out ideas. We can try the Yaru icons and we can try the GNOME icons, and we can see what we think looks best in each case. We can provide feedback upstream where we find something amiss.
Of course, Ubuntu desktop is much deeper than just the Ubuntu desktop session. I feel it’s worth mentioning that by offering the “vanilla GNOME session” Ubuntu are one of the few distros giving totally unfettered access to the GNOME desktop for those people who want to use it, still built on the solid underpinnings of the rest of Ubuntu. If you want pure GNOME, Ubuntu is a great place to experience it.
Finally, and not really related to icons, but since I’m here anyway… I don’t like the suggestion in the blog post that Ubuntu is not “working together with GNOME on making the desktop experience better”. We very clearly are. Ubuntu desktop engineers are tackling hard problems within the GNOME desktop as well as triaging bug reports, making decisions about which ones are the most impactful and fixing them. Ubuntu has a huge user base, and the bugs that we are fixing in GNOME are making a real difference to GNOME users everywhere. We have five people in the GNOME Foundation, we attend GUADEC, Canonical is on the GNOME Advisory Board. This is not the ‘us-vs-them’ scenario I feel that Sam is presenting in his argument. Ubuntu is pulling its weight on GNOME.