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Please don’t theme our apps (stopthemingmy.app)
169 points by forlorn 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 194 comments



The whole letter sounds weird when talking about free software. Software freedom main benefit is that the user can change the software. Theming it is probably the most accessible form of modification and should be celebrated. Asking not to theme is contrary to the free software ethos itself.

The situation is even more tricky as what is being modified is not even the software itself but the system dependencies. Essentially the developers in this letter say: do not run our software on an environment that is not the one we support (in practice fedora or a close clone of it) and if you create a distro make sure its a clone of what we support.

I understand the fact that developers do not want to support bugs due to user modifications and strange environments. Free software doesn't imply free support so they can put any restriction on what they want to do. The letter however would have been much less weird if it said "we cannot ensure quality of software X except on our build running on a supported environment, if you run the software elsewhere or with changes (and theming is a change) please don't call it X to avoid confusion and remember you are on your own".

What Firefox did I think its a smart solution to this problem. " We offer Firefox on platform x,y,z. If you build it on something else, call it something else, if you run it on another platform remember you're on your own".


This isn't about the user theming. It's about distros theming.

There currently is a growing conflict between upstream developers and distributions, because some of their interactions and dependencies bare badly managed.

For example, upstream maintainers see an influx of bug reports and angry users due to bugs, where the distributions are at fault. Sources for this can be changes to the code that the distributions make for various reasons like backwards compatibility, themes that break user interfaces or simply outdated packages or missing backports.

The GNOME upstream maintainers all are having their ass hanging out on a public gitlab repo, while some of the distributors, who break stuff, are very hard to find, with sometimes ancient bugtrackers.

I trust that the community will find a way to update their relationships and solve these issues, but it starts with seeing what's going wrong and where we have bad incentive structures.


> This isn't about the user theming. It's about distros theming.

Distros are agents of their users. A user can't make each choice involved in assembling a distro themselves (except for the few who use LFS), so they express their choices by choosing a distro.


I guess a radical solution would be to require (through trademark law) to force distros to brand the apps differently (name and icon) so that bug reports end up where they belong.


Debian used to have to do this with Firefox and Thunderbird.


Firefox was branded "IceWeasel" on Debian - an unsubtle dig at Mozilla, which I found hilarious (and a little juvenile). I'm glad they resolved the issue.


This is more of an indictment of the way GTK3+ handles theming (or lack of it). GNOME/GTK devs, as usual, got confused and implemented something no one wants. Either you provide a proper and defined way to theme like KDE does or take the windows/mac route and tell developers to recreate any custom themed control from scratch.

Instead, they go around saying that there is only one GTK theme and then leave a convenient backdoor open for hacks with a nudge and a wink. Either open the front door and roll out a carpet or close all the doors and windows.


It is indeed easy to read this and conclude gtk3 has lost its way. eg. I remember in gtk1.2 days, there were a crapton of themes and they did radical things, and that was kind of the point.


> This is more of an indictment of the way GTK3+ handles theming (or lack of it).

How do you think GTK+3 handles theming (or lacks handling for it)? It sounds like you're confusing GTK+3 theming for GTK+2 theming (which was based on "engines", which were quite a mess). Now it's very "proper and defined", it's accomplished with a strict subset of CSS which has fairly consistent behaviour.

I personally don't see the point in elaborate theming systems (I'd prefer to just have control over the colours, and maybe one or two of the spacing variables), and it is obvious that they cost a lot of cycles at run time....

but GTK+3's theming system is not braindead, it's just ambitious.


Um no, because gtk/gnome devs have explicitly stated that Adwaita is the one true gtk theme. The name "Adwaita" reflects it. In GTK3+, the concept of themes does not exist. This is why you need 3rd party tools to change them. This is why 3rd party themes break stuff that this article complains about.


> I personally don't see the point in elaborate theming systems (I'd prefer to just have control over the colours, and maybe one or two of the spacing variables), and it is obvious that they cost a lot of cycles at run time....

Consistency and overriding bad decisions.


Plenty of good reasons - sometimes people like to shift common controls to be more familiar with their habits. Sometimes it's handy to shrink things like title bars. Sometimes the awful text rendering on Linux systems needs a bit of tweaking not to drive you mad...


I feel like an "open letter" is a pretty odd way to ask something of the maintainers of distributions that do not install GNOME with its stock Adwaita theme. Indeed, despite being created some two weeks ago, the (small) notice at the top that this particular open letter is aimed only at distribution maintainers was only added yesterday[1].

How many do so, anyway? I know Ubuntu has the Yaru[2] theme by default.

I'll add that I personally find the stock Adwaita theme to be total garbage. I've been using the Vimix dark themes[3] for as long as I can remember because they don't make the title bar of windows 30 storeys tall and they don't use beige.

1. https://github.com/do-not-theme/do-not-theme.github.io/commi...

2. https://github.com/ubuntu/yaru

3. https://github.com/vinceliuice/vimix-gtk-themes


You don't write an open letter when you want to ask someone something; you write one when you want to force them to do things your way by creating a public shitstorm.


> I'll add that I personally find the stock Adwaita theme to be total garbage.

I mean, it doesn't really matter if it's garbage or not; it matters that it's what GNOME app developers are testing their UX against, so if you create a theme that changes the metrics drastically from the ones in Adwaita, your theme is going to break those apps.

You can probably get away with tweaks on color, squashing some elements narrower, whatever, but that's not what the post is really talking about. Things that could be called "variations on Adwaita", or "Adwaita if it had a fancy control panel with metrics sliders and color pickers", aren't gonna break anyone's apps.

They're talking about themes that e.g. change fonts on control labels to ones that don't have the same em-widths or x-heights for some characters, and so things stop lining up flush; or which replacing the icons with an icon set that isn't just "the same icon designs but now in monochrome/superflat/etc." but now has new designs, different to the same degree that the iOS vs. Android emoji themes are different, such that your gun becomes a water gun (or your homedir becomes a hand throwing devil-horns.)


System76's Pop_OS version of Ubuntu with Gnome Shell comes with a very nice theme too.


I couldn't disagree more. If the user wants the intended experience, they will not apply a different theme for your app. The whole reason a user has applied a different theme on your app is because they disagree with your choices and that's totally fine. What's next, asking Mozilla to take down user style sheets and extensions that restyle web apps?

This article is antithetical to the whole cultural foundation that GNOME builds on, without which there would probably not be an open source desktop ecosystem to build apps for.

I strongly urge the authors to take in the arguments of the top comments and reevaluate their positions.

And you know what? The more you enable and facilitate customization, the better and richer will the options provided by the community be. I can see how the argument makes sense for particular distributions like Elementary OS and maybe Linux Mint that are aiming at a unified experience for novice users. I really hope other distro maintainers don't pay attention.


They're specifically talking to distros in the letter, not end users. If you want to install your own custom theme, fine. But if you're a distro shipping a custom theme, when it breaks a 3rd party app, the app gets the blame, not the distro.


> On a platform level, we believe GTK should stop forcing a single stylesheet on all apps by default. Instead of apps having to opt out of this by hardcoding a stylesheet, they should use the platform stylesheet unless they opt in to something else.

This is what I take issue with as a user. A major reason why I prefer GTK is exactly because I can get a homogenous look without having to tweak every single app individually. There are definitely issues with the way this is handled (and I'm TBH still confused about squaring Qt and GTK styles), but let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.


Icon themes - should be more standardized, that's true.

GTK stylesheets - mostly a problem of different GTK versions they're made for, because GTK versioning is a mess.

App Icons - so what? I think most people like consistency - look at Windows 10 and its ~4years of development, it's still a mess and if I had an option I'd switch right away

All in all I think the choice should be left on the user after distro install, use default gnome look by default and have an option to switch to another with a warning. I agree that devs shouldn't have to deal with someones custom stylesheet issues.


> Icon themes - should be more standardized, that's true.

Why? There is already a standard. It does not specify what icons look like, but what they mean. Replacing an icon with another that has the same meaning is not a problem. Of course, if you, say, abuse the "system-search" icon to show a looking glass, this will not work with a theme using a different metaphor.

The icon theme displayed in the open letter is just garbage. Using it as an an example is like saying distributions should not change the default font because they might choose Wingdings.


> The icon theme displayed in the open letter is just garbage.

A lot of icon themes are pure garbage, or at least incomplete. I don't think the example chosen here is any worse than what I've seen on my own system. Honestly, most icon themes are a failure; visual metaphors are just plain hard, and there's no substitute for literacy.


True. But what about the icon themes major distributions pick?


That's fair; the major distributions usually choose better themes. There are also minor distributions, however…


Minor distributions have a minor impact. And the few people who use them presumably do so because they like the weird choices the distributions make.


Meaning isn't binary and "system-search" could mean many different subtly different things depending on the application and the context. Often the choice of icon requires context that factors in the specific iconography.

For example, what happens when there's system searching element that needs to be in visual proximity to a magnification, zooming or loupe-inspection element? It's impossible to know if an icon theme is going to maintain consistency and/or disambiguity with the default theme.


> Meaning isn't binary and "system-search" could mean many different subtly different things depending on the application and the context.

Actually, "system-search" is always "The icon used for the “Search” item in the desktop's panel application.".[1] Admittedly that makes it a bad example because an application generally doesn't need this icon.

> For example, what happens when there's system searching element that needs to be in visual proximity to a magnification, zooming or loupe-inspection element?

Hopefully, the application uses the standard icons. The user might have difficulties distinguishing idiosyncratic, unfamiliar icons.

[1] https://standards.freedesktop.org/icon-naming-spec/icon-nami...


I had to write quite a lot of messages to icon theme devs to add icons I was missing in XFCE with their theme. They happily added them but from users point it seemed like they needed someone to tell them which ones were missing because they just didn't know. So having a more complete list would be nice.


Is the icon naming spec even still maintained? The most recent change log entry is for version 0.8 in 2006, but at the top it says 0.8.90.

Freedesktop.org is kinda bad at showing that it isn't a dead organization.


I had this issue back in 2013 so I have very little idea what's the current situation, didn't change my icon pack since then, however before I wrote the post I did check archive.org and it seems like last update was around 2011, so nothing's changed since then

The 0.8.90 is also wrong, since then there've been some changes - diff:

+ system-reboot The icon used for the “Reboot” item in the desktop's panel application.

+ user-available The icon used when a user on a chat network is available to initiate a conversation with.

- user-online The icon used when a user on a chat network is available to initiate a conversation with.


The gnome/gtk team introduces breaking changes to the styles and themes all the time. I think this is misplaced outrage.

One of the things I like most about gtk apps is the ability to theme them to achieve a uniform look across all my apps. I would rather use a slightly less functional gtk app than a qt/kde thing for this reason.

Users who care enough to mess with themes by necessity accept that sometimes things may need some tweaking. Most popular themes are on gh and have responsive maintainers who are invested in their themes looking good/uniform. The burden should be placed on the theme maintainers and the users who choose to use non-default configuration, rather than disabling themes on an ad-hoc basis.


I could see a very similar article written for "please stop letting users resize the window" or "please stop letting users change font size"


Yeah. This has a whiff of that "let me disable the back button!" whining from 1990s webdevs.


I honestly think we just need to have light and dark modes built in. If you want to modify the dark theme a bit, go ahead, but since the original dev knew the background should be dark and the foreground light, it should be OK. The problem is when people implicitly assume a light theme, but then use a dark one. If we could "tag" a theme as light or dark, a lot of this problem would go away.


I think you're onto something, but I don't think it's as simple as just having a "light theme" and a "dark theme".

I think that if we're going to have toolkits that support custom, nested widgets, those widgets need to be designed to support the context they are in. There will always arise situations where normally-light widgets need to appear on a dark background, or vice versa. The nested path bar example is exactly this - it's a widget that supports a single context (light background), but is having two contexts forced on it by leaky style cascades (light text, but also light background).

How about we bake the concept of "light" and "dark" into the widgets themselves and take advantage of the cascading nature to switch the theme of a widget depending on the context it is in.

Realistically though, GNOME 3 was rather short-sighted when it came to themes. Windows 95 showed us the way 24 years ago: you can change the colours of anything you want. You can tweak the size of most things. You can change the fonts. You can change the icons. Simple API that gets applied on top of an existing theme. Expand this for 2019 with dark and light variants for each theme, and I bet we'd satisfy almost all users.


Seems kind of like how Mac handles this.


Don't release your software under a free software license if you don't want redistributors to randomly add bugs. Just go work for Apple, or something.


Bullshit. I need dark theme and I don't care about "brands" nor "identity". Stop burning my eyes please.


I think a dark theme is the one thing Gnome supports aside from the default.


I agree that changing default icons is sometimes confusing. The user have hard times finding an app. Especially apps like Geany, Firefox and VLC get so weird icons in some themes that you can't visually confirm that this is the correct app.

I also agree that if you make an app screenshot/tutorial it is better to use the default theme unless you are targeting users for specific distro.

However I see some flaws in Adwaita (the default GTK theme) and a lot other themes regarding the titlebars:

1. They are too tall for no obvious reason.

2. the most irritating thing is that it is very hard to tell the active window. I mean it is a bit lighter but that's all.


Okay, this is maybe more reasonable than I expected. I believe distros shipping non-default stylesheets are the target here? They seem to explicitly acknowledge users can do whatever they want.

> If you like to tinker with your own system, that’s fine with us. However, if you change things like stylesheets and icons, you should be aware that you’re in unsupported territory. Any issues you encounter should be reported to the theme developer, not the app developer.

Which is a sentiment I can get behind. Telling distributors that they need to make it clear the styling might break things is not wholly unreasonable.


Color themes seem like a brilliant idea until hit the point where your custom control needs this one extra distinct highlight or background color to convey state. Then you're out of luck. You only have bad options left: opt out of system theming and enforce your own or hardcode a color (or put it into the settings dialog) and accept that it breaks with any non-default theme out there because no user will take time to look at the settings and fiddle with the colors. Either way, any usability benefit from good default themes (e.g. high contrast themes) is pretty much gone.


There are two solutions to this:

1) use offset colours, like specifying to move 10% in Hue off the theme colour.

2) specify all foreground + background colours and admit that this is special and won't conform to any user or distro theming


Number two is the enforced theme I was tslking about. Offset colors can be problematic for a number of reasons. The main one is that you don't know if the color that is generated that way has the right amount of contrast to each of the other colors it appears with and that the end result is something that is visually pleasing.


As an application developer I want for my users a consistent experience, irrelevant of OS or distribution. I understand that.

But, as a user I want for my experience consistent on my os, irrelevant of that different apps are written by different people on different setups. I want consistent icons, I want menus that follow same convention, I want to change text colours and sizes.

The biggest issue is that developers don't want to follow gnome checklist. Instead of that, they hardcode colours and behaviour. They go heavy into 'it works for me'. And then have audacity to complain that world doesn't bend to their will.

Here is a gnome checklist. I wish the open letter stated how their application follows the checklist and was broken by a distribution so that the checklist now includes fails.

https://developer.gnome.org/accessibility-devel-guide/stable...


The way I see it, there are two options here: either require themes to specify colors for many more semantic use cases or give up on themes.

Icon consistency is also just not possible. Any halfway decent application with a properly designed UI will have a set of prominently displayed custon icons for the main commands that make the software what it is. There is no way that these icons can be consistent with whatever random theme you chose to use today.


I have a strong feeling that if custom themes are breaking apps, then those apps are almost certainly in violation of one or more of tables 2-4, 2-5, or 2-6.


Maybe, maybe not. Some apps have no obligation to meet these checklists because they are for tasks that can only be performed by people with no significant visual impairment. I am not claiming that this a common case. But how would e.g. someone with poor eyesight use gimp successfully? Dumb line of business apps that have a simple UI made mostly out of standard widgets have fewer excuses.


As strange as it may seem, blind people can be quite good at resizing images.


There's nothing stopping a graphics toolkit from following the lead of Bootstrap and having N different "semantic tints" with names like "primary", "danger", "done", "busy", "paused", etc.; where the theme designer then gets to define, for their theme, what color "primary" or "danger" will be—but ensures that that color coherently means only that semantic idea throughout the theme. (So if they create a theme where "danger" is blue, then the window close caption-button should have a blue background, the delete-permanently icon should have blue as its primary, etc.)


That may be the right approach. But desktop toolkits don't do this.


Or you use the extra distinct highlight or background color the system theme specifies.


That is not enough. What if I need three clearly distinguishable background colors to convey different states for list entries?


Then you should fix your app so it can be used by color-blind users. Aside from that, you should use distinguishable background colors A, B and C specified by the system color theme. It's more likely that its designer has considered accessibility issues than that every single app developer has.


Have you looked at the set of colors that is actually defined by a theme? That is my point: I would use these colors gladly if they were there. They aren't.


If you're reliant on color to convey critical information, then your app is by default already much harder to use for colorblind users. Anyone who feels one needs these extra specific colors really ought to rethink the core design.


It’s weird how theming seems to have never been an issue for decades on KDE and KDE apps. It’s almost as though it’s a technology issue.


I have a lot of sympathy for the signers of this letter. As Havoc Pennington (team lead of the GNOME 2 project) liked to point out, every option you provide to users has a cost to the developers in terms of testing and maintenance. Maybe a better way for the letter signers to communicate their position would be to simply say "We don't support nonstandard GNOME themes". Certainly, they're within their rights to say this, and you're within your rights to not use their apps if you don't like it.

Another thing Havoc Pennington liked to talk about in developing GNOME 2 was 'crack'. These were things in GNOME 1 that were bad for the community, but that a lot of users were addicted to. Like, for instance, an overabundance of user settings.

By all accounts, it's hard to write a GUI app for the Linux desktop, in part because of the huge variety of distros and desktops, and apparently even themes within a single desktop. And as a user, my biggest complaint about desktop Linux is the relative paucity of high-quality applications. (Yes, I know there are many high-quality desktop Linux applications. But there aren't as many as on Windows or MacOS.) I can't help but wonder if most of the community wouldn't be better off if a single distro, hopefully with a single desktop and a single theme, decisively 'won' and claimed a dominant usage share of the Linux desktop. Then third-party developers would be incentivized to just develop for that distro, which might make the lives of both users and developers better in the long run.

And of course, since it's open source, if 'the one true distro' went off the rails eventually, someone else could fork it and become the new 'one true distro', with relatively little danger of vendor lock-in.


This blog post provides rebuttals to some of the points made in this comment thread:

https://blogs.gnome.org/tbernard/2018/10/15/restyling-apps-a...

That blog post was linked to from here:

https://github.com/do-not-theme/do-not-theme.github.io/issue...


Yikes.

I'll stop themeing apps and their icons once I don't see a single piece of software that has an UI and an icon look like as it were made in the 90s, also implement dark theme. Providing a more consistent UI for new users on a distro is also better idea than leaving it up for the developers.

The GNOME back button being wrongly themed is solved by switching GNOME to dark mode (`gnome-tweak-tool`) and a dark theme. The engine isn't the best but devs don't make it easy either.


It reminds me of how Reddit allows subs to put in their own stylesheets. Each sub can change the look, placement, and existence of just about every UI element. It makes for the most inconsistent interface I've ever seen for a website.


The redisign used for new.reddit.com doesn't give moderators as much control, much to the displeasure of many of us who have been on the platform for a long time.

Although I dislike it when people significantly change UI controls.


I always have custom CSS disabled for all subs. The designs are amusing, some are well done, and it's nice that people put effort into designs. However, as I was saying it makes for a terrible and confusing UI experience. Also some designs are intentionally jarring or annoying, and themes often omit elements.


I can't think of any CSS styles that are actually outright bad, though, unless it's intentional (like with /r/crappydesign or /r/ooer).


Just the inconsistency makes it very unusable.


I respectfully disagree for the large part. My own brain seems to have no issue coupling functionality to visual design. Yes it's probably less optimal for novice-to-expert transition than having colour variants, but conversely it also gives stronger immediate affordance as to what subreddit you're using..


It might depend on one's browsing habits. True, I believe the intention was to give subs their own identity, as if they were individual websites. However, I frequently click between subs. The fact is that it's a single website.

I have no question that every study of user interface ever published would indicate that buttons changing visual appearance, position, or availability with no predictability several times in a browsing session is a high friction interface.


This is insane.

The issue's primarily addressing distros and projects that ship their own GTK themes as default to users, like Ubuntu and Elementary and System76. My wife's desktop runs Ubuntu, and if something doesn't look right, she doesn't even know she's running something called GNOME - she just knows that the problem is with software (OS, desktop environment, kernel, video drivers, GTK style sheet, whatever).

Most people aren't going to blame GNOME for broken style sheets, they'll be blaming the creator of the style sheet, whether they know what GNOME and GTK is or not.


Electron app developers arise :). You don't have distro theming issues, do you? :D

And now seriously. If linux developers turn away from native ui libs (like KDE or GNOME), this might be one of the reasons. The other option is specifically ban disrespectful distros in the license terms.

I strongly believe in freedom (but not as GNU - absolute user freedom). Freedom IMO should be on both sides. If app developers doesn't want his/her app to be themed, then we should respect that. Our freedom is too look somewhere else to satisfy our need.


It sounds like GTK theming is broken.


Leave me my icons.

Meh about the in-app theming. Probably should not be bundled, but sadly most OSS ist lacking in the front-end and can really use some polish.


On the contrary, I think GNOME allows people too much freedom to theme and it opens the system up to really broken theming. One of the things I love about Serenity OS is that it has one simple theming engine so everything looks the way you'd expect between applications.


> On the contrary, I think GNOME allows people too much freedom

Freedom is kind of the point of free software.


The ability to run what you want and modify what you want is different from design freedom.


Indeed. Keeping people from modifying their software affects only developers, keeping people from choosing a theme affects every user.

The ability to use what software you want, however, isn't much different from the ability to use what theme you want.

And ultimately, freedom is not specifically about running the software you want, or about modifying software, but about doing what you want.


The ability to use whatever theme you want has created a situation where Linux UI is in complete disarray. If you want a different UI you should obviously have that option, but there isn't a major UI system that takes the opposite approach, instead developer effort is being wasted on a feature that's always broken all the time and restricted to handful of working themes anyway.


> there isn't a major UI system that takes the opposite approach

Good thing there is at least one then. Blindly cloning other "major UI systems", now that would be a waste of developer resources.


> GTK Stylesheets can make applications look broken, and even unusable.

Bugs are bad, yes.

> Icon Themes can change icon metaphors, leading to interfaces with icons that don’t express what the developer intended.

That is not a problem if you use icons for the purpose they are intended for.

> Changing an app’s icon denies the developer the possibility to control their brand.

Good. My computer is not your billboard. Consistency is more important than your "brand".

> Appstream Screenshots (the screenshots used in GNOME Software or Flathub) are not very useful if they look nothing like the real app does once you install it.

> User Help and Documentation are similarly useless if UI elements on your system are different from the ones described in the documentation.

Nonsense. Theming doesn't affect the layout of a program. If people were that bad at abstraction, then how do they recognize they can sit on a metal chair if they are familiar with wooden ones?

> They are built and tested for the upstream GNOME stylesheet, icons, and fonts, so that’s what they should look like on peoples’ systems.

No. They should look like the user chooses them to look. One way for the user to express their choice is to choose a distribution whose theme they like.

> Changing third-party apps without any QA is reckless, and would be unacceptable on any other platform.

∀x. x without any QA is reckless.


Your entire comment feels awfully dismissive and egocentric.

The author presents valid and sensible issues with the state of theming on the GNOME platform. And the overarching topic is essentially User Experience.

Even the slightest change in color can introduce friction between UI elements. Or to be more extreme, if a theme turns your entire app into a white blurry mess, you would get mad at the application, and not the theme. Although many of the same design principles are used in the making of either a chair or a graphical user interface, they are definitely not the same in any regard.

On the topic of icons: just like language, they evolve over time. On top of that, icons can have different meaning depending on your background. Icons can be combined to form a composite icon, and now imagine one of those icons is not displayed as you intended it to be. The entire meaning can change because the design intentions are lost.

On the topic of branding: it's not about your desktop being a billboard. It's about being able to recognize the brand across different operating systems, and it's also - more or less - the only thing about the product that is not designed for the purpose of user experience (but in a sense, they still are). And let's be honest: most apps we use in our day to day life have very tame brands and adhere to certain standards. That is because the apps we use are usually good, and we throw the bad, obnoxious ones away really quickly.

All in all, the author presents valid concerns, especially if you don't project them on how you prefer your UI, but rather, how potential Linux / GNOME users could have additional difficulties because of theming issues.


The only egocentrism I see is all in the pompous article requesting that users do not make perfectly reasonable choices on their own computers. Then attempts to justify on some absurdly contrived grounds. Neither reasonable nor sensible.

Imagine if Apple asked users not to apply stickers to their laptop as it denies Apple the possibility to control their brand, or could make the laptop look broken, even unusable - shock I may even apply a sticker that shows a broken circuit board or simulates cracked aluminium. Apple's view is that applying a sticker to the case or keyboard render Appley documentation useless as they don't look like the pictures we screenshotted in moments.

> Even the slightest change in color can introduce friction between UI elements

Yeah, and? They might be the difference between unusable discomfort and usable, or allow ageing eyes to cope with arrogant and restricted developer choices, or missing sense of aesthetic. You might not like the colour car I buy or the decorating scheme I choose for my house. Mind your own damn business.

> On the topic of branding

Yeah, about that. It's branding that has led computer and phone makers to give highly limited theming capability. Firefox or my desktop is no longer my own to adjust and fiddle to unusability (sic) or perfection - as I see fit. Like the paint I use inside my house, mind your own damn business. I might LIKE my phone, Windows box and Linux box to all look highly distinct from each other for my own personal reasons. Mind your own damn business.

It is not another surface on which to stimulate my neurons to be further programmed by the brand. Baa.

Edit: Specifically on icons, I have been changing icons since the days of Workbench 1.3 in about 1986 or 87. I won't stop now. I've chosen wildly different icons for some apps at times - because they worked better for me. Icons as space for a logo is an entirely negative fashion to my mind as I prefer a hint, however vague, of what that a rarely used app does.


It EXPLICITLY says that it does not talk about users changing things on their machines, but wants it to be something the user sets instead of a distro applying by default.


I may choose a distro that specifically looks a certain way - like the one that tries to look just like MacOS. That's a perfectly reasonable thing to want to do. Just as it's perfectly reasonable to regret consistency on a platform that doesn't have distros - as you may want to vary.

"However, if you change things like stylesheets and icons, you should be aware that you’re in unsupported territory."

Unsupported territory, for changing a desktop icon, or adding a higher or lower contrast stylesheet? Wow. That's pompous and absurd for me. Doesn't sound like it's explicitly made a reasonable exception though, just piles on a layer of entitlement for a damn brand.


If a distro is committed to modifying the style sheets to look like macOS, then it should be the distro’s responsibility to maintain the applications. Precisely because the distro market for Linux is so varied, it is hard for Gnome app developers to support all possible theme configurations.

Read the banner at the top of the page again. It doesn’t ask users to stop customizing, and it doesn’t say there shouldn’t be distros with custom theming. It just asks distros to stop shipping broken apps as a result of theming, and it asserts that if that’s the route you want to go, then you are on your own.


> it doesn’t say there shouldn’t be distros with custom theming.

Reading carefully between the lines, I think they actually do hint at that:

> Please don’t theme our apps

> This is why we ask respectfully that our applications not be themed.

> On a platform level, we believe GTK should stop forcing a single stylesheet on all apps by default.

> If you are a distribution who changes the system stylesheet and icons, please reconsider this decision.

> If you do, we ask that you please stop theming our apps.


Choosing a Linux distro with a specific theme rather than one using Adwaita or sticking with the pre-installed Windows is the user changing things on their machine.


I'm not sure they're saying that end-users shouldn't make those decisions, simply warning that customised versions of their software won't be supported by upstream to the same degree, and thus distributers should leave the styling as-is. On the first point, to quote the article:

"If you like to tinker with your own system, that’s fine with us. However, if you change things like stylesheets and icons, you should be aware that you’re in unsupported territory. Any issues you encounter should be reported to the theme developer, not the app developer."


I think that's the point they're trying to make - there is a certain amount of caveat emptor associated with theming. But they don't make it well when they say "don't them our apps".


They're not addressing this to end users. There is a notice at the top of the article in a bright yellow box.

> Please read the letter all the way to the end. This is aimed at distributions breaking apps by default, not tinkerers playing with their own setup.


> Please read the letter all the way to the end

I did thanks.

"If you like to tinker with your own system, that’s fine with us ... However, if you change things like stylesheets and icons, you should be aware that you’re in unsupported territory."

Unsupported territory for choosing a distro that looks unusual, or applies theming, or for changing my own damn desktop icon?


It's unreasonable to expect a developer to support third-party modifications to the software--especially when that software and support are free.


To my view of the world, the reasonable grain of truth in the article is "Don't break our apps when you theme them to match distro". A perfectly reasonable request, and stance that most could support without caveat.

Which is then thoroughly buried by a point of view that feels the app is the only arbiter, and tries to justify that on consistency of brand, icons not representing what the developer wishes etc, and that even individual user customisation is a big favour - an unsupported edge case.

What of the users?

It's reasonable to expect an app to both allow, and to work correctly with any theming built into the platform or distro. Bugs may be on either side. I concede it's mainly the major platforms that have done most to take away choices here, so you can no longer download new iconsets - to transform everything into ST:TNG or whatever. Where a distro seeks to theme everything it's the one app that won't, for brand experience, or developer wishes - that now sticks out like a sore thumb.

That is to be regretted, as much as platforms removing ability to build a custom night mode or extreme low contrast theme, or even add some slight 3d back to Windows. It's the end user who loses out to a worse experience or usability each and every time.


Good thing theming doesn't modify the software. It's reasonable to expect a developer to support software being used in an environment that does not 100% match what they use (to the extent it's reasonable to expect support in the first place).


> Good thing theming doesn't modify the software.

Changing the UI changes the software from the user perspective.


That's why they're users and not developers.


It's always a good sign that you're communicating clearly when you have to add a big yellow disclaimer at the top.


The article isn't complaining about users changing things; it's complaining about the desktop unilaterally applying a style on all apps without testing.


I see your point. But beware that if you make app developers go mad, they can stop using gnome and use some fw that doesn't allow theming (there is only certain level you can piss off the people :).


> Your entire comment feels awfully dismissive and egocentric.

Actually, it's dismissive of the app developers' egocentrism. In so far as theming breaks usability, they do have a point. Distributions shouldn't make potentially incompatible changes to the default theme without QA. But it's not all the fault of distributions and not respecting branding is not a UX problem.

Yes, I may be too harsh towards people voluntarily writing free software. Developers putting their branding and their "vision" before usability and user control is just a major pet peeve of mine. And diplomacy is not my strong point.

> Even the slightest change in color can introduce friction between UI elements. Or to be more extreme, if a theme turns your entire app into a white blurry mess, you would get mad at the application, and not the theme.

Actually I would blame the theme, but yeah, the average user would. Wrongly assigned blame is a broader issue with free software and the distribution system though.

> On the topic of icons: just like language, they evolve over time.

The XDG Icon Naming Specification does not actually specify the names of concrete icons, but of meanings. For example, there is no "looking-glass" icon, but there is a "system-search" icon. If you use the "system-search" icon to display a looking glass because that's the metaphor the icon theme you're testing with uses, your application may display the wrong icon with a different icon theme.

If an application needs an icon that is not standardized, it can include it similarly to its own application icon.

> It's about being able to recognize the brand across different operating systems

No, it's about the user recognizing the application. Which they can. The Firefox icon the open letter used as an example is very much the Firefox icon, just in a different style.

> it's also [...] not designed for the purpose of user experience (but in a sense, they still are)

Exactly. User experience >>> branding.


> And diplomacy is not my strong point.

As someone who struggles with this too: The world doesn't care that you own it and admit it; they only care if you fix it, or at least work around it for them.


Well said.

The Firefox/Thunderbird example is absolutely ridiculous - it's not up to these application developers to decide what icon or colour the user sees. It's up to them to provide defaults. As you say, it's clearly still Firefox - but even if it weren't, there are several good reasons I can think of that a distribution might want to change it.

What bugs me is the attitude that the solution is to reduce the usage of themes, as opposed to improve the theme engines and app dev toolkits. Why shouldn't the OS be able to impose a global stylesheet for colours, images used for semantic icons, sizes of common elements? If I, as a user, want to starting fiddling with my system theme, is it not likely that I might want all the apps on the system to play ball? Sounds pretty jarring to me to have one or two apps with their stubborn hardcoded "branding". (Oh wait, that's what we already have with Electron apps that don't respect the OS theme or conventions, and they suck!).

Oh, apps can't be restyled without manual work they say. "Until this perception changes..." they say. NO!

In an ideal world, applications could be built easily in such a way that allowed them to be themed without causing major UI bugs. The fact that this is such a large issue with GTK apps is surely further evidence that GTK has a bit of a problem - especially considering that other UI platforms are able to do a better job.

Perhaps - and I'm really pushing it here (/s) - solving the root causes of issues arising from custom themes relating to sizing and spacing might actually have other benefits as well. Like better support for UI scaling. Maybe the scope of themes needs to be reduced a little so it's easier for application developers to support?


It’s the same mindset that gave us obligatory Web Fonts. I control my computer not some developer or website builder.


Web Fonts are a bit different - it's still semantically just text, and you have the option to override with a user stylesheet.

For many websites, web fonts have been an improvement, especially considering the sorry state of "web-safe" fonts back in the day.


The color change-inducing-friction complaint seems like an issue with lack of built-in theme sanity checking. There exist numerous partial solutions for this already, I'll link to the four best ones I know, albeit I wish someone would combine their approaches into one unified super-product:

1. http://www.hsluv.org/examples/ These palettes will absolutely NEVER clash. But they might have contrast issues. Which brings us to:

2. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19800718 Lyft primarily designed ColorBox.io to always reach WCAG 2.0 contrast ratios. Something I'd claim a ton of UX themes mess up. Unfortunately from what I can tell, it lacks the anti-clash guarantees of #1

3. Much less related, but still important, albeit only for very specific parts of any UX:

The color map generation approach in Matplotlib: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAoljeRJ3lU (btw.: Seaborn, as mentioned in #1, builds on top of Matplotlib.)

For even more color madness, see this recent Hacker News comment by me as well as the other comments linked to there:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19983604


Thanks! Those are all super useful tools. I'm terrible at picking colors myself.


Adobe also has a very interesting color picker:

https://color.adobe.com/

But, unfortunately, it too only serves as a partial solution (since, as far as I know—someone please correct me if I got that wrong—it doesn't address any of the matters discussed above), PLUS it seems highly likely that Adobe has software patents on it.


> Even the slightest change in color can introduce friction between UI elements.

No two displays that I own produce the same colours. It depends on the hardware, the brightness, the daytime colour cycling I have, and so on.

I feel like if slight changes to colour can wreck your app then your app leans too heavily on colour reproduction.


> And the overarching topic is essentially User Experience.

Which is User experience and not Developer experience. As a developer I can agree with them but as a user I couldn't care less about their brand. Sorry if I sound rude. It's not as if they are paying me to keep their brand consistent among desktops.

I theme a little my desktop because I like the general idea of the GNOME desktop but I don't like many of their graphical choices. Colors, scrollbars, margins are all wrong IMHO.

I'm sorry that those developers are suffering and I know that somebody is thinking about reducing the ability to theme GNOME, but I'll keep doing it as long as I can and if I screw something (my emacs scrollbars) it's on me.


It's not so egocentric if you factor in the fashion aspect. Not everybody wears the same matching clothes.

Then more crucial aspects of ability - such as eyesight being a major one. Some people can't see some colours that well, some need larger fonts. Things like that in which theme's are the saviour and for many a developer - how they cater for disability usage.

Sure some theme's can break the UI, but to blame the user, which is the case here - now that's egocentric IMHO.

As for branding - how many users care about that?


The letter is about distributions not end users. It says end users are allowed to do as they wish. So that accessibility concern is covered.


It says distributions should not theme because it doesn't work. If theming doesn't work when a distribution does it, it doesn't work either when an end user does it for accessibility.


"Doesn't work" is far too broad a statement. An end user might choose a theme that works fine for the handful of particular applications they care about; yet that same theme might disrupt many other applications on the same distribution.

End users can make that choice with regard to the extremely limited set of applications and use-cases that matter to them. A distribution has a far wider landscape to consider.


> "Doesn't work" is far too broad a statement.

If you consider something that does not work reliably to work, you're right. I don't.

A distribution has to consider more applications and use cases, but it also has more resources. Doing things at the distribution level is much more efficient than each user doing their own thing, that's why they exist.


Expecting distro maintainers to test every GUI feature on every piece of software on Linux is a tad unrealistic don’t you think?

You’d expect (hope) core applications would be tested but what about stuff that’s not in the official repos? Or stuff that is but had a new feature unbeknown to the distro maintainers?

On HN last week there was a GUI bug in a core OSX utility being discussed that slipped through Apples testing. If they managed to overlook something in their own OS, then a smaller team of people, likely working for free in their spare time (remember a lot of the distros that ship non-standard themes as a default are spin offs) is unlikely to test every GUI form and dialog that can be rendered o. Linux.


Actually no that’s not what it said. Or at least not in the way that your terse paraphrased summary suggests.

What it actually does is list a number of reasons why distro themes are bad (in their opinion). Some of those reasons amarettos equally true for end users theming and some of those reasons are not. The letter also does say that end users are welcome to theme themselves but they should do so under the knowledge that there be (potential) dragons.

What it doesn’t say is that theming “doesn’t work”

Personally speaking, I’m on the fence about whether I agree that distro theming is bad. However I do think their points are perfectly valid and that a considerable number of HN commentators have taken the letter completely out of context.

Edit: and I’m also a little peeved that there is so much knee jerk down voting of comments on here. Particularly when those comments are quite literally correct. It’s a really pity you guys couldn’t be bothered to read the letter before abusing your right to moderate.


One of the reasons they cite for distro theming being bad is that it that it makes applications unusable. I think that can be validly summarized as "theming doesn't work".


“Can” is not the same as “does”.

Theming literally can break the UI in unexpected ways, however if often doesn’t. But if one manages the theme themselves then they are able to manage those edge cases themselves. If a distro does it then they can’t guarantee the end users are even aware that the unexpected UI is the fault of the distro.

That point was clearly laid out in the letter too. If people had bothered to read it.


> Your entire comment feels awfully dismissive

What's dismissive is this word "dismissive". Sometimes, a comment really is just a random low-effort personal swipe that don't engage with the substance of the subject. The GP did not write one of those comments. Instead, wrote a valid and substantive critique of the article, and you don't get to score rhetorical points by smearing that work with vague labels like "dismissive".


The author presents valid concerns, but the user is still higher priority.

The consistent theme across apps is more important than the developer's brand. Suggestions for a theme is useful, essentially ordering others how to use their app and theme should be outright dismissed.


> Your entire comment feels awfully dismissive and egocentric.

I've had this comment on my mind for about an hour now, and it strikes me as both correct and yet the behaviour you identify is inoffensive to me in this context.

In particular, I don't disagree with users behaving in an egocentric manner regarding their desktop environment, the software they choose, and the way their hardware operates. That's an intimate and personal space where many spend most of their waking hours; they ought to feel empowered to control and operate it as they wish.

And if that's the case, it may be warranted to have a dismissive attitude towards those who would undermine that power.


Did you read the original post? Its about distributions providing themes, not users who tweak their desktops.


I did.

Two things to consider:

- Distributions are users

- Users may choose a distribution that suits their desired aesthetic

Not everyone who wants a custom desktop aesthetic is technically adept enough to undertake the customization themselves, or perhaps they simply don't want to expend the effort. That's where distributions come in to assist.


I'm using System76's Pop_OS icon theme in Gnome Shell, and like the clean look of it. It changes the icons for a good number of popular applications too, which results in everything looking neat and coherent.

> Good. My computer is not your billboard.

Yes, seriously. If a user runs a free software desktop, chances are the ability to change things according to their wishes is part of why they use it.

> Changing third-party apps without any QA is reckless, and would be unacceptable on any other platform.

Which is why I use a platform that does grant me that freedom as a user.


And also why next year will eternally be the ‘year of Linux on the desktop’, until desktops don’t even exist anymore.


To misquote Willy Brandt: There is no point in reaching the year of the Linux desktop at the price of it not being the Linux desktop anymore.


To be clear, I’m responding to the affirmation that delivering app changes without any QA is acceptable.

I’m not against open software or user customization, but this approach does not result in quality software. Distros should be working with application developers and not against them. Here you have a large group of Linux app developers undersigning a plea to stop breaking their software and all they get is scorn and dismissal.

More Elementary, less winamp-skin-distros.


> Here you have a large group of Linux app developers undersigning a plea to stop breaking their software and all they get is scorn and dismissal.

Their letter is titled "Please don't theme our apps", not "Please don't break our apps".


If that's really the reason, then I and (likely) the majority of other Linux users are completely fine with that.


Did we read the same letter? This letter was aimed at distributions and theme developers not end users.

Hell there’s even a paragraph aim directly at end users.

> If you like to tinker with your own system, that’s fine with us.

You’ve completely dismissed all of their concerns out of hand, in an entirely unhelpful and hostile manner.

Why did you even bother writing a comment?


The parent correctly notes that theming is a valid feature of the platform, and asking essentially for ignoring the feature because of brand issues sounds ridiculous. It maybe 'unhelpful', but sometimes we just express our opinions here, not running consultancy services. It's called commentary section for a reason.


I don’t take issue with people expressing opinions, or even pointing out that theming is a platform feature.

But I do take issue with attacking developers who write applications for free, and contribute to the Linux ecosystem, for making a reasonable request to platform developers.


Just bc you wrote something doesn't give you the right to dictate how I use it on my personal machine.


Again, this letter is not aimed at end users. "If you like to tinker with your own system, that’s fine with us."


This would absolutely impact end users when they can no longer find custom themes through their distro of choice.

It is unreasonable to expect each end user to build their own custom themes, it makes far more sense for distros to do the work once.


That paragraph continues. The letter is absolutely also aimed at end users:

> If you like to tinker with your own system, that’s fine with us. However, if you change things like stylesheets and icons, you should be aware that you’re in unsupported territory. Any issues you encounter should be reported to the theme developer, not the app developer.

Just not with the same vehemence as its message directed at distros.


But I mean it's also technically correct. How could an application developer make any kind of guarantee in the face of arbitrary theming and tinkering by the end user?


Who ever asked a Foss developer to be responsible for gui/usability issues due to their theming?

This all seems like a huge issue made about nothing on consequence


Read that quote extract again—"If you like to tinker with your own system"—that is clearly saying to the distro developer to understand the distinction between your personal preferences and what you might distribute to others.

If the letter was aimed at end users, that qualifier would have been redundant. Therefore the letter is not aimed at end users.


It is not a reasonable request, though. End users want the ability to theme their system, and you cannot expect each end user to make their own themes. People rely on distributions for this to happen.

I understand that the devs do not want to be responsible for bugs stemming from broken themes, but this is the wrong solution. Ultimately the solution is a better theme API, not this which would essentially stop custom themes all together for most end users.

In other comments people argue that this isn't aimed at end users, but end users would of course also be impacted from this.


Theme API could be an improvement, but it isn't a perfect solution either - because the same complaints with the same arguments show up in relation to distros patching application code. It's a general problem of who changes the software. Some FLOSS developers seem to desire to have "producer/consumer" relationship with users of their software, seemingly forgetting that the entire point of FLOSS is to make this relationship model impossible to enforce.

I don't see a good technical solution here, but I see two social ones: a) developers of FLOSS must understand they're writing software that can and will be modified and re-released by others, sometimes individuals and sometimes organized groups (like people making Linux distributions); and b) users need to understand that if they have a problem with their software, they should reach out to people from whom they got that software for support. If you got a program from developer's home page, you should contact them directly. If you got it from your distro, then distro maintainers should be your first line of support.

(Also c), some users won't understand b), and forwarding support requests to appropriate people is just part of publishing FLOSS.)


It doesn't matter if the end users want the ability to theme their system—if the software they run is not designed to be themed, then it's not designed to be themed.


It doesn't matter if the software is designed to be themed. If I want it to be themed, I'll theme it anyway, and if I can't, it means the software and the platform it's running on is garbage, and I'll go find a different one.


Nobody is saying that you must not apply your favourite theme to whatever apps you like on your own computer. Not me, not the linked article.

If themes are so important to you, pick your app based on that criteria. If you think an app is garbage because it doesn’t theme well, fork it and write a better version yourself.


The main point of confusion in this whole thread is whether or not the article states you shouldn't apply themes on your own computer. To some, myself included, it kind of does. Linux distributions are not individual operating systems - they're essentially skins on top of Linux kernel, created bottom-up to offer opinionated choices to users. Picking a distribution is like modifying software on one's own computer, except without duplicating the same work other people would do. In this sense, the article does ask users to not customize software on their own machines.


> To some, myself included, it kind of does.

That is an unfair inference because the author of the post explicitly says otherwise. To the extent he is speaking to you, he is only saying "thar be dragons" and that he will not explicitly support your use of a theme—therefore you should file any theme-induced bugs with the theme author and not with him.


> But I do take issue with attacking developers who write applications for free, and contribute to the Linux ecosystem, for making a reasonable request to platform developers.

How is releasing software under a license and asking people not do things allowed by that license reasonable?


Asking someone (not) to do something without forcing them does not strike me as unreasonable per se.


Themeing is not a valid or supported feature. It's a hack that uses some facilities in GTK that were not intended for that purpose.


That was the case in the early days of GTK3, but I don't think it is anymore.

If GTK3 still does not support theming, that explains why theming causes issues. In which case it would be better to implement proper theming support because stopping distributions from theming clearly doesn't work.


A "proper" themeing API is a massive undertaking and would still have issues at scale


Really? Do you have a source for that? Theming GTK has been a not uncommon thing since as long as I've been using it (~15 years).


https://blogs.gnome.org/tbernard/2018/10/15/restyling-apps-a...

Oh yes, people have always done it, via one hack or another, and as long as it was more of a "for people who really want to fiddle" it wasn't that much of an issue.

But now expectations have risen, people expect more solid behaviour and look/feel from their apps, and distros routinely have quite different GTK themes.


Ah, I guess this is sort of a change between GTK 2 & 3.


Totally agree. Users have the power to do what they want at the end of the day. What's annoying is when you install an app and by default you don't recognise it's icon because of theming. Or the menu text is suddenly the same colour as the background, thereby making it unreadable and unusable.


> Why did you even bother writing a comment?

Good question. Why did I write things like the following if you don't read it anyway?

> One way for the user to express their choice is to choose a distribution whose theme they like.


But it's not fine with them; it's unsupported and they're openly hostile towards at least some users (distros) doing it.


And let's not forget that you need theming support so your OS can accommodate people with different vision requirements. So you can have a low-contrast theme, and a high-contrast theme, and a red-green colour-blind theme and so on. And let's not forget people who need a large text theme. Remember 15 years ago when we were so proud of GTK for being able to dynamically adjust for all these things (as opposed to Windows's half-assed support)? Remember when user experience was more important than designer vision? Remember when we all solved the problem of separating the data from the presentation? Remember when GUIs were written with a particular look in mind, but could adjust for various themes?

There does seem to be a weird user-hostile school of GUI design and I would really like to know where it comes from, so that we may try to mount a re-education effort.

Edit: And if you really need your app to not be themed, just force Adwaita on startup. This doesn't seem like it should need a complete upheaval in how we use GUIs.


> There does seem to be a weird user-hostile school of GUI design and I would really like to know where it comes from, so that we may try to mount a re-education effort.

The Web. It comes from the Web.

Web development has this bullshit school of UI/UX design that prioritizes branding, dark patterns, and treating users like toddlers, at the expense of making the software functional and usable. Since we all get industry news from the Web, the Web patterns are the most well-known, and they pollute desktop software development too (doubly so when desktop software is nowadays built as webpages bundled to a browser runtime).

It's not that the Web school of UX is completely wrong; the problem is that it mixes ergonomics with a whole range of tricks designed to make the software more popular and more sellable in spite of the utility reduction they cause, and then sells the whole bundle as "scientifically validated" and "data driven".


Yeah. People say one of the problems with free software is that its UX is designed by programmers rather than UX designers. Which makes sense, because UX designers should be able to design a good UX.

But not if they don't even try.


The article had pretty clear examples of where theming went wrong.

Themes are imposing a real cost on developers who let's be honest are doing the Linux platform a massive favour by even bothering to write apps for it. I hope the audience of that article are a little more sympathetic than yourself.


The article has one valid example of a bug. If it's a bug in the application, writing an open letter about it is not helpful. If it's a bug in the theme, the application developer is just not responsible for it.


If you clicked through to the blog post linked in the article, you'd see more examples. https://blogs.gnome.org/tbernard/2018/10/15/restyling-apps-a...

>If it's a bug in the theme, the application developer is just not responsible for it.

And how many times would they have to tell the end user who opened an issue on their app's tracker that?


> And how many times would they have to tell the end user who opened an issue on their app's tracker that?

I'm afraid there is no way around that issue with free software.


In this case the author is suggesting a way to avoid it, for distributions to not theme and introduce the bugs in the first place.


for distributions to not theme all third party applications by default, and for that to be a per-app user toggle.


> And how many times would they have to tell the end user who opened an issue on their app's tracker that?

There's a super clever life hack my wife used when working in e-commerce. She kept a text file with prepared replies to most common issues and questions, and used the OS's built-in copy-paste functionality to quickly responding to messages asking about the same thing. I hear this kind of functionality is even supported directly in desktop e-mail clients these days.


Have you actually written and supported an app before because that's not how it works.

The users always blame the app. And then when they can't get the app to work they stop using it.

Which means the developer just lost a potential customer.


I did, and you don't have these "customers" if distros don't ship your app. So you're most probably still net positive even if distros mod your app.

If you don't like people modifying your software, don't publish it under permissive license.


Unfortunately, this is ultimately the problem with free software. Either you publish with zero support, and users end up using your software badly (via poor blog posts telling them what to do) or they don't use it at all; or you end up paying for your contribution to the world with even more of your time, supporting people who either don't realise that they've introduced the faults themselves (either directly through their own errors, or indirectly through their choice of distribution or guide they've followed).

How do you solve the social problem of a large majority who feel entitled to everything for free?

My solution was to give up, publish free stuff anonymously with zero support, and charge for anything I actually care about. My charged-for software has multiple orders of magnitude more users than the free software, and effectively funds the free software that nobody actually uses.

I regularly think about not publishing the free stuff anymore, but I figure that even if a single person benefits from it, it's a net-positive, and so I keep going. It doesn't stop it being incredibly demoralising.


> Unfortunately, this is ultimately the problem with free software. Either you publish with zero support, and users end up using your software badly (via poor blog posts telling them what to do) or they don't use it at all;

You can have it on a website where users can talk to other users. And if you like, you can chime in. Say some code sharing platform. My experience is that people will help each other out usefully. You can even nudge them in this direction.

> How do you solve the social problem of a large majority who feel entitled to everything for free?

You don't. Why would you? You don't need to react to what you judge being an entitlement. You can misjudge though.

I've had reactions when contributing bug reports that I felt other person thought of me as being entitled, after I've spent considerable time identifying the root issue and suggesting a code change.

I've also thought of someone being entitled initially, when in the end the person ended up contributing useful service to other users of my program.


> The article had pretty clear examples of where theming went wrong.

“It's possible to do X wrong” is insufficient to support “You should not do X”.


Oof. When I read the headline I though it was a call for app developers to stop making a bunch of custom-themed BS when the built-in widgets and styles will do, saving themselves money and the users headaches. This is the opposite of that, and, you're right, is nonsense.


>Good. My computer is not your billboard. Consistency is more important than your "brand".

completely agree with this point.


> My computer is not your billboard.

It's also not the distro's billboard, but you seem happy for them to impose their branding upon your desktop, even if they break functionality.


Your assertion is incorrect. Even if it weren't, giving my distro permission to brand my desktop would not give anyone else the right to do the same.


If you develop for a system which permits theming, you have to include that use case in your design. You can’t complain about users making use of system features when you develop for that system.


Who are you to tell the app developer what they're require to support? It's open source. They don't owe you anything. They don't have to make their software work on Thursdays or work in Canada, let alone survive contact with a hundred weird and unpredictable themes.


As an end user I never had any of the mentioned users. On some rare occasions when the state of my distro was probably too unique, I had some problems, but that's why I use linux.


Don't theme, well then start to hire/team along with proper designers then (graphical/UI/UX).


Please make Linux apps less ugly. The visual design is always a decade behind mainstream OSes.


>App Icons are the identity of an app. Changing an app’s icon denies the developer the possibility to control their brand.

Yeah so, this is bullshit. Why would anyone have any say what my computer looks like.


Write the app in Electron. Problem solved. No more OS overriding your look.


I can see why the Electron-haters are downvoting you, but you're completely right. Don't build your apps in GTK if you don't want to have overridden GTK configurations affect your UI. I would really like Electron to add an on-by-default standard interface to override CSS rules for Electron apps, though.

(I don't have a horse in the Electron-is-great-or-crap race)


This is about free software. If a distribution insists on theming your Electron app, it can do so.


Sure. Even if I disagree with the letter, no one has asked for disallowing distros to do anything - it's more of a plea than a demand.


True. It even explicitly says that they don't want to use a technical solution like 781 proposed.


> I would really Electron to add an on-by-default standard interface to override CSS rules for Electron apps

That's a hard problem to solve, since there are many ways of styling Electron - Bootstrap/Bulma/Material Design/custom stuff. So it's hard to just override CSS rules.

On the other hand, it's the kind of problem perfectly suited for Machine Learning - just take the whole screenshot/image of the app and use a stylistic ML to change it - make it Dark Theme/whatever...

I suspect in 10 years OSes will support ML-based automatic themeing/customization of all apps, regardless of what they are written in.


The exact same argument could be made for web apps, but we still have userChrome.css and userContent.css which solves this neatly.


How many are actually using that? I don't know anybody.

https://www.ghacks.net/2019/05/24/firefox-69-userchrome-css-...


If we remove options just because few people use them, we might as well shut down the Gnome project along with everything else related to the Linux desktop.


If the signers of this open letter did not care about quality, they wouldn't have signed it.


I mean, you either want artistic control, or you want a consistent theme across apps. They want artistic control, thus would be better served by Electron.


[flagged]


> The kind of sameness you want in design is a different kind than in code.

Maybe me, as a user, don't want your sameness. Why are you arguing that users should use things differently if they're happy with their own way, even if it's suboptimal in your opinion?

It's completely fine to hide certain configuration flags in "dev mode" sections and put warnings that you don't provide support for anything but default configuration of them. If your users want to be on their own, you have no responsibility to solve all their problems as long as you are explicit with what you support and not.


> Trying to explain to hardcore techies the value of consistent design and workflow is fruitless in my experience.

Theming doesn't even affect workflows. Since not all applications use GTK, it's necessary if you want a halfway consistent design. Respecting applications' branding is just the opposite of consistency.


This guy probably would have gotten an actual discussion if he had worded his argument a little more friendly.




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