Friday, 17 December 2010

Upstream vs. Downstream—Clash of Visual Identities

In the past eight years or so, Gnome Desktop enjoyed more or less small yet steady improvements that have brought it to where it is now—IMHO one of the best desktop environments. However, along with the side push from the over-hyped release of KDE4, there has been a growing number of people who wished for a major change, instead of steady improvement. Their efforts are to be realized in GNOME 3 which will most likely be in Fedora 15. Let alone, for now, the tiny problem that this messes up my workflow in a way that it is much less efficient albeit much more eye-candy-ish. That's not the point of today's post. Today I want to focus on the problem of visual identity.

It is understandable that with such a big release upstream seeks even more aggressively to promote it. Along with the visual identity. And thus there is a request for Fedora 15 to use Gnome 3 wallpaper for Gnome 3 desktop. And here comes the problem—upstream wants its visual identity, while downstream also wants its own visual identity.

For a linux distro the ideal case is that across all flavours, the visual identity is the same. The work-flow, style, etc. remain DE specific, but widget theme, window decorations, panels, wallpapers, icons, fonts are consistent through them all. Of course I doubt there is any community around a specific distro, except maybe Canonical when they put their money into it, that can achieve that.

On the other side of the spectrum is upstream ideal case where all distros look the same. However this is in direct clash with the above ideal.

So how to solve this for Fedora? In past releases we have proven that we are able to make part of that identity—wallpapers and everything connected with them. And do it once per release. Should we now yield and use upstream defaults for F15, for GNOME? Should we treat them special? Remember, KDE4 wasn't treated specially back then. Why should GNOME be now?

While I understand why would upstream developers want that, I still think they should focus on promoting something different than visual identity. Yeah, they ought to use a consistent theme for that promotion, something that is available on all distributions as at least a second choice, something that "smaller" distributions without well-established design team could use. Something that we could call the canonical visual identity. However, they should not push it onto distributions. I think that if we are able to create a visual identity, or part of it, for Fedora specifically, we should, irrespective what anniversary any of upstream projects have, create and use it. As it is the visual identity that leaves the first impression and you should be able to tell just by looking that you're running Fedora when using defaults. And that's the memo, now shoot me :-D

PS: And of course, as part of Fedora, we should be the first to actually achieve the ideal of having a cross-DE single visual identity created fully by a community and the ones to push any changes necessary to make it possible upstream (not like Canonical who just like to reinvent a wheel instead of improving the almost-wheel).

PPS: Yes, Fedora is all about upstream, but IMHO that makes sense in bug reporting/fixing, feature implementing, etc., not in default settings.