openSUSE and Identity

Ever since the conception of graphical environments for the computer, designers have had to make specific decisions about the way we interact with elements on a screen. However, to say that "designers" made all the decisions on how we interact with the computer is somewhat far fetched. 

There are many other factors that make up our computer interactions. In a sense, the word "designers" also involves people who are not directly related to the graphical world. Those could be - a sales manager who also decides what elements we see on the computer screen; a contracted hardware company that would like you to have a certain software on by default; and many others may also have a part in the user interface designing process. The computer GUI has a varied influence in its identity.

The multi-influence, or “multi-graphical input” for devicces’ GUI has come under particular focus in recent years. Mass adoption of mobile devices has spread the graphical competition to all new heights. It has become much harder for companies and their products to stand out on the current market, or to make a difference. Differentiation is the call for each of them. Making their devices different graphically has called for stronger branding, and each of the market players now steeres in different direction. The objective being - attracting new client and retaining the existing ones. The drive for graphical differentiation makes it clear that stringer branding will help them sing a different song.

This changes have also made it into many of our Linux environments. KDE, for example, decided to make a radical jump with KDE 4. While recently Gnome released their 3rd series other environments, prefer to keep the same idea of what a GUI should look like. 

Currently Linux, as a worldwide community, faces strong fragmentation. Not all of us use KDE, or Gnome, or a graphical interface at all. At the end of the day these communities are the ones creating new software, new widgets, and new graphics. Eventually these fragmentation or macro-collaboration environment is unable to achieve "collective individuality." This means that because of the different influences that happen in a Linux environment, collectively we cannot achieve a strong branding and differentiation. We cannot stand out because all of us want to stand out. Our software or contributions speak the language and mind of its creator, except in a Linux environment, anyone can be a creator.

These changes raise a question from our own group of contributors. Is openSUSE at the height of this weave of stylistic changes? This question is not about code or software integration, but exclusively about the end user experience. Reasoning carefully, the answer would be "partially." openSUSE has not taken full advantage of the branding capabilities provided by both KDE 4 and Gnome 3. This trend is more so surprising considering that openSUSE is the first to integrate and use many new Linux technologies through its unique OBS service, yet brand-wise we remain stagnant. Early adoption and fast integration in our distribution makes it harder to work on and maintain distribution specific styling.

In the recent years we have become quite passive in developing our own identity, other than using green as a base color openSUSE. Subtle color changes however do little with styling KDE or Gnome for the releases.

In earlier years this was a much stronger effort. Back then both KDE and Gnome had their own distribution specific themes within openSUSE. But recent changes in both environments have made it harder to keep up with distribution styling, and we have fallen behind. Even now openSUSE’s artwork team has not diminished in its efforts to work on styling, however the technical aspects of styling KDE and Gnome has become much harder to keep up with.

There are no simple way of creating interfaces for  KDE to create a window style without knowing C++, for example. We have to rely on the technical knowledge of developers with strong knowledge and understanding of C++and GTK/Qt core technologies. In gnome changes with GTK 3 have been taxing on developers since they now need to migrate their themes to work with the new widget styles present in GTK 3. For openSUSE, this all means that is has become harder to create our own styling therefore we adopt KDE and Gnome’s default styling.

Adopting the defaults provided by KDE and Gnome will eventually move openSUSE to a state of visual stagnation. Not because these integrated window environments will stop moving forward with GUI developments on their own, but simply because we will have traded our visual identity to their definition of a default. While the rest of the technology world moves ahead with change, openSUSE will remain unnoticed for its outdated visuals.

Styling matters more than what we give it credit for. Styling is the first impression any users gets as they install our distribution. Styling can be provocative and generate interest, contribution and a larger reach with users. openSUSE will collectively speak to a wider audience given its “new suit.” openSUSE’s identity will speak for the project as people download the ISO. The unknown new user that is willing to try Linux for the first time will be impressed with the power of openSUSE and the cleanness of its desktop, the boldness of our green geecko will secure another happy user and a possible contributor. Even our current users will see how their distribution of choice changes to fit their daily work routine.

Recent work on styling from openSUSE’s artwork team has yielded great results for the distribution. With the help of a few contributors to the artwork team, we have been able to include new wallpapers, splash screens, boot screens, marketing materials and a few other things to the distribution. However, this is no different than it has been for a few years. We style the same elements with every release. To have a bigger effect and support with the community, we launched image contests, updated wiki pages, pushed sources to git, created new scripts for the automated wallpaper sizing, and have integrated more contributors than in previous years. Our channel user base is looking to expand.

As a result of this push for work there has been great integration in the team. We have been able to identify each other's strengths and have used them smartly as we integrate artwork into the distribution. Good attitude, willingness and enthusiasm to participate has been our idea since we reorganized ourselves. A sense of belonging and an akin interest in making opensuse a sleek distribution graphically is our intention. Getting help and comments from our team is easier than ever.

Through our team's interaction, we have determined a desire to make our distribution a stronger player in the linux graphical environment. We must jump into the wagon where the trend is going. We cannot be passive about our identity anymore. This is not to say that we want to be graphically similar to others and borrow their styles, but rather our aim to have openSUSE be recognized beyond the color green and the geecko. We imagine a time where icons, window styles, colors, wallpapers, desktop organization, specific desktop widgets are all integrated with a strong presence in the Linux world.

If we stay the same we will remain there as well for prospective users. We need to make a strong impressions to those people who are deciding between Windows, Mac and Linux. Those who hear of the power that Linux has and through the power of each community. We have the resources, now we need to move the mountains in order to achieve these goals.

We would also be much more ahead in styling than most. Take for example Ubuntu. They have created a style of their own with their human and name coded releases. They have persisted and perfected their styling beyond even what most would think or like. We do not mean to have this type of interface for openSUSE but definitively make a stronger impression much like Ubuntu has. 

Additionally, we would provide a much less attacked interface by staying within the regular styling standards that the majority of users have on their desktop. We don’t mean to be radical with changes, but include our community in speaking about what they think should be allowed as a stylistic change in the distribution. We understand that the behind-the-doors changes are not particularly supported and also having the input of our community will add for great thinking and clever organization on the desktop. We could well be the most cooperative distribution when it comes to style.

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