Another Mac-styled update for Ubuntu – Window buttons to the left!

As we’ve know for quite a long time now, Ubuntu is aiming to look and behave as much like Mac as possible1 – we’ve already seen the Growl-like on screen notifications (which are rather cool) and here is the next major user interface change:

In Ubuntu 10.04 – due to be released on late April of this year – the window buttons (close, maximize,minimize) will be on the left side of the window! See here for the branding screenshots.

In the previous release, Ubuntu already changed the order of the minimize and maximize buttons so instead of the MS-Windows-like order (minimize, maximize, close) Ubuntu has been putting the maximize button first. A minor change but it looks now to be a preparation to this very major change – starting with the next version, all the buttons are moving to the left side, like in Macintosh:

And just to compare, here’s the MacOS X implementation:

Care to tell the difference?

OK, on the Mac, the button order is reversed then in the new Ubuntu: close, minimize, maximize. So I’m not really sure what’s going on.

Anyways, quite likely people who are used to Ubuntu, other Linux desktops and even MS-Windows are all going to hate this setup, and there is no configuration option to turn this off – this is the Ubuntu way, so so either suck it up or change your operating system.

Or you can start messing with GConf (GNOME’s configuration system which is very much like the MS-Windows registry). If you do want to upgrade to the latest Ubuntu and keep your window buttons where you are used to, you can install the GNOME configuration editor (“Configuration Editor” in Ubuntu’s Software Center, or “gconf-editor” in Synaptic), look under /apps/metacity/general for button_layout, read its help description and modify what you want.

Or if you want to just go back to the old behavior without messing with stuff, follow these easy steps:

  1. Invoke the run dialog by pressing ALT-F2
  2. In the command text, put this: gconftool -s /apps/metacity/general/button_layout -t string "menu:maximize,minimize,close"
  3. Click on “Run”

Your windows buttons should now immediately revert to the old setup. If you ever want to try the new setup again, use this command: gconftool -s /apps/metacity/general/button_layout -t string "maximize,minimize,close:".


Thomas Thurman – a GNOME developer working on Metacity – commented on the button layout issue in his blog and about Ori’s button_layout theming bug (see the comments below). Other discussions from around the web:

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  1. within 2 years Mark Shuttleworth said in 2008, so he’s clearly running out of time []

12 Responses to “Another Mac-styled update for Ubuntu – Window buttons to the left!”

  1. Arik:

    Who knows it might be the last straw that will make me switch to KDE after all. We’ll see it when it happens, i.e. in a month or so.

    — Arik

  2. Oded:

    I’ve been trying to use the new theme, and the one thing I find annoying is that the order of the buttons is reversed. I finally understand why the MacOS buttons are ordered that way – I mostly use the close button, and with the new Ubuntu theme I can never hit it on the first try – I get to the corner of the window then move it a bit to the right to hit the button, and its hard.

  3. Ori:

    Switching themes doesn’t revert the button order, as the button order is only a global setting. This is bad UI design.

    I filed a bug about changing this in Gnome:

  4. Oded:

    I think you are right, thanks for the bug report.

  5. Oded:

    After using the new layout for a while, I do find one thing very troubling – some windows do no have all the buttons available: many modal dialogs only feature the close button while a lot of other small windows (like the burn status for Brasero or the file operations status) do not allow maximize and have only two buttons.

    This causes two problems – one is that the static button images are designed so that all buttons are showing – if some buttons are missing or the order is not as specified then the graphics look broken. The other, and much more serious problem is that the location of the close button – which is the most used button of all the window controls – is not in the same position when there are such differences!

    I think the major benefit for having the window controls on the right, and the reason that Apple puts the close button first in their left-side button layout is that this is the most used button and as such (and having such destructive power when misused) it should be always easy to hit or to avoid. And this the Ubuntu devs got completely wrong.

  6. Oded:

    Update: Ubuntu 10.04 will ship with an updated button layout where the button order is exactly like MacOS – close,minimize,maximize. This solves most of the problems, except that it doesn’t work like MS-Windows and will feel weird for most people.

  7. Tom:

    I’ve tried this, but after switching to right side the “close” button disappeared. Fixed with gconf-editor. Values I used are; gconftool -s /apps/metacity/general/button_layout -t string “menu:maximize,minimize,close,spacer”
    Hope it helps.

  8. Oded:

    Thanks for the comment Tom.
    Interesting that you had to add a spacer after the close button. I didn’t have that experience – what resolution are you using?

  9. Oded:

    Interesting. I have a similar setup and I didn’t need the extra spacer. Have you tried to play with Ubuntu Tweak’s button layout utility?

  10. Tom:


    • Oded:

      It would be interesting to see if you can use Ubuntu Tweak (linked above) to set up your buttons without a spacer and see if it works well, and if so – what does Ubuntu Tweak sets the button_layout gconf entry to.

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