Branding Ubuntu

It started with a bug report that had been around since Ubuntu got started: Gnometris had a big Gnome foot logo on it, and most of our users didn’t know what that was.  The suggestion was simple: replace it with a stylized Ubuntu logo, patch it in, and go on our merry way.  A community member even volunteered a fantastic piece of art to go in its place.  Simple, right?

Except, unfortunately, it wasn’t.  You see, some people at Ubuntu are worried about derivatives: those Ubuntu-based distributions that use our code but aren’t actually Ubuntu.  By putting a branded image in that derivatives have to remove, we make extra work for them.

So nothing happened.  For years.  We still had that ugly foot logo that had nothing to do with the game you were playing, and it was one of the first things users saw.  But it wasn’t just Gnometris – it was solitaire too.  Millions of hours of user time have been spent playing solitaire and staring at the ugly feet on the card backs.  People would boot the Ubuntu LiveCD and feel like our games came straight out of 1995.

This bothered me.  It was ugly, but even worse we were throwing away useful contributions.  How much other useful stuff might we be throwing out, or even worse not making in the first place?

Enter UDS

The Ubuntu Developer Summit is a fantastic place for brainstorming ideas.  You’re constantly surrounded by smart, passionate people.  People who want to work with you on any and all things Ubuntu, from the moment you walk out of your hotel room for breakfast to the late hour you finally trudge off to sleep.

I think the branding-ubuntu package was my idea.  I can never be sure, since I owe so much to the creative environment around me.  I shouldn’t offend anyone by taking credit though; as you’ll see, my original design was stupid.

The overall idea seemed solid: put Ubuntu-branded replacement artwork, generated by the community, into a single branding-ubuntu package.  Installing it would change the artwork, removing it would leave everything as before.

The original design required each branded application to have a small patch causing it to look for the branded artwork first (and prefer it.)  This required modifying every program that we wanted to brand.  All I had to do was dump a bunch of artwork in some folder, and then hope other people would change their applications to take advantage of it.  Trivial for me, work for them – perhaps it wasn’t so stupid after all.

Community Leadership

Other than my three year old Gnometris background, I didn’t have any actual artwork to put into the package.  We weren’t even installing Gnometris by default anymore.  I made the package anyway.  Even though it didn’t do anything, I decided to advertise and fish for community help.  If I built it, perhaps they would come.

I wrote a few emails to our developer lists, rubbed a few shoulders on IRC, and reminded some of the people who mentioned it was a great idea at UDS.  Importantly, I took charge, making it clear that all an artist had to do was make something nice and I’d handle including it personally.

Within a manner of days I had new, branded artwork for every game we ship.  Now I had a whole lot of artwork, courtesy of MadsRH.  The screenshots from a manual install were incredible – that blue foot was gone for good.  All it took was a little initiative.

Unfortunately, those patches to use the branding hadn’t yet been written, and the upstream makers of Solitaire didn’t really want to do it.  In retrospect this is completely understandable – it was their branding we were replacing, and it wasn’t clear to them why we weren’t just patching things on our end.  Why should they care about our derivative worries?

The Real Solution

The real solution, of course, meant more work for me – but work that would actually get done.  The branding package now renames existing artwork files and replaces them with symbolic links to its own (using some fancy shell scripts and the very obscure dpkg-diversions command).  In short, it works elegantly.

So, now I’ve got yet another package under my stewardship.  I started off just maintaining Wine five years ago, but now, in true open source fashion, I’ve been applying myself throughout the entire distro.  Sometimes people refer to this as “scratching your own itches”, but in truth I don’t really play solitaire or use Wine that much.  They’re not my itches – they’re the itches of millions of users.  Those are real people, and that alone is reason enough for me to make things even just a tiny bit better.


Evan BroderJune 30th, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Have you ever seen config-package-dev? It’s a package we developed at MIT for the Debathena Project ( that’s designed to make generating these sorts of dpkg-diversions easy. We’re currently using it on almost 50 different configuration packages.

There’s a fair amount of documentation at [], and the Debathena team has pretty extensive experience building packages using config-package-dev. I’m still at work for a few more hours, but once I get off, I’d be more than happy to help you convert branding-ubuntu to using config-package-dev. I really think it’ll make maintaining the branding-ubuntu package easier going forward.

Dylan McCallJune 30th, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Wow, those cards look awesome. I was afraid it could get kind of redundant (with all the repetition of that same logo!), but you’ve done it pretty tastefully.
I can’t say I’m a fan of still using a logo for the gnometris background, though. It looks a bit distracting.

MarkJune 30th, 2009 at 6:51 pm

How about removing the Ubuntu logo everywhere instead and getting upstream to remove the branded background.


Andreas NilssonJune 30th, 2009 at 11:09 pm

Mark: very much agree (as a upstream artist). Using the foot graphics there feels like over-the-top branding.
Can you file some bugs about it? (and put me in cc, my bugzilla id is “nisses dot mail at home dot se”).
I’ll get in touch with Mads and ask for unbranded version of the card graphics.

FlimmJuly 1st, 2009 at 12:56 am

Go MadsRH!

Sense HofstedeJuly 1st, 2009 at 5:37 am

Great work! The new artwork looks a lot better! Any change branding-ubuntu will become a dependency of ubuntu-desktop?

One small thing: the set of cards is still called Gnomangelo Bitmap, maybe it would be better to add the new cards as a separate cardset and make it the default style.

Vadim PeretokinJuly 1st, 2009 at 6:30 am

Go branding. Linux isn’t doing enough of it and the results are visible – barely anyone knows about it.

Don’t listen to the selfish people with zero interest in helping themselves.

YokoZarJuly 1st, 2009 at 11:06 am

Sense Hofstede: If I had to rename the card set and then patch the default one chosen that would be the same problems as before – unfriendly to derivatives and requires a patch to each branded app.

ShinigamiSeptember 6th, 2009 at 10:37 am

You think that it’s so important to place picture of Ubuntu logo in every game and spend time in compiling games with them? More important then fix bugs which full in Ubuntu?
As I build a my own distro based on ubuntu I go crazy fixing Ubuntu bugs and became to think about migration to Debian, now you want to make a little more headache to all ubuntu based distros?
And so Ubuntu became like openSUSE which place it’s logo everywhere?
And if we take Ubuntu logo everythere+Ubuntu bugs we will have Microsoft. Hurray!
I think it’s not good idea.
Fix bugs and develop. It’s much better marketing to develop quality product and it’s better show to people that linux rulez, then addind logo to all applications of distro. It’s just will be like reminder that all bugs in distro will be associated with ubuntu logo. As in mind of much people penguins associated with Linux and Linux associated with bugs and not working software.

[...] The new card backs pictured above are my doing and are now default (Mads Rosendahl drew [...]

vijeshJune 6th, 2011 at 1:42 am

good work. this art make it more userfriendly….

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