Sam's Blog

Linux Themes & Third-Party Icons

Posted on 26 Nov 2017

I’ve gotten this question several times since I started developing the Suru icon set: “why aren’t you including third-party application icons?”

I’m of the position that if you are a software vendor, you should not infringe on the brands of third-party software that may be installed on your platform for the simple reason that the developers of that software deserve to have their brands respected (regardless of whether or not it is open source).

You should not infringe on the brands of third-party software.

Once a platform vendor makes the decision to start shipping an icon theme that overrides the brands of tens or hundreds of applications that users may install on their platform it immediately infringes on the rights of all those application developers. For example, Mozilla invested in creating a brand and icon for Firefox and no Linux vendor should replace or modify it without Mozilla’s permission –same applies to the hundreds of other apps.

Shipping an icon theme that overrides the brands of applications infringes on the rights of application developers.

This would be like Apple or Google deciding they don’t like the icons of certain applications on their platforms and shipping in-built icons to override them ahead of time –problematic, no? While Linux distributions don’t have the same scale as Android or iOS the principle should be the same.

“What about choice?”

While an individual user is free to choose to install and use icon themes from the community –since I believe people (should) have the right to do what they want with their own personal setup– it shouldn’t be the position of a software vendor to make those choices beyond the scope of their platform.

That said, I do think a vendor is free to make available any number of themes or customization options to users as they see fit. But in the case of Linux distribution (and I’ve said this to a few distribution maintainers who’ve contacted me about using my icons), it behooves a maintainer to be at least aware of the responsibility they have not only to their users but to the Free Software developer community and not make sweeping choices that may be against the will of some developers.

Linux distributions should be aware of the responsibility they have not only to their users but to the Free Software developer community.

All this is to say if Ubuntu (or any other serious distribution vendor) is thinking about shipping a custom icon theme, it has a responsibility not just to users but to the developer community to not infringe on their rights.

So better safe than sorry.


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