Announcing the Tango Project: Making Open-Source Software Beautiful

Example Tango Icon

Today at the Gnome Summit in Boston in the MIT Stata Centre, Jakub Steiner of Novell and I announced the Tango Project. We’ve been working on it for a few months now, just getting the basics figured out before we started bragging.

The Tango Project is a collaborative effort of a variety of free/open-source software designers and artists to work towards unifying the visual style of the free (mostly Linux) desktop.

To start, we have:

  1. Base Icon Library – Most of the work here has been done by Jakub Steiner. It’s a beautiful icon set that aims to be relatively at-home on Windows, Mac OS X, and define a strong base style for the Linux desktop.
  2. Style Guide – A work in progress, the Tango style guide works to create a color scheme and other key visual guidelines for creating Tango-style icons.
  3. Standard Icon Naming SpecificationRodney Dawes has done much of the work to get a common icon naming specification to make it possible to create an icon theme that can work on a variety of different platforms (Gnome, KDE, etc.). There are utilities to map the new Tango icons to the existing icon names on current Gnome and KDE systems.

It’s been fun to participate on the Tango project. I hope others join us and help make the free desktop (more) beautiful.


62 thoughts on “Announcing the Tango Project: Making Open-Source Software Beautiful

  1. Dude!
    This. project. rocks.

    I am totally gonna start porting the default Gnome icons over to the tango standard. I’ll also start packaging a Rox-filer theme as more icons become avalable and suggest that Rox update it’s Gnome 1x era icon set with these.

  2. After many years on Mac OS X and the occasional foray into Windows XP (shudder) it’s been a bit painful using Ubuntu full-time, simply due to the inconsistent, sometimes ugly, user experience. Let’s hope your involvement in this project will bring a more fluid, attractive and human-friendly face to desktop Linux.

  3. Interesting project and beautiful icons. How are these icons licensed? I can’t seem to find any licensing information on the web site.

  4. “I understand that some people just have copious amounts of time on their hands… but, is this really necessary?”

    Is this really coming from someone linking to a GameBoy website…?

  5. Sounds like a good idea. I hope that power users can still remove all the frills so they may have a productive, yet consistent, environment.

    Is the server up yet?

  6. Outstanding! While I love the choice of WMs (how many cut their teeth on E back in the day?), some style consistency would be great. Plus, jimmac on icon duty? Schweet! Looking back just 10 years ago (heck, five even…) and the progress on the Linux desktop is just awesome.


  7. It’s a smart idea. I’m waiting to take a look as soon as the server becomes accessible. Is there a mirror by any chance?

  8. I’ll be taking a back seat with my current role as the Ubuntu community art team coordinator due to some surgery, but I’ll be keeping a keen eye on this project as I’m recovering. Sounds like a great idea!

  9. Thought I should mention that Tango is a brand name in the UK (soft drink).
    Hope it goes well for you, good luck.

  10. So linux will finally get standard icons? once again they have beaten Haliburton-Microsoft! I think this could put the final nail in the coffin of XAML!

  11. i think the efforts to improve the visual quality of the linux desktop is really essential. but i wonder why the term “beautiful” is the mail goal of these projects. i am german. perhaps i misunderstand the term. but does “beautiful” in coherence with “user interface” express things like “eyecandy” and “perfunctory”. if yes then it would be simply a marketing driven effort to compete with windows xp and vista eyecandy-desktops and would not improve the visual quality and the user interface.

    what do you think? did i get the term wrong?

  12. is more concerned with standards for the software operating well with other software – libraries, system services and whatnot. Tango looks to me to focus more on how human users perceive and interact with software rather than how software works with software – the icon themes, UI styles and I hope HCI guidelines to follow.

  13. Steven,
    I agree on the fact we should have some guidelines on design in opensource. Due to the fact that a lot of the developers working on opensource projects are DEVELOPERS and not designers results in the fact some projects are absolutely fabulous on the coding part but are a pain in the ass as we talk about graphical design. I have to admit I am one of the people causing this design chaos.

    It would be wise in my opinion to have some default tools and libraries that can be used by developers to make there applications more usable by regular customers. I have been working on a couple of non-opensource projects within several companies and have been involved tightly with the design guys and you will always have some developers that feel they are limited by the designs so you have to be careful you will not limited developers on the coding part by requesting them to apply to very strong visual guidelines.

    Due to the nature of opensource you will not be able to force them to comply them but you can encourage them to apply. This can only be done when you can show them the advantage of complying to it.

    In my opinion it should be good when you also be able to offer a design style guide with details explanation on how developers can make there applications more graphical advanced and complaint to the “rules”. This will have a advantage for the developers that there application will be more widely and quicker accepted by users.

    I do not know which direction you want to turn to but if you in need of any help please drop me a line and I will check in which way I can contribute to this project.

    Johan Louwers.

  14. Thank god. I intend to use your icons to freshen up my simple machines bbs. One unintended side-effect of this could be that your guidelines, styles and icons will penetrate beyond linux and the desktop, which is nice, I think.

  15. Would be sooooooo cool if the website was even up !
    Site Temporarily Unavailable
    We apologize for the inconvenience. Please contact the webmaster/ tech support immediately to have them rectify this.

    error id: “bad_httpd_conf”

    oh yeah… you need sys admins to help the designers ?

  16. Outstanding. Some zealots may disagree, but the look and feel is important in any product. The more clean and polished something appears, the more its openly its accepted and enjoyed. Linux has suffered on the desktop not due to functionality, but for the “experience.” Making the desktop look, feel, and respond in the “proper” manner will make life much better for everyone! Kudos to all involved in the project.

  17. Wow. Took a while for something like this to show up…

    The un-unification of linux is propably one of my biggest things about it. I use the gtk-to-qt engine (Im on KDE) but it has bugs and is not perfect…

    Its nice when new standards are made so everything is compatible.

    w00t Tango!

  18. Jawsome.

    It’s about time people payed more attention to the visual style of Open Source programs. One of my biggest problems with many of these is that often they just are not aesthetically designed. Programmatically, they work great, and obviously these guys know what they are doing code-wise. However, creative/aesthetic design seems to be a disease most developers try to stay away from. It’s not that hard to design a decent UI…

    I think every developer should have someone with visual creativity/a sense of style look over the UI and make some sugestions before they put it out. It’s all well and good to design well-written, working programs. But for christ’s sake, it’s 2005, take advantage of the technology out there!

  19. Gotta say I agree with Mike, in today’s environment it’s not a difficult to task to create smooth, professional but still functional interfaces. A project like this is just what developers who lack the design skill need, fantastic idea!

  20. Bad idea. Instead of contributing code and ideas to OS X, where the “useable Unix desktop” problem has already been solved with perfection, you are instead wasting yet more effort on the black hole of useability known as Linux. Instead of wasting time on the obsolete and decrepid Linux OS, why not instead contribute to OS X and help rid the world of Microsoft once and for all?

  21. your site seems to be down. if you are having hosting problems places like (shameless plug because I work there) would certainly like to help.

    ibiblio hosts groklaw, the linux documentation project, project gutenberg, etc and they handle the Slashdotting pretty well.

  22. Can you PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE fix the friggin copy/paste system??

    The open desktop project seems a little behind on this…

  23. eek! yellow sunburts, blue arrows, green arrows, orange devices. like a bowl of lucky charms. the icons are well done, no doubt. a little to “crystal” for me personally. but the color scheme seems totally random. and and how does coloring the harddrive convey that it’s “removable”???

  24. I applaude the concept, but the style still feels outdated and ugly. The colors are inconistent visually, and should not be mixing earth colors with bright blues. Please get rid of the browns and aquas.

  25. I agree with the previous two comments. It seems to lack consistency in theme and also doesn’t look significantly ‘better’ than what I’ve already seen out there. If these issues are addressed then it is worth doing though.

  26. Please, not forget embedded Linux. For example: several SmartPhones, Zaurus, embedded controller LinCon8000.

  27. The web team has recently created a forum for the Tango project. If you are a graphic artist, interested in usability, or a end user we invite you all to collaborate with us. You will find this a great place to contibute your thoughts and ideas for consideration by the Tango team and others. We are excited about this project and will be contributing our time and energy to help it and other open source projects seeking artwork. If you have a project and you would like to request artwork for it feel free to start a collaboration. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.

  28. Steven, this is a wonderful move, I’ve long wanted the right set of people to do this and I think you’re part of that group. This is going to do a lot to help improve the software experience for everyone.

  29. I really hate to point this out, but the politically correct Debian and it’s close cousin Ubuntu won’t use these icons.
    Why? Because you’ve used the Creative Commons Share-Alike license. Check this out:

    You guys might want to reconsider your license. :-/

    Disclamer: I didn’t find this myself. Someone on slashdot pointed it out.

  30. Somebody please post a mirror of the icon library downloads (the .gz) until the site is back. I’m probably not the only one who needs them ASAP.

  31. Hey I looked at this page a few months ago and I really enjoyed it! Now its gone!! ๐Ÿ™
    Please some admin or member of the project post about whats wrong with the page. Is it only down, has changed URL or is it quitted?

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