Insufficient visual differentiation between focused and non-focused windows

Bug #534799 reported by Paul Sladen on 2010-03-09
This bug affects 24 people
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone
Ayatana Design
Otto Greenslade
gtk+3.0 (Ubuntu)
light-themes (Ubuntu)

Bug Description

light-themes, Ubuntu 10.04
light-themes, Ubuntu 11.04

The active (focused) window and all other windows are displayed with
- nearly the same theme
- nearly the same window borders
- nearly the same drop shadows.

This means that with several palettes, document windows, or non-overlapping terminals, it is not possible to tell which window the menu bar applies to, or which will respond to the keyboard.

Ideally it should be possible to tell which window is focused, from those windows which are not focused.

- Ubuntu 10.04 <>
- Ubuntu 11.04 <>
- Ubuntu Pangolin <>
- Windows XP <>
- Windows 7 <>
- Mac OS X 10.5 <>

tags: added: kernel-series-unknown
tags: removed: kernel-series-unknown
Per Ångström (autark) on 2010-03-12
summary: - Lacks differentiation between focused, and unfocused windows
+ Insufficient visual differentiation between focused and non-focused
+ windows
Chris Johnston (cjohnston) wrote :

Could you please provide a screenshot showing the problem.

Changed in light-themes (Ubuntu):
status: New → Incomplete
importance: Undecided → Low
Per Ångström (autark) wrote :

Attaching a screen shot showing that active and non-active windows have the same caption background color.

Changed in light-themes (Ubuntu):
status: Incomplete → New
Erv Bendiks (erv-bendiks) wrote :

I'm seeing this on my x100E Thinkpad with 64 bit Ubuntu. I'm forever typing my password into application windows rather than the password prompt.. two bugs.. password window doesn't make it to the top and there is no color differentiation for the active window.

Usually I interpret this behaviour of password windows not making it to the foreground as an indicator of high risk of the presence of a trojan or other malware in a non-displayed foreground window.. if there is such a thing. There are other risks associated.. such as risk of commands entered and executed in the wrong window.. that could be fatal.

I'll take some screenshots later this week if time permits. I would support increasing the priority of resolving this 'bug' of not being able to see which window is active. I'm using the (..) "red wine background with black frame/header and the window controls on the top left side" interface.

Jean-Peer Lorenz (peer.loz) wrote :

The very small window borders make this even worse. It's very hard to distinguish a dialog window and windows in background. See attached screenshot.

Matthew Paul Thomas (mpt) wrote :

This is more important now that we're using a global menu bar. It needs to be crystal clear which window the menu applies to. Just changing the window border is not enough.

Changed in light-themes (Ubuntu):
importance: Low → Medium
status: New → Confirmed
Changed in ayatana-design:
assignee: nobody → Otto Greenslade (otto-chaotic)
description: updated
Paul Sladen (sladen) on 2011-01-13
tags: added: mpt-top-10

In 10.10 I used Compiz's ADD Helper plugin (called “Dim Inactive” in natty) to dim inactive windows to 85% brightness. (I'm on natty now, where the plugin doesn't work, so no screenshot.)

Might this approach be useful by default? (…once the plugin works in natty.)

kikl (kilian-klaiber) wrote :

@Matthew Paul Thomas thanks for taking care of my original bug report by transferring it here. I do agree that my bug is linked to the broader issue that it should be clear, which application is active. This is very important since otherwise you just can't tell, to which application the global menu is corresponds. That's a source of confusion.

The dimming approach suggested by Greg may work well. In this case user testing could provide valuable information.

Thank you ubuntu for all the great work!

description: updated
Adolfo Jayme (fitojb) wrote :

This should be fixed now (at least in Gtk3 applications) with the introduction of different theming for unfocused applications in Gtk and light-themes.

Changed in light-themes (Ubuntu):
status: Confirmed → Fix Released
Changed in ayatana-design:
status: New → Fix Released
Matthew Paul Thomas (mpt) wrote :

I discussed this with Andrea Cimitan a few weeks ago. He showed me that the reason this isn't properly fixed yet -- title bars and toolbars are still almost identical for focused and unfocused windows -- is that while GTK can now change appearance when focus changes, it is currently quite slow at doing that. So a window's title bar changes color when it gains/loses focus, and then the toolbar changes to match a fraction of a second later, which looks uncoordinated.

So the next step to fix this problem is to make GTK faster at changing its focused/unfocused appearance. Then the theme can increase the difference between those appearances.

Changed in ayatana-design:
status: Fix Released → New
Matthew Paul Thomas (mpt) wrote :
description: updated
description: updated
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