I think this is exactly right. Whether or not you think squircle app icons are a good idea, what we have now is pretty much the worst possible proportion — where most of them are squircles, but highly prominent ones are not. Because then users get distracted trying to work out what’s special about the non-squircle ones. And sooner or later, they conclude that there isn’t anything special about them, it’s just that the Ubuntu people apparently weren’t organized enough.
One of the first bugs I ever reported about Ubuntu, way back in 2005, was about the settings menu for choosing your preferred Web browser. The menu included an option “Debian Sensible Browser”. The problem was, there was no such browser. It was a generic launcher for shell scripts to invoke, a technical detail, not something that would make any sense to end users.
This Suru web browser icon would be a similar oddity. A generic launcher, showing up only because of a technical detail, in this case a hypothetical inability to change Firefox’s icon. It would help with the icon shape consistency, but it would introduce three new problems:
- “If it opens Firefox, why isn’t it called Firefox?” People would spend much more time launching it than customizing it. That it was customizable would not be a good reason for obscuring the current selection.
- “If it opens Firefox, why does it look like Safari?” We‘d need an icon that was guessable, but did not look like iOS 6 Safari, nor infringe on any trademark.
- “Hmm, I’m not sure about this whole Ubuntu thing.” Using a generic browser icon would mean a first-time Ubuntu user would be much less likely to see any app on the screen that they recognize. That would be a big loss.
Think about why you want the icons to be consistent. It’s a valid emotion, about elegance and harmony and things like that.
Now think about someone who adds an app, to the launcher, that has a non-Suru icon. They’ll feel that same feeling in reverse. There’s now one icon sticking out inelegantly and unharmoniously, and to top it off, it’s their fault, because they put it there! They’ll be tempted to remove it from the launcher again — or not to add it in the first place — even if they really really need to use the app a lot.
Other operating systems don’t put people in that kind of emotional dilemma. Either the OS enforces icon shape consistency for every app, or the shapes are free-form.
I could be wrong, but I think that even within Thunderbird users, few people would care that it was released by the same organization as Firefox — and care about it so strongly as to want a folder just for those two apps.
I like the idea of putting folders first. It looks neater, and would almost certainly be faster to use on average.
I don’t think we should have to start folder names with a funny character to achieve that, though. That seems like the sort of thing that should be changed upstream, or else implemented with an extension.