After getting pissed off at the latest idiocy from KDE 4.2 (more on that later) I decided t’hell with it, pop over to GNome and see if it is any better. Unfortunately, I was immediately
There is this notion that a white background is somehow preferred to any other color. I was struck with this, yet again, when I regained my sight and decided to look for a GNome theme which had darker tones. After suffering through a few pages of GTK 2.x themes I came to the conclusion that even those who made dark themes were locked into this box of having black text on a white background be the only way we would read or enter text. This comes from the misguided notion that black text on a white background somehow simulates paper.
Look, this idea has got to die. Here’s a simple experiment anyone reading this can perform that will adequately and unequivocally destroy the idea that monitors and paper are somehow the same. Wait until after dark. Grab a good book or even a bad one, open up a text document on your monitor and maximize it. Now, turn off all the lights in the room. You will be able to read the book because it is reflecting the light your monitor is projecting! Now try to read the monitor and you’ll find that all that light it is projecting, while great for letting you read your book, is horrible to stare into when the ambient light is so low. Dark backgrounds with light text do not suffer this problem. They work both in a well-lit room as well as a darkened room. The only thing it doesn’t let you do is use your monitor as a reading lamp!
These dark themes that leave the text fields alone are worse since they have their own innate contrast issues between the very dark controls and the blindingly bright text areas.
What really gets me, however, are companies and institutions which send out HTML email in which they set the background color to white but don’t specify the foreground color. So in Thunderbird where I have set the background dark and the foreground light I end up getting white text on a white background. EMails from NewEgg and the Libertarian Party have this problem. I can’t recall if WAMU (now Chase) has the problem but I think they do. It’s sloppy and pathetic.
The irony of all of this is that this problem was solved just over 15 years ago in IBM’s OS/2 v2.0! The Presentation Manager allowed you to set the foreground and background colors and all the applications used it. They included enough customization that making a sane dark-on-light color scheme was trivial and not wrought with frustrating examples of widgets showing a dark background and a dark foreground because the programmer polls for one but hard codes the other. You’d think I would be complaining about 15 year old software that couldn’t get this right. Instead this particular gripe belongs to Firefox v3.0.5 as of today.
If I had one wish to blow in 2009 it would be for copious amounts of money. If I had several I’d probably reserve one and use it to get all the UI developers of the world to perform one simple test on their GUI apps. Set everything dark-on-light and see if there’s anything which becomes unreadable because of presumptions of a light-on-dark UI paradigm. If there is… FIX IT!