Monday, 2 August 2010

Ubuntu Needs a New Sound Theme

After the success of the wallpaper competition, and with the
Free Culture Showcase's growing momentum, we are turning our attention to Ubuntu's sound theme. Since we're moving towards visually a slicker desktop theme, we'd like the sounds to fit
in. As much as we love you The Old Ubuntu Startup Sound, it's time to say goodbye.

We want to reduce the number of sounds you'll hear on a default Ubuntu installation, with an emphasis on making sound a usability feature instead of an annoyance. So we're clipping out things like 'button-pressed' and 'service-logout', and working towards shorter and less intrusive, more refined audio set.

Here's the brief

We need some sounds. Here's the list.

Desktop Ready
Your computer's booted up and it's waiting for your password. You might be in another room making a cup of tea so this sound can be a little bolder than our general minute-to-minute sounds.

Desktop Login 
This is the 'Ubuntu Startup Sound'. Please.. keep it short :)

Instant Messaging

When somebody wants your attention, you need to hear about this or you might miss them. We want a 'new conversation' sound that serves this purpose. We don't want foghorns or big intrusive sounds but something that cuts through the hubbub would be of benefit in this context. We'd want this 'new conversation' sound to be played once and then replaced with a much softer tone for subsequent messages. [Note that we may not be able to use the 'new conversation' sound straight away, but we'd like to get there and having the right sound will help push this]


Getting an email is nice. It should have a nice little sound.


Let's try to be careful here. Sometimes a subtle audio nudge is all that's needed to let the user know they tried to do something they weren't supposed to. We're not punishing here, and we're not training dogs, but sometimes a little audio cue can help people get back on track.

The Feeling

We want a theme that is subtle, restrained and professional. We want Ubuntu to have an air of distinction and maturity, and the sound theme is a big part of that.

Some Rules

  • We need flawless production quality and audio that is effective across output devices of a broad range of fidelity, from laptop speakers to hi-fi systems. 
  • Audio should be submitted in the following format:  44.1KHz 16 bit Wav. No compression required.
  • Submission of audio should be provided via a link to an uploaded zip, tar.gz or rar archive containing clearly labelled files
  • Ubuntu Code Of Conduct applies, no silliness.

When's the deadline?

Be ready in time for the next Ubuntu Developer Summit. UDS-N starts 25th October 2010 so we'll set the deadline one week sooner to give us a chance to consolidate everything.

The deadline is therefore:

Monday 18th October 2010

Send your submission by adding a link to this wiki page or contacting anyone in the Canonical Design Team via email or Twitter or whatever you like.

We'll have a session or two there where we collaboratively evaluate the various offerings. From these sessions we'll prepare a shortlist and then live with each of these sound themes for the next few weeks before picking a winner.


  1. One other thing to note: a lot of sounds (like the "new message" sound) are used positionally, which means the sound seems to come from the direction of the widget on screen it relates to. That may influence someone's design :)

    For what sounds could use doing, there's the Sound Naming Spec. I really recommend taking a look at it to get an idea of what to implement.
    The Freedesktop sound theme is a good reference.

  2. Hi Dylan, thanks for the comment.

    I did have a look through these specifications but I felt that it would be counterproductive to put them in front of a recording artist. I have selected sounds in relation to key usability areas rather than inviting people to attempt to fill in every available slot (a strategy almost certain to result in users disabling sounds entirely).

  3. In Ubuntu's Sound Preferences, why not allow the user to choose what sounds they want to hear and which they don't? Windows has done this for quite some time ( and I believe OS X does also.

  4. ubuntu needs a new mouse theme too Don't forger it

  5. I created some sounds in the piano:
    this project will be implemented only in ubuntu or will be implemented in Kubuntu and Edubuntu well?

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Hi,

    I actually made this with the with 10.04 in mind (The new shiny color etc...)... had to put a pause to this because of the busy times and my broken keyboard.... I hope you can consider this as my submission for now :)

    I'm open to criticism, so please let me know of your opinions :)

  8. Hi there,

    I wondered how did the contest went ?

    As I droped some sound, I just wanted to know if the short list was established, I you were happi with proposals etc ...