Some window border themes, such as Radiance Chrome or any theme attempting to recreate the look of OS X, have the window buttons carefully designed as separate images which can’t be re-ordered without breaking the design.
At present, the order of buttons is under the control of the user, not the theme. If a theme artist creates such a theme, they must tell the users separately to set the button_layout key in GConf to whatever is needed. This problem is particularly acute because Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx uses such a theme by default, and accordingly sets button_layout to an unusual value; see Launchpad bug 532633 for much more discussion of this matter. Users of Lucid who switch to other themes will still find the buttons arranged as before, which may confuse them.
GNOME bug 613522 suggests solving the problem by allowing themes to specify an override for button_layout. This may be a workable idea. However, according to policy, once a version of the theme format is released, it’s set in stone. So we can’t add new information to v2 themes: we can only move up to v3.
One possible workaround, however, is to allow a GKeyFile in the theme directory which specifies only the new value for button_layout:
button_layout = menu:minimize,maximize,close
That would allow newer versions of Metacity to honour the layout request while allowing older versions only to honour what’s written in the theme file. Gentle reader, what are your thoughts on such a scheme?
Launchpad bug 542772 is another attempt to deal with this problem, by adding an option to the window menu to choose the layout. However, this is unlikely to be implemented: the window menu is already cluttered, and besides the button layout is a matter for gnome-control-center to decide.
Photo © kygp, cc-by-nc-nd.