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The danger of the "flame" game

May 28, 1999, 20:53 (34 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Gowin)

Special editorial contributed by John Gowin of Linux Orbit.

Once again, I've learned a lesson. Opinions are a dicey thing at best in the world we live in, but when it comes to desktops for Linux, if you have an opinion, you'd better wear a cup. It's a tough neighborhood.

I can now list three things not to start conversations with strangers:

  1. Religion
  2. Politics
  3. Linux Desktops
The first two because they both invoke emotional and sometimes irrational responses. The latter because some might look at you like you've grown a second head (the non-geeks) and others might become too emotional and irrational (the geeks*).

Loyalties run strong and deep in the Linux world, and they run strongest and deepest in the desktop development community. Without trying to offend any developers of some of the less widely used desktop managers, I would like to look at the two most widely used desktops for Linux; GNOME and KDE.

The rivalry

In Webster's unabridged (not the OED, but good enough) rival is defined as:

One who is in pursuit of the same object as another; one striving to reach or obtain something which another is attempting to obtain, and which one only can possess it's; a competitor; as, rivals in love; rivals for a crown.

Ask either development camp who is their major rival, and they will point at the other. Each is striving for dominance on the Linux desktop. Regardless of their motivation, my question is: WHY?

Linux, from its inception has been and always will be, motivated by choice. The choice of having an alternative to the growing monopoly that Microsoft represented. The choice of open source versus proprietary software. The choice of a new gen.., oops, sorry.

GNOME and KDE both represent solid technologies with strong developer communities. And yet, in the last few months, despite their roots, they seem to be playing the same games that the opposition plays. The term used the most often is FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. And if they don't cut it out, the Linux desktop may lose credibility.

The deal

And now to address the title of this article. The term "flame" has become infamous within the Internet community. If you are an idiot you deserve to be flamed. If you are wrong you deserve to be flamed. And if you voice an unpopular opinion you might not deserve it, but you're going to get flamed.

"Flaming" is the art of lambasting those that to the knowledgeable seem to be complete imbeciles, in public (messageboards, usenet) or in private (e-mail). Regardless of what you call it, it is usually hostile. If not hostile, it is at the very least confrontational and intolerant.

Intolerance in my humble opinion is often synonymous with ignorance, and the Linux community deserves better.

Opinions are by definition, not truths. If you believe that KDE is better than GNOME, that is your opinion. If you believe that GNOME is better than KDE, that is your opinion. Neither of these opinions "make it so". And frankly, both camps should back away from making any such opinions common knowledge.

"Why?" you might ask.

It is in the best interest of both development communities to continue on their paths without press releases from individuals representing them saying that one is not as good as the other. It belittles the efforts of both in the eyes of the press. And it points to an opinion of the opposition (Microsoft) that the Linux community is becoming too fractional and won't continue on its track of cooperative development.

The point is, cut it out and make nice KDE and GNOME. The future of the Linux desktop depends on it.

This article is an example of an unpopular opinion. However, you are free to flame me. Before you purge your bile to me in an e-mail, take a deep breath, and think about it. Regardless, I'd love to hear what you have to say.

John Gowin
Linux Orbit
Editor in Chief

*geek is a label to be worn with pride.