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Editor's Note: The Four L's

Oct 20, 2006, 22:30 (18 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

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By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

I am, for the most part, an only child. So it used to puzzle me greatly when my two daughters would fight over the most trivial of issues. At one point years ago, I swear they were arguing about air and who was breathing more.

I have come to learn to expect such behavior, even though I may not understand it. Such are my feelings regarding the current rash of KDE/GNOME bashing going on in various blogs and forums. It seems that you can't post an article about either desktop, however benign, without some yokel using the opportunity to flame the other environment.

Let's face facts: unless one desktop or another comes up with some radical innovation that blows away its competitor, there are no clear advantages for the end-user to choosing KDE over GNOME. Any statement to the contrary is either coming from a troll or someone who is trying to limit choice based on his personal preferences.

On the development side, I will admit that the distinction may be less clear. Libraries, languages, look and feel, and licensing--these are the four L's that make choosing one environment over another rather difficult for a developer. This is not just the direct environment developers, either--the dilemma applies to anyone who has to choose which environment to which they want to code his application. I don't pretend to understand the complexities of it all, as I am no coder. But as time goes on, and these arguments still keep cropping up, I am beginning to wonder if the real reason there is so much competition between these two environments is not just general hostility.

I am beginning to believe the real reason is fear.

Fear of commitment on the part of the applications developers: If I code my app for GNOME, will all of those KDE user not use my application?

Fear of obscurity on the part of the environment developers: If KDE "wins" the desktop wars, what happens to all of my work as a GNOME developer?

Simplistic arguments, I admit, but fundamentally I think this fear is at the core of every single argument held against GNOME or KDE that goes beyond personal choice.

There's some blame to toss out to the commercial vendors, too. Novell has invested heavily in GNOME--through its acquisition of Ximian--and Trolltech and Linspire have a pretty solid stake invested in KDE, just to name a few of the players. Here, the fear is more base: money, and the potential loss thereof.

I could try to play the peacemaker here and offer solutions to the situation. But that's been tried before, by people better than I. And frankly, as an observer of the community, I am starting not to care. This argument marginalizes all of the good works done by both camps. If the flamefest continually pops up, then it simply proves the point of any FUDslinger who maintains that working with the Linux crowd is a painful experience. You can try to deny it, but it's true.

And eventually that perception is going to bite the Linux community on the ass.

Sun, for example, is taking full advantage of all of this contentiousness, promoting their own OpenSolaris with a community that listens to customers' needs, because all of the requests are relayed by a single messenger: Sun.

Be aware: this is not the advocacy of "single desktop" or any similar nonsense. I do not want choice to be eliminated. But there is a growing sense of polarization in the Linux community, and it needs to stop.

There are developers on both sides of the desktop fracas, who genuinely try to understand where the other side is coming from and have been willing to reach out and work with their opposites. It is their example that should be followed. Otherwise, there is a good chance the desktop environments will argue themselves to death.