February 21, 2019

.comment: Guys Named Stephan and Matthias - page 2

Two Years Ago....

  • July 12, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

KDE was founded as a project in October 1996; eleven months later, at a convention of people named Stephan and Matthias in Arnsberg, Germany, it was decided that it would become the official project of people bearing those first names. (Okay, I made part of that up. The convention was called KDE-ONE.)

The joke was that KDE was a desktop environment written by a bunch of guys named Stephan and Matthias, and it worked (as jokes usually do) because there was more than a spark of truth to it. KDE development was and is as heavily populated by gentlemen of those names as roller rinks are populated by Brooklyn hair monsters named Tiffany and Bambi and television shows about tornado chasing are populated by really bad electric guitar playing. And KDE was initially and still is to some extent a eurocentric thing, not that it is tilted toward European interests and uses but because that's where most of the programmers lived. (The fact that its mailing lists and communications in general are in English did much to promote it, of course, but also should be a bit of an embarrassment to those of us on the western side of the pond, where our English is bad enough, never mind our proficiency, if any, in other languages.) Today, there are hundreds of people working on the KDE core, and hundreds more working on KDE applications. Many of them are not in Europe and some are not named Matthias or Stephan. In fact, the majority of KDE is non-MS code.

Two years ago today, after a remarkably short development cycle considering all it did, KDE-1.0 was released to a reaction that registered at earthquake monitoring stations around the world. Here was a unified desktop for Linux and other Unices, one that was reasonably fast, thoroughly configurable without resort to a text editor, more than passing pretty, and easy to use.

I don't mean easy to use by Linux standards, either: I mean flat-out easy. You could poke around and figure out just about everything. As you got more familiar with KDE, deeper levels of configuration and customization were apparent. These guys, it seemed, had thought of pretty much everything.

Not that there weren't a few little gotchas, as there always are in the first release of a bold new project. But the first version was plenty stable. It was also very thoughtfully designed. The KPanel at the bottom of the screen and the taskbar at the top incorporated the best design elements from the existing Linux desktops. It was arranged so that a Windows 95 user would not be lost, but it wasn't a clone of that UI. It was instead a vast improvement on it.

In due course KDE-1.1, 1.1.1, and 1.1.2 got released. A lot of applications for KDE-1.x were released as well, from front ends for fax applications and database engines to the elegant and complicated KLyX document processor. Distributions, one after another, began shipping with KDE. It became a standard. And the phrase "steep learning curve" became a feeble excuse, an item of FUD for the frightened. Though KDE2 will be released before many months have passed, KDE-1.x is likely to stick around for quite awhile, because it works so well and because so many people have standardized upon it. Fact is, if KDE development had stopped with 1.x, its developers could have pointed with pride at a tremendous accomplishment. But they kept going.

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