April 23, 2014
 
 
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From the Desktop: It's a Users' World

Who Cares?

  • August 25, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt

It stands to reason that a column devoted to the Linux desktop is going to have to say something about this current Gnome/KDE brouhaha. That, and the fact that the column's writer can't resist a good verbal scrap every once in a while.

But my entry into this fray may actually surprise some people: who cares? Seriously, in all this technical bickering back and forth and comparing who's got the largest corporate sponsors, has anyone just sat down and figured out that the average user is just going to use what's put in front of him or her?

From a user interface point of view, the differences between KDE and Gnome are negligible. You read that right. Negligible. Both environments use the same windows/dialog box/menu GUI that's been a staple in user interfaces since the Xerox PARC days of lore. Sure, there are some differences. Gnome calls icons "launchers"--KDE calls them "nicknames." Big deal. How do I apply a theme in Gnome? In the Control Center. How do I apply a theme in KDE? Hmmm...the Control Center? Bingo!

If I seem a tad bitter about all of this, your perceptions are correct. This kind of in-fighting is exactly what trips up the Linux community every time. Specifically, it seems to be the developers, who all seem to rise up like a nest of fire ants getting poked with a stick every time someone says "boo" about what language/protocol/environment/whatever they are working in. It's as predictable as cows putting their butts into the wind.

I say that all of these arguments about Gnome trying to take over the environment and KDE getting the shaft all of the time is a bunch of nonsense, because we all seem to be forgetting one important thing: it's the users who are going to decide which, if any, desktop environment prevails.

I can say this with reasonable assuredness because I happen to know something that's pretty obvious about users: if you stick an easy-to-use environment in front of them, then that's what they'll learn, and that's what they'll use. They simply will not want to learn anything else, because they will want to get something accomplished with their PC, not monkey around with the interface until the end of time.

It will not matter which environment is "better," either--though you could make an argument that the environment with the most apps might have an edge. If a newcomer to the Linux community buys or downloads a distribution that installs KDE by default, then they will likely stick with KDE for a long time. If the distribution throws Gnome up on the screen, then they will be Gnome fans. Other than playing around with a desktop theme or two, the average user is completely disinterested in what environment they are in, so long as they can surf the Web, type their reports, and play some games. They just want it to work.

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