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Editor's Note: KDE to be Part of Debian GNU/Linux

KDE to End Up in Woody

  • September 7, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

In many ways, the Debian GNU/Linux distribution, which recently reached version 2.2, is the active and daily embodiment of the Free Software Foundation's beliefs about what constitutes an OS composed of Free Software. Though independent of the FSF, the Debian team has maintained a rigor where issues of licensing and software freedom are concerned that has been unparalleled.

This rigor revealed a strain between the letter of the GPL and developer practice where inclusion of the K Desktop Environment was involved. Though Trolltech's QPL license was widely accepted as a free software license that would circumvent the issues with earlier Qt releases, it was understood by the Debian team (and others) to be incompatible with the GPL itself. As a result, KDE 2, which had been expected to turn up in Potato, didn't make it into Debian once again.

With Monday's news that Trolltech had decided to release Qt 2.2 under the GPL, the foundation for Debian's exclusion of the popular KDE was removed.

Following the bulletin boards and talkbacks immediately after the Qt/GPL story broke, it wasn't uncommon to find some commentators wondering aloud if Debian would finally end its resistance to KDE's inclusion; and it was almost as common to read that this could never be the case:

According to some, who simply can't seem to let a good fight go, or, more practically, wait for word from the person they're standing over with a tar brush, the Debian project would likely figure out some other way to exclude KDE from their distribution because their original objection was somehow specious. According to some, the point of the exercise hadn't been licensing compatibility, but exclusionary bullying designed to boost GNOME at KDE's expense.

Horsefeathers.

A minute or two at the Debian Web site to round up some addresses and a brief wait for some answers showed that anyone who wants to claim the Debian project is engaging in a vendetta of some sort probably ought to just back away from the keyboard, or find a new place to troll.

We took a few moments to write both Wichert Akkerman, current project leader for Debian, and Ivan Moore II, who heads up the (until now) unofficial effort to package KDE for Debian. We kept the e-mails short, expecting it would take the project a few days to absorb the information and make a policy decision. Both, however, answered quickly: Akkerman within an hour, Moore by the next day (he'd been out of town for the long weekend.)

"We will to wait until the Qt 2.2 release and [until] someone makes packages of a KDE2 snapshot that is based on that before we can include it," wrote Akkerman. "Considering how many people have been asking for KDE packages in Debian I expect that we will have packages within 2 weeks of the Qt/UNIX 2.2 release."

"All that is needed is for Troll to release the GPL'd QT 2.2 version and me to build/upload it. Then build KDE against that package," agreed Moore.

Moore, a Debian developer who has worked on other parts of the project, has been the self-described "pseudo-maintainer" of KDE under Debian for nearly two years. Through his efforts, Debian users who have wanted KDE packages have simply had to add a line to /etc/apt/sources.list and apt-get a complete KDE distribution. Moore hasn't stopped at simply packaging the environment, either. He's taken care to make sure that optional elements like the K Desktop Manager (kdm), and a bandwidth-hungry collection of wallpapers have been provided in independent packages, allowing Debian users to fine-tune their KDE installation.

Debian's release practices being what they are, the KDE packages will end up in Woody, the unstable working release of Debian, where they'll be tested and hammered on for issues with the rest of the distribution. In the mean time, Moore will be releasing a set of GPL-compatible packages for use with the current, stable Potato release. The existing archive Moore maintains is already split between KDE 1.1.2 and KDE 2, giving users a choice between the cutting edge or the solid and proven. Users who don't want the GPL incompatibilities of earlier Qt releases will want to limit their downloads to KDE 2.

In other words, for an organization that can take over a year to make a single point release, the Debian community has responded with alacrity and grace, according the KDE project a place in their distribution and actively working with the software KDE provides to make it work well.

If there was ever any doubt that the project's objections to KDE's initital conclusion were based on anything other than principled concern, we hope this removes them.

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