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.comment: Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It's Off to War We Go

A New Skirmish in the Semi-Annual KDE-Gnome Dispute

August 23, 2000

Every six months or so, hostilities once again erupt between the KDE and Gnome communities. These battles are usually sparked when the king of the Gnomes, Miguel de Icaza, grants an interview and just can't seem to resist saying something gratuitously nasty about KDE.

A new battle has been joined. This time it isn't because of anything Miguel has said; he seems to be busy alienating opposing forces within the Gnome community itself through his new company, Helix Code, which plans to make money from Gnome. No, now the concern has to do with the formation of something called the Gnome Foundation, in which large companies who seldom agree on anything long enough to get a product to market are giving it another shot, this time with Gnome as the object of their affections.

It's only natural that there should be friction between KDE and Gnome, the competing Linux desktops. Gnome was, after all, created primarily because KDE, relying as it does on a semi-proprietary toolkit, was deemed politically incorrect by those devoted to the interpretation of right and wrong promulgated by the Free Software Foundation. (The argument is that because the QT toolkit used by KDE is proprietary, KDE is tainted. But QT has a foundation, too, and it has pledged to keep QT free for noncommercial use. And as a practical matter, withdrawal of free use of QT would make as much sense as Adobe withdrawing Acrobat Reader.) Gnome's stated purpose, its whole reason for existence, is to kill KDE. Nice, huh?

(Does anyone else see the irony of a project headed by a guy who's in it for the money, backed by companies who are in it for the money, getting the official Glorious October Revolution seal of approval, while a volunteer effort driven by sheer love of the project does not? Yes, there are people from distributions who work on KDE, but they have not set up little companies for themselves to capitalize on it.)

Despite last week's big news about the support that IBM, H-P, Sun, Compaq, and others plan to give to the Gnome Foundation, all is not well in the Gnomeland. A comparison of the two, Gnome and KDE, suggests that the big corporations have, as usual, backed the wrong horse.

Before we get too deeply into this, yes, I use KDE exclusively. And yes, I wrote a book about it, so it could be argued that I have a small financial interest in the success of KDE, which is true if KDE is limited to version 1.1.2 and earlier, which is what the book is about. There will be at least a few people who say that in that I use and write about KDE, of course I'll say it's better. They will have it backwards: it is because KDE is better that I use and write about it.