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You may have heard that Canonical is formally dropping support of the KDE-based version of the Ubuntu desktop come October. This is kinda old news now, but it seems that at least some folks want to make a big deal of it. So I’m feeling the need to talk about it too.
Tracking the Story
The news came in the form of a February 6 post from Kubuntu developer Jonathan Riddell to the Kubuntu developers list:
Today I bring the disappointing news that Canonical will no longer be funding my work on Kubuntu after 12.04. Canonical wants to treat Kubuntu in the same way as the other community flavors such as Edubuntu, Lubuntu, and Xubuntu, and support the projects with infrastructure. This is a big challenge to Kubuntu of course and KDE as well.
A few days later, Riddell’s counterpart at openSUSE, Will Stephenson responded to the situation on the KDE Contributor’s Blog in a way that may seem a little cynical, but struck me as a completely valid response.
After a week had passed, TechRepublic’s open source pundit Jack Wallen said he read Riddell’s announcement “with a heavy heart.” The money quote here:
try to find a major Linux distribution that ships with KDE as the default desktop. You’re going to be hard pressed to do so.
He said the best way for KDE to survive this blow was to develop its own distribution, which he named KOS. In the poll accompanying the story, 51% of his readers agreed with that strategy.
Bruce Byfield at Datamation (a fine writer for a variety of Linux publications) may have overhyped Wallen’s article just a little, and turned it into part of a wave of “KDE Death Watch” commentary. The story does effectively dispute the idea of KDE disappearing, but does again raise the question of “Just what is a major KDE distribution.”
openSUSE: Can’t get no respect
Younger folks in the audience may not remember Rodney Dangerfield, the comic who built his entire career on the theme that he “got no respect at all” (Check out the films Caddyshack or Back to School to learn more about the Dangerfield persona). One of the most striking things about all these stories is how Kubuntu is (allegedly) the last major Linux distribution with a KDE desktop. Perhaps I’m biased, but when did openSUSE cease being a major distribution? While it has never been dominant in terms of mindshare or installations (admittedly both hard to quantify), the little green Geeko with the outstanding system administration tool just chugs along.
The SUSE distro has been famously associated with KDE throughout its life. Some historical notes:
- Novell bought the original German company that produced the distribution around the same time that they bought one of the main development teams for the GNOME desktop. When openSUSE planned to make GNOME the default desktop on installation, a massive uproar from the user base left the desktop choice to the person doing the installation.
- openSUSE was the first distribution to switch to KDE 4. That was certainly a bad idea or miscalculation, but certainly a commitment to the KDE desktop.
openSUSE is not going away, and will continue to be a “KDE-first” distribution for a long time to come. I’m looking forward to seeing how big our community is at the openSUSE Summit this fall.
Byfield certainly makes an excellent case for why KDE is not dead, and certainly won’t be on life support anytime soon. Even Wallen (who doesn’t really use KDE anymore) concedes that “KDE is one of the most polished, professional desktops available for the Linux operating system and deserves to be made available through some official channel.”
I disagree that KDE needs to put out its own distro to succeed long-term. The world probably does not need many more Linux distributions. Linux users should always have a choice of desktop environments and associated applications. I love that I can run apps designed for GNOME on my KDE desktop, and want to continue to do that.
KDE certainly needs to attract more developers, volunteer or otherwise. More users and platforms will follow. As I noted last week, the Spark tablet is a great way to build pathways to the future.
Things may not be entirely rosy for KDE today, but I can heartily raise both hands when Wallen says “Linux without KDE is simply not the Linux I’ve known and loved since the mid-90s.” May that continue to be true.