Kubuntu and the “Sinking Ship” of KDE: Really?

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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.

KDE’s Future

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.

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16 thoughts on “Kubuntu and the “Sinking Ship” of KDE: Really?

  1. Thank you for pointing this out. The “Kubuntu/KDE is dead” chorus is incredibly annoying, since neither Kubuntu or KDE is close to death. Also, many distros — OpenSUSE (as you point out) or Feodra — offer KDE (Fedora offers it as a “spin,” but many are opting for it instead of GNOME 3). So where, exactly, is the failing here?

    • @Larry, While it’s always better to have folks paid to work on free software projects (who wouldn’t want to be paid to do what they love?), free software projects live and die on the strength of the passion behind it. If people don’t have the passion to create, it won’t happen.

      @David I wonder too. This should be a big topic at the openSUSE Community Summit in September, at least I hope.

      @xapient I think you’re absolutely right!

      • metaverse —

        But if they do have the initiative to keep it going, it will. I’m not seeing a lack of passion within the Kubuntu community. All I’m seeing is Canonical closing up the purse strings — that in and of itself doesn’t represent the downfall of the distro. Not ideal, of course, but not its doom either.

  2. OpenSUSE is most definitely still a major distro. I honestly wonder constantly why it doesn’t have the same amount of traction, if not more, than other distributions.

  3. isn’t openSuSE a community distribution? so kubuntu is now as bad as opensuse.. and how bad is this? not bad at all… in fact i think kubuntu is somehow set free now.

  4. I think KDE has an opening given the current Unity/Gnome3 fiasco. I jumped ship from KDE when KDE 4 came out in Kubuntu, but since Unity, I’ve been looking for alternatives. I installed kubuntu-desktop on my Ubuntu laptop and in all honesty, I’m very thoroughly impressed with how far KDE has come from the bad old days of 4.0.

    Most of the “wish list” items users have in Gnome and Unity are there in KDE. In Unity, they declutter your system tray by hiding icons, but to re-enable icons, you have to dig deep; KDE gives you the best of both worlds. In Gnome and Unity, you can’t configure your panels how you want them; in KDE, you can. In Gnome and Unity, Nautilus just keeps losing features — features that can be found in Dolphin.

    What KDE is missing right now is a highly polished distribution. Before Unity, what Ubuntu did was simply polish and improve Gnome+Ubuntu. Kubuntu was always a bastard stepchild of Canonical, and what KDE should do now is partner with a polish-obsessed distro and go after papercuts. There’s an opening here. People want a traditional desktop that’s configurable, and KDE is it.

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  6. I think the problem with SUSE (or opensuse now) is that whole Novell/Microsoft thing.
    Some of the fudmeisters will never trust suse.
    suse has been very strong in Europe (no surprise!)
    With the whole GNOME3/Unity fiasco going on, maybe more people will discover the KDE goodness that opensuse provides (no disrespect to Kubuntu!).
    I have used suse since the 5.x days (while dabbling in other distro’s) and it has always been rock solid for me.
    The sad thing is that admins on the opensuse support site often give ‘who cares’ replies to people with problems. Not exactly a good image, eh?

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  9. KDE, still vastly superior to the best working version of Gnome, is far from dead. The only people who say it is dead are those linux users with desktops circa 1995.

    • Ari, thanks for the comment. I’m not sure Linux had a GUI desktop in 1995 (as it happens, KDE 1.0 was released July 12, 1998 — Happy Birthday!), but I know what you mean. 😎

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