Skip to content

KDE Official Response to GNOME Foundation

Thursday, 31 August 2000

The recent announcements regarding the formation of a GNOME Foundation coupled with the Sun/Hewlett Packard decision to use GNOME as their standard desktop has resulted in a deluge of requests to the KDE Core Team asking what our "position" is. Well, this is it. We offer this position paper in the hope that we can put this behind us and get back to coding.

We should caution all readers that the responses are all in more detail than we really think is necessary. We would like to answer the question like this:

Q: "How much does creation of GNOME Foundation affect KDE development?"
A: "As much as the birth of the last baby polar bear at the Quebec City Zoo" (i.e., not at all)

But these days, that doesn't seem enough. So read on.

Why None of it Matters

We would like to start, though, by saying that none of this really has anything at all to do with KDE. The KDE Project has always been made up of and controlled by developers working to make KDE the best desktop and application development platform in existence. We program for the sheer joy and fun that comes out of putting out such an awesome product. This has nothing to do with market share, mind share, corporate attention, or any other outside influence. No matter what happens, we will always work on KDE and make sure that it is the best system we can possibly make it.

The fact is that KDE is currently very popular for both developers and users. Nearly all major BSD and Linux distributions ship KDE as their default desktop and all but one (hopefully soon to change) include KDE. More to the point, not only do distributions like us, but most strongly back KDE with paid developers, hardware, and bandwidth. A large survey done by Borland/Inprise showed that nearly half of all developers prefer to program with KDE and over half use it. A newer survey done by Evans Data Corp has KDE usage at over 70%. We win nearly all "users choice" awards whenever given out. The most recent was the "Show Favorites" award at the recent LinuxWorld Expo. "Third-party" developers are churning out hundreds of KDE applications ( lists nearly 600 of them)

All this popularity is due to the simple fact that KDE is very well done from both a developer and a user point of view. We have put all of our love of programming into this software and it shows.

We are especially excited because of the upcoming release of KDE 2.0. All of the popularity, all the awards, all of the usage of KDE has all been for the KDE 1.x series... and as anybody who has used or developed for the beta versions of KDE 2.0 can attest, KDE 2.0 will be better than all previous and existing desktops. If you liked what we've done in the past (and the stats above show that you do), you'll really like what we're doing now.

But we still get asked about the GNOME Foundation (and related topics) so we'll answer them anyway.

The Formation and Impact of the GNOME Foundation

The actual formation of the GNOME Foundation doesn't affect us at all. They are simply changing the way that their own project is governed and controlled. That is, the Foundation defines when GNOME will be released, what it will look like, what constitutes a GNOME standard, etc. It also will take care of GNOME public relations as well as accepting donations (as a non-profit organization). We have a similar mechanism for accepting donations (our KDE e.V. non-profit) and we already have a system for releases and standards. So again, what the GNOME Project does here doesn't affect us at all.

Now we have been asked "Will KDE ever create a KDE Foundation in the same sense as the GNOME Foundation?" The answer to this is no, absolutely not. KDE has always been and always will be controlled by the developers that work on it and are willing to do the code. We will resist any and all attempts to change this.

Looking at the issue from another standpoint, the KDE Project is possibly the only large Open Source project that has neither a "benevolent dictator" nor an elected governing board (or any voting at all). In a sense, we are the only large "pure" Bazaar-style project out there... and it works. We have no intention of changing an obviously winning formula.

Back to the GNOME Foundation. While the charter for the Foundation only specifies controlling GNOME standards, we realize that there is a temptation to think that they might also try to control and define the mythical "Linux Desktop Standard". The lack of an "Official Standard" is a hot-topic and when journalists see large corporations backing an existing project, claims of GNOME becoming the standard are never far behind.

This reasoning is flawed and here's why (in no particular order):

  1. As mentioned earlier, KDE has a very deep-rooted popularity for solid reasons. Any attempt to proclaim "we are THE standard" without our involvement is just silly.
  2. BSD/Linux users tend to resent "standards" being force-fed on them by either corporations or the media. We'll use what we want, thank you.
  3. True desktop standards can only be hacked out between the actual developers of the two projects working on a specific issue. Things like drag-n-drop, cut-n-paste, session management, window manager hints, and dotdesktop file format are all examples of this happening.

We are also hearing lately that maybe developers will gravitate towards GNOME instead of KDE now that they have large corporate backers. Note that we have yet to hear this from any developers themselves. This is also unlikely for several reasons (again, in no particular order):

  1. GNOME and KDE have very markedly different design philosophies and methods. Since nearly all developers in both projects are doing it for fun, they naturally go to whichever one fits their style of programming.
  2. With KDE, it is very easy to program large and complex applications with a minimum of code. Again, since most developers are in this for fun, they want to maximize their free-time during coding. KDE makes this possible.
  3. Open Source developers very rarely work on projects because of corporate backing and sometimes will not work on them due to it. The size of the wallets of a project's corporate backers mean nothing to somebody who is not getting paid and is working for the pure joy of programming.

Of course, companies that use GNOME or KDE to develop their applications aren't in it for the fun. In that case, we simply remind them that KDE is currently very very popular and has an extremely powerful infrastructure to develop on. If you need to put out a fully working product as fast as possible, then KDE is the right platform to work on -- it's as simple as that.

The Impact of the Sun/HP Announcement

The Sun/HP announcement that they will be adopting GNOME as their desktop standard and replacing CDE has caused quite a bit of buzz on it's own and is often linked with the GNOME Foundation announcement. In many ways, our responses or reaction to their announcement is identical to our reaction to the GNOME announcement. There are some differences, though.

First, the decision to use GNOME on Sun and HP desktops doesn't change much in itself. Sun may be well known for its servers, but it doesn't seem to be doing that great as a desktop. There are likely many many more BSD and GNU/Linux computers running KDE than there are new Solaris workstations running CDE. We don't anticipate that this will change very much in the future.

The second issue is the fact that Sun will be assigning developers (the figure "50 developers" seems to be in vogue) to work on GNOME. We honestly don't know how this will affect GNOME as we have no fortune tellers working with KDE. While it has never been shown that the simple task of adding more developers to a project will make it better AND Sun hasn't impressed us much with all the developers and money they've thrown at CDE, we realize that the past is no guarantee for the future. Perhaps the addition of extra paid developers really will rejuvenate the GNOME Project and they will catch up to us in both a technical and usability sense.

In any case, it still won't affect the KDE Project. We will still put out an excellent product that is among the best in the world.


In summary, the KDE Project has always existed and thrived regardless of competition by either other Open Source projects or profit-minded companies. We have done so by putting out a quality product that we love to work on and people love to use. This isn't going to change.

To our users, we promise to always ensure that KDE is as intuitive and easy to use as possible and that we will always be there for you to use. To Open Source developers, we promise that KDE will always have the most powerful development infrastructure out there while still being the easiest to program for. To companies, we can assure you that your KDE-based product will have a huge market and a reduced "idea-to-release" time. And to the media, as much as you may want to pronounce either KDE or GNOME the "Winner of the Desktop Wars", we're just going to have to disappoint you. KDE (and GNOME) are in for the long haul and we're not about to go away.