KDE vs. GNOME: Call it a 'Friendly Competition'

PALO ALTO, CA—Anyone watching the action in the Linux space knows that rival factions have developed two feature-rich and rapidly maturing desktop environments for the open source operating system. What those outside looking in might not know is that what began as a religious war has simmered in recent months to more of a friendly competition.

At least that's how Kurt Granroth, KDE core developer working for SuSE, and Leslie Proctor, marketing coordinator for the GNOME Foundation, see it. "You certainly have people who are passionate about one or the other," says Proctor, "but on another level, we're trying to build bridges and have user interfaces that are common."

"Until fairly recently, [online] conversations between KDE and GNOME people would be filled mostly with flames," Granroth says. "Now we get along better than we ever have."

Initially called the Kool Desktop Environment, KDE is the brainchild of Matthias Ettrich, who began the project in October 1996. The first version was released in July 1998. The GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment, pronounced "guh-NOHM") project began in 1998 as a direct reaction among free software proponents to the licensing requirements of Tolltech—maker of the Qt library that KDE relies on for its graphical widgets. Trolltech initially made its library available in source code form for free software development, but anyone wanting to sell the applications they developed using it had to buy a license.

"KDE is an 'open source' desktop," Granroth explains. "GNOME is a 'free software' desktop. It sometimes doesn't make sense to people outside the community, but we have very different philosophies." But in late 1999, the Qt library essentially became open source, and partisan passions cooled.

"After that, we were no longer heretics," Granroth says.

Truce, however, doesn't equal surrender; don't expect to see some kind of merger of the two environments anytime soon.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].