Sunday, July 29, 2007

The unknown soldiers of KDE and Gnome

When World War I was over, millions had died and large parts of southern Belgium and Northern France had been turned into a a grim wasteland. World War II didn't prove to be much better. Japan had suffered two nuclear bombs and some of the most beautiful European cities were gone. Millions had died. It is easy to blame the Germans or the Japanese, but it is only now that we are willing to listen to the stories ordinary civilians of these countries have to tell. No life was left untouched.

In the aftermath of the recent KDE-Gnome war I have spent several hours writing articles I never intended to write. If I had wanted to write about the KDE-Gnome controversy, I would have done so long ago. I did not draw first blood. But when I write an article I do not take prisoners. The only thing I can blame myself is that I did not properly investigate self-proclaimed editor Sal Cangeloso. Yes, again an "editor" who spreads FUD. Who behaves like a little boy breaking a window and running away as fast as he can. If you want to react to his article you can only comment on it by becoming a member of his largely uninteresting forums or writing an email if you happen to find this page.

This war was so ugly, that Brian Proffitt, managing editor of "Linux Today" decided to comment on it. I agree with most of it. "It seems that you can't post an article about either desktop, however benign, without some yokel using the opportunity to flame the other environment", he writes. Well Brian, compare this one to this one. I suspect that the first one triggered Sal to write his article. Can you tell the difference?

The first one mainly concentrates on why he likes KDE. The second one concentrates on why you should avoid KDE. Sal is not stupid. His article is well written. He writes with authority as if he doesn't need to prove his claims. That makes him more dangerous than your casual troll. Like so many he doesn't seem to get it into his head that Linux is fundamentally different from other Operating Systems. He dreams of the cathedral and thought he could force it this way. Well, not on my watch, buddy. Two can play that game.

Many wonder why there even is a controversy between both environments. There are many competing projects in the FOSS world and almost none has resulted in this kind of rivalry. It started with KDE using a proprietary toolkit. That was wrong by any measure, and it triggered the start of the Gnome project. KDE had a headstart and Gnome the moral higher ground. All that changed when Qt became a GPL licensed product. And then Stallman made a fatal error. In the final paragraph of his comment on the recent developments he commanded his troops into the trenches. Like in World War I, they are still there. Any random shot starts a massive shelling.

Others have fueled this controversy, like Torvalds. Calling millions of Gnome users idiots is not the smartest thing to do. The generals started it, the generals should end it. Stallman should stop dreaming of a single GNU application stack. A cathedral is a cathedral, no matter how "democratic" it is. Commercial vendors like Novell should refrain from choosing defaults. None of the desktop environments will disappear on short term and trying to influence the choice users make will only fuel this war. In this respect, I think that Mark Shuttleworth has got it right. Finally, both projects should start to work closer together. I still dream of a Kimp and a Gonqueror.

What really has to stop is the licensing FUD around Qt and KDE. Qt is GPL and not LGPL, just the way Stallman likes it. If it had been the other way around, the same people would probably argue that you can use Qt to create non-free software. It's the world upside down. I think it would help if either Stallman or the Gnome project would take a stand here, so this argument is invalidated once and for all.

One thing that this war has learned me is that the smartest people of all are the "civilians", our users. They just use a mixture of what is there and don't understand what the fuss is all about. They happily shop in the giant bazaar for whatever they need. I remember I was like that once. I had switched from Windows to Linux and bought a commercial VCD player because there was no free one available. Stallman? Who is Stallman? I wanna watch my videos!

It were these users who made it clear, that I should write this article. Of course, there were the usual mental cases, I had to remove some profanity from a comment or two, but most were quite reasonable. Even if we happen to occupy different trenches. In some way, it remembered me of a story of World War I were French and German soldiers left their trenches on Christmas day to play a game of soccer.

Some had even taken the trouble to read my introduction, instead of jumping right away to the spicy stuff. I don't need Gnome dead, I just need a living and thriving KDE. I fully agree with Brian Proffitt in that respect. I repeat it one more time, I really don't care what you're running as long as I don't have to run it. I have to use Windows every working day of my life, thank you. And the Gnome people have enabled me to run some of their applications on that desktop, thank you too! KDE could do better in that respect.

Okay, whatever you think of me, I have taken my responsibility and made my final comment on this issue. I challenge all the players I mentioned in this article to do the same. Because what has happened in the end? We've soiled KDEs 10th anniversary and probably not a single user has changed his desktop. If we could only agree that the bazaar is a good thing, I think we might be getting somewhere.

So get out of the trenches, guys. I feel like playing a game of soccer. Yes, yesterday my bullets were flying over your head and my best friend was shot. But we could agree on not firing today. I do not regret pulling the trigger and I don't think you do. It may be too early for excuses, but maybe one day we find we've forgotten why we were fighting anyway.

Some will interpret a call for peace as a sign of weakness. Well, you're free to try. I still got a few nukes ready to fire. I did install SuSE 7.3 on a Dyme 166 MHz machine with 32 MB installed and I used KDE 2.2 from July 2003 to December 2004 to write my documents, develop my compiler and browse the web. When I get bored during the holidays I might boot the beast and take a few pictures if you want to. And after 25 years in this business I certainly know how to format a floppy. I don't like FUD and I don't like lies. It may be a character flaw of mine.

Einstein once said that "I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones". So, before you start to flame me again ask yourself one question: is it the right thing to do. Personally, I'd rather finish the documentation on my compiler, which is long overdue, than to spend my time writing articles like this. I think that is a better way to serve the community and certainly more productive.

I can say all the Gnome users and developers I've enraged with my article only this: you felt the same way as I did and that is all I wanted. We share that experience and by knowing this, we might be able to learn something. I have and I hope you do.

P.S. When I was spellchecking this article, Open Office highlighted "Cangeloso". I pressed "Always ignore". So should you.

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