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The Desktop DingDong

August 5th, 2009 by

Just incase you’ve been living under a rock on Mars there is a certain feature request in openFate. Both Michael and Zonker have posted on the matter but as they are both Internal (as in they get paid by the Big N) I thought I’d throw my external views (these views are not solicited by anyone other than me, yadayadayada) into the pot.  Now I know I was asked to put my thoughts down and send them into the mailing list, but to be honest the whole discussion has turned into a childish “My dad’s got bigger knuckles than your dad” style flamewar and there are multiple threads on the one topic.  Personally I have now switched off of the discussion on the lists as it’s hard to follow and frankly going nowhere.

Firstly I’d like to think that Frank had no malice in filing the feature and only had the best intentions for KDE and openSUSE at heart.  The problem is there doesn’t seem to have been enough background checks and verification of facts prior to unleashing this handgrenade of annoying pointlessness.  If you default on a loan/mortgage/credit card you are in jeopardy of loosing assets.  The same can be carried over to this discussion.

openSUSE did indeed start out as a very KDE centric distro, I don’t actually recall seeing GNOME available in 6.2 but it was that long ago (I can just about remember yesterday).  Prior to Novell buying SUSE they bought Ximian who were big players in the GNOME sphere and had a lot of expertise, so sure enough GNOME starts to make an appearance.  Then we had the first iteration of this silly and pointless dingdong GNOME gets made the default DE much to many people’s anger.  Novell did actually listen and came up with a reasonable solution – no default and list the environments alphabetically.  Now some folk think the alphabet is rigged but then again they probably reckon electrons are unfairly viewed as negative – deal with it! Ubuntu was created solely as a GNOME distibution and is the only real commercially supported varient by Canonical, that’s why they have derivatives like Kubuntu and Xubuntu – Canonical are slowly employing more and more people for other DEs to ensure they can keep abreast of what;s going on in the wider world.  Fedora/RedHat were always a GNOME focused distro but offered KDE as an option, if my memory serves me right it was very much a stock upstream version with almost no enhancements (I believe that is changing in the right direction).  Now I’m not trying to give a histroy lesson or educate people on what the competition is doing, just trying to provide more information.

So the aim of the feature is to make KDE the default DE for openSUSE, why? Frank lists the following and I put my response to them underneath:

- It is confusing for new Linux users if they have to decide between KDE and GNOME during the installation. New users don´t know either of them. So it is easier for beginners if there is a default. openSUSE has more KDE users than GNOME users so it is logical to make KDE the default.

Nope.  It’s easier for beginners if they are educated and informed.  Having a default will only give them a first impression, nothing more.  Yes you are quite correct openSUSE does have more KDE users than GNOME users which is a vestige from the good old S.u.S.E. days and before, but how does that make it logical?  I challenge this point’s validity.

- Unique Selling Point. It is important for openSUSE to provide something that Ubuntu and Fedora don´t provide. It would be beneficial for openSUSE to be the only big KDE distribution.

openSUSE has several USPs.  The major one is that openSUSE has one the largest pools of upstream developers for both GNOME and KDE.  It is a distribution that gives equal weight to both DEs with a large amount of cross DE work.  We already provide something that no other distro does – open, supported and enhanced choice.  Another USP is that openSUSE is already renowned for it’s KDE implementation regardless of which event I go to and the whole distro discussion comes up people acknowledge and that openSUSE has one of the best KDE builds going.  I challenge this point’s validity.

- This could attract more developers because KDE developers need a nice distribution to develop on.

Now this I think is just ill advised.  Having KDE as the default DE will only mean that the KDE zealots will be more likely to use openSUSE and to be honest we don’t want or need any zealots.  What we want and need is responsible contributions.  Having a good implementation of what ever DE and the correct tools is the way to get more developers NOT a default.  I challenge this points validity.

- This would increase the popularity of openSUSE in the KDE user community. The negative impact on the GNOME community is not that bad because Ubuntu is the most popular GNOME distribution.

Again it would only really be popular amongst the KDE fanboys/girls, if you don’t agree just look at some of the comments in the feature and on the threads .  Sensible developers/users would actually take the time to see what KDE related artifacts are on offer – Beineri’s roll outs of the latest KDE releases is a good example, as is Cornelius’ KDE SDK appliance.  It is innovations like this that will make openSUSE popular not having a default desktop.  Now for the second part of this comment.  Really, do you really honestly think that the impact on the openSUSE GNOME community would be “not that bad”? As Marco once advised us – ZONK!  This is probably the worst thoughtout aspect to your idea.  Any negative impact to any of our community would be bad.  If Ubuntu is “the most popular GNOME distibution” don’t you think it would be better if we tried to address that and make openSUSE the best all round distribution?  I challenge this point’s validity.

Frank, you asked for people’s thoughts here’s mine.  I would have thought the best way to approach this idea would be to first put forward the question at one of the Project meetings on IRC and then follow it up on the -project mailinglist.  Filing the feature and then advertising it solely on your KDE syndicated blog wasn’t the most intelligent course.  It affects openSUSE and KDE so giving a bit of notice to the openSUSE project would have been at the very least curtious.  Oh and to put the record straight – I class myslef as desktop agnostic and use GNOME, KDE, XFCE and Moblin if anything I use Moblin more than the others at the moment ;-)

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10 Responses to “The Desktop DingDong”

  1. I would add my two cents, not too far from yours: http://albertopassalacqua.com/?p=383

  2. ra100

    I´m againts to use KDE as default. Linux is about choice. So, let people choose which one desktop they want to use and don´t force KDE, or Gnome.
    A time ago, when SuSE wanted to use Gnome as default, you finally decided not to use it as default. So why should you change your decission in favor KDE? That wouldn´t be the happiest solution.
    openSUSE is neutral and it should stay.

  3. cb400f

    Can’t wait for a GNOME user to step up and acknowledge that this is the right thing to do for the project as a whole.

  4. I am currently looking for a new distribution to call home, I have been looking at openSUSE for two reasons. I like the plans I see so far for Moblin which I hope to deploy on my netbook, the GNOME desktop is also quite acceptable (though filled with small problems), finally I quite enjoy the SuSE Studio product for appliance needs. A move to actively favor KDE would only seem to me to be a move to demote everything else to second class citizens. That however is entirely unacceptable to me as I need to be sure that the applications I rely on will recieve attention and support. Additionally I fear such a move will ultimately hamper the SLED product which would fit the bill of a Linux I could recommend to people who need long term support and a stable product. All of that is important to have fit together to keep my computing needs on the same basic stack, it keeps me from having to track down distribution specific bugs in several permutations and learning several ways of doing the same thing. It also keeps it easy to support the people to whom I recommend Linux if I know the underlying platform.

    Billing this is not being asking for KDE to be the favored son is just plain lying. This is favoring KDE at the expense of not just GNOME but everything else. It promises to bring with it less support and less discoverability for anything not KDE.

    Now I do believe that picking a default is a good thing, Ubuntu e.g. does this beautifully by shipping just one thing under the Ubuntu name and then having separate distros with a fully polished stack for other tools. Maximum polish at minimal cost to the range of choice. However this is not the model openSUSE picked as a base and thus we must either reconsider that choice or let choices remain in the installer. This however is not the feature requested, it boils down to “kde for teh win!” (just look at the comments).

    Onto my second big problem with this, the data used to back the proposal, it’s a webpoll. We are not talking about anything so far as I can see measured from real use by real average users. We have Smolt, it could easily be used to show which desktop people are actually using rather than relying on a poll. We do all realise I hope that webpolls are easily swayed towards either option by sheer encouragement from one side or by cheating. It is not a reliable datapoint at all. We can go back and debate what people are actually using when we have proper data.

    Third point, this isn’t just an openSUSE decision, if we hope to also sway users to switch from other distributions, our defaults should reflect what they already use to aid migration. Fact remains, out of the 3 big distros (Ubuntu, openSUSE and Fedora),. two have declared a default and one has none. That means most users regardless of anything else coming from other distros will be used to GNOME. This is not to say GNOME should be the default just that there are costs not considered to making a different desktop the default.

    So we have no good data to base the decision on, no plan to ensure support and choice in a world where we have a clear default. It’s irresponsible and dishonest.

    Here is what I propose:

    Looking at the way the general purpose desktop is becoming largely irrelevant I think the focus should be on providing a good JeOS plus X implementation and tools, this should be “openSUSE”. Additional specialized desktops, GNOME, KDE, Moblin and so on then go on top of that. On the website we provide the user with a well designed walkthrough of the choices – what machine is the target, what workflow is favored and then we can guide towards a subproject. These can be allowed polish on their selected target. I think this is the right way to go, especially since we have to acknowledge that the desktop as we know and love it is changing, embracing this early and ensuring that the different incarnations work well together and share a solid base and good tools is more important. Looking at things like Moblin we can already see that the market is fragmenting and openSUSEs strength should very well be adaption to this new world rather than a ridge choice of one size fits all default. No other distro really manages to pull this off well.

  5. Christian Jäger

    Andrew; I’m 100% with you on that. Thanks for spelling it out.

    Defaulting to KDE would be an affront to our GNOME community; it would be disrespecting GNOME devs and throwing away all their efforts of the recent years.

    • jmp

      KDE should be default desktop, since it’s most used desktop environment in openSUSE.
      But you can, if you prefer, install Gnome without any KDE applications.
      Defaulting KDE does not mean that you can’t choose differently.

      KDE_LOGO GNOME_LOGO
      [X] [ ]

      [ ] other options
      [ ] other options

      this is only way to go, IMHO.

  6. tech9iner

    SPOT ON!.. I was ignorantly in favor of KDE default until reading your brilliant, point by point responses. In unison with the historical info shared unbeknownst to me personally till now, I am now in full favor of leaving installer as you support it. Power to the installing end users choice! THANKS!

  7. Cae

    Picking a default desktop is good for openSUSE.
    Just like Ubuntu picked a desktop and stick with it. Else, you can try install ubuntu and ask new users to pick between KDE, GNOME, XFCE, Fluxbox, Openbox …. it is a nightmare.

    Picking a default desktop is bad for fanboys.
    Gnome fanboys wanted nothing but Gnome and willing to come up with whatever reasons, same for KDE fanboys etc.

    So depending if you care for openSUSE or your DE of choice.
    I prefer openSUSE to default to fluxbox :D

  8. TheBlackCat

    I suggest people read the following blog post, most of these points are already addressed there:

    http://vizzzion.org/?blogentry=919

    Short version (as I read it): this isn’t about treating Gnome unfairly, it is simply about acknowledging that openSUSE is a distribution used predominately by KDE users. It is about acknowledging the community. openSUSE is presenting itself as a community-run distribution. openSUSE set up polls to learn how it is used. openSUSE even set up openFATE to explicitly gage the will of the community.

    So there is another issue to think about beyond how this will influence the gnome community on openSUSE. The question is how will ignoring the community now impact the overall perception about openSUSE amongst Linux users. Will users, Gnome or KDE, want to use openSUSE if they do not feel that they have any voice, or worse yet that openSUSE claims that users have a voice but in reality will just ignore them? This seems to me to be a critical time for openSUSE as a distribution, it is trying hard to move towards being community-oriented. This episode has the potential to completely derail that effort.

    A couple of points I have not seen made elsewhere:

    If people are really that upset about the notice being posted in planet KDE, then someone else can post a similar notice in planet GNOME. And I mean a good-faith notice like the original one on planet KDE asking people to vote for the idea if they think it will be good for gnome, good for openSUSE, and good for the users of either. We can then see how that influences the votes.

    Second, openSUSE already discriminates against XFCE. Why is it justified with XFCE but not with Gnome? Is it because of relative popularity? If so, what is the cut-off for inclusion amongst the initially-visible desktop environment and window managers?

  9. Well, as a long time KDE user I can understand the wishes for getting KDE as the default DE, but as many before me, Linux is about choice. Keep the current solution, I think that is wat will be the most natural for now anyway, even though that KDE4 with it’s 4.3 release is kick ass!