Over a decade ago an event happened which is still influencing our life in free software. Instead of one, two projects emerged to bring a fully free desktop to Linux based systems. Back then we failed to see the advantages of having multiple available desktop environments and we basically created a schism between the KDE and the GNOME world.
The Schism is still in place!
Without noticing it the emerge of multiple desktop environments (and with that I mean not only GNOME and KDE) created something positive: nowadays we have several superb environments the user can choose from. We have what nobody else can provide: choice of the desktop shell and software for the personal needs. The free software world does not provide a one size fits it all solution, but the user can choose between multiple products. This is a great advantage.
In the end it does not matter whether a user is using GNOME Shell, Unity, KDE Plasma, XFCE or any other environment. As well it does not matter whether he uses KMail, Evolution or Thunderbird. What matters is that the user has been liberated from the lock-in systems of our competitors. Our goals are all the same: we want free software to succeed.
If a user switches from GNOME Shell to KDE Plasma, it is not a lost user to GNOME. It is a user won for free software and not lost to the proprietary competition. If a user switches from KDE Plasma to Unity, it’s not a lost user to KDE, but a user won for free software. We have to realize that we are not in competition with each other, we are in competition with the proprietary lock-in systems. United we have something to compete with our real competitors.
I think most developers have already realized that we are not in competition but have to work together. We can see this through events like Desktop Summit. But if I look around, I see that there is still a war between GNOME and KDE – at least among the users. KDE users are happy that GNOME Shell is not yet ready and similar idiocy. This is something we have to fight. If for example somewhere a user is complaining about KDE Plasma it is totally fine to suggest them to give GNOME Shell a try. We have the choice, we have different environments to support different workflows. We do not provide software which is suited to all users. I am sure we have the software component to make each user happy, we all have to help the users to find the right software for their needs.
When Linus turned first from KDE Plasma to GNOME and later from GNOME Shell to XFCE he was exactly demonstrating the advantages of choice. Neither KDE Plasma nor GNOME Shell can suit the needs of a power Kernel superlord but free software in general does offer the possibility to have a desktop shell available for everyone. These two events have not shown a failure of GNOME or KDE as the media seemed to suggest, but the opposite: it highlighted the great advantage of choice in the free software ecosystem.
My hope is that our users would stop to fight each other. While our users fight, they demotivate the developers, they undermine efforts to improve the collaboration. There is no need to fight for KDE. If a KDE user writes bad about GNOME, he is not harming GNOME, he is harming both KDE and GNOME. KDE and GNOME belong together, we are in no competition, we need each other. Only together we have a chance of bringing the merits of free software to all possible users. I also hope that the media would stop to compare the systems: they don’t need to be compared. GNOME Shell has a different workflow than KDE Plasma. What would be the need for GNOME Shell to simulate the behavior of KDE Plasma or vice versa? Comparing the systems is wrong from the start.
I hope that also the two organizations around KDE and GNOME can help to make a united vision come true. Why is there no mention of GNOME on the KDE web site? Why is there no mention of KDE on the GNOME web site? Why are release notes of GNOME not published on the KDE news site, isn’t it a news worthy event if our collaborators have a release? Why is it so strange that a picture of a GNOME developer is in a release note of KDE that it has to be mentioned in a keynote at Desktop Summit? Such collaborations should be normal and nothing which needs to be mentioned.
And we can also do something to make the acceptance for our users better. New users will end up with either GNOME Shell, Unity or KDE Plasma. There is a good chance that they don’t like the system they got by chance. In that case they are lost again to the proprietary competitor. Why don’t we offer a “discover more” mode in our systems? Make it easy to install and try GNOME Shell from inside Plasma and vice versa. We have so many awesome software and nevertheless we are still in our GTK-only and Qt-only world. Why do we not include GTK applications in the default offerings in KDE Plasma? If there is a better alternative, do we really need to ship a maybe unmaintained and half broken Qt application, just because it’s Qt?
We all – users, developers and media – can do much better than we already do to finally end the schism of free software. It’s not KDE vs. GNOME, it is KDE and GNOME. We are one free ecosystem. If we want we could say KDE Plasma is just another desktop shell for GNOME OS, just like GNOME Shell and Unity are shells for GNOME OS. We have to finally be united to bring the merits of free software to all users. Let’s all pull together to make free software more awesome. Let’s stop the so often childish and ridiculous comparisons between GNOME and KDE software. They are alternative options and not competing products.