July 31, 2009

Does openSUSE Need a Default Desktop?

Article Source Dissociated Press
July 31, 2009, 5:44 am

The most popular feature in openFATE (at least of this writing) is a proposal from KDE e.V. member Frank Karlitschek to make KDE the “default” in openSUSE. Michael Loeffler has also blogged about this and put it on the opensuse-project mailing list.

A couple of arguments have been given in favor of this proposal, but none that are particularly compelling. Let’s look at some of the reasons that have been put forward by Frank:

  • It is confusing for new Linux users if they have to decide between KDE and GNOME during the installation.
  • 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.
  • This could attract more developers because KDE developers need a nice distribution to develop on.
  • 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.

Confusing?

The first point, that it’s “confusing for new Linux users,” has some merit — choice means having to think about the relative merits of the options put forward, and since most new Linux users don’t have a lot of information to decide it probably ismildlyconfusing. But limiting choice, in my opinion, isn’t the best option — the best option here is to do a better job at informing new users. Or, perhaps, encouraging new users to grab a live CD instead of the DVD and test drive both before making a decision.

The next point, that this would be a “unique selling point,” because Fedora and Ubuntu don’t provide a default desktop is not convincing at all. We have a “unique selling point,” now — which is we offer two outstanding desktop environments to choose from at install time. (And, of course, Xfce and other Window Managers if you delve a bit deeper…)

And of course, there’s Kubuntu — which provides KDE as its default. So, how unique would we be again?

For me, our selling point is choice: Come for GNOME, come for KDE, we have both, plus Xfce, and a whole slew of other great software (like YaST, Zypper, etc.) and project tools (the openSUSE Build Service).

More developers, really? Promise?

Point three (attract more developers) is sort of the main point of interest for me. We all want to see more contributors to openSUSE, so if this was likely to attract more developers, it might be worth considering.

But why would this attract more KDE developers? Apparently because we’d be sending a political statement that we put KDE above GNOME. Nothing would change, technically — we’d just be giving the KDE option a bit more oomph. This doesn’t make openSUSE’s KDE any better in and of itself. It doesn’t provide any technical tools that make openSUSE better for developers.

openSUSE is already a “nice distribution to develop on.” We’re extremely KDE-friendly, we have a great KDE implementation, and we have the openSUSE Build Service. Thanks to our existing KDE community, we’re one of the first distros to have KDE packages (damn good ones) following each KDE release that are dead-easy to install on the testing distro and on the stable releases. I’m not knocking the other distros here — just saying, it seems to me that all of the components for a great KDE distro already exist in openSUSE — minus the political flag that says “we like KDE better than GNOME, we recommend KDE over GNOME” or whatever.

The flip side of that is — will we lose GNOME developers (or other developers who work on other tools but prefer the GNOME desktop) because of this statement? I think that’s likely.

Which brings me to the final point:

Increase popularity of openSUSE in KDE user community?

This may be the case. If we make KDE our “default,” it might well inspire some brand loyalty to openSUSE amongst KDE users. Again – what’s been proposed doesn’t make our KDE better (or worse) it just means that the project has decided to recommend one above the other.

openSUSE has been extremely supportive of the KDE user community. We’re shipping two KDE desktops in 11.1 (and 11.0 before it) because we wanted to provide the right desktop for our KDE users who wanted the “classic” KDE or the new KDE. That wasn’t something that many other distros did. Actually, I don’t know of any other distros shipping both releases at the same time, but with so many distros out there… let’s just say none of the “major” distros have taken this path.

The second half, though, is what I disagree with most strongly: “negative impact on the GNOME community is not that bad because Ubuntu is the most popular GNOME distribution.”

The impact on the overall GNOME community may not be that great. The impact on the openSUSE GNOME community, though, is not going to be good. How many of our contributors are going to feel alienated because their platform of choice has been downgraded to second choice? How many users will choose Ubuntu because we’re signaling that GNOME is (ever so slightly) less important to us. If this is of great importance to KDE developers and users that we choose one over the other, then the logical assumption is there’s going to be equal backlash from GNOME developers and users at being the second choice.

Granted — there’s no real change in the quality or availability of the desktops in either case — it’s the political signal that we prefer one over the other. Sometimes a political signal is a good thing. Given two equal choices, I’ll shop at or patronize businesses that signal (for instance) that they’re politically progressive, or that they support the environment, etc.

If the issue was merely sending a pro-KDE message, I’d be quite in favor. But it’s not neutral to GNOME (in my opinion) because we’re effectively choosing one over the other — even if that’s not the spirit in which it’s intended (and I like to think that Frank is trying to send a pro-KDE message, not an anti-GNOME message), I’m concerned that it will be interpreted wrongly.

I appreciate the desire to make openSUSE a welcome home for KDE developers and users. I just think we could find a better way to accomplish it.

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