Linus Ditches KDE and Gnome (so what?)

Having made an earlier defection from KDE to Gnome, Linus Torvalds has now rejected both in favor of Xfce. It’s only natural that the actions of the creator of the Linux kernel would attract extra scrutiny, and I think that his decision is reflective of a wider disenchantment amongst long-term Linux users.

So is this post a sky-is-falling complain-fest? Not at all. It might be time for some of us to say, “I don’t like the way that the big two DEs are shaping up, so, I’m going to use something else.”

There was a time when KDE was the desktop for geeks who liked an intricate, customizable interface and Gnome had found its niche as a business desktop. No prizes for guessing which one Linus chose. However, upon the introduction of KDE4, he jumped ship in favor of Gnome 2. He stated that he was disappointed with the performance and reliability of KDE4, in addition to being unconvinced about the new direction that the developers were taking.

He made the announcement of his latest defection via Google+. His first remark was fairly benign:

“While you are at it, could you also fork gnome, and support a gnome-2 environment?”

but then he followed up with some more specific and scathing criticisms:

“I want my sane interfaces back. I have yet to meet anybody who likes the unholy mess that is gnome-3.”

“In gnome3, the developers have apparently decided that it's "too complicated" to actually do real work on your desktop, and have decided to make it really annoying to do.”

“I'm using Xfce. I think it's a step down from gnome2, but it's a huge step up from gnome3. Really.”

Ouch. But also... not ouch. I think that there’s a positive side to all of this. Linus wants to get back to what he considers to be his favorite era of the Linux desktop. What we’re talking about here is a desktop that uses an interface mechanic that is reminiscent of both MacOS and Microsoft Windows and that favors a modular approach to application selection. KDE4 and Gnome 3 are breaking with traditional desktop mechanics while introducing some new elements. KDE4 fails on the second criteria of the the “classic” Linux DE as it will increasingly make use of highly integrated applications.

As for the criticism that has been hurled at the KDE and Gnome development teams, lets be fair: they are introducing new ideas that will allow Linux to keep up on the desktop (and mobile) space, and hopefully, even get ahead of the competition. I’m sure that that some of the first wave of Linux desktop users wished that TWM could have remained the default choice of the major distros.

Before KDE and Gnome came on the scene, many Linux desktop users used TWM derrived desktops like this one. The great thing is that you still can, if you want to.

This could be the opportunity that that Xfce (and Enlightenment and Window Maker and all the others) has been waiting for because Xfce can offer something approaching the classic Gnome 2.0 experience. This gives Linux users a choice between the integrated approach of KDE4 and the simplified, “average user” oriented front end that Gnome 3 (and Unity) is aiming to provide, or [shock horror] something else . Perhaps it will be left to a distro maintainer to use Xfce plus some Gnome components to provide a desktop that continues to offer the look at feel of a circa 2008 desktop while offering a hope of maintenance and future improvements.

Let’s face it, hiccups in development aside, no other operating system offers as many ways of working as dear old GNU/Linux does. No one has to be stuck anything that they really hate and new GUIs are under constant development.

To the complainers I say, “you’ve never had it so good!”

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