KDE in Linux distributions
KDE in Linux distributions tend to be always a emotional topic to KDE fans for some reasons The recent openSUSE controversy is fresh in everyone’s minds but a long time before, there was a enormous revolt against UserLinux because it said that they will just ship with GNOME. UserLinux wanted to just streamline the distribution heavily and pick one default covering specific functionality. The choices were debated extensively and none of them came out to be as controverisal as the decision to pick a default desktop environment even though the decisions were explained in length. UserLinux is dead and burried. All that revolt served absolutely no real purpose at all.
Ubuntu was explained in a Linux conference by Jeff Waugh a while back when he was a Canonical employee and one of the very initial whiteboards on their brain storming process explained the goals and one of them that stood out to me was “To be a better Fedora than Fedora” and Ubuntu did learn a lot from the Fedora process on what to do and what not to do. The time based release process and not to screw up the initial launch for example. However perhaps they also did learn extensively from UserLinux. They positioned Ubuntu to do a lot of what UserLinux had originally planned to do. One item for each functionality, a wide support marketplace and so on. Because they understood the leaving out KDE from Ubuntu would be a contoversial move, they decided to go with completely separate branding for each of their variants – Kubuntu, Xubuntu etc. This move has its own advantages but it results in asymmetric branding. Ubuntu is both the project as well as the default distribution while others are alternatives. The problem doesn’t end there though. They vehemently deny it but Kubuntu really is just Ubuntu with KDE swapped for GNOME. In other words, Kubuntu is a KDE Spin of Ubuntu.
In a recent article about Kubuntu, it was criticized as going on a downward spiral. I don’t agree with many of the criticisms, especially the claims that additional sauce on top of vanilla KDE is really necessary including patches or different branding. People really need get rid of that notion that staying close to upstream is a bad idea. It dosn’t mean you need to go blindly with whatever upstream provides but if upstream does provide a good theme, it is ok to just stick to that. Fedora includes GNOME by default but has switched but custom Nodoka theme to just vanilla upstream Clearlooks theme and GNOME support in Fedora remains top notch as it has been in the past. Among the mainstream distributions, it makes Fedora still stand out nicely because everyone else is shipping a custom theme! The response from Jonathan Riddell, lead developer of Kubuntu on the wireless situation is extremely puzzling to me:
“Kubuntu is a KDE distribution, we use only KDE and are the only major distribution to do so. This means when KDE misses something we do too, we can only ship with what exists. Unforunately when Jaunty released there was no good KDE network manager. That hurts but there wasn’t any better KDE choice. ”
With all due respect, I have heard similar arguments before and that’s pure unadultered nonsense.. If you install ubuntu-desktop metapackage in Kubuntu, your OS gets converted from Kubuntu operating system to Ubuntu operating system? No, not really. It is just the same operating system and distribution with a different desktop environment. Pretending that Kubuntu is a separate operating system or distribution really is painting yourself into a corner and being religious about it means that you ship a really broken native client as opposed to just including nm-applet which works better than the KDE plasmoid at the moment. Sure, it lacks nice integration with KDE Wallet etc but why pretend there is no alternative at all? Fedora KDE Spin has included nm-applet for sometime and has far less complaints about breakage. Sure, KDE in Fedora is no perfect desktop environment either but a community should be willing to make compromises and use the best of what it is available instead of knowing shipping a broken default. Shipping GNOME or GTK software in KDE oriented Live CD is just fine when it is the better choice. I am not contributing to KDE in Fedora but I am really happy Fedora KDE team is willing to make pragmatic choices such as this.