The KDE vs. GNOME debate — which we sincerely hope we aren't sparking anew — is one of the great legacies of the Linux world. Everyone seems to have an opinion, whether it's passionate support for one coupled with vehement odium for the other, a more general sense of "This is what I started with," or a love of an entirely different, less mainstream desktop environment. All of those sentiments have surely been on display within the openSUSE community of late, as the distribution has worked its way towards choosing a default desktop.

The matter of a default desktop came to light in July, after a user submitted a feature request to the project's openFATE feature tracking system. The request asked that KDE be designated as the default openSUSE desktop, citing a number of supporting points:

  • 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.
  • 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.

An important point to note is that, openSUSE ships with both KDE and GNOME as desktop options — users have the opportunity to select their preferred desktop during install, something the supporting points allude to. This differs from some distributions, notably Ubuntu, which provides a separate distribution for each desktop environment — Ubuntu proper with GNOME, Kubuntu with KDE, Xubuntu with Xfce, and a number of "unofficial" and derivative distributions offering less mainstream options. Thus, the choice of a default desktop was not to be a matter of inclusion — both are included, and that was to be maintained. The ultimate decision was, as odd as it might seem, about a radio button.

The suggestion received extensive discussion, both on the feature request itself and via the opensuse-project mailing list. Much appears to have been made about being a "KDE distribution" — indeed, the original supporting points rely heavily on the idea — an interesting distinction given that the distribution ships with both desktops. Particularly of note is the suggestion that, by highlighting the KDE radio button the installer by default, the distribution will become "the only big KDE distribution" — presumably ignoring the existence of Kubuntu, and that the default download of Mandriva is it's KDE version (including the advice "If you are not sure, just stay with the default choice"). Knoppix — much loved by Linux Journal's own Kyle Rankin — also includes KDE as it's standard desktop.

After much deliberation, including consultation with the openSUSE Board and other openSUSE leaders, Novell's Michael Löffler, openSUSE Product Manager and Chairman of the openSUSE Board, announced that from openSUSE 11.2, the distribution's installer will default to install KDE unless the user selects an alternate desktop environment. Löffler went on to discuss the status of the GNOME desktop environment within the project:

We want to make clear that both desktops are considered equal citizens within the openSUSE Project, and this will not have any impact on the quality of the
GNOME desktop within openSUSE. GNOME will continue to be offered as a top-level installation choice, and we will continue to strive to provide the best
GNOME and KDE desktop experience.

Whether openSUSE will, as suggested, become the great KDE distribution remains to be seen — what is certain, though, is that openSUSE will be seeing many more KDE users, particularly among those new to Linux. Here's hoping the project's KDE team is prepped for the extra hours doing first-level support.

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