KDE, Ease-of-Use, and the Year of the Linux Desktop

The recent discussions on KDE versus other Linux desktops - accidentally started by KDE-user Linus Torvalds - showed an interesting new development in the eternal debate. First of all it didn't come as a surprise that Linus uses KDE, after all Fritz Elfert made it very clear back in 1996 that KDE stands for "Kernel-Hackers' Desktop Environment", when Kalle and the German IT press still pushed "Kalle Dalheimer Experience". What came as a surprise was that the old GUI versus command line discussion against KDE, that later turned into a Free Software versus Lesser Free Software dispute, now changed shape again. The fashion of the day is: complicated power user environment versus user-friendly simplicity. And as opposed to 1997, when a vocal minority avoided us for our focus on end-users and simplicity, and went to other projects for more "Unix-guru friendliness", themes, and features like window manager independence, they now want to deny us exactly this: simplicity and user-friendliness. Now, how bold is this? KDE's mission has always been "ease of use, contemporary functionality, and outstanding graphical design" (, and we have succeeded delivering exactly this for the past decade. We took GNU/Linux out of the system administrator's corner and put it on millions of desktops, an achievement that nobody can take away from us.

Why am I writing this, to an audience on planetkde that mainly consists of KDE users and supporters? Well, when you follow the debate, you can notice that even KDE's supporters show willingness to follow the opponents' twisted claim about KDE being overly complex. Instead of rejecting those as ridiculous, they rather argue for the necessity of a rich feature set. Yes, KDE has a rich feature set, and yes, that's what is required for contemporary functionality. But hello, that doesn't mean that it's hard to use. Let's not swallow this crap anymore! Let them repeat it as often as they want to repeat it, and simply reject it as what it is: the best they can do, but utterly wrong.

To be even more explicit: It's a fairy tale that end users will decide against KDE when given the choice, and it's a fairy tale that KDE is more difficult to use than any of the alternatives. The simplest possible desktop has one big push button to turn the computer off, everything else is a tradeoff between simplicity and functionality. KDE's beauty is that it enables ordinary people and computer freaks alike to use their computers; it's what makes it the better desktop. Everyone who has installed it for friends and family can report that even casual computer users don't have problems with it. Quite the opposite: Users do amazing things with it. Especially those coming from Windows feel they can do so much more with a KDE workstation, and they do. They also seem to have significantly less trouble navigating the control center than self-proclaimed usability experts on web discussion sites.

No software is bug free, or free of flaws. We - the KDE developers - happily admit that usability is a process, a data-driven process. And that's what we work on. Many of us also admit that parts of KDE feel a bit too crowed for our taste, that our naming conventions for applications have room for improvements, or that our reliance on context menus is suboptimal. But make no mistake: Even with those flaws, KDE is an exquisite choice on the desktop, and in our opinion the only real choice on GNU/Linux.

There are end-users out there that made the switch to GNU/Linux but don't use KDE yet, that's something we have to accept. Millions of investment capital and corporate backing do show some effect, at least short term. However, I believe that the number of those who objectively evaluated several desktops and decided against KDE is certainly very low relative to those who never had a chance to try KDE. It likely didn't come as the default on the Linux distribution they installed, or it wasn't described in the book they bought, or wasn't the local Unix guru's recommendation. There are many cases where users simply are never exposed to KDE.

KDE is all about ease of use, contemporary functionality, and outstanding graphical design, and we make it better and better with every release, in all three aspects.

Merry Christmas everybody, looking very much forward to 2006: another year of the Linux desktop.

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