posted by Thom Holwerda on Thu 21st Dec 2006 11:38 UTC
IconIn 2002, both KDE and GNOME released their last major revisions; KDE released KDE 3.0 on 3rd April, while GNOME followed shortly after with GNOME 2.0 on 27th June. For the Linux desktop, therefore, 2002 was an important year. Since then, we have continiously been fed point releases which added bits of functionaility and speed improvements, but no major revision has yet seen the light of day. What's going on?

Both KDE and GNOME have some serious problems which cannot be solved easily. Gtk+ has an alarming shortage of core maintainers, and you do not need a degree at MIT to understand what that means: less quality assurance, and a slower bug fixing pace. Gtk+ of course is the base on which GNOME is built, and hence any problems with the Gtk+ project will have their effects on GNOME.

The second big problem with GNOME is that it lacks any form of a vision, a goal, for the next big revision. GNOME 3.0 is just that- a name. There is not even one line of code for GNOME 3.0, not even a goal or feature description. All GNOME 3.0 has are some random ideas by random people in random places. There is nobody actually working on defining what GNOME 3.0 should become, and hence the chances that GNOME 3.0 sees any light of day in the coming two years is highly dubious. GNOME 3.0 is supposed to be a radical departure from GNOME-current, and you just don't do something like that in a 6 month release cycle. GNOME 3.0 won't be on your desktop until at least 2009, which will mean that by then, GNOME will not have seen a major revision in 7 years.

On the other side of the river the future may seem a little brighter, but do not let appearances fool you. KDE might have a vision for what KDE 4.0 should become, but with vision alone you will not actually get anywhere. KDE developers are indeed planning big things for KDE4-- but that is what they are stuck at. Show me where the results are. KDE4 was supposed to be fleshed out by now, with a release somewhere early 2007. However, if you now take a look at the latest KDE4 development build-- it is just KDE3, but uglier. We've been hearing Plasma this and Appeal that for a very long time now; however, nothing Solid (that really is a lame joke, my sincere apologies) has emerged.

KDE's biggest problem is a lack of manpower and financial backing by big companies. In the past, both Mandrake and SUSE were the major driving forces behind KDE development, but now, SUSE is part of the GNOME-centric Novell family, and Mandrake Mandriva has been delegated to the sidelines.

All the wonderful ideas behind KDE4 (and the accompanying slick websites) are just that-- ideas and websites. There are no development builds that truly show these ideas in a usable state. KDE4 is supposed to be released in the first half of 2007, but if all they have to show now is KDE3+, KDE4 is more likely to see release somewhere in 2008-- Q3/Q4 rather than Q1/Q2. This will mean 6 years without a major revision of KDE.

In the meantime, the competition has not exactly been standing still. Apple has continuously been improving its Mac OS X operating system, adding new and sometimes even innovative features, while also increasing the OS's speed with every release. Leopard is scheduled for the first half of 2007, and even though what we have been showed so far is not really revolutionary, Steve Jobs has promised us some 'top secret' features. I think Apple's recent track record in delivering allows us to believe his words.

Microsoft has not been resting on its laurels either. Windows Vista is already available to some people (including me), and by the end of January, basically every new computer sold will come with this new operating system. Many anti-MS fanboys complain that Vista is nothing more than XP with a new coat, but anyone with an open mind who used it for an extensive period of time (including me) realises this is absolutely not the case-- in any case, we can say that many people used to XP will at least perceive Vista as a major upgrade, and in the end, that is what really matters.

The Linux desktop world will not have any answers ready to Microsoft's and Apple's big releases for at least the coming two years. Has the desktop Linux bubble burst? I would not go as far as saying that; however, it is certainly about to, and unless the KDE and GNOME team get a move on, it will do so shortly.

Which is a shame.

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