It all started around the time when Novell bought SUSE and Ximian. Before that, many KDE developers ran SUSE, people inside SUSE ran KDE, and KDE was the default. After Novel had acquired both SUSE and Ximian, things started to change as people inside Novell had the idea of ditching KDE and laying off the KDE developers inside SUSE. This idea wasn't very well received within the SUSE community, so Novell had to learn to live with KDE.
Still, KDE was no longer the default. First, KDE was atop the list of desktop environment to choose from during installation, but not long after GNOME was placed atop that list. SUSE doesn't actually have a default desktop, though.
This arrangement is not acceptable to many within the openSUSE community. Last year's user survey shows that 68.3% use KDE, while only 26.9% use GNOME. The community also has a feature request service with voting capabilities, called openFATE, and here we see that the feature request "Make KDE the default desktop" is by far the most popular feature request.
And now Novell has put itself in a precarious situation. They want to turn openSUSE into a fully community managed project, and that community - quite clearly - wants openSUSE to be a KDE-centric distribution. Novell, however, as we know, is very GNOME-centric, so I'm sure they wouldn't be particularly happy with such an arrangement.
Reasons to set KDE as the default desktop environment for openSUSE go beyond the simple "most users want it". It's confusing for new users to have to choose a desktop environment at install time, because they have no information to go on. In addition, focussing on KDE would give openSUSE a unique selling point in a world dominated by GNOME-centric distributions like Ubuntu and Fedora.
Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier, community manager at Novell, disagrees with these ideas. He says that by setting a default you limit choice; a point well-countered by Gerald Pfeifer, Director Product Management at openSUSE: "Choice is not (necessarily) about not having a default; it is about the ability to choose." Even if you provide a default, the choice is still there.
In addition, Brockheimer believes that going KDE wouldn't be that much of a unique selling point. He points to Kubuntu, while saying that the ability to choose between desktop environments is a unique selling point in its own right. I think Brockheimer should take a look at Kubuntu himself, though, as I found it the most horrible KDE experience I've ever tried.
Personally, I think the openSUSE community should take all this a few steps further: ditch GNOME altogether. Forget about it. Stop wasting resources by trying to cover both desktop environments, and go 100% strictly KDE4, and build the best possible KDE experience in the distribution realm today. Kubuntu is nothing more than a glorified excuse for Canonical to be able to say "Look, we do KDE too!", and Fedora is focussed on GNOME too. There is a lot of room for a SUSE/Fedora class distribution strictly dealing with KDE.
It will be interesting to see what happens. By ignoring the strong community cries for KDE as the default, Novell and the people in power on the openSUSE team once again show their clear preference for GNOME, without taking their users' wishes into account. As Lubos Lunak puts it: "Since now openSUSE positions itself as an open community distribution, refusing this openFATE request would also be an action that would further stress the perception that the KDE community is not as welcome in openSUSE as the GNOME community and that openSUSE can again choose to hurt the KDE majority despite the obvious preference."