Linux Developers Spar Over Enterprise Desktop Plans

Bruce Perens, a major open-source leader, and KDE supporters tussle over UserLinux, Perens' proposed new business Linux distribution's GNOME desktop choice.

The quest for a unified Linux desktop has sparked a new struggle between advocates of the KDE and GNOME interface technologies. The battleground: The UserLinux initiative started by open-source heavyweight Bruce Perens.

Debian and KDE developers have announced an ambitious initiative to provide an enterprise Linux desktop operating system based on the KDE interface. Perens, an important open-source community leader, though, sees this move as pulling effort away from his similar GNOME interface-based plan, UserLinux.

Perens started UserLinux as an effort to provide a common-branded enterprise Linux desktop and server based on the Debian Linux distribution. Perens said he sees this as a step up from the Linux Standard Base (LSB) that finishes the work that UnitedLinux started, but which stalled out when The SCO Group Inc. pulled out of Linux.

At the time, Perens explained, "I made GNOME the default desktop by fiat. Looking at KDE and GNOME, you can always show how one is better than one or the other. But I choose GNOME. I did so because UserLinux is intended to be a system for business people, and its too much to ask for business IT to maintaining expertise in two GUI development kits."

It was a choice that Perens realized wouldnt make KDEs supporters happy. "I put myself in an unpleasant position where I have to make a decision. I dont see a consensus happening between the two camps, even though to an end users eye both KDE and GNOME can be set to look the same."

KDE supporters responded with their own attempt to add KDE to UserLinux. Perens opposed this move, believing that supporting two desktops would only hinder OEM, ISV and end-user support for UserLinux. Even so, KDE and Debian developers started their own effort based on UserLinux, but will be focusing primarily on "desktop needs of government agencies, educational institutions and enterprises."

Both approaches have little industry support at this stage. UserLinux appears to have at least the attention of Linux distributors Conectiva SA and MandrakeSoft SA; Voxel Dot Net Inc., a Linux solutions provider; and Novell Inc. The KDE effort has a firm commitment from LinuxMagic, a Linux ISV and wholly owned subsidiary of British Columbia-based Wizard Tower TechnoServices Ltd.

In a statement, LinuxMagic CEO Michael Peddemors said, "We at LinuxMagic have adopted KDE- and Debian-based strategies for all our LinuxMagic OS and product developments, using thin-client technology, the KDE Desktop, Debian-based systems and We are very excited by the new possibilities of this project."

The KDE plan calls for seamless integration of open-source projects such as and Mozilla into the KDE desktop in addition to many other enterprise-critical features.

Although Perens said he wishes them the best and thinks they may do excellent work, he would prefer that their proposal wasnt based on his own GNOME-based UserLinux. He said he believes focusing on one GUI would better serve the needs of business desktop users. But, in the end, Perens said he "made a decision for this particular project. I dont pretend that it was a democratic decision, and were moving on to other levels. I cant be everything to everyone."