Ettrich was presented the Federal Cross of Merit on Friday at the Centre for Economy, Technology and Women's issues at the Berlin Senate, for spurring innovation and spreading knowledge for the common good.
The award was presented by Almuth Nehring-Venus, Germany's permanent secretary for Economics, Technology and Women’s Issues.
At 37, Ettrich is comparatively young to receive such an award. He is credited with the development of LyX, a graphical frontend to LaTeX, a document preparation system for high-quality typesetting, in 1995.
As LaTeX runs primarily on UNIX and its variants, his experiments to improve the graphical interfaces available for UNIX led to his starting the KDE project.
The KDE project was kicked off by an email sent by Ettrich on October 14, 1996 in which he proposed the creation of what he called the Kool Desktop Environment.
His reasoning was that even though UNIX and its variants were growing in popularity, "a consistent, nice looking free desktop-environment is missing".
The email went into considerable detail about what Ettrich wanted to provide as part of the desktop environment and the technology he wanted to use for development.
He was clear that he wanted a file manager, a mail client, an easy text editor, a terminal, an image viewer, other small tools, and a hypertext help system, among others.
Thirteen years on, his dream has been realised far beyond what he could have visualised. Today KDE is a sophisticated desktop environment with a look and feel that rivals any commercial offering.
Ettrich is now employed by Nokia which bought Trolltech, the company which owned QT, the cross-platform C++ graphical toolkit used to develop KDE, in June 2008.
KDE now has applications of varying degrees of sophistication; some of them, like the CD/DVD burning application, k3b, are far superior to any like application in the world of proprietary software.
KDE has importantly retained its focus on technology, and not been bothered too much about publicising its achievements. The project abhors spin.