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Wednesday, 19 October 2011 12:15

Happy 15th to the folk at the KDE project

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It all began with a detailed email sent by Matthias Ettrich, a student at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, on 14 October, 1996. 

Posted to the de.comp.os.linux.misc group Usenet group, the email, headlined "New project: Kool Desktop Environment", called for programmers to join a project to produce a consistent, nice-looking free desktop environment.

Ettrich said he had found a great, new widget library named QT which happened to be non-free in free software terms. He said that it was time to standardise the desktop and provided an illustration of how different apps all used different sets of widgets – fvwm (own widgets), rxvt (own widgets), tgif (own widgets), xv (own widgets), ghostview (athena widgets), lyx (xforms widgets), xftp (motif widgets), textedit (xview widgets) and arena (own widgets)

Ettrich, who was involved in the LyX project at the time, listed the components that he thought could be created: a panel, a file manager, mail client, a terminal, a hypertext help system, window manager, system tools, games and documentation.

He also invited those who could maintain web pages for the project and provide sysadmin skills to join up. The idea caught on and the KDE project was born. Though Ettrich titled his original post as Kool Desktop Environment, the word Kool was never used; it simply became the K Desktop Environment.

Version 1.0 was released on July 12, 1998; 2.0 on October 23, 2000; 3.0 on April 3, 2002; and 4.0 on January 11, 2008.


I first encountered KDE when it was in version 1.1 when a friend in India told me of a distribution which was the same as Red Hat - I was playing around with 5.2 at the time which was using the FVWM window manager - but had KDE instead. This distro was then known as Mandrake; today we know it as Mandriva.

Instead of using Mandrake, I downloaded KDE 1.1 and installed it on Red Hat; it was very nice and light years ahead of all the other DEs with which I had been playing around. Applications like KMail were nicely designed; kppp was really useful because at that time everyone was on a 56k internet connection. Additionally, for a GNU/Linux beginner, kppp was much more user-friendly than tools like minicom.

Over the years, KDE has added a huge number of applications; the one that stands out for me is k3b, the CD/DVD burning application that is quite simply the best of its kind even when one compares other platforms. I have never been able to find an application for this task as good as k3b, no matter whether it be on Windows, the Mac or GNU/Linux.

KDE has a much lower profile than the other well-known GNU/Linux desktop environment, GNOME. But it is streets ahead in usability and allows people to configure it to levels which GNOME restricts.

Wikipedia provides the following impressive stats:

  • Over 6 million lines of code. This does not include Qt.
  • More than 1800 contributors help develop KDE. About 20 new developers contribute their first code each month.
  • KDE is translated in over 108 languages.
  • KDE has more than 114 official FTP mirrors in over 34 countries.
  • The KDE community is the second largest Free Software community behind the Linux kernel community.

Ettrich's idea has grown beyond his wildest dreams; though the original GPL version of QT was available only for the X11 platform, from QT4.0 onwards there are LGPL versions for all platforms. Hence KDE software based on QT 4.0 can be made available for both Windows and the Mac.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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