Desktop row threatens unified Linux effort

The latest project aimed at simplifying the complexity of the Linux world has met an early roadblock - the fractious relationship between the two biggest user interface systems
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

A fledgling effort at creating a unified Linux distribution is being threatened by a long-existing split in the Linux developer world -- namely, the divide between the two most popular graphical user interfaces (GUIs), Gnome and KDE.

Open-source guru Bruce Perens earlier this month began fleshing out a plan to offer businesses a standardised Linux distribution that would be free from the fees attached to the best-known distributions, such as Red Hat Advanced Server. Called UserLinux, the plan borrows some elements from projects such as the Linux Standards Base and UnitedLinux in that it would offer a streamlined, consistent platform that would be as easy as possible for software vendors to support.

If it takes off, the plan could help spur mainstream take-up of Linux in the enterprise by boosting the availability of applications, something that has been a sticking point with Linux in the past.

A not-for-profit entity would be responsible for maintaining the UserLinux distribution, surrounded by for-profit companies that would provide services and engineering. Currently, there are a number of successful Linux distributions, all with slight variations, meaning application vendors must certify their products for each distribution individually.

A key part of the project would be to choose a single option for the various functions included in the operating system, breaking away from the traditional Linux mode of supporting a variety of different options. It would be built on the Debian distribution, which shares Perens' not-for-profit philosophy, use the Gnome desktop software, the MySQL database, the Apache 2 Web server, and the Mozilla browser, for example.

The choice of GUI has been the most contentious so far, according to Perens, with discussions threatening to swamp progress on other aspects of the project. Finally, earlier this week proponents of the KDE camp put forward a proposal for integrating KDE into UserLinux, despite Perens' choice not to include KDE.

In the proposal, called "Conquering the Enterprise Desktop", KDE and Debian developers outlined plans for making the KDE interface work with UserLinux, including support for Mozilla, Gnome applications and other elements.

"It is our strong belief that we can provide the UserLinux effort with undeniable value and credibility," the developers wrote.

Perens said he supports the KDE project, but made it clear that the project would remain separate from UserLinux. "We'll have no problem sharing work with them, just as they share work through FreeDesktop.org and Debian today," he said in a statement. "But the decision to base UserLinux on Gnome stands."

He said he chose Gnome because of a desire not to include any proprietary elements in UserLinux. KDE's developer toolkit has a commercial licensing option. Open-source software licences, broadly speaking, allow developers to modify and redistribute the software's source code, as long as the modifications are returned to the community.

Perens first suggested the UserLinux idea in November at the Desktop Linux Consortium Conference at Boston University's Tyngsboro, Massachusetts campus.

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