KDE to be default on openSUSE?
Recently, the discussion whether to make KDE the default desktop on openSUSE has been raised. The situation bears some historical meaning, and has also brought up some misconceptions. Let me try to give a bit of an overview of it, and put things into context.
Last year's user survey has shown that a large majority of openSUSE users uses KDE, the distribution, according to this survey, is 68.3% use KDE, 26.9% use GNOME. The recent entry on features.opensuse.org (a tool to track feature requests by the community, which also has a voting system attached to prioritize the proposed features based on how important they are to the community). At the time of this writing, 15% are against this feature, 68% voted for this feature. The request to make KDE the default on openSUSE is by far the most popular entry (second most popular following up at 175 net proponents). Those are very clear indicators of the popularity of KDE in openSUSE. Both confirm that KDE is the desktop of choice for most openSUSE users.
SUSE Linux, and openSUSE (its follow-up) have traditionally been very KDE-centric, many KDE developers ran SUSE, many inside Suse ran KDE, basically Suse was a KDE-centric distribution and all was fine. When Novell bought SUSE Linux, and roughly at the same time Ximian, things started to change. Three years ago, some people inside Novell planned to ditch KDE, meaning to lay off all KDE personnel and move on with the GNOME desktop only. That happened relatively short after Novell had bought both Suse and Ximian, it has been said that those events are closely connected. The community, and many people at SUSE have made clear that they wouldn't accept this decision which eventually lead to Novell backpedallling and starting to "live with KDE".
openSUSE and community
Nowadays, Novell is trying to turn openSUSE into a project which is fully managed by the community. I think this is a great opportunity, also for upstream communities to get more involved with a distribution, but of course it goes both ways. Giving users the tools to create software (such as the excellent openbuildservice) and the means to take part in decision-making processes (through features.opensuse.org for example) goes a long way to make community-developers (those not receiving a pay-check from Novell) more comfortable. Conversely, if those developers get the feeling that their work is welcome, but their input is not, and that their work is not equally valued to others' work, you'll lose those exact same people.
An important point that many people here fail to realize that this is not asking for granting a special priviledge to KDE. In fact, it is asking for removing a special priviledge that makes many in the KDE community feel that KDE is treated unequally in openSUSE. In all other cases, when there is a clear preference, it is selected as a default, sometimes not even offering the user an easy choice. In this case, however, while KDE is the clear choice in the openSUSE community, it is not treated the same like in other cases. Instead, GNOME is given a priviledge that a preference must be explicitly expressed here, and this priviledge, to my knowledge, is not given to any other openSUSE component. No other non-default browser, mailer, shell, filesystem, etc. has this luxury. This is interpreted by the KDE community as a message from openSUSE that it values GNOME more, that GNOME is forcibly pushed into openSUSE and that KDE is not equally welcome in openSUSE. The openFATE request, in practice, asks for removing this GNOME priviledge and fair treating of all openSUSE components.From Lubos' email, it's pretty clear that the status quo is not OK for a large part of the active contributors to openSUSE. Vincent Untz, Board Member at the GNOME foundation (while acknowledging his bias) has proposed to do another vote on this particular issue. I think that's a very dangerous thing to do, because it might be interpreted as "We'll keep repeating the vote and changing the mechanism until the result suits us". Joe has already initiated doing another user survey. While a user survey does have a lot of value, only surveying, and then not following up on the results risks credibility. The case of openFATE (the application running behind features.opensuse.org) needs to be looked at as well. In his introduction to openFATE, Michael Löffler, Product Manager at openSUSE, announces: "We're looking forward to receive more qualified feature requests to make our openSUSE distribution and the project itself fit your needs better from day to day." My understanding is that FATE (features.opensuse.org) is the preferred way to receive those feature requests, based on the assumption "If you ask, you also create some obligation to take the answers into account. Otherwise, nobody should waste others time with asking, it'll not be more than a lip-service.
The User's Point of View
Why is a default so important to the user? In order to get as many people possible to install openSUSE, you need to make the installation process as simple as you possibly can. This means not asking the user too many questions, and certainly not asking the user questions he or she cannot answer. This is the reason why almost every operating system out there has chosen default settings. Default settings for a webbrowser (what appp is used to open links?), default options for ui-specific settings (colors, theming, for example). The general idea is, offer good default that suits the largest possible group of users in order to minimize the "total setup time" all users combined have to invest. It's also good marketing practice: "Accommodate the largest group of your customers".
Another important point for me is that only one such question ("What desktop do you want?") adds the requirement of domain knowledge. The question is fundamentally different from "what is your timezone?" for example, so for a complete dummy, it'll not be possible to make sure all questions are answered correctly.Michael Löffler notes that only a relatively small part of the openSUSE users are new (about 6% according to the survey), and concludes that therefore, a default setting isn't all that important. This way of thinking will actually make sure you keep preaching to the choir. If growth of openSUSE is one of the project's goals, the question "Why are only 6% of our users newbies?" would actually be one of the first ones I'd ask myself. Sure, it's a chicken-egg problem, the approach to this kind of question is essential to growth, however. It could well be that the number of new users is only 5% because openSUSE is hard to install, because there's no default choice, no clear support and no distinct identity. The impression I get is that Joe Brockmeier wants to keep the status quo (no default, GNOME listed as first option) to not cause political discussion and disruption in the project, to keep people calm. That's his job, and it would work if the current situation didn't have major problems already. I've pointed out the problems for the end user, Lubos has pointed out the problems for the openSUSE-KDE community. It should be clear that this subject is not as easy as "We don't want to alienate the GNOME developers, so we'll keep the status quo". Actually, I would not at all be surprised if the majority of GNOME-on-openSUSE developers would just see this step as catering to the largest user group. It might even have a positive net-effect by making people try harder when they see that the default choice is actually a reflection of what the majority of users want, not a seemingly random decision by executives. The best way to accommodate for a healthy community is not avoiding politics at all costs, the best way is showing a strong sense of fairness and creating a system where success (for example expressed in terms of the default choice during installation) is based on measurable vectors, in this case popularity among users. Make your offering the most popular by gaining the most users, and you become the default choice. That's fairness because it's transparant.
The numbers are clear, KDE is the preferred desktop of the openSUSE community. There is a formal request to reflect that in the installation process. Novell, and those with decision-making powers in the openSUSE team now have the opportunity to prove that features.opensuse.org is not just a lip-service, that the community does control the direction of openSUSE. Not having a preset for the desktop that is installed is hampering adoption of openSUSE. On top of that, keeping the status quo in the current situation will alienate many people, because it'll convey the message: "However hard you try, we'll keep doing what we want.".
[ Mon, 03 Aug 2009 15:35:41 +0200 ] permanent link
This weblog does currently not offer the option to comment. I would be happy to receive an email with your thoughts.
23-11-2007, 18:44 h
© Sebastian Kügler