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Vive La Desktop Difference!

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The Free Agent e-mail box fills each month with notes from people who are brand new to Linux. It is great to hear from so many people who are trying out Free Software for the first time, but sometimes the mail is predictable.

For instance, this has appeared in my inbox dozens of times: "Should I use KDE or Gnome?" Oh, how I have grown weary of this question. (It's a perennial favorite on newsgroups and forums, too.) Not that it's stupid at all--it's actually a natural question for a user arriving from the land of commercial operating systems, where you don't have this sort of choice. "What? You mean I have two interfaces to choose from?" Yeah, something like that. (I'll not confuse anyone with lesser-known alternatives at the moment.)

So, KDE or Gnome? Not a stupid question--but in my mind, kind of a silly one. Car/computer analogies always hold up well, so let's try one here: If you, dear reader, wrote in asking whether I think you should drive a Mini Cooper or a Hummer, how should I respond? My best bet is to offer no opinion. I know nothing of your preferences or your needs. Either vehicle will get you where you want to go. The difference will be in the experience of getting there. It's the same deal with KDE and Gnome.

Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, recently raised a stir on a public mailing list with some inflammatory comments about the Gnome desktop. He wrote, in part: "This 'users are idiots, and are confused by functionality' mentality of Gnome is a disease. If you think your users are idiots, only idiots will use it. I don't use Gnome, because in striving to be simple, it has long since reached the point where it simply doesn't do what I need it to do. Please, just tell people to use KDE."

This is a classic straw-man argument. I've met more than a few Gnome developers, and I watch their online discussions unfold all the time; I'm here to tell you that they don't believe that "users are idiots, and are confused by functionality." But it sure makes them sound misguided when you frame things that way, doesn't it?

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