Fragmentation on the Linux Desktop (Is it Normal?)

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Trying to make sense of the recent history of the Linux desktop, I realized recently that the main perspective was wrong. The fragmentation of user share between desktops isn't a new trend -- it's simply a reversion to coding as usual in free and open source software.

That the fragmentation is happening is beyond dispute. Five years ago, GNOME and KDE together accounted for roughly eighty percent of Linux desktops, yet today the picture is more complicated. GNOME 3, Ubuntu's Unity, and Linux Mint's MATE and Cinnamon have divided GNOME's user share, while Xfce has leaped into second place after KDE, according to the 2011 Members Choice Awards. Other desktops have also become more mainstream -- LXDE, for instance, is now the basis for the Ubuntu variant Lubuntu.

Conditioned by proprietary software, where a single desktop per operating system is the norm, many pundits worry about this situation. Some worry about the inefficiency of the same efforts duplicated many times over.

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