The competing Linux desktop projects have been a favorite source of
flamewars for years. Criticism of Red Hat, the largest Linux distributor
has also been good for large amounts of inflammatory content. So it's not
surprising that those who like to argue have gotten even more mileage than
usual out of the combination of the two topics.
The problem? Red Hat, it seems, has gone out of its way to configure the
GNOME and KDE environments in its "null" beta to look (and act) alike. Red
Hat's reasoning is
fairly straightforward: they want to improve their desktop by minimizing
incompatibilities and making use of the best of what each desktop
environment has to offer. Critics complain that features have
been configured out, the default behavior of the desktop has been changed,
and that desktop "branding" suffers as a result of the configuration
changes and mixing of applications.
The problem with these complaints, of course, is that both projects have
released their desktops as free software. Red Hat may have applied a heavy
hand with some of its changes, but the software involved was released under
a license which allows far worse. When you make software free, you
explicitly give up a great deal of control over what others can do with
that software. Microsoft is able to dictate the appearance of its desktop
to resellers; GNOME and KDE have given up that power.
The fact that the software is free means that any distributor can make
whatever changes it wants in order to provide (what it sees as) the best
desktop for its customers. Red Hat's exercise of this right is a good
thing, even if the resulting desktop is a mess. If enough distributors put
effort into improving the desktop they ship, the quality of Linux desktops
as a whole can only improve. Any good ideas from Red Hat's work should
spread; the rest can be ignored. Red Hat is functioning as part of the
development process for both desktops.
And, in general, it is the right and responsibility of Linux distributors
to make the changes they see fit (within the licensing requirements) to
improve their products. The diversity of distributions is one of the great
strengths of Linux. Why would we want to change that?
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