The kernel devs are professionals. They develop software that is used in the real world in massive installations ranging from Google, supercomputing clusters and pretty much every friggin' smartphone without fruit on it. Most televisions, cable boxes, BluRay players, NAS boxes, etc. depend on that codebase working. If they screw up the people who pay them will not be happy. There would be consequences.
The GNOMEs are pretty much the opposite in every way that matters. The other desktop efforts aren't much better. Because they don't have to be. GNOME released a product that pretty much everyone and their dog hated and other than a lot of heat on Internet forums did it really make a difference to anyone's bottom line? Did it either bring about or prevent 'The Year of Linux on the Desktop!"? No.
Until there are consequences nothing will improve. And as long as it is kids playing with their pet projects there won't be consequences because there won't be enough users to matter. Do I have the answer to how to break that loop? No.
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