Linux history: KDE and Gnome vie for the Linux desktop

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As with so many open source projects, it all starts with a Usenet posting. In it, the Tübingen computer science student Matthias Ettrich announced a new project on October 14, 1996: the “Kool Desktop Environment (KDE)”. He is looking for comrades-in-arms in the Usenet group de.comp.os.linux.misc: Ettrich describes in detail the inadequacies of previous Unix user interfaces and has specific ideas about what needs to change. The name KDE is based on the Common Desktop Environment (CDE), which was common in the commercial Unix environment at the time. CDE is on the one hand too expensive for Ettrich, on the other hand he finds the Motif program library used for the surfaces terrible.

One of the first to get involved in the new project is the Hamburg-based software developer Kalle Dalheimer, who is employed by Star Division: “Part of my work was also following the development of graphical interfaces under Linux. That was when Matthias Ettrich’s posting appeared.” In retrospect, Dalheimer describes his motivation to be there as a mix of ideology and selfishness. He didn’t want to use Windows on principle, but Dalheimer saw no future for Unix and Linux systems with the existing brittle graphical interfaces.

Precursors, Developments, and Stories

It is not that there were no graphical interfaces for Unix apart from CDE in the mid-1990s. There are the minimalist window managers like Twm or Fvwm and their variants. Fvwm95 is based on Windows 95 and Afterstep is based on the NeXTStep user interface.

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