Today, October 14th, the KDE project celebrates its birthday: 25 years ago the first version of the “Kool Desktop Environment” appeared, from which the popular Linux / Unix desktop environment KDE Plasma emerged. The KDE team is celebrating the special day with a new plasma version, but also with various events and extras for the community on their own birthday website.
For the 25th KDE birthday, we take a look back at the previous history of the KDE project – and forward to the current birthday campaigns. We are dedicating a separate message to the new KDE Plasma 5.23, which we will link to at this point later.
KDE: emergence and first hurdles
On October 14, 1996, the computer science student Matthias Ettrich resigned in the Usenet group de.comp.os.linux.misc the “Kool Desktop Environment (KDE)”. It should not only simplify the operation on Linux and Unix systems, but also bring along all the applications necessary for the work and give them a uniform appearance at the same time. The commercial Common Desktop Environment (CDE) served as an obvious model. Other comrades-in-arms quickly found themselves around the world who actively pushed the project forward. The team bundled its campaigns early on in KDE eV, which has since assumed financial responsibility for the project, organizes conferences and provides organizational support for the community.
The first version, KDE 1.0, appeared in autumn 1998. To make their work easier, the developers used the Qt toolkit from the Norwegian company Trolltech. Its “Qt Free Edition License” guaranteed free use, but still had some restrictions. This met with strong rejection among open source enthusiasts and ultimately led to the establishment of the competing Gnome desktop. At the same time, the Harmony project wanted to develop a completely free alternative to Qt. Under increasing pressure, Trolltech finally placed its toolkit under the GNU GPL in 1999. As before, Qt forms the substructure of the KDE desktop environment.
In the following years the KDE project grew and with it the desktop environment. Many Linux distributions use them by default, including Suse Linux. There were many fans, especially in German-speaking countries, while the competitor Gnome was much more popular in North America.
Small new beginning
With Version 4, released in 2008, the KDE developers turned their desktop environment upside down in several places. The programs were now bundled in the KDE Software Compilation, the desktop environment was known as KDE Plasma Workspaces. In addition, the developers re-implemented large parts. The first result did not yet offer the full range of functions of its predecessor KDE 3, and there were also a few bugs. Some frustrated fans therefore continued to develop the last KDE 3 version for the Trinity desktop.
In 2014, the fifth edition of the desktop environment finally appeared with Plasma 5. The program collection has been renamed as KDE Gear since April 2021. The KDE frameworks bundle the functions required by many applications. All three KDE projects have their own version numbers and use independent release cycles.
And today: party on!
For its 25th birthday, the team is planning many activities for the community, which has its own KDE anniversary website bundles. There will be chats on Thursday and in the coming days with the board of directors of KDE eV, electronics tinkerer Jeri Ellsworth and Massimo Stella, a developer of the video editing program Kdenlive. Finally, on October 25, project founder Matthias Ettrich will be available to answer questions online. If you want to take part in the chats, you have to register in advance. On October 17th you can ask the KDE managers Aleix Pol and Lydia Pintscher as well as the developer Nate Graham any question on Reddit.
The virtual machines with KDE 1, KDE 2, KDE 3 and Plasma 4 provided on the anniversary website should allow a glimpse into the past, some of which are already available and some of which are still to be delivered. Real fans can purchase merchandise specially designed for their 25th birthday in the form of shirts and stickers.
The KDE community also hosts smaller parties in some cities around the world. The ones already announced Events collects a page in the KDE Community Wiki. For example, German KDE users can find a party in Berlin.