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Author's Note (Web-only)

  A sample KDE screenshot.
  (Click here for a larger version.)

The two main desktop environments for Linux are each known by an acronym: KDE, for K Desktop Environment, and GNOME, the GNU Network Object Model Environment (as the name suggests, GNOME is part of Stallman's GNU Project). KDE, which came out in July, 1998, is produced by a consortium of independent programmers based in Germany. Soon after its release, it was attacked because not all of the source code was covered by the GNU General Public License. In one of the arcane disputes endemic to small, idealistic projects, various programmers argued that the KDE license, which used different language, was not in compliance with the spirit of the GNU Project. Believing that KDE was fatally flawed, a Mexican hacker launched GNOME, which was soon assisted by Red Hat Laboratories, a branch of the Red Hat software firm. Version 1.0 was released in May.

A sample GNOME screenshot.
  (Click here for a larger version.)  


What is the difference between KDE and GNOME? Both are good pieces of programming, though both are still works in progress -- GNOME more so than KDE. From the perspective of a new user, KDE is a bit easier to work with than its rival, but GNOME is definitely glitzier. A KDE feature that I particularly like is its pager, which depicts, in miniature, the contents of every currently running desktop. And its file manager, which treats files on local hard drives and the Net in the same way, is exceptionally functional and easy to work with. Because in its current state many of GNOME's most important features are not fully implemented, its most important attribute may be its appearance. GNOME looks even less like something from Redmond, Washington, than KDE. Its graphic capabilities, which are descended from a window manager called Enlightenment, are (to quote my thirteen-year-old son) really, really cool. We downloaded several "themes" -- coherent sets of graphical elements -- from themes.org, an online clearing-house for this sort of thing. Within an hour, we had transformed our lowly computer into something so awesomely cool-looking that it was practically impossible to use. I'm almost ashamed to admit that although KDE was easier to use and more fully developed -- that is, more functional -- I had GNOME on my desktop more often.

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