Is KDE dying? This question, or variants of it, have been asked with increasing frequency in the two weeks since Jonathan Riddell announced that, after the next release, Canonical would no longer pay him for his work on Kubuntu, the KDE version of Ubuntu.
But is the question valid? Or simply unsupported panic?
The issue was raised as soon as Riddell's news reached Slashdot. One thread in the comments about the announcement was entitled, "Beginning of the end for KDE?" The first post in the thread suggested that KDE will "continue to be developed for years to come but without major backing it'll probably fade away like a lot of projects do. It's a shame, I feel KDE had much more to offer than Gnome but long term there could be only one winner and all the major players picked Gnome."
More recently, the submitter of a Slashdot link about the design plans for GNOME 3's core applications commented that "for now, I'm sticking to the sinking ship of KDE in the Ubuntu ocean."
The issue was raised in even greater detail by Jack Wallen, a columnist at TechRepublic. The news, Wallen wrote, "hits the KDE desktop where it counts. . . . This marks the loss of the last major distribution to ship with a KDE desktop."
Wallen went on to say that he thought KDE would survive, if only as an alternative. However, his concluding comments that "KDE does not deserve such a fate" and "deserves to be made available through some official channel" continues to leave the impression that the news leaves KDE on life support.
Apparently his readers agree. In a poll accompanying Wallen's article, 12% thought the news meant KDE's "death knell," while 52% thought that KDE should release its own distribution.
Clearly, the idea that KDE is in trouble is spreading. The only trouble is, the idea is based on a mis-interpretation of the news, and is unsupported by the evidence.
Anyone who believes that KDE is dying would do well to look at history. A Google search for "is KDE dead" returns 38,100 results, most of them in the last five years, but a few over a decade old. By contrast, "is GNOME dead" returns only 6 results. Apparently, the KDE death-watch has a long tradition, even though there has never been much to see.
As for the recent news about Kubuntu, whether it affects KDE is doubtful. Although over the years Canonical and Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth has expressed the occasional enthusiasm for KDE, it has never received the same level of attention as GNOME in Ubuntu.
According to KDE's Aaron Seigo, Riddell was never paid full-time to work on Kubuntu. In fact, "Jonathan Riddell was working on [the version control system Bazaar] during his work hours for most of the last Kubuntu release cycle and had little time outside of work for Kubuntu. Yet, Kubuntu still made a good release on-time, driven by the community around Kubuntu. So we know it doesn't die if Jonathan isn't paid to work on it."
In fact, a look at the Kubuntu mail forum indicates that an active community supports Kubuntu, and seems determined to keep it alive, despite the discouraging news.
In addition, like Lubuntu, Xubuntu, and other Ubuntu variations, Kubuntu will continue to have access to Launchpad, Ubuntu's development site, and other Ubuntu resources.
Yet even if Kubuntu were to stop development, the effect on KDE would be relatively small. The truth is, Kubuntu has never been the premier KDE distribution (that would probably be openSUSE).
Mention Kubuntu, and inevitably its past reputation for having quality assurance problems is raised. True, in the last few releases, its quality has improved immensely. Yet, as Riddell admits in the announcement, in seven years Kubuntu "has not taken over the world commercially and shows no immediate signs of doing so."
In fact, contrary to Wallen's characterization, Kubuntu has never ranked as a major distribution. The page views on Distrowatch tell the story: in the last four years, while Ubuntu has consistently ranked first or second among distributions, Kubuntu has never been higher than fifteenth, and is currently at twenty-fifth, behind Lubuntu and just ahead of Xubuntu. In these same years, Kubuntu has consistently had less than fifth of the page views as Ubuntu.