Under these circumstances, Seigo is not just putting a spin on bad news when he says, "We have not in the past relied exclusively or even primarily on Canonical's involvement so, while we regret they aren't participating as much anymore, the impact is not expected to be significant."
An even stronger indication of KDE's continued popularity is how consistent the preference for it remains in various surveys over the years. These figures show no reason to think KDE is in serious trouble -- although possibly it has suffered a small decline in popularity due to the fragmentation of the desktop in the past year. Even the great transition to the KDE 4 series in 2008, which sparked a user revolt, seems to have only temporarily affected the figures.
In 2007, on DesktopLinux.com's survey, KDE was favored by 35% of the 38,500 who responded to the questions, compared to 45% who favored GNOME.
The Linux Journal's Readers' Choice Awards did not give figures before 2008, but, in 2003-2005, KDE was chosen over GNOME each year. The Editor's Choices for 2006 also chose KDE. In 2008, GNOME won with 45% to KDE's 42.5%, and in 2009, with 53% to KDE's 30%. The two environments tied in 2010, and in 2011, GNOME won again, although figures were not given.
However, the most interesting figures are LinuxQuestion's for 2011. These are not only the most recent figures, but the first since GNOME 3 and Ubuntu's Unity were released. In these results, KDE finished first at 33%, while GNOME 3 (GNOME Shell) was third at 19%, behind Xfce with 28%.
Other major desktop environments? Unity was far back with less than 5%. Linux Mint's evocations of GNOME 2, Mate and Cinnamon, had several percentage points apiece -- an achievement that is all the more remarkable because they were available for only a few months of 2011. Trinity Desktop Environment, the KDE 3 fork, had 15%, while LXDE had 7%.
What these figures show is that, for years, KDE's and GNOME's popularity have been close. The most that might be said is that GNOME may have had a small advantage overall in the last five years. Yet even that is uncertain. A margin of error is never given in any of these surveys, but would probably have been several percent.
However, the situation may have changed in the last year. If you give credence to LinuxQuestions' results, in 2011 the choice of desktop environments became considerably more complicated then in previous surveys. After years of consistently finishing third, Xfce moved into second place. Alternatives that in earlier years barely registered in these surveys have suddenly become more popular -- most likely because of dissatisfaction with GNOME 3 and Unity, and, to a lesser extent, with KDE.
Certainly, the popularity of these other alternatives appears to have come at the expense of both GNOME and KDE. But where KDE dropped by as much as 7-9%, depending on how you calculate its previous popularity, GNOME dropped 21-26%, depending on whether you count GNOME 3 and Unity together or separately. Possibly, though, GNOME's decline is temporary, like the drop in KDE's popularity in the Linux Journal survey for 2009, the first year after KDE 4.0 was released.
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