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KDE's new Linux distro: Terrible idea, or simply a huge mistake?

KDE Neon Linux distro
Credit: KDE

KDE's recently announced Linux distro, KDE Neon, seems like a questionable move that has the potential for disaster.

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On January 30th, right at the start of the FOSDEM conference in Brussels, something… weird happened.

KDE announced its own Linux distribution, dubbed "KDE Neon."

That's right. The people known throughout the Open Source world as the creators of the KDE Plasma desktop environment – used on numerous Linux distros – have decided to build and promote their own Linux distro.

The announcement was made by Jonathan Riddell, whom you may remember as being behind the Kubuntu project (and having had a rather public conflict with Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu – the distro upon which Kubuntu is based). The company stated the following in their press release:

"More than ever people expect a stable desktop with cutting-edge features, all in a package which is easy to use and ready to make their own. KDE Neon is the intersection of these needs, using a stable Ubuntu long-term release as its core, packaging the hottest software fresh from the KDE Community ovens. Compute knowing you have a solid foundation and enjoy the features you experience in the world's most customisable desktop."

Riddell was asked, in an interview by Swapnil Bhartiya over at CIO.com, "Can openSUSE or Arch users use KDE neon?" To which Riddell replied:

"Neon makes packages that work on the base of Ubuntu. It's not compatible with other distros. For now, to install neon you should start with a Kubuntu image and add the repository. We'll have installable images in the coming weeks."

An answer I find absolutely fascinating.

First, it seems as though "KDE Neon" is, for all intents and purposes, Kubuntu. Only with a different name and now under the umbrella of the KDE project. As a follow-on to that, I find it somewhat strange that Riddell, who – last I heard – wasn't exactly a big fan of Canonical or Ubuntu, has opted to stick with Ubuntu as the basis for this "new" distribution. But, as he states in the same interview, "It [KDE Neon] uses Ubuntu LTS … which the team is familiar with."

Second is the matter of KDE having a distro based on Ubuntu at all. There's a history of licensing issues there, making this seem like a rather strange can of worms for the KDE team to open on themselves.

Third… having a specific KDE distro at all seems a bit strange, at least to me (and I am only speaking for myself here, and not any project I am involved with). Having a distro that decides to build its own desktop environment is one thing (a la the Ubuntu team building Unity), but having a desktop environment (one that has put so much focus on being portable) that decides to build its own distro? I can see a whole mess of problems cropping up around that. Ranging from relationship issues with existing distributions using KDE to development and QA issues for a portable desktop environment when there is now a single, standard distro that the KDE project standardizes around.

Over on the KDE Neon FAQ page is also this interesting nugget:

"We use Ubuntu as a base for KDE neon because we feel it offers the best technology as a stable release and the best third-party support. The KDE neon team is familiar with Ubuntu, having worked with it for over a decade. We also feel that Ubuntu users will miss out if they do not have up-to-date KDE software."

That's right, Arch users. And openSUSE users. And Gentoo, Fedora, Debian, Mageia, and Slackware users (among others). KDE now has a FAQ declaring that Ubuntu is "the best technology."

Putting aside the highly debatable nature of that statement (a debate I would gladly take on) – it is an incredibly alienating statement from the KDE community. In one swoop, they have managed to tell everyone who is not Canonical/Ubuntu (a company and community that doesn't even use KDE as a primary desktop) that they all stink and have technology that is "not the best."

In terms of maintaining and building good relationships… this is a good way to screw up. Big time.

There is so much here that simply makes no sense whatsoever. It's a bad move for the KDE project in every way I can possibly think of. If I had to guess, I'd say this is going to fully blow up in the face of the KDE project (which, I should note, counts some of my favorite people among its members), and "KDE Neon" will be gone within a matter of months.

Or maybe this isn't really a KDE project at all. Maybe we'll find out, in the coming days, that the KDE Board never even knew what this was – and that it was done in secret by Riddell.

Or, heck. Maybe this is just an early April fools joke that they're playing on us all.

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