KDE & Linux: An Explanation for the Uninitiated

One of my friends after reading my last blog piece commented: “English please.”

So here is the English summary translation of my last blog post:

The short explanation would be:
I occasionally review new Linux software. KDE is a window manager for Linux. And the new KDE4 rocks my world!

Long explanation without too much techno-babble:
Linux is an alternative to Windows for computers. Now KDE is a window manager for Linux. A window manager handles the drawing of windows, various widgets, keyboard input, mouse input, etc. (Yes, KDE/Gnome users I know that window managers often do more than that.) Basically all the things you see (and hear) on a computer, are all handled (for the most part) by a window manager.

The KDE developers also make a number of additional programs (file browser, web browser, IM client, office suite, image viewers) that work closely with the basic KDE system programs. In the new KDE 4, the KDE developers basically rewrote most of KDE, letting them experiment with new and interesting ideas.

Now, you are probably thinking so what? Well unlike Windows or Mac OSX, Linux is free. KDE is also free. Free as in speech.

You see Linux, KDE and hundreds of other such programs are open source software or software libre. Software libre is a movement to give back freedom to both computer users and developers. (For the most part I use the terms free software, open source and software libre interchangeably. My apologies to RMS & the FSF for continuing the confusion.)

Open source software is licensed in such a way that you can download it legally, run it, look at the source code, whatever you want to do with it. The only restriction is that if you change the source code and plan on releasing it, you have to release your modified source code under the same license. (Extreme simplification here since I am talking only about the GNU General Public License version 2 or GPL 2. But nothing written as a binding legal document is simple. Fortunately GPL 2 is the most popular open source license.)

Now most people think that nothing of value is free. You might think no one would want to work on something that is free. Except there are probably a few hundred thousand open source developers including myself out there. Except that Fortune 500 companies such like IBM, Sun Microsystems, Adobe, Asus, Google, Dell, Sony, etc. often run their business on open source software, and pay developers to contribute back to open source software projects like Linux.

Case in point: Yesterday, Sun Microsystems bought out MySQL AB, a company that produces free open source and extremely popular database for $1 billion USD. Google, Yahoo, Facebook all use MySQL as their database platform.

Back to my last story, the new KDE 4 is cool. Cool because its open source. Cool because its beautiful to look at. Cool because it works. Mostly. Cool because it will only get better.

So I hope that explains why I get excited about things like KDE 4.