It started seemingly innocuously enough; a letter was received by one member of the KDE development team asking the KDE Project to use RedHat Linux on machines at LWCE and to display RedHat's shadow man logo on those machines. In exchange, the letter from RedHat explained, KDE would “benefit from many valuable marketing benefits in our booth, on our website, and in our newsletter.”
UPDATE (7/30/2002 15:21 and 16:04 EDT): New information from RedHat is available at the bottom of this article.
Interested, but a bit concerned due to RedHat's track record with KDE, the developer, Charles Samuels, wrote into a KDE mailing list for opinions on the offer. After a heated discussion, of which many participants had already been burnt by the distribution's disinterest in KDE, Samuels came up with a compromise.
In his message back to RedHat's Tommy Mann, he said the KDE Project would take the offer if RedHat would provide a system for the KDE booth to show KDE on RedHat with and the company would demonstrate KDE in its own booth. Those in the mailing list discussion were pleased with this, and overall it sounded like a good way to improve relations between the two groups.
This also seemed to be an offer still in RedHat's favor. After all, with many of KDE's core developers being on the payroll for competitors SuSE or MandrakeSoft, agreeing to show a system from a company that does little for the project may be regarded negatively by those companies that are actually helping.
Curiously, RedHat's Mann wrote back saying they would not provide a system or even demo KDE in their booth. Much like a telemarketer, Mann continued by essentially repeating his original message, noting that if KDE would use RedHat it would have its name listed on a sign at RedHat's booth. The KDE logo, however, would not be displayed on the RedHat sign unless KDE completely switched to RedHat systems.
This begs the question what exactly was RedHat thinking? They ask for KDE to do them a favor and rather then do KDE a favor in return that would also serve to promote RedHat, they refuse? Worse, insult was added to injury, since apparently RedHat was not even comfortable being seen with KDE running in their booth.
Naturally, this move created no goodwill for the North Carolina-based company in the KDE community. Samuels responded by calmly noting what other less moderating viewpoints had said when he had initially asked the KDE community about the offer. Then he summed up his point by saying “I feel I returned to you a very reasonable offer… I find your active lack of support for KDE harmful to the entire Linux world, an opinion shared by many, many, others.”
Shortly thereafter, in another response sent to RedHat, KDE Dot News editor Navindra Umanee wrote “I find it amazing that KDE has to 'participate' in your 'program' to get a slight mention in your booth, when you even refuse to even display KDE running on Red Hat in your booth or provide a running, packaged, version of the latest KDE on Red Hat.” He continued “I find it shameful that you should engage in market-speak double-talk with the KDE project, a community-based Open Source project that is providing you with millions of lines of free code in the form of the best Free Desktop suite available for Unix and that you don't even have the decency to properly support or acknowledge the contribution.”
At press time, Open for Business was unaware of any response by Mann or others at RedHat concerning this PR disaster. It does, however, raise an interesting question of what the software vendor hopes to accomplish with its continuing near boycotting of KDE.
While the leading Linux distributor has warmed up to KDE somewhat, finally including the desktop in the 6.x releases a few years ago, its support continues to be poor. Many RedHat specific KDE bugs have been ignored by the company for multiple releases, and KDE's minor bug-fix releases almost never receive official upgrade packages for RedHat Linux.
As RedHat's might is considerably weaker in the desktop segment, with its preferred desktop (GNOME) taking only about 20% of the desktop market versus KDE's over 50%, they would be wise to change course. While it has never taken the desktop as seriously as other vendors such as MandrakeSoft, why RedHat would burn bridges with a project that presents a serious threat to the Microsoft desktop monopoly - and thus is a guarantor of continued RedHat desktop and server sales - is a mystery.
Vadim Plessky, another KDE developer, also wrote RedHat, noting “[the] strategy used by Mr.Mann … is definitly [sic] out order, even for traditional (closed-source) software, or hardware company.” Plessky concluded with a potential result of such action, saying “You are making [a] wrong move with such [an] attitude to KDE, which will result in [an] even further drop in market share for RedHat Linux. While being at 70% market share 2-3 years ago, RedHat hardly enjoys more than 25% marketshare nowdays.”
Only time will tell if this prediction will come true, but if RedHat continues with similar actions through out the community, it may end up alienating its support base. Neither this nor its refusal to fully support KDE bode well for the company.
UPDATE (7/30/2002 15:21 EDT): Contrary to what Mr. Mann said to the KDE Project, the company will be demonstrating KDE in its booth at LWCE according to RedHat's Todd Barr. This is excellent news which we hope will be the first step in remedying the larger KDE/RedHat problems noted here and elsewhere.
UPDATE (7/30/2002 16:04 EDT): In a continuing stream of good news, Todd Bar contacted one of KDE's representitives saying RedHat would provide a system to demo KDE on RedHat with. Rob Kaper, one of the KDE developers who will be at the show, responded excitedly “This is very generous of them and shows that Red Hat is
willing to put effort in cooperating with KDE, which is a good thing.” It is certainly great to see such a good ending come out of this event.
Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business. You can reach him at tbutler@uninetsolutions. com.