Interview with Matthias Ettrich: The Founder of KDE

KDEKDE is the one of the leading desktop environments. It is available on Linux as well as other operating systems. In this article, we feature excerpts of an interview with Matthias Ettrich, the founder of KDE. Matthias is currently employed by Trolltech ASA, working as a Qt coder. This interview was originally featured on EFYtimes.

How did KDE begin?

ME: KDE’s history started with a posting of mine in various Linux and X11-related newsgroups almost 12 years ago in October 1996. We quickly assembled 40 or so developers and started hacking together. Since then, the project has grown a lot, both in terms of contributors and in terms of users. And most certainly in terms of the number of applications and lines of source code.

The time was just right in 1996. Linux was popular enough that it had plenty of developers and users who were interested in graphical user interfaces, as opposed to the early console-only hackers, as Microsoft shocked the Free Software world with Windows 95. It may sound unbelievable, but back then, many hackers thought something like Windows 95 could never be matched with Free Software. How wrong they were!

How much time do you contribute to the development of KDE now?

ME: I haven’t done specific KDE coding work in a while. Everything I have been doing goes into Qt. But since Qt is a part of KDE, or KDE a superset of Qt, I still consider myself a KDE programmer.

So, what is your role at Trolltech?

ME: Until this year, and during the entire Qt 4 development phase, I’ve been Trolltech’s head of the Qt desktop development unit. As vice president, engineering, I’ve been a member of the management team, and I’ve also been a member of the board of directors. I didn’t want to miss the fun and the experience I gained from that, but after all those years I wanted to move back to my home country. Since the summer of 2006, we’ve been building up a new development site in Berlin/Germany for Trolltech, so currently I’m general manager of a pure development office as well as a senior software engineer. My successor in Oslo (in the VP engineering role) is another guy from the KDE project: Lars Knoll, the creator of KHTML. So Trolltech will remain as KDE-friendly as ever.

Firefox, OpenOffice.org and many other FOSS tools are becoming popular on the ‘Windows’ platform. Where do you see KDE on Windows?

ME: When you say KDE, there’re at least three of them: the development platform, the desktop and the set of applications built on top of that platform. You will always get the best KDE experience when using all three combined. Nevertheless, the KDE team did a tremendous job to ensure that not only the underlying Qt libraries, but also the additional KDE libraries and technologies were portable. This makes it possible to develop true KDE applications on MS Windows, and in return, to use KDE applications on MS Windows. For application developers, this means more potential users, which to some is an important motivational factor: now your friends can use your applications without having to install Linux first.

And more users mean more developers, since developers of free applications typically start as users. My hope is that Windows users will fall in love with some of the apps, and some will eventually join the development team. Keep in mind that the real strength of a Free Software project is the number of developers, not the number of users. If the setting is correct, users eventually become developers, but this isn’t a given. Many things have to fit together to make this happen. Last but not least, you need a friendly and helpful community and a powerful framework with a not-to-steep learning curve. KDE is very strong in both, so we are looking ahead to a very bright future.

Read the rest of the interview here

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