The "Kool" desktop is almost as old as Justin Bieber – and far more stable.

Brand Repositioning

So after some bumps in the early road, KDE had a fairly smooth ride throughout the 2000s. KDE 2.0 arrived in October 2000 and was widely regarded as a major step forward for the desktop; it was followed by 3.0 in April 2002. However, it took another five years for KDE 4.0 to arrive, and this release had a few detractors. The switch to Qt 4.0 had meant that some older applications were dropped, and the updated Plasma desktop and various subsystems were seen as immature (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Here's KDE Plasma from a recent release – you can see how far it has come over the last 20 years…

In response, the KDE team pitched 4.0 as an early adopter release – in other words, it wasn't meant to be viewed as a final, polished, end-user-ready product. Consequently, the KDE 4.x series went though many revisions, and some hard core KDE fans only described it as truly ready for widespread usage at versions 4.2 or even 4.3 (See the "Trinity Desktop Fork" box for more details.)

Trinity Desktop Fork

As mentioned in the main text, KDE 4.0 was a huge update and not received positively by everyone. Some KDE fans wanted the 3.x branch to stay alive, so a bunch of developers and other community members started the Trinity Desktop Environment [9], a fork of KDE 3.5. Unlike many forks in the Free Software world, Trinity didn't fizzle out after a few weeks of bike-shedding and arguments on mailing lists.

No, it actually managed to get usable software out of the door and work on updates and fixes, much like the MATE team did with Gnome 2.x. The most recent version of Trinity arrived in early 2016 – although that was a minor bug fix release, and the last major update came in December 2014.

But does Trinity have a future? The Git commit list [10] shows the work of a small team that's mostly fixing bugs and updating supporting libraries. So we don't expect any major planet-shaking new features in Trinity's future – it just needs to keep KDE 3.x alive and usable for those who love it.

In addition, KDE went through a rebranding in November 2009: "KDE is no longer software created by people, but people who create software." Instead of KDE being a single bundle of software to make a desktop, new terms were introduced, such as KDE Plasma desktop for the bulk of the interface, KDE Applications for the various tools, KDE Platform for libraries and subsystems, and so forth. All together, a release was called a KDE Software Compilation. Some KDE fans objected to the new naming scheme; others recognized it as a necessary step for such a large and all-encompassing project.

What's to Come – And How You Can Help

Currently, KDE is using a regular number-based versioning scheme for Plasma, along with Ubuntu-esque dates for the KDE Applications bundle (Figure 3). (At the time of writing, the latest version of KDE Applications was 16.08.1 – so a minor revision to the version initially released in August of 2016.) Schedules for upcoming releases can be found online [4], but note that there's no roadmap for Plasma 6 or KDE Frameworks 6. In a way, that's a good thing; we all like to read about big new features and major changes coming down the pipeline, but we also like to see projects work on refining and stabilizing the current codebase before rushing off to work on the Next Big Thing.

Figure 3: Some KDE applications have become so popular that they're often used with other desktops or window managers – like KDevelop.

Of course, the best way to shape the future of KDE is to get involved with the project. If you're a coder and know way around C++ and Qt, see the Get Involved page [5] for some pointers – but there are plenty of non-development tasks to help with as well. For instance, the Visual Design Group [6] works on the look and feel of KDE (and its websites) and is looking for contributions from aspiring designers and artists. Similarly, if you speak other languages than English, you can add translations [7] or work on docs [8]. If you've never contributed to an open source project before but get involved with KDE, let us know your experiences!

Figure 4: Thanks to the KDE Restoration Project, you can run KDE 1.1 on modern Linux distros for retrotastic fun.

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