Why so many DE?

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barnowl981
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Why so many DE?

Post by barnowl981 »

Hi,
I was wondering why there are so much desktop environment.
Sometimes it's obvious, different principles, workflows, libraries etc, like Gnome - KDE, but in some case I don't understand the effort made to keep things separate.
Specifically, in Linux Mint, I don't see those great differences between Cinnamon / Mate / XFCE; or better : I know that there are, like different windows manager, different standard apps and others, but the workflow , the usability, IMO is quite the same.
Wouldn't it be possible to unify everything in a "basic" version with possibly additions such as modules or options? E.G. base system is like XFCE, then users can activate themes support, desktop effect, choose a different file manager etc.
Cinnamon (which I use btw) , is really necessary? They could not just joint to XFCE team to add the features they want?
It's because each functionality is so deep interconnected with the base system that it would be impossible or it's just devs disagreement?

Quite OT but not so much: why carry forward both Mint Ubuntu based and Debian based? Isn't a waste of resources?
Last edited by karlchen on Thu Apr 04, 2024 9:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why so many de.

Post by Pjotr »

barnowl981 wrote: Thu Apr 04, 2024 5:03 am Hi,
I was wondering why there are so much desktop environment.
Because we celebrate diversity. Never thought I would get that out of my mouth, haha. :lol:
barnowl981 wrote: Thu Apr 04, 2024 5:03 am Quite OT but not so much: why carry forward both Mint Ubuntu based and Debian based? Isn't a waste of resources?
Nope. LMDE is a useful instantly applicable spare option in case Ubuntu would ever disappear.
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Re: Why so many de.

Post by barnowl981 »

Pjotr wrote: Thu Apr 04, 2024 5:34 am Nope. LMDE is a useful instantly applicable spare option in case Ubuntu would ever disappear.
Ok, but are the differences between LMDE and the main edition so relevant? Or Mint still relay on ubuntu for the intermediate release which would be quite difficult to maintain if based only on Debian?
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Re: Why so many de.

Post by Pjotr »

barnowl981 wrote: Thu Apr 04, 2024 5:50 am
Pjotr wrote: Thu Apr 04, 2024 5:34 am Nope. LMDE is a useful instantly applicable spare option in case Ubuntu would ever disappear.
Ok, but are the differences between LMDE and the main edition so relevant?
Yes. Why foresake the good stuff that Ubuntu adds to its Debian upstream when there's no reason to do so (yet)? :wink:
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by spamegg »

but in some case I don't understand the effort made to keep things separate.
I think this is a common misunderstanding,
because people don't quite understand how open source works.
There is no effort to "keep things separate".

You have to think about it from the perspective of the developers.
Humans act according to motivation and incentives.

The Linux world is not a unified group.
It's not like Microsoft or Apple.
They are all separate individuals / small groups.
Coordinating the efforts of so many separate individuals across the world,
who are not connected to each other in any way,
who have completely different / separate lives, is insanely difficult.

Usually they have no money, do it as a hobby, or make software for their own use.
Their motivation is having fun, doing interesting things.
So they want to take existing free software and tailor it to their personal taste and needs.
But often it's difficult and not fun: https://blog.linuxmint.com/?p=3736

Also they tend to be highly individualistic and opinionated.
So there can also be a lot of disagreements / infighting.
https://blog.linuxmint.com/?p=4591#comment-382218
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by spamegg »

Wouldn't it be possible to unify everything in a "basic" version with possibly additions such as modules or options?
...
It's because each functionality is so deep interconnected with the base system that it would be impossible or it's just devs disagreement?
No it would not be possible.
The reasons are both. Very difficult, and disagreements on the purpose / direction.
Imagine trying to unify Xfce and Cinnamon code bases... it would take 10 years easily.
Just getting Cinnamon's window manager Muffin closer to Gnome's upstream window manager Mutter took about 1-1.5 years.
This difficulty is why we often see forks, or "let's start from scratch" approaches. Much easier unfortunately.
E.G. base system is like XFCE, then users can activate themes support, desktop effect, choose a different file manager etc.
This already exists to a large extent.
People can take the smaller parts, like libraries, tools etc. and stitch them together for their own desktop environment.
Try to think of DEs like Xfce, Cinnamon etc. as "curated collections" of those parts.
They are put together in a way that, the user does not have to do all the work of "putting it together".
Of course, there are hobbyists who like to do it all from scratch and put it together themselves.
You can see many "create your own desktop environment" type videos on Youtube.
So I think you need to change your perspective / way of thinking on DEs.
Quite OT but not so much: why carry forward both Mint Ubuntu based and Debian based? Isn't a waste of resources?
No, not a waste at all.
Mint devs considered it, and found it worthwhile to do.
Their goal is to make sure a lot of Mint software works everywhere, outside of Ubuntu.
Thanks to this kind of effort, Cinnamon and Mint apps can run on Debian, Fedora, Arch, etc.

Again, open source does not work like a business.
They aren't trying to minimize waste / optimize resource use / maximize profit.
That's simply the wrong way to think about open source.
(I'm not saying they shouldn't make money.
I'm saying that the incentives / motivations are quite different.)
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by Dan-cer »

Thank you for the initial question and the wonderful replies to learn a bit more of the relationships!
How you get better results when searching for yourself.
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by barnowl981 »

Thanks also from me for all the replies.
In fact I had never stopped to reflect on the human side of open source. Also because I took it for granted that at least the developers of the major distributions (among which I include Mint) drew their salary from them, and therefore had a more entrepreneurial mentality.
Maybe not with Bill Gates-like earnings, but at least decent ones.
(Frankly, reading the reality of the facts, I was outraged that a quality job like Mint is so poorly paid. I will contribute as I can.)
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by PaulL »

As a former Windows user, I sometimes still find the Linux world hard to understand. The fact that it's not monolithic, like Apple and Microsoft, is a strength. The bewildering variety of options, however, can be very confusing for newbies. Also, free and open-sourced software is developed, as already said, by people writing the kind of software they want to use, and they don't consult with focus groups of users, or with market analysts. This is either a strength or a disadvantage, depending on how one looks at it. :)

As far as Mint is concerned, the LM team develops only one DE, and that is Cinnamon. Xfce and MATE come from other teams, so the Mint team isn't splitting its efforts as much as you might think. Other distros make use of the work of the LM team on Cinnamon, the same way the LM team uses others' efforts on MATE and Xfce.

As for the Linux Mint Debian Edition, what was posted already is the reality of the situation: Clem and the team think it's worth the effort, so it must be. I'm sure that if they ever find maintaining LMDE to be too much work, they'll drop the project. I've listened to interviews with Clem, and he seems to have a very clear vision of what LM should be and how to get there.
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by Pjotr »

PaulL wrote: Mon Apr 08, 2024 4:44 pm As for the Linux Mint Debian Edition, what was posted already is the reality of the situation: Clem and the team think it's worth the effort, so it must be. I'm sure that if they ever find maintaining LMDE to be too much work, they'll drop the project.
Don't hold your breath. :wink:

Unfortunately, someday, desktop Ubuntu will end. That's probably inevitable, given its lack of revenue....

But Debian will most likely continue to be around then. So in the very long run, I expect LMDE to become the main and only Mint. But until then, I'll continue to use (and prefer) Ubuntu-based Mint.
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by ajgreeny »

Debian itself used to be quite different from what is now available particularly in terms of the difficulties of installing it and choosing the DE version you want.

Now you can download a net-install cd version and choose the DE from the installer, added to which it is easy to choose to add the non-free repos, thus making Debian itself and LMDE remarkably similar to each other apart from the lack of any Mint applications in pure Debian.

I am currently running Debian -Sid (the unstable rolling release) which is working wonderfully, though having the most recent versions of every package does require care when upgrading to make sure no problems are pointed out before actually accepting all the possible changes, and this is much easier in my opinion in terminal than any of the GUI upgrade apps.

I can and you probably could also happily use Debian just like Mint or Xubuntu, assuming Xfce is your DE of choice. You may even find that it runs faster then Mint-Xfce and Xubuntu.
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by spamegg »

In fact I had never stopped to reflect on the human side of open source.
This is by far the most important thing in my opinion.
Even the recent XZ backdoor happened due to this human factor.
A maintainer was overwhelmed and had health issues, so someone took advantage and socially-engineered him.
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by billyswong »

Adding my 2 cents:

The 3 DEs in Linux Mint are using different underlying technologies/modules/libraries/languages behind the scene. So they cannot be merged into 1 project without disposing a lot of existing works.

Example:

Cinnamon applets on panel or desktop are written in JavaScript. The JavaScript engine is loaded by and highly integrated with the window manager/compositor forked from Gnome 3+. The Javascript aspect is also a part of why Cinnamon takes more RAM than the other two.

MATE applets on panel are native programs. Many of those created by Linux Mint are written in Python. The Python interpreter is independent of the window manager / compositor obviously. So MATE is free to swap window manager from the default Marco to Compiz.

Xfce is never a fork of Gnome. Therefore software settings of many native Xfce programs are NOT stored in gsettings/dconf. Instead Xfce designed its own xfconf system. Meanwhile MATE and Cinnamon, being a fork of Gnome albeit from different point of time, store software settings in gsettings/dconf ecosystem.

----

There should be a lot more but the above is what I recall immediately.
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by warriorofthelight »

spamegg wrote: Fri Apr 05, 2024 2:52 am
but in some case I don't understand the effort made to keep things separate.
I think this is a common misunderstanding,
because people don't quite understand how open source works.
There is no effort to "keep things separate".

You have to think about it from the perspective of the developers.
Humans act according to motivation and incentives.

The Linux world is not a unified group.
It's not like Microsoft or Apple.
They are all separate individuals / small groups.
Coordinating the efforts of so many separate individuals across the world,
who are not connected to each other in any way,
who have completely different / separate lives, is insanely difficult.

Usually they have no money, do it as a hobby, or make software for their own use.
Their motivation is having fun, doing interesting things.
So they want to take existing free software and tailor it to their personal taste and needs.
But often it's difficult and not fun: https://blog.linuxmint.com/?p=3736

Also they tend to be highly individualistic and opinionated.
So there can also be a lot of disagreements / infighting.
https://blog.linuxmint.com/?p=4591#comment-382218
You explain the reason for this fragmentation, but not really the advantage of it. And there really isn't much of an advantage to replicating the same functionality many times, with tiny differences in the details. So far I totally agree with the TO. Same goes for Linux distributions in general. There are maybe 3 or 4 use cases that could be best covered by a specialised distribution tailored specifically to this case. Or make it 5 or 7. There's no hardcoded number, but it's "a few". Windows manages to cover most of the IT world with a handful of editions, basically a client and a server edition. That's it. So there's not much of an argument for 100 distributions, let alone a thousand as Wikipedia states for the approx. number of distributions.

Yes, there are *reasons* for this, but no, these are not good reasons, viewed from the perspective of the user.

To me, that is indeed a huge problem with Linux. So much redundancy for so little benefit. It's just not reasonable. Devs rather start their own branch of whatever they were working on than deal with disagreements in a meaningful, constructive way - and yes, I know that disagreements are usually mended in a constructive way in the open source community, but once in a while they're not, and that often leaves us with yet another thing that does the exact same thing as something that already exists...

So in short: I think the TO raises a valid point and I surely hope to see the Linux world go towards a more united approach with less fragmentation.

But then the problems begin: I would totally argue for a unified DE based on Cinnamon - or rather, just drop the others, Cinnamon is already close to perfect. :wink:
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by karlchen »

warriorofthelight wrote: Wed Apr 10, 2024 4:37 pmYes, there are *reasons* for this, but no, these are not good reasons, viewed from the perspective of the user.
You try to sell your personal perspective as everybody's perspective. But still it is your own perspective only.
warriorofthelight wrote: Wed Apr 10, 2024 4:37 pmTo me, that is indeed a huge problem with Linux. So much redundancy for so little benefit.
Oops, you just revealed that of course you are just giving your point of view.

I do not share your point of view, as simple as that.

Essence of threads like this one for me:
If people have got no choice, they will complain.
If people have got the choice, they will complain as well.
Well, it is impossible to please everybody.
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by warriorofthelight »

karlchen wrote: Wed Apr 10, 2024 5:11 pm
Well, yes, of course it is my point of view. What else would it be, the voice of God? But I like to think that it is a valid opinion to doubt that doing the same thing 10x or 100x instead of once is a bit questionable, and that thinking that the time it took to make the other 9 or 99 things could have been spent more useful is not the dumbest idea ever had by a human being. At least, that's how I like to do it in my life, and that is one of the ways progress was made in history. You are of course free to disagree.

And raising valid criticism is not the same thing as complaining, which is in turn just your way to try to ignore a valid argument because you don't seem to have an argument yourself and need to resort to the oldest trick in the book, the personal attack. Well, if that's not the end of a discussion for me, I don't know what is! Good night.
Last edited by karlchen on Thu Apr 11, 2024 3:17 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: shortened full quote of the post right above
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by billyswong »

warriorofthelight wrote: Wed Apr 10, 2024 4:37 pm So much redundancy for so little benefit. It's just not reasonable. Devs rather start their own branch of whatever they were working on than deal with disagreements in a meaningful, constructive way
The 3 DEs in use by LM are not truly branches of each other. They got their own origins. Xfce was older than both GIMP and GTK, not to mention GNOME. It just adopted GTK in later days. Cinnamon and MATE are both forks of GNOME. But MATE forked from GNOME 2 after seeing GNOME 3 being alienating, striving to keep the user experience and feature set of GNOME 2 available to indefinite future. Meanwhile Cinnamon forked from GNOME 3, with goal of reviving a more traditional/classical user experience without giving up later technologies written by GNOME 3+.

All of them got their baggage and have to take care of their old users' habit. There isn't a way to merge them all without losing features or "bloating" the DE, making things more resource-intensive.

p.s. Of course GNOME is one of the major causes of so many DE forks. But without GNOME 3 as how it is, Linux Mint may have never gained popularity. At that time, Ubuntu was busy creating their own Unity desktop, which is yet another tablet-focused DE. Linux Mint became the major player in "non-KDE classical desktop" camp.

p.s.2 In the early days, Qt toolkit wasn't FOSS compliant. This prevented everyone concentrating on KDE as the default DE. You may call this the earliest major cause of DE effort duplication.
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by warriorofthelight »

billyswong wrote: Thu Apr 11, 2024 12:02 am
I was of course talking in general about the issue that the same problems are solved again and again in the Linux community and OSS in general. Be it in the form of similar DEs, or in the form of similar distributions. Sometimes that makes perfect sense: when Oracle took over MySQL and Star/OpenOffice, it made a lot of sense to fork them both and make them independent of Oracle. But that was an exceptional situation and not a redundancy.

I get that there are reasons and a history behind all of these decisions. And, in contrast to what user Karlchen wants to insinuate, I'm not judging that or "complain" about it. It's just a fact that redundancy like that takes up resources that could be used otherwise. I know, people always get emotional when someone brings that fact up. It's like violating a taboo, like the OSS approach is holy and Thou Shalt Not Critize It. Well, in my opinion it's not holy, it's just the way it is and it could be done differently, were there more efforts to coordinate development.

That is the difference between a profit driven approach, where there's a central agent with a vested interest in keeping redundancies low, and OSS where there usually is no such central authority. There is indeed an advantage in redundancy: evolution solved the same problem countless times, each time a tiny bit different, and we all know what the result was. But evolution has a lot more resources and time at hand and I doubt we could do the same with software development.

One instance where this is working perfectly is the kernel itsel. Without that huge effort of Linus to keep development in line, Linux would be dead, or never have lived at all. I sometimes wonder if that will still work once Linus is gone, but that's (hopefully) a long time away. I think most would agree that freely branching the kernel because some 4 devs had a "better idea" about something, and in the end having 273 almost-compatible kernel variations would not be the greatest idea of all time. Yet that agreement seems not to be reachable on questions like distributions or DEs. It would certainly be possible, but it doesn't seem to be a priority for most. I guess because in the case of the kernel, there is that central figure who has a vested interest in keeping things together, and the authority to overrule the others. Not such a bad thing after all, isn't it?

I know, there's not much to be done about it. I certainly can't do much, that's for the maintainers to decide. I respect their decisions, I think Linux is fantastic, I use it for almost 10 years now and I'm very happy with it and I donate once in a while. But it's a bit tiresome to get slammed every time this topic of redundant development comes up, because someone is taking it personally once again. I have no idea why. And yes, I think the topic *should* be discussed. It's a major factor that decides how much effort can go into a single DE or tool or whatever.

Things are not automatically good just because there are good reasons why they happened the way they happened. Realizing this was the major driving force in all of history. And yes, some people always felt attacked when someone brought up the question "Why are we still doing it this way? We could be doing it *that* way? Wouldn't that be better for everyone?". And yet, at some point it changed nonetheless.
Last edited by karlchen on Thu Apr 11, 2024 6:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: shortened full quote of the post right above
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by billyswong »

warriorofthelight wrote: Thu Apr 11, 2024 4:19 am Sometimes that makes perfect sense: when Oracle took over MySQL and Star/OpenOffice, it made a lot of sense to fork them both and make them independent of Oracle. But that was an exceptional situation and not a redundancy.
warriorofthelight wrote: Thu Apr 11, 2024 4:19 am I think most would agree that freely branching the kernel because some 4 devs had a "better idea" about something, and in the end having 273 almost-compatible kernel variations would not be the greatest idea of all time. Yet that agreement seems not to be reachable on questions like distributions or DEs.
Most major forks that gain enough popularity are like the former than the latter. For the later, see those piles of Chromium forks. Most of us just don't care about them and let them rot.

Similarly, there was a time when Firefox redesign on UI alienated quite some users. There were a bunch of Firefox forks too. But the redesign was not as horrible as GNOME. So those forks never gained enough popularity for outsiders to care.

In the case of DE, the situation is more complicated as GNOME 3 isn't bad enough for everyone to join together to overthrow it, but bad enough for many to hate it. Thus we see the most severe amount of branching. There are at least Cinnamon, MATE, Unity, Budgie... each with their own idea and opinion. Each popular enough to make a dent but not popular enough to replace GNOME. Front-end design can't be benchmarked objectively, thus nobody can convince others that "I am the best, follow me."
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Re: Why so many DE?

Post by spamegg »

I think most would agree that freely branching the kernel because some 4 devs had a "better idea" about something, and in the end having 273 almost-compatible kernel variations would not be the greatest idea of all time. Yet that agreement seems not to be reachable on questions like distributions or DEs.
Kernel and distros/DEs are very different than each other.

Kernel is very difficult. It's hardcore computer science. Very few people in the world can do it.
Kernel has to be correct and it has to work. It's not a matter of personal taste.
There are dozens of companies involved backing the Linux foundation.
Lots of businesses rely on the kernel. It's critical infrastructure.

Distros / DEs are quite the opposite.
They are not critical at all. More like optional / hobbyist.
The bar of entry is much much lower.
A lot of Mint code is written in Python / Javascript for example.
Anyone with a little bit of coding experience can contribute.
Distros and DEs are mainly driven by personal taste, aesthetics, and customization.
So... since people's "skin in the game" is low, and their primary motivator is personal preferences, of course disagreements will be very likely.
Just look at comments on the Linux Mint blog from the last few years.
People debate icon colors to death! It matters a lot to them.

Remember how Mint started. It was an easy way to get Ubuntu with some codecs and wifi.
Then in 2011 Gnome 2 -> 3 happened. Many people very much disliked it.
So Cinnamon was born. https://www.linuxmint.com/about.php
Sometimes people call these "protest distros" (which I don't agree with but I get the point).
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