Re: When will KDE and Debian get together?

Subject: Re: When will KDE and Debian get together?
From: Anthony Towns (
Date: Mon May 29 2000 - 07:33:36 CEST

On Sun, May 28, 2000 at 10:04:30AM -0700, Alan W. Irwin wrote:
[in response to Tobias Peters]

> You and others have brought up the possibility of KDE changing their
> license. I cannot speak for KDE, but I suspect they are reluctant to change
> from the GPL.

Which is well within their rights. But the GPL does not give permission
for people to distribute binaries for which the "complete source"
can't be freely distributed and modified. A common interpretation (one
supported by the Free Software Foundation, by Debian, and that seems to
be most similar to the successful interpretation in past conflicts of
this nature) is that the "complete source" in KDE's case refers to the
KDE source code, and any and all non-system libraries that KDE links to.

Now, the KDE copyright holders are welcome to take another interpretation
on this: Linus, for example, specifically excludes the source code for
loadable modules from the "complete source" for the Linux kernel for the
purposes of the GPL [0]. But unfortunately Debian can't be sure that this
interpretation is actually the one adopted by all the copyright holders
in the KDE project. It's a simple matter to assure us that it is: have
the relevant copyright holders add a simple addition to their LICENSE or
COPYING files to say, eg, "Derived works based on the Program may link
against the GUI library "libqt", copyright by Troll Tech AS, Norway". [1]

If the authors all agree that this is the correct interpretation of their
license, then there shouldn't be any concern with adding that clause. If
the authors don't agree, well, then obviously there's more of a problem,
but I'd guess that's not the case for KDE programs, somehow.

> Furthermore, even if every current and historical KDE
> developer were willing to modify the license of their work, you have to
> acknowledge it would be a logistical nightmare to organize such a change
> since so many have contributed to that project.

The KDE project has a bug tracking system, so at the very least it has
a means of communicating with all its maintainers. Also, it's only the
copyright holders that need to agree to this change, not everyone who
has ever made a suggestion to the project.

"We couldn't be bothered even making the attempt" is a pretty weak
argument though. We wouldn't have either KDE or Gnome if it really
flew. We probably wouldn't have Linux at all, if we readily gave in to
perceived "logistical nightmares" either.

> However, if you analyze the
> argument *as put forth there* it seems to me to be in a grey area when
> dealing with a GPLed binary package like KDE which only depends in a dynamic
> way on the Qt shared library.

Indeed, it is a grey area. However, it's a grey area that says "Debian
might be violating both the law and the copyright holders' wishes by
distributing KDE" and it's a grey area which seems to be fairly black
and white as far as the FSF's legal advice goes. Debian tends to err on
the side of caution if there's a possibility that the copyright holder
doesn't actually give permission for the program to be distributed.

These arguments have been put forth on both the kde-licensing, and the
debian-legal lists a number of times in the past.

> I can see why neither Debian nor KDE wants to change here, and it is also a
> practical impossibility for KDE. Unfortunately, that leads to the
> conclusion that Debian will never distribute the binary versions of either
> KDE-1 or KDE-2 except in the unlikely event that RMS changes his mind. This
> leads to your next point which I absolutely agree with.

Or unless the Harmony project [2] succeeds to a similar degree that
lesstif has and KDE can happily link against it. Or, unless Troll Tech
folds and Qt becomes BSD licensed [3]. The latter's a particularly
unfortunate thing to have to hope for.

> One current problem for Debian (unlike rpm-based distributions) is it does
> not have a standard source-package format.

Actually, it does. Debian packages are built from a combination of three
files: the pristine upstream source (.orig.tar.gz), the Debian specific
patch (.diff.gz), and the source control file (.dsc). `apt-get source
-b qmail' for example, will download the source for qmail, unpack it and
apply the Debian patches, and build it, assuming you have the appropriate
programs available and so forth.

> I have hope on this issue because with the exception of one correspondent
> who made it clear that he was completely prejudiced against KDE in any form,
> the others seemed as reasonable as you on the issue of distributing KDE as
> source.

Distributing packages as source isn't necessarily desirable: it requires
a full compilation environment on all machines, it gives newbies a lot
of options for errors (not having a proper compilation environment,
having extra libraries that need to be uninstalled while the package
is being compiled, having bits of the package silently not be built),
and it introduces a whole class of bugs that are difficult to duplicate
by the maintainer.

Especially for a large, complex desktop system that caters specifically
for newbies and the non-technically inclined, it's far from an ideal


[0] See the COPYING file in your local copy of the Linux source.

[1] A similar exemption (albeit with a sunset clause) is included in
    the license to Debian's APT, eg, so that Corel Linux's Qt-based
    Apt-frontend may link to the Apt library.

[2] Harmony has something of a homepage at
    with a mailing list that's occassionally active, and archived at:
    and a CVS tree you can get at via the homepage. My understanding
    is most of the examples that come with Qt can be made to compile.


Anthony Towns <> <>
I don't speak for anyone save myself. GPG encrypted mail preferred.

``We reject: kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and working code.'' -- Dave Clark

To UNSUBSCRIBE, email to
with a subject of "unsubscribe". Trouble? Contact

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b25 : Mon May 29 2000 - 08:44:40 CEST