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OpenDesktop.org provides super-portal to free software sites
When users want the latest in free and open source software (FOSS), they are likely to think first of sites like freshmeat, or perhaps Softpedia or GnomeFiles.

However, as the FOSS community has divided into specialized communities, sites for new releases have proliferated, to the point where it is difficult to keep track of them all. Since 2007, openDesktop.org has provided a portal for many of these specialized sites. Under the slogan "Let's build the desktop of the future," openDesktop.org provides a quick overview of new software that is independent of desktop or distribution.

openDesktop.org is maintained by Frank Karlitschek, a 35-year-old resident of Stuttgart, Germany. A long time GNU/Linux user, Karlitschek contributes icons and organizational assistance to KDE.

Karlitschek got his start on new software sites back in 2001. "I became frustrated that there existed no real theming and community Web site for KDE," he says. "There was Themes.org [now part of freshmeat], but the site was difficult to use and off-line most of the time."

In response, he began KDE-Look.org. "The site was a huge success," he recalls. "I had to move it to a dedicated server after a few days." Two years later, "the old application directory for KDE apps went offline. So I decided to build a new Web site for KDE applications" -- KDE-Apps.org.

Karlitschek's success with his sites caused members of the GNOME community to ask him if he could build a theming site for them as well. He agreed, "and a few weeks later, I launched GNOME-Look.org."

Over the next few years, Karlitschek continued to comply with similar requests, launching "over 20 other Web sites for other projects." These sites include CLI-Apps.org, Android-Community.org, Compiz-Themes.org, Xfce-Look.org, Debian-Art.org, InkscapeStuff.org, and a couple of dozen others. Taken together, they provide an overview of what is happening in most of the major areas of FOSS.

All Karlitschek's sites share a common look and organization, use the same infrastructure and user databases, and are supported by advertising and sponsors.

However, as the sites proliferated, Karlitschek began to feel that more was needed. "I believe that we have to work closer together if the free software world wants to conquer the mainstream desktop. Especially KDE and GNOME," he says. "So in 2007, I decided that we need a Web site where all the user applications, themes, and developers can come together. This was the start of openDesktop.org. The idea is to create a big community site for free software people."
An openDesktop.org overview

What openDesktop.org provides might be called a super-portal -- a portal of all the other portals that Karlitschek has developed over the last several years. The site's main page provides an overview of applications and artwork available on all the sites covered. Visitors can filter their view by such categories as multimedia or telephony, and can search all sites. Similarly, while the default view displays the most recently posted software first, you can switch tabs to filter the display by alphabetical order, the highest-rated software, or the most downloaded.

Much of the software is provided as source code, although a minority of uploaders do include packages, often in .deb format.

In keeping with Karlitschek's goal of bringing the free software community together, openDesktop.org also provides registered users with the chance to form groups, participate in mail forums, and blog. One recently added feature is a job board for FOSS positions.

Officially, the site remains strictly neutral about desktops or distributions. "It is a place for all free software projects," Karlitschek emphasizes. In practice, however, much of the activity seems to come from KDE applications -- perhaps a reflection of the part of the FOSS community where Karlitschek himself is best known.

Despite this limitation, the demand for openDesktop.org is unquestionable. According to Karlitschek, the site receives about 100 new uploads and 200,000 downloads each day. This activity adds up to more than 80 million page views per month, making openDesktop.org a busy site by any measure.
Future plans

Despite this success, Karlitschek continues to look for ways to improve the site. "One project is to integrate the community functionality of Web 2.0 Web sites with desktop applications," he says. He delivered a keynote on this topic to this year's Akademy, the KDE conference, and has published specifications of how he might achieve this goal.

Karlitschek adds that he has "a few more ideas. But I would like to hear from the users if there is anything they miss. In the end, I don't run the sites for myself, but for the community. So if you have ideas, feel free to send them to me.

"I'm only providing the infrastructure," he stresses. "Without the thousands of talented developers and artists, the openDesktop.org Web sites would be boring." With them, openDesktop.org becomes a major resource for those who want to keep current with the latest developments in FOSS.
Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

By Bruce Byfield on November 28, 2008 (2:00:00 PM)

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