Home > Linux > How GNOME and KDE spend their money

How GNOME and KDE spend their money

Quarterly reports are the stuff of business. In most people’s minds, they are as far from the spirit of free and open source software (FOSS) as anyone can imagine. All the same, as non-profit organizations, many FOSS projects issue them. And while your first reaction may be to avoid quarterly reports, they can give some insights into projects, especially if you read between the lines.

For instance, if you have been assuming, as I have, that GNOME has more corporate support than KDE, and a larger budget, a look at the latest report for GNOME and KDE may surprise you. Together, the two reports give an entirely different impression than you might assume.

Neither quarterly report has much in common with the glossy publications offered by multi-national publications. Both are PDF files with undistinguished layouts and a minimum of graphics. Even head shots of people mentioned or reporting are absent. Compared to corporate reports, those of both GNOME and KDE are practical, unadorned publications.

Of the two, GNOME’s (its first, covering June, July, and August 2009) comes closest to the spirit of a corporate report. It includes not only the obligatory message from GNOME’s executive director, but also reports from the Release, Bugsquad, Marketing, Web, Usability, Accessibility, Documentation, Art and Localizations Teams. Although some of these reports were outdated by the time the report was released, their overall impression is of a multi-tiered multi-national’s executives reporting in. In general, the report fits in well with GNOME’s traditional tendency to favor the corporate side and with its recent interest in marketing. Like most quarterly reports, it is as much a public relations document as an effort to provide concrete information (although it does both). The one non-corporate note is at the beginning, when executive director Stormy Peters asks readers, "please let us know if you find it useful!"

In comparison, KDE’s report for March through June 2009 is less than one quarter the size of GNOME’s. Although it includes the usual redundant introduction — this time by Aaron Seigo — it contains far fewer individual summaries than GNOME’s report. These differences may reflect the greater experience that KDE e.V. — the German non-profit that manages KDE — has with the whole idea of reports, and has the advantage that it is more likely to be read completely. At the same time, because it is so short, the KDE report seems less corporate, an impression that is fitting for the project’s more community-based orientation.

Beyond these general impressions, what is most interesting is the financial accounting in the reports. The two reports are not strictly comparable, given that many FOSS activities occur in the northern hemisphere’s summer rather than spring. Nor is it always obvious in either report what falls under each line item. Still, some differences emerge.

For instance, GNOME lists an income of just over $102,000 for the quarter covered by its report. This income includes $65,000 from the Desktop Summit, $20,000 from "advisory board fees" (which I interpret mainly as donations from corporate sponsors), and $12,400 collected by the Friends of GNOME, a promotional and fund-raising project.

Omitting the Desktop Summit as a one-time source of income, these figures mean that GNOME has traditionally relied on corporate supporters. Corporate supporters continue to provide the bulk of GNOME’s income, but the total from Friends of GNOME suggests that GNOME may be switching to a more community-based source of income. However, given that GNOME reported an approximate income of $54,000 per quarter in 2008 (http://markmail.org/message/bsk4gush6hoq42ef), GNOME does appear to be suffering from reduced income this year; if you divide the one-time Desktop Summit income over all quarters, GNOME is apparently operating this year on about $47,000 per quarter.

By contrast, KDE’s income for the quarter covered by its report totaled just over $111,000 (if you convert the figures from Euros to approximate American dollars). This is actually an increase from the incomes of $93,000 and $102,000 in the fourth and second quarter of 2008. In other words, despite GNOME’s wooing of corporate support, KDE appears to have roughly twice the budget of GNOME in each quarter. And, just as importantly, KDE does not seem to have been affected by the recession.

What is not altogether clear is where KDE’s income is coming from. However, if you assume that the Camp KDE sponsorships and donations indicate corporate donations, then KDE is attracting more support from business than GNOME, Assuming that "supporting members" refers to individuals, KDE is also is collecting more than twice as much from indviduals.

To keep running, GNOME spends $34,401 on wages and $3300 on employee travel, while sponsoring the costs of developers traveling to the desktop summit with $10,300. No other travel expenses are listed, so, presumably, GNOME spends a comparable amount for travel each quarter.

In comparison, KDE spends $17,000 on wages, plus some $2000 for legal expenses and $3,000 for board meetings — presumably because a number of board members travel from North America to attend. Even so, its administrative costs are less than half GNOME’s, despite its larger income.

Moreover, KDE also provides some $27,000 in travel expenses to events ranging from developer meetings, conferences and Camp KDE, a total well over twice that of GNOME, even in a quarter without the Desktop Summit. From these figures, it appears that KDE places a far greater emphasis on face to face meetings than GNOME currently does.

Considering these figures, you should not be surprised that KDE was reporting a positive balance of over $288,000. GNOME’s total balance was not reported, but, considering that last year GNOME was expecting a short fall of some $40,000, the chances are that its bank balance is nowhere near KDE’s.

These suppositions might change if we knew exactly what each line item involved. Still, the differences are consistent enough to make clear that KDE is more than holding its own in the corporate world. What’s more, it appears to run more cheaply than GNOME, and to spend more of its money on its community.

These conclusions are no reflection on GNOME, nor on the current members of the GNOME Foundation. If nothing else, being centered in North America, GNOME might have been harder hit by the recent recession than KDE, which tends to be centered in Europe.

But these conclusions do show how your impressions can change when you get to the bottom line. KDE, from what I can see, is not the underdog that many imagine.

Categories: Linux Tags: , ,
  1. November 4, 2009 at 11:23 pm

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