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Linux lab looks to bridge dueling interfaces

Portland Project is designed to sidestep differences between two widely used, competing graphical interfaces.

BOSTON--Open Source Development Labs is previewing work that attempts to make life easier for software companies by bridging GNOME and KDE, the two competing graphical interfaces most widely used with Linux.

The effort, called Portland Project, began showing its first software tools on Tuesday in conjunction with this week's LinuxWorld Conference & Expo here. Using them, a software company can write a single software package that works using either of the prevailing graphical interfaces.

LinuxWorld Boston 2006 roundup

OSDL and a cooperating group called, which is already working on unifying interface issues, plan to release a beta version of the software in May and version 1.0 in June. Ultimately, advocates hope that it will be part of a larger but separate effort called , which is designed to make the operating system easier for software companies to use.

Portland Project began as a meeting among developers at OSDL in Portland, Ore., in December, organizers said. KDE and the GNOME Foundation both endorsed the project.

Unlike Windows and Mac OS X, Linux has two major sets of graphical interfaces. This presents people with different items, such as control panels; complicates cut-and-paste operations; and requires programmers to be aware of what underpinnings they're using for elements such as dialogue boxes or pull-down menus.

It's common for software packages with both interfaces to be installed on Linux machines, enabling programs created for either to run smoothly, but that circumstance isn't guaranteed.

Portland Project is working on two ways to gloss over the differences, a set of command-line tools and an application programming interface called DAPI. OSDL, a nonprofit consortium founded in 2000 by computing-industry heavyweights and employing Linux leader Linus Torvalds, began working on desktop Linux issues in 2003.

"Portland is promising because the historical lack of uniformity across KDE and GNOME has made it difficult for ISVs to build a single application that integrates well in both environments," Linux Standard Base chairman Ian Murdock said in an interview. But, he added, the Portland Project is just one step of many that are needed.

The Linux Standard Base plans to add the software libraries of KDE and GNOME, called Qt and Gtk, respectively, to version 3.1 of its standard. That version is scheduled to debut in early May, while version 3.2 due in early 2007 will incorporate the Portland Project's work, Murdock said.