KDE was founded in 1996 by Matthias Ettrich, who was then a student at the University of Tübingen. He found a number of things wrong with the UNIX desktop at that time. Among his qualms, outlined in a now-famous newsgroup post, were that none of the applications looked, felt, or worked alike to each other. He proposed the formation of not only a set of applications, but rather a desktop environment, in which users could expect things to look, feel, and work consistently. He also wanted to make this desktop easy to use. One of his complaints with desktop applications of the time was that his girlfriend could not use them. That post spurred a lot of interest, and the KDE project was born.
Matthias chose to use the Qt toolkit as the toolkit of choice of the KDE project. Other programmers quickly started developing KDE/Qt applications, and by early 1997, large and complex applications were being released. In mid-1997, the GNU project had concerns about the licensing of Qt, leading to their founding the GNOME Desktop project and Harmony, a now-abandoned project to clone Qt. Qt was later relicensed to provide the GNU General Public License as an option, which has mitigated these concerns. There is still considerable disagreement over the use of the full GPL for a library like Qt, and the restrictions this imposes on code linking to it, such as the KDE framework and any applications written for it. Both KDE and GNOME now participate in Freedesktop.org, an effort to standardize Unix desktop interoperability, although there is still some friendly competition between them.