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you can install "switchdesk-gui" for the experience i expect you're after, or edit /etc/sysconfig/desktop. In reality (i believe) this doesn't actually make KDE your default, instead you specifiy a preference fro KDE which means that when your graphical login loads, the preference for KDE means Kdm is loaded instead of Gdm, Kdm using KDE as the default...
you don't need the variable at all. these variables are used by the prefdm script (in /etc/X11/ i think). as i hinted at above, if you set a preference for gnome, you'll get gdm, kde you get kdm, (and i assume gdm for anything else "pretty" and bog standard xdm for all else) That variable is a way to explicitly override it rather than have it possibly change each time you change your preferred desktop. so if you liiked gdm, but kde, you would use that variable to state you want to go against the logic. if you're as bored as i've been, have a skim through the prefdm shell script.