Sunday, February 12, 2012
Which one is for you, GNOME or KDE?
A few months back, when Fedora 16 was about to go live, I thought it would be a good idea to compare the latest from KDE and GNOME back to back, not only under the same hardware, but also under the same distro. I thought Fedora would provide a perfect scenario for both contenders to show their strengths, specially considering that 3.2 was the first major update to get to the still young GNOME Shell. Unfortunately, I faced a number of problems with Fedora 16 which I have already discussed here, which put the whole comparison idea to bed for a while. Recently I decided to give Fedora another try and, after using a couple workarounds, I was been able to install both the GNOME and KDE Verne impersonations on my HP 2740p tablet. After working quite consistently with both for some time, I realised that the article I had envisioned didn't really make much sense. Yes, there are many things that differentiate KDE from GNOME, but both have got to the point where they offer great results, so an in depth comparison wouldn't really work in practical terms. In reality, GNOME and KDE mostly differ in terms of the approach they take to achieve the same goal, a great desktop manager. Is one better than the other? I really cannot say, to be honest. Long gone are the days when GNOME was way more responsive and stable, where many KDE applications were not up to par. Both KDE and GNOME offer end users a great set of tools to do a huge array of things, so it really boils down to two different philosophies that will appeal to two different types of users. The way I see it, it is quite easy to draw comparisons between these two and two types of cars. THE FANCY SPORTSCAR Yes, KDE is like a fancy Italian sports car: Beautiful, stylish, powerful and ridiculously customizable, still unorthodox, not the most reliable and a bit of a rebel at heart. The enthusiastic KDE user, like the wealthy collector who owns a fancy Italian sports car, enjoys the car and the journey every bit as much as getting to his destination. It's not all about getting from A to B, but about the experience. It is fantastic to sit back and enjoy the roaring of that beautiful Italian engine, to step out of the car to witness it in all its beauty, to play around with its hundreds of gadgets... and if a problem happens every now and then that delays getting to our destination, it's all part of the experience, forgiveable. Just like that, KDE sports a beautiful desktop, amazing effects, window decorations and a million and one options available a few clicks away. It also includes many powerful applications and an edgy approach, but the sometimes quirky workaround or the seldom crash are never too far away. THE JAPANESE UTILITARIAN Along the same lines, I think GNOME is a bit like a trusty utilitarian. Practical, rock solid, optimised for productivity, barely customizable, but totally ready to get to the destination quickly and safely. In this case, getting there is what matters most, the journey is, well... secondary. GNOME's first aim is to stay out of the way to allow the end user to become as productive as possible. The applications included live by the same rules, and while customization and looks are definitely there, they take a back seat to stability and productivity. WHICH ONE IS FOR YOU? Personally, while I have trouble digesting some of its shortcomings, I tend to enjoy KDE better. Not only do I have a ball reshaping my desktop to my heart's content, I simply have to admit it has improved leaps and bounds and some of the many original concepts it was set to push forward (activities, the semantic desktop, plasma, etc.) are finally coming together. In addition, the project has some great applications such as Kate, Akregator, Gwenview, K3B or Amarok and thanks to the rapid QT development, it is always improving fast. KDE is a very live project, with a personality and goals that are anything but orthodox, and I kinda like it that way. GNOME, on the other hand, is perhaps a bit more mature, a well-rounded idea built around the concept of removing all obstacles between the operating system and whatever the user is trying to accomplish, and in that regard, it excels. If I had to set up a professional environment, I would probably go with it. Its shell is optimised for productivity, and everything from notifications to system settings are designed to distract users as little as possible. Fancy effects are gone and crazy customization options have simply disappeared. Things just work, so users can concentrate on the task at hand. Features like the new accounts setup, where simply entering your credentials to Google (for example) will be enough to set up the system calendar, inbox and address book, are a bliss. Unfortunately, things like this one are not solid in KDE, sometimes not even working at all, which is a shame. So there you have it, two fantastic desktop managers with two very different approaches towards the same goal. It's not so much about which one is best, but about which offers more of what you are after. Which one suits you best?