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.


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.


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.


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?


  1. I'm a KDE user since ever on Linux (about 2000~2001).
    I think KDE, GNOME and Unity are all capable desktop shells. All have their pros and cons.
    However, the KDE applications are WAY better than GNOME counterparts. Compare Gwenview vs EOG, Kate vs GEdit, Dolphin vs Nautilus, Amarok vs Rithmbox, K3B vs Brasero, Klipper vs (no default, but Glippy or Pastie). The list is HUGE.
    It's mostly the KDE applications, not the shell that makes me stick with it.

  2. I think it's more than the apps for me, specially with all the improvements since KDE SC 4.5, but I agree with you that there are some that are superior to their GNOME counterparts. There are some that are worse as well, like Ark or Dragon. Then there are some apps that are so far out there that I think they should not belong to the KDE apps realm, like Marble, Kdenlive or Digikam. Digikam in particular has proven very unstable in my experience, a disgrace for the rest of KDE apps.

  3. How about Cinnamon. I am using it and find it stable and pretty neat.

  4. @Bernard: Cinnamon is not a desktop manager, just a set of GNOME Shell extensions meant to convert the beautiful GNOME Shell concept into something more similar to Windows. I personally don't like the concept behind it.

  5. Linux applications are still limited in features and variants compared to windows applications. Too much considering distro compatibilities and new distro versions.
    Linux is free but still limited in features.

  6. Personally, I agree with the Productivity comment of GNOME, and perhaps that's why I prefer it. I just installed the Ubuntu distro again, this time 11.10; and while there may not be too many customization possibilities [out of the box], I've done quite a lot of neat customization with Unity, Compiz and some of the more advanced (but readily available) settings tools. Yes, I had to futz with and reset Compiz quite a bit, but I had fun doing it, and once it's configured the way you like it, subsequent logins tend to be very stable. While these customizations look fancy, some of them (mostly the desktop and viewport enhancements) also make for a more productive experience. Add Windows 7 Ent. in an Oracle VM Box (with working 3D acceleration on my Mobility Radeon 5700) for any Windows needed tasks like running QuickBooks or other office stuff.

    In the end it [virtually] doesn't matter. With a little elbow grease you can install the right package or find similar ones for your chosen desktop environment and, in true Linux fasion, have your cake and eat it too.

  7. I love the car analogy. I drive a Honda and prefer Gnome. App wise I always install k3b which rocks and I'm digging okular too. In a way the car analogy is great. I want my car to be clean, get me where I'm going and be maintenance free.

  8. Hi David, thanks for your comments and glad you liked the car analogy.

    I love many KDE apps, some of which I consider far superior than their GNOME counter parts. One of the things about KDE, though, is that there is so much more than meets the eye... Applications like Gwenview, Okular or Kate are incredibly powerful, yet most of us only scratch the surface of what they can offer. Similarly, things like Klipper can make a big difference, yet most people are so into the "Windows ways" that they don't realise KDE can make them so much more productive. Dolphin, Akregator, Krita... The list goes on and on.

  9. Erm, no, Cinnamon is NOT "just a set of GNOME Shell extensions meant to convert the beautiful GNOME Shell concept into something more similar to Windows". Mint did tweak the Gnome 3 shell, but Cinnamon is a separate work, forked from the Gnome Shell, and re-written, so it's hardly "some shell extensions". Please, I've come to enjoy your blog, so please at least make sure you have the details correct when trying to dismiss something. :/

  10. @Anonymous: I didn´t dismiss anything, that´s not my intention. All I am saying, and I still believe so, is that Cinnamon is a mistake, work put on revitalizing an old desktop paradigm that is perfectly covered in Linux by KDE.

    You are right that Cinnamon is a different thing, though, I was not up to speed back then with its latest development (note that the project was barely three months old back then), so I thought it was more like what I had tested under Linux Mint. Thanks for the correction there.

  11. Awesome. The car analogy is perfect!!!

  12. I own Windows 7 and I can truly say that I prefer Linux. Recently I have dumped 7 for Fedora 16 Gnome. As for KDE or Gnome its a tough decision.I love to tweak but also just want to get things done. The article IMO is true and valid and the analogy hit the nail on the head! Linux has been a learning curve for me and sometimes very frustrating (like trying to setup a wireless printer scanner all in one) but all in all I like it. I have tried three Ubuntu distros, two Mints and settled on Fedora and I feel I'm a better person for it. I just wish I could have the best of both worlds Gnome and KDE.

  13. Podríais hablar sin miedo en vuestra lengua materna.

  14. I'm on Fedora 17 Gnome and love it. Though, I have tested openSUSE 12.2 beta2 KDE for a bit and it looks pretty sweet.

  15. Hi
    I prefer Gnome.

    That's real Linux Interface to me, KDE makes me to feel that I am on Windows Vista or Windows 7 and hence I did not enjoy the "Linux Experience".

    I also prefer XFCE more than LXDE and MATE over Cinnamon.


  16. I would preffer KDE. Not anymore. I find Gnome polished and bug free today.

  17. Former KDE user that switched to Gnome since KDE 4 (ironically, 'cause it lost a lot of its customization options), I found myself not knowing what to do since the beginning of 3x Gnome series (almost no customization at all). It turned out that after a few days using Gnome shell it felt like there was no need to customize almost anything. Yes, it needs more options, but it all works so damn greatly.
    The one thing that makes me go back to KDE every once in a while is the comics widget! Believe or not, sometimes I spend weeks using KDE just 'cause of it. But I always switch back to Gnome since I consider it more reliable.
    Great article!