KDE vs. Gnome

For geeks like us, it can be hard not to get caught up in the over-enthusiasm and fanboyism of our favorite technologies. One of the biggest, and perhaps oldest in the GNU/Linux world is the contest between KDE and Gnome. Now, back in the long long ago KDE reigned supreme having the lion's share of usership. Then along came KDE 4, and people ran screaming to Gnome. Now, Gnome 3 has arrived and many people have ran screaming to KDE. This can tell us a couple of things, the most obvious being that no desktop environment is perfect. Secondly, as so many of us have moved from our beloved old to something different and perhaps not beloved, we have had to come to terms with the idea that ultimately what we once thought solid fact was really just a matter of taste.

Since I started using Linux I preferred KDE. I started with KDE 4.0, which was bloody rough... but I saw the potential and the beauty and stood in awe. Now with the KDE that shipped in 12.1, I ran screaming. Now, I knew fully well that KDE is a constantly evolving beast and I was okay with that. I found it was stable enough to meet my needs and expectations. For me though, I ran into so many bugs that I had to use something else if I wanted to stay sane and productive. Not to say that KDE (I believe the version that shipped in openSUSE 12.1 was 4.7) has gotten worse, but it isn't unusual for me to run into an awful lot of bugs that are rare for other people. Indeed, the reports from friends and on forums was that our KDE was incredible and stable. It seems God thinks I should be a QA tester.

Right now, I use Gnome 2 and 3 on my two systems. When I upgraded my 11.4 netbook to 12.1, it was a bad experience with KDE. I wound up rolling back my system to 11.4. Now, I saw some serious improvements in some areas that I would certainly miss, (especially since performance improvements are very noticeable on a netbook) so when I rolled back, I decided to use Gnome. I figured also, that I needed to get reacquainted with Gnome anyway in order to be able to help others who use it instead of KDE. Also, it had an odd power regression so I wanted the older kernel from 11.4 to address that issue.

Recently I acquired another laptop. I bought it off a friend who had a messed up Windows installation, and hadn't used it in a long time. Part of why I bought it was to have a machine I could be more risky with, to experiment more with. The other reason is that it had a 64-bit AMD processor and an ATI Radeon GPU. These are all unfamiliar territory, so this was a good chance to become acquainted with AMD, ATI, and the 64 bit openSUSE. Frankly, I didn't want to go so risky since the hardware is beefier than my netbook so I opted to use Gnome 3 instead of the KDE that had been so problematic for me before.

I was a bit reticent about using Gnome 3. I had tried the preview of it in openSUSE 11.4, and found it comfortable enough to use on my netbook. In fact, it was very comfortable on my netbook. The final clencher on it, and the explanation for my reluctance was its trouble with resuming the desktop environment after suspending the system to RAM. Since I had rolled the netbook back I got pretty cozy with the Gnome way of doing things, and figured Gnome 3 was worth another chance. I'm not going to go too much into that since I have done so in another blog posting. Suffice to say, I was pleasantly surprised... though not entirely without some frustration.

So, KDE vs. Gnome; who will win? Its irrelevant, in my opinion. Each has their respective strengths and weaknesses. If you want configurability, you go with KDE. If you want your DE to get out of your way, you use Gnome 3. Honestly, I'm personally torn between them. I love the amazing configurability and the power and flexibility of the KDE environment and its application ecosystem. On the other hand, I love the clean interfaces and ease of use of Gnome. Quite frankly though, the configurability of KDE means that I can easily recreate the Gnome 2 or 3 experience with it. So, in essence once I feel my issues have been mostly addressed in KDE then I will go back. But not without having learned a lot, and picking up many fresh ideas from the world of Gnome.

A small note. Since I have clients that I do conversions and maintenance from Windows to openSUSE, I put them on Gnome. Gnome tends to be a bit more predictable and solid, as well as slightly lighter on system resources. Though the default KDE interface looks a lot like Windows, some of its rough edges spook users and cause me to use more time in maintenance. Plus its complexity in the options it gives the user can be very intimidating and confusing to someone coming fresh from Windows.


  1. We must be polar opposites.

    For me Opensuse 12.1 & 4.7 and now 4.8.2 has never been more stable and beautiful. It's finally arrived as desktop even if it did take a while.

    The main point I wanted to make though was that for me gnome3 isn't usable by default. On a default install i find that I am forced to install extensions to get the desktop to function in a reasonable manner.

    Most concerning to me is that though most of the extensions in gnome appear to be created to counter the design decisions of the Gnome developers and provide easier accessibility to taskbars and menu's etc.

    It is great that Gnome developers provided such a great mechanism as extensions but maybe reviewing what people are creating and doing might give them a better idea where the direction of gnome should be going and allow them to create a more usable desktop by default.


  2. Who wins is the user: more options, more choice, and ideas from one project inspire the other. There is another aspect that plays an important role here though, and which is always overlooked: some people like things to stay the way they are, some people like to embrace change. On a side note, one can explain almost all human behavior based on that ;)
    The migration of users from one environment to the other can also be seen under that aspect: the ones who prefer stability over features migrate away from one to the other as the state of development (and maturity) of each changes from bleeding edge and broken but new to something more boring but that just works: KDE 3 and GNOME 2 have been like the latter for a long time, then came KDE 4 which was utterly broken until recently, with people migrating away to other options (e.g. GNOME 2, but also other environments); now that KDE 4 finally reaches a certain level of stability, GNOME 3 is in its development stage, etc...

    Personally, I moved away from both to get back to something that suits my needs (razor-qt and openbox, but that's just me). Gone the useless bells and whistles, back to fast, rock stable and highly configurable. And that's perfectly fine: it's all about choice.

    Another lesson is that those who do dictate what happens and how: a lot of users have been discontent with KDE 4 for a long time, and the same can be seen with GNOME 3 and its shell (to a certain degree) or unity (to a much larger degree). Those desktop directions will re-gain their fair share of users-who-don't-like-change in a short while, once they have stabilized. But, in the end, the developers do whatever they want. If they focus on making something usable for their users, they will probably favor stability. If they prefer to have fun and do cool features and rewrite old cruft, they will do so, which is clearly what has happened with KDE 4. And then of course there is sometimes poor engineering, most blatantly kmail (which has been broken randomly for years and should not be proposed as the default MUA on any distribution IMHO) or things like nepomuk or akonadi, the latter two being fine ideas and nice concepts, but that turn out in a usability nightmare for most (usually the first things people uninstall or turn off, if they manage to find how to turn it off...).

    Find the option that suits your needs, there is a lot more out there than just KDE 4 and GNOME 3.

  3. Well I have been a GNOME user before and for me the new GNOME 3 was/is just terrible in fact it just got too much in the way to the point it was quite annoying to me. This is why I tried KDE and am now using it for almost a month. And I would say it is THE desktop that doesn't get in the way and actually offers a lot of support for user to make it work her way. Not to mention it is a lot more beautiful and flexible with settings. And I agree with Loki, with more choices of libre and open source desktop it is the users who win. More choice is good so there is more chance for everyone to get what she needs. And for me currently that is absolutely KDE.

  4. When I made the mistake of upgrading my desktop to Ubuntu 11.10, I was suddenly confronted with Unity, a completely unusable mess. I was able to move to Gnome 3, but it wouldn't let me put application icons on the panel, where they are never covered up by other windows, as Gnome 2 did. I finally got disgusted and reloaded Ubuntu 10.10 from a CD I had previously made.

    Gnome 3 wouldn't be so bad if its developers hadn't made the blunder of removing useful features that people had come to rely on in Gnome 2. All of the fuss that has arisen is about trying to get those features back.

    Personally, I will stick with Ubuntu 10.10 and Gnome 2 as long as my hardware lasts. For my next system I will consider KDE or Xfce, whatever works reasonably well and lets me put my application icons on the panel.

    --- Brian

    1. My sentiments exactly.I have always used Gnome, because I knew no different! I have stuck to Suse, as it recognises my TV card, which lets me use the radio/TV without a problem.This new Gnome 3 is a real pain, so I reinstalled with KDE, which lets me view everything as I like it.

  5. To me, KDE has always been 2 steps ahead of gnome. Although all my linux PCs have both gnome and KDE installed ( all Fedora 15-16), there was only for a period of 6 months, I switched to gnome2 when KDE4 was first introduced due to stability problem with early KDE4. But since then, I switched back to KDE4 because there are hardly any stability problems left (no unintended reboot for more than 6 months). In fact, I am almost going to totally stop using MS Windows, since KDE4 works much better for me. The only thing stopping me is that there isn't any good enough free linux Desktop workstation application based firewall available to let me feel safe enough to surf the internet and do online banking.

    I have tried Gnome3, and shocked to see it looks much worst than Gnome2.

  6. KDE has been a challange through the last couple of years (my journey started with SuSE Linux 5.2), but I've neven budged as much as a millimeter - until last fall where my trusted Geforce died and apparently took my beloved motherboard with it.

    I ended up with an older motherboard with an onbord Geforce GPU - that either did not possess the power needed for running a full KDE4 or it simple resented it.

    For a moment I found refuged in Xfce - but never found it to be just right. Then I found a new DE, named Razor-Qt - which is pure Qt based and now I'm happy as a clown on my old board, with my old onboard GPU - and actually I have no KDE apps installed, only a few GTK, but the most of it is Qt applications.

  7. Razor-Qt is fine and lightweight, though they're trying to mimic KDE. Unity is buggy and sluggish. Gnome-shell is totally unusable. KDE has tons of features and is bloat, but it has traditional taskbar and start menu - like Windows's one. This is the main reason I prefer KDE over other desktops. I wrote about other advantages here: http://rolling-ubuntu.blogspot.com/2012/06/five-reason-i-would-preffer-kde-over.html


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