KDE vs. GNOME: Photo and Music Management

The differences between KDE and GNOME in photo and music apps reveals key trends in Linux desktop development.
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Most comparisons of the KDE and GNOME desktops focus on usability and productivity apps. However, they often neglect what might be called the leisure apps -- specifically, those used for image and music management.

But in the modern online culture, these leisure apps are often as important to users as any other aspect of the desktop. For many, especially at home, they are probably more important than a word processor or spreadsheet.

In KDE, photo management is generally handled by DigiKam, and music by Amarok. In GNOME, F-Spot is used most often for photos, while traditionally Rhythmbox has been used for music.

More recently, however, GNOME-based distributions like Ubuntu are discussing the replacement of Rhythmbox by Banshee, a more full-featured application.

How do the apps in each category compare? Answering that question not only serves as a consumer's guide, but reveals some of the development trends in KDE and GNOME.

Image Management: DigiKam and F-Spot

DigiKam and F-Spot are similar in general design, down to the general layout of the windows. Both open to a main view for browsing photos, and edit individual features in a separate window.

The main difference in navigation is that DigiKam is centered around the concepts of albums. That is not the only way DigiKam groups photos -- as in F-Spot, you can filter the photos displayed by tags, meta-data, and ratings. In fact, DigiKam's geolocation feature, which is based on Marble, KDE's answer to Google Earth, is so far the most practical example of desktop geolocation that I have seen.

kde, gnome, music apps, photo apps


However, DigiKam's filters are secondary to the concept of albums. By contrast, F-Spot replaces the concept of albums with tags. Generally, this substitute works acceptably, but it does mean that F-Spot has one fewer ways than DigiKam to organize photos.

Otherwise, the work flow in DigiKam and F-Spot is remarkably similar. Both support import and export to popular sites like Flickr, Picasa Web, and Facebook, as well as digital cameras and USB drives, although only F-Spot has a Create Photo CD feature.

However, while both have extensive editing capabilities, so that users do not have to open The GIMP or some other graphical editor, DigiKam's editing capabilities far exceed F-Spot's. F-Spot's editing capabilities are limited to the most common features, such as rotate, crop, size, adjust, and red eye removal, as well as a couple of graphical filters. By contrast, DigiKam includes features for adding borders and captions, and nine filters. Moreover, if you go into the general settings, in DigiKam you can adjust compression levels for common graphical formats, and even color management.

kde, gnome, music apps, photo apps


The fact that you can batch edit to convert graphic formats, restore photos, or add watermarks only adds to DigiKam's advantages.

The main disadvantage of DigiKam is that its layout pays far less attention to usability than F-Spot's. Compared to F-Spot's well-organized menus, DigiKam's are a shambles -- and often intimidatingly long. Nor is DIgiKam any easier to use because it has different versions of some editing tools depending on whether you are editing a single image or a batch.

Whether you prefer DigiKam or F-Spot will depend largely on your priorities. On the one hand, choosing DigiKam means that you can almost certainly manage and edit images within a single program (although DigiKam does have links for opening images in dedicated graphical editors like the GIMP). On the other hand, if you can settle for a slightly less comprehensive feature set, you may prefer F-Spot's greater usability.

Playing Music: Banshee, Rhythmbox, and Amarok

Amarok, Banshee, and Rhythmbox all have the basic functionality that users expect in a music player: all play multiple formats (including both the proprietary MP3 and the free Ogg Vorbis), access to music on both hard drives and external drives, support podcasts and online radio, and allow the creation of playlists. But once you get past these basics, the differences in features can loom large.

Next Page: Rhythmbox and Banshee

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Tags: open source, Linux desktop, Gnome, KDE

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