Manipulating and Arranging Windows
GNOME 2's and KDE's use of windows are more or less what experienced users expect: minimize, maximize, and close windows on the right side of the title bar, with a task manager in the panel that displays minimized apps.
In both, too, the window manager tries to avoid completely covering opening windows with new ones, but if more than a few windows are already open, this arrangement is not always possible. However, KDE partly compensates by letting users set a hot spot on the edge of the desktop that displays all windows or all windows on the current virtual workspace when the mouse clicks it.
Unity sidesteps the problem of arranging windows by opening most apps maximized -- although you can minimize a window to the dash, where an arrow on the left indicates its status. Infamously, Unity also moves the title bar button to the left side of the window, a move that puzzles many users until they acclimatize.
Of the four, GNOME 3 is by far the most innovative in window manipulation. It automatically arranges windows into different virtual workspaces to avoid crowding, and the overview offers an image of each workspace that shows the open windows all neatly aligned. This image has no relation to how the windows are actually arranged on a given work space, but can be useful for navigation.
In addition, GNOME 3 offers only a close button on the title bar. To minimize all windows, you use a hotspot in the upper left corner, while to maximize, you click one of the minimized windows.
Verdict: GNOME 3's window management is unconventional, but successful enough that you have to think less about window placement. For that reason, I give it first place. KDE is less innovative, but enough to give it second place. GNOME 2's familiar arrangements are third. Unity comes fourth, because, unless you are on a tablet or a netbook, you don't always want every app to open maximized.
A virtual workspace widget is available in Unity's launcher and GNOME 2's panel, typically with a default four workspaces. KDE has a similar widget in its panel, but adds the closely related concept of Activities, each of which can have its own workspaces, as well as customized icon selections and customizations.
The odd desktop out is GNOME 3, which has virtual workspaces, but manages them for you, creating new ones to avoid clutter. This arrangement is ideal for window management, but can frustrate users who want to create workspaces for their own purposes.
Verdict: The ideal desktop would have KDE's Activities plus GNOME 3's automatic arrangement of applications. For this reason, KDE and GNOME 3 tie for first in this category. GNOME 2 and Unity, neither of which gives workspaces much thought but whose implementations are otherwise acceptable, tie for second.
GNOME 3 and Unity have a basic set of customizing features, starting with the ability to change the desktop background and working up to administrative apps for setting the date and time and creating user accounts. However, you need to search for "system settings" to find most of the configuration tools. In GNOME 3, you will also have to install GNOME Tweak if you want to change the default theme.
In comparison, GNOME 2 devotes most of the top-level System menu to personal and global configuration tools. KDE's main configuration tools are only slightly less obvious, usually showing up by default in the Favorites menu. Unlike GNOME 3 and Unity, both GNOME 2 and KDE have customizable panels, and KDE lets you add the same widgets that go into the panel in larger formats on the desktop.
Add these desktops to KDE's Activities, and you can create your own overviews of your account. Then, when you are ready to work, you can switch to another Activity, with its own customized icons and widgets. This level of fine-detail far exceeds anything available in the other three desktops.
Verdict: KDE, followed by GNOME 2. Unity takes third place by virtue of slightly more customization options than GNOME 3, which finishes fourth.
Next page: The Final Verdict