When it comes to desktop environments, choosing the one that's right for you can be a deeply personal matter. In this article, I'll look into the differences between two of the most popular Linux desktop environments – Gnome and KDE. I’ll explore what each desktop environment offers, comparing their strengths and weaknesses.
Upon first encountering the desktop, one can argue that KDE looks more polished than Gnome, and offers a more tech-friendly appearance. Additionally, if you are used to a Windows environment, KDE will feel much more familiar, thanks to the menu and button layout at the bottom of your screen. You can easily locate the K menu, launch programs and find documents with just a few clicks of your mouse.
Another important and familiar benefit with KDE is the easy to use minimize and close buttons with each open document, picture or application. To someone coming from another platform, features this basic might be taken for granted. But considering desktops like Gnome don't offer a true minimize option any longer, it's worth giving KDE props here.
Loading up Gnome 3 for the first time, the desktop might be perceived as a very alien experience if you're coming from another platform. Like classic Gnome, your access to docs and tools are not located at the bottom of your screen. Even stranger for some newbies, the method for closing open windows is – to be kind – "different." In defense of Gnome 3, however, I've found it to be quite a pleasant experience once you get used to this new way of doing things. And the new users I know who have tested Gnome 3 generally felt the same way.
The divide between the two desktop environments continues to broaden as we dive into the extensions and widgets provided for Gnome and KDE. While both desktops provide additions you can run to further enhance your desktop experience, the lines between them become different in how the desktops handle extended functionality.
KDE takes an interesting approach in that you can group widgets into what are called "Activities." The idea is you can have one Activity with a set number of desktop widgets, that help with specific work-flows.
By contrast, Gnome defines activities with a different approach. Instead of being widget-centric, Gnome makes its Activities more task- and application-based. For example, if I was using multiple apps, switching to the Gnome Activities overview allows you to gain a visualization and immediate access to each task.
While Gnome has gotten better about providing adequate settings controls from a GUI, KDE remains the reigning king in this space.
With KDE, you can find settings to control nearly every aspect of your desktop experience. Some Linux distributions, such as OpenSUSE, go ever further by tightly integrating their own tools (YaST) into the KDE settings experience.
With the updates to the Gnome desktop since Gnome 3, I've found the biggest areas where I see KDE offering greater functionality is with ease of access to settings. Gnome tends to put application specific settings into an easy to find area of each application.
But KDE tends to offer greater granular control with their applications. One of my favorite examples is Kontact vs Evolution. Both are powerful PIMs for Gnome and KDE. But the difference is that Kontact is a suite of applications bundled with a suite of controls for each app, while Evolution is a single application with limited control. The same can be said of AmaroK vs Rhythmbox, among other desktop-specific titles.
When it comes to finding the right file manager for your desktop, both Gnome and KDE do the work for you by providing their own defaults. Nautilus is the default file manager for Gnome where KDE, offers up Dolphin as its main offering.