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GNOME vs KDE: which is right for you?

by Kunal Deo

Linux’s path to mainstream acceptance owes a lot to KDE and GNOME. While both have contributed enormously towards the ultimate Linux dream, they’re also heated competitors. Who will win the war? Read on and pick your side wisely…

This article originally appeared in issue 90 of Linux User & Developer magazine.GNOME vs KDE: which is right for you? Subscribe and save more than 30% and receive our exclusive money back guarantee – click here to find out more.

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There was a time when UNIX desktops were developed by big corporations. It took not just one but many large firms to come together to build a desktop for the UNIX OS. The end result was CDE (Common Desktop Environment), developed jointly by Sun Microsystems, HP, IBM and UNIX Systems Laboratories. To its credit, it was a popular desktop environment used in almost all UNIX systems, but it was (and still is) not even close to being a decent desktop for most users. CDE was announced in June 1993. Windows was already available and CDE looked quite primitive by comparison. In 1996, the KDE project was started, followed a year later by GNOME, and the world of UNIX desktops changed for ever. It was quite surprising back then because neither KDE nor GNOME was a commercial project. Both started as open source, and both shared the same goal: to make Linux the best desktop operating system. But the philosophy was different. The KDE project wasn’t concerned with open source idealism – which is why GNOME was born, to create a desktop environment with fully GPLed software. This philosophical disagreement led to two completely different and innovative desktop environments for Linux.

GNOME vs KDE: which is right for you?
Typical GNOME desktop
GNOME vs KDE: which is right for you?
Typical KDE desktop

For your convenience the article has been broken down into a number of sub-sections which weighs up the various pros and cons for GNOME and KDE in various situation for both users and developers. Turn the page to get started…

Want to make sure your applications play nicely on both KDE and GNOME DE’s? Check out our quick guide here

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    • Tam

      I have used both over the years, and for the last three years I have kept two distro’s on my system, one Gnome one KDE. I have to say I have always had a lean toward KDE.

      Slackware has been my main choice as KDE for last 8 years.

      I have flirted with different Gnome based OSes before finally sticking with Ubuntu, until recently when I shifted to Fedora. So far I have been impressed with Gnome 3.

      KDE will always be, well just KDE. Easy to use and configure.

    • dom

      whilst Ubuntu is touted as a beginner’s entry into Linux, it’s GNOME interface has on major failing – the lack of menus.

      If I’m trying to look for an app to try and do something on Linux, I’ll go through KDE’s entries, looking for something likely, from the (important bit) relevant section. As Ubuntu expects me to know the app name from the start, I’m at a bit of loss, only getting the option of searching pretty muchh ALL apps in one big list. Shame, as it’s otherwise nice.

    • AnonGuy

      The problem with Linux is choice overload. Choice is good, but it doens’t all need to be on the damn CD/DVD. I cannot… I reapeat CANNOT… stand it when an OS instals a ton of apps that have overlapping functions. Windows and OS/X are simple…

      WMP/iTunes (Zune on Win if you have a WinPhone or Zune Pass account – you get that yourself)
      Windows Media Center (not sure of OS/X equivalent)
      Explorer/Finder (or whatever Apple Calls it)
      One Desktop and set of APIs for apps
      iLife/Live Essentials

      Linux is different. The default install for too many distros leaves you with:

      GNOME File Browser/Konqueror + Firefox + in some Instances Chromium and even Opera is available in DIstors like OpenSuSE
      5+ Different Media Players
      3+ Different Terminals
      4+ Different SHells
      If you install a GTK app on a KDE distance there’s a chance it will pull in so many dependencies that you should have just installed the full GNOME desktop as well
      GTK and Qt apps do not look the same, and in some instances do not behave the same
      GTK+ Apps look like utter sh*t
      Almost all Free alternatives are worse than the free apps you get on a New Mac (iLife, e.g.) or for free on Windows/Mac (iTunes, WMP, WMC, WinLive Essentials, Zune,)

      In addition to that, you still have to deal with updates breaking things, using binary blobs to get hardware to work (like some network drivers), proprietary drivers needed for decent video performance that won’t install cause of your version even though the XP driver installs flawlessly on Windows 7 and you get Aero and full 3D accelleration with that old driver on a new version of Windows).

      There are few benefits to running Linux over Windows. Much of the same free software is available and actually runs better on Windows than Linux. You still get the rich library of commercial apps. You can run decent games and MMORPGs on Windows.

      The issue with Linux is that while choice is good, there is too much duplication and not enough collaboration on top products to make a cohesive desktop consumer-oriented system that is competitive with Windows and Mac. If you want Desktop UNIX you’re better off going Mac. Other than that, you’re better off on Windows.

      This level of fragmentation can work in Mobile (Android), but it’s terrible on the desktop where people value consistency more, and do not like such a high level of redundancy.

      And the distros make it nigh impossible to install a fairly clean, streamlined desktop system. Ubuntu did a lot of work there, but UNITY is pretty much LULZ… Fisher Price UI for dummies.

    • hi , i want to know ,
      how we convert KDE to GNOME mode in fedora

    • wick

      as a new user of Linux OS I choosed to install Mint and Mageia. About KDE and Gnome – for me it looks like KDE is more windows like. What I don’t like about both is that the buttons (minimize, maximize, close) are VERY small, I need a loupe, lens or magnifier to hit them and that’s kinda frustrating; dont understand why they are making everything so small :\ .

    • I prefer KDE to gnome, but gnome 3.4.. is not matured as KDE 4.8 wait for a year than it will be a faair competition….

    • Joex

      “@pishaw The Linux world is too provincial. There are eleventy-nine flavors of it. There is no focus. There is no direction. There is no one in charge. There is no One Great Product. And, as such, it’s a toy. A cool toy, but still. That’s what it will always be, unless someone comes out with ‘Linux 95’. It’s been around for 20 years, though. You’d think that if there were going to be a breakthrough, there would be glass all over the floor” Source:


      This is what I think about Linux under general Desktop environments:

      Linux is becoming an Desktop environment without Standards, silly competitions between Distributions an d many negative factors.

      Most Desktops users wants standards over the beauty, but beauty on standards sounds fine for me, I think you get it. However if I discuss my point of view more deeply, I need to be more technically explained and the result will be on blah blah blah, and the average readers will won’t get it.

      However I not talking about Desktops environment like KDE, Gnome etc, is your choice and tastes, like I like KDE because I get deep control over my Desktop environment and I find it really pretty, which fundamentally I don’t find it on Gnome without third party addons, you see is my own tastes and preferences.

      Regarding the Package system and the shared Libraries, just Awesome.
      But… when your are working on mid to large local environments, with many workstations with distinct Distros…. My Gosh, (.deb) (.rpm) (.apk) (pkg.tar.xz) (.lzm) (.pisi) ….. Ok let me stop, All Linux Distors have something in common, yeah you know is the Linux Kernel, no matter the Distro flavor. so why Not a standard Package system under the GNU/Linux.

      And not to mention the Hardware issues that Linux have in general.

      Just think if the Linux communities work together without competition, maintaining the flavors but setting basic standards to achieve compatibility between flavors, Linux will become a Standard OS in the Desktop environment thanks to the GNU\Linux of course, which means that most Hardware companies will be forced to develop Linux Drivers, due the Linux OS usage demands, hence the Hardware companies will be benefited too.

      If this basic standards become merged into Linux, Linux will raise up like the Helium.

      PS: I use Windows(Due the Graphics intensive Apps\Games I use) and Kedora 17 Oops I mean Fedora 17 KDE which is a really Beefy Miracle.

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    • asif

      @david b
      K-this k-that is silly eh? Guess i-this and i-that is much more sensible. iFools go away

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    • CTS

      Contrary to a previous post, what I like about Linux is that there are so many options. I like the fact that no one is “in charge”. Its not that there is “no focus”, rather there are so many different things to focus on. Thus, the possibilities are virtually endless. Its open and free. Software freedom at its best!

      As for the Gnome vs KDE issue. I have been using linux for nearly 10 years now. I have spent a considerable amount of time on both Gnome and KDE. Honestly, I don’t know which one is best. Each one has its strengths, and weaknesses.

      I suggest installing both, and checking them both out. Perhaps sometimes, you’re in a KDE mood. Other days, you could be in the Gnome mood.

      Both are great. Long live Linux!

    • vlad

      @ Joex,

      Linux is much more then just a toy, Linux is one of the most advanced operating system. Probably your post used a Linux server, and all the Youtube you are doing, most likely uses Linux, not to mention that your android is a Linux. Linux is present in most of the worlds’s supercomputers, which we all know they are the backbone of quantum physics, weather forecast, oil and gas explorations… etc. Even the US Armed Forces are switching to Linux on their unmanned aircrafts software.
      Now if you meant that Linux is present in only around 1% of the personal computers, then you are right sir, but that does not make Linux a toy.

    • Job

      The main reason I gave up using KDE is exactly because it starts to look more like Windows and Mac. I will choose Gnome if I have to but Fluxbox is just right for me and lately Awesome.

    • Job

      joex, please we don’t want standards and all my hardware have been working perfectly with Linux since 1998. People complaint because they want everything easy. You may have to configure something in Linux, that something always, always has a “man” page telling you what to do. Frankly that is the reason I use Linux because you know how/why something works or doesn’t.

    • I started as KDE user too a long time ago – in 2000. Gnome simply did not run on my machine. I was fascinated by KDE and its C++ aproach. Then KDE started to become bloat and bloat and I dropped it in favor of Gnome. Now the things have changed back again: KDE is more and responsive and stable than Gnome. IMO, the future dominant Linux desktop should be KDE. It is superior than overpraised Unity ( too. The bad things is the lack of modern and good looking themes and modern language like Vala. Hope this will be fixed in near future.

    • marsi

      was a complete article,
      however this video may be useful for beginners:

    • ahmad

      i installed zorin 5.2 which is based on Ubuntu 11.10 with the gnome classic as low resources and full recent and decent environment on an old PC i got from a relative.
      i hate low graphic looking environment like lxde , open box and similar (i consider XFCE some how good)

      i considered it a challenge for me to proof that 1999 PC can run with the latest Linux as possible with the most recent soft ware.

      i dual boot with win xp which must look like win 98 just to work fluently and it was so heavy to browse net.
      zorin was great
      it took long time to install around 4 hours (started it then went to sleep ) you know why when i mention the components
      the PC is

      * P II 400 (tried to over clocked it but it made noises and crashed many times
      * 2 X 128m SD ram (i tried higher but it was unreadable -original in it was 64m )
      * 32 m VGA card (s3 savage 4)
      * crystal creative sound plaster 128 m pci
      * Intel Compaq LAN card
      * DVD writer Sony
      * HDD 120 g ( in bios it reads 20g but after it boots it read 60g but as win xp or Linux start it is fully 120g)
      -i had to partition the disk on other p4 PC i have (25g for win and 30g linux 3.7 swap drive and the rest in one piece )
      * 14″ old blurred CRT screen -it came with this PC (first i used an old 17 LG CRT i had till it got malfunction so i threw it )
      * it has a floppy disk that i disconnected it but leaving it in (i don’t know does it work or not)

    • Jeremy Blanc

      Xfce for life !

    • Richard

      Xfce is definitely the way to go. It’s lightweight but feature full and you have full control over it.

      If the choice was limited to KDE or Gnome then in the days of Gnome 2, I would have chosen that but now-a-days I would choose KDE over the unusable Gnome 3.

    • PModX

      To be honest, that argument makes Windows and Apple more “flashy toys” than Linux.

    • Joseph

      Derp :p ??? O_o i-this and i-that might be closed source and proprietary, but you can not forget how much success the i-this and i-thats have given Apple. I love Linux and Free Software, but there are still proprietary systems (Windows, Mac OSX, etc) that I use daily too; the former for PC games and the latter for everything else on my 2013 macbook. But fear not I do have my most powerful Laptop running Linux :D. If this posting was irrelevant to the topic at hand I apologize a head of time.. I really love computing and CSCI. – Joseph

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    • 3r0s

      Since Ubuntu 9.10, I used all 4 K/X/L/Ubuntu and they are all good.
      The latest K/X/L/Ubuntu LTS 14.04 have very good performances, speed, hardware compatibility.
      It’s hard to choose among them.
      From my experience deploying Ubuntu, if you have old computers, then X/L/Ubuntu are the best choice, if you have new or near new computers, then K/Ubuntu will unleash extra features not available in light weight X/L/Ubuntu.
      From my every day use, both Gnome and KDE are highly usable and pleasant.

    • 3r0s

      Major corporates support and deploy Linux.
      IBM, for example, is one of the big Linux sponsor since late 90s.
      According to IBM website, Linus is no longer just widely used on servers, but also on desktops.
      IBM has a service that hepls its customers to migrate their desktops/laptops to Linux (Red Hat and Ubuntu distros mentioned).
      Citrix, for example, advertize to migrate desktops and laptops to Linux and then use their Citrix Receiver to connect from the Linux desktop to a virtualize Windows to reduce costs of Windows licensing and improve computers performances.
      So Linux is already very apt for work.
      My employer (IT Service Provider) has used the IBM services to migrate our computers to either Red Hat or Ubuntu, has saved a lot of money from Windows licensing that went to other uses.

    • 3r0s

      The Apple has taken so muck from KDE to make up their OSX.
      Webkit from KHTML, OSX settings are the same as KDE settings, just to mention.

    • Gondul

      I use Fedora with Gnome and think it looks great. Being fast, simple and free of bloat it also works great. You’re right about the shown Unity desktop not being a typical Gnome desktop. Even though it’s based on Gnome.

    • John O’Shaughnessy

      I agree that xfce is great, but Gnome is unusable? that is simply not true!
      ( and I speak as a preferred user of KDE and Xfce) I like Gnome, yet prefer Xfce

    • John O’Shaughnessy

      so GNOME looks so different? I think not, Unity was inspired by it

    • Cape Renegade

      Linux powers >95% of global supercomputers, it is in almost every appliance you use daily, from your PVR to your GPS and your car’s “black box.” Your microwave, digital clock, fridge, washing machine, etc., use Linux!

      Linux is almost perfectly secure against malware, not because of its relatively small footprint/user base, but rather because of its design.

      Windows as a PC OS is not secure and my own resident Mac fundi had more than forty viruses on his Macbook over the past eight months, one so bad that it needed a format of his SSD and a fresh install.

    • Rem ko

      Something is either stable or not stable. Semi stable does not exist.

    • Guest

      I switched to kubuntu from ubuntu 14.04 and now I can’t get back to ubuntu

    • Kaippally

      Installed kubuntu desktop on Ubuntu 14.04 and now I can’t get back my old Gnome desktop.

    • John Smith

      Mr. Robot Computer Repair with a Smile fsociety

    • John Smith

      I hate facebook
      I hate Apple
      I hate Google

    • Jay

      I work at a large car electronics company, i.e. the one which designs the black boxes, the dashboards, interfaces, etc, we also design technology for aircrafts and I can tell you that we most definitely do not use Linux. The electronics in cars, microwaves, digital clocks and fridges are basically PLC’s, they are programmed using a very low level language (think of programming a CPU, input signals mapping to output signals etc), assembly is high level in comparison, the code/design is fed into the machine which builds the chip with the “programs” hardwired into. Washing machines using Linux? LMAO most washing machines are not even digital, haven’t you noticed they come with a big analogue dial on the front, the vibrations produced by the machines kill the electronics quickly.

      On a side note of security, Android showed just how non “perfectly secure” Linux is and guess what it’s insecure because of > 80% market share, just like Windows. I’ve never had any problems with Windows or Mac OS X, > 95% of all malware are trojan horses which are downloaded and installed by naive users, Window’s design is actually more secure than Linux’s, Windows has ACL’s where you can fine tune who has access to where, Unix/Linux only has three bits for read, write and execute permissions.

    • Jay

      There are lots of options except for the kernel which is controlled 100% by one person, and there is no option for those who do not want to be using a cloned design of 50 year old operating system designed by a telephone and a telegraph company. It’s outdated designs like Unix and HTML which hold us back.

    • Roger Wilson

      I hurd that.

    • Vance

      But, they are eye-candies now… Look over function, that’s sad

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    • TicoSonny

      one person controls the kernel? it is open source and anyone can change anything anytime they want

    • Stephen Littleton

      Cool article, thanks for writing this. I found it to be informative. It was a good read.

    • Xiang Ji

      Actually now it’s most likely more than 1% on personal computers. And the reason why this is the case is likely that most vendors already preinstalled windows on the machines they sell, be it a legitimate copy or not; and Microsoft would probably even pay PC companies to install Windows. It doesn’t mean Linux is hard to use or anything like that.

    • Leo

      Friend, I think you are a little bit outdated in relation to “washing machines” and the like. My washing machine even has memory onboard, if it is washing something, and I unplug the cable or the power goes down, when I plug it again or the power come back, it restart and continues from where it was. If the machine is in the “washing state”, if I press the button to change the water level, it stops washing, start pumping water, and when the water is in the correct level, it continues what it was doing before (washing, in this example).
      I think that you can’t do this with a simple “analog machine”, you have to save state to memory, take decisions, etc… and for this you really need a high level electronic system.
      The same thing with my “Frost Free” Refrigerator, microwave, etc… Take a look at the machines of this brand: and this one: (Sorry, I’m brazilian, so the sites are in pt-br but you can see what I mean, they are all full of electronics now ).
      You are also really wrong about access restrictions on Linux, read the “Implementations” section of this Wikipedia article related to “Mandatory Access Control” about SELinux: .

    • Hey You

      linux needs more focus on standardizing one file type, one browser, and one UI. less complicated and more opportunity to develop faster in one direction.