Gnome vs KDE: A little Comparison

‘Gnome’ and ‘KDE’ are among the oldest and the most widely used desktop environments in GNU/Linux. They’re both basically trying to achieve the same goal — creation of a fully functional and an easy to use desktop, interestingly though, by based on two entirely different ideals.

Gnome tries to follow the ‘philosophy’ of ‘Unix’ (another operating system that ‘inspired’ the initial development of ‘GNU/Linux’), ‘do one thing and do it well’, thus their applications are extremely simple and don’t have a lot of configuration options (very similar to Apple’s Mac OS’s UI guidelines).

KDE on the other hand, comes with a lot of options and features so the users are given the ‘freedom’ to interact and customize applications the way they want. With the version ‘4.0’, KDE too underwent a lot of UI changes and as a result nowadays it looks a lot simpler than how it used to be (when comparing with 3.0 or latter versions for instance).

It might seem that they both belong to the same ‘group’ of people, sharing the same belief system. I may have extracted the ‘wrong bits’ from my experiences, but I think that both Gnome & KDE developers disagree with each other, fundamentally.

Gnome says: ‘KDE!, you fundamentally flawed, practically driven, coarse bonehead!’ …

For example, KDE is trying to be practical (or so it seems) by giving solutions to practical problems, and is somewhat neglecting ‘philosophies’ or belief systems in general, Gnome on the other hand, relies on a lot of ideals and is extremely cautious about its choices.

Then again, that’s not to say KDE doesn’t have beliefs, because even not believing in a particular belief is another belief, isn’t it? (eh! :D).

KDE says: ‘You don’t know the world as I do Gnome!. You immature, arrogant, idealistic moron! …

For instance, it was KDE that was developed (1996 by ‘Matthias Ettrich’) first, and for the user interface designing (UI) a toolkit called ‘Qt’ was used. At that time, its (‘Qt’) source code was available to anyone, but it didn’t permit changing and redistributing it.

So it was not completely open and was criticized by open source & GNU developers. But interestingly, KDE developer (s) didn’t seem to care much about that and created a desktop environment that ‘look, feel, and work consistently …’ (in their words) using ‘Qt’ anyway.

Later when it became clear that KDE is going to be a major desktop and perhaps a part of the ‘GNU operating system‘ (‘inevitably’), founders of ‘GNU’ such as ‘Richard Stallman’ himself had to get involved in order to resolve the issue before it gets out of hand.

Later he expressed his feelings towards ‘Qt/KDE’ by saying …

‘… design of KDE was based on a fundamental mistake: use of the Qt library, which at the time was non-free software … KDE could never be part of a completely free operating system as long as it needed a non-free program to function.

KDE developers were not concerned about this problem, and recruited helpers who shared their views … it posed a growing risk to the progress of free software … that KDE/Qt would become so established that most of the user community would treat it as indispensable--disregarding the fact that this meant using non-free software.

Soon KDE should be properly based on a GPL-covered version of Qt (Edit: it is now), and the Free Software Movement will be able to think of KDE/Qt as a contribution and not as a problem …

GNOME and KDE will remain two rival desktops, unless some day they can be merged in some way. Until then, the GNU Project is going to support its own team vigorously … ‘ source: ‘Linux Today‘.

As a result, a year later Gnome was born (1997, created ‘by Miguel de Icaza’ and ‘Federico Mena’) and used a UI designing toolkit that was fully compatible with the GNU GPL license called ‘GTK +’ and has make sure not to make any such ‘complications’.

‘Nokia’ bought and maintains ‘Qt’ these days, ‘GTK+’ is maintained by the GNU foundation, which again points out the ‘obvious’.

Let’s do the comparison now shall we? 😉 …

I’m sorry it took me about 600+ words for the ‘introduction’. I just thought that, sharing a little bit of history and my personal feelings wouldn’t have hurt. But, please don’t make the wrong assumption that I’m some sort of a ‘KDE hater’, of that I’m most certainly not.

Though my believes are slightly different from theirs (as far as I understand KDE) but I respect others’ choices, so I’ll try to be as conservative as I can when doing the comparison nonetheless.

Oh one more thing, my English is not that good, and I usually get stuck trying to find the proper words (seriously frustrating), so if you feel like the post isn’t properly written, well, my condolences :D.

If you find that something that I’ve written is misleading or wrong, you’re always welcome to use the comments and correct me :).

1. The Desktop

Gnome Shell (since it’s the ‘new’ Gnome desktop that’s heavily criticized, I’ll concentrate it on more)

Click to enlarge

The latest version of Gnome desktop is called the ‘Gnome Shell’ (a.k.a ‘Gnome 3’, released in April 2011) and when comparing it with its latter versions (such as ‘Gnome Classic’), Gnome Shell underwent a lot of changes.

But most noticeable of all is the lack of ‘Minimize & Maximize’ buttons from the ‘window controls’ and the way users interact with multiple applications as a result.

The Desktop breakdown (somewhat) …

1. On the desktop, at the top there’s a horizontal ‘panel’ that has an area called ‘Activities Overview’ to the left, to the middle a ‘date/time’ area and to the right-edge you’ll see a volume controller icon, user menu (lets you shutdown, reboot, log-off and a ‘system settings’ window) etc (more below). This panel is called the ‘Top Bar’.

At the middle there’s the ‘standard’ desktop background (has a context menu for the mouse right click for creating folders, documents, changing desktop themes etc) and at the bottom, there’s also another panel (hidden by default, included in the above screenshot), and it’s used as the notification area.

The top-bar consists of (from the left-corner to the right):

*. ‘Activities’ area (top left edge):

When you click on it, it’ll give you an overview of your ‘activities’ in a glance (full screen). This screen consists of the following ‘items’.

Click to enlarge …

Left-side -- Here we have a small vertical application dock (shortcut bar) that lets you add/remove frequently used apps for easily opening them later.


Middle --

1. By default, on the middle, you’ll see the windows of all the opened applications (with previews) per ‘Workspace’ (virtual desktop). Clicking on a window will exit the ‘Activities’ screen and bring it to front. You can also close applications directly from the ‘Activities’ windows as well.


2. If you click on the ‘Applications’ text item, then you’ll be greeted with a list of all the installed applications. This acts and replaces the ‘desktop-menu’ and its functions that used to come with the Gnome Classic desktop.

Browse or search for files and programs …

Right-side corner --

1. At top you’ll see a small search box. You can use this to search for applications and documents.

2. Below this search box there’s the ‘Workspace switcher’ which lets you switch between virtual desktops.


That’s pretty much the ‘Activities’ window.

Back to the ‘Top Bar’ items …

*. ‘Applications menu/actions‘:


If you have an opened application, then next to the ‘Activities’ area, you’ll see a small icon of that application. Once you clicked on this icon, you’ll be revealed a small menu that lets you access some basic (core) functions of that app (sort of a shortcut for its core functions).

For instance, if it was the default web browser, then you’ll be able to open a new window, change its preferences, quit etc (this is highly in active development and most apps don’t support it much yet).

*. ‘Date & Time‘:


At the middle of this top bar, there’s a small clock and once clicked, it shows a basic calendar.

*. After that, the right-side corner is reserved for applications that runs in your OS background (such as the volume manager, network manager, power manager, a menu that lets you access the ‘system settings’, log-out, suspend, power-off and other basic functions) and it’s called ‘System status area’.


Where’s the notification area?

Unlike in the past, the ‘notification area’ (including the system messages) is not located here (right-edge) anymore. It has been re-located at the bottom, to a new panel. Some don’t like it, I too have mixed feelings about it.


But I guess perhaps it’s a good thing because when notification messages appear at the bottom of the screen rather than at the top, it’s a bit less distracting :). But then again, when dealing with applications that run in the ‘notification’ or in the ‘system tray’ area, it’s a bit of a hassle as well.

A little more about this ‘confusing’ window controls behavior …

As said, it’s all good with Gnome Shell, I mean, it has a simple and beautiful looking theme, intuitive applications … but when it comes to dealing with multiple applications (minimizing & bringing them to front etc), Gnome Shell has become a bit of a ‘hell’ because they decided to remove some of the ‘window control’ buttons. So let’s talk a bit about them (briefly).

In the past, users were able to ‘minimize’ and ‘restore’ applications (easily!) using the bottom panel, just like in MS Windows or with KDE. But after the ‘minimize and maximize’ buttons were removed from application windows, users are now ‘forced’ (some sees it differently) use the so called ‘Workspaces’ (similar to ‘virtual desktops’) and ‘Activities’ feature (I love this one though) as a replacement.

But apparently, a lot of users don’t find it that appealing.

For instance, take the following scenario. 

Let’s say that I wanted to play a video (song) and wanted only to listen to its audio track while using the web browser. Then if I were using the Gnome Classic (2.0 version) desktop, I’d do something like this.

First I’ll open the file manager (‘Nautilus’) and locate the video file and open it using the media player (‘Totem’). And as soon as it starts to play the file, I’ll minimize both Totem and Nautilus to the bottom panel and open my web browser and start browsing the web.

But with Gnome Shell, it’s impossible to do a such thing because there’s no bottom-panel to dock applications in the first place. So instead, what I can do is, I can open the video file and since I cannot minimize it, I’ll have to either keep Totem and Nautilus windows behind my web browser, all the time.

Since most people run web browsers full-screen, this might not be a big deal. But it can be problematic if you have two or more applications running ‘windowed-mode’ and keeping one ‘behind’ the other can become a distraction (plus, you can easily click on the window behind and bring it to front, mistakenly. Shi* happens! ;-)).

So as a fix for that, after ‘Totem’ starts the playback, I can click on the ‘Activities’ corner and select ‘Totem’ and drag it to a new ‘Workspace’ (located on the right corner as shown below) and then again choose Nautilus and drag it too to a new or the same ‘Workspace’ the Totem is running.

Then to exit the ‘Activities Overview’, I have to move my mouse over to the left edge or press the ‘Esc’ key as well.



Then after that, whenever I want to switch between the applications (that are located in different desktops), I can use ‘Alt’ + ‘Tab’ keyboard shortcut as it would take you through ‘Workspaces’ and open the app that you want.

‘Welcome to the club of the hand exercisers!’ ;-), I’m just kidding. This ain’t that bad to be honest. But, it makes you ‘switch’ between mouse-&-keyboard, mouse-&-keyboard. Again and again and again, which breaks the ‘flow’, in my experience …

Or you can use your mouse and go to ‘Activities’, then select the next ‘Workspace’ from the right corner and choose the proper application and when done, again click on the first ‘Workspace’ and choose the web browser to bring it to front. But obviously it’s much more difficult.

Now I have no big complaints while switching applications using the ‘Alt + Tab’ keyboard shortcut as it is somewhat easy (easier than using the mouse at least) but as you can see, the biggest drawback while using multiple applications under Gnome Shell is the amount of ‘work’ that you gotta do for putting each application and its window to the ‘Workspaces’, bugger drives me nuts.

I don’t know about you, but clicking on the ‘Activities’ area, then selecting the app and its window then moving it towards the right-corner (where ‘Workspaces’ are located) and then doing it again and again for other apps (let’s say that you had to do it for 3-4 apps) well, that’s a lot of work for achieving something that should be ‘intuitive’ and easy, don’t you think?.

After adding the ‘evil minimize button’ (curse you, you little butttooooooon! :D) …

I don’t know if my assumptions are quite accurate, I personally blame the removal of that ‘minimize button’ for all this. Because interestingly after adding it manually, I was able ‘minimize’ applications to the ‘Activities’ area by clicking on the ‘minimize button’ and dealing with multiple applications is now really easy too.

For the above example, now I can open the file manager ‘Nautilus’ and select the video file and open ‘Totem’ and when done I’ll simply click on the ‘minimize’ button on them both windows so they’ll be ‘hidden’ into the ‘Activities’ area and continue my web browsing on a ‘clean’ desktop screen.

And whenever I want to switch between apps, I don’t have to use the keyboard, now I can simply click or move the cursor over to ‘Activities’ area and it’ll open all the running applications in full-screen (with preview) thus I can choose the app I want to bring to front, when done with it or if it overlaps with the my ‘main’ program, then I can click on the ‘minimize’ button, off it goes, and can work on a clean desktop with my web browser again.

2: Whenever I want to bring a window to front, I use the ‘Activities’ features, and it’s much more easy too …

After adding ‘the minimize’ button, just like that, back and forth, things just seem to fall into their proper place and unlike above, it doesn’t force me to use the keyboard, thus no breaking into that ‘natural flow’ which is one of the most prominent aspects that all software designers are after, that is, help achieving the end-user a state in which the ‘work’ is performed smoothly, in a continuum, a single flawless motion ;-).

Configuration options …

You can use the icons for configuring individual tools and their settings, some features are ‘missing’ (such as ‘window manage’ related tweaks) but overall, it’s a pretty decent ‘control center’ 🙂 …

Both Gnome Shell and KDE has similar looking ‘control center’ windows that let you fine tune a lot of desktop settings. Though Gnome don’t let customize a lot (only the major settings) but lets you change things like Network/Bluetooth settings, Power manager related settings (dimming display, change what happens when you close the lid, critical battery action etc), printing, backups … So yes, it is pretty decent :).

Other than that big issue, I think most would agree to the fact that, Gnome Shell is a beautiful looking desktop that’s a pleasure to work with.


Just like Gnome, KDE too underwent a lot of changes, starting with the version 4.0.

A more simplified UI for the desktop and the applications, new theme (both icons and windows), the menu-bar that’s located on each window is being replaced by a ‘wrench icon’ that lets you access the whole menu (you can disable and get the ‘old’ menu in most apps, but I like this new approach) which helps to add a clean look and importantly, a new desktop interface called ‘Plasma Desktop’ was also introduced.

Has a quite features rich context menu (click to enlarge) …

‘Plasma Desktop’ is a modern looking desktop with fancy effects (using ‘OpenGL’ for rendering). This includes 3D looking windows, shadows and other effects while minimizing apps etc. Other than the new look, the desktop has stayed pretty much the same (unlike Gnome).

Working with applications is pretty much done using the traditional way. Just like in MS Windows, the desktop has a panel at the bottom and has the llowing features (from the left edge to the right):

*. Start-menu Icon:


Click on this, and you’ll be revealed a start-menu that’s extremely similar to the one that came out with Windows Vista and later versions. You can search or browse installed applications from categories, displays ‘recently’ used items, log-out, suspend, lock screen, reboot and shout down the PC … it’s all there in the ‘start-menu’.

*. ‘Activity Manager’ icon:


I’m not gonna say much now as I’ll explain a bit more about the ‘activity manager’ (how I perceive it anyway) later.

*. Virtual desktop icons:

Also shows the titles of the currently active windows …

After that, you’ll see two small square boxes. These are the icons that let you change between virtual desktops.

*. ‘Task-bar’:

This let you minimize/restore or deal with multiple applications the same way KDE, Gnome Classic and Windows has been doing for years.


With the introduction of the ‘plasma desktop’, KDE has added another nice new feature (similar to MS ‘Aero Preview’) that shows a small preview of the application docked on the ‘Task manager’, when you move your mouse over it (as shown above).

And when you right click on an application icon on the task-bar, then you’re revealed with a context menu as shown below as well.

Other options for dealing with applications …

*. Notification area: 


Then to the right-edge, you have the ‘notification area’ which shows the applications that run in your OS background, volume icon, network manager, ‘clipboard manager, a clock etc. ‘Notification messages’ are also displayed around this area (again, nothing much has changed).

KDE comes with all the three major window control buttons (‘minimize, maximize close’), so no worries 😉 (heck, you can even add/remove buttons using its ‘System Settings’ window as well).

But to point out the amount of features that KDE throws at you, even after giving all these options, it gives another way you can switch between window (similar to the ‘Activities’ in Gnome Shell).

Just move your mouse to the left edge of the screen, and it should give you a list of running apps with previews in full-screen as shown below.


Another cool feature in KDE is that it shows drop-down details of files and folder on the desktop.

This is very useful because, now you can access some details without having to select the file, then right click on it and then accessing its ‘properties’ window. Even ‘Xfce’ (another lightweight desktop) has this feature, but Gnome developers won’t include it because in their eyes, it’ll be daunting for the newbies …


About the ‘desktop activities’ …

‘Desktop activities’ are special kind of desktops (a bit like a virtual desktop) that primarily rely on ‘widgets’ and lets you pre-define/configure a desktop, so that particular ‘desktop’ is optimized for doing a certain ‘activity’ (s) and only that.


Since this might confuse the new users, for the ease of understanding, let’s assume the following scenario.

Let’s say that I’d like to have two virtual desktops, one that’s ‘optimized’ for web browsing (a web browser and a RSS reader widgets) and another one, a ‘special’ one that lets you monitor your computer (such as the CPU/Memory/Network/Disks usages etc. Again, using widgets).

So to create these desktops, I open the ‘activity manager’ (clicking on its icon), give a name for the desktop (let’s called it ‘Web Browsing’) and I add my preferred ‘widgets’ to it (a web browser and RSS reader).

Then I create the ‘System Monitor‘ desktop the same way and add built in ‘widgets’ such as a CPU monitor, Memory monitor, Disk manager, network monitor etc to it as well.

Now I have two ‘clean desktops’, optimized for performing only certain tasks.

So, as shown below, let’s say that while I was browsing the Internet using the ‘Web Browsing’ desktop activity, and I wanted to get an idea how much computer resources are being used etc, then I click on the ‘activity manager’ icon on the bottom task bar, and from the list, I choose the ‘System Monitor’ which should open that virtual desktop with the widgets that I added.

‘Web Browsing’ optimized desktop (click on enlarge) …
Well, you can guess what this is 🙂 (click to enlarge) …

This feature, however, is an optional one and KDE does not try to ‘convert’ you into using ‘widgets’ or ‘desktop activities’ or anything at all.

And I don’t find it extremely useful, but that’s just me (might come in handy for touch screen based devices though). On the other hand, I don’t think it would be wiser to configure a lot of ‘desktop activities’ (= a lot of widgets) as they can consume a lot of system resources.

Again, this is totally optional, if you don’t like them ‘desktop activities’ then you can continue using the ‘old school desktop’ that KDE gives you nonetheless :).

Configuration options …

As mentioned above, KDE has also simplified a lot of configuration options as in the past there were a daunting amount of features. It still kinda does, but better implemented, perhaps.


When comparing with Gnome, KDE does give its users a lot of tweaking options (such changing the desktop effects, window and workspace behaviors, add remove window control buttons!, change title colors and a huge number of themes related settings, change the ‘splash screen’, configure a lot of power related settings, even lets you easily edit start-up apps and OS services too!).

So in terms of ‘fine-tuning’, KDE does an excellent job and unlike in the past, doesn’t seem to ‘scare away the newbies’ either :).


Things that you might never receive from Gnome …

Anyhow, the point is, when comparing with the Gnome Shell in its default configuration (without the ‘minimizing button’ etc), KDE works right out of the box, and feels like a better desktop.

But to be honest, after manually adding that naughty little ‘minimizing’ button, I actually started to enjoy Gnome Shell so much, because it’s highly simplified and doesn’t look ‘cluttered’ (something that KDE always have had) and switching between multiple apps weren’t that hard anymore.

Still, if you’re looking for something that behaves like a ‘traditional’ desktop, then KDE is a pretty excellent platform. But those features come with an ‘obvious penalty’ of their own (more towards the end).

Other Gnome & KDE’s individual applications comparison (text editor, multimedia player etc).

Unlike with MS Windows platform, both these desktop environments come with a complete set of applications. Since the post is already pretty long, I’ll quickly go over the individual applications.

File managers

Nautilus …



Gnome’s file manager is called ‘Nautilus’. It’s a really simple and at the same time beautifully designed application. Even if you’re a newbie, you should be able to get hold of things pretty easily :).

Create/delete folders, copy-move items, change permissions, multimedia previewing (thumbnails), mount storage devices with ease, create ‘links’ (shortcuts), compress data, add favorite locations to the sidebar, change the background image, browse networks etc … it’s an excellent application.

You can also expand its features (add new context menus items, etc) by using ‘Nautilus scripts’ as well.

Dolphin …


This is the default file manager that replaced the previously used ‘Konqueror’. When comparing with ‘Konqueror’, Dolphin looks quite simple and intuitive. It has all the functions available in ‘Nautilus’ plus, you can configure few additional tweaks in Dolphin (such as removing items from the context menu for instance) and where ‘Nautilus’ only gives you thumbnails of video files, Dolphin even lets you play a selected video file from its ‘preview’ window too!, and a few more additional features as well.



However, perhaps mostly duet to the additional features, Dolphin used slightly more system resources (RAM) than Nautilus while running. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a somewhat simple looking file manager with quite rich in features, then ‘Dolphin’ is really hard to beat.

Web Browsers …



This is the default web browser in Gnome Shell (previously called ‘Epiphany’). It’s based on the ‘Webkit’ engine thus loads web pages quite fast, has a extremely simple interface, easy to use, what else you want? 😉

That’s not to say that it’s perfect though. Because quite recently, Gnome developers added this new ‘feature’ to ‘Web’, that when you run it in full-screen, the-window controls get hidden (as shown below), it can be a bit hectic while closing the browser. Other than that, it’s a pretty excellent web browser in my opinion.

Oy, where them buttons go!, first the ‘minimizer’, now this! :). Other than the ‘closing’ issue, I personally like this actually, it gives ‘Web’ a clean, uncluttered look …




Though KDE developers were never well known for designing intuitive apps (where Gnome always do it better, except they can be too self-centered when it comes to decision making), but the ‘rekonq’ web browser too loads fast, has a simple and user friendly UI (just like ‘Web’), also uses ‘Webkit’ as the web page rendering engine. So they’re both head-to-head.

Document viewers 



Evince is a simple and easy to use document viewer of Gnome. It supports PDF, Postscript, djvu, tiff and few other formats (including cbr, cbz etc, comic book formats), loads pretty fast and doesn’t consume a lot of system resources. However, it has this big drawback (at least in my experience), and that is it won’t let you change the background color.

If you spend long hours reading PDF files, then having the ability to change the background is a must. But the evil ‘Evince’ thinks that it’s unimportant, and ‘that’s that!’, it says.




This is the default document viewer in KDE (replacing the previous ‘KPDF’) and again anything that ‘Evince’ does, can be achieved through ‘Okular’, and it even lets you change the background color and lot other settings that ‘Evince’ lacks. But those features come with a slight cost, as it needs a bit more of your system resources while running.

Since I saw an opportunity, another thing that’s worth mentioning is that, though KDE apps may look a bit cluttered and not as neat as the ones in Gnome, but because KDE apps give you a lot of customization options, you can easily make them look simpler as well.

For instance, I spent like 1-2 minutes with ‘Okular’ and by going through its configuration options, I came up with the following ‘version’ and as you can see from the below screenshot, now ‘Okular’ looks a hell lot simple and more user friendly :).

Well hello you good looking ‘simple’! 😉 …

Text editors

Gedit …


Gedit is the text editor used in Gnome. It comes with basic functions, supports ‘syntax highlighting’ (for programmers), spell checking, find and replace, tabbed interface, sidebar, get ‘document statistics’ (number of words, lines, characters etc), undo/redo etc.

This is a basic text editor only and not a even as powerful as the simple document composer like ‘Wordpad’ that comes with Windows (concerning few features only such as a toolbar to change Bold/Italic/Underline type options for example).

But for its purpose, it’s pretty decent.



This is the text editor of KDE desktop. And again, it gives you all the functionality of Gedit and a lot more such as make text Uppercase/lowercase/Capitalize by default, spell check, split the window in vertically or horizontally, export as ‘HTML’, auto word completion, add scripts and a lot more.


Again, being a KDE app, Kate wins in terms of ‘features’ and has done quite well to still keep a decently looking UI, but Gedit still looks pretty good in my opinion. The memory usage is also a bit high in Kate.

Audio players



This is the default audio player of Gnome, inspired by the Apple’s ‘iTunes’. Supports playing almost all the popular audio formats (uses the ‘Gstreamer’ multimedia framework actually), a music manager that lets you manage large number of audio albums with ease, Audio CD ripping, visualizations, playlists, no Equalizer though (you can add one manually), shows cover-arts, support etc.

For having less confusing looks and being lightweight, I love me Rhythmbox! :D.



This also an extremely powerful audio player used in KDE (one of its key ‘icons’ ). Unlike ‘Rhythmbox’, you can set Amarok to use different type of back-ends (Xine: powerful multimedia player, Gstreamer or Phonon).

Again, it can do anything that ‘Rhythmbox’ or any other audio player (has a built in ‘Equalizer’ and lets you configure few more options, lyrics fetching, Wekipedia searching etc).


But I still love the interface design in ‘Rhythmbox’ over Amarok, because I kinda get confused by its interface and also it uses slightly higher system resources while running as well. But then again, it too can let you easily manage large audio albums with ease and finds tracks fast. Some people absolutely love it!.

Media players



This is the media player of Gnome. Though it has received few enhancements over the years, still looks very much the same.

It’s also a front-end that uses the ‘Gstreamer’ multimedia framework (also supports ‘Xine’) for the actual playback, supports a huge number of codecs (including CD/VCD/DVD playback), a side bar that shows a playlist, meta-data of multimedia files, visualizations while playing audio files, take screenshots, remote control support, shows the durations and few built in plug-ins that expands its capabilities (such as ‘YouTube browsing’, ‘Jamedo’ service enabler, subtitle downloader etc) as well.

Though it won’t let you adjust advanced settings such as changing audio/video delays for example, but for most users, it’s a beautiful looking media player after all is said and done.

Dragon Player


KDE desktop had few multimedia players in the past. ‘Kaffiene’ for instance, used to be the default one (if I’m not mistaken). But recently ‘Dragon Player’ has taken its place (some distributions still use ‘Kaffiene’ and some others). This is another front-end that uses ‘Phonon’ (the multimedia framework of KDE), and it’s also looks extremely simple and newbie friendly too (CD/DVD playback, playlist support, basic Equalizer etc).

But in my tests, it used like 50-60% more Megabytes of RAM when compared with Totem!.

Optical Disc Burners




If you’re looking for an easy to use, clean looking application that lets you easily burn optical discs such as CD/DVD and even Blu-Ray (not sure how its performance though), erase re-writable media, create disc images, copy discs, create video CD/DVDs, verify written data etc but okay with not having a lot of configuration options, then ‘Brasero’ of Gnome is for you.



If you’re a power user who’d like to have few additional features such as DVD ripping (needs to install few dependencies manually), the ability to enable ‘over burning’, change the disk cache and adjust few hardware relater options etc, then ‘K3b’ of KDE is for you.

Though again, the UI won’t look as polished as ‘Brasero’ and you won’t see any major differences while burning discs as both these apps rely on the same type of command-line tools for the actual burning, still, for its features, it’s a pretty powerful tool.

Archive managers 

File Roller


Archive manager is an important piece of software as it lets you compress files, encrypt and add passwords … heavily used for making backups. And the ‘File Roller’ in Gnome lets you do all that. You can create a lot of types of archive formats (zip, tar, gz, cbz etc), edit, extract or integrity checking.

Loads fast, easy to use, so yes, it’s an elegant tool.


It doesn’t look this simple by default. But again, thanks to the customization features in KDE, I changed it pretty easily …

This is the KDE’s version, though it’s somewhat similar to ‘File roller’ and supports all the archive types supported by it and a reasonable amount of other features, but it doesn’t allow you to add a password to an archive which is its biggest drawback!.

System monitors

Gnome’s System monitor



Gnome has a pretty good looking system monitor. It shows you (including graphs) CPU, RAM, Network and file system usage and lets you manage running processes (Ending, killing, changing priority etc).

But it has this single flaw. And that is, even when you’re using the ‘Processes’ tab so that it shouldn’t need a lot of your CPU as it doesn’t have to render the graphs etc, yet, it uses about 8-9 CPU cycles as you can see from the above picture.

Though it’s not a huge issue, but if you keep using it for long periods (on a Laptop for instance), then it can consume energy ‘unnecessarily’. Other than that, it’s a pretty decent system monitor that does its job.

KDE’s system monitor


In the past (KDE 3.x etc) KDE had a system monitor with a too much cluttered interface and options.

But the one that comes these days looks extremely impressive. Though it doesn’t show you the disk related info, but has a more pretty looking graphs than Gnome’s (as a result it consumes a bit more CPU cycles when using the ‘System Load’ tab) and because it abides this beautifully simple yet an effective UI design, I found that searching & ending processes is easier than with the Gnome’s tool.

Looks pretty good …

Unlike with the Gnome’s tool, when you switch to the ‘Process Table’ tab, the CPU usage drops as low as 1%! and I think this is how a system monitor should behave :). I’d still like it to give away some of those pretty looking graphs so it can save some CPU usages while displaying graphs. Still, I like this one over the Gnome’s tool.

System resources usage and Power consumption …

The ‘Kernel’ (a low level of software that communicates directly with your computer’s hardware devices) can have a big impact on the performance, resources usage and the efficiency of the power usage of your computer. But, the Kernel alone cannot do much if the applications that run on top of it (such as these Desktops and their apps) ‘misbehave’.

For instance, even if the ‘Kernel’ does its job extremely well, yet an application (say the web browser) due to some sort of a software bug, starts to use CPU and RAM of your PC quite heavily, then there isn’t much that the Kernel can do to minimize the negative effects.

Or, even if the application runs well, still, if they’re not well optimized, then it can use your computer’s resources ‘unnecessarily’, because it’s not the Kernel’s job to assume how much system resources an application needs, it’s job is to do its best to give what the application asks.

So by designing applications carefully can have a big impact on both performance and power usage. Enough talking, let’s finish this (man I need to take a break! :P).

Gnome Shell

Start-up times (= after clicking the ‘GRUB’ menu, till the desktop loads everything).

It should be because Gnome’s applications have extremely simple UI designs (features), that in general, they require less system resources while running. And as a result, start-up time for the Gnome Shell (under Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin) was about 27 seconds (without changing/tweaking anything).

Now I don’t have a ‘Swap-space’ (because I have about 4GB of RAM), anyway, as soon as the desktop finished loading everything, I opened the system monitor in Gnome and the Memory usage was about 289MB, a value that’s closely followed by the Ubuntu’s Unity desktop as well.

One thing that’s worth mentioning is that, a lot of these GNU/Linux desktops (‘Kernel’ actually) have a tendency not to use swap space unless it’s absolutely necessary, where other platforms such as MS Windows makes use of a reasonable amount of swap space (‘page-file’) by default. Anyway …

I measured the power usage using the excellent ‘powerstat’ tool (I’m using a Dell Vostro V131, Intel Core i3 edition) and when the computer was at it its ‘idle’ states, it used about 10.60 -- 11.2 Watts.


Startup times (same as above, from the ‘GRUB’ menu till the desktop fully loads).

KDE (Kubuntu to be precise), by default took as much as 51 seconds to load and used about 467 MB of RAM!. This again is not a surprise, when concerning few things.

First off, as mentioned above, KDE’s applications are a bit ‘heavier’ than of Gnomes’, because they have more features and options, therefore, they need more resources to run. Secondly, KDE, by default, loads few ‘unnecessary’ (for some, they might be useful) applications at the desktop start-up.

So I just removed few (the clipboard manager, desktop indexing service, disabled few message indicators etc), including some start-up services, as an attempt to optimize it a little bit.

Then I rebooted it, and this time, KDE’s start-up time was about 40-41 seconds (tested it few times), which is roughly 10 seconds faster than before. Now I think I may have been able to get another second or two by removing the beautiful looking ‘splash screen’ as well. But after hours and hours putting together this post, I was really exhausted :).

Anyhow, then I relaunched the system monitor again, and this time, the RAM usage was reduced to 441MB (roughly), about 26MB reduction when compared with the above readings.

Power usage of KDE …

Interestingly, when considered the fact that KDE uses higher system resources, lots of features (room for more bugs) and all, one would assume that (I did) it might consume power, a bit more.

But in truth, even after the desktop loading those few ‘unnecessary’ apps, because they run from the background I suspected that they’d ‘wake up’ CPU, thus resulting a somewhat higher power usage. But the readings were almost exactly as with Gnome Shell (around 10 -- 11 Watts).

Actually in KDE, the power usage was even slightly lower than Gnome Shell in few occasions!. Though it’s almost negligible, but still, it was impressive the efficiency showed by KDE.

Another thing that’s worth mentioning (could be the reason why it used slightly lower power, again only in few occasions) that, according to the ‘powerstat’ tool, the ‘CPU idle’ value reached ‘100%’, meaning that, no applications used the CPU for that period. Though I have seen Gnome does that too, but KDE achieved those states, a bit more often.

This is one area that MS Windows does really well. Because, usually, under ‘idle’ load, the CPU usage is always extremely low (lot of 100% idle readings), and with Windows sometimes my Vostro V131 gets about 8.9-9.3 Watts!.

The thing is, not that long ago, KDE wasn’t that good at power management (or at least in my experience) but I don’t know if the ‘Kubuntu’ developers have done their own ‘optimizations’.

Or perhaps it’s just that, though their apps use a bit more of your RAM, yet, they’re fine-tuned not to ‘wake up’ your CPU unnecessarily plus it might help the fact that they use a bit more RAM thus reducing HDD I/O activity as well (I’m just wildly guessing).

Nonetheless, the point is, even after having a lot of options (relatively), KDE seems to manage power quite efficiently.

Few final words …

Wanna stick with ‘Gnome’? …

Now, I’m not going to say Gnome Shell or KDE is better than the other etc, because, in truth, as mentioned earlier, they’re both designed keeping different types of end-users in mind, which is why apart from all of their differences, some people still adore them.

So if you’re a user who’s looking for a highly simplified desktop that loads fast and low on your system’s resources (relatively speaking, as there are other desktops that are much lightweight than both these), then Gnome Shell looks pretty decent. However, because by default, there’s no ‘minimize’ button, Gnome Shell can give you ‘hell’ too 😉 (not kidding mates!).

So if you’re repelled at Gnome for that (I was too), then I humbly advice you to manually add that ‘minimize’ button and try it again.

And then try interacting with multiple applications by combining the ‘Activities Overview’ window, I honestly don’t know if you’d love it, but I’m beginning to like Gnome Shell, better than ‘Unity’, and after adding that, it I’d change the above word ‘decent’, to ‘pretty good’ as well.

You can also customize the Gnome Shell a lot by using the ‘extensions’ too. But try not to over do it, because I think they can easily make Gnome consume more resources (just like with a web browser as it slows down if excessive amount of ‘add-ons’ are installed).

Wanna try ‘KDE’ ? …

If you’re someone who doesn’t really care about ‘philosophies’ behind software and looking for a desktop that’s easy to use and behaves pretty much like MS Windows plus, need applications that come with a lot of options but okay with the fact that it needs higher system resources to run (they might not do that well under ‘older hardware’), then ‘KDE’ is also an excellent desktop without a doubt.

What about you Gayan? …

Well, I have nothing against KDE. But, I don’t like the fact that they’re somewhat ‘light minded’ and ‘ignorant’ in terms of ‘free software‘.

Then again, perhaps they have a point, that it’s far better to be practical, than just to believe in ideals that don’t prove themselves in practical terms. And if, that’s to be the truth, then they’ll render their own inevitable destruction, nevertheless.

Anyhow, a longtime ago, I decided to stick with my intuition, so I’m willing to make few ‘sacrifices’ and go with this ‘gut feeling’ that I have. So for me, I will be drifting towards desktops that closely follow the ‘GNU’s’ guidelines (just in case :D), not just ‘Gnome’.

Not because ‘GNU’ is perfect, it’s just that personally, I feel a lot more safe around it. There, I just gave you my lame excuse! :D.

But that’s just me, you can make up your own damn mind! ;-).

To know more, please visit this Gnome Shell home page and this KDE home page. Good luck.

An RHCE, 'Linux' user with 14+ years of experience. Extreme lover of Linux and FOSS. He is passionate to test every Linux distribution & compare with the previous release to write in-depth articles to help the FOSS community.

41 thoughts on “Gnome vs KDE: A little Comparison”

  1. Well a few months ago I switched to using KDE (GNOME just went way to far in dumbing down their interface for my taste). And from what I experince from interacting with the KDE community they are not taking freedom lightly. In fact I got the feeling they are much more aware of importance of it than the GNOME community. I remeber a video from Gran Canaria Free Desktop Summit where Richard Stallman was a keynote speaker and he basically critisized how GNOMe is forgeting about freedoom and using dangerous patent-trap technology like Mono and praised KDE that now they are more aware of importance of freedom. And it was about the same feeling I got when comparing both communities (although I'm part of KDE only for a few months and have been in GNOME for several years before).

    And I also like KDE now much more since it also provides me more freedom to customize my working environment like I want it to work and the apps and desktop is really powerful and there are a lot of realy nice features not available in GNOME. So for the next few months I'm staying with KDE, at least until GNOME developers change their minds and stop dumbing down things like now. Hope this mindset changes but I guess it will not happen before version 4, if ever. Until then, as they say on their homepage:

    KDE – Experience Freedom

    • Being more involved in KDE than GNOME I only speak for the first. And actually, let the project speak for itself: “KDE 4: Be Free” is the slogan behind our project. We’ve got the Manifesto making this even more clear: and as is mentioned below, with the main developer of GNOME working on and promoting Mono/C# in GNOME, many people feel GNOME has lost it’s freedom-loving way a long time ago. That especially in the light of GNOME being very strongly influenced by corporate interests (Sun, former Novell and Red Hat most known) while KDE has explicitly set itself up to be very hard to control by a corporate sponsor: unlike GNOME, there is no ‘Advisory Board’ for corporate sponsors, and companies can NOT become a member of KDE e.V., unlike in GNOME. But just check the projects out and make up your own mind!

  2. Thank you for taking the time to make this great review of the comparisons between KDE vs Gnome. Very informative. I have used both for years, but found your comparison very fair.

    I have both installed, by the way.

  3. wow… that was the best review ever. as a debian user I still use gnome 2. I have tested gnome 3 and… it sucks! I think I am safe until debian 7 will be stable. after that, KDE or XFCE.

    how could they make something awful like Gnome 3 with GTK+? it is hardest thing to do I think.

  4. So have you got a Wattmeter fitted to your computer then? 😉

    I remember back when I used Gnome, I took your excellent advice and streamlined Nautilus. You ought to put a link back to that.

    And your English is excellent, except for fair's fare. ROFL Hey, look at me, starting a sentence with "And". The number of times my English teacher ranted about that.

  5. Great informative article, thank you for writing it. I’ve tried so many Desktop Environments.. at the end, I really like XFCE and how simple but yet powerful it is, that’s the perfect combination innit?

    • Hi ‘Rafi B.’,

      Yeah, also love XFCE as well. Reminds me a lot how Gnome-Classic used to rock ;-). Plus, XFCE is doing it better too, I mean a lot of configuration options and all that.

      By the way, you are welcome! :D.

    • Agreed. XFCE has really grown on me. I love that just about any aspect of it can be configured, however, it takes a little extra time and configurations to get it exactly how you want it. Gnome 2 rocked and XFCE brings those features and more on a lightweight environment. I’ve tried Gnome Shell, KDE, Cinnamon and Mate, but I always seem to come back to XFCE.

  6. I use KDE 4.9.3. It has come a long way from the old days. It has always offered more functionality than Gnome, though some applications would simply break and die. That is what applications are supposed to do when they misbehave die, but Gnome applications sometimes simply froze.

    As a Kubuntu user, I dislike Unity which is basically the new Gnome rebranded. I don’t like needing to constantly search for items that can easily be located in the applications menu, have a shortcut on the desktop, or a launcher on the taskbar. Currently, Gnome classic is still available as an option from Ubuntu, but rumor has it that it will be gone in Ubuntu 13 Raring Ringtale.

    Having been accustomed to KDE, I was surprised to find the new twist with the Plasma Desktop. I have a fairly new laptop with a quad core processor, and having multiple “Activities” going slows my system dramatically. It essentially creates new workspaces for each activity. With my once standard four workspaces and accidentally having four activities, it was like having sixteen workspaces.

    I now run with one activity, but I feel that Plasma is more bells and whistles than practicality. You can disable plasma, but you have no desktop and no desktop manager. I don’t know why disabling plasma is an option if there is no backup desktop. It would be great if the classic desktop were an option. I hope to see a future version that would enable that option. It could be called Plasma Free.

    Thanks for you thoughts. I’m getting off my soapbox now. If you ever need an editor, contact me (through Facebook if necessary). I’m a college-educated native speaker, and my sister is an English professor.

  7. I tried linux 2 weeks ago and decided to try different graphical enviorements by myself before looking for opinions in internet.
    That means im fresh to this and somewhat i can see that your opinion is biased.
    After reading this article i dont see it as comparision. I see it as attempt to proove that KDE is better than Gnome 3.

    I see KDE as poor clone of Windows environment with tons of stuff flooding my desktop. I don’t really like it. Widgets are big and bulky, taskbar liks like the one from windows XP (i cant fit there more than 4 applications on 1280×800 screen) app browser is just like windows. Nothing bad nothing amazing. I’ll try to custonmize it more to maybe make it simpler and more convenient. Right now that whole custonmization attempt gives nothing but chaos while not being more custinmizable than any other linux desktop environment.

    Gnome also has its pros and cons. It feels smooth and fast when i use it BUT to do anything i have to move my mouse all the way to leaft corner of screen. To change desktops i have to move all the way left and then all the way ight. To see notifications bar on bottom of the screen i have to moove mouse al the way to top left and then to bottom of scren to operate it or hold ose on bottom border of screen for few seconds (it feels like hours after having to repeat that waiting process few times in a row). I could just use alt-tab to switch applications but having to scroll between 4-5 positions every time i want to jump from Chrome to text editor is annoying. Fortunately it can be all fixed by installing some improvements.

    So after trying things for myself I was looking for more detalied comparision between 2 most promising desktop environments. I didn’t find anything useful here. Only KDE fanboys marathon. I will still try them both.

    • Hi Nandig,

      I respect your judgment mate & agree with some of the things that you say, but you have totally misread me in many cases. And I tried (I really did) my best to come up with a decent comparison, I’m not saying it’s an awesome article or one of the best ones out there (just because it is long and full of boring text 😉 ), but it makes me a bit sad when you say that you haven’t found anything useful in it …

  8. In fact, it’s been nearly 5 years since I left KDE for XFCE4. I liked KDE 3.5.x a lot but felt frustrated with new shiny KDE 4.0. I’ve never been a gnome fan (I felt the same for Unity too, actually I hate it).

    Things have changed since then. And, I’ve heard very good feed backs about recent KDE releases. Definitely, I’ll give it ago.

  9. hi.. nice blog you have here.. took me a little while to get here.. i know this post is a little old but it’s kind of important one to me.. coz i have used both of them. i moved to linux 4 years ago.. and even before that i remember using live distro knoppix which used kde.. first thing that came to my mind when i first saw kde (3.x) was ‘man.. this is a mess’.. but as year went by i moved to linux.. and, was on gnome for like 3 years. but as unity and gnome shell came along it seems that they’ve been over-simplifying things. (at least to me)… so i switched kde and now i can’t even think about anything else.. things that i can customize here are unbelievable. so for any one who needs one of a kind setup.. it’s my opinion that kde is a better choice. anyone who hasn’t tried kde recenty, give it a shot.. it’s really smooth.

    • ‘Harindu’ malli,

      In terms of customizability, KDE, as you said, simply rocks. Plus, I also agree with you that recent versions of KDE 4x … such as the one that comes with ‘openSUSE 12.3’ for instance, looks impressively fast, stable and efficient. And yes, KDE 3x, well, it was kind of a mess too ;-). ‘Isthuthi’ for the comment.

  10. Well, very informative article. I’ve been searching for a lightweight yet elegant desktop which is not easy to find though. Btw my name is Gayan too : DD

  11. Another late to the party. 🙂 Gnome 3 I found to be a major disappointment when I tried it with Fedora 16. One of the main reasons, cited in the comments but not in the article, is the ridiculous amount mouse movement & mouse-clicks needed to launch an application – how people can be ok with that is beyond me! The other thing I recall cursing them for was allowing only the most basic form of network configuration from the GUI. If for whatever reason your wireless didn’t work (as mine didn’t) you were forced to configure it from the terminal. How can they claim to be simplifying things for users if you have to resort to that? And while it is possible to restore features that the developers have decided us mere users don’t need, what you failed to mention was that Gnome 3 itself provides no way of doing this – you must run scripts that other have written. Also, the Gnome 2 ‘fall-back’ mode sucked, being a very poor emulation imo. Reading in the comments that the Gnome 3 development is also tied to Mono (wow) has me wondering all the more what’s going on here – this is the open-source Linux platform were talking about, so why would the Gnome developers dump a pretty good Gnome 2 desktop and produce something that has not only been widely criticised, but now I learn something that relies on non-free software to produce and possibly subject to a “patent-trap” somewhere down the road, as someone commented here. Why is the open-source community supporting this dog?

    I really don’t have that much negative to say about KDE, maybe ‘cos i really haven’t used it much, begin enerally happy with Gnome 2. In fact, early on in my introduction to Linux I spent a happy 18 months with Debian KDE (lenny) but I found KDE a bit too ‘plastic-looking’, so switched to Gnome 2. I’d level the same criticism at version 4.8, which I’ve just installed on one of my computers as part of the Mageia 3 OS. But it’s infinitely better than Gnome 3.

  12. Why sticking with only one of them ? 🙂

    Personnaly I use both, beceause they have both some “killer features”

    My favorite gnome features are the shell (which I think integrates better with the concept of workspaces than KDE’s desktops and workspaces, and is great on notebooks with small screens) and baobab, the disk analyser (so useful !)

    My favorite KDE features are the file search (yes, gnome has only a very limited file indexing system, and more often than not you will have to navigate in files to find that missing file), the georgeous visual effects and look&feel (version 4.10 is amazing ! compared to 4.8 for instance), the file widgets (now your desktop finally gets useful ! a few widgets showing your favourite directories and you are one click away from your files 🙂 )
    KDE also has a software discovery and management center, similar to ubuntu’s one, with comments and grades, which is pretty useful
    and finnaly, dat killer feature : okular can edit PDF ! Real edits that are seen from other readers as well, and that can still ben changed after saving ! (not like MS powerpoint annotations 🙂 )

    KDE’s disk usage analyser is called filelight. It’s much faster than baobab and shows more detailled graphics, but has no separate file tree. It is not included by default on kubuntu …

    btw, KDE app share the same libraries, this explains why they lauch fast while having low cpu/ram consumption

    thank you for the post, i liked the article 😉

  13. sorry i misformulated:
    with okular you can _annotate_ PDF, not edit the components, but only the one you add (drawings, notes ,etc.)


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