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October 18, 2009

With the coming of KDE 4.3, the old question comes back: which is better - KDE or GNOME?

Filed under: Linux Desktops — admin @ 4:05 pm

Framing the Debate:

GNU/Linux has many, many graphical display options from basic window managers using the X Window system to complete desktop environments; however, most agree that the two top choices for graphical disply for Linux systems are GNOME and KDE.

The debate as to which one is better, GNOME or KDA, has been ongoing for years and still continues in 2009.  Early this year, Jack Wallen wrote the article “10 reasons why GNOME is better than KDE” in which he concludes that “Prior to 4, I would have picked KDE over GNOME any day. But with the advent of 4, I have to say GNOME is far ahead of KDE in terms of design, stability, and usability.” (blog entry)

Bruce Byfield countered Jack’s argurment in March of 2009 writing “…should the GNOME project carry out its plans, the 2.30 release should generate its own excitement when released a year from now. But that’s the point: by the time GNOME is modernized, KDE will have had two years to perfect the 4.x releases. And, even when GNOME 2.3 finally arrives, it sounds like more of an overhaul than a complete rewriting, which makes its competitiveness questionable.” (blog entry)

Andy Wingo, wrote in June of 2008, (blog entry), “The problem, as I see it, is that GNOME is in a state of decadence—we largely achieved what we set out to achieve, insofar as it was possible. Now our hands are full with dealing with entropic decay.”

Clearly, there is lively debate on the subject.

KDE or the K Desktop Environment was founded in October 1996. The German student Mattias Ettrich from Eberhard Karls University created the K Desktop Environment (KDE) in 1996 because he was frustrated with the difficulty of graphical display solutions for Unix and wanted to achieve easy-to-use system with a unified look to applications. KDE was popular; however, the biggest issue at the time was that KDE used the proprietary Qt toolkit (by Trolltech). They later released Qt under a Q Public license (QPL) in 1998. (

In 1997 the GNU Project began to develop a free software desktop known as the GNU Network Object Model Environment (GNOME) which became the major rival to KDE. Gnome is now the default desktop platform available for Ubuntu and Fedora.

Both GNOME and KDE cooperate on common interface standards via The graphical desktops are more similar than the reviewers have allowed.

To discuss all the features of either one would be a far more lengthy article than is intended here.
So which is better?

In my opinion, the debate comes down to three major advantages GNOME has over KDE.
1) GNOME today  is considered more focused by usability
2) GNOME is the default for Fedora, Ubuntu, and several other major distributions
3) GNOME is likely to use less memory than a similarly configured KDE desktop (but not by much)

It will be hard for KDE to counter these competitive advantages while undergoing so many major changes at one time, But, here is the rub:  to Byfield’s point:  GNOME’s modernization effort is taking a lot of time.  The 2.30 release is still ongoing.  As a constrast, KDE is moving forward aggressively to create a modern platform.

By Ryan Paul  writes in July 2008, “The GNOME 2.30 release, which will be about a year and a half from now based on GNOME’s standard six-month release cycle, is what the developers have decided to call GNOME 3.0. During that time, the GTK+ toolkit will undergo its transformation and much of the desktop infrastructure that has been under heavy development will be more mature …” (blog entry) He goes on to say, “Unlike KDE 4.0, which produced impressive innovation and accelerated development at the cost of user trust and overall desktop stability, the GNOME 3.0 plan is less ambitious ..”

KDE has just this year worked on a new toolkit in QT 4.4, a new build system, the implemtation of a social desktop championed by OpenDesktop, a new multimedia system, a SVG graphics on the desktop, and improved memory usages and speed. They are swinging the bat for a much better overall experience.

KDE 4.3 is better than 4.2, but the it was just rated 7 our of 10 by Linux Format  Magazine in their November 2009 issue.  Graham Morrison of Linux Format  says of KDE 4.3, “4.3 is another solid improvement. But I don’t think it does anything to help new users.” They agree that KDE 4.3 is a step forward, but the praise is luke warm. The debate over whether KDE and GNOME is better is likely to continue for some time to come.


  1. I bet GNOME guys would have a lot of problems modernizing GNOME. For GNOME 3.0, seems that they only modernize the ‘look and feel’, and not the fundamental technologies. Also, the GTK+ guys announced they’ll break the API for GTK 3.0, which I think will cause pain to GNOME like transition to Qt 4 caused pain in KDE side.

    However, KDE had done that, porting from old toolkit and desktop technologies to brand new toolkit and set of technologies (Qt 4, nepomuk, strigi, phonon, plasma, KOffice). I believe this pain would result in brighter future for KDE. Like it or not, a lot of people praise KDE 4.3 and switch to it from older KDE or GNOME or other DEs. And in only 3 months, KDE 4.4 will be released with more stability and features.

    Comment by fred — October 21, 2009 @ 1:23 am

  2. Theat second “reason” :-

    ” 2) GNOME is the default for Fedora, Ubuntu, and several other major distributions ”

    I don’t accept that. If coming with a “distro” as a convenience is really such a significant advantage then Windows should win the contest hands down ;-) Is Kubuntu, Ubuntu with KDE, really so far away?

    Comment by Nuke — January 21, 2010 @ 10:13 am

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