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Desktops: KDE vs Gnome

What Linux Desktop is the Best? Gnome, KDE or something completely different?


  1. What is a desktop anyway?
  2. KDE vs Gnome, What is the better desktop environment?
  3. The Future is Freedesktop
  4. Hardware requirements
  5. The Best Desktop


1. What is a desktop anyway?

The term desktop refers to the graphical environment where you do your work. The desktop usually consists of a workspace (called the root window) with pretty icons and quite possibly a menu that pops up when you click on it, usually a panel on the top or the bottom and/or top of the screen with a menu and a lot of other practical services you may never even notice.

The most important part of any desktop is the window manager, this is the application that handles window placements and movements. The window manager is what draws a border (or no border) around your windows and makes them maximize, minimize, moves and behave according to your preferences.

2. KDE vs Gnome, What is the better desktop environment?

KDE and Gnome are complete desktop environments that consist of a large number of tightly integrated yet still separate pieces of software. Gnome uses a window manager called metacity, KDE uses kwin. Both these desktops can be used with any other window manager if you do not like the default choice.

Linux is like Lego. You can build your own desktop environment. Both KDE and Gnome are just big packages with software aimed to look and feel the same way, work well together and generally give you a nice experience. If you dislike a component, then replace it with something else. It's that simple.

Application that are "made for gnome" or "made for kde" can be used with any desktop. This only means that that the program use a set of library functions found in their underlying gnome-libs or kdelibs. You do not need to use the actual desktops to use the applications, software made for KDE and Gnome can be used with any window manager / desktop as long as you got the proper libraries installed. There is no reason to use only applications made for the desktop you prefer, the "best software" for one task is made for KDE, the best for another task is made for Gnome. Use the best from both worlds.

Both KDE and Gnome can be customized to behave exactly the way you want. What desktop you prefer is your own choice and preference. When in doubt, try to learn both. Or experiment with other desktops. Remember, *nix applications are not locked to the desktop they are made for, Gnome applications can be used in KDE and vice versa.

There is no "best desktop", but there is a desktop that's best for you. It's a matter of preference, and hardware.

3. The Future is Freedesktop

Freedesktop.org is a software project aimed at developing shared technology standards for the X Window System. They provide common protocols like System Tray Protocol Specification, standard that allows developers to write a program that will work in KDE, GNOME, Fluxbox and other desktops who follow the Freedesktop recommendations.

is a free software project to work on interoperability and shared technology for desktop environments for the X Window System. The most famous X desktops are GNOME and KDE but any developers working on Linux/UNIX GUI technology are welcome to participate.

4. Hardware requirements

Desktop Required RAM Required CPU
fluxbox/idesk 48 100 MHz
XFCE4 128 200 MHz
Gnome 1.x 256 500 MHz
Gnome 2.x 384 800 MHz
KDE 3.x 512 1 GHz

These values are general rules of thumb. KDE will start on computer systems who should have been moved to museums long ago, like a Pentium 100 with 64 MB RAM, but it will run horribly slow. Any computer box can be used for the right purpose if you select software according to it's capacity. A Pentium 100 will let your write email and surf the Internet if you choose the MUTT email client and the web browser Lynx.

For a hot new box with lots of RAM and a fast CPU I recommend KDE 3.x or Gnome 2.x. Gnome is bloated and KDE is even more bloated. This is great, but all those fancy features demand more CPU and ram.

XFCE4 is a very nice complete fast and lightweight Desktop Environment and is probably the best choice for old, but not ancient hardware. The ROX desktop is another good light choice.

For really old hardware you should use something simple to draw icons on your desktop (like idesk) and a fast window manger like fluxbox (based on blackbox), waimea or icewm

5. The Best Desktop

Again: Try them all. This is your choice. There are plenty of Live-CD Linux distributions that let you try both KDE and Gnome without installing anything at all. Knoppix is a nice alternative.

Some people claim KDE is the best choice for beginners.


Desktop Overview

Complete Linux Desktops:

  • GNOME
    • Complete Linux desktop.
  • KDE
    • Complete Linux desktop.
  • XFCE
    • Light Linux desktop.
  • ROX
    • "Light" Linux desktop. The ROX filemanager Filer is clean and nice. ROX Panel and the Filer are excellent and can be used with other desktops.

Popular Windows Window Managers:

  • ION
    • Untraditional window manager using frames and floating workspaces, this helps you use the available on your screen more efficiently.
  • Fluxbox
    • Excellent Window manager, tabbed windowing, layers and more.
  • EvilWM
    • Minimalistic no-fuzz window manager with all basic features, excellent if you like borderless windows.

Copyright (c) 2000-2004 Øyvind Sæther. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled ["GNU Free Documentation License" http://www.gnu.org/licenses/fdl.html].

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