One of the questions I get asked a lot is the "KDE vs GNOME" question. My first reaction is "that's not the issue," – the message I want to send the world is not why GNOME is better than KDE. That would be constraining our message to people that already know and use open source desktops. I can tell you why GNOME is better than KDE in many circumstances and I'm sure KDE folks can tell you about circumstances where KDE is the better solution. And that's good.

GNOME's goal is to create a free and open source desktop. With that goal in mind, KDE is on the same team as GNOME – we are teammates working on free and open source computing solutions. We compete, but it's the friendly competition of teammates, each trying to win the valuable player award and pushing each other to our limits. The projects we compete together against are the non free desktops.

If GNOME has a competitor it's the non-free desktops of the world. I say "if we have a competitor" because I think we'll be stronger if we focus on being a free and open source desktop with a great user experience instead of focusing on our competition. We want to force them to hurry up and catch up with us by creating great projects that work for the user in ways our competitors haven't even dreamed of yet.

Update: I should have also pointed out that GNOME and KDE are working together. We've worked on projects like DBus together as well as planning to hold the GNOME and KDE conferences in the same location next summer so that developers can meet and collaborate.

24 Replies to “KDE vs GNOME”

  1. Well, freedesktop.org and the Guademy proves our friendship, I think. Of course, KDE and Gnome are different, but diversity is good.
    I believe our ‘competitors, non-free software, can’t integrate as tightly as us, and that’s where our advantage lies.

  2. If we can name circumstances when GNOME is better than KDE, or when KDE is better than GNOME, we’re failing. The whole point of open source, cooperation on standards, and all that, is that we can share features. Every common task should be equally viable on both desktops. KDE vs. GNOME should be a matter of interface preference, not suitability for scenarios, or even required GNOME vs. KDE applications.

  3. I personally can’t see any scenario where GNOME is better than KDE… and I don’t think this is a useful competition either. I’ve always thought that one good offer is better than multiple half-finished options.
    If really you had the same goals, you’d be working together on a standard, same toolkit, same schedule, same naming, and so on… So please, no, if GNOME was created, it’s exactly because they didn’t have the same views as KDE.
    It’s not too late to reunite in some way, use the same toolkit (Qt of course…), the same standards… But I really doubt it will happen someday. Know why ? Because the GNOME mentality is all about competition.

  4. I’ll correct my self on my last sentence:
    Because the human mentality is all about competition. And by definition, competition means winners… and loosers.

  5. Cypher, which is why I think we need to focus on the right competition. Our goal is a free and open source desktop so I think our main competition is non free desktops.

  6. @Cypher, I, as a KDE dev, am really sad by your post.
    @Stormy, Please, don’t feed the trolls.
    And, yah, of course I use Gnome apps, I use the one that works best, so Gimp and Inkscape ( not really gnome apps, but GTK ones) are used instead of krita and karbon14.
    and there’s nothing wrong with the mix. 😉

  7. As a GNOME user since Fedora 5, and a KDE user aince way before that I have to say that the free desktops (and at this stage i can add – especially GNOME, though i hope KDE will be back up there with the coming 4.2) are already way ahead of the non-free competition in term of ease of use, effectiveness and polish.
    OTOH, i think that standards and interoperability between free desktops – as promoted by fd.o – is not yet where i think it can be. We need more work inside fd.o to finalize and promote standards, and we need even more work inside the desktops’ respective developer groups to adopt and implement the standards . The situation there is grim at best with people much more prefering to develop their own limited standards instead of working together with developers from other desktop environments to move shared stanrards together. Examples are abound – nepomuk vs tracker/beagle, gvfs/gio vs kio, clipboard and xdnd implementatinons and more. This must change if the free desktop initiative is to succeed.

  8. Stormy, that what I keep hearing all the time. But if you think about it, this desktop competition, even if it’s “friendly”, is not the right way to reach this goal. It’s the same problem as in politics. Small parties cannot win against the big ones if they are divided. As long as there is more than one competitor fighting in the name of open source, open source will not win. You cannot ask people to learn too much at a time. Switching from proprietary systems is hard enough for normal users, they do not want to get confused more. And small companies do not want to invest in one option that might become obsolete in the future because the other competitor has won.
    Think about it. How many options for the Linux kernel do we have ? How many graphics servers do we have ? How many sound system architectures ? All in all, it’s all close to only one, sometimes there is a surviving competitor on its way to get forgotten.
    And in the future, let imagine that we have won, and open source is everywhere. Who are you going to fight ? We will always find another competitor, and if there no obvious one, we will fight each other.
    That’s the reason why I do not believe that we all have the same goals, and I do not think that this KDE vs GNOME is pointless.

  9. @Tomaz: I’m sorry to make you sad. Especially if you think that I’m another stupid KDE zealot fighting blindly. Which is not the case, as you might maybe notice in my previous post. If you’re sad about my point of view on open source, politics, and life in general… Well, yeah, I’m not very optimistic, sorry 😉 People like me always keep the boring role of recalling the others about one aspect of the world reality, and people like you, and Stormy, make it go a bit rounder by keeping dreams alive. That’s another example of natural competition between human beings. And in the end, we all wish to make the other ones to agree with us. Which is, by definition, a will of winning.

  10. Are you sure the two projects do not compete? But I am not thinking here about end-users, but abut developers mindshare…
    While the end-users are practically an infinite pool with a lot of potential to gain from the proprietary desktops, in comparison the FLOSS developers seems to be a limited resource, which grows slowly. Or maybe the number of developers does not grow in line with the needs of a modern desktop.
    I guess this is why some argue about the futility of having two “competing” FOSS desktops: they see the number of developers for their favorite desktop not being enough and imagine that by “eliminating” the other one the number will double. But things do not work like that…

  11. Please don’t unite the KDE and GNOME projects. Cypher, I don’t use KDE because personally I find it looks like bubble gum (no theme changes that for me). The other reason is that QT is controlled by? and GTK is controlled by? So right there Cypher and I don’t see eye to eye. He wants a united desktop that is like KDE. Ha, doesn’t work like that pal. You can’t spout you’re ideals and suggest that everybody has it your way.

  12. GNOME is fairly awesome now, KDE4 will become awesome very soon I’m sure. Kubuntu 8.10 doesn’t work well on my machine at all, but I’ll probably try OpenSuSE 11.1 when it comes out or wait for Kubuntu Jaunty.
    Just keep rocking, and remember what your mommy told you: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

  13. One important point that isn’t often mentioned in the KDE vs. GNOME “wars” is that having two viable choices gives an alternative when one is heading in the wrong direction or adopts a distasteful position.
    In the long ago past (and now remedied), this was KDE’s non-free foundation.
    In the current and future, this could well be GNOME’s continuing and escalating infatuation with Microsoft technologies.
    For this reason alone, I think it would be a very poor idea indeed to merge KDE and GNOME.

  14. ushimitsudoki: Infatuation with MS technologies? Oh please, can’t you come up with something better?
    @stormy: This is your blog, suggest to remove trolls.

  15. I hope that KDE and GNOME cooperate even more in the future. There are lots of backend technologies where it makes no sense that work is duplicated. DBUS is proof that it benefits both, as is WebKit. There is ongoing process to unify the storage backend for GNOME Keyring and KDE Wallet
    Hopefully Akonadi will be adopted by GNOME (and Mozilla) and GIO by KDE.

  16. I use both KDE (3.5 and 4.1) and Gnome. I change both to suit my working style (single-click, with menu bar at the top) and like things about each one. I switch from one to another and often stay in one or the other for a week at a time. Change is good and variety is the spice of life, as they say.
    Needless to say I have both KDE and Gnome favourite applications and use them on the other’s desktop.
    BTW, I also use XFCE.
    I am conflicted about which is best. The fact that I can’t make up my mind shows that each is strong or that I am indecisive (which I am not). I love QT4 and look forward to Gnome getting a similar facelift.

  17. @Markus:
    Why would KDE adopt GIO? KIO has several advantages:
    1) stable and mature (it was introduced in KDE 2 and still rocks)
    2) lots of protocols available
    3) separation between ioslave and application by local socket
    Cooperation between GNOME and KDE works well, as long as it is about standards. As soon as code is involved, GNOME world adopts ‘my way or highway’ stance.

  18. Nicu said “Are you sure the two projects do not compete? But I am not thinking here about end-users, but abut developers mindshare…”
    Yes, the projects do compete in that regard – but that’s entirely by choice of the developers in question. Open source developers aren’t some massed pool of resources to be assigned where needed – they’re a bunch of individuals who work on whatever pleases them. Yes, having two similar projects competes for developer attention. But that’s the choice those developers are making.

  19. bkor: Infatuation with MS technologies? Oh please, can’t you come up with something better?
    I am an incredibly happy GNOME user and this is the only area that worries me.
    I think one of the major DEs will die off eventually, but I have no idea which, because it will probably be because of a catastrophic event (e.g. if GNOME 3.0 was absolutely pants, but all the distros switched instantly) rather than a gradual shift; both environments will continue to have investment from companies and applications in a range of devices until one of them succeeds or fails unambiguously. I hope GNOME prevails (prely on aesthetic and usability bases) but in any case, until that point then co-operation and consistency are the way forwards.

  20. i prefer KDE and XFCE but you are right, that is not the point.
    Mono is the point.
    Miguel is the point.
    Too many things said which make people leary of Gnome.
    And you know, it doesnt have to do often with Gnome itself but people hear how OOXML is a wonderful format and they think “Hey, isnt that the Gnome guy?”
    As for Mono, I avoid Beagle, F-Spot, and Tomboy
    like well, mono…. and this can help a bit:
    free software and open standards and cooperation is what should bring us together.
    Egos, personalities and politics will keep us apart.
    i managed to stay away from KDE for quite some time. im willing to wait for Gnome as well.

  21. I just dropped KDE like a rock because I wasn’t able to copy folders to the desktop in 4.x — and don’t tell me that all I must do is learn what a ‘plasmoid’ is. I don’t need another layer of abstraction between me and the file system, thank you very much. Imagine explaining what a plasmoid is to 100 or 1000 or 10,000 end users. If I’m to accept ‘innovation,’ it will be in the place that matters for communicating with other humans, which is a handly little invention by Mr. Berners Lee called http.
    Other than this, I fully agree with the thrust of this post: open source development is a superior model because it: 1. Turns competition into an asset by making interoperability possibility, 2. leverages the scale of the internet, 3. makes diversity possible, 4. makes peer review of software possible. I use lots of KDE apps, increasingly (and happily!) on many platforms, as I do Gnome apps. Open source has produced an embarrassment or riches, and arguing that it would somehow benefit by emulating the walled gardens of the proprietary world seems oxymoronic.
    And, hey, I’ll probably revisit KDE when they’ve relented, and let me copy folders to the desktop, or somebody has written a little hack to do so, or the project is forked.

  22. Joe is in love with kubuntu, Jack do prefer Fedora, William stick on Debian/xfce… The real important thing about FOSS is that the USER, me, you, have the choice.

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