An agnostic’s take on Gnome vs. KDE

I’m writing this because everyone gets it wrong, and it’s my moral obligation to set yous straight. (For those that don’t know me, this is sarcasm.) I do, however, in all sincerity, want to clear up a few things I keep reading about that kind of irk me. The situation is in the never ending battle for the desktop that is Gnome versus KDE (I won’t bother to acknowledge any of the other competing desktop environments out there since I want to keep this post simple).

To start, I am not going to advocate either over the other – I know, big spoiler/anticlimax. Get over it. Here’s what irks me: Most of the articles I’ve read online featuring the difference between Gnome and KDE are not only heavily biased, but they are often written by persons who admit within the article they aren’t overly familiar with [insert whichever desktop environment is not their preferred one]. What the hell is wrong with these people?

I’m going to compare two of the newest cars on the road today, (but I don’t have a license and I’ve only ever ridden in one of these…). Here goes… [pppppfffffffrrrrrrrrrrrtttttttttttttt]

I’m over joyed to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t know shit, but really? Why are you writing about something you admit you don’t know about? So, I’m going to now write about something I know only marginally about, because why not? It’s the age of the idiot blogger.

Now there are two camps when it comes to users. One prefers using the keyboard, while the other prefers to point and click with a mouse. No one really likes or finds it particularly conducive to their productivity to have to switch constantly back and forth between the two.

(We can safely ignore touch devices for now as neither Gnome or KDE is up and running full steam on touch devices yet, although from what I hear it won’t be long before us regular, non-developer types will be able to have these options supported for our lazy, ignorant asses.)

And herein lies the great divide, and the great difference as I see it between Gnome and KDE. Gnome is really and truly best utilized with a keyboard securely under hand, with the mouse nearby for the occasional necessary click. KDE, conversely, is much friendlier to the mouse and click crowd, although many of the features in that environment can be accessed via the keyboard as well.

I’ll now break each environment down a little bit and include some Pros and Cons. I should mention at this point I am basing these descriptions on the Gnome and KDE versions of the Fedora Linux distribution. There are some minor differences here and there on other distributions, but the core info presented here remains applicable.

I’ll start with KDE

a screengrab from KDE

Please pardon the redactions – state security.

Widgets!

Widgets tell me what time it is.

Notice in the above screenshots the color of the theme has changed. It does that. On its own. Continuously. Forever. This (admittedly somewhat resource intensive) effect is just one of the many bits of eye candy that bedazzle the KDE user. Also note the über useful widgets so that I can have the time, date, weather etc right there on the desktop. Fascinating, no? At the upper left is the folder widget, which presents my home directory folders at a click. All of this is by choice, as the KDE environment is customizable to a degree that would require a degree to learn all the different options. But at its core, it provides an experience not so far removed from your vanilla XP working environment of old. There are tabs on a task bar (I left it at bottom – it can be moved, duplicated or removed at will) for open applications. There is a “start button” like button at lower left (although this too can be customized or outright removed if desired). At lower right are familiar icons for time, battery life (if applicable), wifi (again, if applicable), sound controls, etc etc. Notifications also default to this lower right area. All in all, a setting more or less familiar to a majority of computer users everywhere.

In Gnome we have a bit of a different experience

Gnome with dark theme enabled and Oxygen Theme Icons

Gnome with dark theme enabled and Oxygen Theme Icons

I’ll admit I am not a fan of the default appearance of Gnome. The first thing I like to do regarding the appearance is enable the dark theme and (install and) switch to Oxygen Theme icons. It’s a subjective thing, but to me this dark theme with the blue Oxygen Icons is a bit more elegant than the Gnome defaults (whatever they’re called…).  Notice in Gnome we have no task bar or icons on the desktop. Accept for the three windows I have open in the above screenshot, there is nothing (the absence of anything) on the desktop save for a bar across the top which has the date and time at center, some tools like sound and power off options at right, and the Activities hot corner at left (and a menu next to the Activities for the current active application). This situation causes the utmost confusion in users new to Gnome (my highly scientific research has been destroyed in a curious canine incident, but just trust me). Moving the mouse cursor to the upper left brings up the Activities screen.

The GUI hell of the Activities Screen

The GUI hell of the Activities Screen

From here one can click on Application Icons to launch them, as well as select a window to switch to it, close a window, or drag it to another workspace. I have yet to meet anyone who likes this or feels this is a satisfactory way of getting anything done on a computer. One can also type in the search box to search for Applications, etc. Whatever.

It may seem like I’m showing a strong bias against Gnome at this point, and if this was all there was to Gnome, I would bash its ugly head into the ground. But read on, discerning reader, for the best is yet to come.

After working with Gnome for some time, I have amassed a wealth of useful working strategies that make Gnome the more productive of the two desktops for the power user. [Not necessarily true, but it could be. It’s subjective.] First off, leave the mouse over there by the coffee mug or soda can. You won’t be needing it much from here on out. Standard keyboard shortcuts that work in a variety of operating systems and with a variety of desktop environments work in Gnome as well. [IMPORTANT: extensions.gnome.org and install/enable Alt-Tab!] The default alt-tab behavior in Gnome is annoying and defeats the purpose of workspaces. Ignore it. After enabling Alt-Tab, pressing alt-tab will shuffle through windows open in the current workspace. Use Super key (Windows key) + page up/down to navigate between workspaces. Use Alt+F2 to bring up the little window which allows you to run commands in it (most handy to launch applications without having to deal with the awkward Activities area – although having to launch an application whose name you’re not sure of can require a trip to Activities – learn the names of applications you use frequently!). I’ve even set keyboard shortcuts for raising and lowering the volume (I use alt+up/down).

I have set Gnome-Terminal to start at login, and I leave it around throughout the session which enables me to navigate to and open files without ever having to deal with a file manager. It is not a standard way of working for many people used to the “XP way of working”, but once you get used to it, it’s like second nature. My poor mouse begs me for attention.

I use the mouse within the web browser since some pages can be quite a pain to navigate via keyboard. Otherwise, for the most part, almost everything you need to accomplish can be done without having to reach for the mouse. This enables extremely fast navigation and launching. The OS/desktop environment nearly vanish and you’re free to get your work done. This is why I use Gnome when I have serious work to do despite appreciating the beauty and plain old fun of KDE’s dazzling eye candy (which is distraction central when you’re serious about work).

I would like to mention before leaving the wonderful application called Amarok.

Amarok

Amarok rocks!

Now, Amarok can be installed on Gnome (with a ton of dependencies) or even on Windows (so they say…), but its home is in KDE, and if the Fedora KDE spin didn’t include Amarok I might never have heard about it. It’s great – I love it. Nuff said.

One thing I don’t like about KDE (and maybe there’s a setting I can change somewhere to fix this) is that when I hook up my external hard drive in Gnome, I can immediately cd to the location in the terminal and copy files to and from the external hard drive from the command line. In KDE, if I try this, it fails to recognize the device until I mount it (usually by clicking on it’s icon in Dolphin – the world’s most elegant file manager).  I could probably use the command to mount it, but either way, it’s an extra step. Not a major problem, but something that annoys me.

So, to sum up: KDE is flashy eye candy with a familiar mouse and click feel to it. Very customizable and full of functionality, if you can find it all! Can be overwhelming at first. Gnome is strangely cool and distant at first, but once you warm up to it, it’s a streamlined interface that will mostly stay out of your way while you work.  There’s obviously a lot more to each of these, but enough is enough. Go do your own experiments and get back to me.

 

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