KDE vs GNOME vs XFCE Desktop

Over many years, many people spent a long time with Linux desktop using either KDE or GNOME. These two environments have grown through the previous years and each of these desktops continued to expand their current user-base. For example, sleeper desktop environment has been XFCE as XFCE offers more robustness than LXDE that lacks much of XFCE’s polish in the default configuration. The XFCE provides all benefits which users enjoyed in the GNOME 2, but with some lightweight experiences which made it a hit on the older computers.

The Desktop Theming

After the user has fresh installation, the XFCE will be a bit boring, which lacks some certain visual attractiveness to it. So, don’t misunderstand my words here, the XFCE is still having nice looking desktop, but it may be like vanilla in users’ eyes as well as most people who are new to the XFCE desktop environment. The good news here is that while installing new theme to the XFCE, it is a reasonably easy process as you can easily find the right XFCE theme which appeals to you, after that, you can extract that theme to the proper directory. From this point, the XFCE comes with an important tool located under the Appearance for helping the user to select the chosen theme easily throughout the Graphical User Interface (GUID). There’re no other tools that might be required here, and if the user follows the above directions, it will be a bit simple for everyone who is caring to have a try.

On the GNOME desktop, the user should follow the similar above approach. The main key difference for this point is that users have to download and then install GNOME Tweak Tool before proceeding with anything. It does not have any huge barriers under any means, but it is simple valid oversight when the user consider that the XFCE does not require any tweak tool in order for installing and activating the new desktop themes. By being under the GNOME, and especially after installing that Tweak tool which is mentioned above, you will need to go ahead and also to make sure that you have the extension of User Themes installed.

The same as with the XFCE, the user will want to search for, and then download the theme which most appeals personally to him. Then, user can revisit to the GNOME Tweak tool, and click on the Appearance option on left side of that Tweak tool. Then, the user can simply look at the bottom of the page and click on file browse button to right of the Shell Theme. User then can browse to the zipped folder, and click open. In case if this process was successfully done, the user will see an alert that tell him that it was installed without any problems. From this point, user can simply use the pull down menu in order for selecting the theme he wants to use. The same as with the XFCE, process of theme activation is very easy, however, a need to download the non-included application for using a new theme will leave much to be desired.

Finally, there is the process of the KDE desktop theming. The same as with XFCE, there is no need at all to install any extra tools for making it work. This is one area where there is a feeling that the XFCE has to make the KDE the winner. Not only the installing themes in the KDE is accomplished entirely within the Graphical User Interface, but it’s also even possible to click on (Get New Themes) button and user will be able to locate, view, and also install the new themes automatically.

However, it should be noted that the KDE is a bit more robust desktop environment comparing to the XFCE. Therefore, it is a bit reasonable now to see why such extra functionalities could be missing from the desktops which are mainly designed to be minimalist. So, we all have to give the KDE props for such outstanding functionality.

MATE is not Lightweight Desktop

Before continuing with the comparison between the XFCE, the GNOME 3 and the KDE, it should be clear for experts that we can’t touch the MATE desktop as an option in the comparison. MATE can be considered as the GNOME 2 desktop’s next incarnation, but it’s not mainly marketed to be a lightweight or fast desktop. But instead of that, its primary goal is to be more traditional and comfortable desktop environment where the users can feel right at their home to use it.

On the other hand, the XFCE comes with a completely other goal set. The XFCE offers its users a more lightweight and yet still visually appealing desktop experience. Then, for everyone who points out that MATE is a lightweight desktop too, it isn’t really targeting that lightweight desktop crowd. Both options may be dressed up for looking quite attractive with the proper theme installed.

The Navigation of Desktop

The XFCE honestly offers an obvious navigation which is out of the box. Anyone who is used to the traditional Windows or the GNOME 2/MATE desktop experience will be going to have the ability to navigate around the new XFCE installation without any kind of help. Straight away, adding the applets to panel is still very obvious. The same as with locating installed applications, just use the launcher and simply click on any desired application. With an exception of LXDE and MATE, there is no other desktop that can make the navigation that simple. What can be even better is that fact which the control panel is very easy to use, that is a really big benefit to everyone who is new to the desktop environment. If the user prefer older methods to use his desktop, then GNOME is not an option. With the hot corners as well as the no minimize button, plus the other application layout method, it’ll take the most newcomers getting easily used to it.

If the user is coming from, as an example, Windows environment, then he is going to be put off by the inability to add applets to the top of his workspace simply with just a mere right-click. Just instead of this, it can be handled by using extensions. Installing extensions in the GNOME is granted and is a brain-dead easy, based on the easy to use (on/off) toggle switches located on the extensions page of the GNOME. Users have to know, sadly, to actually visit that page to enjoy this functionality.

On the other side, the GNOME is sharing its desire for providing a straight forward and an easy to use control panel, which many of you may think that it is not be a big deal, but it is really something that I by myself find commendable and worth to be mentioned. The KDE offers its users a bit more traditional desktop experience, throughout familiar launchers as well as the ability for getting to the software in more familiar way if they are coming from Windows desktop. The process of adding widgets or applets to the KDE desktop is an easy matter of just right-clicking on the bottom of the desktop. Only the problem with the KDE’s approach is to be that, as many things KDE, the feature which users are actually looking for are hidden. The KDE users might berate my opinion for this, but I still stand by my statement.

In order for adding a Widget, just right-click on “my panel”, just to see the panel options, but not as an immediate method to install Widgets. You will not actually see the Add Widgets until you select the Panel Options, then the Add Widgets. This not a big deal to me, but later for some users, it becomes unnecessary tidbit of confusion. To make things here more convoluted, after the users manage to locate Widgets area they discover later a brand new term called “Activities”. It is in the same area as the Widgets, yet it is somehow in its own area as to what it does.

Now don’t misunderstand me, the Activities feature in the KDE is totally great and actually valued. But to look at it from the usability standpoint, I think that it would be better suited in another menu option in order to not confuse the newbies. User is welcome to differ, but to test this with newbies for some extended periods of time can prove the correct over and over again. The rant against the Activities placement aside, the KDE approach to add new widgets is really great. The same as with the KDE themes, user can’t browse through and install the Widgets automatically via using the provided Graphical User Interface. It is a bit fantastic of functionality, and also it could be celebrated such way. The control panel of the KDE is not as easy as the user might like it to be, yet it is a bit clear that this’s something that they are still working on.

So, the XFCE is the best desktop, right?

I, by myself, actually run GNOME, KDE, and XFCE on my computers in my office and home. I also have some older machines with OpenBox and LXDE too. Each desktop experience can offer something that is a bit useful to me and may help me to use each machine as I see that it is fit. For me, I have a soft spot in my heart for the XFCE as it is one of the desktop environments which I stuck with for years. But in this article, I’m just writing it on my daily use computer which is in fact, GNOME.

The main idea here is that I still feel that the XFCE provides a bit better user experience for users who are looking for stable, traditional, and easy to understand desktop environment. You are also welcome to share with us your opinion in the comments section.

  • Artiom Lukianov

    Deepin Desktop is better and modern solution.

  • Steven Dobai

    Deepin is slow, uncustomizable and full with bugs and glitches – these are all the side effects of the platform’s tools – golang, js and html5. Definitely one of the worst desktops I’ve encountered so far…

  • Dimitrios Charalampidis

    I’ve used a lot DEs and whether some people like it or not… KDE and GNOME are the only DEs that have all the features that a modern DE must have. In case you need to run a low spec system you can go with another DE, but sacrifices have to be made. I am a KDE fan, but I admire GNOME too and I think that there’s no winner between the two. MATE or XFCE are good for those who refuse to follow the trend and they prefer the “old style” DEs, but as I already said…. Sacrifices have to be made.

  • mohammad dahamshi

    I started with Gnome, beautiful, practical (the overview -super key- , the Header, all are really nice ideas.
    but then I moved to xfce4 just to try it, and I still with it, so fast, no crashes, many shortcut, easy to make your own shortcut, I am now a keyboard more than mouse user thanks to xfce.

  • blacknblue2

    I have an old box that in Dec 2016 my son installed Kubuntu 16.04 KDE on it. It is 2X AMD Athlon II X2 220 processor 6 gig ram GeForce 6150 SE nForce 430 the HD is 500 gig. It runs win7 very well.

    Installed Nvidia and KDE had been chugging along well. I hadn’t gotten around to locking things down and an update was installed. I saw something about updating Nvidia and didn’t think anything of it. Rebooted the computer and black screen of death. I spent many hours uninstalling, reinstalling nvidia driver but to no avail. When the updated driver 340 installs it also installs some bits of nvidia 378 and that number is what I remember seeing in the update. I had to continually boot into recovery which wasn’t my choice of resolution.

    SDDM was the manager and it was not happy so I went with Light DM, removed Nvidia and went back to nouveau. With LighDM I could at times boot in correctly without recovery mode.

    I soon learned that the Gnome DE that was installed would boot correctly 100% of the time. Odd but true and it would have the correct resolution. It is the computer my wife uses so I moved her wallpaper desktop picture to Gnome and installed a dock. Things are going fine with Gnome — other than once in a great while (days go by) she will loose WiFi and nothing but a cold re-boot will bring it back. WPA supplicant problems is my guess.

    Personally I would not have installed 16.04 on that old box but would have gone with something older. I gotta lock it down so not more updates other than security. I don’t know why but Gnome is working a lot better than KDE.