When it comes to Linux, the desktop environment is a big deal.
A desktop environment makes up the graphical user interface (GUI) along with a set of applications that you get on your Linux distribution.
You can go through our article explaining what a desktop environment is.
Choosing a good desktop environment can help you improve productivity, workflow, ease of use, and the overall experience.
And, among the best desktop environments, KDE Plasma and GNOME are particularly popular. Here, I plan to highlight the key differences to help you decide.
Note: KDE is the entire community of people working on various projects under its umbrella. And, the desktop environment is Plasma. Here, we compare the Plasma desktop with GNOME. However, for simplicity, we tend to use “KDE” instead of “Plasma”.
The User Interface: Functionality vs Look
The user interface generally involves the type of layout, icons, theme, widgets, and other components of a GUI.
The Plasma desktop aims to provide a traditional desktop layout that’s comfortable for most Windows users.
Don’t let that fool you, though—it is simple to look at but focused on more functionalities.
In fact, Windows has taken inspiration from KDE for some of its UI improvements, like the ability to adjust the volume by scrolling the volume icon in the taskbar.
And, KDE is known for its consistent look and feel, even with numerous improvements over the years.
GNOME, on the other hand, provides a unique desktop experience. GNOME should suit you well if you are looking for a different and modern user interface design.
The icons/theme/wallpapers may look better regarding modern standards. There’s a take on preferences, but GNOME looks more attractive, in my opinion.
However, adjusting the workflow could take a while if you are already comfortable with the traditional Windows-like layout.
There’s no start/app/menu button here; you have to click on the Activity Overview to access your workspaces (or virtual desktops) and access the app menu from the same place.
To some, it might look cleaner without a taskbar, but it is up to your preferences.
Note that the UI may not be as functional and rich compared to KDE. For instance, the widgets in the system tray offer way more options than you get with the applets on GNOME.
So, in terms of UI, KDE vs GNOME does not have a clear winner but depends on your requirements for functionality or a modern look.
With KDE, you get access to countless utilities.
You will probably be overwhelmed with the applications available for KDE by KDE.
In addition to that, the entire KDE community is super busy adding new applications and tools to the arsenal.
Many of them stand out among the available applications like Krita, Kdenlive, Kate Editor, and more.
GNOME also features numerous applications by default. While it could be a sufficient list for most users, it falls short on the catalog compared to KDE.
I do not find myself using many apps by GNOME.
And, it is worth noting that the KDE applications that come with the desktop environment get faster improvements when compared to GNOME’s default applications.
It is just a personal observation, considering the development updates by KDE when compared to GNOME applications. However, this can change with time.
What’s Best for Customization?
KDE is the superior choice if you want to tinker and take control of the user experience.
Don’t take my word for it; you can follow our KDE customization guide to know the available options.
Not just the ability to customize, but you get a lot of control out-of-the-box for changing the theme, color, workspace effects, window management, and more without the need for any particular application/extension.
For some, the availability of options may not make a difference if you want to stick to the stock experience, no matter what.
As for GNOME, you do not get a lot of out-of-the-box controls. Instead, you will have to rely on GNOME Tweaks or extensions to make some changes. But, yes, you can customize the experience to a good extent.
Also, note that GNOME 42 was not available as a stable release at the time of writing this. So, you can expect a system-wide dark mode implementation and some improvements in look/feel.
Of course, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, considering both offer different GUI elements and layouts. However, KDE gets the pick for users who want more control and customization options.
GNOME is suitable for users who do not want many options. If you like what GNOME offers and are willing to customize the experience with extra effort, you can also do that.
Extra Abilities: KDE vs GNOME
As mentioned earlier, GNOME offers extensions to add more functionality to your current configuration.
You can head to GNOME’s shell extension website to explore options, or take a look at our list of the best gnome extensions.
GNOME extensions make it easy to do a bunch of stuff, like automating what workspace an app launches using the auto-move window switcher.
There are all kinds of extensions to improve your workflow and make things easy.
However, the extensions depend on the GNOME shell version. Moreover, due to radical changes from one version to another, GNOME extensions could stop working with future releases.
On the other hand, KDE offers a bag full of add-ons, widgets, and application add-ons as well.
Unlike GNOME’s inconvenient way of adding extensions from a browser (using another browser extension), you can access KDE’s add-ons using the Discover software center directly.
So, it becomes a seamless experience to add extra functionality or a theme without following a separate set of steps.
Not to forget, tools like KDE Connect offer extra abilities, letting you connect your phone with your PC.
Overall, you can extend functionalities on both, but if you want more options, KDE takes the edge.
While KDE does a fantastic job on several aspects, the available abilities to enhance the accessibility of the desktop are extremely limited (like the absence of a screen reader out of the box).
It is a possibility that the developers are testing the screen reader functionality with the Orca Screen Reader app, hearing/visual aids for the desktop, but with KDE Plasma 5.24, it’s not useful enough.
As one of our readers pointed out, KDE can’t talk before or after installation. So, it’s a not an option for them.
However, GNOME does a better job with the availability of a screen reader, visual alerts, screen keyboard, sound keys, click assist, and more options.
So, if a user relies on accessibility options to use the desktop, GNOME should be the pick.
Is KDE Faster than GNOME?
It is important to have a desktop environment that works efficiently with available system resources. This is incredibly significant if you want to multitask and do not have an extreme configuration to back it up.
KDE is generally considered faster than most other desktop environments because it is light on resources.
However, to give you a reference, I created two VMs (Fedora 35 and KDE Neon User Edition) to provide some idea before you proceed to try.
Both the VM setups shared a similar resource configuration with two cores allocated and 8 GB memory, and here’s what we have:
The resource usage is a screenshot with nothing running in the background, right after turning on the VM.
In contrast, KDE-powered distro KDE Neon proved to consume less than 1 GB of RAM without the spectacle, screenshot app running in the background.
Even with the screenshot app running, it consumes fewer resources out of the box.
If that doesn’t convince you, there have been numerous reports in the past like Jason’s that have mentioned KDE as the lighter desktop environment over XFCE as well.
Available Distributions: GNOME vs KDE
Most of the popular offerings feature GNOME as the default (or the only) desktop environment. Fedora, Ubuntu, and Pop!_OS are popular examples.
You should find numerous distributions with separate GNOME editions.
As for KDE, you can try exploring our list of KDE-based distros, or seek options like Kubuntu. You may not find KDE as the default choice for most mainstream distros, but you should find a KDE variant for almost everything.
So, What Should You Pick to Define Your Desktop Experience?
The choice of desktop environment gives you the desktop experience you want.
If you want simplicity, performance, and numerous options/tools, KDE should be an evergreen choice.
If you want a modern/cleaner look and do not mind the different layout (or user experience) GNOME can be a fantastic addition.
While GNOME may not be able to give you the same amount of control, you can still do many things with it. Pop!_OS gives you an example of having GNOME as the desktop environment and adding extensions/functionality on top of it to make it a polished desktop distribution.
So, you would need to evaluate what’s more important to your user experience.
My take: I’d pick GNOME over KDE for a unique/polished desktop experience.
What would you pick? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Frequently Asked Questions: If You’re Still Confused to Make a Choice
You might have some questions after reading the comparison, so I’d like to address some of the potential ones:
Why use KDE over GNOME? ›
KDE Software Is Powerful
The system as a whole doesn't feel bogged down by simple tasks. While many GNOME apps are trying to re-do the basics, Plasma feels ready to take on the harder tasks. KDE Connect, for example, is the best way to sync your smartphone with your Linux PC.
There are many people who simply find GNOME too different from what they've grown accustomed to. Some wish it had more built-in customization options. These are valid ways to feel. But GNOME remains the best-supported, most polished, and widely-used desktop environment the free desktop world has to offer.Why KDE Plasma is better than GNOME? ›
KDE offers a fresh and vibrant interface that looks extremely pleasing to the eye, along with more control and customizability while GNOME is well-known for its stability and bugless system. Both are polished desktop environments that are top-notch choices & satisfy the needs of their users.Should I install GNOME or KDE? ›
GNOME is generally regarded as streamlined and less resource-intensive than KDE. Interestingly, while GNOME's minimum system requirements are less demanding as far as CPU speed is concerned (700 Mhz, vs KDE's 1 Ghz requirement), KDE actually requires less minimum RAM (615 MB vs GNOME's 768 MB).Does KDE use more RAM? ›
You can attribute KDE's idle RAM usage (around 726MB) to its aesthetic-heavy features. These features can make KDE seem like a desktop environment with bleeding-edge graphics, but they can bog down the most standard hardware.Which Linux OS has the best GUI? ›
Besides GNOME and KDE, Cinnamon is undoubtedly one of the best Linux desktop environments to try out in 2022.Why GNOME is so popular? ›
They Gained Traction as an Alternative to 'Elf on the Shelf'
Kids like it, because they can hug the gnome or play with it—a no-no for the Elf—and parents like its low-effort appeal.
Torvalds switched from using the Gnome 3 desktop to Xfce in 2011 but switched back to KDE last year.Is KDE better than GNOME 2022? ›
Because KDE allows the customization of details in the simplest way and offers users more control, GNOME is a more suitable option for users who do not care much about making changes to their settings and enjoy the default environment and GNOME features.Is KDE a good desktop? ›
1, KDE Plasma performs as well as any other. I'd go so far as to say the KDE Plasma desktop environment performs as well as many of the lightweight desktops (such as Xfce). I enjoyed my experience with KDE Plasma 5.24.
Which Linux is best for everything? ›
- Linux Mint. Linux Mint is a popular distribution of Linux based on Ubuntu and Debian. ...
- Ubuntu. This is one of the most common Linux distributions used by people. ...
- Pop_OS! from System76. ...
- MX Linux. ...
- Elementary OS. ...
- Fedora. ...
Linux Mint - Easiest Linux distro to transition from Windows. If you are someone who has recently switched over from Windows and are looking for some beginner-friendly distros, then Linux Mint might be the one for you. It is a fairly lightweight Linux distro that somewhat resembles Windows in its appearance.Which Linux desktop uses least resources? ›
Bodhi Linux - The lowest resource usage on the list by default.Is GNOME more stable than KDE? ›
For many years it was a question of performance vs customizability. Things changed with Plasma 5 and Gnome 3. Kde is faster smoother and more stable than ever. Gnome 3 is less stable and more resource hungry than it used to be.Why Linux Mint stopped KDE? ›
According to Clement, KDE apps, ecosystem and QT toolkit have “very little in common” with their present project. Another reason for dropping KDE is that Mint team works hard on developing features for tools like Xed, Mintlocale, Blueberry, Slick Greeter but they only work with MATE, Xfce and Cinnamon and not KDE.Can I have GNOME and KDE together? ›
You can also run KDE packages under Gnome, Unity, Enlightenment and vice-versa. They are just apps using specific libs, there is no restriction on what you run. It will look more uniform if you stick with one family of apps and it will "cost" you a little more RAM if you run apps using several different libraries.What is the most stable KDE distro? ›
Manjaro Linux is the stable, preferred, and most popular Arch Linux distribution, that has been designed to provide a consistent and fast system that can also be used for a professional workstation or as a server.
Whenever a social media discussion happens about Desktop environments, people rate KDE Plasma as “Beautiful but bloated” and some even call it “heavy”. The reason behind this is KDE Plasma packs so much into the desktop. You can say it's a full package.How much disk space does KDE use? ›
|Task||Installed size (MB)||Space needed to install (MB)|
|• KDE Plasma||3044||3955|
One of the primary reasons KDE is so rich in features is that it is Open Source software. Anyone can built on top of KDE, and the best of those additions are often pulled into KDE itself. This cooperative manner of development has allowed thousands of people to create an impressive mountain of software.
Why is KDE useful? ›
For the developer, KDE is first and foremost a technology infrastructure. It provides file access, network communication, configuration tools and standard user interface components such as file open and save dialogs that are both sophisticated and easy to use.