A KDE loyalist tries Gnome

It felt like a betrayal to install Gnome on my system, but it turned out well

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Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

I have been a Plasma user since 2011, when Ubuntu switched away from Gnome to Unity. Prior to that, since 2005, I had been a Gnome user. The transition from Gnome to Plasma was interesting because Gnome didn’t offer much customization and Plasma (it was called KDE back then) was all about customization.

Back in those days both Gnome and Unity were kind of half baked and KDE 4.x was fully mature. I loved it. I kept dipping my toes in the waters of Gnome and Unity while KDE moved from 4.x series to Plasma. Then with the recent openSUSE Tumbleweed, I decided to give Gnome 3.18 a try, and I was pleasantly surprised.

gnome 318 Swapnil Bhartiya

Gnome 3.18 running on openSUSE Tumbleweed.

plasma Swapnil Bhartiya

Plasma 5.x running on openSUSE Tumbleweed.

Gnome stuff

One of the biggest differences between Gnome and KDE Plasma is that Gnome does its own stuff for users, which at times may not be based on standards. The good thing is you get a great integration of services and apps and many additional features, such as Google Drive.

Google Drive

One of the best things about Gnome 3.18 is how Google Drive is integrated with Files (Gnome’s file explorer). It’s not a Drive client, so the files are not stored on your local drive. It’s mounted as a remote drive so you can access your files from the file manager and you can copy/paste files bidirectionally -- just drag and drop. However, you won’t be able to access files if you are offline.

There is nothing like this for the Plasma desktop; I don’t know if they even have any plans. Your only option is to use inSync because Google Drive is not available for Linux.

Email Client

Email is extremely important for my work and personal life and since I have two accounts, one for work and one personal, I heavily rely on a client. Plasma has Kmail, and as customizable as it is, it’s not an email client that I use anymore. The setup, configuration and then usage is way too complicated for managing email. By comparison, Gnome's Evolution has everything you need from a client: it’s easy to set-up, configure and use. On top of that it has great integration with calendar, contacts, etc.

Gnome Software

Software management is quite challenging on Linux desktops. Different distros use different tools for software management. It’s not just that the .rpm based distros use different tools those ones that use .deb. Even distros using the same package management use different tools. The problem doesn’t stop there: Different desktop environments on the same distro use different tools, which creates inconsistency within the Linux world.

Yes, diversity is the beauty of the Linux desktop, but it also holds it back because resources are wasted in duplicating tasks.  That’s where Gnome has done an incredible job: It offers a consistent experience across distributions. I used the same tool to manage my software on Arch Linux, Fedora and openSUSE. With Plasma, that’s not the case. And while Muon is shaping up well, it still needs a lot of work.

Customization

Plasma is known for endless customization of the desktop, which is one of the reasons I used (and still use) it.

Gnome, on the other hand, has limited customization options. That remains its weakness and its strength. For power users it's a weakness because they can customize their desktop only to the extent allowed by Gnome (although with Gnome 3.18, you can add more features to the Gnome desktop through some extensions). For average users, however, it's a strength because the resulting simplicity makes it easy to use.

After using Gnome 3.18 for a few days I realized that customization used to be the most important thing for me in early days. Now I use the PC for work, and really don’t even bother to change my desktop wallpaper. All I need is mature tools to help me get my work done, keeping things simple and easy. That’s where I find Gnome’s out-of-box experience a bit better for a new user; though that’s subjective.

Conclusion

I have been a ‘KDE’ user for a very long time, and although I don't know if I'm going to switch back to Gnome, I am going to keep both Plasma and Gnome 3.18 on my Tumbleweed system. I'll come back in a couple of months to share which desktop environment I decide to use full time.

If you are a Gnome or Plasma user, tell us why you like the DE you use and how can it be improved further.

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