With so many popular Linux operating systems invested in the GNOME ecosystem (such as Ubuntu and Fedora), it’s easy to overlook KDE.
But there are many reasons to give this desktop environment a try. If you do, you might walk away with a new favorite way to use Linux.
1. An Interface That’s What You Want It to Be
The KDE Plasma desktop behaves like plasma, as in it molds into whatever shape you like. The default layout feels familiar if you’re coming from Windows, but the resemblance is only skin deep. You can move or delete every component on the bottom panel. You can create more panels, place them on any side of the screen, or do without them entirely.
There is an abundance of widgets that serve as your building blocks. Turn the default task manager into a dock. Swap out the digital clock for an analog one. And even then, you’re just getting started.
Want big window borders? Want no window borders? Want to roll windows up into the titlebar like you did in the pre-Mac OS X days? Want to alt-tab through windows like cards? Want your close button on the left instead of the right? More than any other desktop, Plasma is what you want it to be.
2. The Same Is True for Apps
KDE apps are no less customizable. At first, they follow the traditional desktop software paradigm. You have a titlebar, a menubar, and toolbars filled with icons and options. Thing is, KDE lets you change all of that.
Want your apps to have a traditional menubar underneath the title? That’s the default. But if you view that text as a waste of space, you can tuck that menu inside a button in the titlebar. Or you can have a macOS or Ubuntu Unity-style global menu at the top of the screen.
Want to type in an empty text window with no toolbars of any kind? You’re free to get rid of everything. Alternatively, you can keep toolbars but change all of the icons. This way the options you need most are the ones within easy reach.
KDE software settings aren’t limited to appearance. Many apps keep options that developers on other desktops often feel aren’t worth supporting. This can make settings confusing to navigate, but there’s a greater chance you can make an app do what you want.
3. KDE Software Is Powerful
KDE Plasma feels like a powerful desktop. The Dolphin file manager isn’t lacking in speed, features, or options. The Gwenview image viewer displays thumbnails in a hurry and can perform edits. The system as a whole doesn’t feel bogged down by simple tasks. While many GNOME apps are burning resources trying to re-do the basics, Plasma feels ready to take on the harder tasks.
digiKam is arguably the best photo manager the Linux desktop has to offer. The same can be said for Kdenlive and video editors. Want to create digital artwork? You might want to consider Krita. KDE has one of the few open source office suites attempting to rival LibreOffice: Calligra. KDE Connect is the best way to sync your smartphone with your Linux PC.
Then there’s Krunner, an immensely fast way to search for files and launch apps.
For years now, KDE has suffered from the lack of a competent web browser. Now that Falkon (formerly QupZilla) has become an official KDE project, this is changing.
4. KDE Is Surprisingly Fast
Among Linux ecosystems, it’s fair to think of both GNOME and KDE as heavy. They’re complete desktop environments with plenty of moving parts compared to lighter alternatives. But when it comes to which is faster, looks can be deceptive.
Despite its glossy themes and widgets galore, KDE feels to me like a snappier experience. Under GNOME, whether it’s due to extensions, search indexing, or some other shenanigans, I’m not surprised to find the entire system occasionally slowing down. On the Plasma desktop, I’ve had apps crash, but they don’t slow down the entire computer while they’re at it.
I’m not saying KDE is objectively faster. There are simply too many aspects to consider, ranging from the hardware you’re using to the way your distro packages each desktop environment. But my impression has changed since I first switched to Linux during KDE’s 4.0 days. GNOME may look like a lighter system, but to me, it no longer feels that way.
5. More Parts of Your System Are Accessible
Changing the login screen in GNOME is not a straightforward task. When I switch to an alternate theme, I tend to accept that the lock screen also won’t quite match.
In KDE, you can change the login screen via System Settings. You can tweak the lock screen as well. While you’re at it, why not tinker with non-KDE elements like the GRUB bootloader? Not having to open a terminal or edit files in a text editor makes this easier to do in KDE than GNOME.
6. KDE Has Better App Integration
App integration is a weak spot for GNOME. If an app fully integrates with the GNOME desktop, then it likely looks out of place in other environments (except for perhaps elementary OS). Older GNOME apps that haven’t embraced its current design language look out of place too. The same is true of non-GNOME apps that still use the GIMP Toolkit (GTK+), such as GIMP and LibreOffice.
This is much less of an issue in KDE. Not only do modern KDE apps look fine, but so do many apps that haven’t received an update in years. GTK apps like GIMP and LibreOffice, which use traditional menubars, also fit right in on the Plasma desktop.
7. It’s Easy to Get More Stuff on KDE
In GNOME, when you want more extensions, you go to GNOME Extensions in a browser. This is similar to how things work in Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.
KDE has the KDE Store, but you don’t have to open a browser to get there. Integration is baked directly into your desktop. It’s not limited to extensions, either. You can also download widgets and desktop wallpapers the same way.
The Plasma desktop may seem complex at times, but it’s features like this that make it simpler than the alternatives. Unlike other desktops, you don’t have to open a browser and research where to find add-ons for your desktop.
Instead, these things are a mouse-click away.
8. KDE Isn’t as Influenced by Trends
Computers have changed over the years. Many desktop interfaces have changed to suit touchscreens and mobile devices. If you were happy with how computers used to be, these can be frustrating times.
KDE Plasma is what you make it. The default layout feels like a traditional Windows experience. Apps still have menubars. Windows have titlebars. You can alter the interface to look like elementary OS, macOS, or a Chromebook, but that degree of change is your decision to make.
The same is true of apps. KGet is a standalone download manager. KMail is a good old-fashioned email client. If you want to use an RSS reader without needing an online account, Akregator has you covered.
If your idea of progress is gaining new features and functionality without giving up the old way of doing things, KDE can make for a comfortable home.
9. KDE Plasma Is Built on Impressive Code
The KDE Plasma desktop and apps are all written in Qt. This is a platform-agnostic language that is also heavily used on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. This makes it easy to port KDE technologies.
Plasma is also in some ways a more advanced creation than most other desktops. Not only can you easily tailor the interface to your own tastes, but developers can easily tweak Plasma to suit different form factors. Plasma Mobile, which targets smartphones, doesn’t require developers to create so much code from scratch.
This is part of the reason the Purism plans to have Plasma Mobile up and running before GNOME on its crowdfunded Librem 5 phone. KDE has also created Kirigami, the interface used in apps like Discover that can adjust to smaller screens.
10. KDE Embodies Freedom
Providing users with freedom is at the core of the KDE ethos. There have been stumbles along the way. The transition to KDE 4 several years ago did not go smoothly.
But on the whole, KDE empowers people to use their desktop how they want and to give them the tools to do so. The community also openly advocates for privacy and the values of free software in a way other projects often shy away from. As KDE notes in its vision for the future:
“In a world where our privacy is increasingly threatened, we wanted to emphasize its importance. Freedom without the right to privacy is no freedom at all.”
Most other desktop interfaces leave you waiting for someone else to implement the feature or change you want to see. In Plasma, there’s a good chance you can make this happen on your own. It’s all just a matter of finding out where the setting is buried.
The Best Reasons to Use KDE Over GNOME
This much freedom can be distracting, I’ll admit. And there’s something to be said for providing software with great design, even if that comes at the cost of features and options. It takes time to tweak your desktop to feel just right, time that could be spent on other things. The features that make KDE great aren’t immediately obvious.
But the more you use KDE, the more you learn how to do, and the more you find to love.