Why I think KDE is better than Gnome as a desktop environment

I’ve recently made the switch to KDE Plasma because, like many times before, I was seduced to try it out, after reading so much about the features it contains. Unfortunately, in the past these attempts to like the desktop environment turned out not too well. There was so much graphical flickering, some things just didn’t work right and the fonts looked ugly in the desktop environment and especially on the internet in Firefox.

But things have changed so much since KDE Plasma! Let me go through the stuff that I like since I moved to it from Gnome and things that are still troubling me. Maybe the points that I list down here can be interesting or decision makers for you.

Note that my experience that I write down here is based on KDE Plasma 5.12 and Gnome Shell 3.26.

The good

One thing that I really like in KDE Plasma is that it’s a complete and solid desktop environment, that can also be customized in many ways and doesn’t force one specific one onto its users. I’m really not a fan of Gnome extensions as a meaning to extends Gnome Shell’s features… They are slow, they cause so many issues and updating Gnome causes serious issues with the extensions every time. One also depends on many more individual developers to update their extensions so that they stay compatible with newer Gnome versions. For functionality that I consider basic for my desktop environment to work properly, it can be quite troublesome when several extensions are not updated so often or are just completely outdated.

Unfortunately in my case I really depended on some extensions. Because I didn’t like the standard way how Gnome Shell acted and looked, I changed the looks and behaviour by installed the dash-to-panel extension to have the regular desktop environment look that I was used to, coming from Windows and the old Gnome. I also needed the user-themes extension to be able to use the Arc Gnome theme to have a more appealing desktop.

The KDE desktop environment just works fast. Windows open fast, desktop effects perform nicely and tear-free, and there are a bunch of useful included widgets. Let me list down my list of several features that are more useful to me than how they are (or are not) in Gnome Shell.

System tray is present and looks good by default
Since Gnome Shell, the system tray has been neglected and eventually removed. I found that to be an unfortunate thing because some applications I still need to be running, but not use up space in the task bar. Software that I don’t use so often, but still need from time to time. Examples are KeePass, VPN software, system update notifications, …

KDE System tray

Faster and more complete interface and no more bad extensions
I already said it once, but it’s worth mentioning again: the KDE Plasma desktop environment interface works very smoothly and overall feels more comfortable than Gnome Shell. Applications start fast, desktop effects work nicely, and I don’t need to rely on badly or slowly performing Gnome extensions anymore. That really is a life saver!

Less memory usage
This wasn’t really an issue since I have plenty of RAM in my computer, but seeing that KDE uses much less RAM by default surely gives me the feeling it’s more optimized. And I do like optimized and well built software. That’s more RAM for other applications!

No more corruption when pulling out HDMI cable
Gnome Shell always had the annoying bug that when I pulled out my HDMI cable and put it back in, a visual corruption would occur. Several extensions (dash to dock, a system tray extension, …) crashed consequently when doing this. I had to log out or restart every time to restore them to their previous working state.

Much better built-in image viewer
The built-in image viewer Gwenview is so much better. It performs nicer but also contains many very commonly used features like image copping, cutting, resizing, … Features that the Eye of Gnome software – which is built into Gnome Shell – doesn’t provide. I had to install several software only to get these features and then know in which image viewer software I needed to open the image in, in order to be able to use certain features. I do still miss one feature and that’s being able to resize the image by choosing percentages instead of exact pixel sizes.

Gwenview

Clipboard manager
This one is a love-hate opinion. The good part of Klipper clipboard manager being that I can go back to previously copied data and use it again. Sometimes in the past I was quite troubled that some data was lost after I copied something else. With Klipper, that’s in the past! There are also some choices available for Gnome Shell, but none of them were reliable or working well enough for me.

The bad part is that it stores even very sensitive data like passwords when I use it in combination with KeePass. KeePass can’t delete the contents from Klipper unfortunately.

KDE Connect is nice
This one is really a neat feature. One can easily connect their Android (IOS maybe too?) smartphone with their KDE Plasma desktop and get many extra features. A media remote? Check. Send files from your phone to your desktop? Check. Run commands from your device? Check. Remote touchpad? Notifications? Check! And the list of features is only increasing. The developers recently asked their users for input, which resulted in a lot of feedback and them implementing the features that have been asked for.

While it being very useful, it doesn’t always work well though. Many times I see that there is no connection between both devices because one thinks the other one isn’t available. I hope they will also further improve the connection stability. When that’s fixed, this would be a complete killer feature!

System monitor is extensible
By default, KDE’s system monitor doesn’t differ much from Gnome’s, except for that the latter also shows information about filesystem space usage. You can see the running processes, and how much resources they use individually, except for network usage. You can also see a global overview of CPU usage, RAM and SWAP usage and network usage. But these features can be extended with add-ons. For example, I can add the temperature sensor of my Ryzen CPU as a separate tab.

Global media hotkeys work better in combination with multiple media software
In Gnome Shell, the global media hotkeys of my keyboard only work properly if there’s one media software active. For example, if I use Spotify, the keys work, but if I also open SMPlayer, it stops working properly, because it doesn’t know how to handle multiple apps that these hotkeys have an effect on. The hotkeys will either sometimes not work or only have effect on SMPlayer. Opening more media software even increases the messy behaviour. In KDE, it works much better, because the hotkeys only have effect on the media app that I used last (meaning I clicked play or pause)

Backspace = go back to a previous folder
A small but handy feature for people that come from Windows or are more familiar with Windows shortkeys. The backspace in the Dolphin file browser has the same effect as in Windows, namely: go back to the previous location.

Taskbar sorting algorithm can be customized
Sort open applications alphabetically or by usage or sort them manually? KDE Plasma got you covered!

Increase the maximum volume to 150%
This is most useful on laptops, where the sound still can be very low at 100%. In Gome I had to install pulseeffects which didn’t work flawlessly. In KDE, this feature is builtin and can easily be activated and works without the gimmicks of pulseeffects in Gnome.

The bad (or less okay)

Creating shortcuts a bit more confusing at first
Creating a shortcut to a folder or file is a bit more confusing in KDE Plasma at first. You can not simple just click a file or folder, create a shortcut and move that shortcut to another place. Instead you have to open two windows (except when you create a shortcut to the desktop), drag the file to the folder in the other window and then choose to create a shortcut there (or have it done automatically by holder CTRL + Shift when you drag the file or folder to the other window. It’s not that bad, but so much more unclear for a new user that makes it worth mentioned on the bad list.

Dark theme dominates in third party apps
The dark theme isn’t compatible with quite some third party applications. For example with WPS office, the raster is quite often dark, while the rest of the application is not. In Master PDF Editor 4, the text in the application (not the PDFs) is not very well readable. I understand it’s an issue with the apps rather than KDE, but this does decreases my overall satisfaction of using KDE, as some parts in apps can become unreadable due to this.

Edit: I found out about an option to disable that KDE forces the same theme in GTK applications. It did fix the issue with WPS office already. I’ll see if it fixes all the issues and doesn’t cause any strangeness with GTK themes.

Dark theme issue

Locking the session doesn’t immediately/quickly activate monitor standby
This is quite a downside and Gnome Shell handles this one perfectly. When locking the screen because I’m going AFK, Gnome Shell immediately puts the monitor to standby to save power. KDE Plasma doesn’t do this immediately. Of course I can create a script for this too.

KDE doesn’t (yet) have a night modus like Gnome does
Gnome Shell has an alternative for f.lux and redshift, but KDE Plasma doesn’t have it, altough it should come in the near future. As an alternative redshift can be used and it works nice for me, together with the plasma widget. There’s an issue with location detection though, so I need to manually add the coordinates of my location. I would like to see this feature integrated in KDE though for more compatibility.

Edit: it seems that KDE does have such a feature, but that it’s currently only available for Wayland (so not for Nvidia proprietary peasants like me). I hope it’ll be compatible with X soon though

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