What is the difference between GNOME, KDE, and XFCE?

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The three most popular desktop environments in Linux are GNOME, KDE, and XFCE. All three offer sophisticated point-and-click graphical interfaces which are on par with the desktop environments found in Windows and Mac OS X. When you ask different people which of the three is best, you will likely get many different answers. So which is the best between GNOME, KDE, and XFCE? Well..... it is largely a matter of opinion, and the capabilities of your computer hardware can also be important in deciding. GNOME, KDE, and XFCE are all excellent, and here is a brief description of each:

GNOME - In its default form, GNOME has two menu bars; one is at the top of the screen and the other is at the bottom. Because of this, some would say that GNOME more closely resembles the Mac OS X operating system in appearance than it does Microsoft Windows. While this may be true in its default settings, GNOME can be configured to more closely resemble Windows. In comparison to KDE and arguably even XFCE, the GNOME menu is arranged in a simpler manner, which makes it easier to navigate. Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and Fedora are major Linux distros running GNOME in their main editions. Click here to see a larger screenshot of Ubuntu 10.10 with the GNOME desktop environment.

KDE - In many ways, it is probably the most similar in appearance to Microsoft Windows. By default, KDE has a menu bar at the bottom of the screen, however this may be changed by the user. KDE has more point-and-click options and more "eye candy" than GNOME or XFCE. A disadvantage is that KDE is the most resource-hungry between the three, though GNOME is not far behind. OpenSUSE, PCLinuxOS, and Mandriva are some major Linux distros running KDE in their main editions. Kubuntu is the KDE version of Ubuntu. Click here to see a larger screenshot of OpenSUSE 11.3 running the KDE desktop environment.

XFCE - Of the three major Linux desktop environments, XFCE is the least resource-hungry, which makes it an excellent choice for older computers. While XFCE uses less resources, it is still a full-fledged desktop environment which offers a great deal to the user. In appearance, XFCE in its default is more similar to GNOME than to KDE because it has top and bottom menu bars like GNOME. However, just like GNOME and KDE, XFCE may be changed to more closely resemble Windows. The VectorLinux Standard Edition comes with XFCE as a default. Linux Mint offers an excellent community edition with XFCE, and Xubuntu is the XFCE version of Ubuntu. Click here to see a larger screenshot of VectorLinux 6.0 running the XFCE desktop environment.

It should also be mentioned that many major Linux distros offer versions in all three of the desktop environments described above, and it is even possible to have all three of them installed simultaneously on your Linux system. Also, programs made to run in one of these desktop environments will usually work in the others. For example, GNOME Games can run in KDE or XFCE. Probably the best advice is to try GNOME, KDE, and XFCE to decide which is the best for your needs. Additional desktop environments are
LXDE, JWM, Fluxbox, and Enlightenment which are great for extremely old computers. Another outstanding feature of Linux is the ability to customize a desktop environment to make it look quite unique, or to imitate the look of other operating systems. Click here to see a larger screenshot of the GNOME desktop in Linux Mint 9 customized to resemble Mac OS X, using Docky which can be downloaded and installed from the Linux Mint Software Manager.

Click here to see more examples of customized Linux desktops [1]. Below are links to websites which offer a wide variety of eye candy for the GNOME, KDE, and XFCE desktops:


Click here to learn more about the differences between the various Linux desktop environments [2].

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