I’m pretty sure the very first Linux desktop I ever used was KDE. I didn’t realize that it was actually a bit painful until I later discovered Gnome. I switched to Gnome because it worked better for me, and seemed to use fewer resources.
I never left Gnome, but Gnome left me. I won’t go into the details here, but as most Linux users know, Gnome 2.x was the high point of that particular world of Linux desktops (see THIS POST for definition of term “desktop”). With the demise of Good Gnome, mainly caused by Ubuntu (a distribution I otherwise have a great deal of respect for), I poked around among the various Gnome 2.0 desktop alternatives. Among them eventually emerged Mate, which at first, I thought was great. I used it as my main desktop for several years, until just recently.
But Mate had two major flaws. The first flaw was an attempt to simply everything. Mate never made an application to be part of its own desktop environment, but rather, it took old Gnome applications, then broke them slightly or failed to maintain them (but the Mate project developers did rename them all, to take credit for them, and add confusion). The second flaw was not fully maintaining the parts of the desktop environment it was responsible for, or fixing basic problems. For example, it has always been true that most people have a hard time grabbing window boundaries with their mouse in Mate. To fix this you have to go down into configuration files and manually change numbers. That is a bug that should have been fixed three years ago. I can only assume that the maintainers of Mate don’t have that problem on their particular desktops.
Among the main functions of a maintained desktop environment is keeping basic system configuration tools clean and neat and functional, but Mate messed that up from the beginning. I vaguely remember that an early version of Mate left off the screen saver software, so in order to have or use a screen saver, you had to install the old Gnome screensaver. The configuration and settings capacities of the Mate desktop are distributed across three or four different applications, at least one of which you have to find out about, find, install, and learn to use yourself, just to carry out simple functions. Basic categories of settings or configurations are distributed among these applications in a haphazard way. To do basic things like change the desktop appearance or mess with screen savers, etc, you have to be a power user.
But I thought Mate was still better than KDE partly because KDE was so strange. For one thing, single clicking in KDE was like double clicking everywhere else in the universe. Yes, you could reconfigure that, but it is still strange. The nature of the desktop, of panels, or widgets, of all of it, was just a little odd for me. Everything felt a little funny.
But over time, KDE did two things that Mate did not do. First, KDE continued to maintain, develop, improve, debug, make more efficient and powerful, all of its software. Instead of key software components going brain dead or not being maintained, or losing functionality like in Mate, KDE software got more powerful and more useful. At the same time, the software, and the overall desktop environment, got slicker, cleaner, more like the old Gnome 2.0 in many ways, and leaner, and less strange (single clicking is no longer a default!).
In the old days, it was probably true that Gnome used fewer of your computer’s resources than KDE. But the most current versions of Gnome and gnome like alternatives such as Mate probably use about 25% more resources than KDE out of the box. And, KDE out of the box is more configurable and overall more cool than Mate and many other desktops.
Here’s the key thing. When I first started using Linux, the feature I fell in love with was the workspace switcher, allowing one to maintain a number of virtual desktops, each with various things open on them. This is how I organize my work. It isn’t all that systematic, but in a given day, I’ll organically end up with all my stuff related to one project on one virtual desktop, and another project on a different virtual desktop. Gnome and gnome variants actually moved away from this standard. You can still have virtual desktops in current Gnome, but they are not there by default. Mate still has them by default, but I don’t trust Mate maintaners to maintain that.
But it is easily done in KDE, and with extra (mostly unnecessary) perks. In the KDE desktop environment, I can have the desktop background be different on my different virtual desktops on my desktop computer. Which sits on my desk. I can have other things be different on the different desktops. For me, this doesn’t do much because, as noted, my virtual workspaces evolve organically over time frames of hours or days. But someday, I may want a special desktop configured all special for some special purpose.
A couple of months ago, I had some problems with Mate. I uncovered an important and easily fixed bug. I told the maintainers about it. They told me to screw off. So I told them to screw off, and I started to explore other desktop environments. After realizing that they had been too rude to me, the Mate maintainers, to their credit, did fix the bug and tried to make nice. But I had already moved on. It did not take me long to get KDE up and running and configured as I like. And, I’ve hardly explored all the cool stuff it can do.
But I am exploring it now, and I’ll keep you posted.
See: KDE Icon Magic