Fedora 24: Comparing Gnome, KDE Plasma, Cinnamon, MATE, Xfce, LXDE

With the final release of Fedora 24 arriving on Tuesday, I've installed each of the six desktops on a different laptop or netbook.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

Fedora 24 Release Candidate 1.2 has been declared Gold, so the final release will be made on Tuesday, 21 June. The biggest news with this release is the change to the gcc 6 compiler, which required bulk recompiling of essentially the entire distribution. The new compiler is said to bring better optimization, therefore potentially better overall performance, and improved detection of programming errors that previous compilers didn't flag.

This work, followed by the usual careful quality control checks and tests, and then a typical smattering of last-minute blockers eventually caused a delay of about a month from the originally planned release date (17 May) to what will now be the final release date (21 June).

Although Fedora is not a rolling release distribution, they do a good job of keeping things up to date. For example, Fedora 23 currently has Linux kernel 4.5.6, while Fedora 24 RC with the latest updates installed has 4.5.7. LibreOffice goes from 5.0.2 to 5.1.4, Shotwell doesn't change at all (0.23.1), and neither does Firefox (47.0).

The other significant change is bringing the desktop GUI up to the latest release. Fedora Gnome is the flagship version, but there are five other desktops included in the official "spins". On a lark, I decided to load each of these different versions onto a different laptop so that I could look at each one after the other. Oh, and just for fun I included, above, a picture of different kind of side-by-side look at all of them.



Fedora 24 - Gnome 3.20 Desktop

The Gnome Release Announcement gives the details of the improvements and new features. One particularly interesting new feature which Fedora will be taking advantage of with this release is the ability to perform OS upgrades using the Gnome Software utility. I'm looking forward to that, and I have several systems here (including my desktop Acer All-in-One) which I have avoided loading the Fedora 24 Alpha/Beta/RC releases on so that I can try the upgrade procedure.

As Fedora is closely tied to Gnome development, the majority of its utilities and applications are the Gnome apps - with few exceptions. It has Firefox for web browsing (not Gnome Web), for example: but rather than continue here with a long, difficult to read and compare list of utilities and applications, I have made a table at the end of this post listing what is included in each of the different desktops.

As for the installation process, I recently posted a series of screen shots of Anaconda, so I will only say that everything was absolutely routine. When the Gnome version is booted for the first time after installation, it brings up a series of (Gnome-driven) questions which don't do much more than repeat what you have already entered about the system language, keyboard, network connection and such. I honestly don't see much value in this sequence.

Once that has been (re-)entered it then goes into a Getting Started with Gnome help text, shown here.


I find this whole Gnome configure-and-start procedure to be questionable, especially because the window content is extremely plain, black-and-white and makes a very jarring contrast with the colorful graphics of the default Fedora Gnome desktop.

KDE Plasma


Fedora 24 - KDE Plasma 5.6.4 Desktop

Perhaps the best known of the Fedora spins is the KDE Plasma desktop. KDE is a fully integrated desktop environment, even more so than Gnome, so almost all of the utilities and applications are from the KDE Software Compilation.


One place that this shows very clearly is that it includes the Calligra office programs (word processor, spreadsheet and presentation) rather than LibreOffice. Fedora seems to have hedged their bets on the web browser, however, as there are actually three included -- Konqueror (part of KDE), Firefox and the lightweight QupZilla.

I ran into one problem with the KDE version, the bottom panel on the desktop does not auto-hide when that option is selected -- but applications seem to think that it has, so they have a strip across the bottom of the screen which is obscured by the panel. That strip often contains useful little things like the Accept or Canel buttons, so that can be pretty inconvenient.

I also noticed that it takes a very long time for the KDE version to shut down. It appears to be waiting for something to terminate which is not cooperating, but I haven't had time to investigate this in detail yet.



Fedora 24 - Cinnamon 3.0.1 Desktop

The Cinnamon desktop is a relative newcomer to the Fedora spins. I find it a bit amusing that Cinnamon (and MATE) were created because users were so unhappy with Gnome 3, and now they have both become popular spins of the Fedora distribution.

I'm a bit disappointed that the new Mint X-apps are not included here. So although it does have the Nemo file manager, it still has Eye of Gnome and gwrite rather than the much nicer X-app replacements. Ah well, they can always be added later.

I had the most problems with this version, mostly because of hardware quirks of the system I installed it on. I used the Acer Aspire E11, which I have mentioned many times before has a pain-in-the-neck Broadcom WiFi adapter that requires a non-free driver. To get that driver for Fedora you have to add the RPM Fusion repository, but RPM Fusion does not have Fedora 24 support ready yet (and it didn't have Fedora 23 ready for quite some time after it was released). So I had to use either a USB WiFi adapter or a wired network connection to get to the Internet.


The second problem was also with some dodgy hardware - this time the ridiculous "Clickpad" pointing device. I've written many times about how awful I think the Clickpad is in general, but Fedora 24 seemed to have a particularly difficult time with it. It almost never read a real click, no matter where I pressed on the clickpad, and it was very inconsistent in reading taps as well. None of the other Linux distributions I have loaded on this system have that much trouble with the clickpad, so that seems very strange.



Fedora 24 - MATE 1.12

The MATE desktop is another relative newcomer to the Fedora spins.


As with Cinnamon above, it's unfortunate that the Mint X-apps are not included -- but at least a couple of the precursors which were specifically developed for MATE are here, such as Pluma (text editor) and Eye of MATE (image viewer).

The functionality and performace was very good on this version, I didn't notice any problems or even significant irritations.



Fedora 24 - Xfce

The Xfce desktop, although lighter weight and less demanding than the previous desktops, is still quite powerful and flexible.


As you can see from the table below, Fedora has equipped this distribution at the "light" end, with Abiword and Gnumeric rather than an office suite, Claws Mail rather than Thunderbird, and no Photo/Image management package. I think this is actually not a bad thing, because in my experience Xfce users tend to be an independent lot, and they prefer to select the packages and applications themselves.



Fedora 24 - LXDE

Finally, the LXDE desktop is very lightweight, and includes a minimal set of lightweight utilities and applications.


This particular spin feels a bit rough around the edges to me, unfortunately. I had trouble getting the Midori browser to work, and there seems to be some kind of problem with lxdm because my first attempt at logging in frequently seemed to abort and restart. This might be some kind of timing problem with booting and startup, but anyway it is quite irritating.

For convenience in comparison and cross-checking, here is a table showing which programs are used in each of the different Fedora spins:

Gnome KDE Plasma Cinnamon MATE Xfce LXDE
Desktop 3.20 5.6.4 3.0.1 1.14.0 4.12 ~0.8.2
Office LibreOffice
LibreOffice LibreOffice Abiword
Abiword Gnumeric
Web Browser
Firefox Firefox Firefox Midori
Mail Evolution Kmail Thunderbird Claws Mail Claws Mail Sylpheed
Music Player
Rhythmbox Amarok --- Exaile Pragha LXMusic
Video Player
Totem Dragon Player Parole Parole Parole ---
Photo Manager
Shotwell --- Shotwell --- --- ---
Image Viewer
Eye of Gnome Gwenview Eye of Gnome Eye of MATE Ristretto gpicview
Document Viewer
Evince Okular Evince Atril Evince ---
Text Editor
gedit kwrite gedit Pluma Leafpad Leafpad
File Manager
Nautilus Dolphin Nemo Caja Thunar PCManFM

It is interesting to look at the gaps in this table - for example, the KDE spin doesn't include digiKam, which seems very odd, and please don't try to tell me that Gwenview should count as a photo management application! Why does the Cinnamon spin not have a music player? Perhaps I overlooked it... but I don't think so. Also, even though LXDE is expected to be a lightweight distribution, the lack of any kind of PDF viewer seems rather extreme.

So that's the whole family -- six different desktops, ranging from the most fully equipped to the most leanly stripped. They will all be available starting Tuesday, 21 July from the Fedora Downloads page. Get it while it's hot!

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