Gnome 3
In Gnome 3, almost everything has been taken off the desktop and put into the overview

This, in true computing style, can be viewed as either a feature or a bug depending on your point of view. Given Gnome's focus on simplicity, you may think things are looking good for this contender. Well, not necessarily. We said a good desktop environment should make computing simple, which isn't the same as the desktop environment being simple. For example, if you need to copy files between directories in a file manager, it's often simpler to use a split view to enable you to see both directories at once. This option, however, was removed when Nautilus was simplified.

In the latest version of Gnome, the developers have relented slightly and introduced Gnome Classic. This is a series of extension that make Gnome 3 look like Gnome 2. It now sits in a halfway point where it has the look of Gnome 2, but everything in it still has the minimal Gnome 3 feel. As such, we find it hard to recommend at the moment, but it is early days and later versions may improve upon it.

Verdict

Best for: Minimalism
Avoid if: You like to see what's going on
Try on: Fedora
In a nutshell: Less is more

KDE

How do you evaluate an ever-changing beast?

KDE
It's easy to get carried away with KDEs widgets, but with a bit of thought and experimentation, they can make your life easier

The problem with evaluating KDE is that it seems to be different each time we see it. There's the vanilla KDE you get if you install it in a non-KDE distro, but many KDE-specialist distros (Mageia, ROSA, OpenSuse etc) have customised desktops.

Most hard-core KDE users have personal settings that they've tweaked over the years and often provide a desktop environment radically different to the one you'd get straight after an install. In fact, the differences between two KDE installs are often so big, someone unfamiliar with Linux would be hard-pushed to recognize them as the same desktop environment.

Because of this, we're going to go out on a limb and say that KDE isn't a desktop environment at all, but a framework within which you can build a desktop environment. The default settings in vanilla KDE are, in our humble opinion, terrible. It looks bland and doesn't take advantage of KDE's power. There are a number of distros that come with much better setups, particularly the three mentioned above, but they are all a little conservative.

The real power of KDE comes when you dive in and customise it yourself. For the most part, this is done through widgets. While many desktops allow for some form of third party add-ons, no other embraces them as much as KDE. In fact, most of KDE is made up of these widgets. Some are distributed as part of the main KDE package, while others can be sourced from other developers, but they all have the same access to the desktop environment's internal workings.

An overloaded screen full of graphically slick widgets that display all manner of information, mostly useless, is the hallmark of a new KDE user. With time and experiences, most KDE veterans whittle their way down to just a few widgets that provide them with what they need.

For example, Ben has two folder views (for My Documents and Downloads folders), a weather forecaster (essential for a cycle commuter), and yuake (a terminal that drops down from the top of the screen when F12 is pressed). That provides his idea of the perfect balance between clutter and information. Yours, of course, may be different.

Death by customisation

KDE
Here we have an activity that helps us manage our online presence. This allows us to easily switch back to a normal desktop when we're finished