What brought computers out of geek domain was the introduction of desktop environments with graphical user interfaces (GUIs). One of the reasons for widespread popularity of proprietary operating systems like Windows was the easy to use graphic interface they provided which could let the user intuitively use various installed programs on a computer. A prime open source alternative to Windows, with far more superior features in terms of functionality and security is the Linux operating system. For long, Linux wasn't considered to be a mainstream operating system alternative for the average computer user, due to a command line interface. It made the OS to be a geek favorite, but the average user would prefer a Mac OS or Windows system over it, anytime.
All that changed with graphical desktop environments like KDE and GNOME, based on the X Window System. These desktop environments, with an inbuilt array of applications and easy to use intuitive interface, finally brought Linux distributions like Ubuntu into mainstream, which made many users all over the world migrate to this open source operating system.
Created by German software developer Matthias Ettrich, KDE was first released in 1998, as a graphical desktop environment, with ease of use being the prime motivation, behind its development. Being an inherently cross-platform X Window based system, KDE has been used by MAC OS X and its Plasma desktop has been the default desktop environment for Linux distributions like Kubuntu. Since the release of its latest version, KDE (K Desktop Environment) is now known as KDE software compilation (KDE SC).
Written in C++, utilizing the Qt framework, its latest stable version (KDE Software Compilation 4) was released in May, 2011. It comes with an array of new applications including a brand new Plasma desktop with widget functionality, multimedia API, known as 'Phonon', new device integration framework in the form of 'Solid', a new programming library called 'ThreadWeaver', which can harness the power of multicore processors more efficiently and Dolphin, a new file manager.
Created by Mexicans, Federico Mena and Miguel de Icaza, GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) was first launched in 1999 as a desktop environment, which is entirely made up of free and open source software. It was primarily designed for Unix like operating systems and particularly Linux distributions. Written in C, under the GTK+ framework, the latest release, GNOME 3.0 has a redesigned elegant interface - 'GNOME Shell' with integrated messaging among many newly added features. Let us now make a head-to-head comparison between the two competing desktop environments.
KDE Vs. GNOME
When you compare KDE's latest release with that of GNOME, it's easy to see that KDE offers a much richer set of applications and features. The newly designed multimedia API, device integration framework, the beautifully designed Plasma workspace, with widgets, newly designed photographic icons, with Dolphin as a new file manager make for a great desktop environment. It can compete with the environment offered by proprietary operating systems like Windows 7. Overall, KDE has a wide application range and an easily configured interface.
GNOME 3.0, as always is elegance and simplicity at its best. With the easy to use new GNOME Shell, new instant messaging feature, desktop search, new fonts, new themes and better applications, this desktop environment is stable and solid, built for the minimalistic user. It also comes with new applications in the form of redesigned Nautilus file manager, Epiphany web browser, gedit text editor and Empathy messaging client. GNOME as always is lighter, simpler and known for its stability. While KDE will be more useful to a software developer, it is a bit of an overkill for the average computer user. GNOME is ideal choice for anyone who needs to use Linux for the most basic tasks like web browsing, watching videos and listening to music.
If you are looking for a light and elegant desktop environment with minimal functionality, GNOME would be the right choice, but if you are on the look out for an environment which provides an easy to use interface with a range of software applications, KDE is the way to go. I would suggest that you try both environments using Live CDs of Linux distributions and get a feel of both before deciding. Choose one which you find the easiest to use with features that suit your usage requirements.