If you've tried Windows 11, you may have noticed that Microsoft strives to make the Windows desktop experience comparable to contemporary Mac and Linux desktop environments. But in some areas, the latest version from Microsoft doesn't compare.
We take a close look at the Windows 11 desktop experience in its current state and compare it to the Linux KDE Plasma desktop environment.
What is KDE Plasma?
KDE Plasma is a desktop environment, providing a graphical user interface for several different Linux operating systems. It is built and maintained by the KDE community, a group developing a variety of free and open source products for all kinds of users, whether you use your PC for work or play or both.
For this article, we tested KDE Neon and Garuda KDE Dr460nized. Neon ships with Plasma set to a default “vanilla” appearance intended for wide appeal. In contrast, Garuda offers a highly personalized edition of Plasma with a modern, dark, and progressive look. These two editions give you an idea of the range of possibilities for customizing Plasma.
The default appearance of KDE Neon, in fact, is quite similar to the Windows 11 environment. Below is a split screen comparison of starting the login screen in KDE Neon and Windows 11, respectively.
You'll notice that the color scheme, textures, and layout of the login screen are all quite similar. Once connected, the desktop itself continues the parallel experience.
It is forgivable, however. If you follow design trends, it is inevitable that you will make similar choices to others. Despite the fact that KDE Plasma and Windows 11 seem to be reading the same book, in some ways Plasma seems to do it better.
What does plasma have that Windows 11 doesn't?
As you may have seen online, Linux users and Windows users can argue all day about which one is better. However, there are a few areas where the Plasma desktop experience is better.
Unified taskbar icons
Windows has a long history of (usually) well-coordinated icons, and system icons for Windows 11 look great on the taskbar. But when it comes to third-party apps, even the most popular Microsoft-promoted on your Start menu, the Microsoft desktop leaves a lot to be desired.
This is what it looks like when you add Slack and Spotify to the taskbar, next to the taskbar, File Explorer, Edge default browser, and Microsoft Store.
The tiny app logos are crammed into ugly boxes that clash with the rounded-edged style featured by the rest of the Windows 11 user interface.
Now, let's take a look at the same apps in the KDE Neon taskbar, with Firefox replacing Edge as Neon's default browser.
Now, while the icons aren't completely uniform and some edges are a bit grainy, there are some improvements in scaling and consistency.
Now take a look at the same collection of apps in the launch panel on Garuda Dr460nized, which by default applies the BeautyLine icon theme to the entire system.
Garuda, using the Plasma desktop environment, immerses you in an engaging and cohesive user space. You get the impression of a well-structured system on which you can build your digital confidence. The various icon styles give the impression of a messy structure.
No default app shenanigans
In Windows 11, Microsoft Edge is not just the browser installed during setup, it is the browser that opens all desktop links by default, and changing the default is not a straightforward process. Of course, Edge could very well be the only browser you need or want. If so, then Windows 11 is perfect for you.
Linux Plasma desktops, on the other hand, give you the freedom to make that decision on your own and the flexibility to respect your decision. One browser or another will almost always be installed by default for your convenience, but it can be easily removed and it is easy to change the default settings.
It works out of the box
I know what you are thinking: "Windows also works immediately!" Well, that's only true in special situations. If you buy a PC or Windows license and (if you're using Home Edition) sign into a Microsoft account, it works right away.
Yes, you can download and install the Windows Home edition at no cost, and it will start up and be usable for many tasks (assuming you're ok with signing into a Microsoft account). However, without a verified installation, your functionality is limited. As simple as changing the background image is disabled until you activate your device with a license.
Plasma, like most Linux experiments, has no such limitations or caveats. You don't need to log into a service, you don't need a license key, and you don't need to be activated. You simply create your first local account during installation, and Plasma and its functions are fully open to you.
Windows 11 vs. KDE Plasma
Overall, Windows 11 is a solid operating system. To make it even better, we hope Microsoft will take inspiration from KDE Plasma. If they already share a login screen and color scheme, why not also coordinate icons and make it easy for users to use their favorite browser?
Want to try KDE Plasma yourself? We recommend KDE Neon (user edition). You can download the ISO, burn it to a flash drive, and boot it live on Windows or Mac.