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The version of SteamOS that first came with the Steam Deck wasn’t Valve’s first attempt at creating a Linux distribution. It was actually version 3.
Before that, SteamOS used the GNOME desktop environment. But for the Steam Deck, Valve chose KDE Plasma instead.
GNOME is a more popular and arguably more mobile-centric Linux interface. So why use plasma instead? We can’t speak for Valve, but here are some good reasons.
1. KDE Plasma consumes less memory
GNOME is the most widely used interface on Linux desktops, but it’s not the most memory-efficient. Many alternative desktop environments perform better in this area, and KDE Plasma is one of them. Plasma simply requires less RAM to run smoothly, and it works well on a weaker CPU.
Does the Steam Deck have a weak CPU or lack of RAM? Not at all. But with a desktop environment that uses less memory, more resources remain available for other software. And the benefits don’t stop there.
2. KDE Plasma can improve battery life
That’s right. When a CPU doesn’t have to work as hard, your computer doesn’t need to draw as much energy from a battery. Battery life is important on a laptop, but it’s even more important on a device like the Steam Deck, which is less likely to be desk-bound.
Desktop mode might be less ideal on the go than putting your Steam deck in a dock, but it’s still fully functional. You can navigate with the joysticks or touchpad and click with the triggers. You can also bring up a virtual keyboard. KDE Plasma gives you the freedom to use this mode longer.
3. KDE is more familiar to Windows gamers
Many Linux distributions come with a default experience that looks very similar to Windows. GNOME is not one of them. KDE plasma is.
Is a Windows-like experience the most inviting? This is debatable. Windows may be widely used, but many people have always found Windows confusing. There are generations of people learning how to do math on a mobile device for the first time, and there are lessons to be learned from this type of interface that a desktop like GNOME has made serious efforts to implement.
But is a Windows-like experience welcome for PC gamers? You bet. For decades, most PC games were designed with Windows in mind. So if you’re already an established PC gamer, you’re probably familiar with Windows, and you’ll likely have little trouble navigating KDE Plasma in its place.
4. KDE is easier to brand with
GNOME isn’t the easiest desktop environment to apply your own branding to. Its design is extremely minimalist. There are neither logos nor desktop icons.
You can set a Steam deck-oriented wallpaper as the default and use the Steam icon as the first icon in the dock in the activity overview, but to do more requires the use of GNOME extensions. And you run the risk of having to manually reconfigure each extension with each new version of GNOME.
On KDE Plasma, you can swap the KDE Plasma icon in the application launcher for your distribution’s icon. Many distros do this and SteamOS is no exception.
You can also create a shortcut to Steam or a shortcut to return to game mode right on the desktop. Valve did this so it would be immediately clear how to turn your Steam Deck back into a gaming console.
Valve also slightly modified the KDE Plasma theme. Since KDE has an integrated theme, this is not a problem. GNOME, on the other hand, asks distributions not to themed their apps.
5. KDE Connect is a great way to transfer files
You can connect your Steam Deck to a portable hard drive to transfer files, or you can send those files wirelessly using KDE Connect. The latter is a built-in feature that can quickly share files between two devices with KDE Connect installed.
KDE Connect is available as an extension for GNOME, but like all extensions, it has an increased risk of breaking. KDE Connect is generally part of KDE Plasma. And since KDE Connect is powered by the KDE community, you get a premium experience on your Steam deck without Valve having to do anything.
6. KDE goes well with a rolling release
Older versions of SteamOS were based on Debian. The version that comes with the Steam Deck is based on Arch Linux instead. Arch Linux is what is known as a rolling release distribution, which means that all software updates are delivered to users as soon as they become available.
There are no major releases of Arch Linux. You install once and continually update your computer from there, with major updates (like new versions of a desktop environment) arriving alongside smaller updates (like simple bug fixes for an app).
New versions of GNOME appear every six months. This is easy to plan, which is one of the reasons some distributions plan their own release schedule around GNOME. KDE ships software in multiple parts, such as KDE Plasma, KDE Frameworks, and KDE Gear. Each has its own release schedule.
Because there is no set time of year when all components will receive an update at the same time, this approach lends itself well to a rolling release model.
This empowers Valve to deliver updates on its own schedule. But unlike Arch, Valve tests components and assembles a known-working version of SteamOS before rolling it out to users as one major update. This is one of the differences between SteamOS and Arch Linux.
Should Valve have stayed with GNOME?
KDE Plasma is great on the Steam deck, but feels cramped on the device’s small screen. GNOME has a more touch-friendly and customizable user interface that scales better to both small and large displays.
But with so many pros in favor of KDE Plasma, it’s hard to say Valve made the wrong decision. Many players encounter Linux for the first time via the Steam Deck and get along well with KDE Plasma. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
This article was previously published on Source link