Gtk and Qt Preferences

In December I posted a poll asking visitors to vote based on their desktop environment and graphical toolkit preferences. While there were many votes in each category, the most noteworthy is that nearly 60% of respondents care if either Gtk or Qt is being used. The data is interesting because it highlights some of the progress that still needs to be made so all Linux software can work equally well no matter what desktop environment is being used.

Of the 558 users who voted, 48% use KDE, 45% use GNOME, and 7% use a different environment.

Among the KDE users, it was fairly close between those would don't care which graphics toolkit is used and those that prefer Qt, but will use Gtk. Voters who only use Qt based apps were a distant third.

Among the GNOME users, the largest percentage didn't care which toolkit was used. The number of users who only use Gtk based apps was only slightly behind those who prefer Gtk, but will use Qt.

When comparing the trends between KDE and GNOME some interesting data points can be found.

44% of KDE and 44% of GNOME users don't care about the underlying graphical toolkit.

The differences start to appear when looking at those users who do care. 41% of KDE users prefer Qt, but will ultimately use Gtk based apps, while only 31% of GNOME users prefer Gtk, but will still use Qt. A larger percentage, 25%, of GNOME users will only use Gtk, vs. 15% of KDE users who only use Qt.

What does all of this mean? I look at it two ways. First, that there is a difference in behavior between GNOME and KDE users, but only among an equal percentage that care about the underlying graphics toolkits. I'm leaving the realm of data now and moving to speculation, but it does make some sense. GNOME seems to have more of a desire for everything to fit together in a certain way and some purists don't want to deviate from that. Others just don't want the bloat of the extra libraries. For KDE users some additional flexibility is needed because some of the most prevalent GNU/Linux apps like the GIMP and Firefox don't use Qt.

The second way I read the data is that we still have a long way to go with respect to Linux application development. Not only are we competing with apps on Windows and OS X for user and developer attention, we are competing amongst ourselves. The only people who should really care about Gtk, Qt, or any other toolkit, are the developers. Unfortunately, their difference in appearance forces us, as users, to notice them.

Efforts such as the Gtk-Qt Theme Engine for KDE do a good job at masking the differences, but they aren't perfect. For example, I set my buttons to only show the word OK and not the icon as well. This setting doesn't get transferred to the Gtk apps. A bigger one is the File dialog where we do all of our opening and saving. KDE and GNOME do things differently so a Gtk app in KDE still uses the GNOME dialog. This is inconsistent and can be confusing to new users.

Hopefully collaborative efforts such as the Portland project and other communication between developers can improve the situation, but for now, checking which toolkit a program uses will be something that many of us do.


Most Xubuntu users (Xfce) strongly prefer or can only afford to run GTK apps. Those are also quite some people.