A colleague recently emailed me the following, I’ve posted my reply below:
I do have a question about your preference for gnome. Why do you prefer that over xfce?
In short, I think Gnome is just an overall superior desktop environment. Gnome is the only Desktop Environment backed by a commercial body (Redhat), and this really shows in the development cycle. Bugs are fixed quickly (on Testing at least) and features are released on a fairly regular basis. Gnome 3.3 was just released a few days ago and there are some pretty cool additions, such as increased support for flatpacks. It keeps up with the demands of modern applications and out of the box comes with a strong suite of native applications. All the native applications (Podcasts, File Explorer, Music, Books, Notes) all follow a consistent theme and follow relatively strict design guidelines - which I find quite interesting from a human factors psychology point of view. Customising Gnome is pretty straightforward and well documented. Even Canonical, AKA Ubuntu, has moved away from their custom DE (Unity) and shifted it to a modified version of Gnome. This shift has substantially improved gnome relative to even a few years ago.
If you have hardware limitations, then yep, XFCE is the way to go (or LXDE). However, Gnome is much better on modern machines. For instance, DPI scaling in XFCE only works for fonts (while Gnome the whole GUI is scaled). I find Gnome substantially more visually appealing out of the box, and well optimised to supporting modern themes. I’ve never had to tweak much to get a beautiful theme in Gnome. Below is my desktop on my laptop. It could be a matter of preference, but I prefer the minimalist design and workflow of Gnome substantially more than the somewhat archaic nolstagia feel of XFCE.
I should flag that I can be quite vocal in my distaste and disdain for Gnome as well. The developers tend to “move things forward” and backwards break features regularly (in the name of progress) and I agree with the communities perceptions of the failings of Gnome developers - at times. However, the “performance hog” perceptions are completely inaccurate, with Gnome shell taking up ~300mb of RAM. In conclusion, I’d basically say that Gnome is the best of the worst. I’ve tried and tested them all, and always end up grovelling back to Gnome.