Qt vs. GTK: Kopete, KMess, Pidgin and Emesene

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that, at least in my opinion, KDE is losing out to GNOME because there simply aren’t as many Qt applications as GTK ones. Competition breeds quality, and as a result, I find Qt applications in general to be inferior.

Of course, I can’t just say that and not back it up. In fact, I’m not even sure if I’m right! Because I’m using KDE 4.2 at the moment, I thought this would be an ideal time to really test some Qt and GTK applications extensively. In all cases, I tried to use Qt applications first, and only installed the GTK alternative if it either showed bugs, crashed, or simply irritated me to the point of madness after several days.

This should be the first in a series of articles comparing different kind of applications. In this post I’ll cover chat clients: Kopete, Kmess, and two GTK alternatives, Pidgin and Emesene.

Kopete has been KDE’s default chat client since I started using Linux. At that time GNOME felt alien, but even then I used Pidgin. I simply didn’t like Kopete. Its configuration felt clunky, cluttered and unnatractive…and it still does. That’s because it hasn’t changed since forever, even during the switch from KDE3 to KDE4. It still looks and feels like it did 8 years ago, as you can see from the screenshot on the official homepage…which is till the KDE3 version. The latest News item is dated August 2008, which tells you a lot about the stagnation of the development of this application. It does support video chat, and of course it lets you connect to and chat on all major chat protocols, so I decided that this time I’d try and use it for a week.
Unfortunately, it only lasted a day, because every time I start the program it complains about the MSN password. It’s actually correct, and works when I enter it again…until I shut down Kopete. At that point, I decided that it simply wasn’t good enough, and installed something else.

Kmess seems like a better alternative. It has a beta version for KDE4 and like Emesene, it only supports MSN chat, but it has more features, like showing and saving MSN winks, choosing how to open links, and of course it integrates better in KDE4, especially when it comes to notifications. I like it a lot, but the layout is, ironically, a bit of a mess. I’ve noticed this in other KDE4 applications too, where icons overlap text until you widen the window. In any case, with the windows stretched out everything looks fine. It did manage to crash the KDE4’s notification applet, and not all the winks showed perfectly, but I’d recommend it over Kopete.

Pidgin is GNOME’s default chat client (*), and like Kopete, this is a golden oldie. Unfortunately, and also like Kopete, not much happened with it since quite some time. In fact, it’s safe to say that since the upgrade to version 2, when Gaim changed its name to Pidgin, all the changes have been minor. Pidgin still does not support saving moving icons, it still doesn’t offer voice chat, and like Kopete, its configuration is a bit all over the place. Settings can be changed in Account Settings, in Settings, and in Plugins. It’s a bit chaotic, but it works just fine and it looks a whole lot better than Kopete does. Unlike Emesene, it does open links, and you can configure how it does that too (in which browser, and new window or new tab?).
It has been less than stable for me though, at least outside of GNOME. I’ve suffered one crash in KDE4, but on my Windows laptop from work it crashes at least once a week.

Emesene is what I’ve been using in GNOME and Openbox the last couple of months. Most of the times, I’m only using the MSN protocol anyway, and Emesene takes everything that’s good about MSN (simple layout, easily configured), makes it even better (I just love the slick look of those icons), and wraps it in a fast, lightweight chat client. Even my girlfriend loves it, because it feels so familiar, and you can save and use custom icons πŸ™‚ It doesn’t support video chat, but since this is an application claiming to be fast and lightweight, I don’t mind.
This is my chat application of choice, and to me it looks better in KDE4 than even KDE applications do.

A clear win for GTK and Emesene here, because of its simplicity, speed and looks. KMess is a close second though, and even in beta looks like a better, easier chat client than the dinosaur Kopete.

Next: Browsers (Konqueror, Firefox, Arora, and probably some stuff about Midori, Epiphany and Opera)


(*) Edit: As has been pointed out by mtz in the comments, Pidgin is not the default chat client in Gnome, Empathy is. It’s actually developing fast, and probably will be included as default in GNOME distributions in future releases, but I didn’t include it here because I have no experience with it.
In any case, I was wrong. My apologies.

23 Responses to Qt vs. GTK: Kopete, KMess, Pidgin and Emesene

  1. Junior says:

    KDE breeds innovation.

  2. mtz says:

    Empathy IM client is the default IM client of Gnome ..pidgin is included in most gnome based distro because it uses gtk .not because its the official gnome IM client

  3. Dirk Gently says:

    Yeah, have to agree that messaging in Linux isn’t the best now. Have seen good things coming along with empathy though. And yeah, kontact needs to be cleaned up. Developers are likely working more on porting to KDE 4 than doing interface enhancements.

  4. Lord UnR34l says:

    From my point of view, there are fewer Qt apps, but they are far superior than most GTK ones. I for one, use mostly QT apps. For me , kopete is far better than pidgin, , I use krita instead of gimp, and the rest are all Qt(ktorrent, kate, kedit,Amarok). The only exceptions are OpenOffice, firefox and skype( I don’t know what skype is based on). I consider KDE similar to mac operating system, it has few apps, but those do (nearly) everything you need, so you don’t need any other apps. This is just my opinion.

  5. Sebastian says:


    I think GTK and Qt have booth their plus and minus. A big minus for a KDE user is that GTK looks often ugly, Qt doesn’t. I don’t know Qt under GNOME at all, but I am often not happy about the design of some GTK applications (OOo, Firefox, Eclipse, …) under KDE.
    And I think that to make a test of different messangers and out of that to say, that GTK is probably better than Qt is not enough. (an extension of this test would be to write the differences between Office applications (KOffice and OOo), Webapplications (FF and for example Konqueror), File Manager(Dolphin and Nautilus) and so on).

    @Skype: skype for Linux is based on Qt

  6. celettu says:

    Lord Unreal:

    Thanks for respectfully disagreeing with me πŸ˜‰


    That in fact is my intention. I should have made that clearer.

  7. lord real says:

    the reason why I use KDE is BECAUSE of the applications, that are far better then the GNOME ones, K3B, Amarok, Dolphin, Ktorrent the whole edu packages are easily outdoing their GNOME brothers, for messaging I use meebo.com, text, sound, video, lightweight and my chat protocoll always with me..

    to compare gtk with qt using chat clients seems a little odd..

  8. Mikko777 says:

    1:I find it odd to compare QT vs GTK by comparing two different programs. What does that have to do with the quality of the toolkit?

    2:Why do you think there is more GTK apps than QT apps?
    Seems to me that most programmers use QT according to opendesktop.org.

    3: QT is far better than GTK imho, why?.. -> docs, c++, multiplatform, features, qtdesigner.

    4: QT apps are usually better simply because they are designed more often for smarter people, ie have more options.
    Exception would be firefox (not a gtk app anyways) and openoffice (which is crap but so is koffice still)


  9. Mich says:

    Seems like nobody mentioned about KGET and KLIPPER.

    Tried GWGET and GLIPPER and no where as stable as KGET and configurable as KLIPPER.

  10. deech says:

    Well, let me add my 2 cents…

    I do not know of any (!) GTK chat client that supports video chat (or will in the near future).

    So I guess that is 1-0 for the QT/KDE team πŸ™‚

  11. celettu says:

    I must say I’m happy to get this much feedback. Always love to hear different viewpoints.


    1. Nothing. In fact, I heard many developers say Qt is better than GTK. I’m not a developer, so I can’t say anything about this. I’m comparing the software for both toolkits, not the toolkits themselves

    2. There are. Simple test: try to build a system with a simple window manager that only uses Qt applications, without installing and loading KDE. Doesn’t work, and I’ve tried.

    3. See 1 πŸ™‚

    4. You have to be kidding me πŸ˜›


    I have to admit that Kget is absolutely wonderful, although I don’t have much use for it. Keep in mind, all this is just my personal opinion πŸ™‚


    Empathy! Although I’ll admit that Kopete’s video chat is currently superior.

  12. […] Qt vs. GTK: Kopete, KMess, Pidgin and Emesene A clear win for GTK and Emesene here, because of its simplicity, speed and looks. KMess is a close second though, and even in beta looks like a better, easier chat client than the dinosaur Kopete. […]

  13. rene levesque says:

    So a few half assed observations with no rhyme or reason is considered a blog post…

    It looks more like a grade 10 student who forgot to do his composition and rushed something out at recess.

    C- .

  14. deech says:

    did not know empathy supports webcam. So can I use it with the msn protocol and webcam with my friends?


  15. Reece says:

    For me personally, I prefer to program for GTK using the Gtkmm C++ wrappers. Having had a look at the Qt API (although not actually done much development with it) and played with some of the tutorials, I find it harder to work with than Gtkmm. It feels too much like an MFC clone (which I never got on with).

    Also, I can’t get on with cmake. SCons, probably – I haven’t invested too much time in learning how to configure it for anything reasonably complex. The standard configure/make/make install I can use (including checking for custom headers/APIs). Is my configure script perfect? Probably not.

    One thing I wasn’t able to figure out was how to use Qt4/KDE4 with anything other than cmake. For example, where are the pkgconfig files? SCons configuration helpers?

    However, I do like the KDE4/Oxygen UI over the Gnome UI. Using QtCurve, it is possible to get Gtk applications looking like Qt/KDE applications. So I’m happy.

    But that’s just me.

  16. celettu says:


    I looked around a bit yesterday, and I think that (atm?) it’s restricted to google talk some others, not MSN.


    Way over my head πŸ˜›

  17. […] Qt vs. GTK: Kopete, KMess, Pidgin and Emesene I’ve mentioned a couple of times that, at least in my opinion, KDE is losing out to GNOME because there simply […] […]

  18. […] the third in a series of articles comparing different kind of applications. The first one handled chat-clients, the second browsers, and this one will be about media players. It will be the shortest so far, […]

  19. […] it’s time to wrap it up. In theory, I could keep on writing forever: I’ve only covered chat clients, browsers, multimedia players and music managers. What about mail programs, torrent clients, pdf […]

  20. ckop64 says:

    Hey! The good thing in Linux desktop environments is, that for example a Qt (KDE) app is compatible with GNOME, and reversed, a GTK+ app is compatible with KDE. So, if you got used to an application on a GNOME desktop, you aren’t forced to use a (worse) KDE equalent.
    In my opinion KDE is the better DE, but I can’t live without emesene, ’cause it rocks, BUT I prefer Kopete for non-MSN talks.
    This is the beauty of Linux. =)

  21. Fernie says:


    if you build an application with Qt binaries it will work anywhere the binaries are found but if you build application with KDE API then you need KDE binaries to run the program not necessarily load KDE.

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