So many choices!

One of the best parts of using Linux is having the complete control and power to customize your look and feel, and decide what your experience is going to be. You can find an environment where you feel comfortable, or create your own that's tailored to you. While diversity is one of the best features of the Linux community, as users can try various options and find out which one suits the best for them, sometimes it can also create confusions. Especially if you’re new to Linux community, you can easily be overwhelmed by the number of choices you have. When it comes to Desktop Environments, there’s no exception. But trying out each and every desktop environments is a very time-consuming and tiring task. Here, I’ve created a list of the most popular desktop environments available for Linux distros along with their pros and cons for you. Just to mention, this is not the list for the best desktop environment or any such specific purposes. Also, the list is not in any specific order. There are also far more environments out there, these are just the most popular. You can click the images to get a better look. if you still cant see, press the Ctrl key and the + key at the same time to zoom. then Ctrl and the - key to zoom out.

Gnome

Gnome

GNOME is one of the most popular desktop environment in the world of Linux distros. Many of the popular Linux distros use GNOME as their default desktop environment and it has some popular forks, such as – Cinnamon, Unity etc. GNOME is designed to be easy to use and customizable. The latest iteration, GNOME 3 has a modern and attractive user interface and aims to provide better support for touch-based devices. GNOME contains almost everything a modern desktop environment should have. Those who are uncomfortable with the modern user interface that comes with GNOME 3 and prefers the good old GNOME 2 experience, it provides a classic mode as well. Dashboard, system-wide search , powerful in-house applications that get the works done, themes, extensions support, window snapping are some of its key features. However, tweaking this desktop environment requires gnome-tweak-tool to be installed. In version 3.18 it has introduced some interesting features like integrated Google Drive in the file manager. One of the downsides is that GNOME 3 draws a lot of memory because of its graphically heavy interface compared to some of its alternatives.

The major Linux distros using Gnome as its DE are Debian, Fedora, and Kali Linux.

KDE

KDE, rather than being only a desktop environment, is actually a collection of applications, one of which is the desktop environment itself. The latest iteration of KDE is called Plasma, which comes in two variations – Plasma Desktop and Plasma Netbook. KDE is the most customizable and flexible desktop environment available out there. Where other desktop environments need extra tweak tools for customizing, for KDE it’s all baked into the system settings. You can personalize you desktop environment experience according to your needs without any third-party tools. You can download widgets, wallpapers, themes without even opening the web-browser. KDE offers a good collection of basic applications and is compatible with all kinds of applications even if they’re not built using KDE Development Platform. The applications KDE comes bundled with offer various essential features, absent in their alternatives. Whether you want a desktop environment that works just out of the box or you want a fully customized desktop experience, you can definitely choose KDE.

The major Linux distros using KDE as their DE are openSUSE and Kubuntu.

KDE

Unity

Unity

Unity is a shell developed by Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu. It runs on top of Gnome Desktop Environment and uses all core Gnome applications. Initially, it was developed to run on netbooks to make better use of the screen real estate. But when Gnome decided to go its own way and supposedly didn’t accept some changes proposed by Ubuntu teams, Canonical went ahead and created its own shell, which suited its needs better. Unity first release came out in 2010 and since then Unity has got several improvements. Today one can install Unity like any other DE. It is simple and faster but does not include much options under System Settings to customize the desktop. For installing themes and customizing different other options, such as System menu should be visible always or not or ‘One click minimize from launcher icon’, the user needs to install third-party tools. CCSM and Unity Tweak Tool are very popular customization tools for Unity Desktop Environment.

The major Linux distro using Unity as its DE is Ubuntu and its clones

XFCE

Xfce is one of the most lightweight desktop environments for Linux, BSD & other Unix-like distros. Xfce offers a lite but modern, visually appealing and user-friendly interface. It comes with all the basic features you’ll need along with a decent set of applications. One of the downsides is that XFCE is not touch screen friendly. but some pros are that its lightweight and adaptable to older hardware, customizable and visually appealing.

The major Linux distros using XFCE as their DE are Xubuntu and Manjaro

XFCE

MATE

MATE

MATE Desktop Environment is based on the codebase of currently unmaintained GNOME 2. MATE was initially developed for the users who were disappointed with the latest iteration of GNOME shell – GNOME 3. Being a fork of an older desktop environment doesn’t mean that it runs on those obsolete technologies used back then. It just means that MATE took what already works and now continues to improve upon it using modern technologies. MATE Desktop Environment offers the traditional desktop experience with a hint of modernism. And because it’s built on something that’s been tested and tweaked for years, it works seamlessly. It supports panel system with various menus, applets, indicators, buttons etc. and can be arranged however the user wants. MATE comes with a collection of basic applications, most of which are forks of GNOME 2 applications. One other thing that makes MATE wonderful is that it consumes only a very small amount of memory for itself and thus is able to function properly on older and less powerful hardware.

The major Linux distros using MATE as their DE are Ubuntu MATE and ParrotSec.

MacOS Clone

There are several beautiful Linux distributions already present in Linux world. But for some reasons, people are fixated on the looks of Apple’s MacOS. Now, not everyone can afford or would want to buy a MacBook just for using the MacOS. You could go for Hackintosh but that would mean ditching Linux, something a Linux lover like me wouldn’t do. The good thing about Linux is that it has endless possibilities. When it comes to tweaking looks, you can do wonders. Imagine making Ubuntu look like MacOS. It’s totally possible. But why bother tweaking when you have Linux distributions that imitate or get inspired by MacOS’ looks. Yes, there are several MacOS look alike Linux distributions in case you want to feel like you are using a Mac.

The major Linux distros using MacOS desktop are PearOS, Gmac, Backslash, and MintyMac

OS X

LXDE

LXDE

By design, the LXDE desktop is clean and simple. It has nothing to get in the way of getting your work done. Although you can add some clutter to the desktop in the form of files, directory folders, and links to applications, there are no widgets that can be added to the desktop. I do like some widgets on my KDE and Cinnamon desktops, but they are easy to cover and then I need to move or minimize windows, or just use the “Show desktop” button to clear off the entire desktop. LXDE does have a “Iconify all windows” button, but I seldom need to use it unless I want to look at my wallpaper. I have found LXDE to be an easy-to-use, yet powerful, desktop. I have enjoyed my weeks using it for this article. LXDE has enabled me to work effectively mostly by allowing me access to the applications and files that I want, while remaining unobtrusive the rest of the time. I also never encountered anything that prevented me from doing my work. Well, except perhaps for the time I spent exploring this fine desktop. I can highly recommend the LXDE desktop.

The major Linux distros using LXDE as their DE are Knoppix and Peppermint.

Deepin

The Deepin Desktop is offered in a widening assortment of popular Linux desktops, but the best user experience is found in the deepin distro. Other distros running the Deepin Desktop miss much of the unique integration you get in Deepin Linux. DDE elsewhere usually lacks much of the optimization and special optimized software available through the Deepin software store. Often, you get the software versions provided by the distro you are running. The Linux distros offering the Deepin Desktop are Archlinux, Manjaro, Ubuntu, Gentoo, Fedora, Puppy Linux, SparkyLinux, Antergos, Pardus and openSuse. I have reviewed earlier versions of Deepin Linux along with other distros running the Deepin Desktop Environment. This latest version is awesome.

The major Linux distros using Budgie as their DE are Solus and BudgieOS.

Deepin

Budgie

Budgie

Budgie is one of the newer in this list of desktop environments. It was created as the flagship desktop of Solus Linux. Though it is still being developed by Solus team, it’s intuitive and elegant interface made it popular among other distribution users. As a result, you can get Budgie in SUSE and Arch based Linux distributions. Ubuntu also has an official Budgie flavor, unsurprisingly called Ubuntu Budgie. Budgie is based on GNOME. The looks and other Budgie specific changes are managed by Budgie settings while the rest of the settings can be configured by the regular GNOME settings. As far as the system resources are concerned, Budgie is not that resource hungry but it’s not lightweight desktop environment as well. A moderate system with 2-3 GB RAM is sufficient for Budgie.

The major Linux distros using Budgie as their DE are Solus and BudgieOS.

Enlightenment

You needn't worry about Enlightenment being too heavy, It is one of the lightest desktop environments available despite the eye candy. The heaviest element would be if you choose to use compositing, which is unavoidably memory hungry by its very nature. A Con of Enlightenment is a relative lack of third party modules. The long development time of enlightenment has created quite a number of third party modules that are labelled as for Enlightenment but are no longer supported by the final release. Some of those have been unmaintained for years. There may be a need for some form of alias to distinguish modules designed for release. Enlightenment also takes a while to configure to your liking, Some see this as a negative, some enjoy the experience

The major Linux distros using Enlightment as their DE are Bodhi and Puppy Linux.

Enlightenment

Cinnamon

Cinnamon

Cinnamon, a fork of GNOME 3, was initially developed to be and is the default desktop environment for Linux Mint. It is known for its similarities with the Windows user interface which helps the new Linux users from feeling uncomfortable with unfamiliar user interfaces. Cinnamon contains various customizable components like the panel, themes, applets and extensions. The panel, initially across the bottom edge of the screen, is equipped with a main menu, application launchers, list of open windows and the system tray. Cinnamon comes with various basic applications including some forks from GNOME 3.

The major Linux distro using Cinnamon as its DE is Linux Mint.

Windows Clone

When a long time Windows user plans to switch to Linux, he/she generally wants a distro that resembles Windows. This is understandable as switching to Linux from Windows could be overwhelming. If one gets a familiar interface, it becomes a bit easier to navigate. Now the question arises, is there actually any Linux distro like Windows? And the answer is yes, internally, Linux and Windows will never be the same. But there are distros that look like Windows on the outside. While many long time Linux users scorn at the idea of a Linux distribution imitating Windows, making the switch from Windows to Linux is not always easy for everyone. Partially because our computer experience is built on Windows and adapting to Linux. Sometimes people need a tad bit of effort. And if looks could help, why not?

The major Linux distros using the Windows desktop are Lindows, Linspire, and Winux

Windows

Other options

CLI (No desktop or graphics)

Another Choice you have when using Linux is to have no desktop environment at all which is called Command Line Interface (CLI). Commonly known as server editions of Linux. One might choose not to use a desktop environment if you are well versed in the bash commands or other set of commands. Bash can be used to navigate and control the entire operating system without the need for the mouse. Desktop environments can be heavy on a computer and sometimes are unnecessary, and are seen as a vulnerability in servers. Its also good for people who havent figured out which desktop environment to use, so this allows them to decide later. Linux distros that come without a Desktop Environment are Ubuntu Server Edition, CentOS, Arch, and Gentoo.

Less common DE's

There are many other Desktop Environments, some more well known, and some obscure or a fork off of another. Some can imitate or copy other popular non Linux OS's such as Solaris and UNIX or ChromeOS. Some honorable mention DE's not covered are: LXQT, Trinity, Razor-qt and Lumina

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