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Best Linux Desktop Environment: 16 Reviewed and Compared

The world of Linux Desktop Environments is vast and ever-evolving. With so many options available, it can be difficult to decide which one is right for you. Whether you need a lightweight and efficient environment for business purposes, want the best gaming experience possible, or require an environment with high levels of privacy and security, there’s a Linux Desktop Environment out there for everyone.

Another thing to note is that installing a distro comes with a desktop environment already set up. However, so many popular desktop environments are available that it might be difficult for someone new to choose which one fits their needs best. With that in mind, I created this comprehensive guide on the best Linux desktop environments. Regardless of your level of expertise, this tutorial will help you find the perfect one for your needs.

Best Linux Desktop Environments


There are lots of different Linux desktop environments available, and it can be difficult to choose between them. To make your life a bit easier, I created this list of the best Linux desktop environments based on their features, performance, and usability. Here are my top picks:

1. GNOME Desktop Environment


Install Gnome Shell on Ubuntu/Linux Mint

If you’re looking for the absolute best Linux desktop environment, look no further than GNOME. It’s slick, stylish, and has many features that can help make your life easier. Plus, it’s highly customizable, with plenty of options to tweak to make it truly unique.

Best of all, it’s free and open source — perfect for anyone who wants to customize their Linux experience without breaking the bank. It comes with lots of Gnome extensions and Gnome themes which you can further customize your desktop. Some of the best Gnome-based distros are Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, Pop!_OS, etc.

Pros:

  • Feature-rich with lots of customization options
  • Highly secure and stable
  • Sleek, modern design
  • Best choice for business and enterprise users
  • Very easy to use

Cons:

  • Not as lightweight as some other desktop environments, so it can be sluggish on older hardware
  • Not the best choice for gaming or multimedia-rich applications
  • Not suitable for a multi-screen monitor

2. Xfce


portable Linux os MX XFCE

Xfce is an incredibly lightweight Linux desktop environment that’s perfect for anyone looking for a fast and efficient experience with minimal resources needed. It also offers plenty of customization options, with Xfce themes to give your desktop an extra personal touch. Best of all, it’s highly stable and secure, making it a great choice for business users. Popular Xfce-based distros are Xubuntu, Manjaro, Linux Mint XFCE Edition, etc.

Pros:

  • Highly efficient and lightweight
  • Great performance on older hardware
  • Lots of customization options
  • Best choice for a multi-screen monitor
  • Highly secure and stable

Cons:

  • Not as modern or sleek looking as some alternatives
  • Not the best choice for gaming or multimedia-rich applications
  • Can be difficult to find many Xfce themes and extensions compared to Gnome

3. KDE Plasma


KDE Plasma On Ubuntu

KDE Plasma is the next best Linux desktop environment on this list, and it’s definitely a great choice for those looking for a sophisticated experience. It’s designed to be highly customizable and user-friendly, with lots of options that allow you to tweak every aspect of your desktop.

Best of all, it’s incredibly stable and secure, so you can be sure that whatever you do on your Linux machine will remain safe. Popular KDE Plasma-based distros are Kubuntu, OpenSUSE, and PCLinuxOS.

Pros:

  • Modern and sleek design
  • Highly customizable
  • Stable and secure
  • Best choice for gaming or multimedia-rich applications

Cons:

  • Not as lightweight as some other desktop environments, so it can be sluggish on older hardware
  • Can be difficult to find many KDE themes and extensions/widgets compared to Gnome

4. LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment)


LXDE is a Linux Desktop Environment that’s perfect for users who are looking for a lightweight yet customizable desktop environment. It doesn’t require much power or resources to run, and it has the same basic features as its heavyweight competitors, with the added benefit of being able to customize it however you wish.

It’s free and open source, so you don’t have to worry about paying a dime for the ultimate Linux desktop experience. Best of all, this Linux Desktop Environment is designed to be beginner-friendly, making it ideal for those who are just getting started with Linux. So if you’re looking for an easy way to get into the Linux world, LXDE is definitely one of the best choices around.

Pros:

  • Low system requirements
  • Highly customizable
  • Easy to use and beginner friendly
  • Free and open source

Cons:

  • Not as feature-rich as some of the other desktops on this list
  • Not as many third-party applications are available
  • Not as modern looking or sleek as some of the more popular desktops
  • Can be difficult to find many LXDE themes compared to Gnome

Overall, LXDE is a great choice if you’re looking for an easy-to-use and lightweight Linux desktop environment. It has just enough features to get you started without overwhelming you with too many options while still being highly customizable.

5. Cinnamon


Linux Mint Cinnamon Vs MATE

Cinnamon is one of the Best Linux Desktop Environments. It’s a modern, sleek desktop environment perfect for those who want something familiar and easy to use. Plus, it has some great features like support for multiple workspaces, customizable hotkeys, and its own app store. Best of all? It’s free! So if you’re looking for something like a Windows alternative, Cinnamon is definitely a top contender.

Moreover, Cinnamon comes with its own theme engine, which means you can customize it to look exactly the way you want. There are lots of third-party cinnamon themes available, so you can really make your desktop look unique. From its modern design to its many features, Cinnamon is definitely one of the Best Linux Desktop Environments.

Pros:

  • Modern design
  • Customizable themes
  • Multiple workspaces
  • Free and open source

Cons:

  • Not as many customization options as some other desktops.
  • The default app store is limited in scope.

So, if you’re looking for the Best Linux Desktop Environment with a modern look, lots of features, and plenty of customization options, Cinnamon is definitely worth considering. With its intuitive design and powerful tools, you’ll be able to get things done quickly and efficiently. What more could you ask for!? Give it a try—you won’t be disappointed!

6. Pantheon Desktop


pantheon_interface

Pantheon desktop from Elementary OS is another minimalist Linux desktop environment that can be a good choice if you are looking for an aesthetically pleasing and simple Linux experience. It is built on GTK+ 3 and has many features, such as an integrated window manager, file manager, and other useful applications.

Pantheon also offers a clean and easy-to-use interface with minimal distractions. This Linux desktop environment is great for those who want an aesthetic feel and don’t need the bells and whistles of more complex environments.

Pros:

  • Clean and elegant interface
  • Integrated file manager, window manager, and other applications
  • macOS like interface

Cons:

  • Not as feature-rich as some of the more complex Linux desktop environments
  • Can be resource intensive
  • Limited support for third-party applications and software

Pantheon is a great choice for those who want a macOS-like environment without too many distractions. Best of all, it is free and open source! With its minimalistic design and appealing look, Pantheon should definitely be on your list of best Linux desktop environments to try out.

7. GNOME Flashback (aka Classic GNOME)


Gnome Fallback-Flashback In Ubuntu-Linux Mint

GNOME Flashback, also known as classic GNOME, is a fork of the older GNOME 3 shell that uses the layouts and principles of earlier GNOME 2. It has been designed to be very fast and takes minimal CPU and system resources. Hence it is ideal for older hardware, which can sometimes date back decades.

Best of all, it is still updated and maintained by the GNOME project. If you are looking for a Linux desktop environment that runs quickly but includes some of the most essential features, then GNOME Flashback might just be what you are looking for!

Pros:

  • Fast and light
  • Low RAM usage
  • Continuously maintained by GNOME
  • Uses the classic GNOME 2 layout and principles

Cons:

  • Not as feature-rich as a modern Linux desktop environment
  • Lack of customization options compared to modern DEs like KDE Plasma or Xfce

Install Classic GNOME Flashback

sudo apt update
sudo apt install gnome-session-flashback

8. MATE Desktop Environment


MATE Desktop Environment is a fork of the long-defunct GNOME 2, making it one of the oldest Linux desktop environments around. It was originally developed to make sure that Linux users who preferred older versions of GNOME would not have to switch to the newer GNOME 3 version.

In spite of its age, MATE still works great and is very stable. It also includes many of the features that were missing from GNOME 3, such as a panel, classic menus, and more. It is still compatible with many third-party Mate themes, so you can tailor it to your own taste.

Pros:

  • Extremely stable
  • Very stable and well maintained
  • Includes all essential GNOME 2 features
  • Easy-to-use interface
  • Lightweight & low memory usage

Cons:

  • Not as feature-rich or customizable as more modern desktop environments
  • Older versions may not be compatible with newer Linux distributions

Mate Desktop Environment is a great choice for those who want a stable and reliable Linux desktop environment that doesn’t require too many resources. Best of all, it’s still updated regularly by its developers, so you can stay up-to-date with the latest features. Give it a try and see if it’s right for you!

Install MATE Desktop Environment

sudo apt install mate-desktop-environment
sudo apt install mate-desktop-environment-extras

9. Unity Desktop Environment 22.04


Unity desktop environment is one of the best Linux desktop environments out there. Although it was discontinued in 2017, many users still prefer it due to its user-friendly interface and highly customizable features. Canonical, the team behind Ubuntu, originally developed the Unity desktop environment. It is now a community-maintained project. Just like GNOME, Unity is a graphical shell that sits on top of the GNOME desktop environment.

Install Unity Desktop

sudo apt update
sudo apt install ubuntu-unity-desktop -y

10. Budgie Desktop Environment


Install Budgie Desktop in Ubuntu

The Budgie Desktop Environment is a lightweight, modern desktop environment designed to integrate well with the GNOME stack. It offers a clean and elegant user interface with intuitive features like multiple desktops, system tray icons, taskbar, and window list applets.

Best of all, it is highly customizable and has many themes you can choose from. Some of the best Budgie-based distros are Solus, Ubuntu Budgie, and Arch Linux with the Budgie desktop. If you are looking for a modern, minimalistic Linux desktop environment that looks good and runs smoothly, then Budgie is definitely worth checking out.

11. Enlightenment Desktop – E25


The Enlightenment Desktop Shell is based on the efficient window manager provided by the Enlightenment Foundation Libraries. It has a set of desktop components, including a file manager, widgets, and desktop icons. The shell also provides support for modern devices such as small mobile devices, smartphones, and multicore desktops.

Enlightenment Desktop is a menu and icon-driven desktop that comes with its own set of applications. With the help of an external display manager, it can be transformed into a productive desktop environment.

12. LXQt – Lightweight Qt Desktop Environment


LXQt is a lightweight Qt-based desktop environment. It is the result of merging two popular projects: LXDE and Razor-qt. Its main features are low memory usage and fast performance, making it suitable for resource-constrained systems such as netbooks or computers with old hardware.

Its user interface is modern and easy to use, and its graphical configuration tools are well-designed. Best of all, LXQt is supported by a wide variety of distributions, including Ubuntu and Fedora.

13. Deepin – macOS-like Desktop Environment


deepin

Deepin is a macOS-like desktop environment developed by the China-based Deepin Technology Co. Ltd. It is based on Debian and uses its own custom desktop shell called DDE (Deepin Desktop Environment). The environment has been praised for its modern design, easy-to-use interface, and wide range of customization options, including themes, wallpapers, and icons.

Best of all, it is highly secure and includes a sandboxed app store to minimize the risk of malicious software. Deepin also comes with its own suite of custom applications, including a music player, video player, file manager, and more. For users who are looking for an aesthetically pleasing Linux desktop experience, Deepin definitely won’t disappoint.

14. Sugar Desktop Environment


Sugar is a desktop environment based on the GNOME stack and developed by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). It was designed for use specifically in educational settings, with an emphasis on making computing accessible to children.

Best of all, Sugar makes it easy for teachers to create student profiles and manage multiple users from one computer. If you want to use Linux in a classroom setting or just want to give your kids a fun and educational user experience, then Sugar is definitely worth checking out.

15. Trinity Desktop Environment


The Trinity Desktop Environment is based on the KDE 3 framework and provides a classic-style desktop with many useful features. Best of all, it is highly configurable and comes with its own set of applications, including an email client, web browser, file manager, text editor, media player, and more.

Additionally, users can benefit from a large selection of themes and plugins. Trinity Desktop Environment is available for use with various Linux distributions, BSD, and DilOS.

If you’re looking for a lightweight yet powerful desktop environment, then Trinity is definitely worth checking out.

16. Create Your Own Desktop using a Window Manager


You don’t need to use a Lightweight desktop environment to have a light desktop. You can install any window manager you want and add other tools or software later on to get the perfect custom setup for your needs.

For example, if you prefer a minimalistic and lightweight setup, then you can choose from popular window managers such as Openbox, Fluxbox, or xmonad. dwm is a C-written, simple dynamic window manager for X display servers.

On the contrary, i3 is a customization-heavy tiling window manager for BSD and Linux that prioritizes power users and programmers; it was written with these user types in mind, and its documentation reflects that.

There are many other window managers available for Linux, so whatever your desktop needs are, you can create the best Linux Desktop Environment for yourself. Go ahead and make your own unique workspace!

FAQ


Q: What is the Best Linux Desktop Environment?

A: The best Linux desktop environment depends on your needs and preferences. Popular options include GNOME, KDE Plasma, Xfce, LXQt, Deepin, Sugar, and Trinity. You can also create your own custom desktop with a window manager if you prefer.

Q: What is a window manager?

A: A window manager is an application responsible for the management of windows and graphical user interface (GUI) elements within a desktop environment. Popular options include Openbox, Fluxbox, xmonad, dwm, and i3. Window managers allow users to customize their desktops according to their needs and preferences.

Q: What is the easiest Linux Desktop Environment to use?

A: The easiest Linux desktop environment to use depends on your needs and preferences. Popular options that are generally easy to use include GNOME, KDE Plasma, Xfce, and LXQt. Deepin can also be a great option for those who prefer a modern design and aesthetic. If you’re looking for a more customizable experience, then you can also create your own desktop with a window manager.

Q: Which Linux Desktop Environment is the most lightweight?

A: Depending on your needs, Xfce or LXQt can be great options for a lightweight desktop environment. However, you can also create a custom setup with any window manager if you want to use an even more lightweight setup. Popular options include Openbox, Fluxbox, xmonad, dwm, and i3. Whichever you choose, you can create the Best Linux Desktop Environment for your needs!

Final Thought


All in all, there are plenty of great Linux desktop environments to choose from. Depending on your needs, you can pick one that best suits your requirements. Whether it be a lightweight, modern environment or a feature-rich classic desktop, you’ll find something to suit your needs.

If you are looking for something lightweight, go with LXQt or Xfce. For a modern experience, try GNOME or Enlightenment Desktop shell. And if you want something macOS-like but with better security features, then Deepin or Pantheon Desktop is the way to go.

So what do you think? Which of these best Linux desktop environments is right for you? No matter which one you choose, you can be sure that Linux is full of great options for customizing your desktop experience. Best of luck finding the perfect Linux desktop environment for you!

Mehedi Hasan
Mehedi Hasan
Mehedi Hasan is a passionate enthusiast for technology. He admires all things tech and loves to help others understand the fundamentals of Linux, servers, networking, and computer security in an understandable way without overwhelming beginners. His articles are carefully crafted with this goal in mind - making complex topics more accessible.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Mehedi Hasan,

    Is it possible for me to use this article for my Youtube Video? I will provide proper attribution.
    I want to use the text/paragraphs you have written here for the Youtube video. My plan is to add some videos of the Desktop environment around it. And maybe narrate the text. I would really appreciate it if you could allow this. If you wish, you could also put the Youtube video on this article (for people who prefer a visuals rather than text)

    Thank you

  2. I am very new to linux and desktops.
    Just got lubuntu 20.04 installed and added some applications which are in the menu.
    What will happen to these menu entries when I install a different desktop?

    • It depends on how you installed them. If you used apt-get, Discover, or various other software management systems, the applications will probably be in the menu for the new desktop environment. However, if you installed from a tarball, built the binary yourself, or just downloaded it and plopped it into your home folder, you’ll probably have to add a launcher for that program to your menu. It’s usually not difficult, and your chosen desktop environment likely has a way to easily accomplish this.

  3. OpenStep (GNUStep) is cool and very retro for those, like me, that some time ago used a NeXT computer… It has a lot of things that are need but is cool if you want to remember one of the good works at Job’s NeXT Computers company.

  4. “After Gnome, KDE Plasma is the most used and customizable desktop environment…”

    LOL KDE is waaaay more customizable than Gnome anymore.

  5. Gents,

    Please suggest an up-to-date desktop environment for a PowerPC? (an old G5 mac running on IBM processor)

    I tried Lubuntu 16.04, but:

    a) it lacks the latest firefox and
    b) could not upgrade to Lubuntu 18.04 or later version.

    Could you help me please to upgrade to 18.04 or 18.10?

  6. Wayland will come how much you try to resist it will replace X11. I refuse to use this old shit. You X11 lovers can use Cinnamon, Pantheon, Deepin,Xfce and the others.I dö not take them seriously. Most distros seems to like X11 so I have hard to find a distro I like.

  7. Don’t care much for Gnome these days and Pantheon isn’t all that different from Gnome. Both seem to want to be MacOS and Pantheon just takes it a step further. I appreciate what they are doing, it’s just not for me. KDE Plasma, Deepin, Budgie and Xfce I like a lot. Xfce is probably more customizable than Plasma and distributions like Modicia O.S. and MakuluLinux Core and Flash have variants of Xfce that almost qualify as brand new desktop environments in their own right. MX-Linux uses Xfce to great effect.

  8. Beryl/Compiz on AIGLX/Xgl what you remember?
    Released ~2006, RH to Fedora iirc dates around 2003. Desktop Cube, Transparency, all that clickibunti.
    Metacity is old enough but wasn’t an eyecatcher, and I remember QNX had a quite nice DE by the time, called Photon.

  9. Perhaps I have a false memory, but I seem to remember another DE I liked a lot back when Redhat branched off to Fedora. I had it installed on my sister’s old computer (back when I was too broke to own my own machine living under her roof) and she was terrified of anything Linux preferring to stick with windows despite it’s ultimate suckability so she deleted it, reinstalled just windows and my RH/Fedora experiment vanished.
    I don’t remember the name nor the exact dates, but man, it was great for the time.

  10. Dear Mehedi Hasan,
    did You really try out what You propose?
    I did, in fact, dare to install KDE Plasma desktop environment as You propose, alongside Cinnamon and MATE desktop environments for my Linux Mint 18.3 Cinnamon installation, and when I decided to follow Your instructions for uninstalling the KDE Plasma environment… it uninstalled almost all applications (including VLC, TXM, master pdf editor: they are not specifically KDE applications)!!!!!!!
    Please take care of what You post…

    • Installation via PPA is always risky. Users must know and understand what they are doing and how to revert back to default setting. But as you have pointed out that installing and removing KDE Plasma makes the system vulnerable, so I have removed the PPA and provided the official download page. Other PPAs are not harmful to the system so far I have tested but still if you find anything that damages the system, let me know, I will correct the content as soon as possible.

  11. Thanks but you forgot several, ones as Trinity -TDE- (old KDE 3 based), Openbox, JWMs LXQT (Fusion between LXDE and Razor qt) Kylin, and Deepin.

    Also a short video for further versions of this article, that can help a lot to show any newbe the elections he or she has would be nice (even id they are from other authors)

    An last but not least a default install memory use, recommended RAM, and some other benchmarks, in a table would be nice.

  12. Very good post! But please add photos for all the DE presented here. Only the screen shots can help me decide whether to install one of them or not.

  13. Hi it’s awesome work here dude!! but when i installed pantheon desktop on my laptop. After logging out/restart lightdm didn’t give me option to log in to pantheon. what it does, it just mix both unity and pantheon. where did i go wrong ?

    • Hellow Waqar, glad that you like the tutorial. Pantheon is nice looking desktop environment but comes with some issue when you go for installing it on latest Ubuntu version. You can see this Link https://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1918649 for more information of fixing the issue. If it does not solve the problem, it’s always better to open an issue ticket on Ubuntu official forum. There are many enthusiastic Linux lover, who is ready to help you for any issue. I hope this will help you.

  14. I like to see Awesome in the list. But Awesome is a window manager and not a desktop environment.

    • Thanks for the comment. Yes you are very correct, it is a window manager but also considered as lightweight Desktop Environment. Many task can be done like other Desktop environment. Basically it makes an unique tilling window interface for perfoming the specific job.

Comments are closed.

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