Best Linux Desktop Environment: 15 Reviewed and Compared

Linux is a versatile and open source kernel system, on top of that, lots of free and customizable OS or distros are being made by various IT firms and community. All those systems provide lots of options and configuration for all type of users. This is the beauty of Linux system. When you install a Linux distro, it comes with a prebuilt desktop environment. There are lots of popular desktop environments available for Linux in the market but choosing the best one, depending on requirement, quite difficult for the newbie. So that makes me create this detailed tutorial on best Linux desktop environment. This tutorial will definitely help both a newbie and advanced user to get the best one for the system. Here I will be only focusing on How to install those Linux desktop environments on Ubuntu.

Resource Link: Best Linux Software: Our Editorial List of Essential Linux Apps

So if you are running Ubuntu Gnome or unity desktop, and want to get the taste of another environment, what should you do? Will you install all the desktop environments one by one? The answer is no. You can try all but one by one. This will save your Linux system and time as well.

Best Linux Desktop Environment


Keeping this thought in mind, I am going to share a list of Best Desktop Environment and shells, which can be installed on different Ubuntu versions through Terminal.

1. GNOME Desktop Environment


Gnome Desktop Environment is one of the best and popular desktop environment in the world of Linux. This desktop environment is under active development and easily integrates with the latest hardware and software. Moreover, Canonical has adopted Gnome for Ubuntu OS as default desktop environment. It also offers a set of Best Gnome Extensions which increases the functionality of the system.

Install Gnome Shell on Ubuntu/Linux Mint

Download Gnome

2. Xfce


Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment, which takes fewer resources, and does not demand hardware acceleration. It’s basically made for a Unix-like distro. Xfce is very fast and user-friendly. This handy desktop environment comes with some unique apps and panel extension, which increases the utility of the system. Install it by the following command.

xfce4 desktop environment install on ubuntu

sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop

To install additional apps and extension, use the following command.

sudo apt-get install xfce4-goodies

To install Xfce 4.12 on Ubuntu 14.04 and 15.04:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:xubuntu-dev/xfce-4.12
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install xfce4

To uninstall PPA:

sudo apt-get install ppa-purge
sudo ppa-purge ppa:xubuntu-dev/xfce-4.12

3. KDE Plasma


After Gnome, KDE Plasma is the most used and customizable desktop environment for Linux. It offers a wide range of options that let the user solve the general task smoothly. Unlike Ubuntu Unity 3D, it demands accelerated hardware for a smooth run.

KDE Plasma On Ubuntu

Download KDE Plasma

4. LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment)


LXDE is an incredibly lightweight Linux desktop environment, which focuses on high performances but using fewer resources. It does not need any hardware acceleration, rather it can be run on a very old machine. It’s very fast, customizable, and takes less memory. Run the following code in Terminal.

LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment)

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install lxde

5. Cinnamon


Cinnamon is a very popular desktop environment. It’s the default Desktop Environment on Linux Mint. This desktop environment is a fork of Gnome shell, thus it demands high hardware acceleration and a 3D environment. This desktop is suitable for those, who just came from windows OS. With the help of extension manager, cinnamon can do lots of productivity task.

Linux Mint Cinnamon

Run the following command to install the latest Cinnamon Desktop on Ubuntu.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:embrosyn/cinnamon
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install cinnamon

To remove Cinnamon from the system, run the command.

sudo apt-get remove cinnamon
sudo apt-get autoremove

6. Pantheon


Pantheon is a lightweight and modular based desktop environment which is used in elementary OS as default DE. The GUI is similar to Apple’s Mac OS. This DE can be installed on any machine running Ubuntu.

Pantheon on Ubuntu

To install Pantheon on latest Ubuntu

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:elementary-os/daily
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:elementary-os/os-patches
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:elementary-os/testing
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mpstark/elementary-tweaks-daily
sudo apt update
sudo apt dist-upgrade
sudo apt install elementary-theme elementary-icon-theme elementary-default-settings elementary-desktop

Ubuntu — 12.04 and up

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:elementary-os/daily
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install elementary-desktop

7. GNOME Flashback (Ubuntu Classic/GNOME Panel)


Gnome Flashback is basic and classic desktop environment, which gives a pure taste of old Ubuntu system. It’s lightweight and fast. Basically, it’s based on early version of the Ubuntu.

Gnome Fallback-Flashback In Ubuntu-Linux Mint

For the latest version of Ubuntu

sudo apt-get install gnome-session-flashback

For Ubuntu 12.04-13.10

sudo apt-get install gnome-panel

or

sudo apt-get install gnome-session-fallback

8. MATE Desktop


Ubuntu MATE is another forked version of Gnome 2. When Gnome 3 created, many users wanted to stay with the old version of Gnome 2. Thus this desktop environment is being made to get the old taste. This DE can be used and best suitable for the old laptop.

MATE Desktop

Install MATE Desktop on Latest Ubuntu. Run the following commands:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-mate-dev/xenial-mate
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install mate-dock-applet

To uninstall and remove Mate Desktop:

sudo apt-get install ppa-purge
sudo ppa-purge ppa:ubuntu-mate-dev/xenial-mate

Install MATE Desktop on Ubuntu 15.10. Run the following commands:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-mate-dev/wily-mate
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install mate-dock-applet

To uninstall and remove Mate Desktop:

sudo apt-get install ppa-purge
sudo ppa-purge ppa:ubuntu-mate-dev/wily-mate

9. Unity 8/Next (Desktop mode)


As it seems that Ubuntu is going to discontinue the development of homemade Unity desktop. But here I will be showing how to install Unity 8 for those who really want to get the taste of this best desktop environment.

Unity 8 desktop environment

Remember this DE is in early stage and under heavy development, thus provides an unstable system and lots of security bug. Use at your own risk.

Ubuntu 16.04 LTS

sudo apt-get install unity8-desktop-session-mir

Add the Stable Phone Overlay PPA

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ci-train-ppa-service/stable-phone-overlay
sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

Ubuntu 14.10 and 15.04

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install unity8-lxc

Ubuntu 12.04 and 14.04

sudo apt-add-repository ppa:unity8-desktop-session-team/unity8-preview-lxc
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install unity8-lxc

For setting up run the following command

sudo unity8-lxc-setup

To remove Unity 8 use this command:

sudo apt-get remove unity8-lxc

10. Budgie


Budgie is a regular and flagship DE made for Solus OS. This DE provides lots of customization like desktop widgets, beautiful themes and icons, dark theme mode, and in-depth features of the panel. Here you can install this desktop environment by the following command into Terminal.

Install Budgie Desktop in Ubuntu

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:budgie-remix/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install budgie-desktop

To remove or purge the PPA

sudo apt-get install ppa-purge
sudo ppa-purge ppa:budgie-remix/ppa

11. Awesome


Awesome is less power hog desktop environment, which gives you a lot of control over the system. To install this environment, just run the following command in Terminal.

awesome_window_manager

sudo apt-get install awesome

12. Qtile


To get highly customized and organized desktop environment, use Qtile. This DE is solely written in Python and does its job nicely. To get it, run the following command:

Qtile

sudo apt-add-repository ppa:tycho-s/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install qtile

13. Razor-qt


This DE is very lightweight and available to install on Ubuntu. Follow the command to install.

Razor-qt

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:razor-qt
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install razorqt

14. i3 Window Manager


i3wm is one of the popular tiling Window Manager which is quite easy to configure, lean and lightweight. It’s not a complete desktop environment rather it provides full functionality to control the windows of the screen. i3wm is available on Ubuntu repositories so you can install easily by running the following command.

i3wm Desktop Environment

sudo apt update
sudo apt install i3

15. Enlightenment Desktop Shell


Enlightenment Desktop Shell provides an amazing and efficient window manager based on Enlightenment Foundation Libraries. It doesn’t only provide window manager but also comes with a complete set of desktop components like a file manager, desktop icons, widgets etc. Enlightenment Desktop Shell covers all the modern devices like small mobile devices, smartphones, multicore desktops etc. You can easily install Enlightenment E22 Desktop in Ubuntu, Linux Mint or any other Ubuntu based distros. Run the following command:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:niko2040/e19
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install enlightenment terminology

Final Thought


Here you must remember that you should not install desktop environments altogether if you do so it will damage your system. Before installing any DE, you must understand the procedure, and how to uninstall or revert back to the earlier system. Many DE version changes often. So if you find any DE listed here is old, then let me know.

What Did You Do?


Did you install any DE from here? Which one did you like most? Share your experiences and suggestions in the comment section.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    • 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.

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