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15 Best Linux Desktop Environments Reviewed and Compared

Linux is a versatile and customizable open source operating system. You can make the Linux distros as per your requirements. Ubuntu is one of the best Linux distros out there, and it comes pre-packed with Ubuntu Gnome, Ubuntu MATE, Ubuntu Cinnamon, etc. There are some other distros that are based on Ubuntu but come with a different Desktop Environment, i.e., Elementary OS, Linux Mint OS, Lubuntu, Kubuntu, and much more.

So, if you are running a default desktop environment and want to get the taste of another desktop, what should you do? Will you install all the desktops 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 Environments


Keeping this in mind, I am going to share a list of the Best Desktop Environments and shells that can be installed on different Ubuntu versions or any other Linux distros through Terminal.

1. GNOME Desktop Environment


The Gnome desktop is used by officially supported Ubuntu Gnome flavor and was developed by the Gnome Project. Gnome Shell is a powerful desktop environment that allows hardware acceleration. This shell has a powerful extension store, which enhances the utility of the desktop. The Gnome shell does not offer any minimized functionality of the window. Instead, it emphasizes an active overview and workspace to manage open windows.

2. Xfce


portable Linux os MX XFCE

Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment that takes fewer resources and does not demand hardware acceleration to run. 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 extensions, which increases the utility of the system.

3. KDE Plasma


KDE Plasma On Ubuntu

After Gnome, KDE Plasma is the most used and customized desktop environment. It’s highly customizable, and the range of options is just incredible. It demands accelerated hardware for a smooth run.

4. LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment)


LXDE is an incredibly lightweight desktop environment that focuses on high performance by using fewer resources. It does not need any hardware acceleration, rather it can be run on a very old machine. It’s very fast, has huge customization, and takes less memory.

5. Cinnamon


Linux Mint Cinnamon Vs MATE

Cinnamon is a very popular desktop environment. It’s the default DE on Linux Mint. This desktop environment comes from a Gnome shell. Thus, it demands high hardware acceleration and a 3D environment. This desktop is helpful to those users who come from Windows OS. With the help of an extension manager, cinnamon can do lots of productivity tasks.

6. Pantheon Desktop


pantheon_interface

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

7. GNOME Flashback (aka Classic GNOME)


Gnome Fallback-Flashback In Ubuntu-Linux Mint

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

Install Classic GNOME Flashback

sudo apt update
sudo apt install gnome-session-flashback

8. MATE Desktop Environment


MATE is a forked version of Gnome 2. When Gnome 3 was created, many users wanted to stay with the old version of Gnome 2. Thus, this desktop environment is being made to fit the old taste. This DE can be used on an old laptop.

Install MATE Desktop Environment

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

9. Unity Desktop Environment 22.04


We all know that Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, discontinued Unity desktop environment development in 2017. But you still have the option to use Unity desktop now. This project is now supported and maintained by a dedicated community. The interface is modern and offers lots of customization.

Install Unity Desktop

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

10. Budgie Desktop Environment


Install Budgie Desktop in Ubuntu

Budgie is a regular and flagship DE made for Solus OS. This DE provides customization of desktop widgets, themes, icon themes, dark theme modes, and in-depth panel features.

11. Enlightenment Desktop – E25


Enlightenment Foundation has developed the Enlightenment Desktop—E25, which provides a complete set of desktop components, including widgets, icons, menus, etc. This desktop shell is used in many modern mobile devices, smartphones, and multi-core desktops and laptops.

12. LXQt – Lightweight Qt Desktop Environment


LXQt is another lightweight Qt-based Linux desktop environment that comes as a result of merging two popular projects – Razor-qt and LXDE. This desktop shell takes fewer resources like xfce and E25, which makes it viable for old machines, but the interface is modern and provides GUI tools to customize the options.

13. Awesome Window Manager


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

sudo apt-get install awesome

14. Sugar Desktop Environment


The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) foundation has developed a Sugar desktop environment based on the Gnome stack. It was made keeping in mind children’s access to education. Thus, it provides a set of settings specially designed for educational purposes. It also helps educational institutions and teachers create and manage students’ profiles that can be maintained remotely.

15. Trinity Desktop Environment


If you like to enjoy a classic-style desktop environment, then the Trinity desktop environment is the right fit for your desktop. it’s developed based on the KDE 3 framework, which provides a set of pre-installed apps. This DE also offers a large set of themes.

Final Thought


Remember not to install too many desktop environments at once, as this can damage your Ubuntu or any Linux system. Before installing any desktop environment, you must understand the procedure and how to uninstall or revert back to an earlier system. Many DE versions change frequently, so if you find any desktop environment listed here is old, then let me know.

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

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.

    • 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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