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10 best Linux desktop environments

10 best Linux desktop environments

With so many different Linux desktop environments out there, it can be difficult to choose one, especially if you are a beginner or a user who is switching from Windows. If you are not familiar with the concept of a desktop environment, it boils down to a set of libraries, toolkits, modules and applications that make the desktop visible and functional on the screen and allow the user to "communicate" with the system.

A desktop environment includes components such as window manager, icons, toolbars, panel, widgets, wallpapers and screensavers, as well as a set of basic applications (file manager, browser, media player, text editor, image viewer … ). Not such a strange idea; after all, Windows also has a desktop environment. In versions 8 and 8.1 it is called Metro, while Windows 7 had Aero and XP had Luna.

A great thing about Linux that you are not limited to any desktop environment that comes with the distribution you have installed. If you don't like the default DE, just install another – or two, for that matter. But which? Maybe this article can help you decide.

Here is a list of the 10 best Linux desktop environments

1. KDE

KDE one of the oldest desktop environments: the development started in 1996 and the first version was released in 1998. a highly customizable DE based on the Qt framework and many popular Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora and openSUSE, offer it as DE default or as one of the "flavors".

While beginners are often overwhelmed by the amount of options in KDE, a perfect desktop environment for people who want to change everything because KDE makes it possible. There are two branches of KDE currently in development: the 4.x series (first published in 2008) and KDE Plasma 5 and Frameworks 5, released in July last year. Plasma 5 brings many improvements, mainly focused on an optimized visual experience (better launchers, menus and notifications) and usability on different devices.

However, the KDE 4.x series still supported and used by most KDE users. Its main feature is the plasma interface, available in three forms: for desktops, netbooks and tablets. Basically, it shapes the workspace you see when you start KDE, you can add widgets and panels, have multiple desktops, and use the feature called Activity to organize your widgets and apps into groups based on their purpose. For example, you can keep all your social media tools in one activity and switch to it only when you want to use these apps.

KDE offers a lot of applications in its software compilation; probably the best equipment in all desktop environments. Some KDE applications are: Dolphin (file manager), Kate (text editor), Konsole (terminal), Gwenview (image viewer), Krunner (launcher), Okular (document and PDF viewer), Digikam (photo editor) and organizer), KMail (email client), Quassel (IRC client), K3b (DVD burning application) …

Ideal for: expert users, those who want better control of their system, users who love desktop effects and endless customization.


Since its first release in 1999, GNOME has always been seen as the main competitor of KDE. Unlike KDE, GNOME uses the GTK toolkit and its purpose was to provide simplicity and a classic desktop experience without too many options. However, in 2011 a new redesign was introduced in GNOME 3 and the traditional desktop was replaced by GNOME Shell. Many users and developers weren't happy with this, and some even went on to launch GNOME 2 and create entire desktop environments based on it.

Still, GNOME 3 has prevailed, and today as popular as KDE. Nowadays it offers a classic way to satisfy the nostalgic fans of GNOME 2. The GNOME shell is its most distinctive feature and offers a convenient overview of the activities where you can view all the activities, apps and notifications at a glance eye. The Dash the launcher with shortcuts for your apps, but you can also access them from the search box.

GNOME 3 wants to provide a workflow where everything is connected and easily accessible, and some of its features are similar to OS X, so it is aimed at ex-Mac users. Like KDE, it boasts a lot of applications, including Nautilus (file manager), Evince (document and PDF viewer), Gedit (text editor), Eye of Gnome (image viewer), Totem (video player) …

Ideal for: touchscreen devices; users who want to try a non-traditional approach to the desktop, users who switch from OS X.


Basically, MATE resurrected from GNOME 2 – retains the look of the old desktop environment by providing software updates and interface improvements. MATE is also friendly towards old hardware, because it does not require compositing, therefore excellent for low-end computers. was introduced in 2011 as a fork of GNOME 2; in addition to forking the DE base, MATE developers have also forked a number of GNOME applications.

MATE supported by several major Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Debian, Mageia and PCLinuxOS. Applications bundled with MATE are Caja (file manager), Pluma (text editor), Eye of MATE (image viewer), Atril (document viewer) and others. a simple and light DE for users who do not need all the doorbells and whistles of other DE equipped with functionality.

Ideal for: users with old computers, beginners, those looking for a light DE with a traditional approach to the Linux desktop.

4. Trinity

What is MATE for GNOME, Trinity for KDE. a continuation of the KDE 3 series. When KDE 4 was released, it was (probably) rough and unstable enough for everyday use, which left many users unsatisfied. Then Trinity was created; a bifurcable desktop environment compatible with previous hardware and customizable just like the old and good KDE 3.

However, Trinity is not just a "copy" of KDE 3; rather, a standalone desktop environment with features that are not identical to those of KDE. That is, Trinity has no semantic desktop activity with file indexing, PIM and search (the "infamous" Nepomuk-Strigi-Akonadi services that so many KDE users disable as soon as they install KDE). What has an impressive list of applications, some of which are ShowFoto (photo editor and viewer), Konversation (IRC client), Konqueror (file manager and web browser), Kaffeine (media player), KWord (word processor), Cart ( note app), KEdit (text editor) …

Ideal for: users who love the look of KDE 3 and those who are looking for a lighter version of KDE.


XFCE has been present for a long time in the Linux desktop environment scene; in particular, since 1996, and the current version 4.12 from February of this year. a lightweight GTK + 2 based and fully themed DE, with features such as window tiling and Preview mode (similar to Mission Control on OS X). aimed at beginners who want a stable ED that is not complicated to maintain. Customization made possible by useful dialog boxes, but XFCE has always been focused on simplicity.

The default desktop has a panel, dock and some icons, thus providing a familiar interface even to users who have never touched Linux. Like other major desktop environments, XFCE offers its own set of applications: Thunar (file manager), Leafpad (text editor), Parole (media player), Xfburn (DVD burner application), Midori (web browser), Ristretto (viewer images) …

Ideal for: beginners, users with previous hardware and those who want a simple and orderly ED.


LXDE is a super light desktop environment that first appeared in 2006. Today supported by all major distributions and often recommended as the best choice for reviving old computers. LXDE is easy to customize, and its strongest feature is the fact that the applications it provides don't have many dependencies, so they can be installed without problems on any other DE.

In terms of appearance, very traditional and somewhat reminiscent of the Windows XP interface. LXDE has extremely low system requirements and is said to occupy only 50 MB of RAM at startup. It comes bundled with all the applications that an average user may need, some of which are: PCManFM (file manager), GPicView (image viewer), Leafpad (text editor), LXMusic (music player) …

Ideal for: beginners, elderly users, users who switch from Windows and those who have low-end hardware.

7. Lighting

Believe it or not, Enlightenment older than GNOME and KDE – was released in 1997. However, it is not as popular or popular because it has been stuck for a long time. Nowadays, some distributions (particularly Bodhi Linux) ship them as the main DE, but you can install and test them on any distribution, of course.

Lighting focused mainly on visual experience and innovation in the field of graphics. Several surprising features demonstrate this: desktop animations, grouping of windows (allows you to resize, move and close multiple windows at the same time), minimizing windows in icons on the desktop, adding up to 2048 (!!) virtual desktops on 32 possible grids ( each with its own background) and stack the desktops one below the other, then slide them as layers to work on multiple desktops simultaneously. Applications offered by default include, but are not limited to Terminology (terminal), ePad (text editor), Ephoto (image viewer), Epour (torrent client) and Rage (media player).

Ideal for: users who want to try a different DE and anyone interested in customizing the desktop.

8. Cinnamon

Cinnamon was created by Linux Mint developers in 2012 and based on GNOME Shell, but with a different view. The idea was to create a simple desktop environment that looked modern, worked smoothly and would not leave new users confused and frustrated. As a young project, still in development, but it already has many fantastic features and almost all major Linux distributions offer it as one of their tastes.

Cinnamon supports desktop themes and effects and you can add applets (panel widgets) and desktop (desktop widgets) to your workspaces. There is a versatile and customizable menu on the panel, but you can replace it with other applets or extensions. Cinnamon supports handy window management features such as edge tiling and docking and future versions will provide better support for multiple monitors. Some of Cinnamon's applications have been bifurcated by GNOME, in particular by Nemo (file manager).

Ideal for: beginners, users looking for simplicity and ease of use and those who want a light but attractive ED.

9. Unit

Some readers may argue that Unity is not technically a DE, and they would be right, because it was built as a shell for GNOME and doesn't have a range of applications. However, one of Canonical's biggest projects and they call it a desktop environment, which is why it is included in this list. Unity was developed with netbooks and touchscreen devices in mind and aims to optimize screen space, as well as making Ubuntu applications, files and features easily accessible to the user. The first version came out in 2010 and today Unity can be installed on other distributions, like any other DE.

Several features make Unity distinguishable from the rest. It has separate indicators for applications and system functions, a pop-up display for quick search and an entire overlaid search called Dash. Dash contains goals, which are used to send search queries to Scopes and display results. Scopes can search for content on your hard drive or through various services on the Internet, including Google Drive, Github and Wikipedia. By installing lenses and lenses, you can extend Unity's functionality and make it more suitable for your needs.

Ideal for: users who spend a lot of time searching for files or content, as well as those who want a different ED from traditional ones.

10. Pantheon

Pantheon the youngest project on this list. Developed by the elementaryOS team in 2013, surprisingly not a fork of something else, but an independent GTK3-based DE. The Pantheon is often described as similar to OS X and praised for its clean, modern appearance and simplicity. It has a customizable menu, delicate desktop effects and supports multiple workspaces and windows side by side with the grid. Given that it is rather light on system resources, a great choice for users who wish to beautify the old computer with a new DE Linux. Pantheon offers some applications by default: Midori (web browser), Geary (email client), Noise (audio player), Plank (dock), Switchboard (settings manager), Scratch (text editor), Slingshot (launcher) and Pantheon Files (file manager).

Ideal for: beginners, users looking for a light DE and all those who appreciate reactive and uncluttered interfaces.

SEE ALSO: 15 best Linux games for 2015

As you can see, all these desktop environments are very similar by default, so don't forget that you can customize them to a large extent. even possible to make KDE look like Unity or Cinnamon to emulate Windows 7!

And now, besides you, what is your favorite desktop environment for Linux? Tell us in the comments below.