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Ever since Gnome went ahead with their Gnome Shell idea, the Linux community has been at a frenzy to find a new desktop environment that is right for them. A majority of users used Gnome 2, but the introduction of Gnome 3 attracted a lot of users, forking Gnome 2 into MATE, modifying it with Cinnamon and Unity, or flock completely away from anything Gnome-related to desktop environments such as Xfce XFCE: Your Lightweight, Speedy, Fully-Fledged Linux Desktop XFCE: Your Lightweight, Speedy, Fully-Fledged Linux Desktop As far as Linux goes, customization is king. Not only that, but the customization options are so great it might make your head spin. I have previously mentioned the differences between the major desktop environments... Read More , LXDE Using An Old Computer? Give It New Life With LXDE Using An Old Computer? Give It New Life With LXDE As Linux is arguably the most customizeable operating system between it, Windows, and Mac OS X; there's plenty of room to change just about whatever you please. Proper customizing can potentially lead to massive performance... Read More , or KDE Enjoy A Clean, Improved Desktop With KDE 4.7 [Linux] Enjoy A Clean, Improved Desktop With KDE 4.7 [Linux] One of Linux's most popular desktop environments, KDE, released their latest series (version 4.7) at the end of July. This version improves on work done in previous releases by adding new features while improving performance... Read More .

But the Gnome desktop environment came with a lot of popular software that supported it very well, which still leaves a lot of people trying to find the version of Gnome — MATE, Gnome Shell, Unity, or Cinnamon — that’s appropriate for them. Here’s a quick take at these four to see what the major differences are.

MATE A Review Of MATE - Is It A True Gnome 2 Replica? [Linux] A Review Of MATE - Is It A True Gnome 2 Replica? [Linux] The world of Linux desktop environments has dramatically changed since then. Gnome 3 was born, Gnome 2 was essentially thrown to the side, Gnome 3 was forked to create Cinnamon, and so on. However, Gnome... Read More

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MATE is the continuation of Gnome 2, so if you’ve used Gnome 2 (or are still using a very old distribution to keep it), then MATE will seem extremely familiar. There may be a few applications with different names (Nautilus is called Nemo in MATE), but otherwise everything should be the same. The use of GTK3 is minimal if at all, so you won’t be able to benefit from any of those advancements. But it’s a great desktop environment if you were completely happy with the way things were and just want continued bug fixes. For more information, check out our full article about MATE.

Gnome Shell GNOME 3 Beta - Welcome To Your New Linux Desktop GNOME 3 Beta - Welcome To Your New Linux Desktop Read More

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Gnome Shell is the main desktop component of Gnome 3, which drastically changes how people use their computer. Some important differences is that everything is accessed through the Activities button in the top left corner, including open windows, installed applications, and virtual desktops. Also, applications can but aren’t meant to be minimized, but instead spread across multiple virtual desktops.

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This drastically changes your workflow, and a lot of people claim that it’s highly unintuitive. Gnome Shell also uses Mutter for desktop effects rather than Compiz Enjoy Great Desktop Effects With Compiz Fusion [Linux] Enjoy Great Desktop Effects With Compiz Fusion [Linux] Some people just want to use something that looks really pretty. On the other hand, there are some geeks who want to trick out their systems with the same effects to make a truly interesting... Read More (or whatever else might have actually worked), so mixing the two is impossible. However, Gnome Shell does use GTK3 which offers new visual effects, buttons, and more. If you are a Gnome purist, using Gnome Shell is given. For anyone else, it’s more a matter of if you like it or are able to work with it.

Unity Ubuntu 11.04 Unity - A Big Leap Forward For Linux Ubuntu 11.04 Unity - A Big Leap Forward For Linux It's here. The newest version of Ubuntu sports an entirely new user interface: Unity. It also includes a much-improved Software Center, alongside the usual updates for the thousands of free programs Ubuntu offers. Canonical decided... Read More

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Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Ubuntu 13.04: What's New In Raring Ringtail? [Linux] Ubuntu 13.04: What's New In Raring Ringtail? [Linux] On April 25th, the newest version of one of the most popular Linux distributions was released -- Ubuntu 13.04, codenamed "Raring Ringtail". Unlike previous releases of Ubuntu, 13.04 doesn't bring extraordinary new visual features which... Read More , looked at Gnome Shell’s progress while it was still being developed and disagreed with the way Gnome was doing things. Instead, Canonical created the Unity shell for Ubuntu systems. It runs on the same Gnome 3/GTK3 backbone, but the actual desktop mechanics are different. While you can find all of your applications via the Ubuntu Dash that is also found in the top left corner, it can also do plenty of other things through the use of different “lenses” which add functionality to the Dash. Otherwise, you can see all favorited or open applications along the left-hand panel, as well as minimize to those icons. It arguably presents a more intuitive approach to the desktop, but it still doesn’t stay traditional (no matter if your definition of traditional is Gnome 2 or a Windows-like desktop). People who don’t think that Unity is traditional enough tend to keep away from both Gnome Shell and Unity.

Cinnamon

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If you want to take advantage of the Gnome 3/GTK3 backbone without having to deal with Gnome Shell or Unity, then your best choice is Cinnamon. For a handful of people who still want to stay in the Gnome track and yet use the latest software, this may be their best choice. It lets people still use GTK3 themes as well as Gnome 3’s Control Center, but the desktop is very similar to that of Windows/KDE in that there is a single panel along the bottom of the screen, and a Start Menu-like button at the bottom left corner.

The Cinnamon project was created by the team behind Linux Mint, continuing their mission to fix what they believe are usability issues in Ubuntu. While Cinnamon is the default desktop environment for Linux Mint (with MATE available as well), both Cinnamon and MATE should be available for a large number of other distributions. A quick search in your package manager will tell you if this is the case or not. Just be sure that you’re running the latest release of your distribution to maximize the chances that it is included.

Conclusion

So in the end, there’s absolutely no way in saying which desktop environment is ultimately the best one for you. Each person has his or her own preferences that each of these may or may not cater to. In summary, if you prefer Gnome 2, MATE should be ideal. If you like the Gnome project’s ideas, give Gnome Shell a try. If you like a somewhat more sane and highly support desktop environment, Unity is a good choice. The only downside to Unity is that it’s pretty hard to find outside of Ubuntu itself.

Lastly, if you want to run on new, supported code but don’t want to relearn how to use your desktop, then Cinnamon may be best for you. These are only recommendations, and you’ll only truly know which one is best for you by trying them all out. Unless otherwise mentioned, you should be able to install these desktop environments via your respective package manager. Just to be extra sure, performing a quick Internet search of the desktop environment and your distribution (such as “fedora cinnamon”) should return the answers you need.

Which desktop environment do you use? What do you like about it, or hate about others? Let us know in the comments!

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