Pinterest Stumbleupon Whatsapp
Advertisement

Switching to Linux isn’t quite as simple as choosing between a Windows PC, a MacBook, or a Chromebook. You can’t just install something called Linux. It comes in the form of a distribution, of which there are countless ones to pick from. As you’re making your decision, you also have to decide on a desktop environment. This will determine what you see on screen and can have more of an impact on your Linux experience than choosing a distro.

I could list free and open source desktop environments, but if you’re starting from scratch, that’s still a lot to take in. So let’s try this. What kind of computer user are you? Do you leave icons scattered all over your desktop 15 Desktops That Reveal How We Work at MakeUseOf 15 Desktops That Reveal How We Work at MakeUseOf Does your desktop reveal how you work or how you think? Is it clean or cluttered with shortcuts? Here's how the MakeUseOf team uses its Windows, Mac, and Linux desktops. Read More ? Do you prefer to work in one uncluttered full-screen application? Have you installed countless third-party tools to tweak and theme your operating system?

Depending on your answers, some desktop environment are likely to appeal to you more than others. So let’s take a look at which desktop environment best matches your personality.

The Minimalist

You want things simple — some would even say basic. Every extra toolbar or button is a distraction that gets in the way of what you want to do. Interfaces should use basic colors and include only essential buttons. If an application doesn’t have many options or features, that’s fine. You don’t need that extra weight anyway. You don’t put any icons on your desktop, and if the interface doesn’t let you do so, even better!

If this describes you, then you should try Pantheon, the desktop environment used in Elementary OS It's Time to Try Something New: Elementary OS Loki It's Time to Try Something New: Elementary OS Loki Elementary OS isn't your typical Linux distribution. Some would say it isn't a distro at all. But is Elementary really a usable alternative to Windows and macOS as its developers claim? Read More .

This desktop interface takes mere seconds to understand. The menu in the top left launches applications. The dock across the panel holds your favorites and shows what is currently open. The indicators across the top of the screen show you the time, battery life, sound level, and network status. That’s it. Elementary OS offers some of the most integrated and polished default apps you will find on any Linux operating system.

Advertisement

linux desktop environment pantheon

Also consider GNOME. GNOME apps aren’t any more complex than those you will find in Elementary OS. In fact, the default Elementary OS browser and some other pre-installed apps are actually GNOME programs in disguise. GNOME Shell isn’t quite as minimalist as Pantheon, but it’s very close GNOME Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Most Popular Desktops GNOME Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Most Popular Desktops You're interested in Linux, and you've come across "GNOME", an acronym for GNU Network Object Model Environment. GNOME is one of the most popular open source interfaces, but what does that mean? Read More .

There’s a much wider catalog of software designed with GNOME in mind, making this a better route to go if Elementary OS software doesn’t cover all of your needs.

Getting Started

  1. Pantheon is part of the Elementary project. To give it a shot, download Elementary OS. It’s possible to get Pantheon running on other distros such as openSUSE or Arch Linux, but you probably won’t want to do that unless you’ve at least taken the interface for a spin in its native environment.
  2. GNOME is the default desktop environment in Fedora Fedora 25 Has Arrived: Here's What's Changed Fedora 25 Has Arrived: Here's What's Changed Fedora 25 delivers the latest from the GNOME project, but what's the story with the new display server, Wayland? Is the next generation display server really ready for prime time? Read More , and it will soon be the default in Ubuntu What Switching Back to GNOME Means for Ubuntu What Switching Back to GNOME Means for Ubuntu Canonical has announced the end of the Unity desktop. From Ubuntu 18.04, the GNOME desktop will be restored. What does this mean for Ubuntu, and its relationship with Linux users? Read More . That said, you can install GNOME is most Linux distros. openSUSE offers a live CD that defaults to GNOME. If you’re just getting started with Linux, any of these three distros is a great place to dive in.

The Feature Lover

You use Linux because it lets you do anything. Anything you want. With the exception of a few binary blobs in the kernel, you can tinker with any part of the system. Tweak this. Get rid of that. Install this, and do it for free. You enjoy this power, and you can’t stomach the idea of it being limited by your desktop environment.

You should consider KDE Plasma. This desktop environment gives you the tools to create nearly any interface you want KDE Explained: A Look at Linux's Most Configurable Desktop Interface KDE Explained: A Look at Linux's Most Configurable Desktop Interface What does Linux look like? Sometimes, Unity; other times, GNOME. Oftentimes, though, Linux runs KDE. If you're not using the erstwhile K Desktop Environment on your Linux PC, now is the time to change! Read More . Like Windows? Like macOS? Don’t want Unity to go away? You can make KDE Plasma resemble any of these without having to install anything extra or edit a line of code.

Not only is the desktop immensely customizable, so are the applications. KDE software is often packed to the brim with features — enough to send minimalists running! This may make KDE Plasma seem complicated, but that isn’t the case. You might even say that it’s easier to use because you can do so much without having to drop to the command line, or spend time searching around to manipulate deeply buried text files.

Getting Started

  1. KDE Plasma is available via most distros, but some offer a better taste than others 5 Ways to Experience KDE on Linux 5 Ways to Experience KDE on Linux KDE is an increasingly popular desktop environment, but are you getting the most out of it? If you think it's time to maximize your KDE experience, consider these five distributions, Read More . Check out KDE Neon if you want a pure experience straight from the KDE team How to Enjoy the Latest KDE Plasma Releases With KDE Neon How to Enjoy the Latest KDE Plasma Releases With KDE Neon Want a pure KDE experience with updates received as quickly as possible? If so, then you really ought to consider KDE neon. Read More . Kubuntu offers a similar experience but with slower updates and more software included out of the box. Consider openSUSE Tumbleweed if you want to get updates faster than anyone else. And if you only want KDE software, Chakra may be the way to go.

The Mechanic

You don’t want to waste money on a brand new computer when you have one or more than still come on. That old PC can’t run Windows 10, but it can handle Linux just fine. So can the other machine in your office, and the one from the thrift store that you gave your kid 6 Reasons to Start Your Kids Off With Linux 6 Reasons to Start Your Kids Off With Linux Computers, and their operating systems, are not created equal. The OS they use matters, and Linux might be the best one to start them off with. Let's talk about why. Read More . But while Linux can run on old hardware, that doesn’t mean every desktop environment can.

Xfce offers the ideal blend between being pretty enough to look at but simple enough not to require much from your CPU and graphics card 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 . Xfce can make an otherwise slow machine feel downright fast.

The interface is customizable enough that you’re not left wanting for features. This makes Xfce a great option for power users with perfectly modern machines who simply want to eke out as much from their hardware as possible.

LXDE is another option. The overall experience doesn’t feel quite as put together as Xfce, but it’s also a little lighter The Best Lean Linux Desktop Environment: LXDE Vs Xfce Vs MATE The Best Lean Linux Desktop Environment: LXDE Vs Xfce Vs MATE On a fresh Linux installation, there's not much you can do to speed things up, other than look at your choice of desktop environment. Here we look at three options: LXDE, Xfce, and MATE. Read More . When you’re bringing old machines back to life, that slight difference in system requirements can make a big difference.

Getting Started

  1. Xubuntu, a variant of Ubuntu, is one of the most popular ways to try out Xfce (it was the first distro to expose me to Linux). Fedora offers a spin based on Xfce. Most distros will let you download Xfce from their software repositories Which Linux Package Manager (and Distro) Is Right for You? Which Linux Package Manager (and Distro) Is Right for You? A key difference between the main Linux distros is the package manager; the differences are strong enough that it can influence your choice of distro. Let's look at how the various package managers work. Read More .
  2. Same as above. You can check out Lubuntu or grab Fedora’s LXDE spin. Or feel free to download LXDE for any distro you’re already using.

The Curmudgeon

You don’t like change, and you’ve embraced it. You’ve spent years learning how your computer works, and there isn’t any good reason to figure out something else. You see no reason why switching to Linux should mean having to throw away everything you know about using a computer. After all, it wasn’t the Start menu or dock that finally made you give up Windows or macOS.

Windows expats may find that Cinnamon offers the experience that feels most like home Spice Up Your Cinnamon Themes – It's Easy! Spice Up Your Cinnamon Themes – It's Easy! Ever wanted to customize your Linux desktop, but just couldn't find that one perfect theme? If Cinnamon is your current desktop environment, creating your own theme is easy to learn. Read More . A panel goes along the bottom of the screen, a task manager lists your open windows, and notifications go in the bottom right. The application launcher in the bottom left isn’t a copy and paste replica of Windows, but that menu changes in each new version of Microsoft’s OS as well. XP users may find Cinnamon’s menu more approachable than Windows 10.

Elementary OS’ Pantheon interface resembles macOS at first glance. There’s a dock at the bottom, and the developers place a heavy emphasis on giving every app a consistent design. If you like Apple’s attention to detail, Elementary OS (see above) may be the Linux community you’re looking for.

Getting Started

  1. Cinnamon is the default desktop environment for Linux Mint, which is considered one of the best distros for newcomers Linux Mint vs Ubuntu: Which Distro Should You Choose? Linux Mint vs Ubuntu: Which Distro Should You Choose? Linux Mint and Ubuntu are two of the most popular Linux distros, but there are real differences between the two. Which one is right for you? Read More . Other distros also let you install Cinnamon as an alternate desktop environment.
  2. The best place to check out Pantheon is Elementary OS, though you can install it in some other distros.

The Terminal Junkie

You don’t see a point to most graphical user interfaces. They only slow you down! But as tempting as living in the command would be, it’s not the best way to browse the web. As much as you hate to admit it, you need a window manager.

Try Awesome Window Manager or xmonad. I’m not going to designate one as any better than the other. Both are tiling window managers for only the most hardcore of Linux users.

linux desktop environment awesome window manager
Image Credit: Awesome Window Manager via Awesomewm.org

Want to look like that TV character sitting in front of three monitors all covered with text moving at different speeds? Either one will make that happen. Go forth and enjoy swapping between six terminal sessions and one open window of Firefox without even the faintest semblance of lag.

Getting Started

  1. If you’re considering Awesome Window Manager, you already know how to install a desktop environment or window manager through a terminal. Find out how your distro bundles or names the software and have fun.
  2. Ditto for xmonad.

Which Desktop Environment Is Right for You?

I’m a minimalist. I don’t want my desktop environment to do all that much, nor do I want an overabundance of features in my apps. The more I can tinker with, the more I will tinker, and the less time I will spend doing the task that’s more important.

But I do understand how frustrating it can be when my interface has a quirk or lacks a feature that I can’t quite ignore. At that point, KDE Plasma starts to look a lot more appealing.

What desktop environment appeals to you? If you’re already a Linux user, which one do you have installed? Which one did you start with? We all have difference preferences and journeys. By all means, share yours!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Belladonna
    June 6, 2017 at 6:14 am

    Kudos for describing the different Linux user personalities so well! I must say, looking at the circle of users around me that you're pretty spot on. And I'm afraid I myself also fit the bill - with every distro I try, I always feel drawn to load Xfce on top. Ah well...

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      June 6, 2017 at 1:56 pm

      Haha, I'm glad you had fun with this! I had fun writing it.

  2. Purplewelshy
    May 20, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    I have tried version after version after version and I always end back at Linux Studio.

  3. jymm
    May 20, 2017 at 10:32 am

    I love and use the Mate desktop. Not sure what "personality " that means? I do know it is as light as XFCE or LXDE and to me more configurable. I was a fan of Gnome until the screwed that up. I also tried Cinnamon, but it crashed way to often. That was a while ago, maybe they have fixed the problem by now. I am happy though Linux gives you multiple choices.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      May 22, 2017 at 4:51 pm

      Mate is pretty Curmudgeon-y. Its original reason for existing was to provide a modern GNOME 2 experience for people who were perfectly happy with GNOME 2. It's not quite as lightweight as Xfce or LXDE, because back before GNOME 3 came out, we still considered those two desktops as lighter alternatives.

      • jymm
        May 23, 2017 at 1:56 pm

        curmudgeon - noun - a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man.

        I could not disagree more with you. Mate is polished, easy to use and highly configurable. It may not be quite as light, but I have never noticed a big difference and I have run all three both as an install and from USB's. It does not crash all the time like Cinnamon. it is much lighter than KDE. Much easier to configure than XFCE and more configurable than LXDE. As a matter or fact Black Lab Linux is switching from Gnome 3 to Mate as its default desktop. Then again, we are all entitled to our own opinion, so we can agree to disagree on desktops. Options is one reason I love Linux.

        • Bertel King, Jr.
          May 23, 2017 at 3:39 pm

          Another definition, from Wiktionary: "An ill-tempered (and frequently old) person full of stubborn ideas or opinions."

          The emphasis as far as this post is concerned is on "stubborn ideas or opinions." Mate began as a continuation of GNOME 2 because the developers felt there was no reason to give GNOME 2 a complete redesign. People who use Mate now are using an experience that is very similar to what GNOME looked like a decade ago. There's a decent chance Mate will still look pretty similar a decade from now, just like Xfce hasn't changed all that much either. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but for the sake of a light-hearted post, that does sound pretty curmudgeony to me. :)

          All that aside, Mate is a very popular desktop environment, and that's a good thing! I'm glad to see the project meet people's needs.

      • ganastor
        June 1, 2017 at 1:09 pm

        "Mate began as a continuation of GNOME 2 because the developers felt there was no reason to give GNOME 2 a complete redesign"

        No, it did not, if you've ever read anything that Wimpy has written, or spoken about in podcasts. It began as a desktop for his family to fill in the gaps they wanted which no other desktop provided.

        • Bertel King, Jr.
          June 1, 2017 at 1:25 pm

          You're right, I haven't followed anything that Wimpy has written or said. I've never personally been interested in Mate, as I wasn't a big fan of GNOME 2.

          That aside, what you and I have both said aren't mutually exclusive. Mate is a fork of GNOME 2 that came after the release of GNOME 3. Mate developers and users alike felt that GNOME 2 was the better desktop for them and their families, so they stuck with it.

          Things have changed now, where many new Mate users will have never used GNOME 2, but things were different back when the fork first happened.

          Here's additional background for anyone reading this: https://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=OTgxMA

  4. Amine
    May 20, 2017 at 1:57 am

    I tried several distros, from ubuntu with several DE but i always come back to cinnamon and linuxmint for stability and some nice features
    I loved kde but isn't a out of box option and somehow things get buggy by time but i'm still impressed with the progress they made so far and a short time
    So for now cinnamon and linuxmint is my choice and maybe i'll give gnome ( when ubuntu 18.4 comes) or kde plasma another try soon.

    • Kevin
      May 20, 2017 at 5:19 am

      I just dropped Mint today after 7 years. The latest version, with 4.10 kernel and Cinnamon is a disaster. I reinstalled three times, tweaked xserver configs and nothing works with my NVidia and Intwl combo that hasn't been an issue for the last five years.

      Fedora KDE Plasma screamed on initial install, no issues. I work with thousands of RHEL servers, so Fedora makes sense for me anyway.

  5. Nick Olson
    May 19, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    I use to use Xfce, but switched to Solus and Budgie about a year ago. Budgie has to be one of the best in my opinion.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      May 22, 2017 at 4:54 pm

      Thanks for giving Budgie a mention. The Solus team really is doing great work.

  6. Glen
    May 19, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    I've tried several and Linux Mint Serena version is by far the best for me; every other distro I tried all had annoying issues. For an older computer with limited RAM I used Lubuntu...works great.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      May 19, 2017 at 7:53 pm

      Glad you know which Linux distro works for you! Judging by comments on other posts, you're not alone in loving Linux Mint.

    • Chuck Boyle
      May 19, 2017 at 10:09 pm

      I use Lubuntu on an older computer too. And I also use Mint/Cinnamon on my main PC. Like many others I dual-boot with Windows. It's hard going back and forth from Windows to some Linux desktops, especially Unity, because they can be upside-down and backwards. Or maybe it's Windows. LXDE and Cinnamon make the dual-boot changeover easy.

  7. NFAK
    May 19, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    My biggest absolute requirement. In Windows, I park the TaskBar (aka Start Menu) on the desktop's left border, at max width, so that I get the least-truncated view of window titles. And I set the TaskBar to AutoHide, so that it obscures nothing when I don't need it -- to see it, I only need to non-fussily "slam" my mouse pointer agtainst the left.
    Which Linux desktop(s) would let me work like this, preferably withou a lot of kludgeing, installing add-ons, scripting, etc.?

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      May 19, 2017 at 7:51 pm

      KDE and Xfce both let you do this. If you don't mind using a dock instead, Unity defaults to a panel on the left that you can auto-hide. GNOME also has a left dock that, with one easily installed add-on, you can get to behave the way you want.

      Hope this helps!

      • NFAK
        May 20, 2017 at 3:23 pm

        Bertel, MikeF, thx for the tips. Bertel, not sure what you mean by "using a dock INSTEAD" -- I read the Wikipedia article on Unity, and didn't see how it's dock is any different from what I'm looking for. "Launcher – a dock that also serves as a window switcher" (which links to the Taskbar article).
        Also, what's the name of the add-on for GNOME which you mentioned?

        • Bertel King, Jr.
          May 21, 2017 at 1:41 am

          You described stretching our your taskbar so that the full title appears. Unity's launcher doesn't show titles, only icons. But I'm glad this still works for you!

          The GNOME add-on is called Dash to Dock. Here's the link: https://extensions.gnome.org/extension/307/dash-to-dock/

    • Mike F
      May 19, 2017 at 8:07 pm

      Cinnamon can do that, too. I think most desktop environments can at this point.

    • Lar
      May 22, 2017 at 10:23 pm

      Try Zorin OS, a Ubuntu-based OS that is probably the best for the "Windows" experience.