5 Great Linux Desktop Environments You Haven’t Heard Of
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Which Linux operating system do you use? Chances are it has one of the common desktop environments, like GNOME or MATE, or perhaps KDE Plasma. You might even be holding onto Ubuntu’s abandoned Unity desktop What Ubuntu Unity Fans Can Do to Keep Your Favorite Interface What Ubuntu Unity Fans Can Do to Keep Your Favorite Interface Ubuntu's Unity interface is going away. So what's a Unity lover to do? Fortunately, the interface isn't gone forever - Unity lives on, with other ways to create a similar look and feel. Read More .

Although popular, these desktop environments (DE) are just a sample of what’s currently available. Better still, it’s so easy to make the change. Unlike Windows and macOS, you can change the desktop user interface by simply installing a new one. Unhappy with the way your preferred Linux distro looks? You don’t have to switch distros, just switch desktops!

The following five desktop environments (and, to be precise, shells) are under the radar, but definitely worth a look.

1. Lumina

Shipping with TrueOS, the Lumina desktop environment is a feature packed alternative to the traditional desktop. While it has been said to resemble Windows, you’ll find the similarities are superficial. Although there is a Start Menu-esque option, the real difference is that the right-click action launches perhaps the best context menu ever.

Everything you need to control on your computer can be done so from this menu. Lumina lets you launch apps, alter files, run the terminal emulator, tweak preferences, and more. It’s incredibly useful, and is enhanced with an attractive UI design.

Interestingly, Lumina — which can be installed on a number of distros — has no intention of replacing your usual apps. While it ships with a small bundle of utilities, you can keep your preferred web browsers, email clients, multimedia tools, office suites, and so on. No need to migrate data or wait for an email server to sync your messages!

2. Manokwari

Intended as a desktop shell for the Indonesian-developed BlankOn distribution, Manokwari is built on HTML5 What Is HTML5, And How Does It Change The Way I Browse? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is HTML5, And How Does It Change The Way I Browse? [MakeUseOf Explains] Over the past few years, you may have heard the term HTML5 every once in a while. Whether you know anything about web development or not, the concept can be somewhat nebulous and confusing. Obviously,... Read More and GTK+. You may have heard of a project called blankon-panel — Manokwari is the evolution of this and features two hidden side panels.

Across the top, meanwhile, is the typical desktop status bar, with a clock and workspace switcher.

The left-hand panel (accessed by clicking the circle in the top-left) lists your installed applications while the right-hand panel stores system settings, weather information, a media player, and your internet bookmarks. Interestingly, the plan for Manokwari is that it will eventually be wholly HTML5. Perhaps other shell developers will follow this approach?

If you plan on trying out Manokwari, it’s advisable to also install a Linux application dock. This approach seems to work well for a lot of people.

3. Pantheon (Elementary OS)

Do you use an older Linux distribution like Debian or its descendant, Ubuntu? If so, you might have been shocked to see the macOS-inspired styling of Elementary OS. Thanks to the Pantheon desktop, Elementary OS has been stunning the Linux community since it launched Looking For A Beautiful, Easy To Use Linux Distro? Try Elementary OS Luna Looking For A Beautiful, Easy To Use Linux Distro? Try Elementary OS Luna Elementary OS Luna is a lot more than Ubuntu with some tweaks and a nice theme. Here's what to expect. Read More .

Pantheon has inspired many to switch from other operating systems (including Windows Why I Switched From Windows 7 to Elementary OS Luna Why I Switched From Windows 7 to Elementary OS Luna Bye bye, Windows. Hello, Linux! Here's what convinced me that eOS Luna is a better bet than Windows 7. Read More ) and Elementary OS even has its own app center. Here you can find an ever-growing collection of apps 10 Elementary OS AppCenter Apps That'll Make You More Productive 10 Elementary OS AppCenter Apps That'll Make You More Productive Having an app store of its own has really brought Elementary OS to life with a great choice of apps. I use these AppCenter tools to improve my productivity -- perhaps you will too. Read More to suit all needs.

But what about your operating system? Can you use Pantheon as a desktop environment? Yes you can! You’ll need to open the terminal, and add a PPA:

sudo add-apt-repository -y ppa:elementary-os/stable
sudo apt-get update

Once the update has finished, install Pantheon with:

sudo apt-get install elementary-desktop

This should work on Ubuntu 16.04 and Linux Mint 16. It will probably work on your distro, but of course, there are no guarantees at this stage.

With Pantheon installed, your Linux desktop will adopt a striking new look. Passersby, casting casual glances, will be convinced you’re using a Mac. The Mac look, with the freedom of Linux? Can’t complain!

4. Trinity

A complete replacement desktop, the Trinity Desktop Environment (TDE) has “a primary goal of retaining the function and form of traditional desktop computers.” It does this by mimicking Windows, and is quite close to Windows Vista and 7. TDE is a fork of KDE, and is developed by a small team, with the aim of producing an efficient and productive user interface.

Featuring text editors, a file manager, image viewers, office apps, and an archive manager, TDE has a control center to manage user preferences, and a dedicated repository for installing compatible software.

If you’re looking for a distribution with TDE installed, head to the PCLinuxOS website and download the operating system. To get TDE on your system, head to the website and check the wiki page for your corresponding operating system.

5. Budgie

Like Pantheon, the Budgie desktop is stunning and usually ships with the Solus operating system, or Budgie-Remix The Battle of The Budgie Desktops - Budgie-Remix vs SolusOS! The Battle of The Budgie Desktops - Budgie-Remix vs SolusOS! Budgie-Remix and SolusOS are both distros with the Budgie Desktop environment enter. But in comparisons, which is faster, most stable, and has the most software available? Which one should you choose? Read More . It features a main menu with a built-in search tool, evoking memories of Windows 7, and a clean, attractive design.

With the main panel at the foot of the screen (most Linux DEs have the panel across the top), Budgie makes good use of the digital real estate. And that’s really the aim here: to give you as much space as possible on your desktop.

Along with the main menu, notifications can all be controlled from the desktop, via the Raven sidebar. This useful popout panel is another element borrowed from Windows, this time Windows 10’s Notifications panel. Raven includes support for far more useful tools, however, including calendar information, settings, and applets.

What’s Your Favorite Desktop Environment?

There are dozens of Linux desktop environments available. It’s all a matter of finding one that suits your way of working. Perhaps you prefer something Windows-esque, like Trinity, or a user interface that looks good, like Pantheon.

Or you might just be happy with the default desktop environment on your system. Do you use Linux Mint? You’re probably not likely to switch away from Cinnamon. An Ubuntu user might be quite likely to quit Unity, though.

Have you tried any of these five desktop environments? Do you plan to, now you’ve been introduced to them? Tell us what you think!

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  1. Adeii
    October 3, 2017 at 8:31 am

    IceWM :)

  2. dragonmouth
    September 28, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    All Desktop Environments and Window Managers have their proponents and opponents. The BEST one is the one you use most of the time and are most familiar with. Even the most esoteric DE or WM can be the BEST if you are an expert in it.

  3. KenP
    September 26, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    @Dave B.: This excuse about KDE being a resource hog is getting outdated .... seriously. Either you haven't used it for the past few years or used a distribution that loads tons of GTK stuff by default.
    Try either Manjaro KDE edition, Chakra or even something like Nitrux. I used to prefer PCLinuxOS, for example, but it uses GTK-based system config tools and they don't blend in the plasma look and feel besides making the distribution resource-heavy.

  4. KenP
    September 26, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    First paragraph: LDE Plasma? That should be KDE Plasma :)

    Of the 5, Pantheon looks promising but KDE Plasma is doing everything it can, including matching the look and feel.

    • Christian Cawley
      September 28, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      Nice spot, thanks :)

  5. Larry Chase
    September 26, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    Manokwari reminds me of Unity 8.

    It's a shame Canonical abandoned Unity 8, it has just gotten usable.

  6. Heimen Stoffels
    September 26, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Why didn't you mention Q4OS? Q4OS is the main TDE distribution, you know...

    • Christian Cawley
      September 28, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      On balance, I felt we were looking at too many Windows-esque DEs.

      That isn't to say the list may not be expanded in future :)

  7. Earl
    September 26, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    Used XFCE for years, then went to Openbox/Tint2 taskbar and finally IceWM... blazingly fast.

  8. Earl
    September 26, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    I used XFCE for years, then went to the Openbox WM + Tint2 taskbar and have finally settled on the IceWM.... blazingly fast!

  9. Iamroot
    September 26, 2017 at 10:10 am

    Debian buster with gnome 3 works like charm. The firmware iso detected and installed drivers for my Wi-Fi and fingerprint scanner and card reader and printer (connected via usb at the time of installation) like no big deal. And so far 0 crashes.

  10. Dave B.
    September 26, 2017 at 3:47 am

    Years ago, I found I really liked KDE. But then I found Gnome-2 and fell head over heels for it. Gnome switched to Gnome-3 and I was disappointed. Then along came Mate and I was in love all over again. Nothing else comes close to it as the best all-around blend of functionality vs. resource consumption. Mate stays as my default desktop in Mint. If I have an older machine, I may switch to Xfce out of necessity. But I can't see wasting resources on glitz like plasma.

    • barakisbrown
      October 3, 2017 at 3:56 pm

      Have you looked at the latest plasma because it is nice and lean. Not sure where you getting that kde is a resource hog.

  11. Tanmay Chandane
    September 26, 2017 at 2:57 am

    LXQT

  12. elav
    September 26, 2017 at 1:53 am

    Plasma is the best. Sorry folks!!

  13. Dave
    September 26, 2017 at 1:47 am

    I really like NetRunner

  14. Lecar
    September 26, 2017 at 12:54 am

    I use Gnome 3 and to me it is the best. The high left mouse apps opening is extremely easy to me. I had used the Elementary OS with Pantheon once, but I found it a little buggie. But it is the facto, very nice. I had some problems opening Spring Tool Suite there. I usually don't like Windows like DEs, but it is very personal and beside that, this Bugdie seems very nice too.

  15. Abraham
    September 25, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    I use Cinnamon exclusively and love it on Mint 17 and 18.

  16. Zack263
    September 25, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Currently I'm using Zorin 12.2 and Loving It! I even wrote up quick reference directions for installation and post installation steps....

    Zorin 12.2 install Directions here: https://zack263.neocities.org/linux.html

    - and -

    Post install directions here: https://zack263.neocities.org/docs.html

    Hint - Installing gnome-tweak-tools gives you access to cool Zorin color themes.
    I'm using dark blue Zorin themes.

  17. James Zorn
    September 25, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    I love budgie very clean

  18. James Zorn
    September 25, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    I use budgie and I love it

  19. dragonmouth
    September 25, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    To try out a slew of DE, try LinuxBBQ. It claims to provide 70+ DEs.

    "If you’re looking for a distribution with TDE installed, head to the PCLinuxOS website and download the operating system."

    The default desktop in PCLinuxOS is KDE Plasma. To get the Trinity desktop, you have to install PCLinuxOS TDE version specifically.

    "TDE is a fork of KDE"
    Trinity tries to preserve the KDE 3.x environment the same way MATE is trying to preserve the GNOME 2.x environment.

    I have tried Budgie and do not like it.
    I also do not like Plasma, in comparison to KDE 4.x, it takes some control over the desktop away from the user. Unfortunately, most KDE distros are going with Plasma.
    On one PC I use PCLOS TDE and on another PCLOS KDE Plasma.
    I will not use Pantheon because it runs on Ubuntu-based distros.

    but have to use since most KDE distros have gone to it.

    • Christian Cawley
      September 28, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      Nice suggestion, Dragonmouth, thanks.