How does Linux look and feel? That’s a tricky question to answer. Unlike Windows and Mac, there isn’t one version of Linux that all users see.
What appears on your screen depends on which interface you’re using. And these days, you might be seeing more and more of the Budgie desktop.
What Is Budgie? A Desktop Environment
On certain Linux desktops, Budgie is most of what you see on your screen: the panel across the top or bottom, the icons that represent your open apps, the time and system indicators visible in the corner, the wallpaper in the background.
Budgie is the entire desktop environment.
A desktop environment manages what you see and how you interact with your computer. But it can’t work alone. Budgie cannot communicate with your computer’s hardware. For that, your desktop environment needs help. The keys you press and the mouse you click determine what happens on-screen thanks to the Linux kernel.
If you’re coming from a commercial desktop, you haven’t had to think about your desktop environment before. That’s because on Windows and Mac, there’s only one. On Linux, there are many desktop environments. Most of them have been around for quite a while, but part of what makes Budgie exciting is that it’s relative new, having launched at the end of 2013.
How Budgie Came to Be
The Budgie desktop first appeared as the desktop environment for Evolve OS, the Linux operating system that would eventually change its name to Solus. Its creators envisioned an interface that was simple, like that of Chrome OS.
While Budgie remains primarily a product of the Solus development team, people from elsewhere also contribute to the project.
Budgie uses GTK technologies, the tools of the GNOME desktop environment that many other popular Linux interfaces also use (e.g. MATE, Pantheon, Xfce, etc.).
This is set to change in Budgie version 11, which will detangle itself from GNOME and switch to Qt (which is used in KDE).
What Makes Budgie Better? A Deeper Look
On Solus, the Budgie desktop has an interface that will feel right at home to anyone who has used Windows or Chrome OS. The app drawer button in the bottom-left provides access to software.
Icons along the bottom panel show your favorite apps and the programs that are currently open. System indicators appear in the bottom-right, such as remaining power and network connectivity. And as usual, there’s the trusty clock.
One unique aspect to Budgie is the inclusion of a sidebar. You access this by clicking the right-most icon on the panel. Here you can view a calendar, configure audio settings, and view notifications.
While the Budgie desktop currently uses GNOME’s tools for managing system settings, there are a few tweaks available in a specific Budgie Settings Tool. Here you can change themes, set whether icons appear on the desktop, and determine whether windows automatically tile when you drag them to the edge of the screen.
This is also where you have to go to customize the panel. You can move it to any side of the screen, make the background transparent, autohide the panel, switch to a dock mode, and rearrange the parts of the panel (known as applets). You can add more applets that aren’t on the panel by default, and you can create additional panels if one is not enough.
Budgie doesn’t always look the way I described above. In Ubuntu Budgie, the default interface more closely resembles GNOME (the default desktop environment in Ubuntu). But if you look closely, you will see that the core options and features remain the same. Only the way they’re arranged has changed.
Want to try out Budgie? You can download a version of Linux that ships with Budgie by default, such as Solus and Ubuntu Budgie. Alternatively, you could install Budgie on your existing Linux desktop (e.g. versions are available for Arch Linux and openSUSE).
The Downsides to Budgie
As a relatively young desktop environment, Budgie doesn’t have much of its own identity. The interface is deeply integrated with GNOME, to the point where it can feel more like a customized version of GNOME than a separate entity. It’s possible to recreate much of the Budgie experience inside a GNOME desktop using extensions.
Budgie is not an interface that gives you much to tinker with. That may turn off some people. At the same time, the distinction between System Settings and Budgie Settings may confuse less technical users. This can make it unclear whom Budgie is targeting.
Budgie isn’t yet mature, which means new releases subject you to quite a bit of change. Switching from GTK to Qt may help with this, but it may take years for things to settle down after such a major transition.
This timeframe may be impacted by the relative lack of investment in Budgie. Compared to larger desktop environments, Budgie’s development team is rather small. This can keep the project agile, but it also means there are fewer hands doing the work that needs doing. In the open source world, it helps to have more eyes spotting bugs and more hands fixing them.
Is Budgie the Right Desktop Environment for You?
As a newer desktop environment, Budgie lacks some of the baggage that other projects carry. The interface feels modern. Popup menus look like they were designed in the 2010s, not the 1990s. If you want a free desktop that looks like a newer creation, Budgie is worth a look.
At the same time, the Budgie desktop doesn’t function all that differently from other interfaces you may have grown up using. GNOME often requires you change the way you interact with your computer. This isn’t true of Budgie. So if you like the traditional paradigm, add Budgie to your list (though you may have to move a few bits around depending on your distro’s default Budgie layout).
Also consider Budgie if you like being invested in a project from a smaller team with vision and imagination. The desktop is not unlike Pantheon in that regard. The interface is young, and how it matures remains to be seen.