You Can Have It All: Enlightenment Is A Light Linux Desktop Environment That Looks Good

Danny Stieben 27-11-2013

Ever since the development team behind GNOME went ahead with their plans for GNOME 3, people have been scrambling to find the new favorite desktop environment. Although there are plenty of choices available (such as other GNOME-based ones MATE vs. GNOME Shell vs. Unity vs. Cinnamon Desktop Environments Explained What is the best GNOME-based Linux desktop? We compare Unity vs. GNOME, Cinnamon, MATE, Pantheon, and Budgie to help you choose. Read More , KDE, Xfce, and LXDE), you might still be looking for something else that is easy to use, relatively lightweight, powerful, and good looking. If none of those previously mentioned desktop environments tickle your fancy, then you may be interested in a unique desktop environment named Enlightenment.


About Enlightenment

Enlightenment, or simply “E”, is a desktop environment that has actually been around since 1997 but hasn’t celebrated much popularity in recent years. The developers behind it describe Enlightenment as “the original eye-candy window manager”, and with the latest release (E17 at time of writing) that’s very much apparent. Enlightenment is available for installation on a number of distributions, but it’s only officially supported and configured on a handful of distributions. One of them is Bodhi Linuxwhich we reviewed Bodhi Linux Is Beautiful & Works On Very Old Computers [Linux] Try a lightweight, beautiful Linux distro that works on very old hardware. Bodhi Linux can run on processors with only 300 mhz so imagine how well it will work on your machine. With the Enlightenment desktop... Read More a while back, which I used to test out Enlightenment.

First Look

When you first launch the Live environment from the Bodhi ISO, you can choose between a number of different configurations. They range from the most bare choices to a “fancy” choice that offers plenty of gadgets and eye-candy. There are even laptop-specific and tiling options. I chose the regular “Desktop” option, which was the second heaviest out of the four total choices. Afterwards, I could also choose between several themes, but I simply went with the default.

At first glance, the desktop looks pretty straightforward. There’s not much going on, and the panel along the bottom only has a few, large elements. However, you’ll start noticing that Enlightenment is actually a lot more powerful than it seems.

The menu, which can be launched from the bottom left corner as well as left-clicking on any empty area on the desktop, offers just about all of the features available in Enlightenment – in other words, the desktop environment is primarily controlled via this menu. From this menu, you can launch installed applications, navigate to various folders, take a screenshot, change special desktop settings (like gadgets, virtual desktops, and shelves), switch between open windows, and access the system settings.

Gadgets and Shelves

Besides the menu, the desktop environment has two other cool features: gadgets and shelves. The gadgets are conceptually similar to the widgets found on KDE, but I don’t think they’re nearly as powerful. There’s also fewer of them available, and one even made the system crash. Generally speaking they’re a cool thing to have, but I personally wouldn’t see myself using them much on the desktop.


Shelves are essentially panels, of which you can have several placed along the edges of your screen. The panels can be populated with the same gadgets that you can add to the desktop. This is a better place to put them (in my opinion), but allowing gadgets to be placed on the desktop itself or in a shelf is a great way to keep things flexible and customizable for the user.


Enlightenment is known for its fancier looking themes, and it comes with a handful of them. You can always look for more, but here are some screenshots of those that come with Enlightenment (at least in Bodhi Linux):





As you can see, the themes can alter your desktop quite a bit to give it the look you’re wanting.


Enlightenment is surprisingly configurable. You can find all available settings under the Settings section of the menu. There are plenty of categories here, as seen above.

The array of settings available is plentiful, but also a bit confusing. The developers try to organize the possibilities as best as they can, but it might still take some practice to figure out where certain settings are. Not a big issue as long as the settings you want are available, but it can still be a slight inconvenience. Otherwise, I’m happy that there are so many options to configure.


Looks and System Resources

Enlightenment looks great, as is evident by the attention to detail on windows and menus. Even the terminal seems to have a slight futuristic look with the default theme.

Despite its good looks, the desktop environment is still on the lower end of system resource usage. Although it depends on what choices you’ve made earlier, you can expect a ballpark figure of 250MB of RAM usage by Enlightenment. This isn’t quite as lightweight as Xfce or LXDE, but it’s around the same usage as GNOME, but with possibly better looks (depending on how you see it).


I think Enlightenment deserves a little more attention because it’s a worthy desktop environment that could fit the needs of many people. Sadly, it’s hard to find a properly configured distribution, but Bodhi Linux is a good choice as it’s based on Ubuntu (about which we have an informative guide Ubuntu: A Beginner's Guide Curious about Ubuntu, but not sure where to start? Everything you could possibly need to get started with the latest version of Ubuntu is right here, written in easy-to-understand, plain English. Read More ). In any case, it’s definitely worth a try to see if it could be your next desktop environment.

What desktop environment do you use? What’s your favorite desktop environment that isn’t GNOME, KDE, Xfce, or LXDE? Let us know in the comments!


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  1. David
    May 30, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    I agree Enlightenment deserves more attention. I remember trying Enlightenment in the 1990s and thinking, wow, this is beautiful, and way ahead of anything else at the time. I thought it would catch on and become widely popular, as it was clearly superior. I'm not sure if it's because it's 'perpetually in beta' or what, but for some reason it doesn't get the attention it deserves.

  2. Brad
    December 20, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Enlightenment is my go-to desktop (or WM). I run it on Sparky Linux and absolutely love it. True, you do need to learn a few E-specific terms and it does take some getting used to, but once that's done, you will love it. It's fast, feature-rich and highly customizable.

  3. Niku D
    January 9, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    How do you think Ubuntu is better than Linux Mint?

  4. Damir
    January 8, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    I have tried MANY distros, over 10 years... until I found SolydXK some months ago: simple, responsive, configurable, small footprint, rolling release, everything works out of box (just had to add LibeOffice)... for me it's just perfect :)

  5. dragonmouth
    November 28, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    @Joel & Jon:
    If the font is what is detering you from using Linux, maybe you are not ready to use Linux. You can change the system default font under System Settings. So far every distro I have tried (I've been distro hopping for over 10 years) offers at least 20 different fonts.

    It would be nice if E17 was offered as desktop environment by more distros. Besides Bodhi, only ELive offers Enlightenment as a default. AFAIK, Snowlinux, Sparky and Manjaro are the only distros offering E17 as an optional desktop. ELive has not had a "stable" release for at least 3 years.

    • TheOneLaw
      January 31, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      Sabayon has enlightenment and it is easy to install there

    • Computer Scientist
      September 12, 2018 at 8:21 pm

      Arch has enlightenment available in their official repos. Manjaro is actually built on Arch, and I personally prefer to run the original distro rather than a distro that has had many of the configuration and application choices made for me. Arch isn't for everyone, but it's fantastic for those who fit in the community (aka are you a DIYer willing to learn how your system works).

  6. Jon
    November 28, 2013 at 8:11 am

    My problem with E17 is its nested menus. You can hardly do anything without drilling through multiple levels of menus. I kind of liked it besides that point, but the menus drove me away. My personal favorites are LXDE and IceWM. XFCE works, too, but the first two are what I like to install when I load up a new distro.

    @Joel L. I understand. This is one reason I've always hated Windows as well... clunky, ugly display fonts. It's one reason why my Mac is where I do most everything. ;-)

    • John S
      December 15, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      @Jon The nested menus problem is solved by the Settings Panel (not to be confused with the Everything Panel). With E17 you have to keep digging. I love elementaryOS but I can make E17 look and act exactly like it. I like MATE and I can make E17 look exactly like it. I supposed I've found 50% of what can be done with the interface. It's sometimes buggy, but always beautiful. Bodhi is probably the best supported E17 distro. Lately I'm using the Manjaro 0.8.8 Community spin.

  7. Joel L
    November 28, 2013 at 1:51 am

    Objectively, I've always considered Linux to be pretty - at least prettier than Windows. But at the same time, there's always been something about Linux distros that felt "off" to me... and I think I finally pinpointed it.

    It's the font.

    Whatever font is being used as the default Linux font - I think it might be some form of Deja Vu or something - has got to go. There are so many free fonts out there that could likely be licensed.

    Bodhi itself looks fine but that font is what keeps me from dabbling in Linux again. :(

    • Teh_Dorfer
      November 30, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      I understand your gripe with the fonts in some themes for Linux distros.

      I find the .css files and change the font to one of my liking. A great looking theme can be spoilt by the wrong choice of font, making me want to uninstall it.

    • Computer Scientist
      September 12, 2018 at 9:04 pm

      You know it's possible to change the fonts used in every OS/DE/WM, right? Be it Windows or Linux, it's really not that hard to switch to another installed font, nor is it difficult to install fonts - not just free fonts. Every font I have is installed on both my Windows and my Linux systems, including Windows fonts on Linux, Linux fonts on Windows, Adobe fonts on both, etc.

      If you're looking to customize your environment, font selections are a crucial part of that. Choose a font based on its use: windows titles and other display elements, body text, console (terminal) font, programming (monospaced with unique glyphs for Il10O etc), and so on.

      If you're going to place so much importance on the fonts used in an environment, you really learn how to change them, what fonts are used, and what makes one font different from another.

  8. Kim L
    November 28, 2013 at 12:29 am

    Enlightenment was introduced in 1997 by the Enlightenment Foundation Libraries (EFL). The newest version of Enlightenment up to now it E17 1.7.8. Enlightenment is a Window Manager which has full functionality yet light weight.

    To install Enlightenment on Ubuntu and Linux Mint
    # add-apt-repository ppa:hannes-anetzek/enlightenment-svn
    # apt-get update
    # apt-get install e17

    there are more guis if you want to try out

  9. iSheep
    November 27, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    They all look the same, very ugly.

    • BeaSk8r117
      December 16, 2013 at 12:22 pm

      Try Zorin OS, it looks pretty nice.

  10. samol
    November 27, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    You might take a look at "elementary OS".
    Nicely done and easy to get around.

  11. TechnoAngina
    November 27, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Love the Enlightenment desktop, the long term lack of documentation is really the major reason it suffers, up until recently it had almost none. It's got live wallpapers, is super snappy. You can build an entire working native video player with a few lines of code. the main problem with E right now is that it's entirely reliant on a few people. Most of the awesome themes were created by one person, Bodhi is essentially one person, the dev team for e doesn't seem too coddling, but then if you read their site, they really are there for the pluggers who want to continually make things better.

  12. rk
    November 27, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    yeah! Absolutly......Ugly; seen from Africa

    • Douglas M
      November 28, 2013 at 2:50 am