Right after you have chosen your Linux distribution, the next question that comes to your mind is, what desktop environment will I use? It was not a problem if you used windows or mac; you had no choice! Linux gives you the freedom and the sweet trouble of which one to choose from many Linux Desktop Environments. Let’s see if we can help you here.
Top 12 Linux Desktop Environments: Finding the Best One
Before proceeding, we must clarify that not all desktop environments will work out of the box in all distributions. Why?? Because sometimes, developers do not target all distributions and skip testing on distros other than their selected few. For example, Cinnamon is only supported on Linux Mint. That does not mean you can not make that DE work on your non-mint system. You probably can, but you may need to go through additional pain to fix things if any trouble arises.
Okay, enough talking. Let’s go to the central business.
1. Gnome: Linux Desktop Environment
This environment does not have the most extensive features as one of the Linux Desktop Environments, but that’s not its goal. Gnome wants to keep it partly set small but stable. This Desktop Environment is most widely chosen as the primary DE among distributions because of this. It has a massive flock of developers supporting it.
Its features can be extended easily by thousands of extensions. It’s easy for developers to write these extensions with the help of the great API & documentation Gnome provides. You can’t go wrong with Gnome.
- Stable, robust, rock-solid
- Thousands of extensions
- Official support from distros
- Large developer base
- Minimal, unobtrusive design
- Wayland Support
- Fewer features, less customizability
- The extensions are not of good quality. They fail too often.
- Poor workspace management
2. KDE: Linux Desktop Environment
KDE has tons of features. Not only does it provide the DE, but it also offers much software which best suits only KDE (for example, KDE connect). While it has its pros in customizability and feature set, it’s not as stable as many others. The code base is old and hard to maintain, as complained by many, and it is also a bit heavier than most others.
- HUGE feature-set
- Large developer base
- KDE software
- More Customizable
- Wayland Support
- Not so robust
- Ancient codes still exist in many areas
- It may seem cluttered and distracting to many
3. XFCE: Linux Desktop Environment
It looks old and boring, honestly. Fortunately, it’s only when you first unpack it. You can customize it to your heart’s desire: the look, the feel & the behavior. XFCE is very efficient in using resources. You can expect reliable, robust performance, although only a handful of developers maintain it. If you have a low-spec system, XFCE can be your friend. I have seen many high-spec folks using XFCE because they like the efficiency and no-bullshit principle of XFCE.
- Fast, Efficient on resources
- Good workspace management
- The old-school default design
- Slow development
- No real sign of Wayland’s support
4. Mate: Linux Desktop Environment
Gnome made radical decisions when they upgraded from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3. Many gnome developers and fans did not like the move, so they decided to take the existing codes of Gnome 2 and keep making it excellent in their way. Mate is the result. It does not have that many extensions like Gnome 3. But it’s fast, simple, customizable, and robust.
- Many active developers
- Very easy to customize
- Simple, lightweight, fast
- Robust and stable experience
- Slow to pick up new technologies
- Conservative principles to hold on to Gnome-2-like experience
- It looks and feels old by default
- No Wayland support yet
There are many windows refugees out there in Linux world. Many prefer windows to look and feel in their desktop environment, and Cinnamon can be the way to go. It’s also a child of the mighty Gnome DE. Unlike MATE, it is born from Gnome 3 (MATE is a fork of Gnome-2).
- Windows look & feel
- Nice UI, theming
- More modern fork of the Gnome
- Fairly Customizable
- Rich in features
- Not that robust
- Only supported on Linux Mint
- Sometimes buggy
- Customization is not always possible with some features.
- The use of memory is high.
A Desktop environment mainly consists of the window manager, panels, menu, system tray, launcher, etc. I3 is not a complete desktop environment; it is a window manager with some panel support. Unlike the DEs we discussed, this one does not have a floating window manager. It is a tiling window manager that can provide a speedy workflow for power users. Many former DE users moved to such a tiling window manager, and you can try one too!
- Crazy fast workflow
- No need for a mouse 90% of the time
- Extremely customizable
- Configuration (aka rice) can be replicated easily
- Difficult for beginners
- Hard to set up as a full DE
- Panels, menu, and system tray setup can be hard
Pantheon is one of the Linux Desktop Environments designed for elementary OS with a macOS look. The design languages for the core applications are written in Vala and C, and most of the design languages are from GNOME as this Desktop Environment is found in GNOME. Pantheon was designed for command-line minimization.
This lightweight and modular-based environment has come with multiple workspaces with intelligent behavior. The environment has a minimal way of customization and Extension. However, after all these, the look of the desktop was highly maintained.
- The Desktop Environment is lightweight without losing looking value.
- User-friendly with smooth animations.
- Multiple Workspaces with intelligent behavior.
- We have limited customization and Extension.
- The availability of options for configuration is significantly less.
- He has nasty comments about being buggy about
Budgie is one of the youngest Desktop Environments, a mirror of Solus OS. A small Solus development team, along with others from different places, contributes to this desktop environment. It mostly looks like Chrome OS and uses GTK technologies used by the GNOME desktop environment. However, the atmosphere is user-friendly and flexible.
- It is lightweight and looks outstanding.
- It is very stable due to the better use of technologies.
- Many large distros support it.
- An increase in memory usage is negligible.
- It has a modern look.
- It has a complaint about being buggy.
- The nonavailability of some basic features.
- The installation process is robust.
- Multi-monitor support is not at a satisfactory level.
9. Unity: Linux Desktop Environment
AgreementUnity, the default Desktop Environment for Ubuntu, which Canonical Ltd developed, has a modern look. It provides effortless access to favorite applications. This was designed for smaller screens with a space-saving Launcher and Horizontal top menu features. It is straightforward to navigate and has powerful search and filtering features. However, it is a less customizable comparison to other environments.
- It looks modern.
- Apps for Multimedia are incorporated into the desktop.
- It has easy navigation due to a wide range of keyboard shortcuts.
- It has powerful search and Filtering features.
- Fewer customization scopes.
- Memory consumption is high.
- Not suitable for giant screens.
- Poor notification system.
- The interface is not stable.
10. LXDE: Linux Desktop Environment
LXDE is one of the lightweight, user-friendly, and energy-efficient Linux Desktop Environments. It can perform on older computers using meager resources. This modular desktop environment is based on GTK+, and its components can be independently operated, making it supported by almost all distros. With all these customizable abilities, it is one of the best Linux Desktop Environments.
- Lightweight and user-friendly.
- It consumes very little memory.
- Variety of configuration tools.
- Almost all distros support this Desktop Environment.
- Highly customizable.
- The user interface is not attractive.
- Shortage in default applications.
- The look has become older.
- The default apps could not reach a satisfactory level like other available ones.
11. Trinity: Linux Desktop Environment
If you are looking for an environment that looks like KDE 3 and is lighter, Trinity is the best choice. Trinity is lightweight, modern, and stylish looking and one of the best Linux desktop environments. Maintaining its lighter weight, this Trinity is available for many OS. It was designed as a forked desktop environment like KDE 3.
- An extensive collection of applications.
- Many apps with excellent features.
- Modern and stylish design.
- Stable to use.
- Not compatible with all the distros, especially the new distros.
Enlightenment started its journey long ago with complete components set and management system. This efficient system is high-speed, covers all modern devices, and works on older hardware.
- Goes with both older and newer devices.
- Fast and light.
- It contains a lot of themes.
- Configuration of the environment can be done without having experience in programming.
- User-friendly and easy navigation.
- Default themes are not of an excellent standard.’
- Beginners won’t feel easy to use it.
- It could not earn much popularity.