A desktop environment customizes your workflow and provides you with ways to be more productive while suiting your tastes. This article lays out the 10 most common desktop environments in use on Linux.
GNOME is a popular, heavyweight desktop environment (DE) that is default on Ubuntu, Red Hat, and more. While previous versions took inspiration from Mac, newer versions have a take all to its own. The Activities menu isn't the greatest, in my opinion, as it takes numerous clicks to find the program you want and isn't organized in categories defined by the desktop entry specification from freedesktop.org. With GNOME 38, you are able to organize the programs on the menu however you like.
GNOME creates many apps designed for its DE and works great with many other GTK-based DEs. There is even a store called Flatpak that was designed by the GNOME Project.
|Based on:||GTK 3|
|Available on:||Debian-based (Ubuntu, etc…), RedHat-based (Fedora, CentOS), Arch-based (Manjaro), and more|
KDE Plasma is a highly customizable, popular DE that has a feel many Windows users would be familiar with. KDE also has a collection of software specifically made for their desktop environment, but it works well on other Qt-based DEs. Widgets are great ways to provide extra functionality to the desktop similar to the way gadgets extended the functionality of Windows Vista and 7.
|Available on:||Debian-based (KDE Neon, Kubuntu, etc…), RedHat-based (Fedora, CentOS), Arch-based (Manjaro), and more|
Budgie is a modern, simplistic DE with a traditional workflow. It's very easy to use and the Ravenbar (the sidebar) makes it very convenient to access notifications, calendar, audio mixing, multimedia applications, settings, and more. The menu is customizable and works perfectly for me. This DE is my personal favorite as it has everything I need, looks great, and uses less resources than GNOME. I highly recommend you go to the GitHub page for Budgie to see for yourself.
|Based on:||GTK 3|
|Available on:||Solus, Ubuntu Budgie, EndeavourOS, Manjaro, and more|
|Website||Budgie Desktop on GitHub|
Pantheon is a very elegant, contemporary, and simple desktop environment. It gets out of your way to do what you do best. It comes ready to go right out of the box.
This DE was formed by Elementary OS. Elementary OS is quite a unique, developer-centric distro that makes it easy for you to contribute monetarily what you want to developers within its software store.
|Based on:||GTK 3|
|Available on:||Elementary OS, Fedora, and GeckoLinux|
MATE is an attractive, solid, functional, customizable, and lightweight DE that comes with a variety of distros. The panels are highly configurable and can be placed on any side. This DE also includes a Control Center that is similar to the Control Panel in Windows.
MATE and a few other DEs have the ability to display various wallpapers throughout the day similarly to how Dynamic Desktops work on a Mac. As a matter of fact, Apple copied this feature years after it appeared on Linux.
MATE was forked from GNOME after GNOME was upgraded to GTK 3 and developed a controversial workflow that was not as appealing to some as the older version of GNOME was. As a result, MATE uses GTK 2.
|Based on:||GTK 2|
|Available on:||Debian-based (Ubuntu MATE, Linux Mint), RedHat-based (Fedora), Arch-based (Manjaro), and more|
Cinnamon is a highly customizable, easy to use DE that comes standard with Linux Mint. It's a great alternative to MATE and has many similarities. The community has developed many "spices" to enhance the customizability of the desktop. This is arguably the best DE to use coming from Windows, according to many users and Linux Mint themselves.
Like MATE, Cinnamon was forked after GNOME made some controversial moves with their DE. Cinnamon, however, uses the latest GTK 3 but makes it better for conservative users with a traditional workflow.
|Based on:||GTK 3|
|Available on:||Debian-based (Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix, Linux Mint), RedHat-based (Fedora), Arch-based (Manjaro), and more|
LXQt is a very lightweight desktop environment with the look and feel of the Windows 9x series. It is meant for older hardware and very conservative computer users. LXDE was its predecessor and as a result of this change, it has become more modern with age. There are still problems as it doesn't have all of the keyboard shortcuts, searching on the program menu, and other modern features that you would expect.
|Available on:||Debian-based (Lubuntu), RedHat-based (Fedora), Arch-based (Manjaro), and more|
Xfce is the pinnacle of a traditional DE. It's rock solid, very lightweight, and changes very little from one release to another. As a matter of fact, dark mode and a new icon palette have been the largest change in a while.
|Based on:||GTK 3|
|Available on:||Debian-based (Xubuntu, MX Linux, Linux Mint), RedHat-based (Fedora), Arch-based (Manjaro), and more|
|Website||Xfce Desktop Environment|
Deepin Desktop Environment
Deepin is the most beautiful DE on Linux. The beauty comes at a cost as it requires a decent graphics card to run this. That being said, it doesn't run well in a VM. Deepin comes with its own selection of software made specifically to adhere to its design.
People in the past have been leary about using Deepin as it is Chinese software. What's even more ironic is the company is from the infamous tech hub, Wuhan. I wouldn't let that bother you though, and there is an Ubuntu flavor of it.
Deepin was recently bought by Uniontech Software and was commissioned by the Chinese government to create a Chinese Linux distro to replace Windows. This spinoff is called the Unity Operating System (not related to the Unity user interface that was once prevalent on Ubuntu). So far, Unity looks very similar to Deepin.
|Available on:||Debian-based (Deepin, UbuntuDDE), RedHat-based (Fedora), Arch-based (EndeavourOS), and more|
|Website||Screenshots from UbuntuDDE|
UKUI 3.0 has a striking resemblance to Windows 10 that any user would just shake off its differences as an update. UKUI 3.1 departs from 3.0 and blends the Deepin DE design in with it.
Ubuntu Kylin, which is the only distro to use UKUI, is the official Ubuntu distro for the Chinese market. There are a number of Chinese-related software specifically in use by this OS. It is very easy to replace these with familiar software using the Ubuntu repos.
The beauty of these up-and-coming Chinese DEs are noteworthy and something to keep an eye on. Other DEs may get inspiration from these Chinese-based distros as we've seen the latest iteration of MacOS was a ripoff off of Deepin.
|Available on:||Ubuntu Kylin|
Most DEs are based on either GTK or Qt. For a GTK-based desktop environment, I would choose using software from GNOME or other software that uses GTK so your software will conform easier to your theme. While a Qt program will work on GNOME, there may be a jarring look to it that just doesn't quite match. Installing software that isn't made for your desktop environment may require installing dependencies that will be at least half of a gigabyte to download.
There are other niche desktop environments out there. This article is meant to cover the most popular DE choices for people who are either new to Linux or just exploring other options. I hope this has been an informative look at the 10 best desktop environments for Linux converts. Whenever I choose a Linux distro, I usually pick my favorite DE first and then decide which package manager I'll use after that.