The Best Linux Desktop Environments
Last Updated on February 3, 2021 by Bobby Niswonger
One of the great things about Linux is the ability to customize it. One of the most frequently changed things is the desktop environment. In Windows, the user interface has remained mostly the same throughout its inception. A bar on the bottom of the screen which manages open applications and a button to the far left which allows you to access a list of all the installed programs. Linux desktop environments take this general idea to a new level.
The Best Linux Desktop Environments
Cinnamon is the default desktop environment of Linux Mint. It looks very similar to Windows with a bar on the bottom to manage open programs and a menu to the far left which lists all installed programs. Cinnamon offers a good amount of customizations options ranging from changing the overall appearance to moving elements almost anywhere you want on the screen.
KDE is an acronym for Community Desktop Environment. Yes, they don’t know how to spell but that’s their thing. Almost every program created by the KDE group starts with the letter “K”. Plasma is the name of their desktop environment. It has lots of modern features while also looking the part. It allows for tons of customization. There are whole communities dedicated to customizing this desktop. The default layout is very similar to Windows like most on this list. The standard menu on the far left and a bar on the bottom which manages open programs. Plasma brings back the gadget feature from Windows Vista but KDE calls them widgets.
Gnome is a stable desktop environment. By default, it does not have a familiar Windows layout. Open programs reside on a bar on the left side of the screen. There’s a start menu like launcher as well but it’s full screen with pages. Some distributions of Linux with Gnome don’t show the minimize and maximize buttons on windows which is not ideal. Thankfully it’s possible to add them back through the settings. There’s also a third party tool called Gnome Tweak Tool which allows you to customize the desktop environment much more. If you want Gnome to look more like Windows, there are extensions which make this possible.
Xfce is a lightweight yet feature rich desktop environment. It’s a good option to bring new life to old computer. Even though Xfce is light, it’s still customizable. A good way to test thing one is to look at Manjaro. Manjaro is an Arch based distribution and the default desktop is Xfce for its simplicity and speed.
MATE is another lightweight desktop environment. It’s a fork of Gnome 2. MATE maintains the older design language of legacy desktops while still being customizable. The best way to play around with this desktop environment is to install Ubuntu MATE. MATE has lots of pre defined desktop layouts to choose from. They mimic whichever layout you are used to. For example, they have layouts similar MacOS and Windows.
A similar desktop environment to Gnome is Budgie. Budgie is built on similar technologies as Gnome but it has a more familiar Windows layout. It also looks quite sleek and modern while allowing for neat customizations. Solus is the distribution of Linux which created and maintains the project. Like always, it’s quite customizable.
LXDE is another good desktop environment. It’s essentially a modern Xfce. It’s sleek while also minimalist and is fitting for old computers.
LXQt is a newer version of LXDE built on the Qt framework. It has a really modern look while being minimal. By default it has a familiar Windows layout. It’s still being developed so you might run into small issues.
Any of these desktop environments are a good choice. The hardest part is testing them out to determine the best one for you. The easiest way to do that is find a distribution of Linux which uses that desktop environment. They normally have them customized in such a way which makes them easy to play with. It is possible to install any of these desktop environments on your current distribution of Linux, however, it’s not easy.