The desktop environment is usually the core of your Linux desktop system for how it looks/feels. If you don’t get a good user experience, it will be difficult to use a Linux distro on your desktop, right?
So, which is the best desktop environment available?
Trying out each and every desktop environment is a very time-consuming and tiring task.
So, here, we’ve created a list of the best desktop environments available for Linux distros along with their pros and cons for you. We tried them so that you don’t have to.
Best desktop environments for Linux distributions
Just to mention, this list is in no particular order of ranking.
KDE is one of the most popular desktop environments out there. You may also refer it as the “Plasma” desktop. Even though it’s not my primary choice, it is highly customizable and extremely lightweight.
Yes, it looks like KDE has managed to beat XFCE as one of the lightest desktop environments. Not just limited to Jason’s test, you will find numerous benchmark comparisons and tests that point to the same result.
KDE also makes it easier to connect your phone with your Linux system using KDE Connect. You will also find Plasma’s browser integration that connects your phone directly to your browser for establishing quick communication.
Overall, it looks like KDE is an incredibly lightweight desktop environment while being one of the most flexible as well.
- Modern and polished user interface
- Highly customizable and flexible experience
- Several useful tools built-in
- Extremely lightweight
- The customization options and tools might be a little too overwhelming for newbies, leading to potential confusion.
Even though it’s based on the good-old GNOME 2, the MATE team has improved the desktop environment on a lot of grounds. To get some idea, you might want to check out what Ubuntu MATE 20.04 has to offer.
If we take the example of Ubuntu MATE 20.04, MATE desktop is suitable for almost everyone. And, of course, especially for the ones who loved GNOME 2 but hate the new GNOME. In addition to the user experience, it is also worth noting that it is a lightweight desktop environment as well.
MATE comes with a collection of basic applications and includes a number of built-in useful tools.
Ubuntu MATE is one of the official flavors of Ubuntu that utilizes the MATE desktop. Some other popular Linux distributions like Linux Mint, Manjaro, etc, also offer MATE editions of their distributions.
- Easy to use and robust experience
- Simple yet Customizable
- May not offer the most intuitive user experience
GNOME is designed to be easy to use and customizable. The user interface aims to provide a unique experience (kind of tailored for both mobile and desktops).
Unfortunately, GNOME isn’t a lightweight desktop environment. So, it’s not a great choice to go with if you are looking to install a Linux distribution on older computers or systems with less than 4 Gigs of RAM.
It’s good to see that GNOME is also focusing on the performance side of things with their recent GNOME 3.36 release.
So, if you want a good user experience with something that looks different from the likes of a traditional Windows layout, GNOME should be the perfect pick.
- Modern and touch-friendly UI
- Can extend functionalities through GNOME Shell Extensions
- Not suitable for older computers
- User Interface isn’t tailored for a Windows user
Cinnamon, a fork of GNOME 3, was initially developed to be and is the default desktop environment for Linux Mint. It is known for its similarities with the Windows user interface which helps new Linux users get comfortable using easily.
Cinnamon tries to present itself as a modern desktop environment while offering a traditional user interface. And, being somewhat light on resources makes Cinnamon a balanced choice for many Linux users.
- Sleek and polished look
- Familiar interface
- Pretty customizable
- May not offer the most intuitive user experience
Budgie desktop has been developed by the Solus project. In case you didn’t know, Solus is an independently developed Linux distro where they utilize GNOME technologies such as GTK to develop the Budgie desktop environment.
It’s a mixed bag of modern UI and a traditional user interface. It’s not exactly resource heavy but not a complete lightweight desktop environment either.
Ubuntu Budgie — an official Ubuntu flavour features the Budgie desktop as the default. Not a lot of major distributions support Budgie desktop environment out of the box. So, you’d be better off using Solus or Ubuntu Budgie for the most part.
- Solid and intuitive
- Modern UI, elegant looks
- Seamless desktop experience
- Available only on few distributions (can be installed on your own manually)
LXQt is a lightweight Qt desktop environment. When compared to LXDE, it’s safe to say that LXQt is indeed a lightweight desktop environment while providing a better user experience than LXDE (in terms of its look and feel).
Not just theoretically, but we also found it to be a great replacement to LXDE on Lubuntu 20.04.
Even though LXQt tries to present a modern look without comprising the performance, it is still not the most intuitive experience out there. Of course, if you need performance over the look and feel, LXQt is an impressive choice.
- Extremely fast performing and lightweight
- Decent UI for a lightweight desktop environment
- User interface may seem unappealing
- Not much customizable
- Available only on a few distributions (can be installed on your own manually)
Xfce is one of the most lightweight desktop environments out there. Unlike LXQt, you will find a lot of major Linux distributions support XFCE editions.
Xfce is light on resources but proves to provide a feature-rich user experience. If you need a performance-centric desktop environment without needing advanced customizations, Xfce is a great choice to go with.
To give you an example, I’d recommend you check out our initial impressions on Zorin OS 15 Lite which includes Xfce desktop environment as the default.
- Lightweight and adaptable to old hardware
- Modern and visually appealing
- Windows-like familiar UI
- No advanced customizations
Sometimes it’s not enough to offer customization options or being light on resources. There’s a lot of users who prefer an eye candy user interface by compromising the performance of the desktop environment.
That’s when the Deepin desktop environment comes to the scene. It may offer a macOS-ish interface, but because of the animations and layout, the looks and feel of the Deepin desktop environment is something to appreciate.
Originally, it was only available on Deepin OS, but it is now gradually being added to some other distributions as well. Recently an interesting project (UbuntuDDE) has managed to incorporate it on top of Ubuntu. It isn’t fairly new but it is being slowly adopted by other Linux distributions.
- Eye candy user interface
- Sleek animations
- Heavy on resource usage and sluggish at times
So, which is the best desktop environment?
The reason why different desktop environments exist is that there’s no ultimate desktop environment. Every user has a different set of requirements. Some look for a fast experience while some drool over an eye candy UI.
Even though we’ve already mentioned the best available in this article, a few other desktop environments deserve mention. Some of them are:
What desktop environment do you prefer and why? Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below.