How to Install KDE Desktop Environment on Ubuntu

This screenshot tutorial demonstrates the steps to install KDE Plasma desktop environment on Ubuntu Linux.

In the world of Linux desktop environments, the ones that dominate are GNOME and KDE. There are several other desktop environments but these two are the leaders.

Ubuntu used to have Unity desktop in its default edition but it switched to GNOME desktop since version 17.10 release.

Ubuntu offers several desktop flavors and the KDE version is called Kubuntu. With Kubuntu you get the KDE desktop baked with Ubuntu, out of the box.

It’s possible that you installed the default Ubuntu with GNOME desktop. If you want to use KDE, you don’t necessarily need to remove the present Ubuntu and install Kubuntu from scratch. You can install KDE desktop in your current Ubuntu system and switch between the available desktop environments.

KDE vs KDE Plasma

You may come across two terms: KDE and KDE Plasma. This may confuse you because most of the time, both refers to the same thing: a desktop environment. So, what’s the deal here? Let me explain it to you.

Historically, KDE was the desktop environment when it was created more than twenty years ago. In fact, KDE is the short form for K Desktop Environment. But eventually KDE grow to be more than just a desktop environment. It has a huge list of applications developed under the KDE project like Kdenlive video editor.

Since they were not essentially a desktop environment anymore, a few years ago, they segregated the desktop environment. Plasma is the desktop environment and KDE is the umbrella project responsible for the development of Plasma desktop and a bunch of other applications.

It is still common practice to refer KDE as the desktop environment but now you know that it’s actually Plasma.

Install KDE desktop environment on Ubuntu

Before you start, let me tell you that there are different versions of KDE available, according to the need. We will see what are they and how to install them:

KDE Full

This is the complete KDE pack. It comes with the complete package and core KDE plasma desktop. If you want all of KDE goodness (and its dependencies), this is what you would install. Since it is the complete pack (around 1 GB), it will take some time in downloading and installing. You can install it using the following command:

sudo apt install kde-full

KDE Standard

The standard KDE includes Plasma desktop with standard set of KDE apps such as Kate (default text editor), Konqueror (default web browser), Kget (Download Manager), KMail (email client), Dolphin (File Manager) etc. The whole package is around 273 MB in size. You can install it using the following command:

sudo apt install kde-standard

KDE Plasma Desktop

This is just the minimal package of KDE with just the Plasma desktop and a minimal set of KDE applications such as browse, file manager, text editor etc. No apps are installed by default. You can install them later at any time. Ideal in the case when you just want to give it a try. The download size is around 175 MB.

sudo apt install kde-plasma-desktop

KDE Plasma Netbook [Discontinued]

No prizes for guessing that this is for netbooks. This light version was best suited with low end systems and netbooks are just that. It is not available anymore.

sudo apt install kde-plasma-netbook

There is also a package named kubuntu-desktop. It includes all the packages included in Kubuntu. You may install it as well but it may (or may not) lead to conflicts with your existing GNOME desktop.

KDE Plasma desktop installation procedure

Whichever package you chose to install KDE Plasma desktop, the procedure should be similar to the steps mentioned here.

You’ll be prompted to configure SDDM, i.e. Simple Desktop Display Manager, which is the Display Manager used by the KDE Desktop. Select ‘sddm’ from the list and press Enter.

Ubuntu Install Kde Desktop Sddm
SDDM Prompt
Ubuntu Install Kde Desktop Sddm Select
Select SDDM at this window

Once this is done, the remaining packages will be configured. After that, you can reboot. After the reboot, you will be greeted by the SDDM Lockscreen.

Ubuntu Install Kde Desktop Lockscreen
Ubuntu Install KDE Desktop Lockscreen

You can also select between KDE and GNOME using the “Desktop Session” option in the lower left corner.

Ubuntu Install Kde Desktop Lockscreen Select
Ubuntu Install Kde Desktop Lockscreen Select

The default GNOME Desktop will be available in the “Ubuntu” session. If you want to use the Wayland Display Server, you can select the appropriate option for that.

After logging in, you will be at the KDE Desktop Home. From here you can start using apps, and customizing it to your liking.

Ubuntu Install Kde Desktop Desktop
KDE Desktop Environment – File Manager & Task Manager

I, for one, love the traditional desktop experience as well as the customization provided by KDE. I hope this guide was helpful to you in installing KDE on Ubuntu.

How do you like your desktop to be? Simple or as customizable as possible? Let us know in the comments below, as well as drop any questions you may have.

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  • Thanks for the guide, seemed pretty straight forward.
    However, my Ubuntu 20.04 does not boot into graphic any more (it’s a simple Dell Desktop with Intel Onboard graphics, so no fancy gpu driver needed).
    I read a lot on the web and all I could figure out is
    sddm[297954]: Auth: sddm-helper exited with 11
    must be related to this problem.

    So far I have to CTRL+ALT+F5, login and use startx (startplasma does not work) to get a minimal GNOME.

    I tried to reinstall most of the packages, tried to reconfigure sddm (it is running, it’s the helper that fails with a crash dump following).

    Any hint on how to debug this is greatly appreciated.U

    • Could be several factors involved here.

      If reconfiguring doesn’t work, may i suggest reinstalling Kubuntu (KDE inbuilt) and test it out (if your system doesn’t have important data on it)?

  • I found gnome on Ubuntu 21.10 very unpleasant. No customization options, and you cannot even have a plain color background. Thank you for your guide.