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Best Linux Desktop Environments With Pros & Cons

Best Linux Desktop Environments

If you are new to Linux then I’m sure you are giving up a lot of time choosing a Desktop Environment. You are probably thinking to give a try to each one of them but that’s very time-consuming. Edit – There are other good DEs also that’s why I’m reviewing the 5 Best Linux Desktop Environments with the pros & cons. The article gives you what you should know about choosing a DE. So let’s start!

When it comes to select your best Linux Desktop Environment (DE), then there are numerous DEs to choose from. I’ve been using Linux for long and I’ve tried almost all major DEs until I found the one that I needed for my primary work. You finally have to stick with one DE to work better.​The following list gives the 5 Best Linux Desktop Environment. Although there are many out there this list will help you in choosing the one you need in less time. So let’s start with our first Linux Desktop Environment. And Don’t forget to rate the DE that you like and also comment on the best features of the DE you are using.

​Best Linux Desktop Environments

​1. KDE

I wanted to start from #5 but I thought let’s put it straight. Yeah! That’ KDE. Although you are not interested KDE development was started in 1996 and released its first version in 1998. KDE is the most customizable DE, that means you can customize each and everything in this DE.  It is built on modern technologies like Qt. It is offered by many popular Linux Distributions, such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint, OpenSUSE, Fedora, Kubuntu, PCLinuxOS and many more. As in other desktop environments, you need several plugins, widgets and tweak tools to customize it, KDE builds all of the tools and widgets packed in the system settings. With the advanced settings manager, everything can be controlled without any third party tool to beautify & tweak the desktop according to the user’s needs.KDE’s Plasma 5 development is the most advanced DE ever. It comes with many improvements, mostly focused on visual experience (better launchers, menus, and notifications) and usability across different devices. Plasma is also faster and compatible even with old and low configuration hardware.

Some of the default applications in KDE environment are — Dolphin (file manager), Konsole (terminal), Kate (text editor),  Gwenview (image viewer),  Okular (document and PDF viewer), Digikam (photo editor and organizer), KMail (email client), Quassel (IRC client), K3b (DVD burning application), Krunner (launcher) and more…

Pros:

  • The most advanced and powerful Desktop Environment
  • Highly customizable
  • Looks modern and sleek
  • Compatible with Slower/old hardware

Cons:

  • Some components like Kmail are way too complicated for an average user
  • If you read our Top 4 Open Source Email Clients For Linux, I mentioned the advancement of Kmail configuration which is not easy for a newbie.

KDE Screenshots

plasma 5.0 screenshot

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2. MATE

The #2 in the list is MATE. MATE (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈmate]) is a desktop environment forked from the now-unmaintained code base of GNOME 2. It is named after the South American plant Yerba mate and tea made from the herb, mate. The use of a new name, instead of GNOME, avoids conflicts with GNOME 3 components. MATE was built by one of the unhappy users who did not like the turn of Gnome 2 toward Gnome shell for the modernization of the Desktop. MATE gives the feel of using the old desktop environment but has got lots of interface improvements over time. MATE is also very good with low configuration computers, so use MATE if you’ve got an old or slower computer.
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It also comes with many popular Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Mageia, Debian and many more. If you read my post on Release of Ubuntu 15.04 Beta 1, there you read that Ubuntu MATE, the first time is an official release.

Welcome Ubuntu MATE official Release for the first time. Now it’ll be easier for the users to keep their software updated, as all of its components are now in Ubuntu repositories.

​The applications packed with MATE are Caja (file manager), Pluma (text editor), Atril (document viewer), Eye of MATE (image viewer) and many more. It’s a simple and lightweight DE for users who don’t need all the bells and whistles of other feature-packed DEs.Pros:

  • Works fine with old/slower computers
  • Lightweight Desktop Environment

Cons:

  • I don’t know, If you know please comment below. MATE Just works fine.

MATE Screenshots

ubuntu mate 

​3. Cinnamon

The #3 DE on my list is Cinnamon. After MATE, Cinnamon is another Desktop Environment that was built by Linux Mint Team for unhappy users of Gnome. So does it make Cinnamon be in the best Linux desktop environment list? Cinnamon, unlike MATE, was built on Gnome 3 technologies. Cinnamon is new and so have been active in development. But being new does not make this amazing Desktop Environment featureless. Cinnamon has all the features that DEs like Gnome and Unity don’t have. Cinnamon is highly customizable DE and does not require any external plugin, widget and tweak tool to customize the desktop.  It can even download and install themes from the settings manager itself, not even need to open up the Internet browser. With all the amazing and required features, Cinnamon can be very handy for any new user to Linux. Many users quit using Linux because they don’t understand the way Linux works but I highly recommend that a newbie must start off with Cinnamon.

Many popular Linux distributions offer their flavors in Cinnamon, such as Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Gentoo, Arch Linux, and Cinnamon is the default DE of Linux Mint.

​Pros:

  • Extremely polished
  • Familiar with New users could be buggy sometime
  • Makes Gnome more usable by forking some core apps
  • Highly customizable

Cons:

  • Could be buggy sometime

Cinnamon Screenshots

linux min desktop environment

4. Gnome

The #4 on my list is Gnome. The gnome was first released in 1999. It was providing a simple and classic desktop experience without not many options to customize. But in 2011 Gnome introduced a new design in GNOME 3 and GNOME shell replaced that traditional desktop environment. And this ended up with dissatisfaction among Gnome users and many developers. This unhappiness caused the creation of many other DEs, such as MATE and Cinnamon. But even after that Gnome prevailed and now being used widely. Gnome has contained the core idea of simple and faster DE that’s why Gnome is still simple and faster. But third-party applications/tools can help the user customize it.

Gnome could be for those users who tend not to tweak the system a lot. That’s why Gnome does not even include some simple tweak options like changing themes and even font. For both of these basic tweaks, a user would need to install gnome-tweak-tool. So overall Gnome is not much customizable by default but through third-party applications/tools. Gnome is used as default DE in Fedora and is offered in several popular Linux distributions as flavors, such as Ubuntu, Debian, OpenSUSE and many more.Pros:

  • Simple, easy to use
  • Extensions can extend its functionality

Cons:

  • Lacks many features found in other desktop environments
  • Extension management is poor

Gnome Screenshots

gnome desktop environment

5. Unity

Unity is a shell developed by Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu. It runs on top of Gnome Desktop Environment and uses all core Gnome applications. Initially, it was developed to run on netbooks to make better use of the screen real estate. But when Gnome decided to go its own way and supposedly didn’t accept some changes proposed by Ubuntu teams, Canonical went ahead and created its own shell, which suited its needs better. Unity first release came out in 2010 and since then Unity has got several improvements. Today one can install Unity like any other DE.

Unity has a different user interface. It has a launcher on the left side and on top of the launcher, the search icon ‘Dash’ exists. When a user searches a file on the dash, it gives results not only from Hard Disk but from online sources, such as Google Drive, Facebook, Picasa, Flicker and more.

It also gives options to hide the launcher and show it when touching the sidebar. A user can also increase/decrease sensitivities for showing up the launcher menu.

It is simple and faster but does not include much options under System Settings to customize the desktop. For installing themes and customizing different other options, such as System menu should be visible always or not or ‘One click minimize from launcher icon’, the user needs to install third-party tools. CCSM and Unity Tweak Tool are very popular customization tools for Unity Desktop Environment.

​Unlike KDE, a user does not get the option to block/disable notifications in Unity. There are tons of searches on the Web for ‘How to disable Unity Notifications’. Although It’s possible but quite difficult for a new user.

Add to that auto-hiding menu and a lack of official support by any major distributions, and Unity becomes extremely counterproductive.

​Pros:

  • Intuitive
  • New technologies like HUD
  • Customizable by third-party applications

Cons:

  • Poor implementation of notifications
  • Very little default tools for customization
  • Inconsistent UI

Unity DE Screenshots

unity desktop environment

​End of List “Best Linux Desktop”

Here comes the end of list Best Linux desktop environments. I have tried my best to give you some relevant information that will help you find the best Desktop Environment for your Linux Distro. Although I covered some of the DEs as you can see the #1 KDE is for Advanced users. #2 META and #3 Cinnamon are for some medium level users. The last two #4 Gnome and #5 Unity are for users who don’t want much customization in their DE. You have got the basic idea of choosing your DE, you can choose any of the above depending on your need or you can choose any other that fulfills your needs.

Please do take the poll below telling us which one is your best Linux desktop and specify if you are using any other except these five.

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