For all the Linux fans out there, let’s have some of the most beautiful, customizable, feature-rich, and the best desktop environments in 2020!
What’s a desktop environment in Linux, btw?
For the uninitiated, a desktop environment is the first thing you see when your computer is ready for you to use. Windows and Mac users usually find the concept confusing, because both of these operating systems come pre-installed with their proprietary desktop environments.
With Linux, you get to cherry-pick each element of the UI that you want to place on your system. And that’s also made possible because of the different open-source desktop environments that are at your disposal!
The Best Desktop Environments in 2020
Here’s a quick summary of the 10 best desktop environments that we’ll be talking about in this article:
- Gnome – A complete package and the best desktop environment for beginners
- XFCE – This is a very lightweight DE with the ability to add a lot of animations and UI customizations
- LXDE – Another lightweight DE, except the animations
- KDE – The most feature-rich desktop environment. KDE can give you superpowers!
- Openbox – Though a window manager, minimal UI lovers swear by standalone Openbox!
- Liri Shell – The cutting edge DE that runs on Wayland
- i3 – My personal favorite window manager-cum-desktop environment, i3 is minimal, tiled, and just full of easter eggs
- Mate – This is the old default DE on our well-loved Ubuntu alternative – Linux mint
- Cinnamon – The new default on Linux mint.
- Enlightenment – The most configurable, and fastest one in the list
You may notice that a few of these are window managers, but they all can be used as standalone desktop environments, and you’d be amazed at how beautiful, and geek-friendly they can be. Let’s get right into the list!
1. GNOME – Best Beginner-Friendly Desktop Environment
Official website: https://www.gnome.org/
If you’ve ever used Linux, you know GNOME. This desktop environment has been an old friend of all those who wanted to transition from Windows to Linux. It’s easy, very beginner-friendly, and has just about anything that you’d expect from your desktop environment right out of the box.
Steps to install GNOME:
# CentOS or Red Hat Linux sudo yum groupinstall "GNOME Desktop" # Ubuntu/Debian based operating systems sudo apt install tasksel #Tasksel installs related and dependent packages automatically sudo tasksel install desktop gnome-desktop #Using tasksel to install
2. XFCE – Best Lightweight Desktop Environment
Official Website: https://xfce.org/
Have an old computer that you want to resurrect, or just love the ability to have more free memory for other applications? This desktop environment is for you. Configure it right, and you can get XFCE to run in less than 150mb of RAM at startup! I’ve been able to get it to 300mb with a lot of animations and UI modifications.
Steps to install XFCE:
# CentOS/Red Hat Linux yum groupinstall "Xfce" -y # Ubuntu/Debian based operating systems sudo apt install xfce4
3. LXDE – Best Desktop Environment for Lower End Computers
Official Website: https://wiki.lxde.org/en/Main_Page
Themes (GTK themes): https://www.gnome-look.org/p/1013967/
Lightweight and Low-resource can be considered the same, but in this case, there’s a difference. XFCE is a lightweight desktop environment even with a whole lot of built-in customizations and UI perks. LXDE, on the other hand, is a DE that is built to be as low-resource as possible. You certainly can add animations, but they need to be downloaded separately.
Steps to install LXDE:
# CentOS/Red Hat Linux sudo yum install lxde # Ubuntu/Debian based operating systems sudo apt install lxde
4. KDE – The Super-DE of Linux
Official Website: https://kde.org/
I call it the super DE for a reason. If you compare KDE with a group of people, KDE is the richest and the heaviest one. In terms of UI customization, KDE has it all. From transparent windows to blurred backgrounds, glass-look, to animations, and much more.
Steps to install KDE:
# CentOS/Red Hat Linux sudo yum groupinstall -y "KDE Plasma Workspaces" # Ubuntu/Debian based operating systems sudo apt install kde-plasma-desktop # Gives a minimal KDE install with a few applications sudo apt install kubuntu-desktop # For a complete KDE install
5. Openbox – The Minimalist’s Favorite
Official Website: http://openbox.org/wiki/Main_Page
People who’re deep into Linux, love Openbox’s simplicity. It’s extremely lightweight, and comes with only a text-based right-click menu that lists all your applications. The menu is customizable too, and you can add scripts or functions within the menu as a link.
Being a window manager, it gives you the option to customize every aspect of the environment since there’s no underlying desktop environment that we’re using when working with standalone Openbox.
Steps to install Openbox:
# Either download and install, or use this epel repository to install Openbox on Centos https://centos.pkgs.org/7/epel-x86_64/openbox-3.5.2-6.el7.x86_64.rpm.html # Ubuntu/Debian based operating systems sudo apt install openbox obconf
6. Liri Shell – Cutting Edge Wayland Desktop Environment
Official Website: https://liri.io/
Themes: Arch and Fedora come with theme packages at the moment
Though the majority of Linux users are still using X11 or no UI at all, Wayland has become the default in many Linux distributions already. Though there are many other desktop environments that work well with Wayland including KDE and Gnome, the Liri Shell seemed very promising. It’s a desktop environment that was built for Wayland and hence is more polished for the display server.
You can easily install Liri shell on ArchLinux and Fedora with their pre-built packages. For other distributions, you can built the desktop environment from source.
Visit their official download page for installation instructions: https://liri.io/download/
7. i3 – For Minimal Tiling Desktops
Official Website: https://i3wm.org/
You may have noticed that the link to the themes is to a GitHub? That’s because i3 completely works based on configuration files. The themes you will find will be a combination of good color schemes and a well-configured window compositor.
i3-wm is one of my most loved standalone window managers, qualifying it to easily fit under the desktop environment list! The configuration is just very easy, and you can change everything that you see on screen. This includes what information you see on the bottom panel, how windows behave, and keyboard shortcuts to move, align, and set up windows on the screen.
#CentOS and Fedora sudo dnf install i3 i3status dmenu i3lock xbacklight #Debian and Ubuntu sudo apt-get install i3 suckless-tools
8. MATE – For GNOME 2 Lovers
Official Website: https://mate-desktop.org/
People hated Gnome 3. And since Gnome 2 was no longer actively supported, the community came up with their own Gnome 2 fork, MATE.
MATE was created as a response to the drop in user experience when Gnome 3.x was launched. Being a fork, it’s very similar to Gnome’s predecessor and adds more features along with additional community support. This desktop environment caught attention when Linux Mint used MATE instead of Gnome 3 for its user interface.
# Centos and Fedora sudo dnf groupinstall -y "MATE Desktop" #Debian/Ubuntu sudo apt install mate-desktop-environment
9. Cinnamon – The Linux Mint Default
Official Website: https://cinnamon-spices.linuxmint.com/
This one for the traditional lovers. Cinnamon gives your desktop a very traditional, stable, and elegant look. The desktop looks very similar to GNOME, with a scrollable menu, and a very Windows-style look. This entire look and feel make it easy for people still working on Windows 7 or older due to hardware limitations.
#Fedora and Centos sudo dnf groupinstall -y "Cinnamon Desktop" # Debian and Ubuntu sudo apt install -y task-cinnamon-desktop
10. Enlightenment – For Configuration and Speed Lovers
Official website: http://www.enlightenment.org/
Enlightenment is fast and extremely configurable. Being one of the very old window manger and desktop environments, their development team had the time to make a built a very matured product for Linux users.
Though you won’t see this desktop environment a lot, people who use it, don’t want to give it away for anything else. Enlightenment allows for very high configurability making it loved by the original Linux lovers.
# Centos and Fedora sudo dnf install efl # Debian and Ubuntu Refer to https://www.enlightenment.org/docs/distros/debian-start.md
Which ones your favorite and what’s special about it? Tell us in the comments below. Also, if you have some really beautiful desktop configuration for one of the DEs listed here, don’t forget to share it with us!