So you want to switch to Linux? But you already experienced the first signs of the “getting overwhelmed syndrome”? Switching to Linux isn’t as clear cut as buying a pre-installed Windows computer or an Apple computer. When you visit Ubuntu.com you will find an ISO version to download with a standard desktop but there are a number of other options in Ubuntu. Depending on your preferences and how you work one desktop could work better for you than other ones. In your decision-making process, you also have to decide on which desktop environment you prefer. The desktop environment determines the complete look and feel and can have a tremendous impact on your Linux experience.
Each Ubuntu Flavor already has one or sometimes more desktop environments to choose from. Like Linux Mint offers variants with Cinnamon, MATE and Xfce. But as Linux is all about flexibility and choices, it is no problem at all to just install a different desktop environment on your Ubuntu flavor of choice. It is even possible to have multiple desktop environment alongside each other, so you can choose which desktop environments you want to use at login. And the next time you choose another one.
But let’s not directly talk about using multiple desktop environments, as just choosing one that perfectly matches your needs can already be a cumbersome task. And it is probably even better to let the Ubuntu Flavor you need, determine the desktop environment that is being included with it instead of letting the desktop environment determine which Linux distribution you should choose. But in my experience in practice, it is a grey area which starting point to choose from. It is all about use cases and personas. Most beginning Linux users want a great out-of-the-box experience, which depends mostly on the type of flavor of Ubuntu. But if you are a former macOS user you probably find the look and feel of your desktop highly important as well. But there are Ubuntu Flavors – desktop combinations that already fit both needs very well.
As this is a general discussion around the desktop area, in this section I don’t want to focus on installing a desktop environment yourself. For now, I think it is more important to find out what kind of user you are to see which desktop environment best suits your needs and then see which Flavor offers that specific environment out-of-the-box. In my experience, a Ubuntu Flavors native desktop environment works more reliable than a desktop environment that you installed yourself on top of your chosen Flavor. There are some desktops that might conflict with each other as well.
Here we will give you a short overview of the variety of desktops to help you on the decision making process.
Meet the Mainstream Desktops
GNOME — One of the original desktop designs, it morphed from a classical Windows XP design as GNOME 2 into a more modern interface with a sliding panel that hides off the right edge of the screen as GNOME 3. The GNOME Shell is the underpinning of several other desktops that mask its appearance with overlays to adjust how the interface looks and works. This is also the default desktop for Ubuntu with slight modifications.
MATE — A variation or fork of GNOME 3, it works more like classic GNOME 2. It is a lightweight environment that is well suited for legacy computers and point-and-click interfaces and menus.
Unity — Brainchild of the Ubuntu distro, the Ubuntu Linux team developed it to replace GNOME 3’s revamped design. It has a vertical icon panel on the left edge of the screen and a drop-down Heads Up Display search screen instead of a traditional menu. But it might not be a solution you can rely on for long. Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu Linux, in 2018 Ubuntu release will remove the Unity desktop in favor of GNOME 3 but there are a lot of people that still would like to use this desktop so the Unity Remix project was born which is a community maintained desktop now.
KDE — One of the most configurable and powerful Linux desktops, the K Desktop Environment features special visual effects and many other handy features. Newcomers to Linux often find the KDE desktop confusing, but its Plasma 5 features make it one of the most powerful desktop environments. This Desktop will give you the most amount of customization ability.
Cinnamon — Developed by the Linux Mint community as an alternative to GNOME 3. The Cinnamon desktop is one of the most popular choices today. It is packed with features and is comparatively easy to use.
Xfce — A lightweight environment ideal for older computers, it provides a very functional yet bare-bones interface without animation and other special effects. It is very easy to use.
LXLE — The Lubuntu Extra Life Extension is similar to Xfce. It is a fast, lightweight desktop with added functionality. It consumes fewer system resources than Xfce. This makes it a bit more compatible with aging hardware.
LXDE — Short for Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment, it has a comfortable look and feels with plenty of system settings to tweak its performance to your way of working. It is very similar to the look and feel of Xfce.
LXQT — Sort of a revisioning of LXDE, this is a performance-tweaked version that combines LXDE and the Razor-Qt desktop environments. It is lightweight, modular, fast, and user-friendly. The Qt Configuration Tools bring much more control over LXDE.
…Or Consider a New Style
Pantheon — Originally the default desktop environment created for the Elementary OS Linux distribution, has a fresh, new look and simplified approach to desktop management. It blends the look and feel of Android and MacOS. The user interface presents a simplified approach to launching applications.
Budgie — This desktop can be configured to emulate the look and feel of the GNOME 2 desktop, Designed with the modern user in mind, Budgie focuses on simplicity and elegance. It has a plain and clean style and is easy to use.
Enlightenment — Not for everyone, Enlightenment offers some powerful new flexibility in how to set up and use the operating system. It has a more sparse appearance and only a few settings to personalize how you use it.
So there you have it. The prominent open-source desktops by which to control your favored Ubuntu system. Click on the links, take each through its paces. Discover which functionality works best for your needs — whether at home or at work. Adopt, deploy, configure — and reap the advantages.