7 Best Desktop environments for Linux to install in 2021

Well, most of us especially the standard users would not like to have Linux without a desktop environment, thus there should be at least one on our Linux PC or laptop system to easily manage it…

However, which one is the best desktop environment to install on Linux Desktop PC in 2021?

Although there are dozens of GUI desktops, the answer to this question is very narrowed because choices are limited when it comes to the best one. However, opting for any desktop environment is mainly depends on the taste and comfortability of a user on the Linux distribution, where he or she uses it. Furthermore, it also depends on the technical reasons, for example, if you have an old pc or laptop then you definitely want lightweight LDE such as XFCE.

What is a Desktop environment? 

A Desktop environment is software that comprises various tools and libraries to provide a graphical user interface on command line Linux. This helps users to operate various computer tasks, applications, and operations graphically without issuing commands every time.

It comprises different modules such as panels, file manager, desktop widgets, Image viewer, toolbars, terminal, display manager, icons, etc.

Should you install multiple or change your desktop environment manually?

Running a Linux Desktop PC or laptop always gives us a facility to install multiple desktops or the ability to change the existing one. However, we would recommend choosing the one out of the box with the environment you would like to have. It is because changing the desktop environment or having multiples on your main system may cause instability and if you are a beginner then perhaps something worse.  Those who like Ubuntu, have the largest selection of desktops. The main Ubuntu Linux distro uses Gnome but, there is also Kubuntu ( KDE Plasma ), Xubuntu ( XFCE ), Lubuntu ( LXQT ), Ubuntu Budgie, and Ubuntu Mate.

The Ubuntu-based Linux Mint is available with Cinnamon, Mate, and XFCE.

At Fedora, the variants are called “ Spins “. In addition to the standard Gnome 3 desktop, KDE, XFCE, LXQT, Mate, Cinnamon and LXDE are available in installable live systems.

Also Manjaro, the popular Arch-based is very flexible when it comes to the desktop. Officially it is available in Gnome 3, KDE, or XFCE. There are community editions with Cinnamon, LXDE, LXQT, Mate, Openbox, Budgie, and more.

 

Best desktop environments for Linux distributions -2021

The given distros desktops are not in some particular benchmark order instead categorized based on user requirements.

The desktop environments bluntly can be categorized into the following:

  • Windows like for switching to Linux such as – Cinnamon, Budgie or KDE Plasma
  • Simple with few configurations – Gnome 3, XFCE, Mate, or LXDE / LXQT
  • Low to Moderate resource requirements, example-  LXQT, XFCE, Mate
  • Flexible and adaptable- KDE Plasma, Cinnamon, XFCE
  • Highly beautiful but need more resources- Deepin, Pantheon, and KDE Plasma

See: 9 Best Arch Based Distros with GUI for 2021

 

1. XFCE- Lightweight, best for low resource PCs

  • Moderate resource consumption even runs old computers
  • Meant for users beginners, experience, and developers who don’t some fancy stuff rather to the point one.
  • Very good adaptability
  • MX Linux and Xubuntu are a good example
  • Website: www.xfce.org

Xfce is a popular desktop environment and comes as the default with quite many Linux distros, especially those are focusing on low memory consumption. That doesn’t mean XFCE deprives of anything, it has numerous and well-thought-out comfort functions that can be used to conveniently adjust the working environment.

It is quite stable and one of the oldest desktop environments, however, its developers quite slow in releasing new major versions. The latest version was launched on 22 December 2020 whereas before that the version was released in 2019 after 4 years, however, updates will be there timely.

XFCE interface requires few resources and is still adaptable. The Xubuntu is the best example that uses the XFCE Desktop interface, with a bar at top of the screen with the Application drop-down, search function and clock, volume and status notifications for the network, and updates.  However, in the latest version, by default, the task will be on the vertical side.

XFCE Desktop environment

In terms of hardware requirements, it requires low RAM which makes it a good option for less powerful hardware. For example, the standard installation of Xubuntu requires a minimum of 512MB+ of which the processes in the desktop environment take up around 200 MB. Similarly, MX Linux which needs a minimum of 2 GB RAM, their XFCE would be around 300 to 400 MB.

XFCE memory consumption

XFCE is therefore in the lower range in terms of resource requirements and a very lean desktop environment. The customization options are numerous and clear.

Install XFCE manually on Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Debian, or similar OS.

sudo apt install xubuntu-desktop

 

2. Cinnamon – For users switching from Windows

  • Easy to customize with themes, applets, and desklets
  • Traditional Windows-like look desktop environment, nice options those are new to Linux.
  • Clean, Stable, and visually appealing
  • Linux Mint is the best example
  • Website: cinnamon-spices.linuxmint.com 

Cinnamon is getting its popularity because of its Windows-like interface and sleek icons. It comes out of the box as the default interface for the Linux Mint desktops. It is simple and visually appealing with similar placements of elements we usually see in Windows 7 or earlier versions.

It comes with a start menu divided into parts to show the content of the category as we hover our mouse. Right-side taskbar holds icon for volume, network along with clock bar; update notifications also appear here, if available.

Linux Cinnamon Desktop Interface 2021

In terms of hardware requirements, the Cinnamon is not a very high demanding one. Linux Mint 20 with Cinnamon 4.6.6  would occupy around 400 MB of RAM in standard conditions, thus can easily be used on a computer with 2 GB RAM or more.

Themes and background images can be changed with a few clicks, furthermore, various add-ons can be used to make the Desktop more appealing however this will increase the hardware resources consumption.

Apart from Linux Mint, it is available for many Linux distros such as Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix, Fedora Spin, Manjaro, EndeavourOS, and more…

We can also install Cinnamon manually, if you are using  Debian or Ubuntu-based operating system then in your command terminal type:

sudo apt install cinnamon

 

3. KDE Plasma- Beautiful with extensive customization

  • Highly customizable and Adaptive
  • Wide range of widgets, apps, and themes
  • Moderate on system hardware, for high effects (options) requires GPU.
  • Best Linux environment for advanced users and beginners who want to show off and also need things at the fingertips
  • Linux distros comes out of the box with KDE are Kubuntu, KDE Neon, Open Suse, Fedora KDE, Manjaro KDE…
  • Website:  https://kde.org/plasma-desktop/

KDE is one of the most popular desktop environments. It is a highly advanced and extensible customization option. However, if you don’t want to perform any changes still KDE Plasma is worth trying out.

It offers similar arrangements we have on Windows, like the start button known as the K menu. It has an inbuilt search and category tabs to quickly find installed applications and for advanced users extensive and detailed customization options.

KDE Plasma is quite modern in terms of interface, with sleek widgets and taskbar, it can easily catch the eyes of anyone. The icons for volume control, clipboard, and network are located in a separate control bar next to the clock.

As KDE has a long list of applications developed by its community, thus the same can be seen on the Desktop. It has numerous applications, almost all of which begin with a “K” or contain one, for example, Krita, Digikam, Konqueror, Kmail, KDE Connect, or Kdenlive. The programs are based on the same libraries and optically match the desktop perfectly.

KDE Plasma best desktop environment Linux

KDE Desktop

Well, in terms of resource consumption, the KDE is not a lightweight but a midweight Linux desktop environment. It would require memory of 500MB to 760 MB RAM or more depending on the customization and effects the user has applied. However, users can use it smoothly on 2GB RAM systems but that should not be too much old PC.

The manual installation for Ubuntu or Debian  based Linux OS

sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop

 

4. GNOME 3 – Choice of many Top Linux distros

  • Recommend for intermediate to advance Linux users
  • Moderate to high system hardware resource consumption
  • Best example- Fedora, Debian, and Ubuntu
  • Website: www.gnome.org

Many popular Linux distros are using the Gnome desktop environment including Ubuntu, which is based on the GTK+ toolkit. However, the interface would not be the same, as most of the distributions make customizations, for example, Ubuntu and Zorin OS, both are using Gnome but look wise both are completely different.

It is also known as Gnome shell and the standard interface of it focuses on simplicity rather than on rings and bells.  You can get the standard look of Gnome on Fedora, Debian, and CentOS like OS. That offers a top taskbar with “Activities” to open the program launcher (“Dash”) which is not much convenient especially for beginners.

GNOME 3

Gnome has long been considered as a memory hungry desktop environment, however, that has changed somewhat in the latest Gnome version, expect sluggishness. Many times I have encountered that on a virtual machine running on 4GB, whereas on the same configuration, Cinnamon runs extremely smooth.

Even on Ubuntu 20.04, the Gnome Shell process alone consumes around 200 MB.

Gnome shell memory consumption

So, on standard conditions you can say, it would consume around 700 MBs. Thus, we don’t recommend Gnome 3 for old PCs with little RAM.

Well, apart from this Gnome doesn’t deprive in terms of applications whether from system resource monitor to disk partitions everything will be there. This Linux environment is more media-friendly because of the media player it offers.

Note: Alternatively you should try Budgie which uses GNOME technologies such as GTK (> 3.x) but way smoother than the standard Gnome desktop, however with the modified interface and features… To install it see: How to install Budgie desktop environment on Ubuntu

We can also customize it with the various Gnome extensions to add themes and widgets.

sudo apt install gnome

 

5. Mate Desktop- Classic one

  • For Classic Linux desktop lovers
  • Can be used by both beginners and conventional users
  • Low to moderate resource requirements
  • Linux Distros using it are Ubuntu Mate, Linux Mint, fedora, and more…
  • Website: mate-desktop.org

Mate is another variant of the classic Linux desktop and further development of the original Gnome 2 desktop. The interface seems not much eye-catching as Cinnamon but it is more stable and less binge on memory.  To support newer Gnome applications, it uses GTk3, integrated well into the desktop. This makes it a suitable option for older hardware. Even Linux Mint is available in Mate and XFCE to run on low power hardware systems. It will consume less than 500 MB of RAM to run smoothly on the system, Ubuntu Mate is the best example of that.

Mate Desktop 2021

The “Applications” menu is located in the bar at the top of the screen.  For desktop effects, Compiz and the associated tools are installed for the settings. One can use the Mate tweak tool to control the looks of the systems.

The packages to install Mate are available under the official repository of Debian can be installed using the command:

sudo apt install mate-desktop 

 

6. LXQT / LXDE –  For older PC or laptops

  • Best Linux environment for older PC or laptop
  • Meant for all kinds of users beginners to advanced
  • Need low to moderate hardware resources
  • Lubuntu, Fedora, Manjaor, and others with LXDE or LXQT are some Linux distro examples
  • Website: lxde.org and lxqt.org

When we talk about the best low memory required Linux desktop environments, LXDE or LXQT will be there. LXDE is significantly less heavy on resources than LXQT that was formed with the merger of LXDE and Razor-qt projects. And also now part of Lubuntu. However, both the projects are still active, whereas LXQT, which like KDE is based on the Qt libraries.

Although LXQT is not many resources hungry yet its looks in comparison to LXDE is quite modern and refresh; slim design and high-contrast colorful icons make that possible.

LXQT desktop environment for old PC or laptop

You can see in the above screenshot, the interface is minimal with a traditional taskbar with a start button, application shortcuts, and icons for network and volume control.

Aforementioned, both desktop environments are popular for low consumption of hardware resources, for example, if we go roughly, then LXDE would occupy around 300+ MB RAM, and because of slight modernity in LXQT, it ends up with 400+ MB. However, it also depends on the distribution’s developers coming with LXDE/LXQT, what kinds of additional components have been loaded with it.

Install manually on Debian based OS. 

sudo apt install lxde

or

sudo apt install lxqt

7. Ubuntu Kylin desktop environment

Ubuntu Kylin Linux distro is the official version of Canonical and China’s MIIT to target the Chinese laptop and PC consumer market. Although it is based on the same official Ubuntu, however, its interface is much beautiful than the standard custom Gnome one.

Ubuntu Kylin desktop environment which is also known as UKUI is more inclined towards the Windows 10 or Deepin like interface with sleek and colorful icons along with user-friendly elements that make it easy to use.

Therefore, those who are missing Windows 10, can go for it.

To install the Ubuntu Kylin desktop environment simply run:

sudo apt install ubuntukylin-desktop

In case you are facing some problem then first add its repo and run the other given commands:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntukylin-members/ukui3.0
sudo apt update 
sudo apt install ukui-desktop-environment

change Ubuntu to Windows 10

8. Deepin Desktop environment- Colourful

  • Eye-catching design
  • Best for beginners to intermediate users
  • Resource consumption is moderate

Deepin has its own flavor and accent rather, imitating others in this list, it has its own eye-catching and colorful design. It comes as the default desktop environment for Deepin Linux Desktop (officially) and unofficially in UbuntuDDE.

However, in terms of customization, it is not much extensive and the users have to go with its default available options, but enough for typical desktop users. Although the Deepin Desktop Environment (DDE) uses Qt5, it is super clean, curve edges, simpler to use, and more compact than KDE.

Deepin install on Ubuntu 20.04 with Windows Launcher and taskbar

The color scheme with high-contrast icons looks modern, but overall inconsistent. The file manager and audio player are configured with a white theme by default, while the video player and Chrome web browser appear in deep black.

It offers both Dock and windows like the start menu, the dock also serves as a system tray with icons of the running programs.

Well, when it comes to hardware resource consumption, the Deepin needs good system configuration and would consume around 600 MB to 1 GB, depending on what Linux distro you are using.

However, the best way to experience it is UbuntuDDE or just install it manually- How to install Deepin DDE on Ubuntu 20.0

9. Pantheon – Beautiful & clean Linux desktop

  • MacOS clone Linux desktop environment
  • Beginners will love it but have to do some tweaks for more comfortable usage.
  • Resource consumption is moderate
  • Website: elementary.io

If you have used ElementaryOS, then you are already familiar with the Pantheon Desktop environment. It is popular because of its modern look that mimics and gives a somewhat feel to users that they are using macOS.

There is not much scope for customization and that’s why it is the best option for beginners, especially those who are shifting from macOS to Linux. It uses a dock-like Mac OS that serves to start programs and host the icons of the active ones.

Officially it comes with Elementary OS based on Ubuntu and its developers always trying to minimize the hassle of beginners that they face in Linux because of unfamiliarity with the interface. However, there some desktop features are missing.

For example, there is no context menu, thus no files or links can be saved directly on the desktop. Furthermore, there is no button for minimizing the active items or windows, the only buttons for “Close” and “Maximize” or “Restore”.

Nevertheless, to get the minimize option on Elementary OS’s Patheon, you either have to right-click on the windows title-bar or use the Super key + H shortcut.

elementary OS Linux min

If you want to use it with a minimize button then tweak the interface with the help of a tool called elementary-tweaks.

sudo apt install software-properties-common
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:philip.scott/elementary-tweaks
sudo apt install elementary-tweaks

Well, the beauty of this Linux desktop environment doesn’t come without a toll, it would consume around 700 MB that is the reason for best performance on elementary OS with Patheon one should have 4GB RAM on their system.

To install Patheon manually on Debian or Ubuntu-based systems, use:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:elementary-os/stable
sudo apt install elementary-theme elementary-icon-theme elementary-default-settings elementary-desktop

 

Conclusion

If you want good-looking, easy to use without much stress on the system then Cinnamon, Budgie, and XFCE are good options whereas Gnome and KDE for those who like to have rich desktop environments. On the other hand, extremely lightweight LXQT/LXDE and for beauty Deepin and Elementary are always there. At last, the choice is yours and what you want on your system.

If you are using any other than the above mentioned, let us know your experience with it…

 

Comments (3)

  1. JuhaT December 28, 2020
    • Heyan December 30, 2020
  2. HAnk June 22, 2021

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