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Linux Desktop Environments

A full desktop environment is the lazy man’s approach to Linux. Most popular Linux distributions today employ a full desktop environment, while hand selecting each component for specific purposes. A Linux desktop environment will usually include a session manager, a login or display manager, a window manager, a settings manager, a panel, and several great applications to get you started.

Kubuntu 11.10 KDE Screenshot

About Linux Desktop Environments

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a Linux desktop environment, then maybe this will help to answer some of your questions.

What is a Desktop Environment?

The life of a desktop environment usually begins as a single desktop component. Some desktop environments have started out from window managers and even file managers. After these single components gain popularity and more followers, they tend to grow. Soon the development team has a handfull of components and a demand for more. Some desktop environments employ almost all of their own componenets, while other DE’s borrow components from other desktops.

What Does a DE Include?

A desktop environment will include everything a user needs to get from boot-up, to a comfortable desktop. These items consist of a login manager, session manager, window manager, settings manager, network manager, and all of that fun stuff. Some desktop environments will also come with a long list of useful desktop applications.

Do You Need a Desktop Environment?

A desktop environment is not a requirement at all, it is simply a convenient way to get a full user friendly environment. Users may choose alternatively to install these components individually, making use of only the ones that are needed.

Which Desktop is Right for You?

The desktop that you choose should be based on your needs. Some provide a full featured desktop, while others are lightweight and designed for lower end hardware.

Popular Linux Desktop Environments

Below you can see some features and details that will help you find the right desktop environment for your Linux system.

Gnome 3 Desktop Shell

The new Linux Gnome 3 shell interface offers a truly unique experience for users familiar to Gnome classic. There is a new Gnome Shell dash that you can use to store and launch all of your favorite applications. More applications can be found inside the Gnome Shell activities menu. The new activities menu functionality is quite different from Gnome classic, but Gnome Shell can also be enhanced using extensions to add the functionality you prefer. The compositing manager used for Gnome Shell is Mutter which is based on Metacity. The Gnome Shell uses a completely enhanced user interface with a new dock, window switcher, and messaging tray.

Gnome Shell Activities Overview Screenshot

Gnome 3 Desktop Introduction

KDE Plasma Desktop

KDE is a well-known Linux desktop environment dedicated to delivering a beautiful workspace, and many fantastic tools for your desktop. KDE is also a decent choice for new Linux users, the setup is easy and KDE is very stable. KDE also has a large development team which means updates come often and things are always up to date. KDE is designed to offer a maximum level of configuration ability for the user. You can use all the amazing visual effects KDE has to offer to create a shocking Linux work environment. The KDE desktop looks fantastic by default, but it was created to be highly customizable and easy to use.

Kubuntu 13.10 KDE 4.12 Screenshot

KDE Plasma Desktop Introduction

LXDE Desktop Environment

LXDE is also known as the Lightweight X11 desktop environment for Linux, and as implied speed can be expected. LXDE is composed of several highly optimized components. LXDE is a fantastic choice for systems with limited resources or for anyone who wants to maximize efficiency. This Linux desktop environment also uses the popular OpenBox window manager which is highly configurable and easy to use.

LXDE Desktop Environment Screenshot

LXDE Desktop Introduction

Unity Desktop

The Unity desktop is a new introduction to the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution. Unity has several convenient features which make it a great choice for inexperienced users. Unity offers a user-friendly environment that differs from the traditional desktop approach. Some users have expressed concerns over the lack of customization abilities. This project is improving and new features are being added all the time. The Unity desktop for Linux provides a new dash that you can use to search for files and applications. You can also use the new launcher to store and run all of your favorite applications. Lenses will also help your search for files with improved speed and accuracy.

Ubuntu 12.10 Unity Desktop Screenshot

Unity Desktop Introduction

Xfce 4 Desktop Environment

This is another free desktop environment for Linux operating systems. Xfce 4 is light weight and very fast. All applications are hand selected to ensure users are delivered a high-speed work environment. Xfce 4 is designed to offer a very efficient work environment, perfect for users that want to get the most out of their limited hardware.

Xubuntu 11.10 Xfce Screenshot

Xfce 4 Desktop Introduction

Enlightenment Desktop Introduction

With Enlightenment you get all the advanced graphics with minimal use of system resources. Enlightenment uses a highly optimized code base. This project started out as a simple alternative Linux window manager and grew into a full suite of libraries. I find that this project resembles Xfce in performance, and maybe KDE in it’s aesthetically pleasing nature.

Gnome Classic Introduction

Gnome Classic is a very popular Linux desktop environment, though it is no longer in active development. With the release of Gnome 3 Shell Gnome 2 is going the way of the dinosaurs. Gnome includes a long list of helpful applications and utilities that have become very popular.

Gnome Desktop Introduction

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