Desktop Environments

What is a Desktop Environment?

Ever wonder why Windows and Macs look different? The reason is due to their Desktop Environments. A Desktop Environment, or DE for short, is a combination of all of the graphical components for an Operating System. This means that it determines where the taskbar is, what options are in your settings, where notification banners come from, etc. I could go on, but you probably get the idea. Everything that you physically see is determined by the Desktop Environment. The Desktop Environment is not the same as the distro, because the distro encompasses more than just the visual effects and settings. Distros all use a DE, but they provide more under the hood changes and tweaks to Linux than just the graphical components.  Windows and Macs both use their own specific DE’s, but Linux offers the user more choices. The two most common DE’s for Linux are KDE and Gnome. Below are screenshots of both:

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KDE focuses on customization rather than user friendliness. KDE can be made to look like just about any desktop you want, including Windows and Mac. However, with all of the options, it is not as simple as other alternatives out there. It is often thought of as the DE that is most similar to Windows. It has a conventional menu and taskbar. However, it is much more customizable than Windows. If you are going for an easy Windows look by default and you don’t mind a slight learning curve, than this is the DE for you.


While KDE focuses on customization over user friendliness, Gnome is the exact opposite. It attempts to make using the desktop as simple and easy as possible. While settings are scattered around in KDE, they are all in one place on Gnome, although there are fewer options within the settings. Many users in fact state that Gnome is much easier to use than Windows! Strangely, even though these users just compared it to Windows, it really has more of a Mac look to it by default. If you simply install a special dock, or taskbar, such as Docky, then your Mac look will have been achieved.

Screenshot from 2017-07-02 12-37-56
Gnome with Docky

The same effect can also be achieved using KDE, but it takes a bit more work to set up. However, Gnome cannot really be set to provide a very good Windows look alike, while KDE can. Thus, KDE is more similar in Windows’ looks and interface, while Gnome holds more similarities to a Mac’s looks and interface.

More Desktop Environments

However, there are more DE’s available than just Gnome and KDE. The runners up in popularity are XFCE, Cinnamon, Mate, and LXDE. Below are screenshots of them:

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XFCE is basically a stripped down version of Gnome. It has both a taskbar at the top and a dock at the bottom just like Gnome does. However, it does not have all of the bells and whistles that Gnome does. While both Gnome and KDE have numerous features, these features result in slowing down the computer. Ever wonder why people say that old computers cannot run Windows 10? Well this is why. The DE has so many bells and whistles that it ends up slowing down the computer! Both KDE and Gnome are slightly faster than Windows, but they are still considered “heavy” DE’s. Thus, XFCE came into existence. XFCE attempts to make your old computer usable again, to breathe a breath of fresh air back into it, without sacrificing productivity and user friendliness. While XFCE still has a bit more of a learning curve than Gnome does, it has less of one than KDE has.


Cinnamon focuses on preserving the interface of Gnome 2, the previous version of Gnome (The current version is now Gnome 3) all the while keeping up with the times. It looks fairly modern, and holds many similarities to Windows XP, only with a slightly more modern look to it. It is known for being very customizable without the learning curve that KDE has. However, Gnome still wins the contest when it comes to ease of use.


Mate focuses solely  on maintaining the look and feel of Gnome 2, rather than looking current. In the end, Cinnamon and Mate are very similar due to their similar goals, but Cinnamon will look a little more current. However, mate uses less system resources due to the fact that it does not focus on appearances, making it “lighter” DE. Not as light as XFCE, but with more functionality and features, all the while resembling Windows more than Gnome does.


By far the “lightest” DE around, LXDE caters to those with extremely old hardware. It compromises many visual effects, as shown by it’s simple menu, and some user friendliness. It’s menu is kept as simple as possible in order to keep your system as fast as possible. In fact, it highly resembles a right click menu! However, due to everything being so stripped down, it can take an old, sluggish laptop running Windows XP and make it just as fast as your shiny new laptop! It will allow you to use your computer once again, bringing Netflix and web surfing back into your life.

Even More Desktop Environments

So you thought we were done here? There’s still a few more to go! The following DE’s are the least common, but that does not mean they are worse by any means. It just means that they are newer. Due to their recent creation, they are slowly rising in popularity, but have yet to draw a large amount of users to them. These DE’s are Deepin and Budgie. Below are screenshots of them:

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Deepin is an elegant DE which is very similar to a Mac. It features a side bar where system settings are displayed and a dock which has a striking resemblance to it’s Mac counterpart. It boasts a transparent theme with a beautiful blur effect added to it, much like a Mac. If you enjoy the flat, current Mac theme Apple is boasting of right now, then this is the DE for you.


Budgie is another elegant DE which is also very similar to a Mac. While it also features a side bar, it’s side bar has a Notifications panel next to the Settings one near the top of it’s side bar. Rather than featuring the blur effect that Deepin does, it goes for a dark look instead that proves soothing on the eyes. Lastly, it has the addition of a top bar, a feature that a Mac also has. However, this top bar does not change based on the application being run, but rather acts more like a normal dock, only on the top in  a more Mac like style. If you enjoy a toned down Mac-esque look to your computer, then Budgie is for you.


For Power Users: (those who like to tweak everything about their desktop)


For Those Who Enjoy Simplicity: (and those who just like to keep things easy)


For Those Who Like Windows XP:


For Those Who Still Appreciate Windows XP With An Older Look:


For Those Who Have Older Hardware:


For Those Who Have Really Old Hardware:


For Those Who Enjoy The Current Mac Look:


For Those Who Prefer A Toned Down Mac Look:




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