7 of the best Linux Desktop Environments in 2022

Here are my picks for 7 of the best Desktop Environments for Linux.

by Pete
Published: Updated: 19 minutes read

GNOME’s? What is MATE (pronounced mah-tay)? There are so many Linux desktop environments to choose from, such as KDE Plasma and Cinnamon choose from, such as KDE Plasma and Cinnamon. I’m going to do what so many others have done before me and try to explain the differences between each to help you decide which is your flavor—and I’ll tell you why I chose KDE for myself.

To begin, read How I chose my first Linux distro to get a head start on a Linux distribution. There are many to choose from, and they all do things differently, but they’re all the same under the hood from an operating system standpoint. However, where they differ is in the desktop environment (DE) that they provide as part of their default release. The difficult part for a novice is deciding where to start; let’s take a look at the competition.

Let’s get into it

We don’t have much time… let’s get going (in no particular order). This is not a competition, to be clear. These are not ranked by me. You may have a different viewpoint, which is fantastic!

DEs with an * are the majors, with a large user and development base.

1
Cinnamon*

Cinnamon running on Linux Mint

For Linux and Unix-like operating systems, Cinnamon is a free and open-source desktop environment that is based on GNOME 3 but adheres to conventional desktop metaphor principles.

The Linux Mint team started working on Cinnamon in response to the April 2011 release of GNOME 3, which did away with the traditional desktop metaphor of GNOME 2 in favour of GNOME Shell. The Linux Mint team cloned a number of GNOME 3 components to create an independent desktop environment after multiple failed attempts to modify GNOME 3 to meet their design objectives. Cinnamon 2.0, which was launched in October 2013, successfully concluded the separation from GNOME. GNOME 3 no longer supports applets and desklets.

Cinnamon is the primary desktop environment for the Linux Mint Distribution.

Things to like about Cinnamon

  • Windows users would feel right at home with the common workflows.
  • Super easy to use for newbies coming to Linux in terms of layout, standard features
  • Great to look at. GNOME2 was arguably a great looking DE back in the day and the Mint team have done a great job at adapting the best of GNOME2 into Cinnamon
  • Stable. Cinnamon has been around for over a decade and has a lot of community and corporate backing

2
KDE Plasma*

KDE Plasma running on Kubuntu

In case you’re wondering, KDE Plasma is the desktop environment, and KDE is the developer. Matthias Ettrich founded KDE in 1996, and it originally stood for K(ool) Desktop Environment before being rebranded as K Desktop Environment and then simply “KDE.” KDE produces a variety of open-source software, obviously including KDE Plasma and the widely popular Kdenlive video editor.

KDE Plasma is designed to be flexible and to provide a highly customizable environment, including support for widgets (remember those in Windows 7?). If you’re coming from Windows, KDE Plasma will be the most familiar of any Linux desktop environment, in this writer’s opinion.

Check out the full list of available KDE applications; some are available for Windows, MACOS, and other platforms, so feel free to try some of them out. You could say that KDE Plasma and KDE Applications are enough to run a complete and free Linux distribution.

Things to like about KDE Plasma

  • A great place to start if you’re an experienced Windows user coming to Linux. KDE Plasma shares a lot of similarities in UI and methodologies with Windows
  • Super flexible, and super customisable – if you choose to. You don’t have to but if you want shortcuts to mirror Windows more closely – you can! If you to want to install 3rd party extensions to make it look and run like MACOS, you can! But you don’t have to
  • Some say on the internet that KDE Plasma is an elegant desktop environment. I agree – the aesthetics and transitions are pleasing to the eye, and with a number out of the box tweaks, i KDE Plasma should please majority of users
  • Tons of distros have either KDE Plasma as it’s default DE, if not, there’s generally support for it.
  • Major distros all support KDE Plasma so you’re never out an LTS or rolling release option
  • Been around for donkey’s years – loads of development, corporate backing and community support
  • Tons of online documentation available
  • A broad suite of KDE Applications that are all free

3
GNOME*

GNOME running on Fedora Workstation

Like KDE Plasma, GNOME is another heavy hitter in the desktop environment arena. GNOME originally stood for GNU Object Model Environment and is the default desktop for many of the major distributions on the market. GNOME’s approach is different to KDE Plasma in that it’s adopted a very modern UI, and some would argue it caters for a tablet- or touch-style workflow rather than a desktop one.

MacOS users tend to gravitate towards GNOME more than KDE due to its familiarity with Mac-style interfaces. However, when compared to KDE Plasma, there is minimal customisation—it kind of just works out of the box. However, if you do require customization, there are extensions to help you get more out of your experience.

Things to like about GNOME

  • Super clean interface. Some would wager that GNOME offers the best eye-candy of any Linux desktop environment
  • Simple, and easy to use with *just* the right number of customisations to get you going
  • Apple users tend to prefer GNOME3 as it shares similar workflows and visual styling with MACOS
  • Like KDE Plasma, has a large following and user base. Therefore, there’s a lot of documentation, and community support
  • Plenty of extensions to allow you to push the DE far beyond the out of the box experience

4
MATE

MATE running on Ubuntu

MATE (as mentioned above, is pronounced may-tay) stands for MATE Advanced Traditional Environment – see what they did there? They included the acronym in the name itself. MATE is a fork of GNOME 2, which is no longer supported. MATE offers a simple-to-use and aesthetically pleasing desktop environment for Linux and other Unix-like operating systems. Its low resource requirements make MATE a good place to be for single-board computers and GNOME 2 lovers alike.

MATE has a similar downdrop menu as KDE Plasma and offers a similar experience to KDE Plasma / Linux Mint in terms of workflows making it friendly for Windows users.

Things to like about MATE

  • Works well on older computers – runs on a Raspberry Pi!
  • GNOME2 feel – nice asthetics and for those who prefer a traditional desktop metaphor
  • Lists a growing number of distrubtions now shipping a MATE flavor
  • Those who like post Windows 7 days will feel at home with MATE
  • GNOME3 isn’t suited for everyone, so there’s MATE or Cinnamon
  • Stable and well maintained for those running on robust underpinnings

5
Deepin

It includes the Qt-based Deepin Desktop Environment, which is compatible with many other distributions. Although it is available in the repository of the majority of well-known Linux distributions as an alternate desktop environment, the user base is primarily Chinese.

Deepin is simple to install and can fulfil your job requirements without the need for further system setup or application installations. Deepin can be set up however you choose, but it is not required because the best options have already been selected to fulfil the needs of the majority of users.

Things to like about Deepin

  • Beautiful and functional desktop environment – MAC users will love the look and feel
  • Friendly user interface that isn’t cluttered
  • Built for the Chinese market

6
LXQT

LXQt running on Lubuntu

Last, but not least, LXQt is a lightweight desktop environment that is free and open source. It was created by combining the LXDE and Razor-QT projects. LXQt, like its GTK predecessor LXDE, does not deploy or develop its own window manager; instead, it allows the user to choose whatever window manager to use.

LXQt is the default desktop environment for the Lubuntu distribution. It is super lightweight and will run on embedded and outdated hardware happily.

Things to like about LXQt

  • Super fast and super lean – but don’t be fooled! LXQt looks great and supports a broad range of applications
  • Plain, but simple – no bloat for old computers with not much grunt
  • Works on SBC with experiment Rasperry Pi Support
  • Full Qt5 support
  • Plenty of translated languages
  • A traditional UI will ensure easy usability

7
XFCE

Xfce running on Xubuntu

Xfce, often known as XFCE, is a free and open-source desktop environment for Linux and other Unix-like operating systems.

Xfce strives to be fast and lightweight while remaining aesthetically appealing and simple to use. The classic Unix principle of modularity and reusability is embodied in Xfce. It is made up of various packed elements that, when combined, provide complete desktop environment features but may be selected in subsets to fit user needs and preferences. Xfce also prioritises conformance to standards, notably those established by freedesktop.org.

Xfce, like GNOME, is based on the GTK toolkit, although it is not a derivative of GNOME. It makes use of the Xfwm window manager. Its configuration is entirely mouse-driven, with the configuration files hidden from the casual user.

Many Linux distributions use Xfce because it runs well on a wide range of hardware. However, not only can Xfce run on a low-powered system, but it can also happily run-on single board computers like the Raspberry Pi, very happily.

Things to like about Xfce

  • Based on the GTK Toolkitg
  • Like LXQt, runs very happily on low powered computers with minimal CPU and Memory
  • Simplicity is at it’s heart. No frills, not cluttered, basic desktop and navigation
  • Super stable with a consistent release cycle (minor)
  • Surprisingly customisable – swap icons, change fonts, multiple panelling
  • Just enough settings to get the job done

My personal choice is KDE Plasma

It’s an easy transition from Windows, full stop. There’s not much in common between Plasma and Windows that doesn’t have a steep learning curve. Taskbars, window management, file managers, and settings all made sense coming from Windows.

I’ll point out that KDE doesn’t require customization out of the box if you don’t want to—though, unlike GNOME3-based systems, you have the option to go to town if you want.You can even make Plasma look like MacOS, complete with dock, if you really want to; it’s that changeable.

I personally felt that with a few tweaks, which I’ll cover in a separate post, I was quickly working away with the built-in applications (Kate, Okular, Kdenlive, and others), similar key mappings, and shortcuts to Windows, and Dolphin is a very feature-rich file manager that provides me with the features I have in a similar context to Windows, and Dolphin is a very feature-rich file manager that provides me with the features I have in a similar context to Windows.

Having said that, it’s not all peaches and cream. I do suffer from application crashes that happen in the background, but I wouldn’t know they’ve crashed if KDE didn’t notify me of such things, so there’s that.

Additionally, KDE Connect is a nice little addition that lets me control my Kubuntu instance from my mobile device and other paired devices—super nice.

Summary of Desktop Environments

So, there you have it. If you’re new to Linux and are looking for a reliable, well-maintained distribution, then I suggest starting with Cinnamon, KDE Plasma, or GNOME. The following is a list of desktop environments and the popular* distributions on which they are available. I dare say if you’re coming from a MAC, then a GNOME-based distro will be your best bet; if you’re a Windows user, then you’ll probably feel more at home with a Cinnamon- or KDE-based distro.

Pop over to DistroWatch for an extended list! Happy trails.

Desktop EnvironmentDistribution Availability
(my picks are bolded)
CinnamonEndeavourOS
Linux Mint
Manjaro
Fedora
Debian
Garuda Linux
openSUSE
Arch Linux
KDE PlasmaMX Linux
EndeavourOS
Manjaro
Fedora
Garuda Linux
openSUSE
Kali
Kubuntu
KDE Neon
Tuxedo OS
Ubuntu Studio
Arch Linux
GNOMEMX Linux
EndeavourOS
Manjaro
Pop!_OS
Fedora
Ubuntu
Debian
Garuda Linux
openSUSE
Zorin OS
Kali Linux
Gentoo Linux
KNOPPIX
ClearOS
Parrot
MATEEndeavourOS
Linux Mint
Majaro Linux
Fedora
Debian
Garuda Linux
openSUSE
Gentoo Linux
Parrot
Arch Linux
Ubuntu MATE
DeepinDeepin
LXQTEndeavourOS
Linux Mint
Majaro Linux
Fedora
Debian
Garuda Linux
openSUSE
Lubuntu
Mageia
XFCEMX Linux
Endeavour OS
Linux Mint
Manjaro Linux
Fedora
Debian
Garuda Linux
openSUSE
Zorin OS
Kali Linux
Xubuntu