Why You Should (or Shouldn't) Switch to Each Leading Linux Desktop

Even the simplest Linux desktop has its advantages and disadvantages.


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The perfect desktop is undoubtedly the one you would design yourself. However, lacking the necessary time and expertise, many users hop instead from desktop to desktop desktop with the same enthusiasm as others hop between distros, hoping to find the ideal distribution.

In many cases, they never find their ideal, and for good reason -- even the simplest Linux desktop is a mixture of advantages and disadvantages.

Here, for example, are some core reasons for both accepting and rejecting the seven leading desktops of today:


Leading Advantage: Like MATE, Linux Mint's other desktop, Cinnamon is a classic desktop for GNOME-based applications. However, unlike MATE, Cinnamon is more innovative, including a collection of desktop effects, desktop widgets, hot corners, and tiled windows. The result is a balance between tradition and innovation, all based on informal pollings of what users would like to see.

Leading Disadvantage: Cinnamon is improving in functionality with each release. However, many features, such as the tools for adding applets and desktop widgets, is a matter of mouse clicks rather than drag and drop. Similarly, downloading and installing new applets and widgets are two separate operations for no apparent reason. Such things may sound trivial, but you probably don't realize how much you take drag and drop for granted until you do without it. Lacking drag and drop, Cinnamon can sometimes feel awkward and primitive.


Leading Advantage: GNOME supports an official set of extensions for a fallback mode for systems without hardware acceleration, but there is also a much larger set of unofficial extensions. Although some of the unofficial extensions may conflict with each other at any given moment, the majority are stable enough to be used freely.

I suspect that GNOME started encouraging extensions as a low maintenance way of silencing some of the criticisms about its current design. But whatever the intention, from the user's perspective, the result has been a seemingly endless choice of desktop configurations. The selection of such items as menus and taskbars is particularly rich.

Leading Disadvantage: By default, GNOME consists of two modes: one in which you work, and an overview in which you launch applications and position them on virtual desktops. This arrangement might work on a phone, where the screen is small, but it is a nuisance on a laptop or workstation, especially since you can only launch one application at a time from the overview.

You can judge the popularity of the overview by the fact that a sizeable percentage of GNOME's extensions are designed to hide the overview and eliminate the need for it.

KDE Plasma

Leading Advantage: With the possible exception of Cinnamon, no Linux desktop is as concerned with innovation as KDE's Plasma. While keeping the classic desktop metaphor, Plasma extends it in all sorts of ways, offering easy swapping of icons, tabbed windows for organizing windows on the desktop, widgets on the desktop, multiple desktops, and multiple desktop layouts. You don't need to use any of these, but if you are open to new ways of working, nothing comes close to KDE.

Leading Disadvantage: For years, KDE might as well have been a different operating system for all that GNOME users knew about it. With the current fourth release series, that has become truer than ever. The problem isn't that you can do anything in GNOME that you can't in KDE, but that you do those things differently.

Most desktop configuration, for instance, involves unlocking desktop icons and widgets, and using a mini-menu on each item to edit its behavior and position. Similarly, icons are not added directly to the desktop -- instead, you add them to a widget, which can then be expanded to encompass the entire desktop. These alternatives are simple enough, but they can be confusing until you learn how to use them.

KDE plasma, Linux desktop

KDE Plasma


Leading Advantage: LXDE is lightweight and fast -- undoubtedly more so than any other Linux desktop. If you want to give an old computer new life or if you tend to condemn GNOME or KDE as "bloated," then LXDE is probably what you are looking for.

Leading Disadvantage: Being lightweight has a price. In LXDE's case, that price is a bare minimum of options. Those who view the desktop as only a background against which to start applications will probably see that as a small price, but those who prefer to configure the desktop and work their own way may eventually find LXDE too constraining.

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Tags: Linux desktop, Gnome, KDE, LXDE, xfce, Linux Distro

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