There is a wide variety of Linux desktop environments available, which makes choosing one difficult, particularly if you are just getting started with this open source operating system. Let’s start by saying that a desktop environment is a selection of toolkits, modules and applications, as well as libraries that ensure the functionality and visibility of the desktop on the screen. It also allows you to interact with the system. The desktop environment comes with components such as icons, toolbars, panel, widgets, wallpaper and screensaver. It also comes with a basic selection of applications that include media player, image viewer, text editor and more. With Linux, you are not subject to limitations in terms of the desktop environment that you have to use. If preferred, you can install a different desktop environment instead of settling for the default option.
KDE has been around for quite a while. Its development started over 20 years ago and the first version was released in 1998. This Qt framework-based can be easily customized and there are many Linux distributions such as Linux Mint, Fedora and openSUSE, which offer it as the default desktop environment. Although the high amount of options that KDE supports may be overwhelming for those who are just getting started, KDE is ideal for those who like to modify many settings. Its Software Compilation comes with many options including Quassel, Dolphin, KMail and Okular. If you want to have many customization options and have greater control over your system, KDE is the ideal choice.
Originally released in 1999, GNOME is another leading option when it comes to desktop environments for Linux. GNOME uses the GTK toolkit and it is focused on simplicity and it offers a classic desktop experience without confusing you with too many options. In recent years, the traditional version was replaced by GNOME Shell. Since this change wasn’t welcome by everyone, there is also an option known as GNOME 2, which is based in the original. Nowadays, you can get GNOME 3, which features a Classic Mode that will be enjoyed by those who like GNOME 2. The main feature is GNOME Shell. There is a practical Activities Overview where it is possible to see all your tasks, notifications and apps at once.
Just like MATE is based on GNOME, Trinity is a solution that is based on KDE. It is a follow up to the KDE 3 series. This forked desktop environment works with older hardware and it is very customizable, in the same way as the old KDE 3. That being said, Trinity is more than a copy or a version of KDE 3. This standalone desktop environment offers features that are not the same as those offered by KDE. For instance, Trinity doesn;t come with Activities or the semantic desktop component that has file indexing, PIM and search, such as the Nepomuk, Strigi-Akonadi service that many KDE users disable just like the install KDE. Instead, it comes with a fantastic list of applications that include ShowFoto, a photo editor and viewer and Konqueror, which is a file manager and web browser. It is perfect for those who like KDE 3’s look but who want a lighter version.
This has been part of the Linux desktop environment for quite a while. It was originally released in 1996 and it is a lightweight option that comes with window tiling and Preview Mode. It works well with beginners who want a desktop environment that can be easily maintained. Thanks to the useful dialogs, it is possible to customize it without hassle. There is a panel in the default desktop, as well as a dock and some icons. This gives you a familiar interface for users who have not used Linux ever before. Just like other major desktop environments, XFCE comes with its own selection of applications. There is a file manager known as Thunar, a text editor called Leafpad, a media player called Parole, a web browser called Midori and Ristretto, which is an image viewer.
MATE can be seen as a new version of GNOME 2 and it keeps the look and appearance of the old desktop environment and at the same time, it provides software updates and interface improvements. It works well with old hardware since it doesn’t need compositing. It is also perfect for low-end computers. It was originally introduced in 2011 and it also offers some of the GNOME applications. MATE is supported by many major Linux distributions such as Linux Mint, Debian, Mageia, Ubuntu and PCLinuxOS. The applications that come with MATE are Pluma, which is a text editor, Eye of MATE, an image viewer, Caja, which is a file manager and Atril, which is a document viewer. MATE is lightweight and simple so if you don’t need or want advanced features or you are just getting started with Linux, it is a convenient choice.