Comparing desktop environments

How can someone who has only used one distro (Ubuntu, in my case) and one Desktop Environment (Gnome) understand and compare the myriad choices? Are there any tutorials that compare them? I am sure there are abundant tutorials or YouTube videos that I could check out, so I am asking the Family here for recommendations. If none exist, then hey, here’s a suggestion!

The ideal tutorial would take a single distro, or at most two, and show what is different when switching from Gnome to Xfce to Budgie (for examples), and would explain what is different in terms of appearance and operational features.

What do you recommend?


More than comparison, you can get the gist just by looking at the videos of the particular desktop environments. Many things remain the same, they just look different.

I had thought of doing a comparison but that will take a lot of time an effort and with the next release of the DE, the comparison might be outdated.


as @Jamesread said, i prefer checking them out on an actual install just to get a feel for them. my distro uses a version of enlightenment (which very few distros use as far as i can tell) called moksha, but i also keep a version of ubuntu mate and debian with lxde installed. i use the ubuntu mate partition to have an idea what “stock” ubuntu looks like since enlightenment/moksha can be a bit finicky from time to time and i thought debian would be an interesting look into where ubuntu came from. debian gave me the option when i was installing to add several different de’s (maybe ubuntu does this as well and i just didn’t notice) and i chose to work with lxde because it was new to me :slight_smile:

i did a quick search on youtube for “linux desktop environments comparison” and it looks like there are a few longer videos. it seems to me like trying to cover them all in under 10 minutes would be too brief. as @abhishek said though, all of them are over a year old so i’m not sure how current the info would be.

There are the many flavours of Ubuntu with the different DE’s to try and I did that by downloading the live versions of each to compare them. It takes longer to do, but worthwhile to do. I know that you can use the Cinnamon DE in Ubuntu as I tried it. Personally I found it didn’t really work and if you were going to use it, you might as well stick with Mint which it is made for.

Personally I would say that the best teacher is experience and we are all different and while tutorials can show you how things works, until you actually experiment your self with them you never really know. **The warning with this is, don’t mix different DE’s on your working system as this can be fatal to them as shown here which is I would say essential reading before doing anything. In fact on the Mint forum anyone who suggest doing so is banned from it for doing so even in jest. So the best thing to do is to do it in Virtual box or as I have suggested and keep your system clean. Unless you are Masochist that is and I have no reason to believe you are **

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i had read before (maybe even on here?) that it was a good idea to test out individual “flavors” of ubuntu by downloading the different de’s in the form of lubuntu or kubuntu etc. the link you shared says that it is a best practice for mint and ubuntu. i wasn’t aware that doing otherwise could destabilize a system. this is helpful to know.

i have to admit that i was surprised (probably because previously i had only really worked with ubuntu-based systems) when installing debian that it gave me the option to add multiple de’s. the debian wiki (link below) doesn’t mention any particular issues with multiple de’s and admittedly i only really ever work with lxde when i boot into that partition (though a quick test look at openbox was also interesting), but i will definitely keep your link in mind if debian starts to have problems and needs a reinstall.

the thread about multiple de’s that i was thinking of:

If you read the full explanation given in the article it gives the reasons fully and there are many, many sources that agree with this. Before making this statement I checked them out as I always do with anything I say. This is just but one example;
The agreement with them all is that this can and most often does lead to instability on the system. The advice from trusted sources,that is those with greater experience and developers, is only to have one as it will always best. This is why there are many distros that come in different flavours so if you want to keep that distro, but not use its default DE you can safely do so. If others take the advice or not that is up to them, but I will always give it and always say, if you want to try then do it away from your main system not with it unless you are prepared to lose everything. Then that is on your own head. It would be irresponsible for me to do otherwise and as I say anyone on the Mint forum who suggests mixing them is banned because of the instability issues, it is in their terms of being on the forum which people agree with when signing to be part of doing so. I am checking other forums to see if they have similar things on them, that is OS specific forums just for my own interest so I have a clearer answer

Use live USB or DVD to compare distro and DE.

Personally, I like Cinnamon. Which is very much like Windows.


What I’ve done in the past and still do today, is try them all out using Virtualbox. You can install as many different distros with different DEs as you want in small ~10GB virtual machines, allowing you to see the differences for yourself and try them out first-hand. That, IMO, has been the best way for me to learn the different DEs and find the one(s) I like the most.

My personal preference is KDE.


Well it depends of you like and speed of your PC.
Pretty desktop = more memory ram wasted, and low speeds
opening and closing windows. ( Eg: KDE, Gnome )
Uggly desktops = less ram waste, and greater speeds ( Eg: Xfce, Lxde )
All depends of your preference. :yum:


Just as a suggestion, Cliff Sloane, you might want to routinely use an external hard drive or Dropbox or MEGA to store anything you want to access later. My computers only contain transitory, temporary data which allows me to try various distros for experimentation and comparison. My guess is that you’ll find very little difference between distros except for subjective cosmetic things. I switched my wife over to a Chromebook so I don’t have to do anything but check for needed updates once in a while–she just doesn’t see the little update arrow. And everything she wants is saved on the Google cloud!

Actually, Chromebooks are probably sufficient for 95% of the population, leaving everything else for weirdos like us.


On the contrary, KDE with Manjaro barely uses any memory (3-400MB at idle) and is the fastest distro I’ve used to date. And it looks beautiful. :wink:

It also depends on the distro under the DE. Neon with KDE, for example, uses a bit more memory than Manjaro (5-600MB at idle) and isn’t as fast.

Gnome is pretty hefty on most distros.

XFCE can look good with some tweaking and also varies in speed/memory usage depending on the distro.


Damn you. Now you got me wanting to try Manjaro KDE again!


It is so good! I’m hooked! lol. :smiley:


First, my two cents. I absolutely love KDE.

May I suggest using virtualbox to run ANY OS in a “box” WITHOUT erasing your Ubuntu instalation. If they have a LIVE CD/DVD, you can boot off of the DVD WITHOUT changing your desktop OS, but you MUST know that it will boot MUCH slower than if it was installed on your hard drive.

If they don’t have a LIVE CD/DVD, then install the OS into virtualbox and it will run very close to normally


Joe Collins has a video I will check.

This may be what I am looking for, even though Joe has a bit too much of a “shopper’s” perspective for my tastes.


I withdraw my slight “dig” against Joe. That video is a superb explanation of five desktops (KDE, Gnome, Cinnamon, Maté and Xfce), including access to extensions, tweaking the appearance, and tools for the serious user. To me, an hour well spent.


i have watched a few of his videos. at first i had a similar reaction in that the presentation didn’t seem to be very “polished”, but after realizing how much i was learning from his experience i stopped focusing on the small stuff and found a greater appreciation as you said :slight_smile:


I agree that putting extra UIs on an install can be problematic. To avoid this, when I want to try something new, be it a distro or UI alone, I simply install the object of my curiosity in Virtualbox.

I currently have 7 VMs covering 6 linux distros and 1 Windows 10 Pro install that I use for one specific purpose. They all run really well (except slow-poke WindBloze, of course, which is like an elephant in a snow drift), but they get the job done without risking my primary working install.

I am a fan of Mate, which is basically Gnome 2 resurrected and improved, but happily use other UIs as needed. The only one I actively avoid is KDE as it doesn’t suit me.

The biggest issue with learning different distros/UIs is that folks have to devote the time and effort to make it worthwhile. Many people are simply unwilling to do this.

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A lot of Ubuntu based systems, whether they are XFCE, Mate, Budgie, are still Gnome based, just in a different way, the Environment itself takes over, from being completely Gnome.

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