In Pictures: A Look at Linux Desktop Environments

10th November 2016 by in category IT Support Blog tagged as , , , , , , , , with 0 and 26

A visual showcase of Linux desktop environments

Linus Torvalds’ UNIX-derived operating system has been around since 1991. Today, many of us use a form of Linux without their prior knowledge. Most notably Google’s Android operating system which has Linux and UNIX based roots. Some of our satellite, cable, and digital terrestrial television decoders and receivers use a form of Linux.

As a departure from the usual news-based postings on our blog, we have decided to give you a nice visual post. One of the joys about Linux is how it can fit into the smallest or the mightiest of PCs. As well as its kernel, the open source operating system includes what is known as a distro. Though the operating system is ultimately Linux, a distro governs the look and feel of your installation.

One example of a Linux distro is Ubuntu. This is the third most popular one, with Linux Mint now the most popular distro. Each distro may have its roots in another one (Ubuntu is based on Debian architecture).

The front end look is what is known as a desktop environment. Since the first version of Linux was introduced, desktop environments have always been separate to the guts of the operating system.

Present-day Linux desktop environments


For some time, the KDE window system has been intertwined with Linux. Owing to its slight similarity to MS Windows’ task bar, it has always been a popular one with its users.


By woGue –, CC BY 3.0, LinkNot quite as popular as KDE, GNOME has always been a good second. If you’re familiar with early versions of Mac OS X (or Mac OS 7 to 9), it looks pretty similar.


Linux Mint 17 (Qiana) Cinnamon.png

By Sannaj – Own work, GPLv2

Cinnamon looks like a halfway house between Windows 10 and KDE-based desktop environments. As seen above, it has a slick user interface similar to Microsoft’s operating system. This is the default style for Linux Mint.


Ubuntu 16.04 Desktop.png

By Kesäperuna – Own work, GPL

The Unity window system is associated with the Ubuntu distro. As you can see above, it is a minimalistic and tidy look. The applications dock has its roots in MacOS, BeOS and NeXT systems before then.


Shot-2014-12-22 20-47-54.png

By Davidnotcoulthard – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Smooth, but as this screenshot demonstrates, somewhat cluttered. The upper level task bar is reminiscent of GNOME and Acorn RISC OS desktop environments, with the gloss of Windows Vista.

TWM: Tab Window Manager


By Dmitry Makarov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Formerly known as Tom’s Window Manager, this predates Linux and was seen in UNIX environments beforehand.

Common Desktop Environment

CDE Application Builder.png

By Huihermit – Own work, LGPL.

You can see where KDE got its inspiration from. It is pretty similar to Acorn’s RISC OS system and Workbench 2.0 on the Amiga.


Xfce on freebsd.png

By Silcon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Xfce was developed as a lightweight version of GNOME-derived desktop environments. It is used on Linux distros with limited memory and hard drive space.



By No machine-readable author provided. Armin76~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Fluxbox is one of the most lightweight Linux desktop environments. It has been used in Damn Small Linux and Puppy Linux as a solid yet no frills user interface. It owes its origins to Slackware.

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