Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Best Linux Desktop Environment is...

The one that works best for you.

Plain and simple - case closed. You shouldn't be using the desktop that I tell you works best. You shouldn't be using the desktop that Linus Trovalds tells you works best. You know what works best for your needs - no one else does.

Want to know how many different Linux desktops I tried before I eventually settled on E17?
  • KDE 3.5
  • Gnome 2
  • XFCE
  • LXDE
  • Openbox
  • KDE 4.x
  • Unity
The important thing is that whatever desktop you are using allows you to be productive and doesn't hinder your work flow (and if it is pretty that is a plus).

If you are unsure about which desktop is best for you with all the recent changes that have come about in the Gnome/Ubuntu camps I encourage you to go grab some LiveCDs that feature the latest versions of the various desktops and give them a try. By that I mean a real try - don't just boot the system up, use it for 15 minutes and think you are an expert. Use the desktop for your everyday tasks for a few days, see if it feels right. Find out things you like/don't like and discover things that make each different desktop unique.

Everyone knows I love E17. I enjoy using it because it is fast, flexible, and --- when I want it to be --- flashy.

What is your desktop of choice on your FOSS operating system and why do you stick with it?

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. Xfce, because it can look good and still be more like a traditional desktop.

    I would use KDE 4 because I like its programs and looks so much and I hate downloading over 9000 dependencies on every system upgrade. I especially like Amarok, what a brilliant program. I don't get why everyone hates on it, it has such an innovative and practical interface, as well as being good-looking. It has a few crash bugs, but that's all being sorted out.

    E17 drives me up against the wall with its constant crashes and quirks. What's the point of a menu button if you just click on the desktop? And why can't I pull up the menu by pressing, say, the super key?! That stuff is basic, and the menu is essential. Yes, I know the click menu is a bit different but under most setups, it's just about the same. But mostly because I can't stand the crashes, and I'm not one for beta-quality software. I wish they would just focus on the bugs and make a stable release after all these years. I love its speed and looks though.

    LXDE is far too bare-bones and the default incarnation looks about as nice as an elephant's diarrhoea. The themes are not much better either. Worst of all, all the system configuration programs are seriously unfinished. Only the file manager feels kind of OK. It just isn't ready. And performance is roughly the same as that of Xfce anyway. I don't want to edit text files. Finish it first. The last version I tried was about a year ago, was still crap.

    GNOME 3 (Shell) is bad. Really bad. The global menu--the focus on the keyboard--the crippling of the faithful mouse, oh God what have they done. Just why. I don't like using the keyboard. One hand is resting and the other is on the mouse at all times, because most of what I do on the computer is web browsing to be fair, like almost everyone with an internet connection (unless you use a word processor or IDE a lot). The GNOME developers really have lost it. The only decent incarnations of it are those that revert back to a classic sort of desktop. And I mean, c'mon, no MINIMISE/MAXIMISE BUTTONS?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! YOU RAT BASTARDS!

    Unity for some reason never loads up on the Ubuntu ISO. I have a 3D graphics card and all that but the live disc never boots into the system for some reason. I figured I wouldn't like it much anyway and didn't look for solutions.

    So yeah, Xfce it is until I get a better computer. I'm on a single-core PC from 2003 with 1 GB of RAM and yes, an IDE hard drive (o_O). Obviously the graphics card has been added separately, which is why it's 3D (an NVIDIA GeForce 6800GT). I'd happily switch to KDE though on a speedier PC. And I really like E17 too but it's a bit broken at the moment. And it probably needs some new and different interface guidelines if it really wants to stand out..

    1. If stability was your biggest issue with E17 I would encourage you to give the latest Bodhi disc another go - I use the system daily and have yet to get an E segfault (crash) this calendar year. As for your comments about the menu... You are free to edit the system as you wish - the default menu behaviour is easy to change. By default Bodhi binds the "menu" key to show the start menu - not super.

    2. Jeff's right, give bodhi a go and you'll be suprised... just think outside the box in terms of windowish habits

    3. It's true that Bodhi is much more stable and cohesive than E17 tends to be when you install it with the regular Ubuntu packages (though these are improving).

    4. Over the years we've tried a bundle of desktop setups, usually for weeks at a time. Some of our favourites (Fluxbox, E17) take a bit of learning, but reward that proportionately. Not sure all my friends would choose, say, Fluxbox but that's what freedom of choice is for!
      Well, on our hardware we often run Xu/Lu/Ubuntu (& others) in parallel with Bodhi for testing purposes. In that context Bodhi has demonstrated equivalent stability - essentially problem free.
      If you count 'Unity' & Natty Narwhal as Ubuntu, Bodhi was far, far superior in stability.

    5. I can also testify I moved our 3 family PC's on Bodhi middle of last year, and had only one crash so far (running heavy video edition & out of disk space :) ).
      It's really fast & stable ! Good job Jeff !

    6. If you are a fan of kde3.x, then the trinity desktop is for you. For a general desktop, it can't be beat, and is the most powerful. It is good for the casual user and developer alike. Kate has no equal for hand written code development.

      Thanks All -- and give the trinity desktop a try!

  2. I'm a fan of E17, but I mostly use the *box windowmanagers for the keyboard based pseudo tiling.
    Currently I'm using Xfce with Openbox swapped out as the window manager

  3. I've actually gone back to GNOME 2 lately. I really missed the easy, intuitive customizability, particularly of the panels. Not only that, but running Debian Stable with Backports kind of reminds me of my early days with Ubuntu (7.10 - around 9.04) without the crashes.

    Other desktops I've used recently:

    Xfce: Nice, but not good for laptops because of touchpad incompatibility.

    Openbox: Crunchbang's implementation is really awesome, but it started to ignore my autostart file and have random things go crazy.

    KDE 4.x: Really slick-looking but crash-prone.

    GNOME 3 (default shell): Godawful, a tablet interface that sucks on a desktop or laptop.

    GNOME 3 (MGSE shell): Not bad, but not as customizable as GNOME 2.

    MATE: Promising, but currently has too many bugs to use as an everyday desktop.

    I'm looking forward to the upcoming inclusion of Cinnamon in Linux Mint Debian edition, so I can try it out without the bloat of Ubuntu.

    I haven't used Enlightenment in a while. I should probably try out a new version of Bodhhi, but I'll probably wait until later this year, since a new LTS version of Ubuntu comes out next month.

    1. Actually you should rethink KDE 4.8.1 vs Gnome 3.2 stability...

    2. No, you shouldn't. KDE is still a trash. Lots of bling, not much else useful. KDEPIM is pure garbage.

    3. I use Xfce on laptops all the time. I'm not sure what you mean when you say "touchpad incompatibility."

    4. @CFWhitman: My biggest problem is the inability to get scrolling to work consistently, especially horizontal scrolling. I tried gpointing-device-settings but couldn't get that to work consistently. About the only thing that worked was to type synclient commands to enable it in the terminal every time I started a new session. I think I may have had to do that to enable tapping a couple of times, too.

  4. I'm using Unity, but preferred XFce before. I used to customize XFce, using the iconbox to pretty much do what Unity does with the dash bar as a place to launch my favourite programs, so Unity is actually OK for me. I tweak it a little using Compiz and remove the global menu, then it is pretty much the way I want it to be.

  5. Gnome Shell. Because it was the only one designed with focus.

    This is my problem with many desktops, they have no direction. And yes if you don't go with Gnome shell you will go insane. (Though the extensions are very good).

    However it is the only desktop I have ever seen that would work well for mouse, keyboard and touch. Oh ya, its also the next easiest os in the world to use besides iOS and it retains the power of real multiple desktops, have always and will always love it to bits.

    Every time I go back to it I get confused at its "lack of things" compared to other desktops but after I day I get used to its focus and start flying again faster with my work than any other desktop. I literally stare in irritating at window keys now, they seem so unnecessary.

    If you hate it, you honestly haven't tried it, (you can not like it, but its like HATING iOS, its just fanboyism)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Please explain how the need to zip from one side of the screen to the other "works well for mouse," especially when you have to go from the upper-left corner to the right side of the screen to open another workspace.

    3. That's not even necessary, just press Win key an you are done..

  6. While I agree that you should find your own legs to stand on, it can be very useful to listen to people explaining their workflows in order to see a concept. I currently use Lxde, but have done a lot to the underlying Openbox and use the Dmenu runbox and Slock to lock the machine. I was fairly experienced with Openbox, but the two others are new recommendations. The same was the case when I was using Xfce: I got some great inspiration from people of similar mindsets.

  7. I'm lazy. I haven't tried a KDE based distro in ages. For me UBUNTU and MINT just work really well and it is so easy to get problems ironed out on the forums.

    I'm currently therefore running Mint 12 on one laptop with MATE as the desktop. I am using UBUNTU on my netbook but an older version without unity which means it is gnome 2). When I get round to it my next distro on the netbook won't be ubuntu because I have tried the unity thing and I just don't like it. I'm not sure what I will move on to, open to suggestions on that one.

    I have another laptop that i have puppy on which is my get on the net as quickly as possible machine and another laptop with puppy arcade for running games emulators on my tv. (I'm not sure what puppy uses as a desktop, I think its IceWM?!?)

  8. Like "smurf" said :

    I too love the new Gnome 3.

    It was pretty ackward when i first tried it but now, after using it for more than 5 months, everytime i try another DE, it looks pretty complicated for the task we have to do with it.

    For people complaining about "touch" interface, i would say that Gnome 3 has implemented it theh right way in order to use it as a Desktop-PC interface.

    Focus is more oriented toward the applications and NOT the desktop.

    Always loved having more space for my applications than gadgets/control thingies....

    1. "everytime i try another DE, it looks pretty complicated for the task we have to do with it."

      Fair point. If you don't want to do anything complicated, GNOME shell probably works well out of the box. I quickly got annoyed at how hard it is to have a word processor and browser window open at once (for research or reference purposes) in the default setup. To be fair, there's now a window switcher extension that you can download to alleviate that problem, but the idea of downloading something to add a basic function like that kind of annoys me.

  9. I use XFCE, Openbox, Fluxbox, IceWM, and E17 a bit, though I find some things about Bodhi annoying and have been considering replacing it with something else on the machine that I have it on. I haven't tried the recently released upgrade yet, though. I love Fluxbox, Openbox, and IceWM for minimalist environments.

  10. You've sold me on trying E17, although I'm working my way slowly through newbie issues... such as getting eye candy and, more importantly, getting my (executable) desktop scripts to run when I click on 'em. Thanks for the article.

  11. Unity - its the future

    nice and simple

    not yet as stable as i'd like, but quite useable - and improving all the time - in all respects

    1. I'm trying to hold judgement on Unity. Last weekend, after seeing how good it looks, I simply had to rush home for an install/try. After an hour, though, I couldn't wait to get back to KDE. It's not like I'm against change; I actually fell in love with KDE4 from the get-go. However, Unity is so different in terms of desktop navigation that it was frustrating to me. I'm not giving up, but, even though I'm still learning, Enlightenment is just more natural to me.


    2. Heh!
      May you both enjoy your desktops of choice! I tried hard to like KDE4, being a KDE3 user at the time, but.... Just has not clicked for me.
      Similarly, Unity was a big disappointment, although I've given it weeks of effort over the last year or so.
      If it were more configurable, or about one tenth the size, maybe....

  12. I really like Bodhi enlightenment! The 1.4 version seems to be very well put together! The only problem I have is that I can't use the open gl rendering. But this may have something to do with optimus and bumblebee.

  13. Tried:
    Gnome 3

    And everytime I used any of them I always came back to Enlightenment

  14. I hated Gnome 3 until I actually dove in and used it. Now I see just how fast and powerful it is and I love it. For all the reasons stated as failure points above by loannis... I see the same exact points as wins! The fact that I hardly ever have to take my hand off my keyboard to use a mouse is awesome for me. A mouse can be a useful tool but it can be a big hassle too. I can open my browser navigate pages and search without a mouse in G3. If I want to open another app like exaile for music while browsing... a simple tap of the "Windows Key" then type "exa -> [Enter]" (search feature in activities) then alt+tab back to my browser! I never had to take my hand away from my keyboard.

    Also, it should probably be said that I am a Linux Admin. I have lived in the command line for years because on most servers we tend to install without a GUI (Gnome/KDE/etc...) and most servers I touch are remotely accessed. So yeah, I am very comfortable with the keyboard and a mouse is distraction for me. Your average Desktop user will not adopt these work habits easily (or at all).

    As to the no min/max buttons... it is a trivial matter to alt+tab, or if you must minimize or maximize (why that's different visually or functionally than alt+tab escapes though) then use the extension to add them back to the windows.

    Why would that be a deal breaker?

    Also, since you are a mouse lover (no judgement intended) what is wrong with "right click->minimize" on the title bar of the app for that matter. That never went away either.

    I truly believe that most (not all) people that dislike G3 would like it way better if they simply "tried" to adopt the concept of using as intended. Use the keyboard shortcuts, lay off the mouse a bit, be more productive, work faster as you learn it more. You might be surprised to see that it is in fact easier and faster to move around in G3 than in your typical point/click Desktop.

    Anyway, these are just my opinions. I appreciate the article and the points of view on other Desktops like E17/Unity/KDE/etc... none of them are wrong. We all still have something Windows users don't get to enjoy. CHOICE! :-)

  15. I've tried 'em all and after years of loving gnome 2, I tried KDE 4.5 (Slackware) and was an immediate convert. I don't think that one has EVER crashed on me, though it's now updated to the much leaner and still stable 4.8.1.

    The mantra on KDE continues to be "bloated and crashy", but that just reflects lack of recent experimentation with it. I'm on Gentoo right now with 4.8.1 and it has never crashed, and at idle uses less than 300k ram.

    To be honest, it's been a long time since ANY WM or DE has flat out crashed on me... only the nouveau driver has caused that, with no difference as to distro or desktop used. The more recent nouveau is, the less likely it is to crash.

    Despite the "desktop wars" in recent times, linux (or more accurately, distro quality) has improved greatly in the last few years. Fewer glaringly obvious bugs, better hardware support, and (as this topic illustrates well) more choice than ever for DE/WM.

    I was one of the first to bemoan the switch to gnome-shell/Unity, but now, after having used both for a while, I see that they have their merits. While I'm firmly in the KDE camp now, let's not forget that there was a time when fvwm and CDE knockoffs were state of the art for linux guis. Things are much much better now.

    ps - I haven't mentioned E, but I do like Bodhi a lot. Lots of bling with no crashes and very very speedy. Looking forward to the precise-based update.

  16. I don't have a Desktop Environment.

    I don't like KDE for similar reasons I don't like Gnome 3. KDE has some great designers, but ultimately the programs they use crash every five minutes it seems. I don't understand the cashew thing (or even why they would put a cashew on the desktop), or widgets everywhere, or not having a desktop.....basically they tried too hard to innovate imo. So much so that things got weird and unintuitive to me. Gnome 3 and Unity are the same deal.

    As for the other DEs, I think they are all lightweight. They feel clunky to me and arn't fluid like Gnome 2 was.

    This is all a matter of personal preference though. At the moment, I don't really have a Desktop Environment of choice. My laptop is a version behind on Open Suse, cause I don't want to upgrade to Gnome Shell. My work PC has Gnome Shell, but I don't want to reinstall cause it was a pain to configure and would mean downtime. My desktop runs arch and currently has no xserver (afaik...certainly no DE).

    So I will continue my life as a vagrant until such time as something pops up that tickles my fancy. I hope that Mate will be that.

    Though admittedly, I've never tried enlightenment. I downloaded Bohdi but never burned it.

    1. Also, I'll add, I'm kinda disappointed how Compiz kinda just disappeared from the world. (I have no intention of running unity fwiw)

      I miss my wobbly windows.

  17. Thank you again for the blog post. Last night, I spent a couple of hours with Unity and about an hour with E17. I'm an E17 convert, although one thing that I could have used from the blog as a newbie is a link to some documentation, such as the http://trac.enlightenment.org/e/wiki/User_Guide address.


  18. Hello, i really like Bodhi linux, because of E17.
    I have tried KDE 3.5,Gnome 2,XFCE,LXDE,Openbox,KDE 4.x,Unity.... And the winner is always E17!
    Why? because on my old laptop, i can disable all the module i want, i keep just the nm-applet, sound and battery. And so i have a performant desktop for what i want.
    On my desktop, i can enable all the module i want and have a very pretty desktop and performant!
    On ubuntu LTS it's a great idea. (debian why not, but ubuntu it's great too)
    I have liked linux mint debian but i went tired with unity not enough modulable.
    I have also try debian with E17 desktop but version is too old
    So thank you so much Jeff !!!!!
    (sorry for my english, i am a french fan ;)

  19. E17 all the way for me! Since I started using Bodhi on my main machine I don't feel comfortable with anything else. It's fast, lightweight, full of eyecandy and absolutely beautiful.

    Btw, good blog Jeff

  20. I use current opensuse with newest KDE, a perfect combination. Neverever any crashes, not any problems with codecs and firmware.
    Bohdi is on 2nd laptop, an old IBMt23, running fast, and I like it much!
    I still get dazzled and confused with all the options of E17 to manipulate the Desktop, and keep going on!


  21. Sorry to maybe be a pest, but, although I am really liking E17, one thing does frustrate me. How do you run a shell script from the Desktop. Granted, some scripts should possibly go into my startup list, but there are some scripts that I don't want to automatically run. Single- or double-clicking onto runthis.sh doesn't run anything, despite the script being marked as an executable.

    Again, I apologize for the interruption, but I haven't had any success with Google or looking through the docs.

    1. Like as in a desktop icon? If so no idea - I don't ever use desktop icons. Try dropping a line to the E mailing list or make a post on the Bodhi forums.

    2. Problems solved. Forums and docs probably have the information, but getting the right keywords for a search didn't work. After a few minutes playing, the solutions became self evident. Either add a settings gadget to the desktop or the shelf, create an application, and then define that application. The coolest thing to me is that E17 seems happy to accept an executable Java JAR file as an executable, which was something that frustrated me with other DM's. E17 is truly awesome!

  22. I tried everything, and when I got to Enlightenment narrowed it down to trying every distro which featured Enlightenment!

    The only non-E environment I still use is Slax (kde)... but I am trying to convince Thomas to use E17 for Slax7.

    And a hat-tip to Jeff, the latest Bodhi works quite well.

  23. I like Tab and Extra Pane on file browser (Gnome, LXDE). Recently I discover e17 with bodhi linux. Enlightenment is really rocks. It's fast, bright, customisable and feature rich, but haven't TAB on file browser. I want TAB and Extra Pane on next version of E 17. Because I will give it to my friends who have older machine.

  24. I tried out linux about 10-15 years ago and wasn't impressed. I was running XP on my laptop which I bought right before they rolled out Vista. Since xp is no longer supported I decided it was time to check the water again in Linux. I did some research and came down to two that I wanted to check out. I am not computer savy much at all but I can wear out google to find out stuff n things. I started with Bodhi played with it for a while then loaded Ubuntu and did the same. I ended up with Bodhi, I was really disgusted with Vista as it was so bloated. Win 7 was better but still bloated with things I never use. This is the reason I chose Bodhi is I can set it up my way and it teaches this old dog how to get around on linux. I am pretty much done with MS hitting me with $100 each time they bloat it up a little different. I read a few reviews on Bodhi and they weren't positive ones. The biggest complaint that I read was it comes with nothing installed. What part of the reasoning behind this did they not understand? You can set it up the way you want it. I suppose you can use any distro and do the same by removing the bloat but this takes time also. I would rather start with a basic install and go from there. I admit I had to google a lot to find out what the apps I wanted were called so I could install them. Bodhi may not be for everyone but I like it.