Desktop Environment Discussion

So this thread:

had me thinking about my experiences with desktop environments on linux. My experience has been through Ubuntu and Mint before I tried PureOS.

I always got along with KDE I guess, although I was annoyed by having a taskbar and a status bar, and I never really figured out how to minimize or hide one of these. It should be mentioned that I am an avid windows user. Before they included telemetry I would have been a staunch defender of windows being the best OS out there. As such many of my preferences are formed because of how Windows operates.

Gnome was a breath of fresh air to me. The way it handles multiple desktops is brilliant, but really only shines on single display setups. The keyboard shortcuts to move between these desktops is genius and it all just is so smooth. (I’m sure the i7 and 16gb of RAM are helping in that department.)


So I’m wondering what other DE do you like and why. As I’m new to really using Linux now (as I’ve used it on servers for many years already), I’m curious if I’m missing things.

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To answer your question my brethren. I’m particularly partial to Cinnamon. I like it because it’s beautiful, functional, and flexible. It also has many themes available. I like the layout but it’s top heavy. Oh well! Nothing 16 Gigs of RAM can’t bulldoze.


I tried cinnamon on Mint one time, and I’ll admit I didn’t enough time with it to really experience it, but to me it felt like it was trying to be like Windows too much, and let’s just face it, after Windows 10, MS is the king of giving you a Windows experience.

So what about Cinnamon do you really like?

For me in GNOME it is just the way workflow is not impacted when transitioning to other programs or desktops. It feels VERY windows like without being windows at all. If that makes sense.

Heck if Linux ran just like Windows with the same look, that is what I would prefer.

Well, i3wm is the best DE so far. A simple tiling manager that is highly extendable. Not for everyone since it required extensive customization to suit your workflow. The default is pretty ugly and required some customization to theme. But after get used to it, it is difficult to go back any stacking windows where you need to waste time to move floating windows around.

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No DE, but as it seems you like the un-intrusive way of gnome, have a look for FocusWriter (like Word, Writer, but you really only see your text and a nice background - if you need more, you’ve got to move your mouse to the edges).

I am a longtime Plasma/KDE-User, I do not like Gnome, maybe because I am not used to it.
It is sad that Plasma/KDE, which I have installed under PureOS does not get the love, it deserves.
the packages in PureOS are fare behind the debian-testing pakages .

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Ok but what about Plasma do you like so much? What specifically do you prefer over Gnome?

i3wm is interesting. I wonder if everything has to be symmetric. Can I size windows to whatever size I want and will it remember that sizes and position when I close and reopen that window?

Astonishing to hear that from somebody who came from Windows :wink: Conceptually, I think Gnome kinda goes the macOS way (less is more), while KDE/Plasma is close to Windows, where you can customize almost anything to your needs (more so than on Windows). Take the task/status bar that you seem to dislike: It is 100% under your control. With the configure button, usually to the right, you can remove it. Or move it to the left/right top edge, and while at it, reduce it’s height so it’s like on Gnome. Or reduce it’s width, so it’s like on macOS. Or make it auto-hide, as also possible on Windows. Or, or, or… Or discover the details. Many of the widgets that you can put on such a bar (of course you can have multiple of them…) make good use of, for example, the mouse wheel. Volume: up/down. Taskbar-widget switches tasks, Desktop-widget switches desktops. And of course each widget has shortcut settings, so you might be able to switch the same way as on Gnome (IDK, find out).

In recent years, Gnome learned a few tricks that made it less frustrating for me to use it, like multiple-tabs in the terminal, editor and file manager. In Plasma, this is so basic and old it’s almost not worth to be mentioned. In Konsole, you can even change the name of these tabs(double-click, and of course mouse wheel while over the tab also does what you’d expect…), and in Dolphin you can have a two-pane-view (midnight-commander-style) and have tabs on both sides. Ctrl+I filters inside a folder while unfortunately Ctrl-F always seems broken to me. No big deal, as I always have the embedded Konsole pane open, so I can just find & grep stuff. Or i could use KFind instead. The context menu in Dolphin offers many goodies, e.g. diff selected files. Or compress. Or unzip. Or… Kate has good syntax highlighting, sessions and lots of other goodies.

These apps, Dolphin, Kate, Konsole, are probably the main reason I prefer Plasma, because they are the tools I rely most on.
But it also just always amazed me just how complete the KDE application suite is (when I started, there was no Plasma). When I first used Amarok, it just was the most awesome player I had ever seen. K3B could easily replace Nero burning ROM. Marble, a Google-Earth clone? Sure, why not… Or, let’s just make our own productivity suite, including KOffice, vector drawing, paint, video editing… and so much more.
I like how complete it is, even though I use Inkscape and LibreOffice instead of what KDE offers :wink:


Hahaha, yeah, I’ve only experienced Plasma just from using it, and not customizing anything. My friend swears by it as well. He said that Gnome is also super basic with a few tricks.

The big thing for me is the ability to make multiple desktops. I tend to break down all chat, web browsing, email, and the terminal on one screen, then I have a play screen for steam, then a work screen with workstation, then another work screen with an IDE open. I’ve found this really helps to keep me focused, and if I need something in one of the other desktops, a simple keyboard shortcut with an arrow and I’m there. Now all of this only make sense on a laptop, where you are usually confined to a single screen. On a desktop Gnome with multiple screens is a drag.

I like it, but never really got around to make real use of it. I don’t even know how old that feature is, it probably has been on all non-spartanic Linux desktops in this millenium. Then, when people got bored, about ten years ago, they added some fancy eye candy stuff like rotating desktop cubes or wobbly windows (both Gnome and KDE).

For me it is a lifesaver. My 11-incher has screen good enough for one window at a time. I configured keyboard keys to switch between desktops back and forth. Fast and convenient. I typically use 5 to 12 desktops a a time.


For me the Activities (I think, that is what you call desktops) is the most important feature of Plasma. I have the wish, to separate my tasks, which works very well in Plasma. I got so much used to it, that I really miss this feature in Gnome. If you do ot have any use for it, then maybe Gnome is better for you.

To remember a random layout you just create by hand, and then remember it next time automatically, it is not possible. However, what you could do is saving a commonly used layout and reuse it anytime by configing a shortcut, and there are even a better way to do. I will explain below.

i3wm has the concept of workspace. Use Win + 1 - 0 to open the workspace by default. You could define infinite workspace as long as you have no conflicting keyboard shortcut. So, for example, I use workspace 4 as my “IDE” for coding. I saved a layout to have a larger console on top for using editor like vim, and a smaller console below to type command for testing code. I config it so that when I type Win + 4, the two console windows with defined layout is started automatically. I could work immediately when I enter my workspace.

Good thing about i3wm is very lightweight that you could easily multitask in different workspace. For example, I could open a steam game in full screen on one workspace. Then, I am stuck in game and would like to open some guide in the internet. I could then go to workspace 2 by clicking Win + 2, which I config that the browser would automatically starts. Then go back to the game immediately when you are done. Unlike any traditional windows manager, the transition is instant and no need to quit the full screen game and then re-enter it with lag. You could even have the game and the site in parallel if your screen size is large.

Even the screen is small, you could benefit from instant transition to different application like GIMP, a browser, and text editor without moving your mouse. Of course, it is possible to config keyboard shortcut on Gnome and KDE. But even then, the bulk of DE makes transition to different application slower, which is neglectable when you are just using one application - the browser all the time, and just use some app occasionally. But if you need to use multiple applications and move around different application a lot. Then that lag starts irritate you. If no shortcut, then It is more pain to have multiple application floating around and you need mouse click on window to use an unfocused application. The annoyance stacks up if you are busy and your time waste on moving windows around.

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The point of i3wm, being a tiling window manager, is that you shouldn’t be wasting your time sizing windows. In other words, your window manager should be doing that for you as you have more important things to do. I suggest looking at some youtube videos in order to better understand what a tiling window manager provides before jumping in.

I also came from a largely windows background before moving over to GNU+Linux. I really liked the philosophy of Free Software from Stallman and the FSF and wanted to get into this Operating System.

So, for me, I presently like Gnome 3. Gnome 2, I suppose Mate now, is okay. It worked well to make things easy for me coming from windows xp/vista back in the day. But, to me now, Gnome 2 looks too much like windows. You know what I mean? For my taste, it’s too ‘old school.’

Gnome 3 takes the philosophy of no wasted visual real estate. You’ll see that a lot of web browsers took this deign philosophy to heart as well. If you don’t really need it that often, and it’s taking up screen space that should be going to content, it really should be hidden and not out in your face.

When I first saw Gnome 3, I like a lot of people, instantly hated it. But, after sitting down with it and giving it a chance, I actually really grew to love how it shoved everything out of the way. That’s what I thought I’d hate about it, but it turns out, that’s what I grew to love most about it.

When I open something, that’s what I want to be looking at and focusing on. Not a whole bunch of other bars, panels, buttons, and options that I’m not using right now. They should all pull back and hide themselves until I move my cursor to the edge of the screen to summon them. I can see why this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and people created Mate to keep the old feel alive. But, after getting used to it, I really do love how Gnome 3 organizes everything and places the priority on content first.


Heck if Linux ran just like Windows with the same look, that is what I would prefer.

Are you trying to terrify us? I guess you are missing the continuous slowdown of the machines to a death so you must buy the next one. :smile: No way.

I am probably one of the oldest persons in here judging from the answers. I started my computing experience on text terminals connected to mainframe in Ohio State University. Then moved to CDE for a short period. I never understood why Windows is considered “easy”. I remember once trying to format a usb disk to ntfs on Windows. After 30 min of failure to find how to do it, I put it on a linux machine and I formatted it in a few seconds. How Windows is easy? Because your friend knows it and can help you?

About Gnome I agree with Linus. It does not obey to the user in the sense that is is minimally configurable. I can not accept this. It wants the user to obey to the designers’ choices. Unacceptable for me.

Mate is my preferred desktop although I spend quite a lot of time on terminals and emacs. Sometimes for nostalgia reasons and for speed I will also use the revived GPL’d CDE. KDE is highly configurable but it is usually slow on a little bit older machines. Cinnamon is slow.

XFCE is also good and speedy but I do not like the fact that they chose to mimic Gnome2/Mate. They should have stay with their original look (closer to CDE but more modern). Of course it can be configured to its original look if one knows how it was when it started. Minimizing apps on the desktop (as it was done in OpenLook and later on CDE) is also a nice option.

Mate desktop with compiz enabled and cairo-dock is awesome, eye-candy, fast, stable, highly configurable desktop. Prefered theme is nimbus released by Sun just before Oracle acquired them.


I grew up on DOS, moved to Win 95, 98, NT, 2000, XP, 7, 8 and 10. My experience has been that Linux does not offer anything better than Windows in terms of performance or stability. When you factor in its driver efficiency on current technology (power management and GPU performance) this puts Linux at a relatively large disadvantage.

As someone who has fixed friends, co-workers, and relatives Windows machine, I can tell you that most of the complaints against Windows are 100% user error. It would be like someone getting in a car, leaving it in reverse, and blaming the busted garage door on the car.

I’ve had Windows 10 blue screen on me twice in over 3+ years, and this is on a completely custom built machine. On the contrary PureOS has crashed 3 times on my Librem 13 in the 4 months I’ve been using it.

I don’t say this to paint anything, only to say that perspective can lead to bias.

I love PureOS, and I love Gnome as the desktop manager. I love it so much that even though I have to use Windows 10 for work and projects I’m involved in, I use PureOS in a VM and do 95% of my computing through it.

So Linux is great, especially for server or web facing applications. I can understand why command line could be preferred. I can see why many prefer a GUI.

I don’t think there is a perfect or one size fits all here.

I don’t remember when Debian last crashed on me. Some time in 2003-2007, and I’ve nailed in down to overheating hardware. (It was OpenBrick, fanless design, but not well calculated. Later versions practically had a radiator for a chassis :slight_smile:

I had to regularly help my father with his windows machine, every few weeks. After I switched him to Ubuntu - I’ts all working flwalessly for three years now. There was the initial tutoring required for 3-4 months, but that’s all.

So, you see, my perspective is quite the opposite of yours.

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DOS 5, 6, Win 3.11, Win95, 98, XP, 8.

That is certainly somewhat true, and in many regards the core of Windows has become much better in recent years. What remains is a lot of bloat on top. Also, to be fair, a lot of the blue screens were caused by 3rd parties, not Microsoft.

Still, if you want raw computing power, you’ll most likely always get more out of a Linux machine, at least with reasonable experience in hardware selection. I’m talking CPU, disk throughput and network.
There is a reason that for the first time in history ALL (!) TOP 500 supercomputers run Linux.

A colleague explained to me we’re using Linux for some servers, not merely for cost effectiveness, but rather because Windows could never handle the same amount of (short lived) connection requests per second.

Of course, in every-day life this has not much significance. That compilation and linking on Linux only takes a fraction of the time as on Windows rather alludes to the awesomeness of GCC and clang, or the crappiness of it’s MS counterpart, depending on how you view it :wink:
A similar observation could probably be made for MS vs Libre Office and for boot speeds.
What always puzzled me, is that Inkscape and GIMP load much slower on Windows. I think partially it is (or was, I think improved recently) a lack of optimization, but partially I think DLL loading is just slower on Windows.

On the Linux side, performance problems are almost exclusively related to graphics. I’m using SweetHome3D on my Librem, and that is not the 3D performance one should have in 2018/2019. It runs at least as well on my 2012-made Lenovo Yoga. Here, Java3D might complicate things… In general (without Java?) I think that performance should have been possible in 2002.

On the Librem and PureOS: I have to say, we’re not where we should be. But this is not the “typical” Linux experience. We’re paying a small price for a lot of Freedom. On a “typical” machine with an nVidia board you either have performance (closed driver) or stability (free driver), and you don’t have stability issues that are possibly caused by coreboot/deblobbed firmware and a free wireless driver.
This is probably the main difference between @Dwaff’s experience and yours.


I do not want to go to OS or desktop war, but this simply can not be true. Let me ask: Is a user error that s/he forgot to install or update the antivirus database? I am sorry, but this is Windows fault. Not users’.

Is the constant swapping and slowdown (because every file must be checked against the antivirus database) a user’s error? I am sorry but this is defective by design.

How about defragmentation in most, if not all, of Windows versions? Is this a user error? Or a design defect?

I can continue with this list. How about international support? Is it my mistake that I can not type Greek quotes and several Greek characters because they are not supported? Or that I have to remember very complicated combinations because Windows after so many years still do not support multiple dead keys?

Do they care to conform with Unicode? Because several characters, such as Alphatonos are saved disregarding any standard.

The fact that commercial vendors always provide Windows drivers does not make them great.

About crashes: Windows is not a new OS. It has history. People who lived with their history are sick of their crashes and the blue screen of death. And also it annoys me a lot, that Windows continuously spins the disk. What the hell are they doing? Yeah I know they spy on us…

Anyway, I can not work with a single virtual screen. Number one killer for me of Windows. I am sure there exist extensions that add this capability but I do not have time to look for them. It is so restrictive when you look the one and only desktop. Even CDE from the 90ies had multiple virtual screen support.