Choosing the right edition

  11 years ago

When I started with Linux in general and with Linux mint in particular I was sometimes confused by the choices I had to make on the basis of little to none information. The first of these choices is the Desktop environment. There is GNOME, KDE, Xfce, Fluxbox, LXDE - so how do I know which one is right for me? This small guide is a collection of my experiences.

I'm aware that it is incomplete and also influenced by personal taste, but it's meant as a starting point, so suggestions for improvement are welcome!

RAM usage

If you're low on RAM, this is an argument for a lightweight environment such as Xfce, Fluxbox or LXDE. Low on RAM means: Less than 1 GB available and / or running memory intensive applications such as video editing, numerical simulations or whatever. Opening a system monitor in a typical session may help you decide. You can also save memory by deactivating startup services you don't use (bluetooth? :-) ), but switching to a more lightweight DE from GNOME or KDE might save you 100-200 MB in addition.

Boot speed

This is similar as RAM usage: A DE that doesn't occupy much RAM will take less time to boot. KDE and Gnome are the heaviest and take the longest time to boot, then comes Xfce and LXDE and Fluxbox are lightest. Besides from your computer hardware, you may also think about the way you use it. For example at work, I turn my computer on once a day, and then use it. Many of the nice features of the Gnome DE (such as the extremely powerful file manager Nautilus, the mint menu, etc.) come in very handy at work. At home however, I often only boot the computer to look something up online, or to watch a video. Here I can go very well without fancy menus, but I am very happy if the computer boots up in 30 s. Therefore, a more lightweight edition is very practical here (I use Xfce edition now).


First of all: Note that all applications run under every DE. However, there are some preferences. If you run KDE for example, QT applications will start faster and look more consistent than in Gnome, because the QT libraries are already loaded. On the other hand, applications designed for Gnome will load faster and look more consistent within Gnome. Xfce is based on GTK, so it behaves like Gnome in this respect.

Look, Feel & Taste

Gnome - Focus on ease-of-use, many helpful tools for graphical configuration, very well organized desktop. Highly configurable, but some advanced features may be a bit more hidden than in KDE.

KDE - Lots of features, highly configurable, generally a bit more playful than Gnome, but also very professional and easy enough for beginners.

Xfce - Very similar to Gnome, and considerably lighter. It has a very consistent look as well, is highly configurable and generally easy to use. However, it is sometimes a tad "rough at the edges" (e.g. menu configuration only via text editing... ) and lacks some of the nice features of Gnome (e.g. a file manager with split screen and sftp capabilities; the mint menu).

LXDE - Does it's job if you want an extremely lightweight, minimalistic DE with a straightforward Windows XP - like look & feel. Close competitor to Xfce.  However, you shouldn't be afraid to edit text files in case you want to customize the desktop environment.

Fluxbox - Seems to have a neat and quite independent look & feel, plus it's extremely light. I cannot tell more about it, because I have only tried it once from CD yet.

Alexio 10 years ago

This article was featured today on the Linux Mint Community Blog. For each desktop environment there is a page with selected videos on the Linux Mint Community Videos website.

Mintification 10 years ago

A very concise pointer towards the different editions. Thanks.

Ricardo-tco 11 years ago

muy interesante, y facil de seguir

passstab 11 years ago

another resource!5762081/wtf-desktop-environments-gnome-kde-and-more-explained

also "may be" is two words

(Gnome - Focus on ease-of-use, many helpful tools for graphical configuration, very well organized desktop. Highly configurable, but some advanced features mayby a bit more hidden than in KDE.)

farnaby 11 years ago

Hi! Thank you for your comments and the largely positive response.
This Tutorial was meant as a starting point and I will further try to improve it. All constructive comments are welcome!
I did not yet incorporate any comments about the 32/64 bit issue, as I myself am not absolutely sure about it. What I think right now, is the following:

64 bit:
+ supports more than 4 GB RAM
+ might possibly run a little faster than 32 bit systems for certain applications. [Which ones exactly?]
- Flash doesn't always work as well as on 32 bit systems.

Note further that 64 bit requires a 64 bit processor to run. Run "lscpu" to find out if your processor supports 64 bit mode. [How to do this in Windows?]

m4daredsun 11 years ago

Thank you for the nice tutorial. I think it will be very useful for those getting started with Linux.

Although not DE related, you could maybe add here some comments on x86 and x64 editions.

RayWoods 11 years ago

I wish this tutorial had been about when I first started playing with Linux! Well done.