The Best Linux Desktop Environments of 2022

Desktopenvironments Computer

As Linux users, we’re often spoiled for choice when it comes to software. There are some basic programs that we keep coming back to that are so integrated into the stack that we forget they’re even there. However, when it comes to things like desktop environments, it can be hard to determine the best option for exactly what you’re going to use it for. We have reviewed different Linux Desktop Environments, and there’s a lot of overlap between use cases. Here we show you the best Linux Desktop Environments for your particular use case.

Note: the following list is not listed in any particular order, and Window Managers are not included.

1. GNOME Shell

For (New) Laptop Users

For users of new laptops, I would recommend GNOME. One thing is for sure: Gnome is not the easiest to use straightaway. Its design deviates from the usual desktop design, and you need extensions to enable some features that should be there from the start.

However, the way GNOME is constructed with Wayland being the default display server protocol means that it has great built-in touchpad gesture support, and its extensions enable you to extend its functionality. The good thing is, you can easily transform GNOME into something tailor-made for you within minutes!

Gnome Desktop

With a large suite of extensions, this desktop environment is noticeably heavier on system resources, so this is a recommendation for those users that have a mid-range laptop.

For Workstation Users

I recommend GNOME for workstations as well, particularly Pop! OS with GNOME. Pop! OS is such a great choice for workstation users because of the ease of installation on PCs with Nvidia GPUs. There’s a separate ISO file that already contains the proprietary Nvidia drivers, making it a total piece of cake to work with. It’s also such a polished workstation distro that’s so tightly integrated with GNOME that the whole package is simple to use.

Just keep in mind that at any point in the near future, Pop!_OS may move onto its home-brew desktop environment called COSMIC. While similar to GNOME, the differences are sufficient that you may have to make several adjustments to settle in with the new environment if you switch over. Like most other distros, Pop!_OS will have GNOME as a package just in case you really don’t like COSMIC once the switch happens.

2. KDE Plasma

If you’re the kind of person who likes to constantly tinker and change the way your OS experience flows, Plasma is absolutely for you. In our review, we called it the “Swiss army knife” of DEs. You can change every aspect of Plasma, meaning you can make it look almost exactly like macOS or Windows if that’s something you’d like to do. There are endless customizations you can do to Plasma, which means that if you’re willing to put in the work, you can really make it work for any workflow.

Plasma Desktop

If you want to look at how much you can change Plasma, have a look at some of the modifications made by Garuda Linux.

3. Cinnamon / Pantheon

If you’re coming from either Windows or macOS, I would highly recommend Cinnamon or Pantheon, respectively. Cinnamon is a kind of gateway DE: it has many customization options, but it’s also just exactly what you’d expect coming from Windows. It feels much like Windows 7 in its workflow, and it’s even very gentle on system resources, which makes it an ideal fit for your relatively old machine that doesn’t run Windows very well anymore. Things will fly once you install Cinnamon.

Cinnamon Desktop

Pantheon is quite like macOS. If you’re coming to Linux from macOS, I would highly suggest that you try out elementaryOS, which is home to the most natural and integrated experiences with Pantheon in the community. The workflow is exactly the same as macOS, and there are more touchpad gestures and features that are set to make Pantheon work even more like macOS.

Pantheon Desktop

Pantheon is also one of the easiest experiences for HiDPI displays, which makes total sense for a DE designed to swap in for macOS. It will automatically detect the resolution of your display and make things look appropriately-sized for your monitor.

You will get the best Pantheon experience from elementaryOS. Alternatively, in Ubuntu and Debian-based systems, you can install elementary-desktop to get Pantheon. If you want to install this in Arch, the process is a bit complicated but you can check the Arch Wiki for guidance.


If you have an older or less powerful machine, particularly an old netbook, XFCE would be a great choice. It’s incredibly lightweight when pared down and strikes the balance between extremely lightweight DEs like LXDE or LXQt and full-fat DEs like KDE and GNOME. Its resource usage is very low, but there are still many options for customization and configuration. One of the cleanest and easy-to-use implementations of XFCE is in Xubuntu, with a great icon theme and high-quality menus.

Xfce Xubuntu Desktop

5. Budgie

If you want a highly-customizable desktop experience like KDE Plasma offers, but without the high learning curve, Budgie provides an excellent canvas for you. Using a lot of GNOME’s suite of applications, users of the eponymous environment or Cinnamon will find Budgie very familiar, though it has a more modern look than the latter.

Desktopenvironments Budgie

6. Deepin

If you want a complete out-of-the-box experience, Deepin offers a unique, sleek visual style that was tailor-made for the Chinese market. Although it’s lacking in customization options, many of its fans point out that the styling and workflow is already more than satisfying as-is.

Desktopenvironments Deepin

Deepin is meant to be used with its namesake distro, but that shouldn’t stop you from installing it in your favorite! Almost every other distro contains a Deepin desktop package.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I install more than one desktop environment?

Absolutely! But you can only use one at any point of time. In addition, some desktop environments might not play well with your current configuration. Sometimes, it won’t show up on your display manager (the thing that starts up when you see a graphical login screen). Other times, applications and visuals from one desktop environment will “bleed” into the other.

This happens, for example, when you install Budgie over Cinnamon in Linux Mint. Since they use the same files for styling and visuals, a visual change in one will affect the other.

Remember to make a proper backup of your system using applications like Timeshift or rsync before installing a new desktop environment so you can reverse the changes if you experience a catastrophe.

Should I pick my distro based on the environment it comes with?

You’ll have a better experience and less headache using a distro that comes with your desktop environment. Installing KDE on vanilla Ubuntu, for example, will be less intuitive than using Kubuntu (Ubuntu with Plasma pre-integrated) right off the bat. That doesn’t mean you can’t use your favorite distro and your favorite desktop environment at the same time, but it does mean you may have to work for it a little.

How is KDE Plasma different from Cinnamon?

While these two desktop environments may look similar at first, they provide entirely different application suites that come from a difference in goals for the developers.

KDE’s developers diverged their desktop away from GNOME several years ago and have since worked on providing a unified experience through one platform.

Cinnamon, instead of completely abandoning the GNOME suite, adapted to use some of it (Gedit, GNOME Terminal, GNOME System Monitor, etc.) while providing an entirely different visual experience. Because of this, Cinnamon’s interface might not be entirely uniform as some of the GNOME applications it uses don’t conform completely with the visual styling.

KDE applications, on the other hand, adopt the universal system theme seamlessly, providing a more uniform experience.

Image credit: Ian Allen on Wikimedia Commons

Miguel Leiva-Gomez
Miguel Leiva-Gomez

Miguel has been a business growth and technology expert for more than a decade and has written software for even longer. From his little castle in Romania, he presents cold and analytical perspectives to things that affect the tech world.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Our latest tutorials delivered straight to your inbox