The concept of using Linux on a touchscreen monitor or two-in-one computer has come a long way. Touchscreen support is now built in to the Linux kernel, so theoretically, any Linux distribution should run with a touchscreen. That said, not every distribution will be easy to use on a touchscreen, and this comes down to the desktop. This means choosing the best Linux distros for a touchscreen that use the optimal desktop out of the box.
For example, using a tiling window manager like Awesome or i3 isn’t going to do you much good on a touchscreen. Choose the right desktop (more precisely, desktop environment), and you’ll have a much better time using Linux with a touchscreen.
1. GNOME 3
As one of the most popular desktops available for Linux, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that GNOME 3 works well with a touchscreen. Since version 3.14, the desktop has supported touchscreen gestures, which lets you get even more done with your touchscreen monitor.
That’s not the only thing that makes GNOME 3 so touch-friendly. It has large icons that are easy to tap, and the way things are laid out works very well as a primarily touch-based interface. Not everything is perfect, but if you’re looking to use a familiar desktop with your touchscreen, this is a great option.
Some of the best Linux distros for a touchscreen that already use GNOME 3 without extra tweaks include:
- Fedora (one of the best for GNOME 3)
- CentOS (slower on updates)
- Manjaro (updates several weeks after new GNOME releases)
2. KDE Plasma
KDE Plasma is the latest version of the venerable KDE desktop. Like GNOME, the QT-powered KDE has been around for a very long time, so you’ll find users who are as loyal to this desktop as they are to anything else.
The most recent versions of KDE support Wayland, which makes using a touchscreen monitor much easier than using the aging X11 system. They work on Plasma Mobile, which is meant to run on touch-only devices. Touchscreen support in KDE Plasma has improved over a very short time.
If you prefer Linux distros for a touchscreen that have KDE Plasma built in, try:
- Kubuntu (Ubuntu-based distro with KDE included)
- KDE Neon
- Fedora KDE (updated every six months)
If you’re coming from Windows 10, you may find the Cinnamon desktop pleasing, as it’s a similar layout. It doesn’t look exactly the same, which you may consider a good thing, but most of the main elements are in roughly the same place.
Cinnamon has also dramatically improved its touchscreen support in recent releases. It may not be as error-free as GNOME, and it doesn’t work as smoothly as Windows, but it’s still a desktop worth trying out.
If you’d prefer a Linux distro with Cinnamon already setup, try:
- Linux Mint Ulyssa (Cinnamon edition slated to be supported through at least 2025)
- Fedora Cinnamon
- Feren OS (infrequent updates)
4. Deepin DE
Another desktop powered by QT, the Deepin Desktop Environment, ships with the Deepin Linux distribution. People praise Deepin for its ease of use and its sleek, friendly look, and both of these factors stem from the desktop itself.
Since the release of Deepin 15.9, the desktop has included touchscreen gestures. These greatly improve the usability of the desktop, making it much easier to recommend for a touchscreen monitor. The easiest way to use this desktop is in the Deepin distribution, but it is also available for other distros like Arch.
Budgie is another desktop environment developed for a specific Linux distro. In this case, it is the default desktop for the Solus Linux distribution. You won’t find any fancy touchscreen gestures available yet, but you do get basic scrolling and tap-to-click.
Fortunately, if you want to use Budgie for its eye-catching look but also want gestures, there’s a way to do it. There’s a project by the name of Touchegg that can add Mac-style gestures to any desktop. Even better, we have a guide to installing and using Touchegg.
We’ve had a look at some of the best desktop environments you can choose for a touchscreen monitor, but that’s probably not all you keep in mind when choosing a distribution. There are a lot of other things to consider, like what you’re going to be using the distribution for.
Remember, you’re not limited to just the Linux distros for a touchscreen monitor that’s listed. You’re free to install the desktop environments on a variety of distros, as long as the distro supports it.
Don’t want to pick and choose your way through countless distros? Don’t worry. We have a list of the best Linux distros available that will help you find the right one for you.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Lukys