The Best Linux Desktop Environments for Touch-Enabled Monitor

Touchscreen laptops (and monitors) are all the rage right now. They’re super trendy as most operating systems on the market have really great multi-touch support. For example: if you have a touchscreen laptop running Windows 8.1, it can basically double as a tablet. The touch support is incredible.

On Linux, it is a different story. The touchscreen support is well … spotty and all over the place. Some desktop environments have amazing touch support, almost on par with Chrome OS or Windows. And others just treat your touchscreen like an extra mouse.

1. Gnome

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Version 3.14 of Gnome Shell saw some incredible touch integration, such as long-press to cut/select and paste (like on Android/iOS), some awesome touch-based gestures, on-screen keyboard and more.

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Besides all the new features Gnome 3.14 brought for touchscreens, it’s already a desktop environment that you should seriously use if you love touch. The way that Gnome Shell was put together makes it super simple to switch apps with your fingers. Just touch the “activities” button in the top left corner of the screen. You’ll be brought to an overview mode (much like Android’s open app area).  

When it comes to a touch-friendly desktop environment on Linux, Gnome should be your first choice.

2. Unity

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Besides Gnome Shell, there really isn’t a whole lot of competition in the “touch-friendly” desktop area. If you are serious about touch and are not a fan of Gnome, you should try Ubuntu’s Unity desktop environment.

Like Gnome, Unity supports touch-based gestures that you can use to navigate around the desktop. And they do have many multi-touch gestures. You can read a complete guide of all of them right here.

Along with these gestures, Unity (like Gnome Shell) was designed with the possibility of touch in mind. Switching through applications is fairly easy to do with touch because of the nice dock on the left-hand side. Just tap on an app with your finger to get going!

Though Unity is only really available on Ubuntu, that shouldn’t discourage you. When it comes down to it, the desktop is a really great option for touchscreen fans. Everything is fairly well-designed and easy to navigate by fingertip.

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So you’ve read about the above desktops and decided that you’d rather not use them, but you still want a decent touchscreen experience on Linux. What do you do? Not much actually. All you really need to do is install a tool or too.

The first tool you can install is known as Touchegg. What does it do? Well, it can interpret trackpad-like gestures (two-finger scroll, etc.) you make on your touchscreen and turn them into touch events. It’s actually really cool.

Using touchegg will give you a roughly similar experience to using Gnome or Unity. It will not be as slick, as good looking or as functional. If that doesn’t bother you, download this small little program, add it to your startup programs and enjoy your new touch experience on your favorite desktop!

Note: the instructions for how to install touchegg are located on the page in which you download it from.

When it comes to touch, Linux still has a long, long way to go. With touchscreen-based computers becoming incredibly popular, it has never been more apparent that Linux developers need to step up their game.

16 comments

  1. You make it sound like touch-friendly desktop environments are the be-all-end-all of computing. Let’s not try to shoehorn all computing into the same pigeon hole. Touch screens are great for handheld devices but are counter-productive for desktop computers. I have a 21″ monitor and am sitting at least 30″ away from it. For me to use a touch screen, I would have to lean forward to get closer to my monitor on every action I attempted. If I was using a larger monitor, say a 27″, I would have to get out of my chair to touch the screen.

    Touch screens are for consuming content, not for creating it. I would hate to have to write anything using an on-screen keyboard instead of a physical one.

    • That’s your opinion. I made this for people WITH touch screens who WANT to get the most out of it.

    • I did not get that the author was saying touch screen was the way to go at all–just offering helpful advice for people who want to use linux with a touch screen monitor.

    • @dragonbreath: You are so off track, it’s train wreck! 21″ touch-monitors? Just FYI… Touch-screens are used on tablets and laptops that make use of them, many of which can, quite fortunately, run Linux too.

      See, if you start to complain, just to make a point, you should at least do a basic reality check first. (Please don’t, I often find your comments amusing.) :D

      @Derrik: I’m about to try and force Debian onto an Intel tablet. Never knew Gnome had such functionality, but it surely makes it a candidate to try!

      • @attila:
        As usual you are inventing your own definitions. In common usage a “monitor” refers to a free-standing display device. In tablets, laptops, phablets, phones the display device is built in and is called a “screen”. I took the title at face value and was commenting on the shortcomings of a touch screen monitor.

        If you weren’t trying so hard to be snarky and insulting, you would have noticed that in my post I said “Touch screens are great for handheld devices”. A tablet is a hand-held device and it could be argued that a laptop is also.

        • Admitting to only splitting hairs will not make your hair-splitting cease to be meaningless. Or your opinion more meaningful.

          You have added no value, but, as usual you were trying to prove an author wrong to establish your “authority” on something you understand very little. As usual you failed. No insults meant, only facts stated.

          By the by, “in common usage” a post refers to a blog post or article, like the one you criticise above. You know, people actually trying to be useful and writing valuable and informative content. In contrast, your opinions are called a “comment” (in “common usage”, that is), that does not, by definition, has to hold any value at all. That’s probably the reason why they usually do not.

          To be honest I do not have to try hard to be “snarky and insulting”, certain types of comments trigger a reflex that just happens to have this effect. Yours was one of those. G’nite. ;)

          • I guess it’s called bumping, but I just got curious about how you succeeded with linux on tablet, I’d love to install arch on my ZTE V967s but it’s only one of my far away dreams :D

        • Sorry, its you who is creating your definitions on the fly to justify your earlier response. A monitor/display is common technical terminology used to refer to standalone displays and displays on laptops, tablets and other such devices.

          Screen is a term used by non technically inclined folk (technology noobs if I may say so) to refer to any display on a device or even a standalone display.

          I suggest you do not take things at face value and make comments without basic understanding of what the author was talking about.

  2. Thanks a lot, Derrik. I recently got a Asus Transformerbook T300 Chi and i really tried to use the pre-installed Windows 8.1. After two hours i installed ubuntu and gnome2 so touchegg was exactly what i am looking for.

    Thanks a lot.

    • hi Jan, I’m considering buying the T300chi with the intent of installing ubuntu as well, how is your experience so far? any glitches, ideas or comments on the best way to do that?

        • I am typing this on a T300 Chi running dual boot Mint 17.3 Cinnamon and Win10 – of which I am using Mint most often. Really happy with the Core M also. FWIW :-)

  3. Dragonmouth – you make it sound like you didn’t read the article.

    I don’t understand this sentence: “Though Unity is only really available on Ubuntu, that shouldn’t discourage you.”

    Unity is available on Arch, and also Edubuntu. So yeah not many, but the other distros are free to implement it. But I don’t get why having to use Ubuntu would discourage anyone from using Unity. The unreasonable hate out there is directed at Unity first and foremost, some people are discouraged from using Ubuntu because of Unity, not the other way around.

    You should mention there will be inclusion of additional touch features in Ubuntu once Unity 8 hits the desktop. Nice article :)

  4. Thanks for the article. Myself – I am planning on installing Ubuntu onto a Samsung Series 7 Slate. It’s an intel i5 and it runs Windows 10 like a dream.

    Of course – I wouldn’t be me if it didn’t have Linux on it. Never really had a need prior for touchscreen so I wasn’t too sure how well it would work.

    On this device, without a decent touch interface an external keyboard is just about required to work efficiently.

    To add response to dragonmouth’s comment – I agree in a workstation environment working solely on a touch screen would not make sense, but there are many reasons to have one – including (but not limited to) TABLETS (my case), Kiosk’s, and in combination of a keyboard – use for certain individuals who lack the dexterity required to efficiently use a mouse.

    Thanks for the article – it gives a nice overview of what is available for people such as myself, who are just too lazy to install the OS prior to knowing it will work well.

  5. If this sounds off topic, so be it. Would any of this actually work on an IPod Touch 4? It’s so old I can’t play half my bought games.

  6. never new gnome had touch screen support, cool, think I’ll have a look if linux mint support gnome, think it used too.

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