The next in our series of Linux Desktop Environment reviews is one that’s often overlooked, except by those who are most passionate about it – Budgie. A product of the Solus project, Budgie is a beautiful desktop that aims to provide sane defaults and a beautiful interface. This review discusses the Budgie Desktop user experience, notable features, user experience, and makes some recommendations of where to experience Budgie and who should use it.
When I first look at Budgie, the first thing I think is “Wow. This is nothing quite like I’ve ever seen before.” I look around at the desktop and think it looks a little like GNOME, a little like KDE, a little like Cinnamon, and a little special in a way that I can’t quite describe. It’s the same but a little different. It looks great, and I find myself eyeballing my designated USB stick to reinstall my system. It’s that engaging right away.
The experience of using Solus is quite a bit like using KDE Plasma or GNOME with the Dash to Panel extension. Much like a very traditional desktop paradigm that you’d be used to with Windows, all components of the desktop are contained in the bottom panel.
From the left, you have a searchable menu, some panel icons for pinned applications, and then you have a system tray on the right with networking, notifications, sound, and time settings. It’s a simple and friendly interface, but even more than that it’s intuitive. Having everything pinned at the bottom gives a little more space at the top of the screen for applications. It’s small, but it can make a big difference.
Budgie Desktop Settings
One of the things you don’t always see in DEs is an intuitive place for all your customization. The Budgie Desktop Settings app is a major exception to this, giving you access to a huge volume of customization settings without having to go elsewhere to install any special programs.
Under Style, you can set things like window and icon themes, whether you want a global dark theme and whether you want windows to use animations or not.
Under Windows, you can set many different options related to windows rendered on the screen. You can choose whether context menus are attached to the window, set button layout sides, choose to center new windows on the screen, and focus on hover rather than focus on click. These are all small changes, but users who feel comfortable in a particular workflow will find it easy to settle into Budgie. I especially like the ability to switch the button layout to the left because I used macOS for many years, and that’s what I’m accustomed to.
Another great feature is that under the Bottom Panel are options to set which applets you want in the panel. It’s easy to add, move, and remove applets to customize what’s in the panel. I especially like this because when you click over to Settings and enable Dock mode, it looks best to remove some of the extra stuff from the bottom dock and put it in a panel on the top.
Budgie makes it really easy to tweak little things about the DE, and I think that’s great. As a GNOME user, many of these particular settings are hidden behind Tweaks and Extensions, which is generally fine, but it can be tedious. Budgie is great, as it looks and works a lot like GNOME, but it has a lot of these friendly features for customization and preference built right in.
As I said above, Budgie is a lot like GNOME. Appearance, function, and applications are all essentially GNOME but a better, or GNOME+. There are many Desktop Environments that are based on GNOME, but they all try to take it in a completely different direction.
MATE, Cinnamon, and Pantheon are all specifically meant to do something different than GNOME 3, but Budgie is a little bit different. Budgie feels like someone took the great things about GNOME, took out all the not so great things, set some great default options, and sent that out into the world. As a GNOME user, I really like how they’ve modified things, and I feel like it’s really GNOME but better in many ways.
Another area where Budgie is better than GNOME is in performance and system resource usage. A fresh boot of a fully-updated Solus virtual machine uses just over 620 MB RAM, and CPU usage hovers around 1 percent. This is on par with Desktop Environments like KDE Plasma and Cinnamon. It’s great that there’s something so tightly integrated with GNOME that runs so light on the system. Those who don’t like the weight of a GNOME desktop but want the look and feel would like Budgie.
On top of system resource usage, Budgie also performs better in general tasks. This virtual machine has no GPU passthrough and no 3D acceleration, so the fact that the animations for opening windows and switching virtual desktops are so smooth is a credit to the software magic going on behind the scenes. I could put this on a system with very little graphics horsepower and still have a good time using a very modern-feeling desktop.
The Cons of Budgie
While Budgie is excellent, there are some things that are limiting its potential. For me, the primary one is availability. While I understand that there are ways to get Budgie running on any Linux distribution, it’s hard for me to recommend it to anybody outside of a select few users. It’s not widely available, so users of Fedora and Ubuntu won’t just be able to run a simple command and install the desktop on top of what they’re currently running. There’s much great work going on behind the scenes to make that happen, but in the meantime, you’re limited in your options.
Where to Experience Budgie
While you are limited, there’s one wholehearted recommendation I can make on where to experience Budgie. Solus is an independently-developed Linux distribution for which the developers created Budgie, and the tight integration and overall experience shine together. It’s a great distro all around, given that it comes stock with a great desktop environment and has access to Flatpaks, but if you’re looking for Budgie as it was intended, look no further than Solus.
Who Should Use Budgie
Any GNOME user looking for something lighter would enjoy Budgie. They’re incredibly similar, right down to many of the same applications, but Budgie massages GNOME into a form that works better on older hardware and for users who just don’t want all that extra stuff.