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Comparison & List of Desktop Environments

The below table shows a comparison of the main desktop environments available for Linux and Unix, as well as the macOS and Microsoft Windows for the sake of comparability.

For Linux (and some Unix operation systems), there are the "Big Two" desktops, KDE and GNOME, as well as many smaller ones and the option of running a stand-alone window manager.

The desktop environment "landscape" has fragmented since the controversial initial release of GNOME 3 in 2011, which spawned a number of soft and hard forks as well as newly created desktops that are nevertheless based on some of GNOME technology; these include MATE (a continuation of GNOME 2), Linux Mint's Cinnamon, Solus's Budgie, elementaryOS's Pantheon, pop_OS!'s COSMIC, Ubuntu Unity's UnityX, Ubuntu Kylin's UKUI.

KDE only had one notable fork, Trinity, which is a continuation of KDE 3.

Other notable desktop environments not derived from either GNOME or KDE include Xfce, LXQt, Deepin Desktop, CDE, Lumina, as well as Enlightenment and its fork Moksha.


Click here to see an older version of this comparison which includes additional desktop environments (Pantheon, Deepin, UKUI, CDE, Enlightenment, Trinity, UnityX, and Lumina). This extended comparison was up to date as of beginning 2022 but will not be updated anymore.


Comparison of Desktop Environments (short version)

Source: eylenburg.github.io

Last updated: 8 February 2024

KDE Plasma GNOME Xfce MATE Cinnamon LXQt Budgie Aqua (macOS) Windows Shell
General
License GPL GPL GPL, LGPL, BSD GPL, LGPL GPL GPL, LGPL GPL, LGPL Proprietary Proprietary
First release 1998 1999 1997 2011 2011 2013 2013 2000 1995Windows 95
Forked from - - - GNOME 2 GNOME 3 LXDE & Razor-qt - - -
Corporate and government backing Blue Systems, Canonical, Google, Qt Group, SUSE IBM (Red Hat), Canonical, Google, SUSE, System76 - - - - - Apple Microsoft
Application suite
Legend: KDE app or fork GNOME app or fork uses Qt uses GTK
GUI toolkit Qt GTK GTK GTK GTK Qt GTK Cocoa WinUI
Window manager KWin Mutter Xfwm4fork of Fvwm Marcofork of Metacity Muffinfork of Mutter Openboxfork of Blackbox budgie-wmfork of Mutter Quartz Compositor Desktop Window Manager
Preferred display manager SDDM GDM LightDM LightDM LightDM SDDM LightDM macOS login screen Windows login screen
Embedded HTML engine QtWebViewBlink, fork of WebKit, fork of KHTML WebKitGTKWebKit, fork of KHTML - - WebKitGTKWebKit, fork of KHTML - WebKitGTKWebKit, fork of KHTML WKWebKitWebKit, fork of KHTML Edge WebView2Blink, fork of WebKit, fork of KHTML
File manager Dolphin GNOME Files (Nautilus) Thunar Cajafork of Nautilus Nemofork of Nautilus PCManFM-Qt Nemo (usually)fork of Nautilus Finder File Explorer
Archive manager Ark File Roller Xarchiver Engrampafork of File Roller - - - Archive Utility File Explorer
Document/PDF viewer Okular Evince - Atrilfork of Evince xreaderfork of Atril qpdfview - Preview Edge
Image viewer & management Gwenview, digiKam, ... eogEye of GNOME, Image Viewer, ... Ristretto Eye of MATEfork of eog (Eye of GNOME) xviewerfork of eog (Eye of GNOME), pixfork of gThumb LXImage - Preview, macOS Photos Windows Photos
Image editing Krita, ShowFoto GIMP - - - - - macOS Photos Paint
Text editor Kate, KWrite GNOME Text Editor, gedit Mousepad Plumafork of gedit xedfork of Pluma Featherpad - TextEdit Notepad, WordPad
Media player Dragon, Kaffeine, ... GNOME Videos (Totem) Parole - xplayerfork of Totem - - Quicktime Player Windows Media Player
Music library Elisa, Strawberry, ... GNOME Music, ... Xfmpc - - - - Apple Music Windows Media Player
Web browser Falkon GNOME Web (Epiphany) Midori - - - - Safari Edge
Email client KMail, Trojita Geary, Evolution - - - - - macOS Mail Outlook for Windows
Calendar KOrganizer GNOME Calendar Orage - - - - macOS Calendar Outlook for Windows
General features
Display server support X11 + Wayland X11 + Wayland X11 X11 X11 X11 X11 Quartz Compositor Desktop Window Manager
Fractional scaling (for HiDPI monitors) Yes Experimental Yes No Yes No Yes) Yes Yes
HDR (high-dynamic range) support Yes No No No No No No Yes Yes
VRR (variable refresh rate) support Yes No No No No No No Yes Yes
Display colour profiles Yes Yes No No No No No Yes Yes
Preferred style of window decorations (SSD/CSD) Server-side decorations Client-side decorations Server-side decorations Server-side decorations Server-side decorations Server-side decorations Client-side decorations Mixed Mixed
Theme support, including 3rd-party themes Yes Not out of the boxneed to install gnome-tweaks and gnome-shell-extensions Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
Scheduled theme switch (e.g. dark theme at night) No No No No No No No Yes No
Night light (reduces blue light) Yes Yes Yes No No No Yes Yes Yes
Panel elements w/o extensions or hidden settings/tweaks
Favourited/pinned apps in app launcher and panel in "Activities" dash in app launcher and panel in app launcher and panel in app launcher and panel in panel in panel in dock in start menu and panel
Panel location changeable (e.g. bottom, top) Yes (all four sides) No Yes (all four sides) Yes (all four sides) Yes (all four sides) Yes (all four sides) Yes (all four sides) No, but can move dock No
Panel auto-hide function Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No, but can auto-hide dock Yes
Clock/volume/battery/network status/keyboard layout Yes (all) Yes (all) Yes (all) Yes (all) Yes (all) Yes (all) Yes (all) Yes (all) Yes (all)
Notification list (e.g. new e-mail, updates available) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Icons for background apps (e.g. cloud sync, messenger) Yes LimitedBackground app indicators and sticky notifications, but no classic tray icons. Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Toggle between local (in-window) menus or global menubar Yes (default: local) No (always local) Yes (default: local) Yes (default: local) No (always local) No (always local) Yes (default: local) No (always global) No (always local)
Quickly uninstall apps from app launcher (e.g. right-click) Yes No No No No No No Yes Yes
Window management
Taskbar/dock: toggle between showing windows or apps Yes No (shows neither)dash (in "Activities" screen) shows running apps, but panel doesn't show running apps or open windows Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No (only shows apps) Yes
Maximize window (without hiding panel/dock/taskbar) Yes Yes (right-click) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes keyboard shortcut only Yes
Fullscreen (hides panel and other element) Yes keyboard shortcut only Yes (right-click only) keyboard shortcut only keyboard shortcut only keyboard shortcut only keyboard shortcut only Yes No
Minimize Yes Yes (right-click) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Show desktop (minimize all windows) Yes keyboard shortcut only Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes only with keyboard shortcutor trackpad gesture Yes
Keep window on top Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) No No
Move to other workspace/show window on all workspacesworkspace = virtual desktop Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Drag & drop / No Only in Task View
Tile windows by moving them to the screen edge ("Snapping") Yes (½ or ¼ screen) Yes (½ screen only) Yes (½ or ¼ screen) Yes (½ or ¼ screen) Yes (½ or ¼ screen) No Yes (½ screen only) No snappingBut supports ½ screen "Split View", which can only be initiated by hovering over the window's fullscreen button with the cursor and then selecting the option. Yes (½, ⅓ or ¼ screen)
Move/resize windows using Alt (or Meta) + Left/Right Click Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes No/No No/No No/No
Show overview of all windows and workspaces Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No Yes Yes
Virtual desktop cube Yes (Plasma 6) No No No No No No No No
File managerDolphinGNOME Files (Nautilus)ThunarCajaNemoPCManFM-Qt Nemo (usually) FinderFile Explorer
Icon/column/tree view Yes/Yes/Yes Yes/Yes/Yes Yes/Yes/in side panel Yes/Yes/in side panel Yes/Yes/in side panel Yes/Yes/in side panel Yes/Yes/in side panel Yes/Yes/No Yes/Yes/in side panel
Tabs or split-pane view Yes/Yes Yes/No Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/No Yesexperimental/No
Toggle to show/hide hidden files Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes keyboard shortcut only Yes
Sort by: name/type/size/date Yes/Yes/Yes/Yes Yes/Yes/Yes/Yes Yes/Yes/Yes/Yes Yes/Yes/Yes/Yes Yes/Yes/Yes/Yes Yes/Yes/Yes/Yes Yes/Yes/Yes/Yes Yes/Yes/Yes/Yes Yes/Yes/Yes/Yes
Thumbnail support in file manager and file pickeropen/save dialogue Yes/Yes Yes/Dependsonly if folder was opened previously in the file manager Yes/No Yes/No Yes/No Yes/Yes Yes/No Yes/Yes Yes/Yes
Type-ahead find in active folder Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Filter files in active folder Yes Not reallyYou can change the "Search in Subfolders" setting to "Never". This will filter the files in the folder by name, but you lose the recursive search feature. Not reallyYou can change the "Search in Subfolders" setting to "Never". This will filter the files in the folder by name, but you lose the recursive search feature. No No Yes No No No
Recursive file search Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Undo rename or deletion with Ctrl+Z Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes YesCmd + Z Yes
Duplicate file options Keep new/old/rename Keep new/old/rename Keep new/old Keep new/old/rename Keep new/old/rename Keep new/old/rename Keep new/old/rename Keep new/old/rename Keep new/old/rename
Create new empy file Yes only files from ~/Templates Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Select multiple files with Ctrl/Shift, and invert selection Yes/Yes Yes/keyboard shortcut only Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/keyboard shortcut only Yes/Yes
Edit, copy or paste folder location/path Yes keyboard shortcut only Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes keyboard shortcut only Yes
Go up a level (to parent directory) Yes keyboard shortcut only Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes keyboard shortcut only Yes
Distribution support
Number of supporting active distributions (Distrowatch.com) 64 74 88 51 33 35 13 macOS only Windows only
Debian option during installation pre-selected at installation option during installation option during installation option during installation option during installation officially supported
Ubuntu default in Kubuntu default desktop (modifiedUbuntu comes with a heavily modified GNOME desktop by default, which is configured to look and behave similar to the previous default desktop Unity) default in Xubuntu default in Ubuntu MATE default in Ubuntu Cinnamon default in Lubuntu default in Ubuntu Budgie
Fedora default in KDE Spin default desktop default in Xfce Spin default in MATE Spin default in Cinnamon Spin default in LXQt Spin default in Budgie Spin
openSUSE option during installation option during installation option during installation officially supported officially supported officially supported officially supported
Arch option during installationin archinstall option during installationin archinstall option during installationin archinstall option during installationin archinstall option during installationin archinstall option during installationin archinstall option during installationin archinstall
FreeBSD officially supported officially supported officially supported officially supported officially supported officially supported officially supported
Usage share (estimate)
GamingOnLinux.com User Statistics (06/2023) 38.8% 30.5% 7.8% 2.4% 7.5% 0.4% 1.0%
Hardware for Linux Trends (06/2023) 25.8% 42.5% 7.7% 2.9% 0.9% 1.7% 0.4%
Arch (no default desktop) - installations (06/2023) 36.6% 21.6% 13.6% 2.2% 3.4% 2.4% 0.6%

Full list of desktop environments

Legend: major currently used desktop environment, minor desktop, smartphone user interface, discontinued/dead


Again, click here to see an older version of this comparison which includes additional desktop environments (Pantheon, Deepin, UKUI, CDE, Enlightenment, Trinity, UnityX, and Lumina). This extended comparison was up to date as of beginning 2022 but will not be updated anymore.


Click here to show my review of 15 Linux desktop environments, with screenshots and comparison of RAM use (from 2021, will not be updated anymore)


RAM Use

Below is a graph showing the RAM use in excess of the 261 MB used by the base system (without GDM3 or X.Org running).

RAM Use by Desktop Environment

This is based on 3 test runs:

Results:

  1. Enlightenment: 70 MB. (best performance: run 3, Ubuntu 20.04 + Enlightenment from Ubuntu repository)
  2. Lumina: 93 MB. (best performance: run 1, Ubuntu 20.04 Lumina Remix)
  3. Trinity: 185 MB. (best performance: run 1, Ubuntu 20.04 + Trinity from developer's PPA)
  4. LXQt: 243 MB. (best performance: run 1, Lubuntu 20.04)
  5. Pantheon: 302 MB. (best performance: run 1, elementary OS Hera based on Ubuntu 18.04)
  6. Unity: 335 MB. (best performance: run 3, Ubuntu 20.04 + Unity from Ubuntu repository)
  7. Budgie: 336 MB. (best performance: run 3, Ubuntu 20.04 + Budgie from Ubuntu repository)
  8. KDE Plasma: 347 MB. (best performance: run 1, Kubuntu 20.04)
  9. Cinnamon: 348 MB. (best performance: run 3, Ubuntu 20.04 + Cinnamon from Ubuntu repository)
  10. MATE: 376 MB. (best performance: run 3, Ubuntu 20.04 + MATE from Ubuntu repository)
  11. Xfce: 394 MB. (best performance: run 1, Xubuntu 20.04)
  12. GNOME: 408 MB. (best performance: run 3, Ubuntu 20.04 + Gnome-Shell from Ubuntu repository)
  13. CDE: 419 MB. (best performance: run 1, Ubuntu 20.04 + CDE from SparkyLinux repository)
  14. UKUI: 438 MB. (best performance: run 3, Ubuntu 20.04 + UKUI from Ubuntu repository)
  15. Deepin: 490 MB. (best performance: run 3, Ubuntu 20.04 + Deepin from UbuntuDDE PPA)

Having a closer look

Budgie

Common Desktop Environment (CDE)

Cinnamon

Deepin Desktop Environment (DDE)

Enlightenment

GNOME

KDE Plasma

Lumina

LXQt

MATE

Pantheon

Trinity Desktop Environment (TDE)

UKUI (Ubuntu Kylin User Interface)

UnityX

Xfce