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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 (Budgie, 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: September 2022

KDE Plasma GNOME Xfce MATE Cinnamon LXQt Aqua (macOS) Windows Shell
General
License GPL GPL GPL, LGPL, BSD GPL, LGPLv2 GPL GPL, LGPL Proprietary Proprietary
First release 1998 1999 1997 2011 2011 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 (readme)May include inactive, experimental or 3rd party apps.
blue/orange shading = KDE/GNOME app or fork;
blue/orange font = uses Qt/GTK
GUI toolkit Qt GTK GTK GTK GTK Qt Cocoa WinUI
Window manager KWin Mutter Xfwm4fork of Fvwm Marcofork of Metacity Muffinfork of Mutter Openboxfork of Blackbox Quartz Compositor Desktop Window Manager
Preferred display manager SDDM GDM LightDM LightDM LightDM SDDM macOS login screen Windows login screen
Embedded HTML engine QtWebViewBlink, fork of WebKit, 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 Finder File Explorer
Archive manager Ark File Roller Xarchiver Engrampafork of File Roller File Roller - Archive Utility (ZIP support in Explorer)
Document/PDF viewer Okular Evince - Atrilfork of Evince xreaderfork of Atril qpdfview Preview Edge
Image viewer & management Gwenview, digiKam eogEye of GNOME, Photos, Shotwell, gThumb 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
Terminal Konsole GNOME Console, Terminal Xfce Terminal MATE Terminalfork of GNOME Terminal GNOME Terminal QTerminal macOS Terminal Windows Terminal
Calculator KCalc GNOME Calculator - MATE Calculatorfork of GNOME Calculator GNOME Calculator - macOS Calculator Windows Calculator
Media player Dragon, Kaffeine, KMPlayer GNOME Videos (Totem) Parole - xplayerfork of Totem - Quicktime Player Windows Media Player
Music library Elisa, JuK, Strawberry Music, Lollypop, Rhythmbox Xfmpc - - - Apple Music Windows Media Player
Web browser Falkon GNOME Web (Epiphany) Midori - - - Safari Edge
Email client KMail, Trojita Geary, Evolution - - - - macOS Mail Windows Mail
Calendar KOrganizer GNOME Calendar, Evolution Orage - - - macOS Calendar Windows Calendar
System monitor Plasma System Monitor GNOME System Monitor Xfce Taskmanager MATE System Monitorfork of GNOME System Monitor GNOME System Monitor qps Activity Monitor Windows Task Manager
General features
Display server support X11 + Wayland X11 + Wayland X11 only X11 only X11 only X11 only Quartz Compositor Desktop Window Manager
HiDPI support Yes (fractional scaling) Yes (fractional scaling) Yes (fractional scaling) Yes (2x scaling) Yes (fractional scaling) No (only font size) Yes (fractional scaling) Yes (fractional scaling)
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 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 No No
Scheduled theme switch (e.g. dark theme at night) No No No No No No Yes No
Night light (reduces blue light) Yes Yes Yes No No No Yes Yes
Integration with online accounts Google, Owncloud Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Google, Microsoft, Nextcloud - - Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Google, Microsoft, Nextcloud - Apple, AOL, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo Microsoft
Panel elements w/o extensions or hidden settings/tweaks
App launcher: show all apps / sort apps by XDG category Yeswith alternative launcher/Yes Yes/Nobut can create custom app folders Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes No/Yes Yes/(n.a.)no automatic categorization but can create custom app folders Yes/(n.a.)no automatic categorization but can create custom app folders
App launcher: quickly uninstall apps (e.g. right-click) No No No No No No Yes Yes
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 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) No, but can move dock No
Panel auto-hide function Yes No 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)
Notification list (e.g. new e-mail, updates available) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Icons for background apps (e.g. cloud sync, messenger) Yes LimitedGNOME does not support tray icons, but applications can use sticky notifications, similar to those on Android. However, this is not supported by all applications who would have otherwise shown tray icons. More info here: https://wiki.gnome.org/Initiatives/StatusIconMigration Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Toggle between local (in-window) menus or global menubar Yes (default: local) No (always local) No (always local) Yes (default: local) No (always local) No (always local) No (always global) No (always local)
Window management
Taskbar/dock: toggle between showing windows or apps Yes No (shows neither)dash (in "Activities" screen) shows running apps, panel shows only the one currently focused app Yes Yes Yes Yes No (only shows apps) No (only shows apps)
Maximize window (without hiding panel/dock/taskbar) Yes Yes (right-click) 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 Yes No
Minimize Yes Yes (right-click) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Show desktop (minimize all windows) Yes keyboard shortcut only 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) No No
Move to other workspace/show on all workspacesworkspace = virtual desktop Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Yes (right-click) Only using drag & drop Only using drag & drop
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 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 + Left/Right Click Yes/Yes Yes/YesSuper key instead of Alt key Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes No/No No/No
Show overview of all windows (exposé) Yes Yes (current workspace) No No Yes No Yes (current workspace) Yes (current workspace)
Show overview of all workspaces (virtual desktop grid) Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes Yes
File managerDolphinGNOME Files (Nautilus)ThunarCajaNemoPCManFM-QtFinderFile Explorer
Icon/column/tree view Yes/Yes/Yes Yes/Yes/No 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 dual-pane view Yes/Yes Yes/No Yes/No Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/No Yesexperimental/No
Toggle to show/hide hidden files 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
Thumbnail support in file manager and file pickeropen/save dialogue Yes/Yes Yes/No Yes/No Yes/No Yes/No Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes
Type-ahead find in active folder Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Filter files in active folder Yes No No No No Yes No No
Recursive file search Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Undo rename or deletion with Ctrl+Z Yes Yes No Yes Yes No 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
Create new empy file Yes only files from ~/Templates 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/keyboard shortcut only Yes/Yes
Edit, copy or paste folder location/path Yes keyboard shortcut only Yes Yes Yes Yes keyboard shortcut only Yes
Distribution support
Number of supporting active distributions (Distrowatch.com) 53 74 94 51 29 27 macOS only Windows only
Debian option during installation pre-selected at installation option during installation option during installation option during installation option during installation
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 officially supported default in Lubuntu
Fedora default in KDE Spin default desktop default in Xfce Spin default in MATE Spin default in Cinnamon Spin default in LXQt Spin
OpenSUSE option during installation option during installation option during installation officially supported officially supported officially supported
Arch officially supported officially supported officially supported officially supported officially supported officially supported
FreeBSD officially supported officially supported officially supported officially supported officially supported officially supported
Usage share (estimate)
GamingOnLinux.com User Statistics (07/2022) 35.6% 30.0% 8.5% 2.8% 8.4% 0.5%
Hardware for Linux Trends (06/2022) 25.3% 43.2% 6.5% 2.8% 8.2% 1.4%
Arch (no default desktop) - installations (06/2022) 35.0% 21.6% 14.4% 2.6% 3.7% 2.6%
OpenSUSE (no default desktop) - 2020 EoY survey 64.6% 15.8% 9.7% 0.9% 1.1% 1.2%

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 (Budgie, 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