Ubuntu Flavours (The Ubuntu Desktop Environment List)

Unity (Installed by default)

Screenshot from 2014-05-09 13:02:49

Founded in 2010, the Unity project started by Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical has gone on to deliver a consistent user experience for desktop and netbook users alike. Putting great design at the heart of the project, Unity and its technologies such as Application indicators, System indicators, and Notify OSD, have strived to solve common problems in the Free Software desktop while optimizing the experience for touch, consistency and collaboration.


  • Unity is powered by Compiz.
  • The top-right portion of the panel is very similar to GNOME 2, offering support for various menus and indicators.
  • A launcher on the left side keeps track of currently-running applications, and also allows the user to pin favorite applications. Applications demanding attention will glow blue. Badges and progress bars on the launcher icons are also supported by some applications, as are quicklists revealed by right-clicking.
  • By either clicking the button in the upper-left corner or pressing the Super key, the user can open the Dash, which allows searching for applications, files, and more via the use of “lenses”.
  • Four workspaces are provided that the user can use for organizing windows.
  • A global menu enable by Default, similar to that used in Mac OS X, is used for windows by default. You can reveal the menu by mousing over the left portion of the top panel, or by holding Alt. Alternatively, in Ubuntu 14.04 onward, a locally integrated menus (LIM) inside of the windows titlebar is enableable, instead of the global menu.
  • Alternatively, in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS onward, you can tap the Alt key to reveal the HUD, which allows you to find menu commands by entering search terms, similar to the Dash.
  • Maximized windows have their window controls also integrated into the top panel. This and the global menu are intended to provide more vertical screen space as compared to other DEs / shells, which is useful for machines like netbooks where screen space is limited.

How To Get It

Unity is pre-installed as the default session on Ubuntu 11.04 and later. An early version of it is also available for Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition, based on Mutter instead of Compiz. An even earlier version is used as the shell for Ubuntu Light, which is a simplified version of 10.04 meant for OEM installation on netbooks. Although, if you are running a remix of Ubuntu, you could still install it though the terminal by this command:

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop

But it is recommended to install it from the official image (.iso) that can be downloaded at this page.




GNOME Shell is the “official” shell developed for GNOME 3 by GNOME.


  • It uses Mutter instead of Compiz for the window manager.
  • GNOME Shell has an Activities view, similar to Unity’s Dash, where you can drag windows between workspaces, search for applications, and more.
  • By default, windows cannot be minimized in GNOME Shell, as the use of workspaces is supposed to replace that. This could need some getting used to at first, or alternatively the GNOME Tweak tool could be used to restore this functionality.
  • GNOME Shell uses automatic workspace management; at any given moment, it only keeps open as many workspaces as you have active windows on, plus an extra empty one to start more windows. When you remove all the windows from a workspace, that workspace will be removed until you need it again.
  • Indicators are kept hidden by default in the lower-right corner of the screen; this area is known as the Messaging Tray.
  • GNOME Shell in Ubuntu 11.10 and above comes with the Adwaita GTK3 theme, which is the new default theme for GNOME replacing Clearlooks. This theme can also be used in Unity if one wishes.
  • GNOME Shell’s functionality and interface can be extended or modified through the use of extensions. For more information on how to install these extensions, see How to install GNOME Shell extensions.
  • Lots of interesting extensions can be installed from https://extensions.gnome.org/

System Requirements

GNOME Shell requires hardware acceleration, and has roughly similar requirements to Unity. As of the time that this was written, the GNOME developers aim to have GNOME Shell able to run on any hardware that is at most four to five years old.

Now available through Ubuntu’s own repository, install it with the following commands:

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell



Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment for UNIX-like operating systems. It aims to be fast and low on system resources, while still being visually appealing and user-friendly. It comes with various additional apps and panel plug-ins which greatly enhance the functionality of the DE.

How to get it:

sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop

Ubuntu has an XFCE spin called Xubuntu it is recommended to install it from the official image (.iso) that can be downloaded at this page.

LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment)


LXDE is an extremely light desktop environment that focuses on high performance and low resource usage. It is currently the default desktop environment used by Lubuntu (pictured).


  • LightweightIt needs less CPU and performs extremely well with reasonable memory.
  • FastIt runs well even on older computers produced in 1999, and it does not require 3D acceleration.
  • Energy savingIt requires less energy to perform tasks to other systems on the market.
  • Simply BeautifulIt includes an internationalized and polished user interface powered by GTK+ 2.
  • Easy to useIt provides a choice to use the simple eeepc like Launcher user interface or a MS Windows like application panel.
  • Customizable It is easy to customize the look and feel of LXDE.
  • Additional FeaturesIt offers additional features like tabbed file browsing or menu run dialogs known from operating systems like Mac OS. Icons of new applications show up after install on desktop.
  • Desktop independentEvery component can be used independently from other components of LXDE offering the flexibility to use LXDE parts with different Unix like systems.
  • Standard compliant It follows standards as specified by freedesktop.org.

Source: http://lxde.org/lxde

System Requirements for Lubuntu (LXDE + Ubuntu)

Lubuntu, can be installed on a Pentium II or Celeron system with 128 MB of RAM, but such a system would not perform well enough for daily use.

With 256MB – 384MB of RAM, the performance will be better and the system will be more usable.

With 512MB of RAM, you don’t need to worry much.

The default “Desktop” installer requires 384-800 MB of RAM (depending on selected options.). And you can also use the “Alternate” installed, if you have problems.

How to get it

sudo apt-get install lubuntu-desktop

Ubuntu has an LXDE spin called Lubuntu it is recommended to install it from the official image (.iso) that can be downloaded at this page.



KDE is probably the second most well-known DE available after GNOME.


  • Very customizable, KDE looks and feel can be easily modified. The range of options is just incredible.
  • It can use a traditional task bar, a unity-like dock, any number of panels.
  • It’s widgets (PLASMA) can be used in the background or in a panel.
  • Activities: A way to organize your workspaces based on activities.

System Requirements

KDE is no lightweight system. It has similar requirements to Unity 3D but there is a “low-fat” setting for older systems.

How to get it

sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop

But it is recommended to install it from the official image (.iso) that can be downloaded at this page.



Cinnamon is a Gnome-Shell desktop fork. It is not strictly a Gnome-2 interface, although the developers aims are laudable – to produce a simpler more traditional desktop interface.

The desktop shares many traits of its closely related cousin – and can be extended through specific Cinnamon extensions.

Requirements are the same as Unity 3D & Gnome-Shell, in that it requires a 3D Graphics accelerated graphics card.

This is subject to change – Gnome-shell Mutter has been forked as well – called Muffin. It will be interesting to see what future requirements this will bring.

How to get it:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gwendal-lebihan-dev/cinnamon-stable
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install cinnamon

Pantheon (In Development)


Pantheon is the desktop shell made for use in elementary OS Luna and later. It can also be set up for use in Ubuntu, however.


  • The top panel is called the WingPanel. It’s similar to a mix between the GNOME 2 and GNOME Shell panels.
  • Slingshot is the application launcher Pantheon uses.
  • Pantheon Wallpaper is used to manage the desktop wallpaper instead of Nautilus.
  • Plank is the new version of Docky, rewritten to use Vala instead of Mono. It sits at the bottom of the screen to act as a dock.
  • Cerebere is a program that sits in the background and oversees the operation of all the other components, restarting them as necessary if they crash.
  • Pantheon is designed to be lightweight and modular. You can pick and choose which components you want to use, replacing with others as you see fit.

System Requirements

elementary OS Jupiter used GNOME 2 and an early version of the Plank. The upcoming elementary OS Luna release is planned to switch to GNOME 3 and Pantheon, and is supposed to be more lightweight. A machine that can comfortably run Ubuntu should have no problem handling Pantheon.

How To Get It:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:elementary-os/daily
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install elementary-desktop



Awesome is a desktop environment which masquerades as a window manager. By default, it comes with a basic top panel with a systray that can hold your favorite applets from Gnome, Xfce, etc. There are several well-known “widget” libraries which extend Awesome’s basic functionality.

Awesome is a tiling window manager, which means that it can automatically arrange windows without overlapping and so that they fill up the screen. Windows can also be made to “float” (the standard behaviour in Windows, OS X, etc.)

Awesome’s tiling features have the following benefits:

  1. No wasted screen space.
  2. You don’t have to fiddle around with the mouse/trackpad to arrange windows in a desired arrangement.
  3. Built-in tiling layouts cover frequent scenarios that arise.
  4. Tiling arrangements are easily scripted and can be invoked dynamically through keybindings.
  5. Mouse support is built-in throughout. For those that rely heavily on a mouse, this may help ease the transition from the typical floating window managers.

Awesome was designed to be highly customizable (see configuration section) and is particularly popular amongst “power users” who want a great deal of control over their desktop environment (Awesome has a strong following in the Arch Linux community, for example).

System requirements

Awesome is very lightweight. The Zenix distro uses it and can run with as little as 128MB of RAM (only 64MB with swap partition). On my system, I found it used fewer resources than LXDE! Awesome does not do compositing or any effects, so is useful for systems with older graphics (compositing can be enabled by using xcompmgr, etc.)


Installing Awesome is simple. Simply type

sudo apt-get install awesome

in the terminal to install Awesome from the Ubuntu repositories. The install will include an Awesome session in the login manager, Lightdm. Starting Awesome this way will avoid many headaches over configuring it to work with your wireless, display, etc.

Enlightenment (E)


Enlightenment sets itself apart for being very focused on eye-candy while still being extremely lightweight.

There are two usable versions of Enlightenment, E16 (the old version) and E17 (the new stable version).

E17 is more modern.

A non-exhaustive list of Enlightenment’s features can be read about at this Wikipedia page.

For a guide on how to set up Enlightenment on your system, see this Ubuntu Documentation page, or maybe this question: How do I install Enlightenment (E17)?.



Mythbuntu uses XFCE, but also comes with some extra customizations. It is primarily intended for media PCs for use with MythTV.

System Requirements

A complete list of system requirements can be found at mythbuntu.org.

How To Get It

sudo apt-get install mythbuntu-desktop

Mate 1.8 (with mint menu)


MATE is a fork of GNOME 2. It provides an intuitive and attractive desktop environment using traditional metaphors for Linux and other Unix-like operating systems. If you wish to use this desktop environment on Ubuntu to replace your current desktop interface. It provides an intuitive and attractive desktop to Linux users using traditional metaphors. Mate updated to Gtk and all Gtk themes works with Mate, it comes with three themes Menta, BlackMATE, and others.
MATE is under active development to add support for new technologies while preserving a traditional desktop experience.

Mate offers some fork applications for its own desktop:

  • Caja: Caja is official file manager and it is a fork of Nautilus.
  • Pluma: Pluma is a text editor which supports most standard editor features and Pluma is a fork of Gedit.
  • Eye of MATE: eom or the Eye of MATE is a simple graphics viewer for the MATE desktop which uses the gdk-pixbuf library and it is a fork of Eye of GNOME.
  • Atril: Atril is a simple multi-page document viewer and is a fork of Evince.
  • Engrampa: Engrampa is an archive manager for the MATE environment and Engrampa is a fork of File Roller.
  • MATE Terminal: MATE Terminal is a fork of GNOME Terminal.

How to get it:

sudo add-apt-repository “deb http://repo.mate-desktop.org/archive/1.8/ubuntu $(lsb_release -cs) main”

wget -q http://mirror1.mate-desktop.org/debian/mate-archive-keyring.gpg -O- | sudo apt-key add –

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install mate-core mate-desktop-environment mate-notification-daemon

Install MintMenu in Mate desktop with these commands:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:noobslab/mint

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install mintmenu


2 thoughts on “Ubuntu Flavours (The Ubuntu Desktop Environment List)

  1. $ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gwendal-lebihan-dev/cinnamon-stable
    Cannot add PPA: ‘ppa:gwendal-lebihan-dev/cinnamon-stable’.
    Please check that the PPA name or format is correct.

    $ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gwendal-lebihan-dev/cinnamon-nightly

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s