Linux Desktop Environments

This post summarizes the main free and open-source (FOSS) desktop environments for Unix-like and Linux OSs.

List of Linux Desktop Environments

List of Linux desktop environments:

  • Common Desktop Environment (CDE)
  • KDE Plasma
  • Xfce
  • LXDE
  • LXQt
  • Unity
  • Cinnamon

The most popular are KDE Plasma and GNOME.

Common Desktop Environment (CDE)

Common Desktop Environment (CDE) is a FOSS desktop environment.

Since 2012, it is released under a GPLv2+ license. When it was released in 1993, it was proprietary software.

For many years it was the desktop environment for many commercial Unix distributions. It preceded other free desktop environments like KDE Plasma and GNOME.

Code repository

KDE Plasma

KDE is a software community that develops FOSS software.

The software currently known as KDE Plasma is KDE’s desktop environment.

The first product delivered by KDE gave name to the community. The desktop environment KDE, from the acronym Kool Desktop Environment, was released in 1996. As there were other software products developed by the KDE community, they decided to rename de KDE desktop environment as KDE Plasma.

KDE Plasma was originally developed by Matthies Ettrich.

It uses the graphics library Qt. Qt is currently released under a GPL license.

Qt was a proprietary software owned by Troll Technology. This company allowed KDE project to make use for free of Qt, but some hackers were worried about the possibility of Troll Technology removing this permission without previous warning.

A FOSS implementation of Qt, called Harmony, started to be developed, aiming to be a FOSS replacement for Qt. The existence of this development together with the menace of a successful GNOME overtaking Qt forced Troll Technology to release the library under the Q Public License, that ensured that source code for derivatives were available.

This was not enough for the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and other FOSS supporters that kept making pressure, an Qt was finally released under a GPL license in 2000.

This is why the whole KDE Plasma project is considered FOSS.

Official website


GNOME was originally an acronym for GNU Network Object Model Environment.

It was originally developed by Miguel de Icaza and Federico Mena, and released in 1997.

GNOME uses GPL-ed graphics library GKT+.

Official website


Xfce is a FOSS desktop environment.

It is lighter than GNOME and KDE, but heavier than LXDE.

Xubuntu OS is based on Xfce desktop environment.

Official website


LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) is FOSS desktop environment.

It is older than LXQt, and it is based in GTK+ library.

LXDE is lighter than Xfce, GNOME and KDE, so it is probably one of the lightest and a good choice for devices with limited hardware.

Lubuntu OS is based on LXDE desktop environment.


LXQt (Lightweight X11 Qt) is a FOSS desktop environment.

LXQt is newer than LXDE, and it is based on the Qt library.

LXQt is the result of merging projects LXDE-Qt and Razor-qt, and it is supposed to supersede both of them.

LXQt is lighter than Xfce, GNOME and KDE, so it is one of the lightest and a good choice for devices with limited hardware.

Official website


Unity is a graphical user interface (GUI) that is a graphical shell for GNOME desktop environment originally. It was originally developed by British company Canonical and currently by the Unity7 Maintainers.

Its current version is Unity7, and its planned successor will be called UnityX.

Unity is the default GUI for Ubuntu’s flavour Ubuntu Unity.

Official website

Do not confuse Unity with Lomiri, previously known as Unity8. Unlike Unity7, Lomiri is focused on touch screens and mobile OSs.

Unity7 evolves from Canonical’s development of Unity7, while Lomiri evolves from Canonical’s development project Unity8, that was discontinued by Canonical before its release.

Ubuntu Unity is the Ubuntu flavour with this GUI.


Cinnamon is a desktop environment.

Linux distributions Linux Mint and Ubuntu Cinnamon come with this desktop environment as default.

Code repository

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