Desktop Environment

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A desktop environment is a package of software that translates kernel commands into a user-friendly visual interface. Window managers, toolbars, desktop widgets, icons, and more are included in this package. A desktop environment combines the look and the user experience of an operating system. Its scope stands somewhere between a simple theme and the kernel itself. “Desktop environment” has a much wider scope than a theme but is also way narrower than the operating systems’ kernel.

“Kernel” is the core of the operating system, and it works with commands, doing its job to run a system from copying a file to creating folders and much more. It is like a car’s engine: it gets gas, it works. For this metaphor, we can think of the shape, the headlights, the interior, the side mirrors, the controls, and most of the other components together as a desktop environment. They, together, affect how you move and feel with the engine; kernel. There are a lot of cars that use the same engine, but they rarely deliver the same experience, just like the desktop environment. And the themes can be defined as the paint and the car’s stickers for this metaphor.

Windows Shell is the name of the desktop environment that Windows includes, and it is constantly being improved with each update. The desktop environment of the macOS operating system using is named Aqua. On the other hand, Linux has a variety of desktop environments to choose from. Linux users can easily select a distribution that comes with the most suitable desktop environment, or they can change the default desktop environment after installing the operating system. Users can install a highly-customizable desktop environment for everyday usage or install the most lightweight desktop environment for their small devices such as network equipment.

The most popular Linux desktop environments are Gnome, XFCE, KDE Plasma, Mate, and Cinnamon. The Linux community is constantly developing several more desktop environments.

What is the lightest Linux desktop environment?

LXQt, formerly known as LXDE, is one of the most lightweight desktop environments. Even the most limited-hardware devices such as Raspberry Pi use desktop environments based on LXQt. That being said, the demand for the hardware of the desktop environments may vary between the updates.

Which operating system uses which desktop environment?

Windows and macOS come with an integrated desktop environment that can’t be changed. However, Linux users can change their desktop environments quite easily. Some Linux distributions offer different desktop environments during installation without any default one.

  • Windows uses its own Windows Shell desktop environment
  • macOS uses its own Aqua desktop environment
  • Arch Linux comes without a desktop environment by default. Users can choose from a variety of them.
  • Ubuntu uses the GNOME Shell desktop environment as default. Its flavors come with different desktop environments.
  • Kali Linux uses the XFCE desktop environment as default. Users can change it during installation.
  • CentOS uses the GNOME desktop environment as default.
  • FreeBSD has no default desktop environment. Users can choose from a variety of them.
  • Linux Mint offers Cinnamon, MATE, and Xfce desktop environments as default.
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux offers GNOME and KDE desktop environments.
  • Fedora uses the GNOME desktop environment as default.
  • penSUSE uses the KDE desktop environment as default.
  • Pop!_ OS uses GNOME desktop environment as default.


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