Linux offers its users variety of desktop environments to choose from unlike Windows and Macintosh. Linux desktop environments provides users and client an intuitive and attractive desktop and also a wide variety of inbuilt media, software, games, development tools and tweak tools. Some of the popular ones are GNOME, KDE, Unity, Xfce, LXDE and Cinnamon etc. used by wide variety of Linux distributions including Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Linux Mint, Kali, BlackBox and many more. Lets have a look upon them in detail:
GNOME shell is developed by The GNOME Project backed majorly by Red Hat and other volunteers. It started as a competitor of KDE. Another desktop environment Cinnamon is based on GNOME fork only. It is a graphic intensive desktop and provides innovative and simple workspace to client. It is one of the two desktop used by Ubuntu the other being Unity and also by Fedora. GNOME 2 was very popular among the Linux community but since the inception of GNOME 3 its popularity has been declining gradually.
Unity is the default desktop for Ubuntu and is developed by Canonical Ltd. it was basically developed for netbooks and first appeared in netbook version of Ubuntu 10.10 release. It is considered best for Linux beginners due to its simplistic user interface and easy to use. It is officially available only for Ubuntu but unofficial releases are also available for Fedora and Arch Linux and can be installed with the help of 3rd party repositories.
It is a major desktop environment and also one of the oldest. It act as default desktop environment for Arch Linux, KaOS, Kubuntu and openSUSE. It most resource heavy desktop of all and provides a large number of settings to customize the desktop experience. It has a keen resemblance with Windows UI. It uses Qt utility framework for apps and widgets not GTK unlike others.
Xfce is a lighter desktop environment and uses GTK framework. It is generally used to attain maximum performance and is generally used on low-powered devices. It looks very much similar to GNOME 2 and its forked version Mate but is much lighter as compared to them. It demonstrates a perfect balance of performance and looks.
Cinnamon is default desktop environment of Linux Mint and has far better looks than others. It is mainly developed to used with a pointing gadget such as a mouse or touchscreen. It is also started as GNOME 2 fork but now is way ahead of it. It is developed by developers of Linux Mint only and is based on GTK+- framework. It uses Muffin as Window Manager which is also a fork of window manager of GNOME 3 “mutter” and introduces a new file explorer named Nemo replacing Nautilus.
Mate is another forked version of GNOME 2. After GNOME 2 was permanently discontinued developers who liked it continued to use and develop it and named the new project as MATE. Ubuntu 14.04 LTS allows user to directly install MATE from Ubuntu Software Centre. PCLinuxOS and Sabayon are some good distributions to try Mate. It uses Marco as window manager which is a forked version of Metacity.