Choosing A Linux Desktop Environment for Newbs and n00bs

For anyone wondering why I might find this post necessary, I simply offer that HOLY SHIT IT IS ALREADY 2014. Well, there's also the part where when running any sort of crypto application like Bitcoin, a *nix Operation system is one of the least bad choices. Knowing that some *nix flavor is a much better choice for someone running Bitcoin than MS Windows or  Apple's iOS, what desktop environment should a new person migrating to one of these platforms adopt to interact with it given all of the choices?  Well, there is an easy answer a ranked list of choices to consider comes after the jump.

  1. Fuck you! You use Xfce.

There is really no shortage of praises that can be sung for Xfce as a *nix1 desktop environment23.  For anyone who was pissed about the move from Windows 2000 to XP, to 7, and later to 8… The last stable release of Xfce was version 4.10 in April 28, 2012. Why this is important will be elaborated on when you scroll down, so let us move on to other interesting points.

The power of Xfce is that you can make your desktop look like any desktop you might want. This shit is as configurable as hell. Want your desktop to look like Windows 2000 SP3 done, want your desktop to look like any version of Apple's OS X it isn't a problem, and you can mask this shit so it appears as CDE running on top of Solaris 84. As you go along and work on your computer you can continuously tweak shit, and Xfce will make sure it works for you. If you don't like turtlenecks fine, you don't have to enjoy the aesthetics of Steve Jobs, enjoy your own.

Xfce manages to be light while including a useful amount of accessories, and doesn't flood a new user with fuck tons of software they might be inclined to explore whether it is useful or not.  Beautifully Xfce runs on every *nix platform I've tried compiling it on including a black an white Mac SE/30 with 64 MB of RAM.5

All of these points are shared by an astounding mount of *nix software. Let us run by the runners up real quick to go over why they aren't recommended, remember they are presented in no particular order.

  • KDE: Check the Mission statement: "The KDE® Community is an international technology team dedicated to creating a free and user-friendly computing experience, offering an advanced graphical desktop, a wide variety of applications for communication, work, education and entertainment and a platform to easily build new applications upon." They don't offer a stable desktop environment. They offer a community of bored persons who want to keep writing and rewriting new software.  It is interesting and there are useful things to use of theirs, but you want to take the gems, not the whole package.
  • GNOME: It used to be Gnome and KDE were the two major competitors for the *nix desktop once CDE faded. GNOME is constantly changing, the people who develop gnome constantly change. At least GNOME nver present a pretense of anything resembling a stable platform you can count of for an extended period of time, so long as you insist 3 months do not ===== eternity.
  • LXDE: This environment is lean, leaner than Xfce even. In its leanness it lacks anything resembling polish or configurability6. LXDE is interesting an worth keeping an eye on in the long run.  If LXDE were simply a leaner, feature complete alternative to Xfce it would make it as an alternate recommendation. It however isn't.
  • MATE: MATE is basically GNOME 2. It is rather polished, but… Like GNOME and KDE its developers are running with the Red Queen, moving their legs fast to keep up with their perceived competition in the metrics they find important.
  • Unity: Ubuntu's own desktop environment. Like the underlying Ubuntu count on it breaking on simple tasks that simply escape Mark Shuttleworth's imagination and lacking support for efforts to move it either upstream or downstream. Then there's the part where this thing was made for netbooks, but burns as many useful pixels as KDE or GNOME. Any *nix new wanting to try Ubuntu for the software support should go for Xubuntu and at the menu choose a plain Xfce session over a Xubuntu session7. The part where Unity in particular and Ubuntu generally make habits of lying to the user is a subject to be explored much later.
  • Cinnamon:  Made by the Linux Mint people. It still changes a lot. The Linux Mint people also made the grave mistake of tying their fate to being a stable Ubuntu derivative8 which I find questionable judgment though they also now produce an upstream Debian derived flavor.

Xfce is a desktop environment that works on so many *nix based systems, and it is the only one that has a well developed stable implementation it isn't fucking up with constant changes. If you are new to *nix learn Xfce and enjoy it, because it is so portable and stable. Fans of the bullet pointed environments may flame me in the comments, maybe I will learn to appreciate something newer.


  1. I am going to use *nix the rest of this post to refer to the BSD's, Minix, Linux, and proprietary Unix. Figuring out why I ordered things this way is an exercise for the reader.   

  2. For anyone who suggests a simpler window manager I applaud you, but you are initiated on some level. This guide is more for people who want to try *nix, and maybe even people who ave done it before. It is also intended for people who run a simple window manager on their powerful desktop like ratpoison yet need something that makes their portable computer more functional.  

  3. I swear it has to be irony of the highest order than many *nix desktop environments demand high order hardware better served with simpler interfaces and small screens demanding friendlier interfaces can't run them.  

  4. Solaris 8 did more to damage the potential for Sun to sell Solaris 10 short of abandoning it for Windows. I mean the fuckers even Open Sourced all of Solaris 10, but people didn't bite, because Sun's web infrastructure for the longest time proudly announced it ran Solaris 8.  

  5. If you want the steps to do so either accept you aren't getting them from me, fuck yourself and provide graphic and identifying photo evidence preferably involving a sharpie, or provide to me a 68k based workstation with ghz class performance rivaling a 2008 model Intel Core 2 processor.  

  6. This is the big selling point of Xfce, the environment can be shaped by you to an incredible extent. If anything LXDE has too much polish and too few ways to reshape it.  

  7. For newcomers if you install a bunch of desktop environments in the aim of trying them out, you can choose the environment you want to work in at the login screen of any *nix that doesn't want to harvest you for sweet breads.  

  8. My distaste for the poor compromises of Ubuntu are so intense. Mark Shuttleworth is the worst.  

4 thoughts on “Choosing A Linux Desktop Environment for Newbs and n00bs

  1. LXDE is interesting to follow as it switching to Qt.

    I'm of the "no desktop environment" school but of course it isn't for newbies. To help with that I am rather satisfied by a few LXDE applications (like lxrandr).

    For the rest the KDE applications are quite good because unlike GNOME's, they have features. That's also what newcomers should understand, most applications do not require you to run the whole desktop environment.

    • Well, Qt vs. Gtk isn't a big problem in the way it used to be. LDXE's evolution is one of the most interesting things in "popular" open source now for sure.

      I'm just amazed by the temptation to to run a lighter WM only on powerful desktops while netbooks and notebooks benefit substantially by choosing a desktop environment… Or at least most of one.

    • Well, you probably have something you are comfortable with already. On the other hand you could shape Xfce into something still more comfortable…

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