Linux Desktop Shells

Discussion in 'X org / Desktop' started by Jarret W. Buse, May 18, 2014.

  1. Jarret W. Buse

    Jarret W. Buse Well-Known Member Staff Writer

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    Linux Desktop Shells

    I have found that the desktop shells are a very confusing area for new Linux users. Most users may have seen other Operating Systems (OS) such as Microsoft Windows. Other systems allow for the changing of the image displayed behind the icons (background), fonts, colors, etc.

    With Linux it is possible to completely change the whole desktop shell to another type to allow for more functionality. Some users may prefer one desktop to another and can install their preferred desktop on any Linux system they use.

    NOTE: It is possible to create a Theme to save and use within the shell on any system so that the systems look the same with the distro being the only change. By doing this, a user can have what seems to be the same system as before, but with a more stable OS.

    Some popular desktop shells are:

    • Enlightenment
    • Unity
    • GNOME
    • KDE
    • XFCE
    • Cinnamon
    • MATE
    • LXDE

    There are many others, but these seem to be the most popular ones available.

    So, let's look into getting these various shells installed.

    NOTE: The instructions are for Debian based systems.

    First, we need to know a specific Personal Package Archive (PPA) for obtaining the necessary files and the name to use for the install. These are as follows:

    • Enlightenment: ppa:vase/ppa enlightenment
    • Unity: ppa:unity-team/ppa unity
    • GNOME: ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3 gnome-shell
    • KDE: ppa:kubuntu-ppa/backports kde-standard kubuntu-desktop
    • XFCE: ppa:xubuntu-dev/xfce-4.12 xfce4
    • Cinnamon: ppa:gwendal-lebihan-dev/cinnamon-stable cinnamon
    • MATE: ppa:gfunkmonk/mate-desktop mate-core
    • LXDE: ppa:lxde/ppa lxde
    In a terminal, perform the following commands:

    sudo add-apt-repository ppa
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install name
    NOTE: You may want to check the Internet for an updated PPA for a newer version of the listed desktop shell.

    Once installed, you logout and then login again. During login, you should be allowed to make a selection of the desktop type. In the desktop type, select the new desktop you installed. If it does not work, you should be shown an error and returned to the login screen. If an error has occurred, simply change the desktop type back to what it had been or select 'default'.

    NOTE: 'Default' should start the desktop which was originally loaded with the Linux distro.

    For example, in Figure 1 you can see my default shell (enlightenment) and in Figure 2 you can see GNOME.

    Desktop Shell Figure 1.jpg
    FIGURE 1

    Desktop Shell Figure 2.jpg
    FIGURE 2

    Now let's look into a Red Hat system like Fedora. Here, I went into 'Packages' as shown in Figure 3.

    Desktop Shell Figure 3.jpg
    FIGURE 3

    As you can see in the left column, you can choose the following desktops:

    • GNOME Desktop
    • KDE Desktop
    • XFCE Desktop
    • Other Desktops

    Select one of the three in the left pane (not Other Desktops) and search for the name of the desktop and '-desktop'. For example, click on KDE and search for KDE-desktop. You should then see the item appear and you check it and select to apply changes.

    Under 'Other Desktops', you can search for Enlightenment, Cinnamon-desktop, Mate-desktop and lxde-desktop.

    If you are using Apper, you can select all of the desktops, except Unity, from the “Categories” section.

    To add Unity, you need to add the repository by performing the following in a terminal:

    sudo su
    cd /etc/yum.repos.d/
    Go back into your package software and search for 'Unity'. Once it appears, select it, and install it.

    NOTE: It seems this only works on Fedora 17. I tried on Fedora 20, but received many dependency errors.

    So, let's look a the various desktops on a Fedora 20 system (Unity is the only exception).


    Here you can see a few icons on the screen. The main way to maneuver through the system is the lower panel which contains quite a few options, such as: a terminal shortcut, volume settings, battery level (for mobile devices), etc.

    Desktop Shell figure 4.jpg
    FIGURE 4


    Unity (the screenshot is taken from Ubuntu) has icons along the left side of the screen which allows for manipulation of the system and starting applications.

    Desktop Shell Figure 5.jpg
    FIGURE 5


    GNOME is a very simplistic screen which has the 'Activities' button in the top left corner to gain access to all necessary tools.

    Desktop Shell Figure 6.jpg
    FIGURE 6


    KDE has a window which allows for the holding of icons which can also be placed directly on the desktop. The Desktop button in the top right allows for desktop configuration. The icon in the bottom right allows for maneuvering through the system as well as using the left mouse button.

    Desktop Shell Figure 7.jpg
    FIGURE 7


    XFCE shows a list of all mounted partitions. There is a tray of icons for instant access to certain applications in the bottom center. To access the full list of installed applications, there is an applications menu button in the top left of the screen.

    Desktop Shell Figure 8.jpg
    FIGURE 8


    Cinnamon is a desktop shell which has the menu bar on the bottom of the screen. Icons can be placed on the desktop for quick access to the applications.

    Desktop Shell Figure 9.jpg
    FIGURE 9


    MATE offers three drop-down list buttons: Applications, Places and Systems as you can see in Figure 10.

    Desktop Shell Figure 10.jpg
    FIGURE 10


    LXDE has a menu button in the bottom left which opens the various folders and icons to start your applications. Applications can be placed on the desktop as with any other desktop shell.

    Desktop Shell Figure 11.jpg
    FIGURE 11

    NOTE: Be aware that the desktops can vary from system to system as the main defaults are taken from the Linux distro, such as the background wallpaper. As a desktop version is upgraded some items may change again.

    Attached Files:

    Mark Price, spin89 and DevynCJohnson like this.
  2. bashcommando

    bashcommando Active Member

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    You forgot Deepin Desktop Enviroment. (Just helping deepin)
  3. DevynCJohnson

    DevynCJohnson Well-Known Member Staff Member Staff Writer

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    Deepin is not as popular as the ones mentioned in the article and Deepin is still relatively new.

    Screenshots -
  4. ChristiW

    ChristiW Member

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    Just so I understand this correctly, I can install a different desktop than the one I am using now (KDE) and run them side by side? For example, if I want to try the Gnome desktop, I can install it and it will have the same access to my /home directory and all files it contains?

    When do you have the option to switch? Do you need to reboot or log out? Just a bit confused. I would like to try the different types of desktops, but thought I had to do a complete re-install.

    I am running Mint 17.1 with the KDE desktop.
    DevynCJohnson likes this.
  5. bashcommando

    bashcommando Active Member

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    I think so, I think it is cinnamon you can't switch desktops with. To get GNOME in Linux Mint you have to run the following commands in the terminal:
    sudo bash
    add-apt-repository ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3
    apt-get update
    apt-get install gnome-shell
    Thats it. Could take a bit to install but worth it. The instructions were for Linux Mint 15 but it should work. I am guessing you have KDM for your login screen. You should have a option to switch desktops. When you are running the 4th command it will ask you if you want to switch your login screen to GDM or keep it at KDM. I would prefer to change it to GDM but really it is your choice.
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  6. ChristiW

    ChristiW Member

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    Thank you! I am going to give it a try.
  7. DevynCJohnson

    DevynCJohnson Well-Known Member Staff Member Staff Writer

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    I see that @bashcommando answered your question, but I want to add to that. Yes, no matter what desktop environment you are using, the /home/ folder is the same. You can only run one desktop environment at a time, but many may be installed at once. To switch, log out and log back in. There is no need to restart/shutdown.
    ChristiW likes this.

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