Desktop Environment: The Layman’s Case Against Multiple DE’s in One OS

Pop! OS 20.04 running the System76 version of GNOME

If you’ve been in Linux for any amount of time, you probably have realized that for every two or three Linux Distributions, there’s a unique desktop environment (DE). From the popular GNOME and KDE Plasma, to the venerable XFCE and Mate, to the rarer UKUI, there’s a DE for every type of computer user. And if you’ve been in Linux long enough, you’ve probably heard, or even figured out, that you can put whatever DE you want on your distro with just a few simple commands in the terminal.

This is a bad idea, and should be avoided at all costs.

The Tailored Experience

Every distro is a tailor-made experience. From the flashy KDE Neon to the light and humble Lubuntu and Peppermint, these OS’s are created by a team of passionate people, and the DE they choose is part of that, fitting the needs and ethos of the distro. It is as much like buying yourself a tailored suit from a place like Men’s Warehouse.

Slapping a DE into a distro yourself is more like rolling up to your local Kmart, grabbing a jacket, and hoping it goes with the pants in your trunk. Yes you will get the job done with Ubuntu running XFCE on top, but will it be the same as Xubuntu? No.

Bloat

DE’s aren’t just a panel and menu; they are everything that comes with them. When you download a new DE, you are also downloading a file manager, a settings app, and any dozen other programs that come with it. While on one DE you might call these pieces of software necessary, with two or more DE’s installed you just call it bloat. Additionally, figuring out what settings window works with what DE can lead to confusion as well as broken settings, wallpapers, and more.

Worst of all, it just plain slows down your workflow if you are just looking to adjust one setting, and need to play the guessing game at where it is. Which brings us to…

General Usability

The Linux Mint with Cinnamon or Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix will work better than just smacking Cinnamon on Ubuntu. It’s just the way it is. Going back to my Men’s Warehouse analogy, these distros are made with the DE in mind, therefore they behave better with those DE’s.

Alternative Options

Instead of installing the DE on your computer just to try it, create a bootable USB, just like when you installed your version of Linux. This way you can try the DE in mind in the way it is intended. This gives you a sense of how it works in the best possible settings with all the right features, and none of the extras floating around from another DE.

If you cannot decide between two DE’s (I’ve been there. Trust me.) then dual boot your PC. This way you can have the options on start up with DE you want to use with the OS it was created for. Love GNOME, but also love Mate? Great, just dual boot between Ubuntu and Linux Mint Mate; or dual boot between Pop OS and Ubuntu Mate. The combinations are almost as numerous as the possible DE’s. And the best part is you get to keep the intended workflow without any clutter.

End Note: The one exception to this rule would be if you wanted to run a DE variant of your default DE. For example, if you have Ubuntu running GNOME, you can install Vanilla GNOME (the non-customized version). Vanilla GNOME uses all the same software as the Ubuntu version, so you will not run into any of the bloat or functionality issues you’d get with trying to install a completely different DE.

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