The most popular and functional graphical shell for Linux

A graphical shell is a set of tools that make it easy to use a Linux-based computer. Among the main components of the application there are usually the following:

  • Window manager.
  • Menu bar.
  • Widgets
  • File manager.
  • Browser.
  • Text editor.
  • Terminal and so on

A variety of programs due to the fact that Linux offers more than one graphical shell of the desktop. This is part of what makes Linux interesting, but a variety of applications can make it difficult to choose the one that is right for you. That is why we have compiled this list of the best GUI desktop shells.

TOP of the best graphical shells Linux.


GNOME is currently the most popular Linux graphical desktop shell. Enabled by default on several major Linux-based operating systems, such as Ubuntu and Fedora. GNOME has a design that is simultaneously suitable for touch devices as well as traditional PCs. At the top of the screen is a single panel, as on a mobile device. Instead of a docking station or a list of windows, users interact with windows to open an overview of operations, which displays applications, open source software, and virtual desktops. GNOME developers use the GIMP Toolkit (GTK +), which may appear when you decide which applications to install.

GNOME is perhaps the most popular shell among Linux users, it is free and open source, simple but powerful and functional. The project is designed from scratch to offer Linux users great and exciting features. It provides an overview of actions for easy access to basic tasks, as well as a powerful search tool for users to access their work from anywhere. The latest stable version of GNOME 3 comes with the following outstanding components and features:

  • Uses Metacity as the default window manager.
  • It comes with Nautilus as the default file manager.
  • Supports desktop notifications using a convenient messaging system.
  • Enables / disables desktop notifications switching and more.

KDE Plasma

KDE Plasma is perhaps the most customizable GUI available for any desktop operating system, including Linux. Each screen component is a widget that you can move, resize, or delete. With enough settings, you can configure the Plasma desktop to look like any other interface. KDE has many options. These applications are one of the most powerful among all the graphical shells of Linux. KDE developers use Qt, not GTK +. It is a well-known, powerful, and customizable desktop environment designed to give Linux users complete control over their desktop.

The latest release in the KDE desktop series is Plasma 5, which has several improvements and new features. It comes with clear and polished user interfaces compared to previous versions, with improved readability. Built using Qt 5 and frameworks 5, a number of notable components and new features in Plasma 5 include:

  • Dolphin file manager.
  • Kwin window manager.
  • Convergent shell.
  • Updated GUI for smoother performance.
  • Workflow improvements in the desktop notification area.
  • Improved support for high-density display (high resolution) and many other small features.

Deepin Desktop Environment

Deepin Desktop Environment (DDE) is a simple, elegant and productive desktop environment for Linux, developed by the creators of Deepin OS. It works on several other Linux distributions, including Arch Linux, Ubuntu, Manjaro, etc. It comes with well-designed and elegant user interfaces for absolute performance. In addition, the application is also user friendly with several available configurations. Most configurations are performed using the pop-up sidebar; in addition, users can launch applications from the docking station at the bottom of the screen, just like on the Pantheon desktop.


Cinnamon is a graphical shell for Linux Mint, one of the most widely used versions of Linux. It was developed as an analogue of GNOME at the time when this interface was undergoing radical changes. Cinnamon retains a more traditional interface that will make long-time Windows users "feel at home." Many people love this shell for its ease of use. The project is a mixture between the adoption of new ideas and the preservation of the old interface. For example, MintInstall looks like a mix between a mobile app store and a traditional Linux package manager. Cinnamon is actually a collection of several small projects, such as Cinnamon, the GNOME shell fork, the Cinnamon screensaver, the Cinnamon desktop, the Cinnamon menu, Cinnamon Settings Daemon in combination with many others. The Cinnamon desktop is the equivalent of GNOME — this is the standard Linux Mint desktop environment along with MATE. Other minor projects and components integrated into the Cinnamon desktop include the following:

  • MDM Display Manager.
  • Nemo file manager.
  • Window manager muffin.
  • Cinnamon Task Manager.
  • Blueberry, Bluetooth settings tool and more.


At a time when the Cinnamon project was expanding the boundaries of GNOME, MATE was trying to save what was already there. If you do not want to upgrade to GNOME 3.0, MATE offers a way to continue using 2.x. The MATE developers spent the time and effort on updating the background code, but in general it still resembles the graphical shell that many fell in love with ten years ago. Newbies often see MATE as a lighter and more traditional alternative to their GNOME counterparts.


Xfce, whose mascot is a mouse, has long existed as a fast interface for Linux-based computers. It is not based on GNOME, but uses the same toolkit. Nowadays, Xfce is perceived as a great alternative to MATE. Its developers continue to pay special attention to maintaining the interface, even if it means giving up the latest bells and whistles. Between the release of updates often takes a long time. As a result, Xfce, like MATE, has not changed much in recent years. If you are looking for a modern open source environment, a lightweight and easy-to-use working environment for Linux and some other Unix-like systems such as Mac OS X, * BSD, Solaris and many others, then you should try Xfce. The application is fast and, importantly, user-friendly, with low use of system resources. It offers users a beautiful user interface combined with the following components and functions:

  • Xfwm windows manager.
  • File manager
  • User Session Manager for logins, power management and more.
  • Desktop Manager to customize your background image, desktop icons, and more.
  • Application manager.
  • Easy to connect and has a number of other functions.


Pantheon is a simple graphical shell for Linux. At first glance it may resemble macOS. At the top is a panel, and at the bottom is a docking station with applications that offer a stylish and unified design. But much of the design language of Pantheon is actually based on the original GNOME code. Thanks to the innovative scheme, Pantheon has become a hotbed of new applications for Linux. These applications, like the desktop itself, are a departure from the traditional Linux approach. Pantheon is not very customizable or extensible. This is perhaps its main advantage and, at the same time, the most significant drawback.

Pantheon is a simple and well-designed desktop environment for Elementary OS, a distribution for Windows and MacOS X, similar to Linux. It offers users a clean and organized desktop. Due to its simplicity, Pantheon has not so many visually observable functions compared to other popular shells. However, it works exceptionally well for new Linux users switching from Windows or Mac OS X operating systems.


Budgie is a relatively young graphical shell created within the framework of the Solus project. It offers a stripped down interface, which, unlike MATE and Xfce, may look more modern. Much of the inspiration for Budgie comes from Chrome OS and mobile apps. Unlike many of the other shells on this list, Budgie is in a state of constant change, and major design revisions are moving from one update to another.


Unity is the old default interface for Ubuntu, the most popular version of Linux. With Ubuntu 17.10, Canonical stopped developing Unity and instead began providing the GNOME GUI. There are still a lot of Unity fans, and most use an outdated interface. And while Canonical may support the project longer, the code still exists for others to accept and use at their discretion. Unity is a graphic for GNOME. The Unity project was launched by Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical, the creators of the famous Ubuntu Linux distribution. It was launched back in 2010 with the goal of offering desktop and netbook users a consistent and elegant computer experience. Unity is not a completely new desktop environment, but an interface to existing GNOME applications and libraries with various technologies integrated into it. Unity has the following prominent components and features:

  • Compiz window manager.
  • Nautilus is a file manager.
  • System toolbar.
  • The component that sends search queries to ScopeScope is a powerful search function that searches both locally and online if the PC is connected to the Internet.
  • Preview Unity, which scans the search results in the toolbar.
  • Offers indicator application.
  • A system indicator that provides information on system settings such as power, sound, current session, and more.
  • Simple and elegant notification component combined with other minor features.


LXDE is a fast, lightweight and energy-efficient graphical environment. LXDE is a modular application — you can replace the default window manager, which is OpenBox, be it a session manager, a network manager, or a sound server.


Enlightenment was created over a decade ago as a graphical PC shell. It is not widely used among Linux users, but remains accessible and functional. The artistic style is more scomomorphic than the cartoon images that are often found on other free desktops. Today Enlightenment has moved to mobile devices, other portable gadgets and televisions. Enlightenment is a window manager and application manager used in Tizen.


Sugar is a desktop environment designed for use in schools. The application is extremely simple, not in a minimalist sense, but in terms of complexity. Supposed users are young children. Sugar was developed by Sugar Labs, a non-profit organization run by volunteers. The project provides not only the desktop environment, but also simple applications. These tools are designed to enable teachers to adapt children to computers, even in areas with limited economic resources.

This is not all graphical applications for Linux. Most Linux-based operating systems allow you to replace the default desktop with another. Many offer options that provide a different interface. The options don't end there. In Linux, besides the described desktop shells and window managers, there are many ways to change the way applications and content are displayed on your screen. If you are already using another application, tell about it in the comments under the article.