Linux graphical user interfaces can be as lightweight as simple window managers or as complex as full desktop environments. Unless I want to pull out what remains of my hair, there’s no way I can name them all. I’ll try to give you an idea of what I think are the best of the best.
I have experience with window managers even if I can’t remember which one is which. Some lightweight distributions use one or more at the same time. Here’s a short list:
I’m sure I’ve missed one or two (or more). A Linux distribution doesn’t really need anything other than a single window manager, but a window manager can leave a lot to be desired. They’re not as user-friendly as full desktop environments, but they can be leveraged by desktop environments to fill in for missing interface items.
Although I’ve used various desktop environments with various distributions, I can’t remember which goes with which unless I’ve recently worked with them. Here’s some of them.
Again, I’m sure I’ve missed one or two (or more). The heaviest, in my experience, is the Deepin desktop environment (designed in China). Some reviewers claim it’s the most beautiful desktop environment they’ve ever seen, yet it requires a lot of memory for it. It doesn’t mean anything to me because I’m way more interested in functionality than aesthetics.
I’ve used Cinnamon, LXDE, MATE and Xfce at different times and for different distributions. My favorite is Cinnamon because with it, you have a lot more interface options without adding too much to it.
Cinnamon comes with Cinnamon Spices, an official add-on repository. While it’s designed for Linux Mint, it can be used with other distributions. Ubuntu has several official flavors (with different desktop environments), but the Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix isn’t one of them yet (neither is UbuntuDDE, with the Deepin desktop environment).
My daughter-in-law has Linux Mint 19.2 on her laptop computer. I installed it and replaced the Mint Menu with Cinnamenu immediately. Months ago, when I installed the newer 19.3 on my laptop computer, I found out Cinnamenu had been discontinued and removed from Cinnamon Spices.
In April 2020, while browsing through all the applets available for Linux Mint, I noticed it had reappeared and was being supported by a different author. Mint Menu was immediately replaced. I don’t like using more desktop items to add the same functionality. I like having all my favorites accessible from one spot on the menu. Doing that with the Mint Menu was difficult, with tiny icons.
I like Cinnamon, but the latest GNOME changes are interesting. If it means I have to switch to Ubuntu or something else to use it, never mind. I have a single panel at the bottom of my screen and that’s the way I like it.
Some desktop environments have widgets or add-ons. Cinnamon is the only one with applets (and desklets and extensions) and it has a lot of them. I have these applets in place, next to the default applets: Num Lock/Caps Lock Indicator with notifications, SSH Launcher and Weather and World Clock Calendar.
I don’t use the panel launcher applet, which I removed long before upgrading to Linux Mint 20. The Grouped window list is more than enough. I open the menu, click on a favorite and it appears on the panel. When I close it, it disappears - I don’t liked pinned applications.
I like Cinnamon, but I can live with Xfce or MATE. LXDE and LXQt (as used with Lubuntu) are okay. I think the rest are not much more than eye candy, using more memory than necessary.
Image Attribution: email@example.com Larry Ewing and The GIMP / CC0
Edited and updated. Originally published at one of my other websites in April 2020.