Is it possible to have multiple desktop environments (and keep their defaults) for the same user?

Would it be possible to have multiple desktop environments and keep their defaults?

I have Unity in Ubuntu 21.04, and I wanna play with MATE, Budgie, LXQt (already have Plasma on KDE Neon Unstable & Testing on my gaming PC so no need to install it again). I don’t want to use Nemo for MATE & LXQt, and want to keep using Caja & PCManFM-Qt, respectively, and still have them as defaults.

I’m not exactly sure, but it should depend on how DE handles it’s defaults, so I’d guess yes.

It’s possible but it depends on how things are implemented in the DE.

I would test things under a separate or a new user session prior to trying it with an account I was using.

You could also create a new user and copy your configs over and then login to the DE to see what changes.

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I guess it is possible but they might interfere in some aspects. I know in Debian you can install them all side by side and it usually works but some DEs use specific services to run properly and others will start stuff in the background not necessarily needed for another desktop environment session.

E.g. if you install Plasma it will use Dolphin as its file manager but Mate will use Caja by default. But maybe the Mate session will load KDE Connect on startup and that comes from Plasma, just an example. I know some services will be loaded that otherwise would not be defaults.

I run Manjaro, and I currently have a bunch of desktop environments, including Plasma, Gnome, and XFCE, plus some window managers like i3 and bspwm, and it “works fine”, that is, it isn’t broken.

However, in my experience, it could be difficult to keep the defaults on all of them. For example, every time I log in to Plasma, and then go back to Gnome, the Plasma cursor setting persist. I haven’t looked into it, but it might be because KDE uses gsettings to force it for Gnome applications, but I’m not sure.

In any case, I find that the more I switch between them, the more weird things I find, usually minor stuff. Once, Plasma changed my button layout for gtk3 apps, and I couldn’t get rid of it for a while and I had all the maximize, minimize buttons there. So in my experience things are not perfect. But I have never had any big issues, like stuff crashing or anything like that.

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Is it possible to restrict a user to a specific DE?

Maybe? It would depend on your display manager I think.

If your issue is just setting default applications, there shouldn’t be too much conflict between DEs and youre probably fine.

Honestly if you just want to play around with other DEs, a VM is great for that and is easy to set up!

If you really want lots of DEs on your main system though and keep them reasonably separated, you could create multiple users and name them according to their DE, like ‘kdeuser’ and ‘xfceuser’ and such, so it’s easy to remember. Each created user would get their own home directory (unless you create the user without one) with a clean base configuration once you log into the respective DEs. I’d also add the users to the wheel group which gives them access to sudo.

System services that are started at root level will still run for each user though, even if theyre mainly intended for a specific DE. Gnome for example likes to run things like their online account service as a dbus service and their software updater as a systemd service.

Also since each users configs are separate, unless you play with permissions, groups and symlinks, things like your browser configs also won’t be shared.

I’d personally stick with one or two DEs on any system and just keep the testing and experimenting with others to a VM that can easily be set up, snapshotted, and reverted if things break.

(Way out of scope, but there’s also powerful stuff like chroot which enables you to essentially run another system inside your system.)

Is running the different DEs in different VMs a possibility? I’m not an expert, so let me know if VMs is not a good option for this.

How you implement that would depend on how secure/user friendly you’d want it to be but a quick way would be to set file permissions so only people in a “KDE” user group for example could run the executable to launch KDE.

Some DEs tred on the configuration files of other DEs.

You could create folders that hold the configuration files of each DE and use a script to mount or softlink those files into your home directory depending on which DE you’re launching.

To get the configs for each DE you could create a fresh account, enter the DE and just copy/paste the home folder.

Yes and no. So, totally not helpful. GTK DEs will respect GTK settings but Plasma and LXQt will store their own settings. Keep in mind Plasma does alter GTK settings if you so choose so that will also interfere. Before I figured out that whole “Gnome Tweaks” I used Plasma SystemSettings to alter the visuals of Gnome… which is why i think Gnome settings are a total mess… :man_shrugging:

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