Multi Desktop Environment Distros

With the new Ubuntu LTS releases now out, I am as usual seeing a flood of web articles - from “what to do next after installing” to comparisons to the previous releases. It’s like a two-yearly routine (that’s a LOL observation not a whinge).

What does tend to irk me though is the number of articles that will conflate the general distro (Ubuntu) with the fact that the central release is a Gnome DE variant.

With my old-school hat on, I think of the “distro” as the whole deal, and the various spins/flavours/etc as merely different initial installations.

With that as context, my question is: which distributions are clearest about supporting multiple desktop environments? Especially with a view to how they present that concept to people newer to Linux.

To be honest, as someone who started back in the days of Mandrake, I’m surprised at how clumsily this is still handled by most distributions. But as I don’t distro hop these days I figured here would be a good place to pose the question.

p.s. I am of course being deliberately simplistic here - e.g. there can be important distinctions between the flavours, and I was using the xubuntu-desktop metapackage for years before I changed to actually installing from the Xubuntu ISO.

1 Like

Honestly, as far as mainstream distributions go, I’d say openSUSE is most clear. The standard installer gives you the specific options of Plasma, GNOME, or Xfce for your Workstation. There is no canonical default DE for openSUSE.

Most other distributions spin off the alternative desktops out of the installer into specific spins and some go further and have a canonical default DE. Just because a WM or DE is in the repositories doesn’t necessarily mean it is supported by the developers.

I think spins can be used in this manner but like I said above software availability in the repositories doesn’t necessarily mean the configuration is supported.


Yes, openSUSE, Debian, Mageia. They offer all desktops and have no default desktop. There is also Arch but I cannot remember how the installer works.

openSUSE offers you different desktops at install time, though more prominently presented are Plasma, Gnome and then Xfce. I think in that order. Then are the others but I might remember from the openSUSE documentation that the rest is not on par with those first three, as in fully supported by the openSUSE project. They might lack branding, customization… I know you have to search for the Mate desktop from the groups section e.g.

Debian offers all DEs from the netinstaller. I never used another type of media to install Debian. It claims to be the universal OS and it quite is. On the first place you will find the Debian desktop, that is Gnome. Then funnily enough comes again Gnome, then Plasma, Xfce, Mate and then the rest. I also think in that order till LXDE or LXQT.

Mageia also offers you all DEs from the classical installer with promoting Plasma, Gnome and Xfce in that order. You can install all the DEs on it. Though Mate or LXDE are in the “something else section”.

I think Arch does not offer you anything but that is intended. EndeavourOS gives you the option from the installer to choose any of the known DEs as far as I know.


These responses have all been very good and much appreciated.

I would still like to see more descriptions of how these distros handle the post installation additions of more Desktop Environments. Ditto for their removals.

Also, I’m interested in how well/clearly they make the run time selection of a DE to users as they log in.

Admission: I’ve lost my passion for playing with editing/customising Greeters and Display Managers. The main aspect of these that has always disappointed me is how the DE selection is presented.

This is partly why I’m asking here, to crowdsource some awareness of whether it’s still the case that the only good solution would be to manually customise a greeter.

1 Like