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Old 09-29-2009, 08:45 PM   #1
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What's the most popular graphical user interface available for Linux...

and how does it compare to Windows?

This is a homework question for a class of mine and it said that if I did not have access to a graphical user interface for Linux that I should ask around on the net. I've heard people say that Gnome and KDE are popular. What do you think?
Old 09-29-2009, 09:39 PM   #2
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Don't quote what I say as absolute fact, but:

Yes, GNOME and KDE are two of the most popular, and common, DE's (Desktop Environments) for Linux systems. Note that these are COMPLETE desktop environments, in that they include and integrate lots of native applications with them. To my knowledge, these two are potentially the most "Windows-like" because they offer full point+click operation, taskbars, integrated applications, a tray, etc, etc..

However, these are by no means the ONLY commonly used desktop environments; there are loads of other 'less-bloated' window managers, which provide more or less the same basic functionality (places your windows somewhere, and have some sort of menu to access applications), but generally with less full integration of all sorts of native tools & applications. Examples would include Xfce, Enlightenment, Fluxbox, and tonnes of others. These sorts of desktop environments are used by folks who want a faster, lighter desktop system, that consumes less memory and usually offers less graphical 'bling'.

Old 09-30-2009, 02:59 AM   #3
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In the strictest sense, the answer to your question is that the most popular graphical user interface for Linux is X11, specifically the xorg implementation of X11, but there are and have been several other implementations of the same standardized system, also known as "X-Windows."

X11 is not only for Linux, as it has been fully implemented on most other operating systems, including Windows.

The answer to the second part of your question, "how does it compare to Windows?" could potentially be more nuanced. They compare in that they both accept input from a keyboard and mouse and display video on a monitor. They contrast much more than they compare, though, first and foremost in the fact that Windows is an operating system and X11 is just a network-transparent windowing system. At best, this makes X11 one component of what most people would regard as a "complete" operating system. It is worth noting, however, that Linux is far from incomplete without X11. The majority of servers on the Internet today, in fact, run Linux and do not use X11. (It is probably present on most of their disks, but these machines, for the most part, don't even have monitors attached to them, much less are they running windowing systems!)

However, it is highly likely that the question as posed was intended to refer to window managers and desktop environments, which are separate programs running in tandem to X and providing the familiar niceties that today's desktop users have come to expect. In that case, Sasha's answer is far superior to mine.
Old 09-30-2009, 05:10 AM   #4
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foodown is pretty much right, the graphical user interface for Linux is X11. Has he says I don't believe they are comparable, they are really different...

But sure enough you want to know about desktop managers and in that case Gnome and KDE are the most popular for the general public, IMO, people with a little more knowledge and desire for control tend to go to other alternatives, XFCE, LXDE, OpenBox, WM, etc

KDE has the most windows-like aspect with it's default configurations, but they all do the same things.
They manage a desktop with icons, they have a bar with a menu for accessing programs, they have a file browser, they associate file types to programs so you double click a file and it opens in the desired program, they have screensavers, they manage different users accounts, they have themes... it really doesn't come to mind more "comparable" aspects.

They all achieve the same goals in terms of end user interaction with a PC, but from different approaches.
Old 09-30-2009, 05:40 AM   #5
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Thank you for acknowledging that this is homework...

One thing to do would be to look thru the various distros at and see what they have for the default Window manager / Desktop
Old 09-30-2009, 06:14 AM   #6
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For a Microsoft Windows look, KDE is a most-like. Although Gnome is the standard, you can tell its not Microsoft. KDE even has clone themes that mimic MS default themes. In addition, a graphic enhancement like Compiz provides eye candy similar to Vista.
Be aware that the more elaborate visual effects consume RAM and CPU cycles which most Linux users value dearly. We do Linux for efficiency, security and stability, not for the light show.
Old 09-30-2009, 12:02 PM   #7
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Personally, I enjoy the light show. In my primary development environment I run a full-up KDE with compiz environment. Since starting to use KDE 4.3.1, I've actually kind of lost track of how many desktops I have available.

I think we should be careful about assuming that the intent of this homework question is known; the GUI really IS X-Windows and the various desktop environments work on top of X, which works even if those environments are not present. So, most generally, the GUI as seen by a user is Xorg+KDE or X11+Gnome, or whatever...

And I don't think that Windows is all that different except that Microsoft has chosen to stir their kernel into a mix with their GUI and desktop environment, then bake it all into a grand intertwined mess - all to serve their marketing purposes. The consequence is that Windows does indeed have functionality substantially like that of X+whatever, but implemented in a fashion where you can't pick it apart and replace the GUI with another that you like better.

From a strictly technical standpoint - professional opinion - *nix is vastly superior to Windows because *nix has maintained this separation of function, while Windows has intertwined and embedded it. This is one of the many reasons why Windows is less secure than *nix, and is THE big reason why Windows is generally less stable than *nix.

Last edited by jiml8; 09-30-2009 at 12:06 PM.
Old 09-30-2009, 12:19 PM   #8
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Yeah, I would say KDE is probably the most popular desktop environment, the next most popular would be Gnome. From what I've seen KDE is actually more popular, personally I prefer Gnome over KDE because KDE is in fact the most Windows like in my opinion, it even has they're version of the start menu for instance. If you really want to see a Linux running KDE check out Kubuntu (, you can download the iso image and run it in VirtualBox ( that'll let you install in a virtual environment and act like any other program on your computer. It's great for testing out other systems.

If you're not someone that uses Linux, VirtualBox is a great way to get familiar with it if you decide you want to eventually make the switch. I started again after many years of not using Linux after installing Ubuntu on VMWare's Vitual Machine (I prefer VirtualBox now), I've since moved to Slackware.

There are more details like if your teacher's asking for the most popular GUI that *could* mean X11 but I would say that's unlikely especially if you're being asked to compare it to Windows.

[edit] and btw, if you want to actually see what KDE is like without installing it, simply watch some youtube videos, just lookup KDE and "Gnome + Linux"



Obviously some of these interfaces have been modified but at least it lets you know what it looks like.

Last edited by kc3; 09-30-2009 at 12:31 PM.
Old 09-30-2009, 12:54 PM   #9
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Old 09-30-2009, 01:07 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by jiml8 View Post
Personally, I enjoy the light show.

I have been using linux for years but the first and foremost reason I migrated from XP at the time was to enjoy compiz effects and other niceties like virtual desktops.
Old 09-30-2009, 06:28 PM   #11
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And so it goes. I know programmers who see the PC as a processor, GUI other than text being superfluous, be it Win or Linux. Then those of us who greeted the windows environment because we have and aversion to memorizing text commands, both in MS products and Linux. And the top graphics users who don't mind the hardware expense required. (my main reason to dump Vista and retreat back to XP, and uninstall Compiz)
I agree XFCE is a sweet desktop, but as I must switch between MS and Linux, KDE is easier for me for continuity.
A good list with screenshots of most Linux GUI is at
Old 09-30-2009, 08:00 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by foodown View Post
In the strictest sense, the answer to your question is that the most popular graphical user interface for Linux is X11, specifically the xorg implementation of X11, but there are and have been several other implementations of the same standardized system, also known as "X-Windows."

"In the strictest sense", X is not a "graphical user interface", "GUI" for short (and I am quoting the words the OP used in the title. X just provides a unified interface for programmers to throw in graphical applications, it's a "graphical server", but definitely it's not an user interface. All X provides is an ugly grey background and aset of libraries and tools that the rest of the programs can use.

That's not a GUI, that's an API, and is meant for programmers, not users. That is a task for the desktop or window manager, which is the component which interacts with the user. The user doesn't interact directly with X, and usually don't even know that X is under all these components that s/he uses.

Even more, X can't stand without a proper client running inside of it, even if it's just xclock or xterm. As soon as the last client is closed X dies.

So, I'd concentrate in desktop environments and window managers which is the question at hand.

Last edited by i92guboj; 09-30-2009 at 08:04 PM.
Old 09-30-2009, 08:54 PM   #13
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totally agree

Originally Posted by Vasile Sorin View Post
this guy is right on, xfce is great and light weight
there is a new version of enlightenment coming out that is really neat, but not as windowy as most.
Old 09-30-2009, 09:42 PM   #14
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Going back to foodown's quote, I'm going to respectfully and grumpily disagree. Unfortunately, far too many distributions these days *are* turning it into the O/S. Very often, (and this seems worse with the Gnome based distributions, but that could be because I wind up playing more with them than I do with the KDE based ones) if one chooses to not go with the defaults, often things like sound and networking won't work. Like Windows, and, of course, Apple, they are tying essential system services into the GUI.

In all cases, if one wants to put in the effort, it can be fixed. However, as an example--in Mint 6, I think it was (or possibly 7), I installed fluxbox. When I chose to use it for a session, suddenly, I had no networking.

The grumpy part of my respectful disagreement is aimed at the distributions who sacrifice choice and control for convenience, not at any of the other posters in this thread. Not that I miss the days of frying monitors if you get your xorg.conf wrong, but I dislike having to spend time fixing what, in my "back in the good ole days," opinion, never used to need fixing.

In fairness, distributions like Ubuntu have done a great deal for open source, as far as getting vendors to being looking seriously at making at least a token effort to supply Linux drivers, and are helping Linux get enough users to become something that said vendors have to take into consideration.

I remember on the first versions of the Acer Aspire One netbooks, adding the networking hardware modules was tied into the XFCE startup scripts.

(Goes back into his cave mumbling, "In MY day, we had to get up, walk over the to the TV, and change the channels by turning a dial. Young whippersnappers....")

Senilely yours,

Last edited by scottro11; 09-30-2009 at 09:43 PM. Reason: typo
Old 09-30-2009, 10:42 PM   #15
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I personally would be angry with this question. As it says "graphical user interface" and how does it compare to windows.

1. Windows is not a GUI. Yes it has one and it probably doesn't have a name up till vista where the GUI's 'theme' engine at least has a name and it's called 'Aero'. OK well I guess when explorer.exe crashes the whole gui except the background crashes as well, you could call the window's gui, "windows explorer"

2. Some window managers just manage windows and give you a menu. the actual GUI elements like icons, file managers, status bars, system trays etc. can all be separate programs.

3. I would refuse to answer the question as expected because the question is vague and pointless. Then I would offer a better question for the answer that they want to hear. Then I would answer my question.

4. As the question is now, the most popular GUI design for Linux is exactly the same as windows. Status bar, System tray, application menu, window decorations (close maximize minimize boarder etc.) and they are available in at least fluxbox, kde, gnome, xfce.

Oh and KDE 3.5 is to Windows 9x NT as KDE 4 is to Windows Vista/7

Last edited by lumak; 09-30-2009 at 10:49 PM.


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