Alternative Linux desktop environments


Although Manjaro [5] primarily uses Xfce and KDE, in 2019 the distribution introduced Just Another Desktop Environment (JADE, Figure 4). Originally written as a learning exercise in Python, it is a minimalist desktop, with many features hidden until required. It opens, for instance, on a few basic items like Help, Settings, and Exit arranged around a sticky-note utility. The main menu opens horizontally rather than vertically, giving plenty of room for details about each item. Each top-level item is identified by its own wallpaper.

Figure 4: From its inception in 2019, JADE has shown that something new is still possible in desktops.

The desktop also features audio notifications, as well as a written list of recent ones. Another small innovation is a list of recent events, a kind of undo feature for the entire desktop that seems such an obvious feature that you might wonder why it did not appear years ago.

JADE is only starting to mature, but those in search of something new may appreciate its fresh take on the desktop.

Solus/Ubuntu Budgie

Solus's [6] desktop environment is called Budgie (Figure 5). Budgie received a boost when it became an official Ubuntu flavor; it is now widely available in major distributions, including Ubuntu Budgie. Like many alternative desktops, Solus's goal is a clean, minimalist look, and it is perhaps second only to Moksha for speed.

Figure 5: Budgie is a recent desktop that has spread to many distributions.

Budgie's popularity has led to the creation of a small ecosystem of applets, including ones for countdowns, external drives, hot corners, separate keyboard bindings for each app, and menus that place favorite items at the top. By choosing which of these applets to work with, users can customize the basic desktop environment according to their own preferences, often using choices that are unavailable elsewhere.

Sugar Labs

Sugar Labs [7] contributed the desktop for One Laptop Per Child Project, a popular cause in the early years of the century. Called Sugar (Figure 6), the result is still available as a desktop for children in many distributions. It is radically different from most interfaces, running full-screen and one program at a time. Moreover, it is designed to be entirely task-oriented and primarily to run its own programs – or activities, as Sugar calls them.

Figure 6: Sugar is a rarity: a desktop organized by task and intended for children.

Sugar boots to a screen showing the current user surrounded by favorite activities. Open activities, as well as the user's journal and log, appear beneath the user's icon. Also available at boot time is a list of installed activities, with the most recently used ones at the top, accessible from an icon or via function keys. Activities are heavily documented with mouse overs or with text embedded in the activities. Available activities include Calculate, Image Viewer, Terminal, Write, Browse, and introductory programming tools.

Sugar is not for everybody, but it offers a different desktop view in an era in which innovation is frequently lacking. You can try it from a flash drive using Sugar on a Stick.

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