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Linux Distros Can Create Their Own Desktop Environments for 5 Reasons

Linux Distros Can Create Their Own Desktop Environments for 5 Reasons

Most people don’t view the desktop as a separate entity from the operating systems. What you see on the screen—that is Windows or that is macOS. Linux does not have a single desktop. Instead, there is a multitude of desktops.

Most people accept what comes by default. However, some Linux distributors have started to create their own desktops. Pantheon is an elementary OS. Solus has Budgie. System76 has COSMIC. Nitrux Linux has Maui Shell. Ubuntu used Unity in the past.

It is not difficult to create a desktop. So why are so many distros doing it?


1. To Control Their Software Experience

The operating system provider is the one who controls most of the desktop experience in the proprietary software world. They either develop the code or contract it out to someone else. They also have the power to make any changes that their development team can come up with.

All components of free software come out of different entities. The people who create the display server are different from those who make it boot screen or the packaging format. The knowledge and permissions to make desired changes may not be available to a distro’s team.

System76 can make their own desktop environment and have complete control over the interface that customers see.

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They don’t have to worry about fixing their extensions or patches every six months, as GNOME (which System76 shipped pre-developing COSMIC) is released. They aren’t content to wait for GNOME to make the changes they want.

2. They Can Create Their Own Vision

Solus-Budgie

The code control is only one aspect. It is also important to have control over the direction in which the code is moving.

GNOME is committed to only showing the dock in the Activities Overview. Pop!_OS and Ubuntu have extensions that allow them to make the dock visible at all time. While GNOME allows extensions to be made, it is not a priority to ensure extensions work with all versions of GNOME.


Canonical and System76 become dependent on a computer that doesn’t offer the desired functionality or doesn’t have a stable foundation to fix it.

System76 can create its own desktop environment and make it more compatible with the experience it wants to offer customers.

A dock can be a first class citizen. The same goes for a tiling window manager. You can also use a custom theme that GNOME developers don’t like, which would be set as the default. These aspects of the experience won’t be affected by updates unless they are the ones breaking them.

3. They must respond to user feedback

Pop_OS-Workspaces

You will get feedback from people when they use your project. Some people love the fact that GNOME doesn’t have desktop icons. Some people find this unacceptable. Canonical is motivated by this fact to have Unity keep it and to add it back to GNOME through an extension.

Consider another example: Many people find KDE Plasma overwhelmingly rich in options. Yet, when someone asks for a particular feature, another option will be available.

KDE’s mission statement is not complicated. This is far from the truth. A person simply wanted a feature and they either made it happen or had it created for them by someone else.

System76 holds a special place within the Linux world. It is a Linux laptop supplier that ships hardware and creates its own software. It has paying customers that express their needs and expectations back to the company.

Although customers may not ask System76 directly for a new desktop environment for their business, creating one can allow the company to fulfill what customers really want.

4. Volunteers Want Freedom to Grow

GNOME is a highly opinionated desktop environment. This isn’t a criticism. GNOME has a specific vision of how its interface should look, function and integrate, unlike traditional Linux desktop environments. Any contributions that are not in line with this vision will be rejected.

If someone creates a way for thumbnails to be displayed for each workspace in the bottom corner, it’s unlikely to become part of GNOME. The accepted visual metaphor for workspaces is that they are something you zoom in on when you activate Activities Overview.

In this case, the person might not abandon their code but instead create something else for GNOME. They may choose to go to another desktop, where their contributions are welcome, since they aren’t employees.

Related: Why Linux is Free: How the Open Source World Makes It Money

Some volunteers have a grand vision of how the desktop could work. No existing project gives them the freedom they need to create the things they want. They create their own projects.

There will always be reasons to create a new desktop environment, no matter how technical or visual. This is true for both free software apps and the broader interface.

5. They want to be distinctive

unity-8-ubuntu

Canonical’s Unity user interface was controversial in the Linux world at first. Many people didn’t understand why Canonical would spend so long reinventing the wheel, when it already had a working desktop interface.

Ubuntu’s mission was not to be difficult to use. New computers should have Ubuntu pre-installed. Computer manufacturers weren’t enthusiastic about selling computers with interfaces that looked as old as GNOME 2.

Unity was an unusual look, not just among Linux distributions but also compared to Windows OS and macOS. You knew what you were looking at when you saw a Unity desktop picture. It was Ubuntu. It featured bright icons on the left and a useful keyboard driven HUD feature to navigate app menus just by typing.


Canonical was able create their own desktop environment to offer manufacturers a unique option.

Even for traditional Linux users, who may download an ISO file to replace their current operating system, there must still be a reason to choose one distro over the other. The key difference between packages and releases used to be package formats. Over the years, desktop environments have been the focus of attention.

Does Linux Need More Desktop Environments?

This is the constant question. It doesn’t matter. People don’t create new desktops just because they have a need. People create new desktops because it’s possible.

See Also

New desktops will soon be available, but for now, have you reviewed the various Linux desktop environments that are already in place?

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The 12 Best Linux Desktop Environments

It can be difficult to choose a Linux desktop environment. These are the top Linux desktop settings to consider.

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