If you are an Ubuntu fan but not a Gnome fan, what can you do? You should know that you don’t have to use the Gnome version of Ubuntu. You can install another desktop environment or just use another “flavor” of Ubuntu which can be another default desktop manager. Let’s see how they differ and what flavor Ubuntu would suit you best.
What is Ubuntu flavor?
Ubuntu versions are generally Ubuntu running a different desktop environment. The default desktop environment used in Ubuntu is Gnome, but not everyone is a fan of Gnome. Some may be fans of KDE, while others are more used to the old Mate desktop. The purpose of the different Ubuntu flavors is to cater to these groups of people. There are seven official versions of Ubuntu at the time of this writing. They are recognized and supported by Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu. The different flavors are:
- Ubuntu Budgie
- Ubuntu Kylin
- Ubuntu Mate
- Ubuntu Studio
The following is a breakdown of how each flavor differs from the others.
Kubuntu 20.04 ships with the KDE Plasma 5.18 LTS desktop environment. KDE is much more customizable than Gnome, which makes Kubuntu the perfect choice for those who demand a modern, ultra-customizable desktop and are not afraid of getting lost among the dozens of options.
Kubuntu exchanges all gnome-related applications for alternatives to KDE. KDE, however, also has a wider variety of applications.
Additional software, as well as add-ons for the KDE desktop itself, can be installed through the KDE Discover application. It is as easy to use as Ubuntu’s default software store, but looks a bit more visually complicated. It should be noted that it does not advertise or prioritize instant versions of software.
If you were using previous versions of KDE, you may also notice that the default music player has changed from Cantata to Elisa.
Plasma 5.18 has a new global editing mode which replaces the personalization menu at the top right of the screen with a bar at the top in the center of the screen. From there you can add widgets to the desktop, create additional workspaces or access the desktop configuration options.
KDE supports a “do not disturb” mode which suppresses notifications. This goes very well with KDE support for Night Color, which adjusts the color temperature of the screen.
Like Gnome, KDE comes with three versions of its Breeze theme. Light, dark and Kubuntu’s default, which looks like a hybrid of the other two.
To help customize it when adjusting its parameters, KDE now presents an overview of the results organized in a grid view. This grid view is also used when downloading new themes, which allows you to better appreciate the differences.
LXQt 0.14.1 is before and in the center of Lubuntu 20.04. If you need a light but functional Ubuntu flavor, you should try Lubuntu.
Fast but basic office
LXQt works like KDE, presenting a default task bar with a main menu, a task juggling section and an additional tray. Unlike KDE, however, LXQt exchanges extensive configurability and visual effects for a lighter, simpler desktop experience.
To the left of the bar are the main menu, a workspace selector and links to favorite applications. On the right, you can find the volume and network controls, access the contents of the clipboard via Qlipper and a preview of the calendar by clicking on the clock. There is nothing extraordinary and everything works as expected.
A ton of themes
Lubuntu comes with many different LXQt and OpenBox themes that you can mix and match.
As it is based on Qt, Lubuntu uses the KDE Discover application instead of the default Ubuntu store to find and install new software.
As for the way it is used daily, Lubuntu looks like a “Kubuntu Lite” and is a great option for anyone looking for a less resource-intensive alternative to both Ubuntu and Kubuntu.
If you stayed with the old version of Lubuntu 18.04, you should not upgrade to version 20.04. The first versions used the LXDE desktop, unlike the LXQt of the new version. Due to their very different structure, an upgrade from one to the other can lead to a broken office.
Unlike the Gnome and KDE versions, Lubuntu 20.04 uses the Calamares installer. This means that there is no support for installing the operating system itself in a ZFS partition via the initial default configuration.
Ubuntu Budgie uses the Budgie desktop environment that was originally found in the Solus project. Budgie is based on GTK + and in many ways looks like a Gnome 3 from an alternative planet. It seems that the developers of Gnome decided to stick to the way Gnome 2 worked.
Ubuntu Budgie is made for anyone looking for a beautiful but simple desktop that will work as expected but does not lack modern functionality and aesthetics.
Large welcome window
The Budgie flavor comes with a stellar welcome window that links all of the options that anyone may need to change after installing a new operating system.
Budgie Welcome is divided into three separate sections. The “familiarity” allows the installation of a different Web browser, tweaking the user interface and keyboard shortcuts. Post-installation allows customization of language and entries, new driver updates and downloads, restricted extras, backup configuration, firewall configuration and user management. Finally, “Troubleshooting” contains a single “System Specifications” page that provides a detailed report on the computer’s hardware.
Friendly and modern office
Ubuntu Budgie’s office is elegant, aesthetic, modern and has everything you need in one click.
By default, it has a bar at the top of the screen from where you can access the main menu, see the time and access the associated parameters (and calendar) as well as a group of icons on the right side. From there, you can access QuickNote which runs by default, access the folders in your personal directory or check the contents of removable devices, extract and control the network and audio, and access the usual disconnection / stop menu.
Instead of including a task panel in its main bar, Ubuntu Budgie relies on the Plank launcher to access favorite applications and juggle active applications.
The Budgie desktop offers nine different themes that you can instantly apply or install. What is even better is that it also offers different desktop layout themes, two of which will probably be more user-friendly for people coming from Windows or Mac.
Budgie’s desktop groups its notifications with a group of applets. They are both accessible from individual icons displayed in the tray that we described above but are presented as two tabs in the same panel on the right side of the screen. These applets consist of a mini-calendar as well as audio controls – global, based on the application and on the device.
Unlike other Ubuntu flavors that target the world, Ubuntu Kylin is made for the Chinese audience. Although its beautiful UKUI office environment can make it attractive to everyone outside of China, it ends up feeling restrictive and like you have to jump through hoops to use it.
Ubuntu Kylin’s UKUI office is not trying to reinvent the wheel. It presents the classic taskbar at the bottom of the screen with a main menu button on the left, followed by links to favorite applications, a list of active windows and finally, a tray with icons on the right side of the screen.
As expected, on the board are the time and date which, in one click, display a mini-calendar. Next to them are icons for quick access to network connections, audio controls, and the Notification Center. It appears as a panel on the right side of the screen, but apart from the notifications, it also contains a second section. From there, you can access the contents of the clipboard and access the plug-ins whose name describes their function: “Clock Alarm”, “NoteBook” and “feedback”.
Ubuntu Kylin offers its own software center, and this is where people outside of China might start looking for a different distribution.
Unfortunately, everything in Kylin Software Center is in Chinese, with the name of the occasional English program. This includes its interface, all category names, buttons and menu entries. And there doesn’t seem to be an option to change the language.
Ubuntu MATE is closer to Kubuntu in that, based on the MATE desktop environment, it presents a modern approach to classic desktop tropes. A true evolution of the Gnome 2 office environment, MATE is familiar and easy to use but does not lack polish and brilliance.
Like Ubuntu Budgie, it’s as close to a stable but modern Gnome 2 distribution as anyone can get it. In direct comparison, MATE leans more towards the classic Gnome 2 than towards the more modern Budgie.
Friendly and useful welcome window
On first boot, Ubuntu MATE displays a welcome window that contains useful options.
A “Getting Started” section provides links to all of the useful options after a new installation. From these, you can:
- Download updates and drivers
- Change language and input
- Configure backups
- Configure network shares
- Configure the firewall
- Configure users
- Install new software
- Install new color themes and switch between their “default”, light and dark
- Change the office layout between four choices. There is the default configuration of MATE with two bars at the top and bottom of the screen, one that mimics Unity, with a bar at the top of the screen and a launcher on the left side, and the two expected options that work like Windows or Mac OS X.
- Install more browsers and choose the one you want by default.
You can configure the most critical aspects of your desktop from this window, and then start using your computer without having to search for other settings.
An office for everyone
Ubuntu MATE offers eight layout styles, and you’ll find at least one that looks familiar and user-friendly.
There is also an updated notification center that allows the user to set the number of visible notifications, to automatically delete notifications by specific applications and to switch to do not disturb mode.
New software is installed via the MATE software store, which seems more refined than the default Ubuntu store and the KDE Discover application. There doesn’t seem to be a preference for instant versions of apps, but at the same time, it looks like the software store provides access to a somewhat limited selection of software.
Xubuntu comes with the XFCE desktop environment which ignores brilliant graphics and unnecessary fluff to provide a light and airy desktop experience. Although it is fully presented as a desktop, it is also user-friendly enough to be used on older or lower-end PCs.
Xubuntu is probably the only relatively “lite” version of Ubuntu that is best suited for older and underpowered PCs.
Simple office experience
The XFCE desktop has a single taskbar at the top of the screen. It comes with a main menu button on the left and a group of icons on the right. From these icons, you can access notifications (and activate a “Do not disturb” mode), manage network connections and audio levels, and consult a mini calendar by clicking on the clock.
XFCE comes with a “dark” rotation on its default “Greybird” theme, and four other styles that change the appearance of visual elements (toolbars, buttons, menus, windows, etc.). Unfortunately, for best results, you need to change the visual settings in two different places.
The new version 4.14 of XFCE is better compatible with Nvidia’s proprietary graphics drivers and fixes flickering display issues with V-Sync support via OpenGL.
Xubuntu uses the same software store as Ubuntu. So if you need to install more apps, they will only be for a moment.
Not for AMD
If you are using an AMD GPU, it is suggested to wait until 20.04.1. The current version is known to have major graphics issues with AMD GPUs, such as missing window decorations.
The new version of this media-centric flavor gets all the benefits of the new kernel, but is more of an evolution from the previous version 19.10. It comes with multimedia applications for every need, from audio to DTP. Theoretically, after installation, you already have everything you need to create your own film from scratch, from writing the first draft of its script to correcting the colors and compressing the final cut.
It should be noted that its maintainers have decided to leave XFCE for KDE in future versions because of its “best tools for graphic designers and photographers”. Thus, any upgrade from this version may cause a break.
A flavor for you
The list above contains the official flavor of Ubuntu, although there are many Linux distributions based on Ubuntu, such as Linux Mint. It’s almost a fact that everyone will find a desktop environment to love among the official versions or derivatives of Ubuntu. If you need help making a choice, see our guide to Linux distributions for beginners or the best Linux distribution for Windows users.
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