The Linux Desktop: We've Arrived.

Linux Desktop articles are all over the place. I can hardly open up a browser without tripping over one. Most of them are negative whine-fests, complaining that Linux is too hard for new users, or has become too dumbed-down for technical users, or the fonts are ugly, or the next generation desktop environments are too different, or... well I could go on, but I think you get the point. So today, I feel like whining about the whiners.  Give em' some of their own medicine, and bring something a bit different to the table: A positive viewpoint on the state of the Linux Desktop. Don't look so shocked, just keep reading.

We have what we need folks! The Linux Desktop has arrived. The solid foundation of GNU's tools and the Linux kernel; topped with many desktop environment choices and all the wonderful Linux desktop applications has got us there. Due to the hard work of the entire Linux developer community there is now a viable, open, free, full desktop computing alternative for those who seek it out. There are user friendly distributions out there for non-techies, and highly technical ones for those who prefer to build a custom desktop experience. Available in your favorite distribution's repositories are three modern and beautiful desktop environments to choose from. Ubuntu's Unity is becoming more polished and user friendly. KDE is mature and highly configurable. And Gnome 3 takes the minimal, "get out of my way so I can get stuff done" desktop philosophy to new heights.  For those that prefer more classic desktop experiences there is the fast, stable, fully featured xfce4; and the super-fast lxde desktop. For the nerdiest of the nerds there are multitudes of fully configurable window managers out there; from tiling powerhouses like Xmonad, to flexible floating window managers like Openbox. Linux users have never had more choice and quality available for their desktops. 

Desktop applications on Linux have also matured greatly in past few years. No matter what your task is, Linux truly has an application for it. In many cases I find that I can get what I need to do done faster on Linux than the other two popular desktop platforms. For text editing, scripting, light programming, and writing I use Geany; my favorite text editor. For music management I use Quodlibet. For editing and sending documents to those other two platforms, Libreoffice does the trick. The latest versions of Thunderbird and Firefox handle email and browsing duties flawlessly. And for the curious, I use two different laptops, my work lappy runs Arch Linux and Gnome 3, and my personal lappy runs Arch and Xmonad. 

Is the desktop experience on Linux perfect? I reply to this question with a question, Perfect for whom? Apple's OSX is perfect for folks who can conform to that restricted environment.  Windows 7 can be perfect for some folks, that is until their computer falls prey to malware or a virus. The flexibility, configurability, and numerous distributions and desktop environments on Linux give you the greatest chance to find or create the perfect desktop for you. Some call it fragmentation, but I call it choice.  As a multi-community driven open-platform, Linux is a different beast than the closed platforms offered by Apple and Microsoft. Different in the best ways possible: user focused, community contributions encouraged and essential, and the only price of admission is a bit your time. So why all the whining about the state of the Linux desktop? I'm smitten with what our community has achieved, and I'm ecstatic about the future. 


Kevin Bush is a Linux systems admin, dad and book-lover who spends far too
much time tinkering with gadgetry.


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Small Company - A Thank You

James Ferguson's picture

Great to read your attitude.

We are a small outfit leveraging Open Source in various forms to get jobs done well and cost effectively for our clients

Without Linux (personal desktop favourite Crunchbag with Openbox) and Free/Open enablers we would never have got off the ground.

Business risk is enough without burdening it with bloated / insecure / expensive proprietary product/licenses.

If we succeed in bringing energy efficiency to buildings (our goal) then everyone who has contributed to FOSS has a share in the acclaim - You know who you are - Thank you

Gentoo all the way

Mr Gentoo's picture

I have been running gentoo (exclusivly) for more than 7 years now. Even my eeepc 1015 has it ( along with another distro)
I use it with 2 monitors. I use it as media center, i use it as workstation, i use it as a server (outstanding performance). I use it as a communication tool and some moderate gaming too.

No crashes, No hardware problems, awesome "ricer" performance. Uptimes have been more than a year (for a Desktop/Worstation/Media Center/Server).

10000% fully customized compiled software, stripped down from whatever i do not need. Manual kernel compiled only - Fluxbox and minimal WM environment.

All my hardware is fully linux supported. Since sound cards to video cameras and other external gadgets i buy. (When i buy i buy linux supported)

Any hardware i can put linux; gets it.

Anytime i ran into problems with linux it meant only 2 things: I messed up somewhere (99% of those times) or it was faulty hardware (1%).

Other than gentoo i have tried many other distros. I also use debian (servers - but i still prefer gentoo), i would recommend arch as a possible alternative.
Sabayon linux (gentoo based) for serious desktop users. Backtrack for security experts. DSL for portable OS. Openwrt for routers.

PS: I do not waste 2 seconds with *ubuntu

I don't care...

Swadhin 's picture

I love Linux.Mint on my desktop, OpenSuse on my Laptop both are awesome. Who cares what others think about Linux as a desktop OS. If you are not a gamer or multimedia professional then accept it or not Linux is the best OS and Gnome 3 can eat both Windows 8's and OSX Lion's GUI.Ferrari:Sports Car::Linux: OS :P

Well - even if you like

John Kloosterman's picture

Well - even if you like multimedia Linux is capable of doing so. I use one of my computers for music production using the ESI Juli@ sound card (good support in Linux and easy setup in Jack) and the Behringer BFC2000 control surface in combination with programs like Ardour, Rosegarden, LMMS etc.

There are even a few live CD's (like ArtistX) that have a special low-latency kernel tailored for music and video production.

As for gaming - a lot of games have a Linux version (like Doom3, Quake4, X3-Reunion, Prey to name just a few). Also - wine is becoming good enough to run a lot of modern games. Good enough to fit my needs..

you're right...

Hemmmmy's picture

you're right...

Libreoffice is still far from

Mikey's picture

Libreoffice is still far from being able to compare with Microsoft Office, that is the only complaint I have heard from people and I agree. I use Arch Linux + Gnome3 and use MS office 2007 using wine on my laptop.

Not rly true

shashka's picture

From my expirience about linux and windows, some facts:

I listen music with creative SB fatail1ty pro, in windows i have 1 CD(like 1 whole linux distro lol) with drivers for it. Tons of options, surround sound etc. Everything works perfectly exactly like 150$ that i payed for it!

In linux there is some drivers alsa etc. and with them i only can hear the music(not with same quality ofc). Basicly i cant use all options from my card! not even 1% of them!

Also im watching movies on a TV, plasma 40", still didnt found a way in linux to do it propertly. There i some tearing on the second display, i readed alot in internet, but didnt found a way to do it. AGAIN drivers in linux are pooor, even im with nvidia.

I mean these simple things makes the difference!
THings like, drivers for my mouse and keyboard logitech G series, games that i play, cannot be run in linux etc etc.

The most stupid thing is, with new kernels from last few months(dont rly remember the number lol) I cant run my CPU overclocked! bcuz after 190 BCLK simply linux is not stable. For example everything was ok with debian 6.0 that came with old kernel. But after update OS not even want to start wtf? :) screen:
But in windows everything again is OK!

No doubt linux is great OS, but for now is not ready for fully desktop OS like windows is!

not true

Anonymous's picture

That maybe a reason you can not put linux on your hardware. But it need not be true. If you buy your hardware with linux in mind, you'll find it easy to select hardware that is well supported and works great. Soundblaster have a bad rep for linux drivers, and so I would not buy one. For video I choose nvidia, as their linux drivers are far ahead. Also its often worth avoiding the lastest. Most vendors dont support linux, so when they change the specs it can take some time for linux to catch up. For the most part the latest is not needed, so its no real problem and can save you some $ too. I use linux full time at work (right now) with dual nvidia chipset video cards for a tripple head, generic on board sound, intel gigabit network, and the linux desktop does me well.

So True.

Anonymous's picture

True that. I wrote the post above ripping the guy who said Windows has horrible driver support which is ridiculous. My Linux experience is this, if you pretty much install it on any machine 6-12 months older than the most current release of a distro nothing is easier, it just seems to work. Now if you buy the latest and greatest laptop from a retailer most likely there will be wifi, trackpad, etc issues and only windows will work until the next release of a distro comes out. I use Linux on my home machines and Windows 7 at work developing with VB, Sharepoint and SQL server.

", if you pretty much install

Anonymous's picture

", if you pretty much install it on any machine 6-12 months older than the most current release of a distro nothing is easier,"
errrr ..... FAIL!

Best benefits is for Students

Anonymous's picture

Linux gives best benefit to students, who can learn IT technologies like Database, Unix Administration,Security, Software development,etc without using pirated softwares. They get better jobs when You know LINUX/UNIX and related technologies which no college in India teaches you. It can make you job ready. I learned everything on Linux+PC. This is my story.

How true

LeoM's picture

One has to wonder why is India still training hordes of MS technologist. I don't think this is in the best interest of the Indian economy, or its professionals (MS Certified IT are produced by the thousands each day, and these don;t typically land very high paying/creative/innovative jobs)

Because Office and MS

Anonymous's picture

Because Office and MS software is used in 90% of the fucking enterprises. Why the fuck would it make sense to train in something that's less popular?

I know why, for the freedomz!!111eleven

Spartan desktop

LS's picture

Face it-
many experienced Linux users like a full featured distro.
Today's hardware can handle it.
Why should most people care when there's hardly any speed difference between Gnome and XFCE?
Every time I try to use a stripped down distro I get punished because of bugs or missing libraries.
Too much made out of this "I'm proud to run a spartan desktop" thing.
Cool but not that cool.

Spartan desktops

CLewis's picture

The spartan, lightweight desktops are very useful for keeping old, low memory and "obsolete" computers up and running.

There are varieties of Ubuntu

Anonymous's picture

If you hate Unity, you can always use Xubuntu (XFCE) or Kubuntu (KDE), and I'll predict we'll see a Gubuntu (Gnome) variant sometime soon.

If you already have Ubuntu installed, but want to switch to XFCE or KDE, you can install either the xubuntu-desktop or kubuntu-desktop meta packages.

Gnome 2

Anonymous's picture

I would like to use Gnome 2, can I do that? Oh wait, now I have to switch distros.

There are varieties of Ubuntu

Anonymous's picture

If you hate Unity, you can always use Xubuntu (XFCE) or Kubuntu (KDE), and I'll predict we'll see a Gubuntu (Gnome) variant sometime soon.

If you already have Ubuntu installed, but want to switch to XFCE or KDE, you can install either the xubuntu-desktop or kubuntu-desktop meta packages.

There are varieties of Ubuntu

Anonymous's picture

If you hate Unity, you can always use Xubuntu (XFCE) or Kubuntu (KDE), and I'll predict we'll see a Gubuntu (Gnome) variant sometime soon.

If you already have Ubuntu installed, but want to switch to XFCE or KDE, you can install either the xubuntu-desktop or kubuntu-desktop meta packages.

For Certain!

RFry's picture

The Linux desktop is certainly here! Powerful, fast, and can be made beautiful, fully customizable, and can now easily with the software available replace Windows! Well done Linux Community!

Enjoyed the article...thanks :)

hitest's picture

I enjoyed your article, thank you. I found the overall message positive and uplifting. I'm currently running Slackware 13.37 and Slackware-current on most of my machines. I also have one Arch box. I really like XFce, it meets my needs.
I agree completely, the Linux desktop has arrived and presents a plethora of choices for novices and gurus. I've been using Linux since 2002 and I'm amazed at the changes that have occurred in this relatively short time period.

I agree 200%

timvalen's picture

As far as I'm concerned the Linux desktop arrived long ago. Far as the masses go, there is a Linux Desktop OS built for everyone and every need know to man. Even if there wasn't you could make one just for your needs. The amount of software is mind boggling. Frankly I could not have been truly productive all these years without Linux, the free and open source communities as well for that matter. Far as servers go, thank goodness for Linux.

Quite Ready!

LS's picture

Ubuntu is quite ready to provide a POLISHED cloud computing experience to anyone who needs it.
I know from years of experience.

I totally agree.

ScionicSpectre's picture

While there are small areas we can improve on, there are people working hard on most of the niche issues. Linux has really been ready for about 5 years. Before then, there were stupid little issues that would keep newbies away. Now it's just a breeze, and there's an option for everyone, as you said.

Different in the right ways says it all- you can have any experience you want with Linux. You can even make things like the old-style OS X and Windows 7 desktops that people have grown familiar with outside of the FOSS ecosystem. There's nothing stopping you from getting what you want, or trying something new and invigorating.

Also, there tends to be a similar variety in applications. You can have highly functional applications with simpler interfaces, very beefy full-featured programs, and super-simple minimalistic programs. You can mix and match, or get the applications that are tailored specifically to you- and, with open formats, you don't have to worry about how all of these applications interact. They usually just work, which is an outstanding achievement. The integration available between all these disparate platforms is really phenomenal and something worthy of praise all by itself.

While Linux isn't everything to everyone, it's great for most computer users. For people with niche application needs, it still covers most of the bases. There are some cases where work or play won't be satisfied to the same extent as on Windows, but that never stopped Mac users, either. And you always have virtualization and dual-booting if all else fails.

If you want a computer that's just a bit more 'made of easy' and a bit more personal, it's worth it to have a Linux installation. There's a lot of good, open software to be missed if you don't.

just be happy with everything?

spider2097's picture

Whilst I agree with the sentiment of this article, I feel the message is lost by the use of : "So today, I feel like whining about the whiners. Give em' some of their own medicine, and bring something a bit different to the table: A positive viewpoint on the state of the Linux Desktop."

From my own personal perspective, I feel there's plenty to be positive about with regards to the "Linux Desktop" mainly due to the choices available. But to claim that criticism of the apparent direction of the Gnome project and the Unity DE is down to not liking change is a little patronising. If everyone just accepted everything there'd be no reason to change & therefore no progress. If something does not work right (either in principle or practice) then people have the right to express that opinion.

Personally, I have reservations about both Unity & Gnome, KDE is too heavy for my needs & the other main DE's (such as Fluxbox, LXDE, Xfce etc) don't sit well with me - just my personal opinion, can't put my finger on exactly why but I just don't like them too much. The flexibilty of WM's such as Openbox & IceWM allow me to have the workspace I want. However, not everyone has the time nor the inclination to customise their default DE if they don't like it.

Thanks for name dropping Quodlibet!

Brendan Kidwell's picture

Hey, thanks for mentioning Quodlibet in passing. I've always wanted a desktop audio player with BOOKMARKS that actually point to a position inside a file! I couldn't find anything that satisfied this need before.

New may not always be good; stagnation is always bad.

David Smith (dsmithhfx)'s picture

I agree with the general tone of the article.

A lot of hysteria and bile has been spewed by some seriously overwrought folks. Relax, kids, it's just a desktop. If you don't like the upgrade, nobody is forcing it on you. You haven't paid for it, and you will not be asked to.

I tried Unity and Gnome 3 both in Virtualbox installations and decided that, of the two, I prefer Gnome 3. So I installed it to the metal (multi-booting Fedora 15 with Fedora 14 and XP). I like Gnome 2 for productivity but let's face it folks, it is old and it is stale. Gnome 3 at this point is pretty immature, much like the early days of KDE 4. I think it has lots of promise. There are some things I don't like about it, but it continues to improve. I appreciate the imagination and hard work that went into it. I appreciate that the Gnome team showed some guts.

NO choice with ubuntu. you do

Anonymous's picture

NO choice with ubuntu. you do it their way or else. In fact, No real linux users were asked about the use of Unity. So much for their BS about being community driven. I do not like it. Ubuntu is becoming too MS like. They keep putting out new versions but never make sure the old packages work. Been using linux since the 1990's and will stay with real linux. Two linux boxes still to convert from ubuntu. 10.04 lts server does not even support the latest version of Apache out of the box. Real security issues. I loved suse till the sold out to MS. They also became less dependable with fewer choices. the repos shrank dramatically after the change over. MS KILLS. Android is not real linux either. Wish it was kept quiet about linux.

What you say about Ubuntu is

JoshD's picture

What you say about Ubuntu is rather ironic, isn't it? The purpose of Linux and what this article talks about is CHOICE. All linux users have too many choices, it makes me dizzy. Don't like Unity? The classic desktop is a click away (or the console if you prefer). Really dislike Ubuntu? 100+ distros available at your fingertips. Then again it's your choice to whine (perhaps trollol).

"Too MS-like?" Let's face it MS and Apple's business style works and it's raking them millions of dollars, heck even billions, yearly. I haven't seen a BSOD as often since Win 98 and those tales are so old. The only thing I hate about Windows are the malware, virus, worms, you name it.

"No real linux users?" You are a REAL linux user because you're what - hacking the kernel code with Torvalds (bless him)? Perhaps the only obstacle to becoming a mainstream desktop are the people who currently use Linux. I get the feeling like we don't want to be because then we'd just be using a pretty common desktop. It's like saying Linux is for the elite hackers. BS that! Sharing (open-source) should not be the theme behind linux if that were the case.

Choice is there just look

saiftynet's picture

It is trivial to dump Unity and go back to the "classic" desktop. Just because a setup is "default" does not make it obligatory.

The purpose of OS distributors (whether it is Windows, or OSX or Linux Distros like Ubuntu or Fedora) is to shape the direction they feel best suits the future needs. They may be right sometimes or wrong at others....but what they have to have is DIRECTION. What we have with Linux is the ability to change the it is perfectly possible for you to revert to your favorite Desktop even when the default setup up is Unity. I honestly don't know what the fuss is about...Linux users do have choice, either to go with the change or revert to what they are used is the the Mac and Windows users that do not. But change is inevitable wherever you go...the world does not stand still.

It's NOT inevitable

Anonymous's picture

"But change is inevitable" No, as you said Windows and Mac users don't change. So it's NOT inevitable.

Choose to Change...or Don't. Some people don't get a choice

saiftynet's picture

I said Windows and Mac user do not have a CHOICE, but they do change...if Vista was not change, then I do not what is... Linux users can CHOOSE to change or not.

oh well...

Bèrto ëd Sèra's picture

I use gentoo on the box I want to configure and sabayon on the family laptop I just want to forget about and be sure it's running. I moved all my family to KDE, sabayon gets installed by itself so no configuration of anything at all (why would you want to configure anything? You click, install and this is what any average wife and daughter need to have).

So honestly... the previous laptop got burned because Vista has nothing to manage overheating, and it got formatted 5 times before that, because of malware. Now the new one has been running for almost 2 years with no other operation that cleaning it (so what? you need to do this anyway, EVEN if you don't run linux).

I'm meeting much more bugs on linux servers, these days, than I am on a sabayon laptop, so I don't really get what's the point in complaining. Yes, sometimes Quassel breaks and I get a restart screen. At least it's not blue and I don't have to reset the machine...

This is a great post

metalx2000's picture

People who say Linux is difficult or isn't as mature as other OS haven't really used it. It's easier and years a head of their proprietary counter parts. And it's Open-Source and there are more options in WM's and DE's then Windows and Mac combined. You are not forced to use anything. If you don't like one WM try another. If you don't like one Distro, try another.

Those who say "Windows just works". I've never seen a Windows Machine just work. I barely seen them work at all.
Everything you ever need to know about Free Software.

RE: To above

Linux Fans Say the Darnest Thing's picture

Really.... because all the companies I've worked for uses Windows Server and they all work. If they didn't, then they wouldn't be making any money.

Also you can change the desktop environment on Windows (I don't know about OS X, but I bet you can as well.)

Choice of Windows desktop

Anonymous's picture

Oh I forgot, In Windows you can also create virtually unlimited desktops. I use You can create the most amazing desktops. It's about choice in Windows. My custom Windows desktop created with this software blows away anything I've ever created with a Linux desktop.

You are not forced to use anything

Anonymous's picture

What are you forced to use in Windows?? You can't use Firefox, The Gimp, LibreOffice, Handbrake, etc. in Windows? The only difference is all the software that isn't made for Linux also works. Oh yea, also in Windows you can do great gaming and use professional software like Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver CS5, Illustrator, Fireworks, and great video editing software like Avid & Adobe Premiere. Also you can install really popular databases like SQL server. You should try Windows sometime. This is really just a short list of all the amazing software you can run on Windows that Linux can't. You can of course create a virtual windows machine, but then again aren't you really just using windows?

'Those who say "Windows just

Anonymous's picture

'Those who say "Windows just works". I've never seen a Windows Machine just work. I barely seen them work at all.'

Then you or the users are doing it wrong.


mVr's picture

My laptop is Mac OS X, Home desktop is Windows 7 and have a server running OpenSuse and yes I am typing this Post on OpenSuse.

I use all the operating systems on a regular basis. I think Linux is very very flexible OS, but still not a mature OS for desktop. Typical desktop user doesn't have to configure things like Fonts, Audio, video codecs, Application look and feel etc... Still lot of software looks very premitive in comparision with same applications running on "windows 7" and "Mac OS X".

Mac OS X gets more attention than it deserves. Linux is much more flexible to configure than Mac OS X. and on Windows 7, everything just works and software is much more polished.

I use many business applications (database, erp, etc..) and some financial applications, so for me Mac OS X is pain, Linux OK, Windows just works...

By saying that, I spend more time on OpenSuse, typically do a VNC/NX session from MAC. At home, i still "HAD to" use Windows 7 for many business/personal applications.

In my personal view, Windows 7 still rules, OpenSuse/Linux gives me pleasure, and going to DUMP expensive/rigid/not-so-usable Mac OS X. Yes, lot of stuff doesnt work properly on Mac OS X happen to work on Linux.

Good Day..

SuSE is the problem

Anonymous's picture

A lot of your problem is OpenSuSE. The quality went sharply downhill not long after the Microsoft partnership. Try a proper Linux distro. I recommend Ubuntu or Linux Mint.

Linux time

Slopoke's picture

I'm using with great success with kids and spouse (all net active+); Oz Unity Redux from Australia. A very user friendly OS that includes all important software. Incl. Google Chrome, Skype and FF5. Ican geek and the kid does high school with Libre Office Suite happily. (ms-office etc. like learning to fly 747.) Have converted whacked out ms machines to their Linux of choosing and been praised. And, the uncounted? I chat with a lot of 20 something's and are surprised at how many run Linux. A new world.


disi's picture

I use xfce4wm, xfce4panel and xfdesktop (love that you can minimize apps to the desktop like in WindowMaker)
Most file management is done via Terminal, but if I want to browse a picture folder I use pcmanfm.

This is what I love with Awesome and can be easily transferred to xfce4:
Start applications Mod+R
switch workspaces Mod+1,2,3,4,5,6

So yeah, I use what I like :)

p.s. Quodlibet looks cool, which check that later and why is there no Gentoo in the Poll :(

Great Article

Arzach's picture

Very refreshing article, Linux is for doers not for whiners.

Then I guess it's not ready

Anonymous's picture

Then I guess it's not ready for the prime-time as many claim it to be, would your grandma want to be a do-er? No, she just wants her computer to work without having to use the command line.

excellent article and

nanounanue's picture

excellent article and excellent phrase :-)

Hear, hear!

tonybaldwin's picture

Choice = the beauty of FOSS.

For my part, I <3 my debian stable + openbox setup.

"Lappy"?? Really?

Anonymous's picture

This used to be a professional publication. So sad to see the language on Linux Journal starting resemble some idiot n00b blog like "Lappy"?? Seriously? LJ just got dropped from my feed aggregator. My print subscription doesn't have long either, I'm worried.


slopoke's picture

Sir, please stick around. Some folks around the world use different slang. Even professionals, like me. Daughter calls her 'Lappy: the Clam. Back to coding our new bling. Thanks

Yes Really.

Kevin Bush's picture

Professional doesn't have to be stale and boring. If one slang word makes you drop LJ from your feed, well... that's too bad.

Kevin Bush is a Linux systems admin, dad and book-lover who spends far too
much time tinkering with gadgetry.

u suck!

Anonymous's picture

bullshit! We want a desktop of the users, by the users and for the users. dump these bling-bling cheap sad copies of proprietary cowdung.