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RPi Linux Desktop Environment Alternatives

These are some notes regarding lightweight desktop environments and their suitability for running on Raspberry Pi. By light weight, I mean they don't use a lot of memory etc.

PIXEL is very good and well-tuned for Raspberry Pi and there's little reason to look for anything else. My preference of the alternates listed below is Xfce.


LXDE is a light weight desktop environment, so it's quite good for running on a RPi.

  • One of the four most popular desktop environments, LXDE has the smallest memory requirements of the four.

  • Up to and including Ubuntu 18.04 LXDE was the default desktop environment bundled with Lubuntu; the default is now LXQt.

  • Wikipedia: The PIXEL desktop environment of Raspbian (the official Raspberry Pi operating system) is a highly modified version of LXDE.



  • From Ubuntu 18.10 onward, LXQt will be the default desktop environment bundled with Lubuntu; the default used to be LXDE.

  • Lubuntu is simply Ubuntu bundled with LXDE or LXQt. There is a version of Lubuntu 16.04 for RPi; the URL is a Magnet download protocol link.

  • https://lubuntu.me/downloads/


Xfce is a light weight desktop environment, so it's pretty good for the task.

  • One of the four most popular desktop environments, a bit higher memory requirements than LXDE.

  • It is highly customisable, as evidenced by allowing me to set a shell scripts to have single-click launcher icons (unlike PIXEL).

  • It seems to work well on Raspberry Pi apart from when a big disk read is needed there is no apparent response for a bit (eg, when opening a video).

  • Xfce is the desktop environment used in Ubuntu Studio, my Linux of choice for a future desktop system.

  • Xfce is also used in Armbian.


MATE is a reasonably light weight desktop environment that is becoming more popular. (I'm not sure why.)

  • About the same memory requirements as Xfce.

  • I've tried Ubuntu MATE on Raspberry Pi and did not like it very much. It was a bit buggy, seemed sluggish, and I couldn't set up the application bars the way I wanted, in the positions I wanted. (Indeed, it very much liked to crash when I tried.) I was not impressed with it. Others have reported it's not very user friendly.

  • Also, I'm not a millenial, and the jargonistic pronunciation of the "Maa-tey" name is putting on airs.

  • Also, it's not an acronym; it doesn't need to be in capital letters. (Is it only because GNOME is in capitals?)

Cinnamon, GNOME, KDE Plasma, and Unity.

  • All these have high memory usage. They are not lightweight, and are thus not suitable for a Raspberry Pi with 1 GB RAM.

    • Update: Having said that, there is now a Linux version (64 bit) called Manjaro for the Raspberry Pi 4 which uses KDE Plasma, as shown in this video; Chris says "I'm really very impressed with this, it's a superb operating system to use on a Pi." He shows it uses 377 MB of 3.7 GB available memory.

    • Update: In his July 2020 Linux Mint 20 video Chris says Cinnamon uses more resources than MATE does, and that Cinnamon is less stable, but it has more features. (He then says Xfce desktop environment is the most stable version of Linux Mint and thinks it is "great on low-end hardware".)

  • GNOME was originally an acronym (GNU Network Object Model Environment) but the project no longer uses it as an acronym.

  • GNOME 3.28.2 is the default desktop environment used with the Jetson Nano (4 GB RAM). Quite frankly, it's more than a bit weird, with (for example) no direct access to applications. Even to just get a Terminal window I had to do a search. Every time! With GNOME, while doing nothing the Jetson Nano had only 2.53 GB (63%) free memory. Replacing it with Xfce gave 3.28 GB (82%) free memory, a gain of 750 MB available RAM. That's a very significant difference when it has 4 GB total RAM.

  • According to Wikipedia GNOME 3 has "move[d] away from the traditional menu bar and taskbar, [which] has caused considerable controversy in the GNU and Linux community. ... Debian, a Linux distribution that had historically used GNOME 2, switched to Xfce when GNOME 3 was released but readopted GNOME 3 in time for the release of Debian 8 "Jessie"."