Linux desktop comparison summary – 20 solutions for your desktop!

Our first Linux desktop comparison is over. I took a look at quite some projects during the last weeks. 20 of those (including modes that are behaving differently) proved to be full DEs which should be covered by a broadscale test.

Some others, like UDE for example, had to be skipped. While it does have a very interesting concept, it’s not currently a DE but only offers a window manager (despite the name “Unix Desktop Environment”). In the end 18 DEs were actually tested (I failed to get the other two to run on Arch).

Problems

Comparing DEs over the time of several weeks on a rolling release system might not really wield the best results. I also wanted to add something new to this post so that it’s not just a boring summary for those who have read the past entries. Therefore I decided to add the size of the packages that are downloaded to install the DE, too. After all network traffic can still be an issue for some people. Well, and for some DEs new versions have been released in the meantime and I’d feel stupid to write a new entry by just warming up old stuff.

For these reasons I repeated most of the tests last Monday and Tuesday and use the new values here (which sometimes make a huge difference!). Only CDE uses the old package; I was able to build a current package but did not succeed in making the DE start. Unity2d is now obsolete just like the old GNOME 2 (which I essentially added so that MATE can be compared to it, anyway).

Overall Ranking

I’ll begin with the overall rating here since that’s the most important thing. I’ve compared all DEs in terms of 1. memory consumption (most important for me and thus weighted *3), 2. disk space used (weighted *2) and 3. size of packages to download. So, here’s the result:

Rank DE Version
01 OpenCDE 620
02 Equinox DE 2 2.0
03 CDE 2.2.0a/b
04 LXDE 0.5.x
05 ROX DE 0.41.0
06 Enlightenment 17 svn-75246
07 Razor-Qt 0.4.1
08 Xfce 4.10.0
09 Sugar 0.94.1
10 MATE DE 1.4
11 Cinnamon UI 1.5.7
12 GNOME 3 Classic 3.4.2
13 GNOME 3 Shell 3.4.2
14 Trinity DE 3.5.13
15 Unity 3D 6.4.0
16 KDE Plasma 4.9.0

RAM usage

Here’s the table that compares memory usage of the tested DEs:

<101 MB 101 – 200 MB 201 – 300 MB >300 MB
obsolete not working
Rank DE Version Memory usage
00 Arch Linux 08/2012 37 MB
00 X11, VBoxadds, xterm 08/2012 54 MB
01 OpenCDE 620 57 MB
02 Equinox DE 2 2.0 71 MB
03 CDE 2.2.0a 72 MB
04 ROX DE 0.41.0 72 MB
05 LXDE 0.5.x 83 MB
06 Enlightenment 17 svn-75246 97 MB
07 Xfce 4.10.0 104 MB
08 Razor-Qt 0.4.1 117 MB
09 Sugar 0.94.1 122 MB
10 GNOME 2 2.32 137 MB
11 MATE DE 1.4 139 MB
12 Trinity DE 3.5.13 202 MB
13 GNOME 3 Classic 3.4.2 211 MB
14 Cinnamon UI 1.5.7 224 MB
15 GNOME Shell 3.4.2 253 MB
16 Unity 3D 6.4.0 312 MB
17 KDE Plasma 4.9.0 354 MB
18 Unity 2D 6.0.0 404 MB
xx Ètoilè 0.4.2 ??
xx Mezzo ?? ??

Drive space needed

Here’s the next table:

<301 MB 301 – 600 MB 601 – 1.2 GB >1.2 GB
obsolete not working
Rank DE Version Disk space used
00 Arch Linux 08/2012 561 MB
00 X11, VBoxadds, xterm 08/2012 +68 MB
01 OpenCDE 620 +83 MB
02 Equinox DE 2 2.0 +174 MB
03 CDE 2.2.0b +192 MB
04 Razor-Qt 0.4.1 +226 MB
05 LXDE 0.5.x +325 MB
06 Enlightenment 17 svn-75246 +340 MB
07 ROX DE 0.41.0 +497 MB
08 Xfce 4.10.0 +559 MB
09 Sugar 0.94.1 +604 MB
10 GNOME 2 2.32 +630 MB
11 MATE DE 1.4 +675 MB
12 Cinnamon UI 1.5.7 +947 MB
13 GNOME Shell 3.4.2 +1023 MB
14 GNOME 3 Classic 3.4.2 +1023 MB
15 Unity 3D 6.4.0 +1121 MB
16 KDE Plasma 4.9.0 +1232 MB
17 Trinity DE 3.5.13 +2098 MB
18 Unity 2D 6.0.0 ??
xx Ètoilè 0.4.2 ??
xx Mezzo ?? ??

Download size

And here’s the last one:

<51 MB 51 – 100 MB 101 – 200 MB >200 MB
Rank DE Version size default / max
00 Arch Linux 08/2012 123 MB
00 X11, VBoxadds, xterm 08/2012 +15 MB
01 OpenCDE 620 +19 MB
02 Equinox DE 2 2.0 +38 MB
03 CDE 2.2.0b +49 MB
04 Razor-Qt 0.4.1 +53 MB
04 LXDE 0.5.x +53 MB
05 ROX DE 0.41.0 +75 MB
05 Enlightenment 17 svn-75246 +75 MB
06 Xfce 4.10.0 +82 / 99 MB
07 Sugar 0.94.1 +89 MB
08 MATE DE 1.4 +119 /169 MB
09 Cinnamon UI 1.5.7 +147 / 347 MB
10 Unity 3D 6.4.0 +163 /302 MB
11 GNOME 3 Shell 3.4.2 +167 / 366 MB
11 GNOME 3 Classic 3.4.2 +167 / 366 MB
12 KDE Plasma 4.9.0 +306 / 774 MB
13 Trinity DE 3.5.13 +485 MB

Conclusion

The most light-weight DE tested is OpenCDE, based upon Motif. The second best is Equinox DE using FLTK as its toolkit. The lightest GTK+-based DE is LXDE, ranked No. 5 and the lightest Qt one Razor-Qt which scored rank 7. So these will be the candidates to examine closer in a future testing series.

What’s next?

The next entry will deal with what Eerie’s last two letters stand for.

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Linux desktop comparison (pt. 5): Exotic DEs

This is the final part of our desktop testing series. We’ll deal with the rather exotic desktop environments in this entry. Most of them are built on top of some unusual toolkits.

These are:

For test criteria and the basic Arch system, please refer to the first part of this test.

OpenCDE

OpenCDE was a project to recreate the proprietary Unix desktop CDE. However the original CDE has been open-sourced recently and OpenCDE is likely to be discontinued since its developers joined the developement of CDE. It is however a very light DE but also quite incomplete.

The OpenCDE desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit virtualbox-archlinux-additions libxpm
pacman -U opencde-620-4-i686.pkg.tar.xz

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up OpenCDE (with a second login on tty2) and used disk space after removing pacman cache. Here are the values I got with cat /proc/meminfo and df respectively df -h:

Arch Linux + OpenCDE (620)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 971424 kb
Buffers: 7348 kb
Cached: 28084 kb
Rootfs: 739756 / 723M
RAM used at startup: 59228 / ~58 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 85468 / ~83 MB

CDE

CDE or “Common Desktop Environment” is the original Unix desktop that was often bundled with retail Unix versions. It was quite innovative in its time but today it shows that the opened source code of the program is really dated (it was last worked on in about 1999). And while this DE is not extremely popular with Linux users, it does have a certain user base and is actively worked on again. It comes with the full load of tools that were part of the DE back then.

The CDE desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit virtualbox-archlinux-additions
pacman -U ncompress-4.2.4.4-1-any.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U openmotif-2.3.3-archcdepatched-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U cde-git-20120828-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up CDE (with a second login on tty2) and used disk space after removing pacman cache. Here are the values I got with cat /proc/meminfo and df respectively df -h:

Arch Linux + CDE (2.2.0a-alpha)
MemTotal: 1030548 kb
MemFree: 956616 kb
Buffers: 8748 kb
Cached: 34344 kb
Rootfs: 756248 / 739M
RAM used at startup: 73932 / ~72 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 101960 / 100 MB

Equinox DE 2

The Equinox Desktop Environment is the result of a project aiming to create an extremely light-weight DE. It has been around for a while but never got much attention. With version 2.0 released this year the project proved to be alive even though many people thought that it was already dead. This new version is a huge step ahead: EDE 2 is now fully FreeDesktop.org compatible. It just offers a simple DE – no more, no less. A very promising project!

The EDE 2 desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit virtualbox-archlinux-additions libxpm
pacman -U edelib-2.0.1-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U ede-2.0-3-i686.pkg.tar.xz

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up EDE 2 (with a second login on tty2) and used disk space after removing pacman cache. Here are the values I got with cat /proc/meminfo and df respectively df -h:

Arch Linux + EDE 2 (2.0)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 959044 kb
Buffers: 8084 kb
Cached: 30896 kb
Rootfs: 832676 / 814M
RAM used at startup: 71608 / ~70 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 178388 / 174 MB

Étoilé

Étoilé aims to be a resource-saving, modular and easy to use DE. It uses the GNUstep toolkit and kind of resembles the Mac OS X style in many aspects. The last stable build is quite old now and the newest versions are not in usable shape right now (not even recommended by the developers). So if you like the idea of this DE, it’s more or less something to keep in mind for the future.

The Étoilé desktop

Installation

I have not been able to compile and install it on a current Arch machine. The screenshot is from a modified Ubuntu version from 2009. It *might* be possible to get the DE to work with a current Arch system, but that would most likely be a lot of work and it surely is far beyond my skills. If anybody is up to that challenge – please tell me! I would be very much interested to get the last stable version 0.4.1 (spring 2009!) working!

Mezzo

Mezzo was a DE that tried to go new ways. It places control icons in all four corners of the screen; system-related items are in the upper left, file-management in the upper right, restarting / shutting down in the lower right and applications in the lower left. It avoids nested menus and tries to abandon the concept “the desktop is a folder”. This innovative DE was developed as part of the now discontinued SymphonyOS and was never really available outside of it.

The Mezzo desktop

Installation

I have not been able to compile and install it on a current Arch machine. The screenshot here is from the 2008 edition of SymphonyOS which was the only one I could still find on the net. There has been a 2011 release as well, but I had no luck finding it. Honestly, I have not even been able to even find the source code for Mezzo, the DE I’m actually interested in. Looks like it’s gone (which is a real shame). Perhaps it’s not gone for good?

Conclusion

We have two DEs that could not be tested this time; Étoilé and Mezzo are interesting projects for sure but not available right now.
OpenCDE is really tiny in every aspect – with less than 60 MB of RAM needed and just about 80 MB installed (including Xorg)! However it also doesn’t offer much and is most likely dead. CDE does well with little more than 70 MB of RAM. It’s quite old now but actively developed again – yet it’s uncertain if it can be turned into a modern DE without breaking the CDE concepts. And then there’s EDE 2. This one is very frugal with about 70 MB of RAM needed. A great DE with a classical feeling perfectly fit for systems with low RAM.

What’s next?

The next entry will be a summary of all five parts of our test.