How-To Geek

Choose Your Ubuntu: 8 Ubuntu Derivatives with Different Desktop Environments


There are a wide variety of Linux distributions, but there are also a wide variety of distributions based on other Linux distributions. The official Ubuntu release with the Unity desktop is only one of many possible ways to use Ubuntu.

Most of these Ubuntu derivatives are officially supported by Ubuntu. Some, like the Ubuntu GNOME Remix and Linux Mint, aren’t official. Each includes different desktop environments with different software, but the base system is the same (except with Linux Mint.)

You can try each of these derivatives by downloading its appropriate live CD, burning it to a disc, and booting from it – no installation required. Testing desktop environments is probably the best way to find the one you’re most comfortable with.


Kubuntu is Ubuntu with the KDE desktop environment instead of Unity. Where Ubuntu started with GNOME, Kubuntu started with KDE. Historically, KDE has been the second-most-popular desktop environment for Linux.

Kubuntu includes software written with the QT toolkit instead of GTK, which fits in better with the KDE desktop. You can run Kubuntu applications on Ubuntu and Ubuntu applications on Kubuntu; they’ll just look a bit out-of-place. Rekonq is the default web browser on Kubuntu, but Firefox or Chromium can be easily installed.



Xubuntu uses XFCE, which is designed to be a more lightweight desktop environment. Like Ubuntu’s Unity and GNOME, it also uses GTK, so it comes with many of the same applications included in Ubuntu.

Some people – Linux-creator Linus Torvalds included – prefer XFCE to GNOME and Unity because it provides a more traditional desktop experience without any full-screen application launchers.



Lubuntu uses the LXDE desktop, which is even more lightweight than the XFCE desktop used by Xubuntu. Lubuntu is designed to be a fast and lightweight operating system with a minimal desktop and lightweight applications. It’s ideal for older computers that can’t keep up as well with heavier Linux desktop environments.



Mythbuntu isn’t intended for Linux desktops and laptops. It’s an Ubuntu derivative for setting up MythTV-based personal video recorder (PVR) systems for your home theater. It uses the XFCE desktop, but standard desktop applications like Libreoffice aren’t installed by default. It’s still Ubuntu under the hood, so you can install anything you like.


Ubuntu Studio

Ubuntu Studio is described as a “free, open, and powerful platform for creative people to create their art.” It also uses the XFCE desktop. Its main claim to fame is that it comes preinstalled with a variety of applications for audio production, graphics editing, photography, video production, and desktop publishing. You also have access to the full Ubuntu software repositories, so Ubuntu Studio can be more convenient than other specialized Linux distributions that don’t come with access to these software repositories.



Edubuntu was previously named “Ubuntu Education Edition.” It’s an Ubuntu derivative designed for classrooms and kids. It uses the Unity desktop and includes Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) software for accessing applications running on servers, allowing the Edubuntu machine to be used as a thin client. It also includes a variety of educational programs.


Ubuntu GNOME Remix

Ubuntu previously used the GNOME 2 desktop in its official releases. When GNOME 3 was released, Ubuntu started using its own Unity desktop by default, although much of the underlying software still comes from the GNOME project. Ubuntu GNOME Remix is an unofficial Ubuntu derivative that uses GNOME Shell instead of Unity. It also includes other GNOME applications by default, like the Epiphany web browser instead of Firefox. It’s designed for people that want to experience the latest GNOME desktop on Ubuntu.


Linux Mint

Linux Mint started as an Ubuntu derivative, but it’s evolved into a more distinctive project that’s regarded its own Linux distribution. Nevertheless, Linux Mint is still based on Ubuntu, although there’s also a version of Linux Mint based on Debian (Linux Mint Debian Edition). It’s not officially supported by Ubuntu, but it’s become increasingly popular.

Linux Mint offers multiple different desktop environments, including MATE (a fork of the classic GNOME 2 desktop) and Cinnamon (a fork of GNOME 3 that aims to function like a more traditional desktop environment.)

Read more: HTG Explains: What’s the Difference Between Ubuntu & Linux Mint?


You can actually install many of these desktop environments on Ubuntu, if you want to play with them. Your application menus will be more cluttered if you install everything on one system, though.

Do you prefer another Ubuntu derivative? Leave a comment and share it!

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 10/23/12

Comments (42)

  1. mooseman645

    Ultimate edition is another good one which usually has several desktop enviroments installed. I’m getting into openbox on ubuntu server which is bare bones, customized to exactly what you need, and above all quick.

  2. linuxbotsmith

    The XBMC ubuntu live disk is very functional for a standalone htpc. With a little tweaking it is also great for converting a old netbook into a portable video player for the kids.

  3. SuAlfons

    Ever since KDE 4 I have yet to come across a PC where it won’t crash every session :-( (Intel, nvidia, ATi tested) KDE used to be the most important DE in Europe/Germany in the early years. Never liked the candy-style icons, anyway.

    Using Ubuntu “Unity” and Xubuntu depending on “power” of the boxes and their users :-)

  4. 4ensicPenguin2

    I’m using Ubuntu 12.04 w/ Cinnamon, and am quite satisfied. And that’s on my Desktop, lappy and netbook.

  5. PhoenixPath

    Linux Mint 13 with the ElementaryOS Desktop/application PPA’s.

    Cannot wait for ElementaryOS’s next release.

  6. BigT

    So in other words. While Microsoft is teling it’s users: “Shut up and love the intrface you cretins!”
    Ubuntu and Linux in general are saying “Don’t like the interface? We have others, pick the one you like”
    I swear the only thing holding Linux back is widespread support from the games industry.

  7. Juan

    I have used linux mint for years – 9, 10, and now 12. I love it and find it to run smoother and more robustly than ubuntu.

  8. Mordalo

    I recently tested Fuduntu (, a Ubuntu fork based on Fedora. Wasn’t too bad.

  9. cam2644

    I use Ubuntu Unity on one machine and Mint on the other. My preference is with Mint

  10. Ray

    I run xubuntu, Pear os and Swift linux depending on the machine I am on. I have also played some with Peppermint .

  11. Ovidiu

    I’m using Ubuntu since 2008 and I love it. I have a notebook (15.6 inches) and a netbook (10.1 inches) and the issues I’m dealing with are fewer and less important. Unity has potential and is good looking.

  12. Chdslv

    Download Lubuntu 12.10 and install Unity, if Unity desktop is your preference, or Gnome-shell, if you want Gnome 3.6.1.

    What you get is a snappier Unity+(L)ubuntu and Gnome shell+(L)ubuntu. You’d be surprised at what you get. You might even wonder, why you even bothered to download Ubuntu…

    Another good choice is Ubuntu Studio, and if you want, you can install Unity and/or Gnome shell, and that too would be snappier than Ubuntu 12.10.

  13. Chdslv

    You can install Gnome-Classic and/or Cinnamon, Mate, and those would be snappier than Ubuntu 12.10 and Mint with Cinnamon/Mate.

    Try and see!

  14. MdKnightR

    I’m a fairly new convert to Linux. I’m running Ubuntu 12.04 and I’ve tried many of the different interfaces. The one I like the best is GNOME 3. Unity is nice, but I hate the way it handles multiple desktops with dual monitors.

  15. Chdslv

    In Lubuntu 12.10 of course!
    Sorry the posts had to be in parts.

  16. Gian-Luigi Valle

    I’m running Ubuntu 12.10 Gnome Shell Remix, sorry to disappoint you all. I like gnome 3 though, well with a few tweaks such as faenza icons and the elementary theme. The new gnome display manager makes the login screen look much better than before and 12.10 boots in a matter of seconds!

  17. gyffes

    OSX, Win8, Gnome3, Unity… all pushing these Fisher-Price big-button touchpad-based front-ends on us despite the fact that the bulk of the populace don’t WANT fingerprints all over their displays. I tolerate them on my phone, dislike them greatly on my iPad and loathe them on my 27″ iMac.

    Frankly, the iOS-ification of desktop environments seems one of the stupidest moves in modern computing (right up there with Windows ME and that bloody Paperclip).

    I _will_ buy another iMac, but it’ll run clean and simple Fedora-with-XFCE. No panels. No desktop icons. Just launcher (thanks, Gnome Do!) and right-click anywhere on the desktop.

  18. cmaglaughlin

    I’m set in my ways…don’t want to re-learn anything….gnome classic, Ubuntu 10.10 and no further, with firefox, NOT chrome.

  19. Gingecat

    i’ve recently switched from Ubuntu 10.4 to Mint 13 (with MATE) and I’m loving it.

  20. krokkenoster

    I am considering to come over to the Linux systems but the choice is bewildering It looks very interesting and I will “play” around and give Micros**t the boot. The main reason why I am not interested in Windows is INCOMPATIBILITY between versions I.E. 98SE and XP And 7 When I spoke their “Engineers and developers”? the answer? “Welcome to the club” and then one of them gave me a CD with Ubuntu on it and he said that this is the system HE uses at home!!!

  21. Doh

    tmux. Period.

  22. Superevil

    I’ll be checking out Gnomebuntu when it’s released. Lubuntu looks nice too.

  23. gabriel

    Thanks Chdslv for your ideea. it seems to be a very good combination. why I didn’t think of it? I will try this as soon as possible, because my 12.10 moves like crap and unity freezes. thxxxxxxxx!!!!!!

  24. cwsnyder

    I find it interesting that Ubuntu Studio and Mythbuntu use Xfce desktop, since they previously were based on the GNOME 2 desktop used by Ubuntu, rather than following Ubuntu with Unity. BTW, I use Linux Mint Debian Edition with the Xfce desktop, no Compiz.

  25. Mackis

    Happy to see so many Linux users!
    I don’t think this have to be this is better than that discussion, what the article says is there are another way to do things and you have the choice to change it.

    I think we all can agree that Linux gives back to us what windows took away and that is the freedom of choice. I have run Linux sence 1995 and i will never go back again. Have enough of windows on my work computer. But even that is going to change in due time. Games is coming to Linux with Valves entry to the scene bringin in Steam engine at last :) Be sure the rest will follow.
    That said i personally run Ubuntu 12.10 with unity, But i have the Classic menu indicator as a sidekick if i want a old style start button. Even my 65 y/o old mother can use this now.

    Take care

  26. Wayne

    I run Zorin on one of my laptops. The interface is similar to Windows only better. It is eases the transition from Windows to Ubuntu.

  27. SFaulken

    You forgot WMLive. Ubuntu core, with Windowmaker 0.95.3. You want to talk about lightweight and uncluttered…

  28. stlouisubntu

    Although not an official derivative, the Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix has now been released! It is based on Ubuntu 12.04.1 with the cinnamon desktop as default, classic panel configuration (two panels), weather applet preinstalled, multimedia codecs and plug-ins included, and xscreensaver preinstalled as well. For maximum compatibility the 32-bit version uses the non-pae kernel (also only non-gl screensavers.) The 64-bit version is also available. During the install, be sure to select the hard drive MBR (the default choice will likely be the usb stick from which you are installing — Ubuntu upstream bug.) Features Cinnamon 1.6.1 (will be updated to 1.6.3 within the next couple of weeks.)

  29. Dabheid

    I’ve only dabbled in using Ubuntu 11.04 (with Unity) as a dual boot on my Laptop beside my Win 7 OS. I’ll eventually get another desktop for gaming on after Christmas then do a complete install of Ubuntu on my laptop.

  30. djordje

    another emerging (light) desktop environment…

    been using mostly ubuntu since 6.x release, it had his ups and downs. now, i am pretty satisfied with “default” 12.04, looks good, modern (on wide displays) and unity it self got more stable and usable. particularly loving HUD! think i’ll be “stuck” with this release for a while.

  31. Rajesh Prajapati

    I am running ubuntu 12.04 livecd. But i am unable to play most of the streaming videos from youtube. As adobe flashplayer requires updates in Mozilla. As I am running ubuntu from live CD, I can’t install the updates. Please suggest the solution.

  32. Mackis

    Have you tried ubuntu 12.10 livecd then you will have the updates adobe wants.

  33. Xz!llA

    I’ve tried most of the above. However, been using the Ubuntu-based JOLI OS ala JOLI CLOUD on my aging netbook for sometime now. With a 4GB HDD, even Lubuntu struggles a bit, whereas with Joli OS and having installed BleachBit to clean out the weeds every now n then, it works like a charm = )

    Apart from that, I got Mozilla’s Firefox, Thunderbird, SeaMonkey, etc., running from USB.
    This way, I could load it up with Add-Ons without stuffing up my hard drive.

  34. spiny norman

    @BigT: Actually Ubuntu’s also saying “shut up and love the interface” but the community puts out alternate versions anyway (I think Kubuntu is the only official alternative, and Canonical has dropped direct development of that). I hate what Unity (and Gnome Shell) have done to Linux. But other distros and desktop developers haven’t forgotten the Linux way of doing things.

    Mint is great. You get Ubuntu’s huge selection of packages without Canonical’s trying to dumb everything down even more than OSX.

    What’s really holding Linux back is the lack of useful professional software (I wish I could use it, but GIMP is moribund and Photoshop keeps getting better)

  35. Sudo Bash

    Good ol’ Window Maker works well for me… especially when coupled with a non-debian based distro. ;)

  36. Rick Sos

    Just installed Kubuntu on my laptop. So far it has been real good. Simple, fast and don’t crash.
    When I say fast I mean real fast. Makes my Windows machines feel like slugs.

    Linux Mint, PC Linux OS, Ultimate Ubuntu and a few others have all been real good systems. So good that I’m switching to Linux for my main computer. Yup, Just turn it on and it works. Boring sometimes. lol.

  37. ubutnut

    xubuntu rocks, the only thing i dont like is thunar which seems to be a dumbed down version of nautilus (that is, the ones before version 3.6) cuz i doesnt support tabbed browsing and online file manager. kubuntu is also good but i dont think i can trade fancy shmancy desktop with slower booting, more resource requirement – the main reason i use linux is that it can run on resource limited devices smoothly yet it’s still functional, unlike other modern os.

  38. vijay3686

    what you guys think about the backtrack 5 r2 os

  39. Not Windows

    What the heck is wrong with DEBIAN?!

    FYI: If it weren’t for Debian there might not even be an Ubuntu.

  40. QG

    Huh, there are other distros of Ubuntu. Interesting how many ppl still haven’t changed over to Linux mint. Talk about an awesome out of the box experience… And I’m loving Cinnamon. I only recently made the change from windows and have of the distros I have tried, mint is the absolute best… Linux mint, because it’s Linux mint

  41. AD

    OpenSUSE with LXDE. Never got quite fond of Ubuntu family.

  42. jorge

    and there is one more Google Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix is Ubuntu 12.04.1

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