There are many options when choosing the best desktop environment on Raspberry Pi, but here is a list of some popular ones. This article will show you what each option offers and how to install it for your device. The article also includes test results taken with my hands-on review unit
The “best desktop environment for raspberry pi 4” is a question that has been asked many times. This article will go over the pros and cons of each desktop environment, as well as provide test results and pictures.
In practically every project, we utilize Raspberry Pi OS as the default operating system. The PiXeL desktop environment, which is a modified version of LXDE, is included. However, it isn’t the only option. On my Raspberry Pi, I installed the most popular ones and will share my thoughts with you in this post.
I began with Raspberry Pi OS Lite and installed the desktop environment using apt and the default repository for each operating system. I didn’t make any changes to the look or default applications that come with the meta-package when you install it. As a result, my assessment is based on the default settings. I understand that you can always change the appearance of the UI or add applications to make life simpler with settings and such. However, the purpose is to offer you a rough picture of what to anticipate.
If you’re searching for a new desktop environment, keep reading since I’ve tried them all, provided screenshots, and listed the benefits and drawbacks of each. I’ll start with PiXeL, which is the standard, and then go through my personal favorites in sequence.
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You already know all there is to know about it, and the UI hasn’t changed much with the latest Raspberry Pi OS version. So, I’ll keep this section brief, but it’s vital to start there to explain its limitations and why I’m seeking for a new desktop environment in the first place.
How can I put it succinctly? Minimalist? Yes, perhaps. PiXeL doesn’t have a nice UI, which isn’t the point.
It always boils back to the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s mission. They aren’t trying to make the most attractive system or the finest desktop experience. Their mission is to assist young kids in learning to code. As a result, the interface must be straightforward to use, with quick access to the most fundamental parameters.
As a result, the primary menu is straightforward. Nothing flashy or elaborate, just a simple design with applications arranged by category:
It’s much more clear when you look at the login page. It’s as simple as it gets when it comes to logging in and passwords. With other alternatives, you’ll notice that the login screen is often a nice website with options. However, with PiXeL, all you need is a username and password:
As I said in the opening, themes may always be used to enhance the default appearance (I have a tutorial about this here). However, if you want the most attractive UI, you should definitely seek elsewhere (more on that later).
I’ll also show you how each desktop environment handles its settings. There are more and more choices with current operating systems, and developers aim to make your life simpler with an easy interface (see Windows 10 settings or Ubuntu / MacOS).
Most of the choices on Raspberry Pi OS with PiXeL may be found in the “Raspberry Pi Configuration” tool:
Everything is here: password, time zone, keyboard layout, and so on. However, this is deceptive since you’ll also need to utilize additional tools to configure the system. Do you want to alter the screen’s resolution? That’s a different tool. Do you want to change your wallpaper? It’s time to go somewhere else. Options not accessible through the GUI are also available using Raspi-config (the command line configuration tool).
I’m not sure why they haven’t made this more straightforward. I’m sure there’s a reason for that, but I don’t see it. It’s not the end of the world, and you’ll be able to quickly locate the necessary settings. Other desktop environments, on the other hand, provide superior interfaces for adjusting system setup.
I haven’t run any benchmarks for the desktop environments, but I’ll give you my first thoughts on each.
The performance of your Raspberry Pi will vary greatly based on the model, settings, and interface changes you use. As a result, I doubt it will be your first option. If you use your Pi as a desktop computer and work with it all day, it can make a difference, but for most people, waiting 2 or 4 seconds for the web browser to open won’t make a big impact in their lives.
Anyway, PiXeL was designed specifically for the Raspberry Pi (the whole series), so you won’t have any performance issues, at least not related to the desktop environment.
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The simplest approach to install PiXeL on your Raspberry Pi is to use Raspberry Pi Imager and choose one of two options: Raspberry Pi Desktop or Raspberry Pi Desktop with recommended apps. You will have PiXeL installed for you.
If you want more help, please see my post on how to install Raspberry Pi OS.
It can also be installed on a Raspberry Pi Lite. You may use this instruction if you began with the Lite edition and wish to install a desktop environment on it. That is precisely what I did for all of the other situations mentioned in this post.
Advantages and disadvantages
I’ll summarize my observations using a pros & disadvantages table to make it simpler to browse through the dense stuff in this list.
You already know the judgment on PiXeL: it’s a basic interface that’s designed for the Raspberry Pi, but it’s not the most attractive.
|It’s suggested for||Not very good at it.|
|Installation is simple.||Not very user-friendly settings|
|On the Raspberry Pi, performance has been improved.||Design of the overall user interface|
|Menu is straightforward.|
Let’s check how KDE operates on the Raspberry Pi. KDE is one of the most popular desktop environments on PC (with GNOME coming later), and it’s easy to install.
If you’re accustomed to Windows, KDE Plasma is a fantastic interface. You shouldn’t be too bewildered with the main menu at the bottom-left corner of your screen and the task bar at the bottom as well.
It is, however, a more current UI, as you can see (in the design but also in the features, like the search engine in the main menu). If you’re not accustomed to it, I find the main menu’s design a little confusing, with all the various categories and submenus, but it’s not a problem with the search engine. You’ll receive a filtered view of the matching applications or settings if you type the first letter of what you’re searching for.
In the last section, I mentioned the login screen; here’s how it appears on KDE:
The majority of the other possibilities are comparable. You may choose your user from a graphical list, as well as change a few settings such as the session’s environment, keyboard layout, and have rapid reboot and shutdown buttons so you don’t have to open the session to shut down the machine.
The system settings are all included inside the same program:
That’s what I was referring to before. Finding a configuration option in something like this is much simpler for a newbie. Everything is in one location, there’s a great search engine, and that’s it. Do you have no idea how to alter your keyboard layout? It will show you where to go if you type “lay.” That’s all there is to it.
You may also quickly switch to a different theme or style through the “System Settings” app. Another tool for managing apps is available in KDE, however it did not work for me. I’m not sure what went wrong, but the package list was never updated. It’s possible that it isn’t yet accessible via the Raspberry Pi OS repository.
The quickest method to manage your programs in most situations is to use apt in a terminal, or install something like Synaptic for a graphical interface: synaptic sudo apt install
KDE has always had a horrible reputation in my opinion when it comes to performance. Yes, it’s not the lightest choice available, but on my Raspberry Pi 4 GB, it wasn’t as awful as I had anticipated. The menus and settings are easy to navigate.
I didn’t use many of the apps, so I don’t have enough expertise with them to say if something like Chromium is genuinely faster on PiXeL. But, generally, it seems to be adequate; at the very least, it is worth a go.
With the additional RAM on new Raspberry Pi models, the conversion to Bullseye (and the minor performance improvement that came with it), and most likely the efforts of the KDE team, performance on Raspberry Pi will become less and less of a problem.
Installing a new desktop environment is not difficult, and KDE can be installed using apt nearly as easily as any other. To avoid conflicts, superfluous programs, or other issues, I began my experiments using a Raspberry Pi OS Lite version. If you wish to test something new on the same SD card, you may also install it on Raspberry Pi OS with Desktop.
Here’s how to get KDE running on your Raspberry Pi:
- Open a terminal or use the Lite version to log in.
- sudo apt install kde-plasma-desktop kde-plasma-desktop kde-plasma-desktop kde-plasma-desktop kde-plasma
- It will download around 850 packets, totaling roughly 600 MB. As a result, the length of time it takes to complete the installation is mostly determined on the speed of your Internet connection.
- After that, just reboot your computer and enjoy!
There is an extra step if you are using Raspberry Pi OS with Desktop. Raspberry Pi OS needs to know which environment to start. You may use the command sudo update-alternatives —config x-session-manager to do this. Select the appropriate choice from the list and restart your computer.
KDE Plasma’s advantages and disadvantages
|It’s suggested for||Not very good at it.|
|Excellent user interface design||The main menu is a little confusing.|
|System settings that are simple to utilize||Performances were adequate, but not outstanding.|
|The best option for Windows users|
Cinnamon is a lesser-known interface that, after PiXeL and KDE, is one of my favorites. I recently used it to write an article on how to install Linux Mint on a Raspberry Pi, and I was blown away by how far this desktop environment has progressed.
As with KDE, the user interface is Windows-like. The taskbar, main menu, and shortcuts are all located at the bottom of the screen.
I prefer Cinnamon’s main menu over KDE’s, but that’s just my opinion. On the left, you’ll find your favorite programs (the most used or recently used, I think). Then, similar to PiXeL, a list of categories and the programs they include. You also have access to a search engine, so you can discover anything quickly:
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Cinnamon comes with a variety of programs by default, as you can see in the image, so you’ll have all you need right away. I believe Synaptic is also installed by default, allowing you to manage your apps and install those that are missing (such as Chromium).
Cinnamon features a system center that is identical to KDE’s, and each parameter is presented in the main menu, as seen in the picture above. As a result, utilizing the search engine in the main menu is likely the quickest approach to discover and update a setting.
Cinnamon’s interface customisation is something I truly adore. There is an app that allows you to quickly install new themes and activate them. If you like, you may also use various icons or mouse cursors. That’s how I got a phony Linux Mint theme to work:
Finding and installing new themes on PiXeL may be a challenge, thus seeing this on Cinnamon is a huge plus.
On Cinnamon, there are no issues with the performances. It’s a rather light choice, therefore it should be considered with KDE and PiXeL. Due to the desktop environment, you will have no problems.
The only thing I can mention is that since Cinnamon comes with so many programs, it may overburden your PC. Also, certain decisions, such as installing Firefox by default, are debatable. On the Raspberry Pi, I found Chromium to be much quicker than Firefox, thus I would suggest installing it instead of Firefox.
Anyway, that’s not anything you can’t change after the installation, so there’s no big deal.
I used Raspberry Pi OS Lite to install the whole environment, which included: cinnamon-desktop-environment sudo apt install
Other packages are available if you wish to start with a more basic setup: #minimum sudo apt install cinnamon cinnamon-core #essentials sudo apt install
If you want certain applications by default but not the whole suite of tools you’ll never use, I guess the second choice is the best. If you’re using Raspberry Pi OS Desktop, you can skip to step one since you already have the programs you need.
If you’re using Raspberry Pi OS with Desktop, go back and pick the default desktop environment as described in the previous section.
Cinnamon’s benefits and drawbacks
|It’s suggested for||Not very good at it.|
|Excellent performances||By default, it’s not the most attractive, but it’s simple to enhance.|
|Settings for the main menu and themes|
|Beginners and Windows users will find it simple to use.|
GNOME, like KDE, is a popular desktop environment that was nearly the only one available while I was in school.
Unfortunately, the interface has changed much since then, and I dislike the current look. But it’s only an opinion, and if you’re accustomed to Ubuntu, you’ll feel quite at home with GNOME:
To get to this interface, go to the top left of your screen and select “Activities.” The shortcuts are on the left, and you may access all of the programs by tapping the bottom icon in the shortcuts bar. There’s also a search engine for finding programs fast, which will come in useful after your system is loaded since apps are shown with large icons, and you can only view a handful on each page (think to something like Android or iOS).
In any case, the interface is current and attractive, although it may not be suitable for all users. I don’t like it, and a primary menu with categories could be simpler for novices. However, since it is very dependent on the operating systems you are accustomed to on your computer, I will refrain from going on a tirade about it.
However, you make a good point about the settings being aggregated in a nice-looking application, similar to what you can get on KDE:
It is, in my opinion, the greatest tool available for all desktop environments. It gives me the impression that I’m using Mac OS X. Everything is clear and simple to discover, plus there is a search engine available if necessary. A submenu exists for applications and privacy settings, but everything else is one or two clicks for easy adjustment.
It isn’t bad, but GNOME is the more powerful choice on this list. It’s the only one that I found to be a chore to use; you can see how browsing through the settings or using the UI to setup your Wi-Fi or anything takes time. It’s a wonderful choice on a PC with more powerful components, but it’s a little sluggish on the Raspberry Pi.
If you like GNOME, I believe you should give it a go since it’s not completely useless. To remedy this, you’ll simply have to be patient at times or try tweaking a few parameters.
Anyway, as previously said, I have not performed any testing and this is based only on my first opinion. Perhaps there’s another cause, and you won’t have the same experience, but GNOME will be a little slower than the other alternatives. If performance is important to you, this is probably not the best option.
GNOME may be installed in the same manner as the other alternatives. sudo apt install gnome-shell on Raspberry Pi OS The installation is basic; by default, there isn’t even a terminal. I’m not sure whether there’s a separate bundle with additional applications.
Surprisingly, the amount of data that must be downloaded is less than with KDE. You’ll just need 600 packages totaling 350 MB (1.1 GB fully installed).
Advantages and disadvantages
|It’s suggested for||Not very good at it.|
|Users of Ubuntu||Performances|
|App with the best settings||For novices, it is not the most intuitive.|
|Overall, a good design.|
MATE is the last name on this list. I used MATE instead of the latest GNOME versions for a while since it was more familiar to me. That’s why I decided to give it another go and add it to this list.
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The issue is that MATE does not seem to have developed since the last time I used it. So, in comparison to the other options we explored earlier, I think it seems a little dated:
Applications, locations (file explorer), and system settings are the three sections of the main menu. I like it; you’ll utilize the programs menu the most of the time, and you won’t be disturbed by the settings apps, which you’ll just use once and then never again.
It’s a combination of PiXeL and Cinnamon. The primary menu, which includes the clock and other items, is located at the top of the screen. The open programs will then be accessible via a bottom bar, which also contains many virtual displays (bottom right).
MATE has a lot of themes, so you can always tweak the interface design, but I’m going to go with the default choices.
The settings section of the UI is a little less well-designed. Like other desktop environments, you’ll discover a “Control Center,” although it’s rather limited:
The most critical settings (display, keyboard, language, and so on) are all present, but that’s all. There is a menu on the left that allows you to get to a certain topic, but I don’t understand it since everything is on one page (clicking on “Internet and network” accomplishes nothing because you can see everything already).
Also, since the search engine only works on tool titles, there will be no results if you write “layout.” It’s not that fantastic, to be honest. Because all of the tools are located under the “System” menu, you’ll almost certainly never utilize this control center.
MATE has no performance issues. MATE, like Cinnamon and PiXeL, is a lightweight desktop environment that a Raspberry Pi 4 can readily manage.
I haven’t tested it on any other models, but it seems to be identical to PiXeL.
You can also use apt to install MATE on Raspberry Pi OS: sudo apt install mate-desktop-environment-core lightdm Because LightDM isn’t included in the meta-package, it’s required if you’re using Raspberry Pi OS Lite. If PiXeL or another desktop environment is installed, you already have it.
To get MATE, you’ll need to download 425 packages totaling 250 MB. Once installed, it will take up roughly 900MB of space on your SD card.
Advantages and disadvantages
|It’s suggested for||Not very good at it.|
|Exceptional performances||Interface that seems to be outdated|
|In many aspects, PiXeL is similar to PiXeL.||Control center that is no longer in use|
|The main menu is simple to navigate.|
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You won’t find the solution here if you’re seeking for the finest desktop environment for Raspberry Pi. I can only give you the advantages and disadvantages of each to assist you in making a decision. There is no objective truth; it’s like to asking for the finest wallpaper ever — it’s a matter of personal preference.
If I had to use my Raspberry Pi as my primary computer today (which I have done before), I would most likely choose KDE. I use Windows on my laptop, so I like the position of the main menu, the current interface with a beautiful appearance and search engines everywhere, and it’s not too sluggish, so it should be a good match. Cinnamon is also very nice, and will be released shortly after KDE.
For novices, I suggest sticking with PiXeL since it offers the greatest performance and compatibility, as well as the fact that most tutorials will direct you to one interface rather than another.
Once you’ve chosen your decision, go over to this post to learn how to install the greatest applications on your Raspberry Pi. And if you don’t find what you’re searching for here, you may try a different operating system (or at least distributions), here are some of my favorites.
Resources for the Raspberry Pi
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The “best os for raspberry pi 4 2021” is a question that many people have been asking. With the release of new versions, there are plenty of options to choose from. The best desktop environment on Raspberry Pi is what you should be looking for. I will also include pictures and test results so that you can decide which one to use.
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