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In general what is the approach to switch the desktop environment or window manager on Ubuntu? The main difference between stock Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Lubuntu is supposedly the use of Unity vs. KDE vs. LXDE.

However, in order to try various desktop environments and window managers I don't want to have to reinstall the respective flavor from scratch just to get a particular desktop environments or window manager. There probably is an easier method than that.

The question: How can I easily test different desktop environments and respective compatible window managers (say KDE, LXDE, Unity, GNOME, XFCE and StumpWM)?

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3 Answers 3

This confused me too. Once a new new desktop environment is installed using apt as described by @Mitch, then it can be difficult to see where the option is at login in the Gnome Display Manager (GDM) to select your desktop. As @DanFromGermany said, the icon is next to your login.

In this picture on 13.10, you'll see that there is an icon to the right of my login name on the GDM screen - marked with a red arrow. This icon shows the desktop that will be active when you log in.

Ubuntu icon on GDM shows desktop that will be active on login

If you click this icon, you will get a list of the desktops available on this system.

GDM desktop list shows Ubuntu and awesome desktops available

Pick the one you want and log in - that desktop should then be available.

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On 13.10 myself. I have awesome installed through apt but the selection is not there by default. I know it was there for 12.10. Edit: Fixed it by removing NoDisplay line in config /usr/share/xsessions/awesome.desktop see bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/awesome/+bug/1094811 –  David Olsson Jan 9 at 5:45
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Yes there is the problem with awesome mentioned by @DanFromGermany. –  jamesc Jan 9 at 10:22

There is a bug in awesome-ws, preventing it from showing up in the lightdm/gdm/kdm list.

https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/awesome/+bug/1094811

Delete `NoDisplay=true' in /usr/share/xsessions/awesome.desktop solves the problem.

If this is solved, you have an icon next to your login where you can switch the window managers.

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Just install the one that you want. For example to install LXDE, just press Ctrl+Alt+T on your keyboard to open Terminal. When it opens, run the command below.

sudo apt-get install lxde

for XFCE

sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop

for Gnome

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

Once you install the one you want, log out, choose the one you want, and log back in.

enter image description here

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Thanks Mitch, I know how to find and install the relevant packages. What I don't know is the part you left out: how can I make the choice of desktop environments and window managers available? Example: I had installed stock Ubuntu and then added the packages for KDE. Unfortunately there was no (visible/straightforward) way to choose it before logon, let alone set it as the new default for my account. Sorry if my question was confusing in that respect. +1 –  0xC0000022L Jul 11 '12 at 21:10
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You should be able to select it (whatever session or desktop environment) at your login screen. On the KDE log in screen, click the down arrow in the bottom left corner of the login dialogue. –  pd12 Oct 13 '12 at 13:47
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On the login screen, there's an Ubuntu logo right next to your username. Click on this to reveal a list of all available desktop environments. –  aalaap Jan 28 at 12:08

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