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)?

4 Answers 4


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

  • 15
    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 Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 21:10
  • 3
    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
    Commented Oct 13, 2012 at 13:47
  • 2
    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
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 12:08
  • 2
    @aalaap I don't have the ubuntu logo icon next to my username
    – swl1020
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 20:03
  • 1
    Note: on Ubuntu 18, I needed to restart the computer before it gave me the alternative window manager as an option at logon.
    – Sean Bone
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 14:25

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.

  • 3
    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 Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 5:45
  • why pictures? ... this is not a different desktop environment, only gdm3. We all know this . The fun starts with choosing different WM (window manager) ! Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 18:05

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


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.

  • Ubuntu 13.04 - are U kidding? most people here are younger than Ubuntu 13.04 ... you can not switch window managers with a button. only desktop environment. Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 18:08
  • @opinion_no9 my answer is from 2013 and totally valid, the bug has been confirmed by Ubuntu developer team. A window manager in Linux is what you call "Desktop environment".
    – Daniel W.
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 17:57

I'd have answered the question "Switching window manager [...] ?" different:

A WM (window manager) is something different than a desktop environment!
It's like shoes and feet ....

Just try to switch the WM (window managers) back and forth. Right, it is not about installing the whole environment and stuff.
The WM can stand alone mostly.

No, it does not immediately kill your GUI - this is just about login and WM and
I use it with
Lunbuntu, XFCE4, Wayland, Gnome, Unity, Ubuntu-X, Ubuntu-Wayland, .... So do not hesitate to run the config command just to try a different one.
It is fun and it does not break anything (my personal experience).

I use it with Ubuntu 22.04 in the moment and it is still fun!

What I really like are these:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure sddm (lovely! unknown WM login...)

sudo dpkg-reconfigure lightdm (really light; avoids f***-up due to "energy saver" problems!)

sudo dpkg-reconfigure gdm3 (well known, convenient!! until it crashes your machine due to the "energy saver" bulls***; typical Gnome, looks good until you find out all the problems and shortcomings and design issues and pitfalls and unresolved issues and and and ...) ignorance is bliss!

sudo dpkg-reconfigure slim
(you need to type your name and pwd - it is so slim it does not even offer drop down - very interesting experience, nice!)

If one is not available just install it. Mostly there will be hints.
sudo apt-get install sddm
would be one solution in the arena under a debian circus tent.

Do not miss this:
in the top left corner sddm and slim show the different available GUI flavours like Gnome, Unity, Ubuntu, w/o Wayland, XFCE etc. Choose before swaying at the display manager. No, it does not show you a screwed up desktop after successful user login. Actually it shows the same options like gdm3 (Gnome) in a different way of display. So you retain the choice of desktop surface when you chose your display manager.
Cool, isn't it?

And then?
Well, you can just switch them again and again! There is no issue in just using a different one if you do not like the current one any longer.


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