Best alternative Linux desktops: 5 reviewed and rated

We were ready to make allowances and make encouraging noises about it only being early days, but all five of the desktops are so good that this would only be patronising. Each criticism, therefore, should be taken as a compliment. The least accomplished DE here is unquestionably Razor-qt.

It has the fewest functions, but that's hardly a criticism, as the developers' primary aim is to keep it light and simple in a way that KDE 4 is not. In this aim, the team has succeeded massively. With more development, we'd love to see the traditional KDE distros offering this as an alternative option at login time, for KDE users with more modest hardware.

Mate and Xfce get the ultimate accolade in desktop usability: they just work. As Gnome 2 by another name, Mate has a stable codebase to draw on, loads of compatible applications and the polish to slot in seamlessly with your distro - as long as it's Mint.

Xfce has all this, but the fact that it is in the repositories of all the major and some of the minor distros means that it comes out ahead. We applaud the Mate team for their efforts, but for a lightweight, full-featured Gnome alternative we'd still plump for Xfce.

Everyone's a winner

The surprise package has to be Trinity. It's a note-perfect reimplementation of KDE 3, which means that it's full of features, it looks good, it has tons of software and it will run passably well on old hardware.

If you don't think you like KDE, try Trinity and there's a good chance that it will change your mind. Which leaves us with Cinnamon. When we first tried it in LXF157 it felt half-baked, but the last few releases have knocked the rough edges off and provided a seamless fusion of Gnome 3 glitz and Gnome 2 usability. Linux Mint wins again.

1st: Cinnamon

Helps you get to the applications without getting in your way.

2nd: Trinity

KDE sceptics will be amazed, not least by the usable default settings.

3rd: Xfce

Full-featured, stable and the best choice for 3D unbelievers.

4th: Mate

Occupies a niche that has already been filled, but usable nonetheless.

5th: Razor-qt

Bags of potential as a KDE alternative, but not ready for mainstream use.