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Here's why Linux is innovating on the desktop

Here's how new attempts to capture the desktop show the dreams of Linux are becoming closer to reality.
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1 of 10 Jack Wallen/ZDNet

Is the Linux desktop catching up on Windows? TechRepublic's Jack Wallen takes a look a the newest versions of Linux and tells why they're moving in the right direction.

Whether or not you like GNOME 3 and Ubuntu Unity, who could deny the real innovation that the developers behind those desktops have brought to bear? If you then take desktops such as Enlightenment (above) and Xfce, you can make a very strong case for more innovation going on with the Linux desktop than in any other area.

Image credit: Enlightenment

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The sheer variety of the Linux desktop is unmatched by any other platform. If you want something a little more traditional, go for KDE. If you want a more multitouch, friendly but original desktop, try either GNOME 3 or Ubuntu Unity. For something in between, you could opt for the attractive E17 or the lightweight and reliable Xfce.

Image credit: Canonica/

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Every Linux desktop offers its own combination of features, ranging from the standard to the extraordinary. This richness of feature choice is an area where Linux has always been king. Who can compete with the ability of open-source developers to create such an abundance of features? Of course, not every feature is an outright success, but you can count a number of notable hits among the vast number of new features appearing on the Linux desktop every year.

Pictured above is the E17 distro.

Image credit: Jack Wallen

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I've always admired desktop activities. With the rollout of KDE 4.8, this feature has been made easier to use, as well as more effective and reliable. If you've never experienced KDE activities, KDE 4.8 is a good time to try. With a quick access button, preconfigured activities, and a much more responsive and reliable system, it can rapidly become your favourite desktop feature, allowing you to work far more efficiently and cleanly.

Image credit: KDE

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When the latest GNOME hit the desktop, it was not only filled with bugs, but it was a hardly usable replacement for what was probably the most efficient and stable desktop available. Yet GNOME 3 has come on so far in such a short time. In less than a year, it has become incredibly reliable and efficient. Few pieces of software can claim such an improvement over such a short period.

Image credit: GNOME

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After the change Ubuntu made with Unity, a number of distributions reacted by creating releases based on specific desktops. The likes of Bodhi Linux have gained wider popularity, thanks to Ubuntu 11.04 and Unity. Most of these desktops have been available for a while, but they only achieved their present success after Unity arrived. It has also boosted the popularity of such distributions as Xubuntu and Kubuntu — still Ubuntu Linux, but with a different flavor on the desktop.

Image credit: Bodhi Linux

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If it weren't for Ubuntu Unity, Linux Mint would not be where it is today. And Linux Mint is one of the finest desktop distributions available. They have taken GNOME 3 and stretched it to include a number of extensions to make GNOME 3 a mashup of Classic GNOME and GNOME 3. It looks great and is one of the most user-friendly desktops you'll ever use.

Image credit: Linux Mint

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Some may be surprised to see Unity included here, but it deserves its place because it proves Canonical is still committed to pushing boundaries. I also include it because its rise has really taken the Linux desktop to a new level, making designers and developers realise that they can't sit back on their reputations. Now every desktop in the Linuxverse is enjoying new life and development. Even if you hate Ubuntu Unity, you must give it credit for rejuvenating the Linux desktop.

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Another achievement of the modern iteration of GNOME are the underpinning libraries known as GNOME 3 libs. Although they may not be of interest to most end users, these libraries are worth mentioning because they have dramatically helped increase performance and simplify development. Ubuntu Unity is making the migration to the GNOME 3 libraries — greatly increasing the reliability and performance of the Unity desktop.

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With the choice available on the Linux desktop, you're bound to find a style that suits you. The renaissance we're seeing reminds me very much of the mid- to late 1990s, when there were so many excellent Linux desktops it was hard to decide which to use. Now, style has been mixed with user-friendliness and the features needed for home and company use. No matter your level, or how you are using the Linux desktop, you can do it with style.

The future
The Linux desktop is alive and flourishing. The developments of the past year will move the Linux desktop even further forward. I'm excited about the desktop is and where it's going. What about you?

This story originally appeared as 10 things the Linux desktop can be proud of on TechRepublic.

Image credit: Gianchi83/Wikimedia Commons

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