When you install either Ubuntu, Kubuntu or Xubuntu, you end up with either Gnome, KDE or Xfce (respectively) as the desktop environment. You only get one choice, but you can easily add one or more of the other desktop environments to your system later. You might be wondering if there are any drawbacks in doing this, so hopefully this will ease your worries.
Basically, the only drawback is that each system requires updates, which might be an issue for those with small download limits. For Ubuntu users, Xfce updates are infrequent and usually quite tiny, but KDE updates are usually larger than those for Gnome, as often more system packages get updated each time, and fairly frequently.
Other than that, your different desktop environments should co-exist in peace, and any “problems” will be minor, like the icons on your Ubuntu desktop being in a different order when you log into KDE. The panels and menus will be different, and some things will work differently, but that’s to be expected, and you’ll have fun learning your way around.
And while most of us are quite happy using one desktop environment, with the majority choosing Gnome, there is an upside to having more than one. You can use it as a backup desktop if things go wrong, and not have to log into Windows or Mac OS to Google for answers. Also, because you are logged into your Ubuntu system regardless of what desktop environment you’re in, you can edit system files or whatever needs to be done, without having to use a Live CD or other tool to be able to get at them (since you can’t via Windows).
Or if you suspect it was a buggy update, and one likely to have had a flood of bug reports from users, you can even sit back and use another desktop for a while and see what happens. After all, you should still be able to use most if not all your Gnome apps without issue in KDE, and updates to Gnome will still come in and get installed. From experience I can tell you it can be as little as 2 days before a bunch of system package updates are rushed out, and once installed you’re logging into Gnome again without a problem.
If you’re a “tinkerer”, and have gotten yourself into spots of bother messing with your system – and are likely to do so again – this option is a lot easier than using a Live CD each time. If you’d like to cut down on hard drive space used and downloads for updates, install Xfce, as it is quite minimalist. One thing to keep in mind though if considering this is that Xfce actually draws a lot from GTK – basically parts of Gnome – so there is at least a slight possibility that if you’ve messed up a part of Gnome it needs, Xfce won’t load either. So if you want to play it safe, and don’t mind sacrificing a little disk space and bandwidth, install KDE as your backup desktop. Or if you want ot play it really safe like me, have all three!
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