So something you often see on blogs and such are articles about how to install different DEs on your favorite Linux distributions. It kinda bothers me that people talk so casually about doing this, especially when they're addressing novice users, because in my experience all this does is lead to things breaking and theming configurations to be ruined. I remember installing KDE once on an Ubuntu Mate installation and it made all my windows unreadable and ugly. I just installed Cinnamon on my Unity partition the other day, and when I went back to Unity, the top panel no longer said "Unity Desktop" when no windows were active and the icons on the launcher no longer bounced, even though they were set to do so in the configuration application. I can only assume this happened because I installed Cinnamon.

So clearly every DE is going to assume that it's the only one installed, and it's going to change settings and configurations so its own liking, regardless of whatever other DE you have installed. My question is: are all these DEs writing to and reading from the same "core" configuration files, and if so, where are they? To me, it seems like something like that is going on considering how they conflict with each other. It would be really nice if I was able to install multiple desktop environments that didn't conflict or cause each other to break in some way.

2 Answers 2


Generally it shouldn't matter. Different desktop environments should have their own config and not interfere with each other. There are however some corner cases:

  • Some desktop environments are forks of each other or based off the same origin. This is the case for gnome2/3, unity and cinnamon*.
  • There are several competing gui toolkits, the main two are gtk and kde/qt. Both style their applications differently but there has been allot of effort to make kde applications look like gtk ones under gtk window managers as well as to make gtk applications look like kde applications under kde. Installing both can mess with these stylings.

But most of the time it should be fine and is mostly down to the distro you use/the configurations you have done. For example, I have had no problems running several different desktop environments/window manager in archlinux or years ago when I tried ubuntu with both kde, gnome and a bunch of others installed.

My guess is you were unlucky with mint and kde - I believe mint do some heavy stylings of their applications and messing with different desktop environments could be problematic (I do not run mint so I cannot say for sure).

As for unity and cinnamon; they are both shells of gnome 3 and so both rely on the configs of gnome 3 so can interact with each other. I cannot really comment on how these are meant to interact with each other or how much isolation different gnome shell's should have as I do not run either.


Additional desktop environments break things by modifying configuration files hidden in your /home/user folder. Your primary desktop environment expects a certain configuration and it sometimes doesn't adapt well to modifications done by another DE. These modifications occur (on your user folder's config files) upon logging into the additional desktop environment for the first time.

If you're only adding additional DEs to play with them, you might consider creating additional user accounts for each DE you add. Then, only login to the additional desktop environments using the corresponding user accounts you've created for each of them, respectively.

This way, upon logging in (to the additional DE), it will only fool with the /home/**testUser** account's .hiddenConfigFiles, and leave you primary user account's config files alone.

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