I have researched the heck out of this question and found two pages about the issue but not clarifying it.

In the debian-installer during the optional software selection phase you have these options:

Debian desktop environment (already ticked by default)
    ... GNOME (not ticked)
    ... xfce (not ticked)
    ... KDE (not ticked)
    ... Cinnamon (not ticked)
    ... MATE (not ticked)
    ... LXDE (not ticked)

What does Debian desktop environment actually install? Does it install a GUI (Gnome, my understanding, is the default) or does it just install a handful of programs useful for desktop users but which do not include a GUI? Do you have to tick off Gnome to get the GUI or not? And if not, what is the purpose of the option to tick off Gnome in addition to Debian Desktop Environment?

The page concerning Desktop Environments in the Debian Wiki does not clarify the issue.

This thread on the Debian User Forums concerns this very issue but has a raft of contradictory answers.

  • I believe, based to the answer to this question that GNOME will be installed by default.
    – Kusalananda
    May 24, 2018 at 18:27
  • 2
    You mean if you leave GNOME unchecked gnome will still be installed?
    – mas
    May 24, 2018 at 18:28

2 Answers 2


If no specific desktop environment is selected, but the “Debian desktop environment” is, the default which ends up installed is determined by tasksel: on i386 and amd64, it’s GNOME, on other architectures, it’s XFCE.

  • 3
    Stephen, would you mind expanding on this in one specific way: what happens if you select either "GNOME" or "XFCE" but don't select "Debian desktop environment". I.e., what's the difference between the tasksel route and the DDE route other than the fact that DDE picks for you? Is bentt correct that the DDE contains Debian branding, where the other options are vanilla?
    – mas
    Feb 7, 2019 at 13:16
  • 4
    There’s no difference, you end up with the same selection of packages, including Debian branding. Feb 7, 2019 at 13:25

The Debian-desktop-environment option appears to add distro branding (additional info in details-of-packages linked below); also, as mentioned, GNOME is installed by default -- unless another DE is selected.

Package: desktop-base (9.0.2+deb9u1) common files for the Debian Desktop

This package contains various miscellaneous files which are used by Debian Desktop installations. Currently, it provides some Debian-related artwork and themes, .desktop files containing links to Debian related material (suitable for placement on a user's desktop), and other common files between the available desktop environments such as GNOME and KDE.

Package: task-desktop (3.39) Debian desktop environment

This task package is used to install the Debian desktop.

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