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Using different desktop environments on Armbian

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Hi all. I've done a lot of tests with different desktop environments on Armbian.

I wanted an as light as possible desktop environment so I'd have enough ram left to do video rendering with the NanoPi M4(2GB)
I had to try a lot of things to get things working fine. So I wanted to save others that hassle.


Setting up Display Manager

First we need a Display Manager. NODM is installed by default. I tried lightdm but couldn't get it to work. So I went for LXDM. With NODM installed I had problems, so I also removed NODM.
To be sure lxdm is configured right, I also manually configure it.

sudo apt install lxdm
sudo apt remove nodm
sudo dpkg-reconfigure lxdm

Install LXDE Desktop


Next step is to install the desktop environment you want. There is a problem with some Desktop Environments and LXDM what makes you can't login to some DE's out of the box. That we will resolve later. Easiest is to install lxdm first to be able to configure the others well. And reboot.

sudo apt install lxde
sudo reboot

Once booted you should be greeted by the Login screen. Here you can choose your different Desktop Environment. Choose LXDE and login.
If you'd try xfce4, then you'd see it doesn't work. To fix this we need to change the file /usr/share/xsessions/xfce.desktop. Use your favorite text editor. I use geany.

sudo geany /usr/share/xsessions/xfce.desktop

Somewhere at the top of the file you'll see "Name=Xfce Session". Replace that space with a hyphen to "Name=Xfce-Session" and save the file.
Now you can also login to the default XFCE4 Desktop.
With other desktops this can be the same. Go the the same directory and open the file with the desktop name that doesn't work. Again replace the space with a hyphen

Installing different Desktop Environments.

For the Mate desktop I also needed to install the applets, else I got errors at login because of these missing applets

sudo apt install mate-desktop-environment mate-applets

For KDE-Plasma

sudo apt install kde-full

For Gnome. Modify the file sudo geany /usr/share/xsessions/gnome...

sudo apt install gnome-session
sudo update-alternatives --config gdm3.css

I also tried LXQT. But this one didn't work. You can try others too.

Remove Desktop Environment

To remove a desktop environment you don't want anymore you do the remove instead of install.

sudo apt remove kde-full 
sudo apt remove mate-desktop-environment

Please let me know if there's mistakes made, or if you've got advice.
Source for changing the name to make them work @IgorS :

Greetings, NicoD

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1 hour ago, jstefanop said:

what environment does the latest raspberry pi OS use? It looks clean and modern, the stock desktop on armbiam looks a little dated


Commercial Rpi OS is based on: https://wiki.lxde.org/en/Main_Page which is IMO not near more modern and project they have forked, seems dead. But it certainly appears more modern than its fork ... perhaps more than XFCE. Subjective.


Our current amateur desktop is more or less stock XFCE with custom theme and wallpaper and was not changed since years - except internal version, applications within. We only make it to provide something clean, light and stable. It has those most important properties, which is important for serious deployments. Distro hoppers or Rpi users are not our target group and on most hardware we support, Armbian is usually best choice for different reasons.


But as @Werner pointed out, for about a year we are developing desktop upgrade - but its again for our internal needs, to make more desktop options and to make package management easier. We hope someone will step up and tweak desktops further so they will look nicer but if not, they will remain as is.


If you want to trade stability and security for nice design, just say it :D It is way way cheaper to make desktop looks nice then keeping OS functional. We can't cover everything and in any case - there is no reward except internal satisfaction.

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