Ubuntu has always, by default, comprised of GNOME as its desktop environment. The upcoming latest model of Ubuntu (Natty Narwhal version 11.04) will now be using the 3D-enabled Unity desktop by default which will be accompanied by the Wayland graphics system. This one too is based on GNOME thereby it won’t be a problem for users to use any of the GNOME applications.
It should be a known fact that desktop environments differ in a lot of ways and hence can affect the efficient use of Ubuntu, but since now it is undergoing a change this would be a good time to view some alternative desktop options for Ubuntu:
It is understood that KDE, without a doubt is the best alternative to the GNOME desktop and it is almost as user-friendly as its counterpart. There is not much of a difference between the two, apart from a few variations in terms of their presentation. GNOME is supposedly more simpler than KDE, which is known to be a little complicated to a few. Like Windows, KDE prompts users to ‘apply’ or ‘save’ before making any changes, while GNOME users can see changes taking effect as and when they make them. The latest KDE version is 4.5 and the default appearance of the same looks bluish and grey-ish where as GNOME looks purplish and brownish.
A lightweight desktop version which is built in a format that uses minimum resources, but at the same time works in tremendous speeds. A default desktop environment for Xubuntu, it is fabricated for low-specification PCs. Modular and reusable, is what the latest stable version of 4.6.2 is all about, which comprises of several packaged components, hence enabling consumers to customize their versions.
Expands into Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment, and is superior to Xfce in terms of constraints concerned with resources. It works with systems that include netbooks, cloud-focused devices and older machines. A native environment in Lubuntu and Knopixx, LXDE holds an attractive interface, multilingual support, standard keyboard short cuts and additional features like tabbed file browsing.
Very similar to Xfce, Fluxbox again goes very light on resources and at the same time offers awesome speeds. Not as rich and healthy as GNOME and KDE, Fluxbox is a window manager which has a basic interface of only a taskbar and a menu accessible by right-clicking on the desktop.
Also called E, Enlightenment is majorly used as a window manager inside of GNOME or KDE. Alternatively it can also be used as a substitute full desktop environment. The provisions of the full DE are themes and advanced graphics without sacrificing good performance. The current 16th version is called the DR16 and DR17 is under development process.
Mentioned last but can never be considered as least is Unity which was manufactured for netbooks and touch-based devices. It will be a default Ubuntu desktop environment pretty soon.