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or maybe something else?

I am using Redhat OS.

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done :) I'd also wish the OP had pointed out what version of redhat he's using, since unless its RHEL, there hasn't been a redhat release in ages – Journeyman Geek Jan 15 '10 at 13:27

16 Answers 16

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Have a look at your installed applications. If a lot of them start with K - you're on KDE. If a lot of them start with G, you're on Gnome. Seriously. (Not very accurate if you have both installed though).

If you go to the About page of your computers settings panel, that should give you some clues.

Alternatively, look around on Google Images for screenshots of Gnome or KDE. It should be obvious once you have seen the basic look of the desktop environment.

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Since you can have both Gnome and KDE installed on the machine, and have access to both sets of programs in your menus, the first suggestion is not a foolproof method. The About panel is most likely the useful answer. – Shannon Nelson Jan 20 '10 at 8:34

Open a terminal and type:

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This is the best answer. – daxim Jan 15 '10 at 18:49
Not always true, as for someone could be just "default" – dag729 Jan 18 '10 at 0:55
doesnt work for all cases.. i have ubuntu 12 and the above command gave just "ubuntu" as output. the command given by @Shannon Nelson worked. – Tejas Patil Dec 20 '12 at 7:36
l1zard@Marvin:~$ echo $DESKTOP_SESSION results in default which is not very useful – l1zard Apr 16 '13 at 17:27

I'll show you a short selection and description of the most common desktop environments.



Unity is developed by Canonical. It has a bar at the top which contains the clock at the right and a button on the left which will bring up a search/menu window. There's a launcher on the left of the screen.

The default theme colors are purple/orange/brown.

The logo is the same as the Ubuntu logo.

Gnome 3

Gnome 3

Gnome 3 is the third iteration in the Gnome desktop environment. It features a bar at the top with a clock and a menu button on the left which will bring up a fullscreen window containing most applications.

The default theme is rather dark with much black in the general elements, but the windows are light gray.

The logo is a foot. with four toes.

MATE (a fork of Gnome 2)


MATE is a fork of Gnome 2. It features two bars, one on the top of the screen, one at the bottom. The top one contains the main menu (dropdown with three items, Applications, Places and System), some starters and the clock on the far right. The lower bar holds the window list and the desktop switcher. Unlike the first three it has icons (Computer, Home, Trash and also removable media) on the desktop in the default configuration. An about dialog might be found in the System menu.

The default theme is a light theme with either green or blue accents.

The logo are two circles with an arrow intersecting them.



XFCE has always been seen as the small brother of Gnome 2, but it shouldn't be called that. It is very similar to MATE/Gnome 2 and might easily be confused with the two. The default configuration is similar to MATE/Gnome 2 except that the menu in the upper bar is only an icon, but is similarly structured.

The logo is a mouse.



KDE is one of the oldest desktop environments. It features a bar at the bottom of the screen which contains the main menu (as icon), the window list and a clock. The main menu is a big dropup menu sorted in categories.

The default theme is very light and looks like polished glass.

The logo is a "K", sometimes a dragon.



Cinnamon is heavily based on Gnome 3. It features a lower bar similar to KDE, as it contains the menu button, the window list and the clock. The main menu is also a dropup with categories.

The default theme is very greenish.


Luckily, there are a lot more desktop environments out there, but this should give you a quick overview over the most commonly used ones.

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Downvoted - not because it's a bad answer (it's not) but because the screenshots are increasingly out of date. The command line alternatives are better. – Andrew M May 14 '14 at 12:32

Quick way #1: if you have a "System" menu entry on the top line, and there's an item in the menu that says "About Gnome", you're probably running Gnome.

Quick way #2:

ps -ef | grep gnome
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Shorter version: pgrep -f gnome – Demetri Oct 27 '13 at 23:04

I've tested the best tools I've found with

  1. GNOME under Linux Mint installed;
  2. GNOME under Linux Mint Live USB;
  3. MATE under Linux Mint;
  4. LXDE under Lubuntu;
  5. JWM under Puppy Linux (JWM is not a desktop environment but a stacking window manager).

My results:

  1. (so-so)
    env | grep DESKTOP_SESSION=

    1. DESKTOP_SESSION=gnome
    2. DESKTOP_SESSION=gnome
    3. DESKTOP_SESSION=default.desktop
    4. DESKTOP_SESSION=Lubuntu
    5. (nothing)
  2. (so-so)
    echo $GDMSESSION

    1. gnome
    2. gnome
    3. (nothing)
    4. Lubuntu
    5. (nothing)
  3. (well, but not perfect)
    pgrep -l "gnome|kde|mate|cinnamon|lxde|xfce|jwm"
    ps -A | egrep -i "gnome|kde|mate|cinnamon|lxde|xfce|jwm"

    1. (OK)
    2. (OK)
    3. (OK)
    4. (WRONG)
    5. (nothing) & (OK)
  4. (very well, but not perfect)

    1. (nothing);
    2. GNOME 2.32.0
    3. MATE
    4. LXDE (Lubuntu)
    5. Unknown (Window Manager: JWM)

CONCLUSION: A combination of HardInfo and the command

ps -A | egrep -i "gnome|kde|mate|cinnamon|lxde|xfce|jwm"

probably will give the desired answer.

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Not sure if it's a 100% working solution, but proved to be good enough so far.

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This command seems to be useful:

ls /usr/bin/*session*
  • in GNOME returns /usr/bin/gnome-session (and more)
  • in MATE returns /usr/bin/mate-session (and more)
  • in LXDE returns /usr/bin/lxsession (and more)
  • in XFCE returns /usr/bin/xfce4-session (and more)
  • in JWM returns /usr/bin/icewm-session (should be jwm-session, not?!)
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It's not reliable because it only shows the installed session managers, not only the running one – and not all desktop environments actually have a matching *-session executable (as you noted for jwm), or any such program at all. – grawity Apr 15 '13 at 1:01

This is a good command to determine your GUI:

pgrep -l "gnome|kde|mate|cinnamon|lx|xfce|jwm"
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A new user may not recognize the differences betwen KDE and Gnome in the screen captures above. Look at the position of the default panels (top with Gnome and bottom with KDE) not the color of the desktop or the apps that are open.

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In a terminal or console, you can run:

pgrep -l "gnome|kde|mate|cinnamon"


ps -A | egrep -i "gnome|kde|mate|cinnamon"

The item that appears in more lines should be the answer.

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You can run HardInfo. It's ready by default at least in Linux Mint; or you could install it (from Synaptic, ...).

You can run it:

  1. from the main menu > Search box > hardinfo, or
  2. from the main menu > All applications > System Tools or Administration > System Information, or
  3. from the main menu > All applications > All > System Information, or
  4. from a terminal or console > hardinfo > Enter, or
  5. from the Run Application dialog (Alt+F2) > hardinfo > Enter.

Once HardInfo opens you just need to need to click on the "Operating System" item and look to the "Desktop Environment" line.

Nowadays, apart from GNOME and KDE, you could find MATE, Cinnamon, ...

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I've been testing also with KDE and my conclusion is:

a) Graphical way, with HardInfo: the answer is normally in "Operating System" > "Desktop Environment", but if not you can look to "Environment variables". HardInfo is ready with all the tested distros, except the one with KDE, but it can be easily and quickly installed (only 2 packages in Linux Mint 13).

b) Command line, with this command:

ps -A | egrep -i "gnome|kde|mate|cinnamon|lx|xfce|jwm"

The item that appears in more lines should be the answer (if there is a draw the item with "session" should be the solution).

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To know the version of the installed DE we can open Synaptic and put its name in the "Quick filter" box. Below "Installed Version" we have the answer. Next to it, below "Latest Version", we can see the highest to what we can update it to (at least if we have just clicked on "Reload" and considering only stable software -by default the access to the developing versions is usually disabled-). If instead of Synaptic the considered distro uses PackageKit or other a similar solution shoul be avaiable.

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Just open up the System Help guide (usually under the "System" menu) and see what the title is!

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The sysinfo package will show you which Gnome / other you're using:

sudo apt-get install sysinfo
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I have this function in my ~/.bash_aliases --

# open terminal function
    # if gnome is running
    if [ $(pgrep -c gnome-panel) -gt 0 ]; then
            echo "running gnome"
    # if xfce is running    
    elif [ $(pgrep -c xfce4-panel) -gt 0 ]; then
            echo "running xfce"
alias trm='open-terminal'
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