2024 and the Linux Desktop: Cosmic, KDE Plasma 6, and Linux Mint News

Linux has been increasing its share of the desktop market, but 2024 promises a number of developments that could propel it to its best year yet....
2024 and the Linux Desktop: Cosmic, KDE Plasma 6, and Linux Mint News
Written by Matt Milano
  • Linux has been increasing its share of the desktop market, but 2024 promises a number of developments that could propel it to its best year yet.

    “The year of the Linux desktop” has been a rallying cry for years, with Linux enthusiasts ever-hopeful that each new year would be the one where Linux goes mainstream on the desktop. While Linux has remained a niche player in the space — and the slogan has become something of a meme — there’s no denying that Linux is slowly increasing its presence on the desktop.

    2024 promises to be one of the biggest years for the Linux desktop space, with several projects delivering advancements that will benefit users and corporations alike.

    Cosmic DE

    Cosmic is the DE used by System 76’s Pop_OS! (hereafter referred to as Pop OS or Pop). In its current form, Cosmic is a heavily modified version of Gnome, with System 76 using an array of extensions to create their DE. Due to diverging views of the future of the desktop, however, System 76 has been working on a completely new version of Cosmic written in Rust and using the Iced GUI toolkit.

    System 76 has been releasing regular blog posts outlining the status of its all-new Cosmic, with work progressing at a rapid pace. Although the plans have not been confirmed, many in the community believe the company is targeting a release date that coincides with the release of Ubuntu 24.04, since Pop is based on Ubuntu.

    One of the main features that sets Cosmic apart is its support for built-in window tiling, akin to dedicated tiling window managers. Updates from the company show that tiling is receiving major improvements in the reworked Cosmic, thanks to System 76 having the freedom to create their vision without the limitations of working with Gnome.

    Potential Pros

    The new Cosmic DE could bring a number of benefits to users:

    A Middle Ground Between KDE Plasma and Gnome

    Gnome is the most popular DE, but its developers have a very opinionated view of what the Linux desktop should look like. Unfortunately for many, that view involves removing features that are commonplace in other DEs, such as icons on the desktop, maximize and minimize buttons on the windows, and more.

    In contrast, KDE Plasma is incredibly powerful and customizable, but users are sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer number of features.

    Cosmic looks poised to bridge the gap, providing power features and customizability, but without being overly complex.

    Performance and Stability

    Thanks to being written in Rust, Cosmic may quickly become one of the most performance Linux DEs available. Rust is well-known as a memory-safe programming language. Since many stability and security issues have their roots in memory errors, creating something as complex as a DE using a memory-safe language can go a long way toward improving overall performance and stability.

    In fact, System 76 developers have teased some of these improvements, touting load times of some of their built-in apps that are being written in Rust.

    Development Speed

    While many in the open source community are leery of corporate-backed projects, there is no denying that corporate backing can help speed up the development of projects, providing the necessary funds and resources that projects need.

    Cosmic is no exception. While the community is certainly contributing, the bulk of the work is being done in-house at System 76. This has led to a near record pace of development.

    Potential Cons

    UI Fragmentation

    The single biggest potential downside of Cosmic is further UI fragmentation. There are currently two major UI toolkits in use in the Linux world: GTK and Qt. GTK is used by Gnome, Cinnamon, Xfce, and the vast majority of others. KDE Plasma and LXQT use the Qt toolkit. Each toolkit has hundreds and thousands of apps that have been created using it.

    While GTK apps can be used in a Qt-based DE, and vice versa, apps made using a different UI toolkit can look somewhat out of place in a DE using the competing toolkit. Plasma does a much better job of this than Gnome, with the developers making an effort to make GTK apps look consistent with Qt window decorations. The same is true of Cinnamon, with the developers making an effort. Gnome, in contrast, does little to nothing to make Qt apps fit in.

    One concern with Cosmic is that it will use neither GTK or Qt, meaning there is potential for neither set of apps to look completely native. While the System 76 developers are working to create a suite of basic applications, such as the text editor, there is no way their list of apps using the Iced toolkit will rival the list of apps using GTK or Qt, at least not anytime soon, if ever.

    As a result, the developers will need to ensure that any Cosmic themes — since themes are a fundamental feature of Cosmic — will apply not only to Iced applications, but GTK and Qt as well. Otherwise, users may end up with a desktop environment and apps that look like a mishmash, rather than providing a coherent experience.

    Fortunately, the System 76 developers have proven to be a very capable lot, meaning it is highly likely that Cosmic will be able to avoid this potential pitfall.

    KDE Plasma 6

    One of the biggest developments of the year will be the release of Plasma 6, the latest KDE desktop environment (DE). The release comes nearly a decade after the release of Plasma 5 and brings a slew of improvements and refinements to the most powerful DE on any platform.

    For all its power and customizability, Plasma sometimes has the reputation of being buggier than other desktop environments, such as Cinnamon, Xfce, or Gnome, with the perception that developers sometimes prioritize adding new features over improving stability and reliability. The KDE developers are aware of this reputation, and are taking a measured approach to the development of Plasma 6.

    Rather than a complete overhaul of the Plasma desktop — much like the KDE 3 > 4 transition, or Gnome 2 > 3 — KDE’s developers are focused on refinements and improvements. That’s not to say that Plasma 6 has no new features. In fact, the developers have managed to work in a surprising number of feature additions. Overall, however, the development of version 6 builds on the success of Plasma 5, improving it and refining it.

    The move already appears to be paying off. At the time of writing, Plasma 6 has entered Beta status and many users are calling it the best version of Plasma ever released.

    With Plasma already being the second most-popular Linux DE, version 6 is poised to help catapult Plasma forward in popularity.

    Linux Mint Cinnamon

    Linux Mint Cinnamon Wayland - Credit Linux Mint
    Linux Mint Cinnamon Wayland – Credit Linux Mint

    Linux Mint is one of the most popular Linux distributions, for both new and experienced users alike. There are two editions, with one based on Ubuntu and the other on Debian. While the Ubuntu variant offers Cinnamon, Xfce, or Mate as the DE, the Debian variant only offers Cinnamon.

    Cinnamon was originally forked from Gnome, during the Gnome 3.x series, as Gnome began moving away from the traditional desktop paradigm. Over the years, Cinnamon has continued to evolve, offering a traditional desktop experience while continuing to add new features, refinements, and improvements.

    Unfortunately, Cinnamon has not made the move to Wayland, the display management protocol that replaces the aging X11. This has led some to move to KDE or Gnome, since those DEs have the most complete Wayland experience to date.

    With Linux Mint 21.3, however, Cinnamon finally gains experimental Wayland support. The Linux Mint team does not recommend trying to use it in a production environment, but it will give users the ability to try out Wayland, as well as find and report bugs.

    Wayland adoption is one of the only things Cinnamon is lacking, and it’s good to see the team taking steps in that direction.


    Without a doubt, 2024 is poised to bring some of the most exciting developments the Linux desktop has seen in years. While we won’t go so far as to call 2024 “the year of the Linux desktop,” there’s no denying that Linux users have a lot to look forward to, and these developments could well result in even more users switching to Linux.

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