The concept of using Linux on a touchscreen monitor or two-in-one computer has come a long way. Touchscreen support is now built in to the Linux kernel, so theoretically, any Linux distribution should be able to run with a touchscreen. That said, not every distribution will be easy to use on a touchscreen, and this comes down to the desktop environment each one works best with. You may have to choose the best Linux distros for a touchscreen that use the optimal desktop out of the box.
For example, using a tiling window manager like Awesome or i3 isn’t going to do you much good on a touchscreen without some heavy tweaking. Choose the right desktop environment, and you’ll have a much better time using Linux on this type of hardware.
As one of the most popular desktops available for Linux, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that GNOME works well with a touchscreen. Since version 3.14, the desktop introduced support for touchscreen gestures, which lets you get even more done with your touchscreen monitor.
GNOME 40’s release in late 2021 further integrated the ability to switch between workspaces and access the application overview with touch gestures out of the box.
That’s not the only thing that makes GNOME so touch-friendly. It also has large icons that are easy to tap, and the way things are laid out works very well as a primarily touch-based interface. Not everything is perfect, but if you’re looking to use a familiar desktop with your touchscreen, this is a great option.
Some of the best Linux distros for a touchscreen that already use GNOME without extra tweaks include:
2. KDE Plasma
KDE Plasma is the latest version of the venerable KDE desktop. Like GNOME, the QT-powered KDE has been around for a very long time, so you’ll find users who are as loyal to this desktop as they are to anything else.
The most recent versions of KDE support Wayland, which makes using a touchscreen monitor much easier than using the aging X11 system. They work on Plasma Mobile, which is meant to run on touch-only devices. Touchscreen support in KDE Plasma has improved over a very short time.
The release of KDE Plasma 5.25 took care of a significant number of responsiveness and performance issues and even introduced 3- and 4-finger gestures that let you switch between active desktops, open all present windows, and open the activities overview.
If you prefer Linux distros for a touchscreen that have KDE Plasma built in, try:
If you’re coming from Windows 10, you may find the Cinnamon desktop pleasing, as it’s a similar layout. It doesn’t look exactly the same, which you may consider a good thing, but most of the main elements are in roughly the same place.
Cinnamon has also dramatically improved its touchscreen support in recent releases. It may not be as snappy as GNOME, and it doesn’t work as smoothly as Windows, but it’s still a desktop worth trying out.
If you’d prefer a Linux distro with Cinnamon already setup, try:
4. Deepin DE
Another desktop powered by QT, the Deepin Desktop Environment, ships with the Deepin Linux distribution. People praise Deepin for its ease of use and its sleek, friendly look, and both of these factors stem from the desktop’s design philosophy.
Since the release of Deepin 15.9, the desktop has included touchscreen gestures. These greatly improve the usability of the desktop, making it much easier to recommend for a touchscreen monitor. The easiest way to use this desktop is in the Deepin distribution, but it is also available for other distros like Arch.
Budgie is another desktop environment developed for a specific Linux distro. In this case, it is the default desktop for the Solus Linux distribution. You won’t find any fancy touchscreen gestures available yet, but you do get basic scrolling and tap-to-click.
Fortunately, if you want to use Budgie for its eye-catching look but also want gestures, there’s a way to do it. There’s a project by the name of Touchegg that can add Mac-style gestures to any desktop. Even better, we have a guide to installing and using Touchegg.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use a different desktop environment than the one my distro comes with?
In most instances, you don’t have to shoehorn your user experience into a distro that’s less than optimal for you. As long as it supports touch gestures (
hid-multitouch module) in the kernel (most distros today do that), you can get a pretty seamless touch-enabled experience on any compatible environment.
Because of the risk of crossover between multiple installed desktop environments’ applications potentially causing problems with some touch functionality, the most ideal scenario would be to install a distro that comes out of the box with your preferred desktop environment. Though it’s generally straightforward to tweak your way out of potential issues, it’s more frustrating to do so with a touch screen and on-screen keyboard. Keep this bit of advice in mind when making your choice.
Is there anything else I should do to prepare for touch on Linux?
If you want to use gestures, you just have to make sure that you are using your desktop environment on Wayland and not X11. In your display manager, as you are logging into your system, you should have a way to select your desktop environment. Just make sure you select the option with “Wayland” on it.
If you don’t have such an option, your desktop environment might not work with Wayland. This is an issue with many of the smaller desktop environments and installing Touchegg will add some gesture functionality to X11.
What’s the best “out of the box” experience for touchscreens in Linux?
If you’re looking for that “mobile feel” with large icons for even the fattest of fingers, anything that uses GNOME as a base is going to have you covered. Fedora and Ubuntu both have great software managers and include much of the software you need for a full user experience.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Lukys
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