53 Open Source Replacements To Spice Up Your Desktop

Published on: February 15, 2011
Last Updated: February 15, 2011

53 Open Source Replacements To Spice Up Your Desktop

Published on: February 15, 2011
Last Updated: February 15, 2011

With so many new devices – with so many new interfaces – coming out all the time, is your desktop starting to seem a little, well…boring?

Are you frustrated by how slow and buggy Windows is? Are you tired of winter weather and wish that something – anything – would change?

If so, this list is for you.

We’ve collected 53 different open source projects that can make your desktop environment faster, prettier, easier to use or just a little different.

They run the gamut from small utilities that do just one thing to open source operating systems that can replace Windows.

We’ve included a number of tools for Linux users that can help you customize your desktop to meet your unique needs and tastes.

Have an open source suggestions? As always, if you’d like to suggest additional apps for an upcoming list, feel free to add them in the comments section below.

Application Launchers

1. Kysrun 

Replaces other methods of launching Linux apps Much like Launchy (below), Kysrun starts your applications or opens bookmarks or documents with a couple of keystrokes.

It also starts searches on Google, Wikipedia or IMDB and solves math problems. Operating System: Linux

2. Launchy 

Replaces the Windows start menu and other methods of launching apps

If you hate to use the mouse, Launchy is for you. It lets you open applications, documents, folders, bookmarks and more with just a few keystrokes. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X

Desktop Search

3. Beagle 

Replaces the find command if you don’t know the name of the file you’re looking for, Beagle can help you find it.

It indexes and searches the text of your documents, emails, web history, IM/IRC conversations, contacts, calendar, and other files to find the keywords you’re looking for. Operating System: Linux

4. DocFetcher

Replaces the find command, Windows Search, instead of wasting time searching every file on your system, DocFetcher searches only your documents for the keywords you enter.

It supports plain text, html, Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org, AbiWord, pdf and several other types of files. Operating System: Windows, Linux

5. Pinot

Replaces the find command. Pinot combines both desktop search and Web search into a single app.

It also allows advanced queries (probabilistic search, boolean filters, wildcards, date ranges, time and size) and supports Chinese, Japanese and Korean text searches. Operating System: Linux

6. Recoll 

Replaces the find command Recoll can search the text of most document types, including e-mails, attachments and compressed files.

It supports a variety of query types, and it provides a preview of searched documents. Operating System: Linux

7. Tracker 

Replaces the find command. Part of the Gnome desktop, Tracker combines traditional search by name and file location with more advanced search capabilities that let you look for document text or tags.

If you choose, you can use it to add metadata tags to all of your files, which makes it easier to organize your files and find what you’re looking for. Operating System: Linux

File Managers

8. Java File Manager 

Replaces Windows Explorer, OS X Finder. Because it’s based on Java, this file manager works with most operating systems.

It’s very simple and offers a less cluttered interface than many of the other two-panel file managers. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X

9. Krusader 

Replaces other Linux file managers. The KDE file manager, Krusader is a twin-panel commander-style file manager.

It boasts extensive support for archived files, advanced search, batch re-naming, file content comparisons and more. Operating System: Linux

10. muCommander 

Replaces Windows Explorer, OS X Finder. This Java-based, commander-style file manager is both lightweight and fast.

It includes compression tools, a bookmark manager and more. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

11. PCManFM 

Replaces other Linux file managers. Built for the Lightweight Desktop Environment (LXDE), PCManFM is so fast and lightweight that it opens in just one second or less on most systems.

It features a tabbed interface, drag & drop support and bookmarks support. Operating System: Linux

12. SurF 

Replaces Windows Explorer. With its unique, tree-based view of files, SurF makes it very easy to move around your files and folders.

It also includes a text search tool, real-time highlighting of new and changed files, network support and more. Operating System: Windows

13. TuxCommander

Replaces other Linux file managers. Another commander-style file manager, TuxCommander features a familiar vertical, two-panel, tabbed interface.

It’s available in several different language and supports large files (greater than 4 GB). Operating System: Linux

Linux Desktop Environments

14. Gnome 

Replaces other Linux desktop environments. One of the two most popular Linux desktop environments.

Gnome is the default desktop for Fedora, Ubuntu, and several other distributions. It’s best known for being easy to use. Operating System: Linux

15. KDE Plasma Desktop

Replaces other Linux desktop environments. The second of the two most popular Linux desktop environments, KDE has a reputation for being “prettier” than some of the other desktop environments and feels very similar to Windows and OSX.

The KDE community is one of the largest open source communities, so plenty of help is available for new (or experienced) users. Operating System: Linux

16. LXDE 

Replaces other Linux desktop environments. The “Lightweight X Desktop Environment” claims it has a “beautiful interface,” but if truth be told, it’s much more concerned about speed than looks.

Because it uses so few computing resources, it’s a good choice for netbooks and cloud-computing environments. Operating System: Linux

17. Xfce 

Replaces other Linux desktop environments. Another lightweight option, Xfce also offers very fast performance and doesn’t make any claims about its beauty.

It offers a modular design, so users can install just the components they choose in order to create a completely customized desktop experience. Operating System: Linux

Linux Windows Managers

18. Compiz 

Replaces other window managers. Compiz can be used as either a compositing manager to add fancy effects to your windows or as a full windows manager.

Included effects include drop shadows, the desktop cube and expo view. Operating System: Linux.

19. Enlightenment 

Replaces other window managers. Compatible with both Gnome and KDE, Enlightenment is a fast, modular windows manager.

The project also includes a large interface development library, some parts of which are usable on Windows, OS X and other OSes. Operating System: Linux.

20. Fluxbox 

Replaces other window managers. Although it’s not too flashy, this window manager is lightweight and fast.

Key features include tabbing, editable menus, an application dock and more. Operating System: Linux

21. KWin 

Replaces other window managers. The default window manager for the KDE desktop, KWin puts an emphasis on reliability and good looks.

The latest version supports compositing, that is, 3D window effects. Operating System: Linux

22. Metacity 

Replaces other window managers. The default window manager for Gnome 2.x, Metacity is designed to be as usable and unobtrusive as possible, and might be described as a little plain.

The project owners themselves say, “Many window managers are like Marshmallow Froot Loops; Metacity is like Cheerios.” Operating System: Linux

23. icewm Replaces other window managers Icewm’s stated goals include “speed, simplicity, and not getting in the user’s way.” It currently supports 25 different languages. Operating System: Linux, OS X

Miscellaneous Desktop Enhancements

24. Console 

Replaces cmd.exe. For developers and others who like to work from the command line, Console adds capabilities that aren’t available through cmd.exe.

For example, it allows users to open multiple tabs, change the font and window style, use a text selection tool, and more. Operating System: Windows

25. DropIt 

Replaces the file move feature in Windows Explorer. If your file system is a mess, DropIt gives you an easier way to clean it up than using the file copy-and-paste capabilities of Windows Explorer.

With this app, you can create an icon on your desktop that sends files to the folder of your choice. Just drag your file to icon and it will move the file where you want it to go. Operating System: Windows.

26. Florence 

Replaces traditional keyboards. If you can’t use your hands for some reason, or if you spilled Red Bull on your keyboard and are waiting for it to dry out, Florence can help you keep on typing.

This app for the Gnome desktop puts a virtual keyboard on your screen that you can click with your mouse. Operating System: Linux, OS X

27. PNotes 

Replaces NoteZilla, dtNotes. There are a lot of open source apps that let you create virtual sticky notes for your desktop.

This one stands out for its lightweight installation and full features list, including customizable transparency, images, smilies, scheduling, password protection, encryption and more. Operating System: Windows

Operating Systems

28. andLinux 

Replaces Windows. A good option for Windows users who would like to try out some Linux applications, andLinux runs Linux applications on Windows 2000, 2003, XP, Vista, or 7 machines.

29. Debian 

Replaces Windows. Unlike many of the other Linux distributions on this list, Debian is solely a community project, and its development not sponsored by any commercial organization.

It’s very popular among long-time Linux users, and its code is the basis for many other distributions, including Ubuntu.

30. eyeOS 

Replaces Windows. Built for cloud computing, eyeOS makes an entire desktop, including office productivity applications, accessible from a Web browser. It also serves as a platform for creating new Web apps.

31. Fedora 

Replaces Windows. The community version of the industry leading RedHat Linux, Fedora is suitable for home users or small businesses and is available free of charge.

The project prides itself on consistently being one of the first Linux distributions to introduce innovative new features.

32. openSUSE

Replaces Windows. Like RedHat, Novell sponsors a free community version of its SUSE Linux distribution–open SUSE.

It comes with more than 1,000 applications, and for users who are nervous about making the switch to Linux, it also comes in a retail version that includes 90 days of support.

33. Ubuntu 

Replaces Windows. In the past few users, Ubuntu has become one of the most popular—if not the most popular—distribution of Linux. It offers an easy-to-use GUI, fast performance and a huge, easy-to-browse library of apps.

Screen Savers

34. Electric Sheep 

Replaces standard Windows screensavers. PCs runing Electric Sheep communicate over the Internet to create the strange animations produced by this screensaver.

Users vote for their favorites, which influences the creation of new artwork. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X

35. Karsten SlideShow 

Replaces standard Windows screensavers. Like the “My Pictures Slideshow” screensaver that comes with Windows, this app shows your photos when your desktop is inactive.

But unlike “My Pictures” this app makes it easy for you to decide which pictures and videos to include and which to leave out. Operating System: Windows

36. LotseEscher 

Replaces standard Windows screensavers. Fans of the artist M. C. Escher will enjoy this animated version of his Print Gallery drawing.

If you like it, you may also like this developer’s other screensavers: LotsaGlass, LotsaSnow and LotsaWater. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X

37. Matrixgl 

Replaces Standard Windows Screensavers. For those who love the Matrix movies, this screensaver features falling green characters that create images of characters from the The Matrix Reloaded. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X

38. Pixel City

Replaces Standard Windows screensavers. This app generates new night-time cityscape artwork every time it runs. Check out the demonstration video link on the site to see how it works. Operating System: Windows

39. Really Slick Screensavers 

Replaces standard Windows screensavers. Really Slick includes twelve different screensavers featuring tornadoes, linked rings, fireworks, gooey shapes and lots of psychedelic colors.

Some of them can be a little nauseating, but the customization settings can make them easier to take. Operating System: Windows

40. topBlock 

Replaces Standard Windows screensavers. This screensaver’s graphics aren’t as impressive as some of the others on our list, but it’s fun if you like Lego blocks. Operating System: Windows

41. Wikiquote Screensaver

Replaces standard Windows screensavers. If you prefer a screensaver that’s a little more philosophical, check out this app.

You type in a topic and press save, and it will pull up random Wikiquotes on the topic. Operating System: Windows

42. Whorld 

Replaces standard Windows screensavers. Whorld generates interesting geometric patterns that can be used for a screensaver or for VJing.

It gives you a huge number of options and controls, and you can even extend them by using one of the downloadable patches or creating a patch of your own. Operating System: Windows.


43. Folder Size

Windows Explorer Replaces the standard Windows Explorer. In Windows XP or 2000, the Windows Explorer shows you the size of files, but not the size of folders.

This tool remedies that by adding an extra column to the Windows Explorer.

(Note that this doesn’t work with Windows 7 or Vista.) Operating System: Windows XP or 2000

44. Startup Manager 

Replaces the normal Windows startup process. This app lets the user control which applications and processes start up when you turn on your system.

It’s particularly useful if you’d like to speed up the process or if you always open the same programs. Operating System: Windows

Virtualized Desktops

45. VirtuaWin 

Replaces the non-virtualized Windows desktop. Most Linux/Unix windows managers make it easy to switch between desktops, but to accomplish the same thing on Windows, you usually have to log out and log back in as another user.

This app lets you save up to nine different desktops and switch between them quickly.

It’s helpful if you’re multi-tasking and need one set of apps for one project and other set for a different project. Operating System: Windows

46. WindowsPager

WindowsPager offers very similar functionality as VirtuaWin, with a different interface for switching between workspaces. Operating System: Windows


47. Google Wallpaper 

Replaces standard Windows wallpaper. If you get bored having the same image on your desktop for more than five seconds or so, this app might be for you.

You type in a keyword, an interval of time and whether or not you want to use “Safe Search.”

The app then pulls up random pictures from Google and uses them as your wallpaper for the period of time you set. Operating System: Windows

48. izulu 

Replaces generic wallpaper. No window near your cubicle? This app automatically changes the background on your desktop to match current weather and time. Operating System: Linux

49. Wally 

Replaces standard Windows wallpaper. Like the Google Wallpaper app, Wally changes out the photo on your screen after a set period of time.

But this app let’s you pick photos from your own hard drive or from remote sources like Google, Flickr, Yahoo, Photobucket and many others. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X

Windows Shell Replacements

50. Classic Shell 

Replaces certain features of Windows Vista and Windows 7. If you’ve upgraded to Windows 7 (or Windows Vista) and miss some of the features from older versions of Windows, this app can bring them back.

It gives you a classic start menu, classic explorer, a toolbar in Windows Explorer and many other features. Operating System: Windows

51. Emerge 

Replaces the standard Windows interface. This replacement for the Windows shell offers a minimalist interface based on applets.

It lets users access programs via a right click instead of the Start Menu, and it offers an application launcher and virtual desktop capabilities. Operating System: Windows

52. GeoShell 

Replaces the standard Windows interface. If you don’t like the way your Windows interface looks, GeoShell can replace it with skinnable versions of the start menu, taskbar, system tray, etc.

It also requires fewer resources than Windows Explorer, and it has a whole host of plug-ins that can add other features like RSS readers, weather forecasts and more. Operating System: Windows

53. SharpEnviro 

Replaces the standard Windows interface. Formerly known as “SharpE,” SharpEnviro makes the desktop highly configurable, including the option of having up to 20 different toolbars.

It supports multiple monitors and is very easy to use. Operating System: Windows

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Written by Bobby

Bobby Lawson is a seasoned technology writer with over a decade of experience in the industry. He has written extensively on topics such as cybersecurity, cloud computing, and data analytics. His articles have been featured in several prominent publications, and he is known for his ability to distill complex technical concepts into easily digestible content.