New desktop: Deepin Desktop Environment

Import from the East

© Lead Image © wong yu liang,

© Lead Image © wong yu liang,

Article from Issue 167/2014

Gnome version  3 lost many friends, prompting Linux users to look for alternatives. The elegant and carefully crafted Deepin Linux pushes into the gap with a desktop that feels like a hybrid of Linux, Windows, and Mac  OS.

Chinese programmers have been working on several innovative Linux-based projects for years. One project, Deepin Linux  [1], appeared recently with a blast of innovations. The developers were obviously unhappy with the fragmentation of desktop development from which Linux has suffered recently, and the result is a brand new desktop, the Deepin Desktop Environment (DDE), which avoids some of the deficits of other work environments. In Deepin 2014, the focus is on a highly aesthetic appearance and excellent ergonomics.

The vast variety of multimedia programs under Linux prompted the project to program its own multimedia applications that blend seamlessly with the desktop operating system. Finally, the Deepin Store replaces the already fairly ancient Synaptic as the graphical tool for software installation. With all these new features, Deepin Linux is not only extremely easy to use, but turns out to be a real eye-catcher with its elegant desktop.

First Look

The project provides the Ubuntu derivative in 32-bit and 64-bit versions as an ISO image of approximately 1.5GB. Both are exclusively available as multilingual versions. The installation languages include American English, as well as various Asian and European languages.

The system boots directly into a very modern-looking graphical language selection, without any detours via a GRUB menu. The distribution first boots to an empty desktop with a single icon for a local installation of the system and a dock along the bottom of the screen. Clicking on the Control Center icon in the Dock or dragging the mouse to the lower-right corner of the screen opens the configuration menu, which extends vertically over the entire right side of the screen and contains all the important settings options (Figure  1).

Figure 1: Drag the mouse pointer to the bottom right corner to reveal the configuration menu, which combines all important settings in a unified interface.

Clicking on the Install Deepin icon starts the setup routine (you need at least 8GB of space), which prompts you for the keyboard layout, time zone, username, and password. Specifying the desired target partition closes the dialog, and the installer bundles the system onto your hard disk.

A Brief History of Deepin

Deepin, the distribution formerly known as Hiweed Linux, saw the light of day about 10 years ago as a Debian derivative. Since then, not only the name but also the base has moved from Debian to Ubuntu. Additionally, the developers replaced various applications in the course of time (e.g., LibreOffice replaced OpenOffice. Thunderbird has been in place since 2011, and the completely new DDE user interface premiered in version 2014.

First Impression

After the ensuing restart, via a graphically designed GRU menu that also lists the previously installed operating systems, you are taken to a simple desktop with only a docking bar at the bottom  – no icons on the desktop and no menubar.

To see the installed software inventory, you either click on the Launcher (the rocket icon) in the Dock, or you mouse over the upper-left corner of the screen. In both cases, an overview of the most important programs appears. Clicking on the circle icon with four small squares opens an overview of all installed applications sorted by program group. More circular symbols arranged vertically down the left side of the screen access the various groups at the press of a button (Figure  2).

Figure 2: Similar to Gnome, but more elegant and sophisticated: the Deepin desktop showing the application list.

To the left of the configuration options is a narrow vertical toolbar that lets you toggle between the individual submenus. As soon as you leave the configuration area with the mouse pointer and click on the desktop, the options menu again minimizes, giving you access to the complete workspace.

The Deepin desktop speaks more languages than the installer, so you might want to change to your native language after completing the install. To enable a specific language, go to Control Center and navigate to the Date and Time group (the clock symbol). When you get there, you can click on Language and find your language of choice by typing in the search box.

Logging in again applies the change; not only the system, but also many of the installed programs will be localized to reflect your choice. Some applications (e.g., LibreOffice) need to download the corresponding language files first.


The Deepin desktop is reminiscent of a mixture of Gnome  3 and Mac OS X, but it offers two significant ergonomic advantages over both.

Dropping the Dock to the bottom edge of the screen and relocating the setup menus to a vertically oriented window that automatically opens and closes on the right edge of the display allows far better utilization of available monitor space. Conventional panels were developed for monitors with a 4:3 or 5:4 aspect and fully display extensive menus in these screen geometries. However, menu structures are better placed on the right or left edge of the screen on displays with 16:10 and 16:9 aspect ratios  – not least because multilevel menus then no longer completely cover open program windows.

Ease of use is also reflected in the consistently similar menu structures in all of the system settings submenus. No additional hierarchical levels open new windows through which you need to laboriously click; expanding blocks contain option fields.

Accessibility of individual menu items via the vertical toolbar also enables a quick change of menus with a single mouse click. The menus themselves might not offer the wealth of options you get from KDE, but they do ensure detailed configuration of the system in all the major areas.

Deepin developers also have taken care to match the color schemes ergonomically. Although the setup menus consistently use a dark background, the font appears in a bright hue and thus offers sufficient contrast. The layout highlights pressed buttons in blue, thus avoiding any danger of confusion in poor light. The same applies to radio buttons, which are also highlighted in blue when enabled.

The Deepin desktop is also economical when it comes to visual gimmicks. Although it uses Compiz as the window manager and is not much easier on resources than KWin or Metacity, for example, the developers did without rotating cubes or exploding desktops on shutdown.

The DDE desktop reveals more smart features in the way it handles applications . Although the traditional display of installed programs is modeled visually on Gnome 3.x, DDE also lets you send program icons to a desired location. To do so, just right-click the desired application icon and in the context menu select Send to desktop or Send to dock.

If you want to launch an application automatically at system startup, you can do so in the same menu by selecting Add to autostart. The Uninstalloption in the context menu also lets you uninstall a program, without having to turn to the package manager for help, and you do not have to enter a password.

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