Asside from the fact that that is extremly hard to do (virtualization is very hardware specific), it would be extremly hard for a project like Whonix to create a secure implementation of said virtualization like Qubes has done. Adding to that a “Whonix only OS” would require a custom desktop enviroment, to accommodate the multiple VMs based concept.
Regardless of the fact that that is very subjective and debatable, that wouldn’t be legal either due to copyright laws.
Choosing KDE is a personal preference by Whonix developer Patrick Schleizer. KDE has one advantage, the only developer likes it and remains interested to maintain and develop Whonix further.
(Replace Patrick with HulaHoop and Whonix with KVM-Whonix. Whatever keeps KVM-Whonix going is the right answer here I think.)
This is also not a big deal for Qubes-Whonix since dom0 will handle all the Window Management and we’re really just talking about including a set of common core apps (terminal, file manager, text editor, ?)
So the main impact DE choice will have is on Virtualbox-Whonix. If it’s true that advanced users have all migrated to KVM & Qubes, then the Virtualbox-Whonix platform should especially cater to users new to Whonix and also, new to Linux. The urgency is to find a replacement for KDE5 before Whonix adopts Stretch. (Are we sure that KDE5 can’t run well under Vbox?)
The FAQ (linked above) is outdated. MATE is now included in Debian repos: DesktopEnvironment - Debian Wiki. And seems non-KDE/GNOME choices have gained somewhat in popularity.
Made this list yesterday (from lightest to heaviest):
LXDE: what @HulaHoop said re: LXQt. Actively developed and has a captive userbase in low-low-resource systems (netbooks, SOCs). Can’t comment on usability. If it’s light enough, could it power Vbox-Whonix and also be included in Qubes images as well? Then, just add some Gnomish apps on top of it? KVM-Whonix should be able to throw KDE on top of it with ease. I’ll try it out next.
MATE: fork of GNOME2 updated to GTK3 libraries. Familiar desktop, popular? My concern is that GNOME2 is no longer maintained and my guess would be that many apps forked over to MATE are simply cosmetic re-skins - meaning MATE won’t benefit from GNOME team’s future work (esp security-related). Do they have the manpower to maintain such a big DE?
Gnome-Flashback: GNOME2 look-alike based on GNOME3/GTK3. This design seems preferable to MATE but does anybody use it? I can’t find any numbers of DE-users for this or any distribution anywhere… Still, worth looking into. Have to check if installing KDE apps on Gnome requires more dependencies or if the converse makes more sense.
Cinnamon seems to be hugely popular (see Linux Mint). Based on GNOME3. I tried this out and it is indeed highly pleasing aesthetically and usability-wise. Unfortunately, it felt just as heavy as GNOME3, even running under a distinct software rendering session.
Just tested it with Debian Stretch under VBox. Keeping in mind the way the GW is currently set up, some of the animations they had to crowbar into the launcher occasionally take a bit of time to be fully executed and are somewhat sluggish. Even on WS-Settings with more VRam (128mb) this is the case. Analyzing it with the FPS tool provided with KDE, I found out that the reason for this seems to be that the animations aren’t that backed anyways, as I got a consisent result of over 48 frames per second, which should appear smooth when it comes to such animations. Occasional dips below 20 can be provoked though, by forcing an animation to play multiple times in a short amount of time which seems to take quite a toll on the systems performance.
Not a perfect comparison because other distributions use one or more of these exclusively. (Knoppix, Raspbian = LXDE; MATE & Cinnamon get a nice boost from Linux Mint Ubuntu).
Surprising to me is gnome-flashback’s number. Does that make it a contender? The nice thing about gnome-flashback is that it benefits from gnome3 maintenance. I wonder just how much attack surface is DE-specific, ie not covered by upstream packages.
Bah, I misunderstood gnome-flashback. It is not a full DE but rather a session for gnome3, which is probably why the homepage says:
GNOME Flashback is a session for GNOME 3 which was initially called “GNOME Fallback”, and shipped as a stand-alone session in Debian and Ubuntu.
So the 30% gnome3 number includes all the gnome-flashback users. Test by installing gnome-session-flashback gdm3. I thought it would come with all the baggage in gnome3 but it feels rather light. Desktop is very familiar as expected.
My personal picks are:
kde framework: kde5 (need to test - wait until 5.8 as HulaHoop suggests) or lxde (need to test)
gtk framework: gnome-flashback
I like xfce4 personally but I have my doubts about whether it would make a good newbie DE. A trivial example: if you right click a .desktop icon, the first menu choice is “Execute”. Only geeks say execute - the rest of the world says, “Run program” or “Launch application”. How many newbs even know what an executable is?
another example: to edit the applications menu,
gnome-flashback: right-click applications menu
xfce4: I couldn’t figure it out last time so I had to go look it up. I remember I edited some config files. I’ve since forgotten how to do it and so had to go look it up again. howto:customize-menu [Xfce Wiki]. Apparently we can install menu editors…
Thanks for tesing. In your opinion is the perfrmance acceptable under VBox? - under normal use.
I think @entr0py did a good job summarizing the whole point of what the DE search is for. It comes down to something that VBox can run without choking.
Its useful to point out that choices not needing 3D acceleration are getting fewer with time and that all the major environments (and libs under the hood like Qt and GTK) are headed there if not now. The few holdbacks like xfce have usability concerns, aesthetics concerns with gnome-fallback or in MATE’s case - a dead future since it relies on a deprecated toolkit.
VBox’s 3D implementation is a security hole with terrible performance and stability problems. However given this is VBox, its not doing too hot in the security department anyhow even without 3D enabled - so this shouldn’t be a blocker IMO.
Like said, definetly what I’d consider usable. All in all, it feels however like Plasma is still very much a work-in-progress seeing as animations don’t play out as fast as they, according to the FPS-Meter should. Will likely be improved in the future.
Didn’t mention it before, though I did the test specifically with 3D-Acceleration turned off due to this. Even 3D based effects, like the ones used for changing between applications worked fluently.