How to install GUI to Ubuntu Server

Ubuntu Server has no default graphical user interface. That doesn't stop us from adding one. Here's how to install a GUI such as GNOME, MATE, KDE, on Ubuntu Server.

Most server operating systems, including the Ubuntu Server, don’t come with a Graphical User Interface. The main reason behind these is that the GUI takes much of the system resources to run essential server tasks. However, that doesn’t mean you can install a GUI on your Ubuntu server.

Ubuntu Server
Ubuntu Server

This tutorial is for you if you want to run a graphical interface for your Ubuntu Server setup. We will give you a step by step procedure on how you can install a GUI on your Ubuntu server.

Installing GUI on Ubuntu Server

Prerequisites

Generally, even without an interface, you can access a server via its command-line or ssh with a tool like Putty.

Note: If you are accessing your server via Putty, you will not access the installed GUI interface. You will need a tool to access Remote Linux Desktop.

Update repositories and system packages

Execute the commands below:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

Update System
Update System

This action ensures you have the latest packages installed in your system.

Next, we will need to install the tasksel manager utility. Tasksel is a utility for Ubuntu/Debian used to install multiple related packages. Execute the command below on the command-line.

sudo apt install tasksel

Install Tasksel
Install Tasksel

Install a Display Manager

The Display manager, also known as ‘Login manager,’ is a utility responsible for launching the display server, loading the Desktop, and manages user authentication. Some of the display manager available for installation include SDDM, SLiM, and LightDM.

To install a display manager of your choice, use the apt package manager.

  • Install SLiM:
sudo apt install slim
  • Install LightDM:
sudo apt install lightdm

In our case, we will install the SLiM display manager for our server.

Install SLiM
Install SLiM

If you wish to install the SDDM display manager, you can select it when installing the KDE Desktop Environment.

Install a GUI for Your Server

A Desktop Environment (DE) is a collection of software running on top of the Linux kernel to make up the Graphical User Interface. The DE determines the look and feel of windows, app and folder icons, colors, and more.

Some of the popular Desktop Environments available include the GNOME, KDE Plasma, Mate Core, XFCE, Lubuntu Core Server Desktop, Xubuntu Core Server Desktop, etc.

  • Install GNOME

Step 1. Launch taskel by executing the command below on the command-line.

$ tasksel

A colorful interface with a list of various software will open. Scroll using the arrow keys and select the Ubuntu Desktop. Tip: Use the SpaceBar key to select an item. Use the Tab key to skip to the OK button and hit Enter.

Install Ubuntu Desktop
Install Ubuntu Desktop

The GNOME Desktop Environment will be installed, and it will reboot, giving you a graphical login interface generated by the installed Display Manager. In our case, it’s SLiM.

GNOME desktop
GNOME desktop

  • Install KDE Plasma Desktop Environment

To install KDE Plasma, execute the command below:

sudo apt install KDE-plasma-desktop

To launch the KDE Plasma, use the command below:

sudo service [your-display-manager] start

Replace ‘your-display-manager’ with your installed display manager, e.g., SLiM, LightDM, SDDM, etc. You will then need to enter your credentials to log in.

KDE
KDE

  • Install Mate Core Server Desktop

Execute the command below on the command-line.

sudo tasksel install ubuntu-mate-core

Once the action is complete, launch the Desktop Interface with the command below.

sudo service [your-display_manager] start

To exit the Graphical Interface, execute the command below:

sudo service display-manager stop

Note: Replace  ‘your-display_manager’ with your installed display manager, e.g., SLiM, LightDM, SDDM, etc.

Mate Core Server Desktop
Mate Core Server Desktop

  • Install Lubuntu Core Server Desktop

Based on the LXDE desktop environment, Lubuntu core is a lightweight GUI you can use for your Ubuntu Server. To install Lubuntu, execute the command below:

sudo tasksel install lubuntu-core

Once installed, start the display manager with the command below:

sudo service [your-display_manager] start

Lubuntu
Lubuntu

  • Install Xubuntu Server Core Desktop

Xubuntu core is a lightweight GUI based on the XFCE Desktop Environment. Execute the command below to start the installation:

sudo tasksel install xubuntu-core

Once the installation is complete, launch Xubuntu core with the command below:

sudo service [your-display_manager] start

Xubuntu core desktop
Xubuntu core desktop

  • Install Xfce Desktop

Note: XFCE is only compatible with the SLiM desktop manager.

You can also install a GUI directly on your Ubuntu Server. The command below will install XFCE4 GUI along with the SLiM display manager. Execute the command below:

sudo apt-get install xfce4 slim

Launch XFCE with the command below:

sudo service slim start

xubuntu xfce
Xubuntu Xfce

Conclusion

From this post, you can see there are so many Graphical User Interfaces available for your server. Here, you shouldn’t go with the phrase “the bigger, the better.” It would be best if you had a GUI that is lightweight and won’t compete for resources with Server services.

Luckily, Ubuntu supports lots of GUI’s and can easily be installed with the apt package manager. If you face any errors or issues while installing your Ubuntu Server GUI, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Arun Kumar
Arun did his bachelor in computer engineering and loves enjoying his spare time writing for FOSS Linux. He uses Fedora as the daily driver and loves tinkering with interesting distros on VirtualBox. He works during the day and reads anything tech at night. Apart from blogging, he loves swimming and playing tennis.

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