I love a good desktop environment. And I really love any desktop environment that not only attempts to make interaction with PCs user friendly with a modern nod to design. This is one of the main reasons I spent so many years with elementaryOS as my go-to Linux distribution. Eventually, I moved on from that desktop and landed on Pop!_OS (partially due to the purchase of a System76 Thelio desktop). Pop!_OS and the COSMIC desktop offers just the right mix of performance, efficiency and modern design.

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But every so often, I get that old itch to consider a different desktop environment. So, when I happened upon a brand new (as in “still very much in beta”) desktop environment, named Cutefish, I had to take a look.

At first glance, I knew this interface had the makings of something special. Although it’s far from ready for the masses, Cutefish is already showing it could be something the competition should be concerned about.

This is one beautiful desktop … like, “Deepin what?” beautiful.

Cutefish is built with Qt Quick and is a straight-up reminder of macOS—which, from my perspective, is not a bad thing. Apple has done several things right, one of which is the macOS desktop. And although Cutefish isn’t a clone of Apple’s vaunted interface, it’s still reminiscent. But then again, any desktop that offers a dock (as opposed to a taskbar), smacks of macOS (it’s the reason so many compare elementaryOS to macOS).

Of course, as I mentioned, Cutefish is not ready for the masses. In fact, the developers haven’t even created their own distribution. At the moment, Cutefish is available as an install for either Arch Linux or Manjaro, or you can download a testing version of Manjaro that includes Cutefish pre-installed. I first installed Cutefish on Manjaro and found it an absolute slogfest to get it to work properly. This version was ridiculously slow and often unresponsive.

But for those with a running instance of Manjaro, you can always install Cutefish and see if you have a different experience. The install command is:

sudo pacman -S cutefish

I wouldn’t recommend going that route, however. Instead, download the pre-built version and spin up a virtual machine. This way you get the full-on Cutefish experience, without the slogfest.

Even when you go the route of the full-blown Manjaro release, remember, this desktop is very early in the development process. So, everything should be viewed through the lens of understanding … as in, understand that things probably won’t work as expected. That said, I’m really loving this desktop. Yes, it’s lacking some features, but what Cutefish does is prove that a Linux desktop can be absolutely spot on with what users want and need. Out of the box, Cutefish includes a floating dock and a top panel. You can easily add applications to the dock by opening the app, right-clicking the icon in the dock and selecting Pin. This is as user-friendly a desktop as I’ve ever used. It’s fast, and it’s simple (Figure A).

Figure A

The default Cutefish desktop is simple and immediately accessible.

As for the top panel, it doesn’t do much (yet), but on clicking the system tray opens a popup that allows you to control sound, wireless, Bluetooth, dark mode and the power options (Figure B).

Figure B

The system tray popup menu is as well-designed as the rest of the Cutefish desktop.

Very much like elementaryOS, Cutefish doesn’t have much in the way of included software. You’ll find the Firefox web browser, Kate text editor, Konsole terminal window, a PDF viewer, a Bluetooth manager, a settings tool and a software center. All of these apps can be found from within a rather GNOME-like Application Overview (Figure C).

Figure C

The Cutefish application menu is similar to what GNOME offers.

Unfortunately, the Manjaro Cutefish edition doesn’t play well with VirtualBox resizing, so everything is jammed into a rather small display (which is why everything looks larger than it should). Even with this caveat, Cutefish is as adorable as the name implies.

Although Cutefish is in heavy early development, this desktop interface has caught my attention. If the developers continue with their current trajectory, they’ll have something very special on their hands. I do hope, however, they will opt to offer this desktop on more distributions than just Arch and Manjaro. It would be a shame for new-to-Linux users to miss out on this outstanding desktop, simply because the underlying distribution is a bit too challenging for the less-than-skilled. And although Manjaro does make Arch a bit more accessible to those without years of Linux under their belt, it’s no Ubuntu or Mint.

I would highly recommend you keep your eyes out for this desktop. The second that Cutefish is finally released for the masses, it could make serious waves.

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