By default, Ubuntu Server comes with the essential apps and service you need for your server, without apps like a browser, an office suite etc. After our post featuring the best Linux distros for gaming, and us being a hosting/server-related website, we got quite a few requests to publish a post about Linux (Ubuntu) server GUIs. So, here it is.
Before we start with anything, some things you need to know:
- It’s strongly recommended that you don’t use a GUI (Graphical User Interface) for your Ubuntu Server. All Linux server distros were meant to be used via their Command Line Interface (CLI). Installing any GUI on your server will just increase the hardware requirements (more RAM, more CPU power etc.).
- Check with your hosting provider, they may not allow you to install a GUI/desktop environment as you can create a big load on their servers.
- If you are a beginner and don’t know how to run an Ubuntu server, you should get a Managed VPS. Installing a GUI won’t help you (that much).
- If you know what you are doing and just want to test server GUIs, go with a cheap unmanaged VPS. Vultr offer a $2.5 per month VPS.
So when it comes to server GUIs for Ubuntu, you are left with several choices:
Ubuntu Server Control Panels
With a control panel, you’ll get a GUI on your server, and a proper one. You can manage your server’s resources, websites, FTP accounts, e-mails etc. If you really need a GUI for your server, you should use a control panel.
Webmin is the most popular open source control panel. It’s easy to install, easy to use, and has a beautiful GUI that you can use to manage your Ubuntu server. You can create databases, users, emails, manage DNS, manage services on your server and more. Everything you need for your server in an intuitive GUI.
If you want to install it, go to our tutorial: How to Install Webmin on Ubuntu 16.04.
If Webmin’s not your cup of tea, there are alternatives:
VestaCP has a modern GUI for your Ubuntu Server and it has many features that you can use to manage it. The installation couldn’t be easier – you can do it with a single command! VestaCP’s minimum requirements are so low that you can run it on a $2.5 per month Vultr VPS with 512MB RAM.
There are even more alternatives that you can use as a GUI for your server. Our “honorable mentions” are: ISPConfig, Ajenti, Froxlor and Sentora. So take a look at each control panel and choose the one that you like the most. Each one has a beautiful GUI and is easy to use.
Note that cPanel, the most popular (paid) control panel, is intentionally not included in this post as cPanel can only run on a CentOS server, and this post is not for CentOS GUIs. Check our CentOS vs Ubuntu comparison to see the differences between the two.
If you really want a “desktop version” on your Ubuntu VPS, you’ll need to install a desktop environment.
Desktop Environment For Your Ubuntu Server
Much like control panels, you also have several options for desktop environments.
The default Ubuntu desktop environment
Essentially, you’ll install the “desktop version” of Ubuntu on your Ubuntu server.
You can install it with a single command:
sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends ubuntu-desktop
This command above installs the minimal version of Ubuntu Desktop (no additional apps and services). It takes up less time, less disk space and fewer server resources.
If you’re feeling naughty and want to go full Ubuntu Desktop, install it with the following command:
sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop
This can take a while. After the desktop environment is installed, you’ll either get a login prompt or you need to restart your server and you’ll get a GUI.
Lightweight desktop environments
If you really had to use a desktop environment on your server, you should go with a lightweight one. That way you won’t need that many resources and you’ll still have a “desktop on your server”.
One of the most popular lightweight desktop environments. It doesn’t need a lot of resources and you’ll still get a GUI on your Ubuntu server. You can install the Xubuntu (XFCE) desktop environment with the following command:
sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop
Wait a while for the installation to finish and reboot your server.
A very lightweight Linux distro based on Ubuntu. It uses the LXDE desktop environment and it can be used on an Ubuntu server. Install it with the following command:
sudo apt-get install lubuntu-desktop
There are many other desktop environments that you can try out. GNOME, Budgie, LXLE, Unity etc. Pick the one that looks the best to you and go with it. Although, again, it’s not recommended to use a desktop environment on your server.