How to Install a GUI on Ubuntu

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two guys looking at an ubuntu screen

Are you planning to use the Ubuntu server for your business? It is one of the most popular open-source Linux-based operating systems in the world. It’s easy to use, and a vast open-source application ecosystem supports it. Linux-based servers are not only used for running tasks in the background; you can use them for running rich, graphical applications too. For that, you would need to install a GUI (graphical user interface) on your server.

In this quick tutorial, we’ll take you through the steps on how to install a GUI on Ubuntu.

System Requirements

Here are the system requirements and system resources you would need for this tutorial:

  • A ServerMania Hybrid or Dedicated Server
  • Ubuntu server 20.04 operating system
  • Access to a user account with sudo or root privileges
  • 1.0 GHz Dual Core Processor
  • 20 GB hard drive space
  • 1 GB RAM

Although the requirements depend on the expected traffic flow to your website, we have documented whatever bare minimum you would need to get started on the Ubuntu System Requirements page.

For upgrading, check ServerMania’s range of offerings, and for hosting Ubuntu 20.04 on a ServerMania server, see Hosting Ubuntu on ServerMania.

Configure Ubuntu 20.04

Step 1: Log into Ubuntu Server

Log in using your root password for the Ubuntu instance using the following command:

root@localhost:~# ssh root@servermania_server_ip

Alternatively, you can use SSH (secure shell) keys to perform a passwordless login. As a best practice, do not use the root user for performing administrative tasks. Create another user. 

Step 2: Update & upgrade apt-get packages

Update and upgrade the apt-get package manager using the following command:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade

Running this command makes sure that you have the latest packages and repositories updated in your package manager.

Install a Display Manager (Desktop Environment)

In the Linux ecosystem, you need a software called the display manager, enabling you to see the Ubuntu server GUI login screen for your chosen Linux OS.

Once you log into the desktop using the display manager, the display manager turns control over to the window manager, where GNOME, KDE, etc., comes into the picture.

Step 1: Using sudo apt-get install to Install LightDM

First, let’s install one of the most widely used display managers called LightDM using the following command:

sudo apt-get install lightdm

Similar to LightDM, there are many other options you can choose from, such as GDM, SDDM, LDM, and so on.

Your choice of a DM (display manager) should consider the resources that will be consumed by it, the flexibility in configuration that’s possible, and the extent of community support for issues and bug fixes.

Step 2: Starting the LightDM service

Once LightDM is installed on your system, you can run the following command to start the LightDM service to handle the display controls over to the window manager.

sudo systemctl start lightdm


Install Ubuntu Server GUI

Step 1: Install Tasksel

You have to choose whether to install GUI (graphical user interface) just using apt or apt-get or to use a more advanced tool called tasksel, enabling you to do the installation quicker by installing multiple packages in one coordinated process separate tasks. We’ll be using tasksel for the installation:

sudo apt-get install tasksel

And if you're using apt instead of apt-get, you can use the following command:

sudo apt install tasksel

Step 2: Install Desktop Environment

Once tasksel manager is installed, you can go ahead with the installation of one of the many available desktop environments; in our case, we'll install GNOME Desktop, which is the default environment for Ubuntu server, using the following command:

sudo tasksel install ubuntu-desktop

You can also run the following command and select the software to install from a predefined collection of software:

tasksel

When prompted, choose Ubuntu desktop to install the chosen desktop environment.

Use the space key to choose the desktop environment to be installed; hit the tab key to move the focus from the list of software to the OK button at the bottom, and hit enter.

If everything went right, doing this should trigger a reboot, and you will see a login screen generated by LightDM, our chosen display manager (desktop environment).

Alternatively, you can also run the following sudo apt-get command to install ubuntu-desktop without using tasksel:

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop

You can use the aforementioned apt-get command for installing any of the popular desktop environments.

Step 3: Install multiple GUIs

Installing more than one GUI is straightforward to install more than one GUI on the Ubuntu server.

You can choose to switch between different GUIs by pressing the F1 key; doing that will toggle between GUI sessions. Apart from the GNOME, there are several other well-maintained GUIs that you can choose from, such as Xfce core server desktop, Xubuntu core server desktop, Lubuntu core server desktop, Cinnamon core server desktop, Budgie core server desktop, Mate core server desktop, KDE core server desktop, Kubuntu core server desktop, and so on.

Changing the GUI on Ubuntu doesn’t change the installation process by a lot if you’re using tasksel. For example, if you want to install Xubuntu GUI, you can do that using the following command:

sudo tasksel install xubuntu-desktop

Notice that this command is the same as the command you ran to install the GNOME desktop, except that you’re now installing Xubuntu-desktop instead of ubuntu-desktop.

Some of the similar commands to install different GUIs are listed below:

sudo tasksel install lubuntu core
sudo tasksel install ubuntu mate

Note that multiple GUIs are completely optional.

Step 4: Reboot

Once you’re done with the installation, you must reboot your system to pick up that the interface has changed.

reboot

If, however, your system doesn’t prompt a GUI and still returns you to the command-line interface for any reason, please run the following command to set the default interface on your system once and for all.

sudo systemctl set-default graphical.target

This command will ensure that your Ubuntu system defaults to the newly installed graphical target for the GUI.

Remote Access to GUI

It's an everyday use case to access your Ubuntu machine remotely. If you want to do that, you'll need to install a remote desktop application like Xrdp. You can use the following command to do that:

sudo apt-get install xrdp

After installing the remote desktop application, you would need to add it to the ssl-cert group. You can do that by running the following command:

sudo adduser xrdp ssl-cert

Now, you should be good to remotely connect to your freshly installed Ubuntu desktop with a GUI using port 3389.

Conclusion

In this tutorial, you learned how to install a GUI on an Ubuntu operating system. Having a rich interface opens a world of possibilities in the open-source world with many applications for business users, developers, accountants, and others. After completing the install GUI procedure on your Ubuntu operating system, you will have the best of both worlds - the CLI and the GUI.

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