How to start GUI on Ubuntu Linux Machine

Updated on March 10, 2022

Earlier I had written an article on How to start GUI on CentOS 8. After this article was read by one of my readers, he asked me to write a similar article for Ubuntu. Typically any Linux servers (CentOS or Ubuntu) don’t provide Graphical User Interface (GUI) as it adds up in RAM & CPU usage. This article explains how to install a desktop and start GUI on Ubuntu Linux machine.

How to Install a desktop and start GUI on Ubuntu


  • Ubuntu Linux Server
  • root access or sudo privileged user access

Update the server

Log in to your Ubuntu Linux Server using SSH and update the server.

root@ubuntu:~# apt update

Install tasksel utility manager

Tasksel is an easy-to-use tool that installs a group of software-related packages as a coordinated “task” onto the system.

root@ubuntu:~# apt-get install tasksel

Install a Desktop Environment on Ubuntu

Select a Display Manager

A display manager is an application responsible for launching a display server and managing user authentication and login session. A few display managers are gdm, gdm3, lightdm, slim, kdm etc., The default gdm3 is the popular display manager for GNOME desktop environment, however, it is a resource-intensive display manager. To conserve system resources, you can install lighter display managers such as lightdm, slim, etc.,

Install display manager

root@ubuntu:~# apt-get install slim

Verify the default display manager

root@ubuntu:~# cat /etc/X11/default-display-manager

Choose a Desktop Environment

Since Ubuntu 17.10, GNOME is the default desktop environment. With more features and a wider community. GNOME 3.36 has a lot to offer in the latest Ubuntu 20.04. Find out from here the various desktop environments available.

Install GNOME Desktop Environment on Ubuntu

root@ubuntu:~# tasksel

Opens a graphical interface. Use arrow keys to scroll the list and select Ubuntu Desktop(Space key to select).

Ubuntu GNOME desktop vs Ubuntu desktop

Click here to know more on Ubuntu GNOME desktop and Ubuntu desktop

Tasksel - Software Selection Interface

Once selected, press tab to select Ok and press Enter.

Sit back and relax, as the system will take quite a time to install the necessary software (depending on the machine and the internet connection).

Reboot the server

root@ubuntu:~# reboot

After the reboot, a graphical login screen will be displayed by the display manager (In our case Slim).

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  1. Hi Ramya, for the past one week, my Zorin OS boots to command line only, not to desktop (gnome). Seems my personal files were as they were. What to do the system get booted to desktop by default (am new to Linux).

  2. After rebooting I still do not get the GUI. I am trying to install this on an AWS instance. I am new to this and it is for a school project. Verifying the display manager even after reboot shows gdm3. Tasksel says I have Debian desktop environment and … GNOME installed. I am sure my problem is user error. Thanks for the article, I learned a lot from you.

  3. After I select “gnome” I get the error message: debconf: DBDriver “config” could not write /var/cache/debconf/config.dat-new: permission denied tasksel: debconf failed to run.

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