How To Install an Intuitive GUI on Ubuntu Linux Servers


Ubuntu Server is a popular Linux distribution optimized for servers and cloud environments. By default, it runs without a graphical user interface (GUI) which allows it to maximize system resources for critical server tasks. However, there are times when having a GUI can make managing the server easier.

In this article, we will walk through the process of installing and setting up a GUI on Ubuntu Server. We will cover the benefits of adding a GUI, the most popular GUI options for Ubuntu, as well as step-by-step instructions for getting a GUI up and running.

Benefits of Adding a GUI to Ubuntu Server

Here are some of the main benefits of installing a GUI on an Ubuntu Server:

  • Easier visualization of system status and resources: A GUI allows you to easily monitor system resources like CPU, memory, disk usage through intuitive graphs and charts.
  • Simpler software and update management: Installing, updating, and removing software is much easier with a GUI package manager than using apt commands.
  • Convenient remote access: Tools like VNC Server allow remote access through a GUI rather than command line only.
  • Accessibility for less technical users: A GUI environment is more accessible for users less comfortable with the Linux command line.
  • User-friendly configuration: Network configuration, user management, and other sysadmin tasks can be done through easy-to-use GUI tools.

Popular GUI Options for Ubuntu Server

Some of the most popular and user-friendly GUI options for managing an Ubuntu Server include:

  • GNOME: The default desktop environment for Ubuntu. It offers an easy-to-use interface and comprehensive system management tools.
  • KDE Plasma: A highly customizable desktop environment known for its visual appeal and excellent graphical tools.
  • Xfce: A very lightweight yet full-featured desktop environment, making it a great choice for older servers.
  • Ubuntu MATE: Provides an intuitive desktop experience with low system resource demands.
  • LXDE: Extremely lightweight GUI well-suited for underpowered hardware or remote management.

Step-by-Step Guide to Installing a GUI

Follow these steps to install the Xfce GUI on Ubuntu Server:

Update Package Repositories

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade

This fetches metadata for the latest available packages.

Install the Xfce Desktop

sudo apt install xfce4 xfce4-goodies

Xfce and extra plugins/accessories are installed.

Install a Display Manager

sudo apt install lightdm  

LightDM display manager enables logging into the GUI.

Configure LightDM to Start on Boot

sudo systemctl enable lightdm

This automatically starts the display manager when the system boots up.

Reboot the System

sudo reboot

A reboot engages the new GUI setup. The server should now boot to a graphical login prompt.

Accessing the GUI Remotely

To access your Ubuntu server’s new GUI from your local desktop or laptop computer via remote connection, you can use a tool like VNC (Virtual Network Computing).

First, install TightVNC server on your Ubuntu system:

sudo apt install tightvncserver

Then start the VNC server process and set a password:

# Set password

On your local computer, install a VNC client/viewer app. Connect to your Ubuntu server’s IP address and VNC port (5901 by default). Provide the password you set to securely access your Ubuntu server GUI.


Adding an intuitive graphical interface to an Ubuntu server that is traditionally managed through the command line interface can make certain server administration and management tasks much easier. Popular open source desktop environments like Xfce offer an excellent balance of usability and low overhead.

With just a few apt commands and a remote VNC connection, you can unlock the convenience of managing your Ubuntu server visually through its new GUI rather than relying solely on a CLI. This can make your Ubuntu server more accessible to use and monitor.

Additional Resources