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Over the last decade, I've been actively taking steps to reduce my reliance on Windows and switch to Linux as my primary OS. I can hear Izzy enthusiastically cheering!

I'm down to getting rid of my last 3 Windows-only applications, and I'm now engaged in the process of finding a suitable Linux distribution.

Having an OS that fully supports a dark mode (dark theme) is a hard requirement for me. The Windows ecosystem is a nightmare when it comes to supporting a dark mode. I'm hoping to find something much better in the Linux world.

To be dark mode compliant, all elements of the OS and applications running under it must support a dark background with lighter text. Ideally, the user will be able to set the values for these colors, as user-desired contrast plays a key role with dark user interfaces.

A key necessity is not having some user interface elements that are illegible or impossible to discern due to dark on dark or light on light elements (over 90% of Windows apps I have tested have this problematic issue).

Gratis is preferred, but not a requirement.

Requirements:

  • Full dark mode support
  • Open-source
  • No telemetry (or telemetry that can easily be fully disabled before the first transmission)
  • Stability for daily use
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You are in luck (or not, depends on how you see it). Most major Linux desktops fully support dark mode. On the other hand that means that you might not really able to base your decision for one or another Linux Distro based upon the support for dark mode. You can install a dark theme on pretty much any Linux Distro.

Dark mode is fully supported by these desktop environments:

This leaves you with a bunch of Linux Distros (all of the listed ones are Open Source):

Note about KDE KDE uses some telemetry, which can be switched off in the Settings. I'm not sure about the default setting though. Source: https://community.kde.org/Telemetry_Use

Note about stable versions If a distro is "stable" is also a question about what you define as stable.

For example, Arch Linux says clearly "It is the user who is ultimately responsible for the stability of their own rolling release system." (https://is.gd/SBoiIO) Arch uses rolling releases, that are snapshots of the current development. I don't have that much experience which Arch, but according to this reddit post, it is not that stable:

Consider "stability" in the sense of "API stability". That means stability is defined by the pace, in which the interface to your system (on whatever level) changes.

I'd say Arch is unstable in that sense. This can be seen easily by looking at the package management of Arch: it used bleeding edge packages, that come almost directly from the upstream, as soon as they release them.

For the user this means he has to adjust configuration files to match the new features, and also (re)learn how to use the application. Here user is quite abstract. If some service depends on a library, then it's a user of that library. Latter is the reason why Arch (tends) not to be used on servers - because if you don't update your machine, you don't get any updates (including security updates), if you do updates, you may have to take care of "breaking" changes ("breaking" is again in the sense of "breaking an API").

Now it's up to you what you do: When updating your system, either you don't adjust your configs and risk breaking your system (as in applications stop working, system is unable to boot anymore, etc.), or you do actual "system maintainance" and adjust your configs against those "breaking API changes".

You can argue that the most stable system would be a system with some LTS version or similar. Ubuntu (and Kubuntu etc.) has LTS Versions. LTS versions are Long Term Support, so the API stability mentions above is pretty stable. You simply don't update the system that often, because they are supported multiple years. I can tell you that Ubuntu LTS is pretty stable, we use it every day at work.

Fedora is a special case regarding stability. It has a normal "stable" Release. Fedora is known as a bleeding edge distro which include many new technology very fast. Fedora has a new release every 6 month, so you have to update regularly. This sounds like the API stability is pretty bad, and yes, probably it is. But Fedora has a kind of LTS Version. You may simply consider Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) if you want to pay a subscription for support, or AlmaLinux, if you don't need enterprise support (AlmaLinux it's fully-binary compatible with Red Hat). Those Distros get every feature of Fedora, if and only if Red Hat decides that it is stable, tested, and useful for enterprise usage. RHEL and AlmaLinux are updated less frequently than Fedora and focus on enterprise users, so they aim to be stable as hell - similar to that LTS thing mentioned above. Since version 8, RHEL and Alma use GNOME, so in theory it should be possible to activate a dark mode, though I can't tell you because I've never used them as a desktop machine.

Note about actual tests about connections during the installation process: Michl Franken (link is german) analysed in a blog entry at 28. May 2021, to which IP's different Distro's where connecting while installing. From the distro's he tested, his conclusion was, that Debian and Fedora were the distros with minimal connections. Arch, EndeavourOS, Manjaro, Garuda, openSUSE, Linux Mint, Ubuntu, and ElementaryOS send one or more unnecessary pings to some servers during installation (he didn't write that this is bad, but Fedora and Debian didn't do that). Worst distro was Ubuntu, because it connected the crash reporter with daisy.ubuntu.com and metrics.ubuntu.com, even if it was set to "manual connection". Michl didn't test RHEL and AlmaLinux, though.

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  • This is very helpful. Thank you. Can you add if all these desktop environments and distros meet the other requirements? Nov 24 '21 at 2:00
  • I edited my answer accordingly! @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket please consider to mark my answer as accepted answer, if you think this is it ;)
    – Micha
    Nov 24 '21 at 3:42
  • Wow, thanks Micha. You've provided excellent and incredibly useful information. More than I imagined, in fact. Ubuntu (with a hardware firewall blocking daisy.ubuntu.com and metrics.unbunto.com) and Mint look like good choices. If you have any experience/knowledge about Mint, please feel free to add that to your answer. In the meantime, answer gratefully upvoted & accepted. Nov 24 '21 at 11:25
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That's a tough one, I am curious for the answers if there are any.

In the meantime I would recommend having a look at Ubuntu Studio 20.10 (the one which introduces Plasma). From my brief look at it it seems to handle dark mode much better than earlier versions. Keep in mind that there won't be a "Dark Mode" switch, you would have to select the appropriate theme in the Settings (and there are dark ones by default I believe).

But I doubt all your requirements like user-settable colors or adjustable contrast will be fulfilled, unless you want to create a theme yourself.

Edit: Turns out, the latest 20.04 LTS release of Ubuntu Studio already has pretty good dark mode support as well.

Here some screenies of it with one of the dark themes (Adwaita-dark), out of the box without any application-specific tweaks:

Ubuntu Studio 20.04 Desktop Dark Mode

Ubuntu Studio 20.04 Libre Office Dark Mode

Ubuntu Studio 20.04 Firefox Dark Mode

As you can see, most apps honour it, but they may also implement their own color scheme - see Audacity. Audacity also has its proper Dark Mode however.

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  • Thanks Sebastian. In Windows, most apps pretty much ignore part or all of the OS theme. Thus, even when creating a Windows dark theme, many applications still appear with bright colors or - worse - they appear with light on light or dark on dark colors. In Linux, when you apply a dark theme, does that dark theme get applied effectively to applications as well? Also, in Windows it's a bit of effort to create a quality dark theme, but I was able to complete (and test) that project in about 2-3 hours. Would it take longer than that in Linux? I'm fine with creating my own theme, if needed. Feb 25 '21 at 3:42
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    Well, usually the theme gets applied to all the applications, yes. Depending on the application however some might look less good. For example, I never liked how Thunderbird and Firefox look with the dark themes on my current Ubuntu Studio. But it also depends on the quality of the theme of course. And then of course there are more and more applications that implement their own dark theme. As to doing your own theme, I guess it's possible since there are plenty of custom themes out there, but I can't say how much work it would be. My guess is it's not quick and simple.
    – Sebastian
    Feb 25 '21 at 20:42
  • Thanks Sebastian. Fortunately, the one application I have wired wonderfully for dark theme is Firefox. It took a lot of code, time, and effort, but I've got it dialed in real good. I've got the Firefox UI 100% complete, and websites at about 99%, which is about as good as is possible given the virtually infinite possibilities of web design. Feb 26 '21 at 1:31

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