Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork

Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork

Summary: GNOME 3.2 keeps losing fans so leading Linux desktop distribution Mint turns its attention to forking the GNOME shell into a GNOME 2.x like desktop: Cinnamon.


Cinnamon: Linux Mint s new GNOME-based Linux desktop interface.

Cinnamon: Linux Mint's new GNOME-based Linux desktop interface.

GNOME is continuing to lose users and supporters. Its developers can say what they will about this Linux desktop's advantages, most people, including Linus Torvalds himself, dislike the new GNOME 3.x interface. Many Linux users, like myself, simply find GNOME 3.x to be far more trouble than it's worth. Now, Clement “Clem” Lefebvre, leader of the popular Linux Mint distribution has also had enough of GNOME 3.x and is creating a more user friendly GNOME shell: Cinnamon.

As Lefebvre explained, "I'm not going to argue whether Gnome Shell is a good or a bad desktop. It's just not what we're looking for. The user experience the Gnome team is trying to create isn't the one we're interested in providing to our users. There are core features and components we absolutely need, and because they're not there in Gnome Shell, we had to add them using extensions with MGSE [Linux Mint Shell Extensions for Gnome 3]."

MGSE is not enough though. Lefebvre continued, "The extension system in Gnome Shell is handy but core parts of a desktop need to be able to communicate with each others and be integrated properly. The Gnome development team is not interested in the features we implemented, it's opposed to adding them to Gnome Shell, and it doesn't share our vision of a desktop. In other words, our work on Gnome 3 does not influence the development of Gnome Shell, Gnome Shell isn't going in a direction that is suitable for us, and we're not interested in shipping Gnome Shell 'as is,' or in continuing with multiple hacks and extensions."

Mint hasn't had an easy road of it. In an attempt to please everyone tried to provide users with pure GNOME 3.2, MATE and GNOME 3.2 with the MGSE extensions. Fully supporting three different desktops wouldn't be easy for any company, never mind a community Linux distribution like Mint.

The Three Faces of Linux Mint Photo Gallery

So it is that Cinnamon, currently an alpha program under the GPLv2, is being worked on by the Mint developers to eventually become one of Mint's main Linux desktop interface choices. Cinnamon is not though, like the MATE project, a GNOME 2.x fork that seeks to walk away from GNOME 3.x's core. Instead, Cinnamon as, Lefebvre states in the Cinnamon project README file:

Cinnamon provides core user interface functions for the GNOME 3 desktop … The desktop layout is similar to Gnome 2. The underlying technology is forked from Gnome Shell. The emphasis is put on making users feel at home and providing them with an easy to use and comfortable desktop experience.

Speaking specifically about MATE, Lefebvre stated, "MATE is different. It just needs time to mature but it provides what most of our Gnome 2 users want. We're currently working on releasing version 1.2.0 (which unstable release is in testing at the moment). I personally have high hopes for MATE and whatever we do with Cinnamon, it's comforting people still have the choice to run what is now coming really close to what Gnome 2 was."

Lefebvre is hedging his, and the Linux desktop community's bets, by simultaneously pushing forward with Cinnamon. He explained, Cinnamon "starts with a stable fork of Gnome Shell 3.2.1 and the features present in MGSE. It works well and it's already a better implementation of what we want from a desktop than Gnome Shell and MGSE. Its aim isn't to reproduce exactly Gnome 2, like MATE does, but to innovate and do something new..."

Lefebvre continued, "By new, I don't mean new paradigms. There's a new generation of desktops out there, including Gnome Shell and Unity. These desktops are shiny, they look good and they're slowly gaining popularity. They're based on new and exciting technologies but they also come with a cost... they're re-inventing the way we use our computer. It's neither right or wrong of course, but it will only appeal to a certain category of users.. and there are a lot of people out there, myself included, who aren't convinced the traditional desktops were bad and who are concerned about not having a choice as more and more people switch towards these new technologies."

In other words, Cinnamon, like Ubuntu's Unity, use GNOME 3.x' under the hood technology but it provides users with an entirely different desktop interface. Unlike Unity though, which took its own unique tablet-like take on the desktop, Cinnamon is an attempt to recreate the popular GNOME 2.x style desktop with a GNOME 3.x engine.

He concluded, "If I had to summarize all of this, I'd simply tell you: We pick the best components for our releases, but if we don't find what we're looking for, we get involved. Gnome Shell isn't what we want and we can't change it to our liking. The one thing we want for Linux Mint 13 is a desktop people can use and say 'this is better than Gnome 2.' It's ambitious, we made the first steps with MGSE, but more work is needed and we won't achieve this goal simply by writing extensions."

No, Mint will only do it by creating its own GNOME 2.x style interface. I wish them luck with this project. I've pretty much given up on GNOME 3.x becoming a viable desktop for me and while I like the idea of MATE, I'm not sure it will have broad enough support to become a viable, long-term choice. Cinnamon, by building on the foundation of GNOME 3.2, could well be the desktop that I and other GNOME 2.x fans have been waiting for. I hope so. I really do.

Related Stories:

Linux Mint 12: A Great desktop Linux stays Great

Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

Installation and First Run: Mint 12

The Three Faces of Linux Mint

New Desktop Interface Flops

Topics: Open Source, Hardware

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  • RE: Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork

    I used to use Debian Testing and moved to Linux Mint Debian when Testing switched to Gnome 3. I find Gnome 3 is almost unusable. I'm worried that if Linux Mint Debian finally switches to Gnome 3 I will have to go back to OSX or Windows.
    • RE: Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork

      @SamCrawford_z - The latest news on LMDE has Gnome3/Cinnamon and MATE coming in Update Pack 4. Not to worry though. Clem is now the project leader of the MATE development as well the project leader for Mint and the Cinnamon DE so MATE and Cinnamon will be well fleshed out by the time Linux Mint 13 and Update Pack 4 for LMDE roll around.
    • No need to go that far

      I switched from Gnome to XFCE and am I quite happy with the latter. And there's always KDE, which works in much the same way Gnome 2 did.
      John L. Ries
      • RE: Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork

        Same here I used KDE in beginning then moved to Gnome 2 and liked it. Now with Gnome 3 I have moved to Xfce and its great. Lightweight and clean. I don't need a heavy window mgr chewing up CPU cycles and trying to change the way I work.
    • RE: Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork


      Mint Cinnamon? Okay, go on adding 13-14 apps to the "favorites" and see where your menu goes? See whether you can reach the 15th and above!
      Forking is good, if you know what you really want.
      Just to satisfy some people, Linux Mint went Cinnamon, but would get more haters than lovers.
      Clem should decide what he really wants and do it!
  • I like Gnome 3. I also have no problem with 2.

    Gnome 3 is more futuristic and takes some time to get used to, but even my family is transitioning to it. Gnome 2 is similar to classic XP.<br><br>I'm using Mint 12 from a Pico-C flash drive which I can bring up on any computer that boots from a USB flash drive.<br><br>I recently gave Mint 12 to 2 college students to use (without giving them any instruction) and they both had no problems with Gnome 3 and like it a lot.

    Aside from finding a few commands, I don't see the problem with it. In fact, selecting open windows works very well.
  • RE: Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork

    I couldn't get the latest Mint to install on my netbook do to a minor issue. I gave up and just went with Ubuntu. Once I got it into my head to think tablet rather than PC I decided I love it. In fact I now spend more time on the netbook than my windows laptop. I think of my kids, who spend hours a day on their smart phones, and speculate that they will not have a big problem with Windows 8.
  • RE: Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork

    I couldn't get the latest Mint to install on my netbook do to a minor issue. I gave up and just went with Ubuntu. Once I got it into my head to think tablet rather than PC I decided I love it. In fact I now spend more time on the netbook than my windows laptop. I think of my kids, who spend hours a day on their smart phones, and speculate that they will not have a big problem with Windows 8.
  • I applaud Clem for forking Gnome Shell and Mate

    The beauty of GPL is that anyone who feels the need to do so can fork a code base to their own liking, as it should be.

    We can expect more of this thinking going forward as others take matters into their own hands and seize control of their own destiny.

    Having the choice not to accept what others choose for us is no less important and Clem isn't standing for the current situation. It is unacceptable.

    Best of Luck to the Linux Mint Developer Community.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • Whats the story on Gnome 3?

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate

      So far I have heard NO ONE who likes gnome 3. What are the politics, or whatever, behind this software which seems to have NO support that I have observed.
      • Good question

        Looks to me like a case of progress for its own sake, or maybe a couple of "weavers" sold the Emperor a new wardrobe. What's surprising has been the willingness of distributors to go along.
        John L. Ries
      • RE: Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork

        @dfolk2 there are a number of people, including me, who like gnome shell. unfortunately, for any given product, people who hate it are more vocal than who find it useful. gnome shell is a perfect fit for me, i find it efficient and non distracting. however, i do not talk about it on every other page. so therefore, for every SJVN who posts 4-5 articles talking about utterly bad gnome shell is there is a user like me who finds it useful and continues to use it without making a point about it a number of times.
      • RE: Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork

        @dfolk2 At first, I didn't like Gnome3, but after facing the fact that progress is ineviable, I began to forge ahead using Gnome3 with Fedora 16. I now have a completely usable Gnome3 desktop. Not as fancy as my old Compiz-fusion driven Fedora 14 desktop, but I think, in time, Gnome3 will be more powerful with better integration. The Gnome3 development team says they have a vision, so for now, I will take them at their word, and give them some time to prove it.
        • progress?

          Sorry but in what sense is Gnome 3 progress? Just because something follows something else chronologically does not automatically indicate progress. We never used to have Global warming, but it is not progress.
      • GNOME 3 = AWESOME

        I love GNOME 3, it makes development and web browsing so much easier and with the extension support and ability to create applications using JavaScript, whats not to like??
  • RE: Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork

    So wait, you're happy when Apple loses a patent battle and happy when there is yet another fork of yet another integral project that will yet again slice the Linux pie even smaller and yet again make it more insignificant?

    USERS - everybody but you and the people who post here and on Slashdot, ARS Technica, etc - and I should actually say CONSUMERS don't care, that's why they buy Apple and Microsoft. Its all about branding and marketing. Year of the Linux Desktop aint going to happen until my stepbrother asking me for Battlefield 3 on Linux which aint going to happen as long as there is no standard in Linux windows managers or libraries. Anyhow, you're still getting paid to right about it so I've got to give you props for that.
    • Agreed


      Too much choice leaves consumers frustrated. Sometimes you have to persuade them which is the better method, especially when it comes to UI. Users can adapt. Saying they shouldn't have to is as helpful as not providing an instruction manual. Not having a standardized UI in Linux is one of the main reasons why it's just a mess.
      • RE: Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork

        @Joe_Raby <br>Gnome is the standard desktop for a number of Linux Distros.
    • RE: Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork

      I am sure you meant 'write'? While gaming is a show stopper for many people, I do prefer to have choice. I do not mind Linux having smaller, but more educated user space as long as it is large enough to have all the hardware drivers.
      Actually it would be perfect if a particular Linux distro pushes into the double digits and having multiple other distros that are better suited for more serious work. Perhaps Android is the one....
      • RE: Linux Mint's Cinnamon: A GNOME 3.x shell fork

        You might want to check out Desura for your Linux gaming fix. They have tons of games there.