Mint's Cinnamon: The Future of the Linux Desktop? (Review)

Mint's Cinnamon: The Future of the Linux Desktop? (Review)

Summary: Can a back to the past Linux desktop win more fans than GNOME 3.x, KDE 4.x, or Ubuntu's Unity or HUD? I think so.

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It s back to the future with Linux Mint GNOME 2.x like Cinnamon desktop.

It's back to the future with Linux Mint's GNOME 2.x like Cinnamon desktop.

Over the last few years, we've seen radical changes to the Linux desktop. Some, despite initial opposition, such as the KDE 4.x re-start, took a while to gain favor, but eventually became popular. Others, such as GNOME 3.x have alienated many users and first Ubuntu's Unity and now it's Head-Up Display (HUD) have not been greeted with overwhelming approval even by hard-core Ubuntu Linux users. So, Linux Mint's developers have decided to go back to the past with a GNOME 2.x style desktop: Cinnamon. So, how well have they done? I give them an "A" for effort, but only a "B" for execution.

To put Cinnamon to the test, I used my faithful old Lenovo ThinkPad R61. This 2008-vintage notebook is powered by a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7500 and has 2GBs of RAM. I also used it on my Dell Inspiron 530S powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800-MHz front-side bus. This PC has 4GBs of RAM, a 500GB SATA (Serial ATA) drive, and an Integrated Intel 3100 GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) chip set.

For the operating system, although Cinnamon will run on Ubuntu 11.10, Fedora 16, OpenSUSE 12.1, Arch Linux, and Gentoo, I elected to run it on its "native" Linux Mint 12. Cinnamon runs on top of GNOME 3.2, but its look and feel comes from GNOME 2.x.

A walk through Mint Linux's new/old Cinnamon desktop (Gallery)

As Clement Lefebvre, Linux Mint's lead developer said when he introduced Cinnamon, "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. GNOME 3.x certainly wasn't the desktop I wanted either so I was very interested in seeing what Mint's programmers would come up with since I've long liked their design work.

My first impression of Cinnamon on both computers was great. It felt just as if I were back using GNOME 2.x. It was really nice to have my good-old GNOME menu back again, and better still that when I was done with a session, I could easily shut it down, suspend, or restart my desktop without the keyboard shenanigans that GNOME 3.x requires.

Cinnamon also has some nice extras added in. For example, I can automatically search in the menu, ala GNOME 3.x, by sub-string when I can't recall exactly where a program is hiding in the menu. A related change is that, unlike GNOME 3.x in this case, when you open a new window it gets the focused by default--instead of, as Lefebvre puts it so well, "appearing in the back with an annoying 'Your window is ready' notification."

You can also once more change your desktop's layout. I, for instance, really like having the menubar at the top of the display instead of at the bottom and Cinnamon lets me set it up that away again. I could also set it with panels at both the top and bottom of the display. There is one small gotcha though: To change the layout you have to set it and then restart Cinnamon.

Cinnamon also has a new configuration tool called "Cinnamon Settings." With it you can switch themes, apply desktop effects, add applets and extensions to your desktop and configure some of the settings of the desktop. You cannot, however, use Gnome 3.x Shell themes in Cinnamon.

Themes are also a little hard to manage in this first "shipping" version of Cinnamon. You still have to go hither and yon to manage them. The theme control problem, fortunately, is already being addressed.

The applets are what I found most interesting. There are optional desktop mini-programs. They are installed by default, but you decide if you want to use them or not. These include an excellent set of accessibility tools; the power to set up a Recent Documents icon on the system tray itself; control over your removable drives and trash; and some basic display tools. I'm already using the Recent Documents control all the time.

That's the good news. Now, here's why I can't get Cinnamon an "A" yet. First, the new animation settings felt really jerky to me. Now, I'm not running Mint 12 on very fast machines, but they're not slow either and I found the Windows effect, even after tuning them, to be just to annoying to be useful.

There are also some bugs in the Cinnamon. For example, the Pidgin, my favorite IM client, icon disappears from time to time. A more noticeable example is that I couldn't add some applications to "Favorites" from within the menu or by using the dconf-editor. Curiously, I could add them to the Desktop or Panel. This is a known problem, and it's already been fixed in the source code. I also see display quirks such as oddly overlapping windows from time to time.

What concerned me the most though is that some applications, the Evolution e-mail client and LibreOffice would sometime freeze up under Cinnamon. I can forgive a lot, but having my e-mail and word processor lock up on me is close to unforgivable. It doesn't happen very often at all, but even once a day or so is really vexing.

Still, these are very early days for Cinnamon, so I'm willing to give this desktop a good solid "B." If Mint continues to improve Cinnamon at the rate it's been going at though it won't be long before Cinnamon will have earned not just an "A" but an "A+" for all GNOME Linux desktop users.

Want to see if you think Cinnamon gets a passing grade? You can download Cinnamon from Mint today.

Related Stories:

Linux Mint releases Cinnamon, GNOME 2.x style desktop

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

Linux users cautiously optimistic about Ubuntu's Head-Up Display desktop

Beyond the desktop: Ubuntu Linux's new Head-Up Display

Linux Mint 12: A Great desktop Linux stays Great

Topics: Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • RE: Mint's Cinnamon: The Future of the Linux Desktop? (Review)

    The linux desktop is dead, you said so yourself. Please, let it go in peace and stop giving linux users false hope. If people really wanted to spend hours compiling and configuring their OS they would, but that is not the case.

    [i]First, the new animation settings felt really jerky to me. [/i]
    I see linux still hasn't resolved those media issues yet, its only been 15 years. Maybe the issue of playing one stuttering sound at a time will get resolved one of these days before linux is gone.

    You made no mention of security so we are going to assume this distro like all other linux distros leaves the telnet port open as well. That's just inviting hackers to own your PC. Based on your less than favorable review of Cinnamon I'll have to pass on it and will not be recommending this distro.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • RE: Mint's Cinnamon: The Future of the Linux Desktop? (Review)

      @Loverock Davidson- Gee, maybe MS can tell them how to use the "blue screen of death".
      timspublic1@...
    • RE: Mint's Cinnamon: The Future of the Linux Desktop? (Review)

      @Loverock Davidson- Fail. Installing any of the main linux distros takes about 30 minutes (5 minutes of user attended setup). No compiling (who does that!?) and very little post-configuration (if any).
      Imrhien
    • The desktop is dead

      Significant Linux growth in this stagnant market is unlikely.<br><br>Whilst I happily use Linux desktops for IT systems (*nix backend), the heavy day-to-day lifting is done on a Mac. The Linux desktop is nowhere near as polished as Mac OS X or Win7, nor are the application available on it.<br><br>For computer science student, server development and the developing world (at least those worried about IP) the Linux desktops are good enough. But they remain a long way off the best in class desktop OSes.<br><br>My guess is Linux will have to settle with embedded, HPC and servers;-)
      Richard Flude
      • "Dead" is the king of bad metaphors.

        I can agree that "Significant Linux growth in this stagnant market is unlikely", but is that really the same as "The desktop is dead"? Do you understand what Dead means?

        Linux is not a business, therefore, it can't be put out of business. It's going to be here after the current market conditions have long since evolved into something else.
        spiderbaby1958
        • Evolution

          The early Internet was used by computer experts, engineers, scientists, and librarians. There was nothing friendly about it. There were no home or office personal computers in those days, and anyone who used it, whether a computer professional or an engineer or scientist or librarian, had to learn to use a very complex system. It has evolved into a much more user friendly environment since then. It didn't happen over night and many people didn't want anything to do with it for a very long time. Now I don't think people know how to survive without it.

          Linux is no exception. It is evolving, It is not there yet but it is getting close. The part I like is that so many people use it every day and don't even realize it is there.

          http://www.zdnet.com/blog/open-source/where-linux-crushes-windows-like-a-bug-supercomputers/9890

          If it was a failure, I could see your point, but since it is such a success, I know it is only a matter of time before people wake up to a new and improved LINUX. Once they get the taste for it, nothing can stop it. Windows had thousands of lines of bad code and crashed when it was first introduced to the public. Linux will be clean, open and FREE by then.

          Windows will just be another ATARI or AMIGA and all the discussions just won't matter any more. Until then, I am going to enjoy it for what it is and know that I was there when it evolved. Just like the Internet.

          Did I mention I am using Linux Mint 13 on a 64 Bit Dell Laptop to write this?
          melsevier
          • Thank you

            Using Debian for 7 years
            debsid
    • RE: Mint's Cinnamon: The Future of the Linux Desktop? (Review)

      @Loverock Davidson-

      Your comments are so over the top do you really expect people to believe you?

      And why do always comment on Linux articles? I thought you said avoid Linux, yet you always take the time to spread some FUD on Linux, which you wouldn't be needing to do if Linux wasn't a threat.
      guzz46
      • RE: Mint's Cinnamon: The Future of the Linux Desktop? (Review)

        @guzz46

        Cut him some slack. He's just doing his job.
        YetAnotherBob
      • Again, no credibility

        This Loverock guy obviously has never used Linux before. He always talks about compiling applications, which makes it obvious he has never actually taken the time to download and install any Linux distribution. This makes any claims by him completely empty, without any substance or means to back them up. I've also seen him post replies, then when it's apparent he is cornered, he will remove his comments.
        Chris_Clay
    • RE: Mint's Cinnamon: The Future of the Linux Desktop? (Review)

      @Loverock Davidson- Dunno about you but I am at this moment installing Ubuntu for someone on his notebook because he requested it. I have done this for many others and none have dropped use of Ubuntu while many of them have almost stopped using Windows except for Windows games.<br><br>As for the Cinnamon desktop, I installed it and am now using Gnome classic with Docky added. The best part of Unity is its Dash which now is missing from Gnome classic. There must be an equivalent of Dash that I can install.<br><br>I am a teacher and the students like Unity a whole lot more than Cinnamon or Gnome. However, between Unity and Docky on the same desktop, they head straight for Docky to launch favourites there.<br><br>From this, I assume that the complaints are from the mature users of the Linux desktop. For the young (and the future), they prefer the colourful icons in Unity and Docky. So, it will be interesting as the future unfolds.<br><br>What I believe will happen is that users will (and I hope continue to) be presented with what desktops they prefer. I put Gnome back in because Unity is a drag when it comes to finding the open windows, and Gnome, with its Windows-like bar at the bottom displaying the open windows, is still the fastest and eaiest way to find and maximize them. This is particularly useful for other users (of Windows) who come in and use Ubuntu for the first time. Also, it's lighter and faster on older computers.
      orionds
      • Who...

        has time to do all this experimentation to find a distro that's "close"? I want to just get in there, do what I need to do with a boatload of different available working programs, and get back out. Does Linux meet all those requirements? No. So why all the straining and hoping that it will? Install Windows 7 and do your WORK! Idealistic fantasies about sticking it to Microsoft don't get the job done.
        Tin_Kicker
        • Odd sentiment

          All the distros are just 'flavors'. It takes a grand total of 1 afternoon for me to install all the things I need for my job, on any distribution... just like Windows. Well, except for the fact that installing software on Linux is miles more convenient.

          Ideals aren't even necessary to appreciate a free Operating System that expands my work capabilities without forcing me to spend money I don't have. I can't afford to be this productive on Windows.
          Garrett Valdivia
    • RE: Mint's Cinnamon: The Future of the Linux Desktop? (Review)

      @Loverock Davidson- <br>Where to start:<br><br>"If people really wanted to spend hours compiling and configuring their OS they would, but that is not the case."<br><br>Spending hours compiling and configuring their OS? Let me see, when was the last time I did that... Oh, never. That's troll fail #1.<br><br>"I see linux still hasn't resolved those media issues yet, its only been 15 years. Maybe the issue of playing one stuttering sound at a time will get resolved one of these days before linux is gone."<br><br>Funny, part of the reason I switched is the massive improvement in sound quality. Any audiophile with trained ears can tell you that Audio sounds better in Linux. When I have to go to my windows boot, I loathe the sound I get from Foobar2000. Stuttering sound? What the heck are you talking about. - Troll fail #2<br><br>"You made no mention of security so we are going to assume this distro like all other linux distros leaves the telnet port open as well. That's just inviting hackers to own your PC. Based on your less than favorable review of Cinnamon I'll have to pass on it and will not be recommending this distro."<br><br>Yes, you are 100% correct, he didn't mention security of the distro. You know why? Because it is not a distro!!! You obviously do not have the sense that God gave a mule or else you would of realized that he was talking about a Desktop Shell. Troll fail #3. <br><br>Have a nice day.
      dubbac
      • Why...

        should I even have to consider that it's a shell or a distro? Who cares? It should just work without all the posturing and grasping and finagling. Which I've NEVER had to do with Windows.
        Tin_Kicker
        • Because

          This article is for people who want to care about shells, not for you.
          If people want stuff to just work they could just go for Mint or Ubuntu, hassle-free.
          15israellai
    • RE: Mint's Cinnamon: The Future of the Linux Desktop? (Review)

      @Loverock Davidson- <br><br>Was the last time you tried the Linux desktop in 1996 ? Most Linux desktop users don't compile anything these days....<br><br>Given a blank machine it's far far far quicker to install a version of Linux than windows7 - For a start you don't have to reboot about 20 times whilst installing various drivers... (I mean a fresh install on Windows btw not a pre-installed OEM version.) <br><br>I am running Arch and Opensuse and Ubuntu at home/work - NONE leave the telnet port open. - Do A fresh install of Ubuntu then nmap it and you will see NOTHING IS OPEN - unlike Windows.<br><br>Given the recent developments in the Linux desktop - Cinnamon, KDE4.8 (the best imo) and Ubuntu's HUD the Linux desktop is more alive now than ever before.<br><br>What recent development are there in the Windows desktop.... Windows 8 is looking a but similar to unity if you ask me...
      morgancoxuk@...
      • +1

        I really wonder how he came up with that. What, compiling an OS? Arch and Gentoo maybe, but mostly not. He's severely outdated.
        15israellai
    • RE: Mint's Cinnamon: The Future of the Linux Desktop? (Review)

      @Loverock Davidson-
      Every startup deserves a chance. UBUNTU had it and now is on the way to fully abandoning the desktop. UBUNTU will have servers, tablets, and will send you to Debian for the classical desktop development environment.

      So, if Mint can hang in a bit, Mint may win the UBUNTU desktop users who cannot make the move to tablets.
      lsatenstein@...
      • RE: Mint's Cinnamon: The Future of the Linux Desktop? (Review)

        @lsatenstein@... So you and seven others have elected to feed well known troll Loverock Davidson? Keep feeding him and he'll never go away.
        colinmeister