Hands-on with Mint Cinnamon's Hot Corners

Hands-on with Mint Cinnamon's Hot Corners

Summary: Investigating a powerful and flexible feature in the latest Mint Cinnamon desktop - with multiple displays.


The idea of "Hot Corners" has been gaining in popularity for some time now. The first time I recall seeing it in a major distribution was when Gnome 3 was released, and of course the other major example of its use today is in Windows 8. 

The concept is pretty simple — do something at one of the corners of the screen, and some action will result. What is interesting in this case is the flexibility of the implementation in the Cinnamon desktop.

The Hot Corners configuration screen is found in the System Settings group, and can be reached either by right-clicking on the bottom panel and choosing All Settings, or in the Preferences section of the Mint Menu.

Hot Corners
The Linux Mint Hot Corners Control

Each corner of the screen may have an action associated with it; by default, though, none of them are active, so a lot of users don't even know that this capability exists in Cinnamon. I guess that is better than having them active by default, and the user is left to wonder what the heck is going on the first time they hit a corner and something new and unexpected pops up. In the control screen, if a hot corner is active the shaded area is green; if it is not active, it is pink.

The action associated with the corners can be individually configured so that you only have to move the mouse to the corner to initiate the action, or you actually have to click an icon in the corner to initiate the action — or neither of these, in which case the corner is not "Hot".

There are four possible actions which can be assigned to any corner:

  • Show (and Select) workspaces
  • Show (and Select) windows
  • Show the desktop
  • Run a command (you get to specify what command)

These are not exclusive; you can assign the same action to more than one corner. So one possibility I have seen in use is to have both top corners display/select Workspaces, and both bottom corners display/select Windows. Of course, in the extreme case you could assign a different action to each corner.

Okay, that's the theory but what about the reality? What I really wanted to talk about in this post is some things I have found in my own use of this feature.

I always use auto-hide on the bottom panel, so it gets out of the way when I don't need it. This has some interaction with the bottom hot corners — moving the mouse to the bottom of the screen should bring up the hidden panel, but if moving the mouse to one of the corners of the bottom of the screen should do something else, well, which one of those things "wins"?

First, if you select "Icon visible" to enable click for hot corners, the icon(s) actually overlay the panel. That may look a bit confusing, but it actually still works ok, the area just around the icon becomes the Hot Corner click surface, and going there with the mouse does not bring up the panel. 

If you select "Hover Enabled", the very tip of the corner becomes the Hot Corner activation point and does not bring up the panel. You can see this by moving the cursor to the edge of the screen and then sliding it down to the corner, the hidden panel doesn't come up. But if you switch from Hover to Click enabled and do the same thing, the panel comes up when you get to the bottom of the screen.

That's all pretty cool, and from a programmer's standpoint I find it impressive that the Mint developers were able to implement all of this in such a logical way. From a user's standpoint, though, I doubt if I would use Hot Corners together with hiding the panel.

It has also been interesting to see how this works with multiple displays. Hot Corners only exist on the "Primary" display — that makes sense, it was the most obvious of the three options I could think of (the others were identical hot corners on every corner of every display, or only on the "outermost" four corners of however you have the multiple displays arranged).

This can make it a bit challenging or surprising if you have "Hover" enabled on whichever two corners border between the two displays. For most people, until now "Hover" has meant "slam the mouse over to the corner", but when you have multiple displays, doing that on the border where the second display sits will just send the cursor flying off to the other display, usually without triggering whatever the hot corner is supposed to do.

Here is a screen shot of the dual-display setup on my desktop system:

Hot Corners with Dual Displays

Wow.  Okay, that clearly needs some explanation. First, I don't normally use that wallpaper — I think it would make me nauseous pretty quickly if I did. I am only using it here because it has a bit more contrast with the white Hot Corner icons. Second, the laptop display is 1280x800, and the external monitor is 1920x1080, thus the difference in size (and the black area) that you see in this combined screenshot. Third, if you squint really hard at this picture, you can just about make out the icons in the four corners of the laptop screen. If I switch to having the external monitor as the Primary, those four icons move over to it.

So in the specific case of this screen layout, with the laptop screen as primary and the external display to the right of it, getting the two Hot Corners at the right side of the laptop display to trigger can be a bit more difficult because it is easy to overshoot them.

What about the actual functions triggered by Hot Corners, when used with multiple displays?  When you hit the "Show all Workspaces" function, everything is shown on the Primary screen:

Show Workspaces
Show all Workspaces - Multiple Displays

Oh, and by the way you can hit the "+" at the right edge of the screen to add a new workspace.

When you hit the "Show all Windows" function, the windows are shown on their respective displays:

Hot Windows
Show all Windows - Multiple Displays

That pretty much makes sense too. You can select any window here and the display will return to normal with that window active. But if you just want to get out of this function, without selecting a window (ie, you got here because you hit a corner by mistake), you have to hit the corner again or hit the Esc key, because just clicking the background doesn't do it.

The "Show Desktop" function works exactly the same way as the equivalent button on the Cinnamon task bar (and many others) — it minimises all open windows. If you hit it again, it restores the open windows — and the state of the windows is kept, so it only restores those that were open originally, it doesn't pop open every window.

Finally, the "Run a Command" function does exactly that. The trick here is that if you want to interact with it, or see the output of it, then you have to run a GUI-compatible program. That means, for example, if you want a shell you can't just run bash, you have to run something like gnome-terminal. You could bind firefox to get quick/easy access to a browser. Things like that.

So that pretty much covers it for Hot Corners. Not terribly complicated, but very useful and wonderfully flexible and configurable. I generally have mine set up with Workspace and Windows on the top corners, Desktop on the bottom left and Run gnome-terminal on the bottom right. 

But I've been thinking about something different while writing this. Wouldn't it be extremely cool to combine something like the PCLinuxOS Full Monty distribution with Cinnamon and Hot Corners? Having all those wonderful predefined workspaces, and all those wonderful applications, with such an easy and convenient method for switching and selecting between them? Could be nice...

Further reading

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • Re: Hands-on with Mint Cinnamon's Hot Corners....

    Now that's revolutionary. NOT.
    • i cant remember

      It is either one of the win9xs or XP had configurable hot corners in it...

      So long ago must have been one of the 9xs - whichever one they introduced the crazy assed 'Active Desktop' on (that thing we all ridiculed at the time - and now Android fans love but call Widgets)
    • Nothing revolutionary about it...

      This is nothing more than the resurrection of the old mezzo desktop proclaimed to be an awesome new desktop concept included on the Symphony OS back roughly 2005 (?)
      Back then I thought it was different, but more of an idea looking for a excuse to exist, rather than a solution to a problem...
    • Especially since it has been there a long time

      But the writer didn't claim it's revolutionary. He just states how much he appreciates the functionality.
  • HATE Hot Corners

    Hot Corners first came about with screen savers like After Dark, if I remember it rightly, and we all HATED it, even though the hot corner was top right. Granted, screens were smaller, but I don't see how this is going to be any better, especially for the top left and bottom left corners, if you have a launcher/dock/etc. over there.

    Hot corners just frustrate users.
  • What is really cool!!

    If you turn OFF the hot corners and tweet the accessibility settings and the things in the panel, you can make a desktop that is so much like an XP desktop,, that an elderly person that doesn't have the money or the patience to get and learn all the fancy stuff will find almost instantly usable.

    Look at how their XP desktop was set-up and put things that do the same thing in the same places and they are off and running with almost no learning curve.

    If you do the Cinnamon on Mageia you can easily give them familiar games if they want them and if they watch you get the games, they will be able to get more games if they want them. The down side to Mageia is that the Video Codecs are way out of date and newer videos won't play. The Video Codecs in Mint are usually only 2-3 months behind.

    That would be an interesting article. Video in Linux and how to get the Codecs.
  • Hot corners are awkward (to me)

    Hot corners seem cool........ OK.... But the reality is that It is inconvenient to be mousing all over when a simple right click can bring up a menu wherever you are. It was one of the features of Gnome 3 that drove me to Mate...... that and removing the desktop as a usable work area. These are features with a niche appeal......... There was an excellent workable desktop and graphical interface..........was there a good reason to trash it and move to something completely new? Cinnnamon thankfully gives users a choice in the matter...... unlike Gnome 3! I'll never willingly use Gnome 3!!
  • "removing the desktop as a usable work area" (in Gnome3)

    Use gnome3 tweak-tool to enable Desktop->Icons on Desktop to 'On' on Gnome 3.1x, or Desktop->Allow Filemanager to manage Desktop" to 'On' in Gnome 3.0x, and then the Desktop is usable work area again.
  • Don't Mess with the UI!

    That is the lesson I have picked up from reading many such articles and responses to them regarding "cool/hot" new UI's/UI features. I have run into it first-hand with my wife, who is a first-grade teacher, and just wants the computer to facilitate her work, not distract her from it with UI changes.

    Once most of us get familiar with a particular "working set" for a PC desktop, whether MS Windows, or the huge variety of Linux/BSD DE's, we can be productive. Anything that changes the rules of the game, no matter how "efficient" disrupt that productivity. Any significant UI change (about anything more than just the wallpaper or where a few little-used icons are placed) should only be for the most overriding reasons - in my wife's case, it was when I made the decision about a decade ago that upgrading our home PC environment from Windows 98 would be to Linux not XP since it was finally mature enough to do most of what we wanted (she uses Firefox, Thunderbird, and Open/LibreOffice for about 90% of what she does on a PC), and was free.

    It was painful for a while, and I still have to provide "support" when something goes awry, but she got used to Gnome 2 with those core apps, and that has worked for her since.

    Once I had the luxury of having several other PC's to experiment on with other DE's as they have come along since that major change, I have learned to always have a workable fall-back that I could be productive with while I check out the new stuff. Most of it has not impressed me enough to be worth changing to, especially when I would hit various snags with hardware support for my varied PC's that I had working with older distros.

    I have found in the last few years that I generally make changeovers when Mint has come out for an Ubuntu LTS version, with 8.04 and 10.04 (Mint 9) being my main change points, and only after a year or 2 while they "stabilized". I had just been getting up to speed on 12.04 over the last year or 2, but had not quite settled on any one distro or DE since Gnome 2 was dropped - that's how much it matters since I wanted to find something not too much different from Gnome 2 for my wife to change to.

    I found that Centos 6.x was still supporting Gnome 2 (or something so much like it, I cannot tell the difference), but its difference from the Debian/Ubuntu ecosystem, and increasingly old kernels has put me off that option. I also was starting to like KDE 4.x on a "spare" Dell Optiplex 760 once I found I could tweak it to get rid of a lot of that throbby, translucent, fuzzy-edged "LSD theme" effect (certain to give my wife a headache!), but now, with Kubuntu 14.04, I find I cannot install it on my nVidia-equipped Dell Latitude D820, so it is difficult to test/tweak on my primary working PC.

    One good thing about Windows 95/98/2000/XP was a fairly consistent UI, that people could upgrade, and not have to change their working mode much - even Win 7 has a readily available 3rd-party add-on to keep the UI more like XP. I suspect that all the "rich" variety of Linux DE's has been a huge impediment to wider adoption on the desktop that we Linux fans keep hoping for - we cannot depend on a common UI across most distros over any significant time span that large numbers of non-geek users can learn as they have done with MacOS, which is a lot different from the core Windows UI, but is a single,consistent UI, that has been apparently easy enough to learn for a large number of users. I have looked at it briefly on my wife's school-provided MacBook, which she hates due the differences from Gnome 2 and Windows, and its unreliability as a Windows replacement. This is due to fact that the school system has not been able to make it a compelling teacher platform system-wide for their grand scheme to update the way the teachers use PC's - a big waste of taxpayer money due to lack of investment in the infrastructure and user "education" ironically.

    So, back to my original point: UI's can NOT be changed like clothes on a frequent basis. Most people's visual/muscle memory takes time to settle in with a UI, which is a painful process that they are not willing to go through any more often than is absolutely necessary, and only when they can see a payoff worth the effort overall.