How to customise your Linux desktop: Cinnamon

Part 4 in my series of how to make your Linux desktop your own. Today I look at the Cinnamon Desktop.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

So far in this series of 'How to customise your Linux desktop' blogs, I have looked at Xfce, KDE and Gnome 3. Now it is time for the Cinnamon desktop.

As with the previous posts, I want to make sure that I am using the latest release and that it is well integrated with the Linux distribution, so this time I will be using Cinnamon 2.8 on Linux Mint 17.3 Beta (to be very specific, it is Cinnamon 2.8.5 at the time of this writing, once all available updates have been installed).

The initial Cinnamon 2.8 desktop on Mint 17.3 looks like this:
Cinnamon 2.8.5 on Linux Mint 17.3

That looks pretty typical, along the lines of the Xfce and KDE desktops at least. There is a desktop wallpaper (background), with a couple of icons on it, and a panel which spans the bottom of the screen. The panel contains a menu and some icons, controls and monitors.

Cinnamon Application Menu
If I click on the Menu at the left end of the bottom panel, it brings up the application menu.

That also looks pretty familiar now, a categorized menu with a favorites area, shutdown/reboot buttons and a search box at the top.

Let's start with something simple, the same way that we did with the previous desktops - changing the wallpaper.

When I right-click anywhere on the desktop background, the desktop options menu comes up. One of the items in that menu is Change Desktop Background, so that's the obvious choice.

There are some other interesting items on this menu, I will come back and look at a few of those later.

The Backgrounds utility presents you with a list of wallpapers grouped by the Linux Mint release (by name) in which they appeared, and your own Pictures directory. You can add more directories to the list by clicking the "+" button at the bottom of the list.

At the top of the window there are buttons for Images and Settings. The screen that is shown here is Images, and if I click one of them it will immediately become the wallpaper - there is no "Accept" or "OK" button.

When I click Settings, it changes to this window, which shows that it is currently only using a single image for wallpaper (the slideshow is Off). Turning slideshow mode on tells Cinnamon to use all of the images from whatever directory is selected, and includes options for the length of time each image is displayed, and whether the images should be displayed sequentially or in random order.

Again, other than the specific layout and terminology used in this control, this is all pretty much the same as it was in Xfce and KDE - and it was missing in Gnome 3.

Let's go back and pick up one other item from the desktop menu above. Just above the background change item, there's an interesting-looking one called Add Desklets. You might not be familiar with the term desklets, but it doesn't take too much imagination to figure out that it is probably some sort of an applet that lives on the desktop.

Selecting that menu item brings up the Desklets control, with a list of available desklets. For illustration purposes I am simply going to add a simple digital Clock to the desktop; all I have to do is select it and then click Add to desktop. It will then appear on the desktop. I can click-and-drag it to wherever I really want it to be located, and I can right-click on it and choose Configure... to get a window where I can set the font size, which has the effect of setting the clock size.

I am going to deviate briefly from the order that I did things with the previous desktops, to fix something that is going to drive me insane otherwise (yes, I know, that would be a short drive). Linux Mint is the only distribution of the six or seven that I use regularly which still defaults to "Edge Scrolling" on the touchpad. So let's change that.

Click on the Mint Menu icon at the left end of the panel, then type touch in the search bar. That will show you the Mouse and Touchpad menu entry, select that and you will get the Mouse and Touchpad control window. On the Touchpad page, in the Scrolling section is the item I am looking for, Panel Layout, which is initially Edge Scrolling. Change that to Two Finger Scrolling, and the world is a wonderful place (at least for me).
With that out of the way, I'm ready to continue as before. Next up is the Panel that spans the bottom of the screen.
Cinnamon 2.8 Default Panel

Starting from the left end, there is a Menu button, the Show Desktop button, and a group of three common application launchers. Then there is a large blank space which is a safe bet to be a window list / taskbar, At the right end of the panel are some monitors and controls and a clock. Several things there are crying out to be customized.

Right-clicking on the panel brings up the menu shown here. As with the desktop menu that we saw earlier, there are several interesting-looking items here, but for the moment I will concentrate on the Panel Settings item. Clicking that brings up the Panel control, where I can set Intelligently Hide Panel. Whew, that's better already.
Going back to the Panel Menu, the Add applets to the panel item looks very interesting. Click that and you get a control similar to the one for desklets, but with a lot more content. If even that isn't enough applets for you, click on Available Applets (online) and you will get an even longer list.

I want to add an applet to the Panel as a simple exercise, similar to adding the Clock desklet to the desktop earlier. I noticed that there is a Workspace Switcher listed in the installed applets, and that reminded me that there isn't one on the Panel. As with the Desklet, I select the Applet that I want and then click Add to panel, and that's it.

Something else interesting happens after the Applet has been added to the Panel. When I right-click on it and the context menu pops up (as seen here), there are the expected items for About / Configure / Remove, but there are also Add/Delete Workspace items, and a Manage Workspaces item which brings up a full-screen graphical view of all the workspaces.

Getting back to the Panel Menu, another interesting item there is Themes. If you click that you get a window which lets you change the graphics on various parts of the desktop - window borders, icons, controls, the mouse pointer and the basic desktop panel/menu layout.

For each of those parts, there is a list of styles and colors to select from. Here you can see the choices for the Windows borders. My personal favorite is Aging Gorilla.

One more thing that I always configure in the panel is the Date/Time format. I don't want to give up the space for the date and weekday, so I right-click the clock and then choose Configure.

In this dialog I enable the custom date format, and then set it to show only the time, in 24-hour format. There's a nice bonus here... you can get a lesson in date/time format syntax! If you have never played around with the Linux (Unix) date formatting functions you might be in for a surprise if you read through the list of formatting characters and their meanings.

One last small way to configure the Panel is to move around the applets on it. In order to do this you have to deal with Panel Edit Mode, which is roughly the Cinnamon equivalent of KDE's Widget Lock. There are two ways to enable Panel Edit Mode: a toggle switch on the Panel context menu (right-click) and a pushbutton in the Panel Settings utility. (Don't ask me why they didn't use the same widget in both places) Unlike KDE, Panel Edit Mode in Cinnamon appears to only limit moving of panel objects, you can always add or remove them.

I like to have a Shutdown/Reboot/Suspend button at the right end of the bottom panel (it's a habit that goes way back). Cinnamon has just such a button on the User applet, which is shown in the panel as a silhouette, but it is located to the left of several other applets so I want to move it.

First I have to enable Panel Edit Mode (the panel is multi-colored when edit mode is enabled), then I can just click-and-drag the User applet to the right end of the panel, and then disable Edit Mode again. Piece of cake... the result of reformatting the clock and moving the user applet is shown here.

Ok, that's enough about the panel for now. That's a lot of configuration in just that one little part of the desktop, especially when you compare it with the Gnome 3 Panel.

Now I want to move on to Application Launchers. It is possible to have launchers directly on the desktop or on the Panel - in fact, we already saw that there are three application launchers on the default Mint panel.

You can add new launchers "from scratch" in either place. For the desktop right-click on the background and choose "Create a new launcher here..."; or right-click on the panel and choose "Add applets to the panel..." and then in the Applet list choose Panel launchers. However, both of these require knowing where the command is located, and choosing an icon to associate with the launcher. There's a much easier way...

Click on the Mint Menu, and then locate the application you want to add in the menu hierarchy. (Note, this does not work from items in the Favorites list.) Right-click on the menu item to get a drop-down list which lets you add that launcher to the Panel, the Desktop or the Favorites. Finished! It doesn't get much easier than that!

I have looked at a number of different configuration possibilities already - Background (Wallpaper), Themes, Desklets, Panel, Applets and more. To get to the configuration control of each of these, I usually right-clicked on that item. For convenient access, Cinnamon also pulls all of these controls together in one place (well, in two places actually...).

On the Mint Menu in the original (default) Favorites list, there is an icon with a picture of a gear on it. Click that, and you will get the System Settings utility.
Alternatively, also in the Mint Menu, you can go to the Preferences category and all of the configuration controls will be listed separately. Basically, if you want to change only one thing, it might be quicker/easier to go in through the menu, but if you are going to be jumping around between several configuration options, the System Settings utility might be a better choice. In the interests of compact presentation, I am only showing the System Settings utility here.

All of the things that we have already found and used are listed here, and a lot more as well. Exploring all of these would take far too much time and space for this post, so I will just hit a couple of highlights.

The Windows configuration is an extremely interesting example. I have mentioned window title bar buttons several times in this series. Ubuntu moved them to the wrong place, and Gnome decided that you didn't really need two of them. Cinnamon lets you do pretty much whatever you want. Left side, right side, how many buttons, what they do... it's all up to you.

The only restriction is that each function can appear on only one button in the title bar. I was just going to get cute and make a title bar with a full set of buttons on each end, but when I added a Close button to the left end of the title bar, that button disappeared from the right end of the title bar.

There is also an Alt-Tab selection in the Windows control. There you can select the kind of window selection display you get, from a simple list of only the icons, or a list of thumbnails and icons, or even a couple of different 3D window-flip displays. That's nice.
There is another very interesting item on the System Settings window - Extensions. This brings up a window with two tabs, one for Installed Extensions which is initially empty, and one for Available Extensions (online) which contains a very long list. It's difficult to believe, after all we have seen here, that there are so many more extensions available. Almost anything you can think of that you might want to do, and even a lot of things that I would never have thought of. In fact, the only thing I can think of that is not included here is the Cairo-Dock. Hmmm.

I'll wrap this up with a comment about support for multiple monitors. Cinnamon is better than Gnome in this area (that's not difficult, since Gnome had basically nothing), but not quite as good as KDE (you can't have different wallpaper on each monitor). The one thing you can do is create Panels on secondary monitors - and that is a big win. When you create a new panel, Cinnamon highlights the possible locations (basically the top and bottom of every monitor, there are no side/vertical panels in Cinnamon) and asks you to click one to confirm where you want the new panel located. Nice and easy. Each panel is populated and controlled separately, including both content and management functions such as auto-hide.

Of course you can also create desktop launchers on secondary monitors (or drag them over from the Mint Menu). This means that if you have multiple monitors you could make task-specific configurations. That could be nice.

Wow, that is a lot of configuration and customization - and as with the previous desktops, I really haven't dug very deeply into it. I hope that this post provides enough information to get started with, and enough motivation to make you really want to dig into it.

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