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The Linux Desktop-a-week review: Cinnamon

I tried using a desktop I've long considered a waste of time, and I was pleasantly surprised.

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I've poked a great deal of fun at the Cinnamon desktop environment – feeling, since I first heard of the project, that it was a bit of a waste of time. Cinnamon is, after all, a fork of GNOME 3. A relatively pointless one at that, as the functionality of Cinnamon could be accomplished through the use of extensions within GNOME itself.

After having spent the last 2+ weeks with Cinnamon 2.2 – in my ongoing quest to use every Linux Desktop Environment for at least a week – my opinion on that topic hasn't changed. Not one bit.

But these reviews aren't about my opinion on the development approach to a project. It's about the usability, quality, functionality and look and feel (among other things) of each Desktop Environment. So I'm going to set aside my opinion that Cinnamon is an unnecessary fork of GNOME and evaluate it solely from the point of view of the user experience alone.

You know what? It turns out Cinnamon is pretty damned great.

It's not earth-shattering. There weren't any features that blew me away. The user experience of Cinnamon is extremely familiar – panel on the bottom that contains, from left to right: a launcher, some common app shortcuts, and a window list followed by volume control, time, status and the like. In other words, this is the exact same layout as 99% of all desktop environments on the planet.

Likewise, there doesn't seem to be any functionality or user experience here that I can't achieve in GNOME (2 or 3), KDE, Enlightenment or, heck, even Windows.

But, just the same, I found that after using it for roughly a week... I started to truly like it. The look and feel is polished. I encountered very few bugs (and none of them were bad bugs... teensy-tiny things, mostly) and performance was, if not amazing, at the very least "extremely adequate" – there was never a point where I felt Cinnamon was forcing me to wait for it. When I clicked something, it responded. Nice and snappy.

The configuration options are certainly quite extensive. Plenty of options to customize nearly every aspect of the user experience, including the placement of the close/minimize/etc. buttons on the title bar. That sort of flexibility goes a long way in winning over my love for a system.

And win me over it did.

But as I began to enjoy my time with Cinnamon more and more, I couldn't help but compare it to MATE. Cinnamon forked from GNOME Shell (aka GNOME 3) and MATE forked from GNOME 2. Both strive to recreate/maintain that GNOME 2 experience – the Cinnamon app launcher is much like a version of the old GNOME 2 app launcher menu…with a bit of added visual pizazz.

Purely from the standpoint of a user, the two systems are nearly identical. You interact with the system and perform functions in almost exactly the same way. They even look pretty damned similar (with a little theme-ing you can get them looking just about identical). Both are high-quality. Both are extremely usable.

The big difference I notice is that, while Cinnamon is plenty peppy, MATE is faster and lighter still.

Which brings me back to my original thought – why? Why have Cinnamon? What hole does it fill?

To be honest, I can't figure out a good answer to that question. If I want GNOME 2... I'd go with MATE. If I like MATE but would prefer something based on GNOME 3... I'd go with GNOME Shell plus a few extensions to mimic the classic desktop experience. If I wasn't going for the GNOME 2 user experience at all...I wouldn't use any of these options. Where does that leave Cinnamon?

In the end, I like Cinnamon. It's high-quality, beautiful, and the team that works on it should be incredibly proud of what they've done. I just can't imagine the scenario in which I'd use it over something else.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to install LXDE.

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