Cinnamon 1.6: a stable (finally) choice for the Unity challenged

 

My slightly tweaked Cinnamon desktop on Ubuntu 12.04. The window is Cinnamon settings.

During the great GNOME/Unity debates of the last two years, the Ubuntu spinoff Linux Mint gathered a large following. Mint head Clem Lefebvre and the rest of his Mint Team attracted many devotees who wanted to hang on to the classic desktop that many had come to love in GNOME 2. Part of that effort produced Cinnamon, a fork of GNOME 3 that just hit a milestone with stable version 1.6 this week.

Throughout the controversy over shells, I’ve been agnostic. There is, I’ve found, much to like about each shell. And unlike my forays into XFCE, LXDE or e17, the GNOME 3-based Shells have been relatively easy to use and modern in feel. I like XFCE a lot, but it just feels dated. That’s not the case with Gnome 3. Even Cinnamon, despite it’s classic layout, manages to keep a few fairly contemporary Gnome 3 twists that put it above the other desktops.

My first experience with Cinnamon was version 1.4, which was nice, but bugs got the better of the experience. The show stopper was a bug in which the windows list, if it got too large, would begin to stack above the launcher and menu at the left side of the panel. This really wasn’t usable. I never have fewer than four windows open at any given time.

Version 1.6 was pushed to the Cinnamon Stable PPA, and I updated it this morning. So far, it’s been working better. In fact, I think it is presently the best all-around option for anyone who prefers a classic desktop approach to the newer Unity and the radical Gnome Shell.

What’s good about Cinnamon?

First, the “classic” menu, while maybe old-fashioned to hard core Unity lovers, is still functional. I have to admit that just launching the menu revealed some applications I had forgotten I had. The menu can be launched by a simple tap of the super key and typing immediately begins to filter applications just as it would in Unity’s dash, so users who like that function still get to use it.

The Cinnamon menu is what you’d expect. Not flashy but easy to navigate.

Second, while its main objective is to provide a classic experience, Cinnamon retains some of Gnome Shell’s more contemporary features, including dynamic workspaces and expo view (along with an upper-left hot corner to activate an overview). The Muffin window manager (a fork of Clutter, the stand in here for Compiz in Unity) has an awesome stretch effect by default when resizing windows that I find I really like, though it serves no functional purpose at all.

Finally, Cinnamon is more customizable than its Gnome 3 cousins. Users can have he panel sit at the top of the screen, the bottom or in “classic” mode, which places a panel on both edges. Applets can be added, subtracted and moved. A new feature allows users to set the size of the panel, too.

Along those lines, applets, extensions and themes are very easy to set in Cinnamon settings and new ones are available via a link to the Cinnamon website at the bottom of individual sections of Cinnamon settings. I had an easy time adding applets, like weather and ran into only one snag in that I could not successfully get a cover view alt+tab extension to work. But that, so far, has been my only issue with Cinnamon.

In fact, I think what Cinnamon accomplishes better than either Unity or Gnome 3 is a consistent and very customizable experience that is built with the expectation that the user will tweak the UI. That is probably reason enough for users to celebrate. Linux users are by nature creatures who want a level of control over their desktop and Cinnamon, for the most part, delivers.

Like GNOME Shell, a top-left hot corner activates an exp of all windows and work spaces. Windows can be dragged from one work space to another or dragged to a trash can that appears below if you drag a window down.

Will Cinnamon pull me from Unity for good? I’m not sure. While I rarely make use of Unity’s most prominent features like Dash lenses and HUD, I like a lot about the way the launcher handles multitasking and quick lists as well as the whole desk top’s integration with many applications. I’ll probably stick with Unity.

However, I think Cinnamon has really turned into a very worthwhile project and that provides Ubuntu users a classic desktop experience with modern features.

To get Cinnamon, add the sable PPA to your repository by entering the following in terminal:

sudo apt-add-repository ppa:gwendal-lebihan-dev/cinnamon-stable
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install cinnamon

Logout and select Cinnamon from the session menu and you’re ready to take it for a spin.

Closing note: In trying to create a screencast of the desktop in motion, Cinnamon shell crashed leaving me with a panel-less desktop. So there may still be an issue or two with Cinnamon. Otherwise, I find it’s a big improvement over 1.4.

 

Cinnamon 1.6: a stable (finally) choice for the Unity challenged
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  • asoundlife

    Hey Pete,

    Nice review. I agree with you completely. I’ve been using Gnome Shell 3.4, and decided to give Cinnamon another try now that 1.6 is out. After 5 minutes of customizing, I had a desktop experience that I felt comfortable with. Gnome Shell… I feel like I was constantly battling it to make it functional. I’ll stick with Cinnamon for the time being.

    More importantly, here’s a quick “hack” to get the “cover view alt+tab extension” working in Cinnamon 1.6:

    1) Download the latest version from the cinnamon website and extra the .zip file;
    2) Extract the **Fedora** folder;
    3) Open up “metadata.json” located in the CoverflowAltTab folder;
    4) Change:
    “cinnamon-version”: ["1.4.0", "1.5", "1.5.1", "1.5.2"]
    to:
    “cinnamon-version”: ["1.4.0", "1.5", "1.5.1", "1.5.2", "1.6.0"]
    5) Save the file;
    6) Copy the CoverflowAltTab folder over to .local/cinnamon/extensions;
    7) Re-enable the extension and restart cinnamon;

    Voila.

    • vlotho

      hello, pour la version cinnamon 1.6.1, il faut mettre 1.6.1 dans le metadata et mettre le répertoire dans .local/cinnamon/extensions ou bien dans .local/share/cinnamon/extensions ? chez moi cela ne fonctionne pas …

      • asoundlife

        vlotho: Excusez, c’est correct, vous devez mettre le repertoire dans .local/share/cinnamon/extensions. Je n’ai pas essayé avec 1.6.1.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.tenney.3 Mark Tenney

    While Cinnamon has improved, I still find the interface is not as good as that of Gnome 2. The main menu is pretty good, tho I found it a little hard to navigate due to the mouse over jitters. Also, I found the desktop effects to be very limited and it doesn’t take advantage of my video card capabilities at all. Perhaps, in 1.8 or 2.0 it will be more up to snuff. For me, KDE and XFCE are better integrated, consistent and generally work better. E17 is also interesting, but the metaphor takes some getting used to.

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