Mint With Cinnamon: A New Sweet Spot for Desktop Linux?

Well CES is nearing its conclusion for another year, winding down an event that may well have brought Linux more mainstream attention than any other in the show’s four-decades-long history.

Much of that heightened focus has been due to the widely trumpeted Ubuntu TV debut, of course — the culmination of Canonical’s mysterious announcement from last week — but there’s certainly been plenty of other Linux-enabled news coming out of this year’s show as well.

There’s no doubt Ubuntu has had its share of the limelight this past week, but it’s another Linux distro entirely that’s captured many bloggers’ attention.

Linux Mint, that is — and its tantalizing new desktop environment, Cinnamon.

‘Brand New Innovative Features’

“Introducing Cinnamon,” read the announcement on the Linux Mint forums last month. “A Linux desktop featuring a traditional layout (GNOME 2), built from modern technology (GNOME Shell), and introducing brand new innovative features.”

Representing yet another divergence from the GNOME project, Cinnamon will offer users wary of GNOME 3 and Ubuntu’s Unity another, more familiar, alternative.

Built on a stable fork of GNOME Shell 3.2.1 along with features from Mint 12’s MGSE, or “Mint GNOME Shell Extensions,” it’s planned for inclusion in Linux Mint 13.

Many Linux fans have been more than a little excited.

‘It’s Become My Favorite Already’

“Personally I like this A LOT,” wrote David Sugar among hundreds of comments on the blog post from early this month officially announcing the new desktop. “I don’t think it is important to be ‘identical’ to gnome 2, just something that is similarly effective and actually offers usability, which gnome shell fails at miserably other than for the tablet ui use case.”

Similarly, “I’m using Cinnamon for the past week and it’s become my favorite mint 12 desktop already (even without the extra features),” enthused Craig. “You are absolutely on the right track with this and i look forward to the various improvements and new features as it goes along.”

Over on Slashdot, many geeks lamented the current state of user interfaces in the desktop Linux world.

‘What the Hell Went Wrong?’

“Whatever they do, they need to make sure that they do everything in their power to keep away the self-labeled ‘UI designers’ who have f**ked over GNOME, Firefox, and numerous other major open source projects lately,” warned Anonymous Coward.

Indeed, “the community has [been] beating Gnome over the head for months now. But Gnome stubbornly refuses to go back to their less FUBAR interface,” agreed walterbyrd. “What the hell is wrong with them? Oh well, at least there’s forking.”

And again: “A year or two ago everybody was happy with Gnome,” mused muszek. “Just Gnome, we didn’t have to call it Gnome 2.x. Now we have Gnome 2.x, plain Gnome 3.x, Unity, Mint Gnome Shell Extensions, MATE and now another kid on the block… what the hell went wrong?”

‘Fork Fatigue’

Similar sentiments could be heard down at the Linux blogosphere’s Punchy Penguin Saloon.

“I think I’m beginning to suffer from ‘fork fatigue,'” began Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

“Still, given a choice and a few spare hours, I’d definitely be willing to give it a whirl,” Hudson added. “It looks interesting, and people have been saying good things about it.”

Indeed, “it’s good that they have a better feel for what customers want, as opposed to the GNOME team that just ignores its users,” agreed consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

‘I Gotta Ask… Why?’

Then again, “I gotta ask….why?” countered Slashdot blogger hairyfeet. “Isn’t there enough fracturing in the DE camps right now without Mint making some bastardized Frankenstein of GNOME 2 and 3?

“I don’t see why, now that mint has grown in popularity, they don’t follow Canonical’s lead and pick their own DE which can be customized to their distro instead of trying to keep some horrible kludge of GNOME 2 and 3 running, which I bet will be a buggy nightmare,” hairyfeet added.

There are alternatives to developing a whole new desktop, he pointed out.

‘They Ain’t the Only Game in Town’

“While KDE and GNOME have both gone off the rails and are ignoring users, frankly they ain’t the only game in town,” hairyfeet said.

“There are several smaller DEs that give better performance in a lower footprint, and if they want mint used on mobile as well as desktops, they really need to worry about resources,” he noted.

“There is XFCE and LXDE and E-17, all of which could be easily made the de facto DE in mint,” hairyfeet suggested. “I’m sure the devs would be happy to work WITH Mint, unlike GNOME 3, which doesn’t seem to be listening to anybody right now.”

‘There IS a Paying Market’

Unfortunately, Linux also faces a bigger problem, Hudson said.

“All the interface twiddling in the world still doesn’t address a major shortfall: the failure of the distros to work with software makers to help port their software,” Hudson asserted.

“It seems to me this would be both a welcome revenue stream and a way to promote your distro,” she explained. “Then again, it’s going to be a much harder sell than it was when Loki Software was porting games. Loki couldn’t make a go of it financially, and it didn’t have to compete with consoles, smart phones, and tablets for mind share, never mind market share.”The Humble Bundle series “proves there IS a paying market for linux products,” Hudson added. It’s just that “it hasn’t been promoted all that well to date.”

‘More Than I Need’

As for blogger and retired teacher Robert Pogson, “I want to spend the last years of my life using my PC, not learning weird and wonderful new user interfaces,” he told Linux Girl.

“When I was a kid I loved puzzles,” Pogson explained. “Now that I’ve chosen what I want to do with my life, they are a lot less fun.

“I will keep XFCE4 on my desktop for a while,” he concluded. “No need to switch distros that way. Debian includes more than I need.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.

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