Cinnamon is Linux Mint’s flagship desktop environment. Although Mint is one of the most popular distros around, the Cinnamon desktop has not been as widely adopted by other distros as one might expect. I have to admit that during all my years of using Linux I have never taken a closer look at Cinnamon. I guess I considered it to be a bit too traditional and boring compared to the many other alternatives available. It is always argued that Linux is about choice and that is true but in some cases it can look like the re invention of the wheel over and over again. Cinnamon goes against this trend and sticks to what is tried and tested. Now with Mint 20 fresh out of the oven, what better time to take a closer look!
A brief history before we dive-in:
Cinnamon was created by the folks at Mint just as Unity was created by the folks at Ubuntu. Both teams were reacting to the arrival of Gnome 3 around 2011. Gnome 3 was so different in it’s design that it pushed both distros to seek an alternative in-house solution. One might argue, the Mint team took the better route with it’s classic approach. Mint adoption grew rapidly in the years that followed, while Ubuntu struggled with their controversial Unity desktop. As we all know, Canonical eventually abandoned Unity altogether and went back to Gnome.
When we first boot into Cinnamon, we’re greeted with a desktop that anyone who has ever used a computer would be comfortable with. We have our typical panel at the bottom where we’ll find our system tray on the right and our applications’ menu on the left. On the desktop we have icons for short cuts to the computer and home folder. The only thing missing is the trash can. It can be easily added by right clicking on the desktop: Customize > desktop settings. A slightly irritating behavior I noticed: When dragging a file from one place to another, the file is copied instead of moved. What happened to “drag & drop”?
The system tray items come with some additional functionality: The battery icon let’s us control screen brightness and keyboard back light. The Volume control icon let’s us launch our default music player. The calendar has a direct link to time & date settings and similarly, the network icon allows direct access to the network settings.
The three pane main menu is neatly laid out: On the left pane we have the main pinned apps as well as the shut-down/log-out/lock-screen options. Then in the center pane we have software sorted by categories and finally on the far right all the individual applications. On the top we have a powerful search field that also finds keywords within certain apps/settings: For example: Start typing “brightness” and we’ll be presented with the Power Management tool.
Theming and Customization:
The first category in System Settings let’s us customize most aspects of the desktop: Choose the background Wallpaper, Fonts, Window Effects and the color scheme. There are a lot of colors to choose from and we can select between light and dark modes for each one of them. I finally have the brown folders and buttons I have always wanted!
The bottom Panel is very flexible too! It can be positioned on any side of your screen, both horizontal and vertical. We can add further panels if we wish and add more applets if needed.
The main menu is quite customizable: Just right click on it: Configure > Menu. It even lets us change the menu icon and add text to it. Add “Start” if you feel creative 😉
What I couldn’t find is a way to change the pinned apps on the far left. So, if I’m not a Firefox user and wished to pin Vivaldi instead, is it possible? Maybe someone can enlighten us in the comments below.
Cinnamon allows us to set-up hot corners,. So if for example you’re used to Gnome 3, you could configure the top left corner to show a desktop overview with all open apps.
To spice things up Cinnamon comes with desklets. Little widgets than we can install onto the desktop. There are a lot to choose from and many offer some degree of customization. The little note desklet I found let’s us choose our favorite font and add coffee stains to the background. Pretty neat!
We also have a setting to customize the login window with different themes and a separate wall paper. Cinnamon greets us with a welcome chime when we log-in and that can be configured together with a whole bunch of sounds for various desktop events.
In conclusion, Cinnamon is a very complete and mature desktop. It Feels immediately recognizable and offers a ton of customization options. If I wanted to say something negative, it would be that the window controls are a bit small when using a touchscreen. The main menu is also not touch optimized as we can only scroll by touching and moving the scroll bar. Nothing too serious.
Now all these bells and whistles do take a bit of a toll on system resources. In Linux Mint 20, Cinnamon comes in version 4.6.6 and uses 816MB in idle with 98 tasks and 212 threads active. This puts Cinnamon in the mid weight category, a bit heavier than KDE Plasma but more frugal than Gnome 3.
Cinnamon can really be recommended to just about any user. It successfully builds on the classic desktop experience that has been familiar for three decades. I cannot help but feel Ubuntu would have been better off had they followed Mint’s vision back then. It would have saved them a lot of headaches from Unity and the repositioning back to Gnome.
If you have anything to add about your own Cinnamon experience, please share a few lines with us below!