2012-03-22

Review: Cinnamon 1.4

This was actually going to be a preview of SolusOS, both because I wanted to do it and because a commenter had requested it. Unfortunately, MultiSystem refused to write SolusOS to the USB, while SolusOS was unbootable after being written to the USB by UnetBootin. Hence, I could not try it out. Instead, I am trying out Cinnamon 1.4.

Cinnamon Menu
A few months ago, I reviewed Linux Mint 12 "Lisa" with GNOME 3/Shell. Although it used GNOME 3/Shell, it tried to make it better through the Mint GNOME Shell Extensions (MGSE). At that time, I said that while MGSE was a valiant effort to make GNOME 3/Shell more usable, I would rather just use MATE. Well, since then, the Linux Mint developers have ditched MGSE entirely in favor of GNOME 3/Cinnamon. Cinnamon is a new desktop shell for GNOME 3 that aims to emulate either the standard GNOME 2 desktop or the usual Linux Mint-based GNOME 2 desktop, depending upon the user. It also aims to make GNOME 3 a lot more configurable.

Last week, I wrote a post about how I would transform MATE into something that I already use on a daily basis, but I also mentioned that I should withhold judgment about Cinnamon until after actually trying it. Well, I am trying it now to see if it could do a reasonably good job of replacing my preferred GNOME 2 desktop setup. Follow the jump to see what it is like. I tested this on a live USB session of Ubuntu MATE Remix made with MultiSystem.

After following the instructions to add the appropriate PPA and install the appropriate packages, I logged out and logged into Cinnamon. The desktop is indeed quite similar to GNOME 2 as it was packaged in past versions of Linux Mint. Desktop icons are present. There is one panel on the bottom, though this can be changed to be one panel on the top or two panels to cover the top and bottom. The panel has by default, from left to right, the Cinnamon Menu, some shortcuts, a window switcher, and a rather cluttered system tray.

Although the GNOME 3 System Settings program is retained for general system configuration and minor things like wallpaper configuration, the bulk of configuration occurs in the Cinnamon Settings program.
The section on configuring the panel allows for setting the panel label and icon, the number (1 or 2) and position (top and/or bottom) of panels, auto-hiding the panel, and some other things. Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to have less than 1 or more than 2 panels, and it is not possible to make the panels have a custom position (for example the left side of the screen), height, or width (i.e. less than the full width of the screen).
The section on configuring the calendar allows for setting the date and time as well as setting the date format. This is the first DE since KDE 4 that I have seen that has a GUI for setting the date format, which is great because I have a personal preference for the date format that I use as much as possible.
Cinnamon Settings + Window Switcher Right-Click
The section on configuring the "hot corner" sets its appearance, position, and behavior. This is fairly straightforward, and I am sure more options are to come in future releases of Cinnamon.
The section on configuring the themes allows for installation and usage of different Cinnamon themes. The other options include setting the icon, GTK+, and Mutter window themes and whether or not menus and buttons should have icons. I am not really sure why a particular configuration option for Nautilus (allowing the user to always type in the location into the location bar in Nautilus) along with the keybinding theme (traditional versus Emacs) are in that section.
The section on configuring desktop effects allows for setting the animation times, et cetera. This is fairly  straightforward, and I am again sure that in future releases there will be more options available.
The section on configuring panel applets allows for enabling and disabling installed applets as well as installing new applets. Unfortunately, it is not possible to add more than one of any kind of applet, and I am not sure if that is something that will be changed later.
The section on configuring extensions allows for installing, enabling, and disabling extensions to Cinnamon. This is fairly straightforward.
The section on configuring the visible desktop allows for setting different icons to be visible or not. This is also straightforward.
The section on configuring windows allows for selecting different actions for the window titlebar as well as reordering the window control buttons. Although it seems like it could be possible to have buttons to close, minimize, or maximize the window on both the left and right sides of the titlebar, thankfully the setting is exclusive.
The section on configuring fonts allows for setting the different fonts in different places. This is fairly straightforward too.

Looking at the bottom panel alone, there are a few differences between MGSE and Cinnamon, but there are also a few similarities. For example, the calendar, workspace switcher, and window switcher have all been made a bit nicer in Cinnamon, but the volume and network manager applets have not changed. Most importantly, though, the Cinnamon Menu does not actually seem to look or behave that differently from the MGSE menu, and I am not sure that I like that. I really like the old Linux Mint Menu in GNOME 2 and MATE because it has categories for "Places" and "System" visible, yet the overall "Applications" category is very clearly emphasized more through a larger size. Plus, the buttons for the favorite applications are much bigger and have descriptions inline, which are nice things to have because I like having large target areas for clicking on buttons for applications that I use frequently. In the Cinnamon Menu, however, "Places" and "System" get relegated to being mere subcategories of "Applications", while favorite applications have been reduced from large labeled icons taking up their own view to being much smaller unlabeled icons squished next to the main "Applications" view. This change is important to me because I interact with the Linux Mint Menu a lot, and I interact with favorite applications more so than I do with other applications, so I honestly won't be totally happy with Cinnamon until it becomes possible (either in the main code or as an extension) to fully replicate the old Linux Mint Menu.
I also mentioned earlier that the system tray is too cluttered. Not only is it too cluttered, but it is also too cramped; there is virtually no space between applets in the system tray. Plus, installing a panel spacer as an extension does not quite do the trick because it is not possible to add multiple spacers without jumping through some hoops, editing some text files, et cetera. That is a little annoying, though I guess the end result is worth the effort.
Also, there is an icon in the panel denoted by an upward-facing arrow that configures the panel. It allows the user to enter "Panel Edit mode" to do things like move panel applets around, et cetera. While I have no problem with the operation of said applet, I do think a more informative symbol could be used to denote that the applet configures the panel.
Finally, why does the icon for Parcellite (the clipboard manager) look so out-of-place? It really sticks out like a sore thumb. And why is it even there in the first place? I don't remember seeing an icon for the clipboard manager in any DE other than KDE (and even there I am not sure why it is visible in the panel), so I don't see why it needs to be included in Cinnamon.

One of the nice features of GNOME 3 consists of all the smooth and visually pleasing animations and other effects. Cinnamon keeps many of these, like the tiling windows, while adding others, such as the fade effect and the desktop exposition effect. That last one actually comes straight from Compiz, which gives me hope that possibly one day Cinnamon will implement the desktop cube. In addition, Cinnamon allows the user to define exactly how many workspaces are desired through the default "hot corner" action, rather than constantly creating and removing workspaces dynamically like GNOME 3/Shell annoyingly does; that is rather nice.

Along the way, I happened to run into another issue. I wanted to add the GNOME Terminal to the list of favorite applications. Unfortunately, while Synaptic Package Manager said it was installed, it did not appear in "/usr/bin/" and typing "gnome-terminal" after pressing 'ALT'+'F2' did not work. That was really strange; apparently I was to be terminal-less in Cinnamon.

Adding applets to the panel as well as extensions is a matter of finding said applets/extensions, downloading them, and then following the instructions to install them. The applets mostly seem to work fine; I especially like the weather applet, because it presents the current and forecast weather in a very nice format that looks a lot neater than the presentation of the weather in the corresponding applet in GNOME 2/MATE. There were a few extensions that I wanted to install from the repositories, and the most important among them was the Auto-Move-Windows applet ported from GNOME 3/Shell which allows the user to assign applications to open first on certain workspaces. Installing those extensions worked fine, and I knew that I needed to configure them in DConf-Editor. I configured the Auto-Move-Windows extension according to the GNOME 3/Shell documentation, because there appears to be no documentation on the implementation in Cinnamon, so I assumed the commands would be the same. Unfortunately, it did not work, which is a major problem for me, and I had no way of figuring out what I really should have done due to a lack of documentation online as well.

That is where my time with Cinnamon ended. If I had to choose today, I would pick MATE over Cinnamon, because although Cinnamon has certainly come a long way from MGSE, there is still a good deal of work to be done. But I have confidence that Cinnamon will continually improve, and I am holding out hope that it will be good enough for me to use exactly as I want it by the time Linux Mint 13 LTS "M[...]a" is released. In any case, I will be keeping my eye on Cinnamon for a while.

8 comments:

  1. This is a great review of Cinnamon. Not finding gnome-terminal in /usr/bin is strange. That's where mine is and I did a standard install of mint 12 from the DVD.

    Have you tried 'sudo apt-get install gnome-terminal'?

    I would only disagree with one thing you wrote:

    "Cinnamon is a new desktop shell for GNOME 3 that aims to emulate either the standard GNOME 2 desktop or the usual Linux Mint-based GNOME 2 desktop"

    Reading the Cinnamon site and what Clem has written, I think that this isn't too accurate. I believe that Cinnamon is just an alternate to Gnome 3 shell, not a re-implementation of Gnome 2. Cinnamon will never be an exact clone of Gnome 2, but it will be a better Gnome 3.

    Gnome 2 left a lot to be desired when it was released. It took over a year for it to get to be reasonably configurable and even then it never was as configurable as Gnome 1.4. I'm hoping that about 1 year from now Cinnamon will be pretty nice.

    I've been using Cinnamon since 1.1 and the stability has increased amazingly. I think that the releases before 1.4 should have been pre-releases with 1.4 as the first stable release. Now, hopefully, more functionality will come.

    Thanks again, and good luck finding that terminal!

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    1. @Sean Lynch: I did try that, and APT-Get said that it was already installed, which is really strange. I guess I should certainly have mentioned the great stability of Cinnamon, but then again stock GNOME 3/Shell is already quite stable. It's not the stability of GNOME 3/Shell that ticks me off; its the lack of proper usability. Finally, while it may be technically true that Cinnamon is just an alternative desktop shell for GNOME 3, if you look at the release announcements and other reviews it is pretty clear that the goal was to emulate (though not necessarily 100% so) the old GNOME 2 desktop as implemented by Linux Mint. Thanks for the comment!

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  2. @PV in your reviews can you please check if network-manager , modem-manager & mobile-broadband are included so that if we don't have a hard line or use modems or phones we are not w/o internet

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    1. @Anonymous: I normally don't review things that I would not normally use, but I will definitely try to keep this in mind. Thanks for the tip!

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  3. Solusos USB boots if written using unetbootin in Linux. May be you were trying in Virtualbox. I am able to use it and it works great.

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    1. @Anonymous: Unfortunately, that is not what happened. I don't ever make live USB systems from within VirtualBox (especially now that I cannot use VirtualBox on my installed system after MultiSystem corrupted it in some way); I use my actual installed system to make live USBs. Thanks for the comment!

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  4. Nice review, thank you very much.

    Since about a week, I am using Cinnamon on my LMDE laptop and do have a few things that I am not happy with.

    - When the lid is closed, the machine immediately turns into hibernate status and the power button needs to be pushed to get back to normal. When you download a few files and like the lid closed while doing so, nothing happens.
    - Although there is an icon that says "Lock Screen", it doesn't work. So, if you need to leave the PC unattended for a while, there is no way to lock it up.
    - The color scheme for menus, hovering help text, etc. can only be changed in the cinnamon.css file. It would be great to access this via GUI, just like it was with Gnome 2 and the MintMenu.

    However, the terminal worked for me right out of the box.

    Other than that, I am fairly happy with the DE and most likely will keep it for a while.

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    1. @Rainy: Thanks for the comment!

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