Cinnamon is the most exciting Linux desktop enviornment to emerge in years. It was developed by Clement Lefebvre, the project leader at Linux Mint, and intended primarily to work with the latest versions of Mint. I tried it out on Mint 13.
The technical apsects of Cinnamon have been discussed extensively elsewhere, so here I want to analyze the visual aspects and what they might mean for the future of Linux DE development.
The most prominent visual aspect of Cinnamon is the menu. You’d be forgiven for describing it by the Windows term “start menu,” because this is clearly a Windows derivative. You click an icon in the lower left corner of the screen and a rectangular menu opens above, displaying an application chooser. But the style and organization here is slightly different from Windows. For instance: the “favorites” column on the left is narrower, less verbose, and doesn't have a white background.
Overall, it’s elegant, simple, nice. But there is one apparent problem: the redundancy between the favorites icons and the quicklaunch icons below (the icons for Firefox, Nautilus, and the terminal emulator appear in both places). Which leads to the question: why even have a favorites column when you have quicklaunch icons? Aren’t the quicklaunch icons a sort of favorites menu to begin with? And why would a user want to make an extra click to get to the favorites? Shouldn't they be immediately accessible? My guess is that the favorites column is a remnant of an attempt to incorporate some of Unity’s (flawed) appearance. It’s not necessary. Work would be better spent on developing the functionality and customizability of the panel, so it could easily and effectively function as a favorites menu. I know that many other users have remarked on the fact that panel is difficult to customize.
While we’re looking at the menu and the panel, I just want to point out the custom Firefox icon, which is ridiculous:
I understand that Mint’s Firefox is a special version, but special versions do not warrant mysterious or misleading icons. I have installed Linux Mint on the computers of clients and friends, and I often get the question: “Where’s the web browser?” And when I show them the icon, they say something like, “Oh, I thought that was for some kind of video game...” I can’t blame them for thinking that. The icon has very little resemblance to the venerable and well-known Mozilla brand.
While the menu may be very Windows-like, the application windows are very OSX-like. The smooth, unbroken gray+gradient headers make them almost exact copies of Mac windows. Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing: OSX is beautiful and graceful. But Cinnamon's “bounce” effect that accompanies the opening and closing of windows is neither. I understand developers want to take advantage of animated transitions, but this is really an awkward, cartoonish special effect that seems incongruous with the rest of the environment.
Other new Mac-like improvements include the “Cinnamon Settings” feature, which contains all desktop appearance options in one place (very convenient), and the “Expo” feature, which provides a tiled display of all open windows if you click the upper left corner of the screen. This “hot click” device is cool, and a good use of dead space, but Expo in general is also a little redundant. The window list in the panel provides essentially the same information, so I think the special effects work on Expo might be better applied to the panel, where users look for window information in the first place. There's no need to include a second, duplicate-but-flashier feature, when you can augment the original one. Make the panel flashy, instead.
Small improvements include the new network manager, which represents signal strength by a percentage instead of those ambiguous bars, and less intrusive notifications. Small downpoints include the retainment of the hideously ugly design of Software Manager (although this isn't specific to Cinnamon) and the new login screen, which is overdone and confusing. As others have pointed out: the standard Ubuntu login screen (which doesn’t involve typing the username) is superior.
What kind of software will I get from this thing? Something from 1997?
Overall, Cinnamon is an eclectic mix of influences, a pastiche of lots of good interface elements from other operating systems and web contexts. But Cinnamon also represents something new. It’s decidedly a step away from mainstream DE design (which is moving toward tablets or forcing PCs to work like tablets), an independent step. Mint is maturing, developing its own identity apart from its influences and relatives, and it is also quickly gaining influence of its own. If Mint wants to take the next step, it has to start thinking about desktop design from an original perspective, and leave some of the eclecticism behind. If Mint wants to free itself from being a system dependent upon the design ideas of others, it needs to give some serious thought to the DE, and Cinnamon is the place where it should start. Of course, that doesn’t mean designers should engage in any of the top-down, disconnected fantasizing that certainly happened when Unity was developed. Maybe Mint designers could be the ones to bring realism back to desktop design. Really, they are the only ones who can provide a model now, and I don't see why they shouldn't.
Reviewed by Jon Williams ( jonw at lqqkzine dot com )