Cinnamon Explained: A Look at One of Linux’s Most Windows-Like Desktops
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Let’s say you’re looking to try out this thing called Linux, and you ask a buddy of yours for help. They recommend you install something called Linux Mint. You do what they say, and now it’s on your computer. Guess what? That desktop you’re looking at isn’t Linux Mint. It’s an interface known as Cinnamon.

Mint? Cinnamon? I know. I’m hungry now, too. But keep reading, and soon it will all make sense.

Cinnamon Is a Desktop Environment

A desktop environment handles everything that you see on your screen. It’s the panel at the bottom that lists your apps. It’s the clock in the corner. It’s the desktop background.

linux cinnamon desktop explained

When you look at a screenshot and think “Gee, that looks like Windows” or “Hey, they’re running macOS,” you’re basing your judgment on the look of their respective desktop environments, not the actual operating systems working in the background.

On Windows and macOS, it’s safe to refer to the desktop environment and the operating system interchangeably. Linux is different. There isn’t just one desktop environment for you to use — there are many Which Linux Desktop Environment Best Suits Your Personality? Which Linux Desktop Environment Best Suits Your Personality? What kind of computer user are you? Do you leave icons scattered across your desktop? Do you prefer to work in one uncluttered application? Let's find out which Linux desktop environment suits you best. Read More .

In this case, Cinnamon isn’t a sugary treat. It’s one in a number of interfaces you’re able to run on a free and open source desktop. While several of them have been around for decades, Cinnamon is just a kid.

A Brief History of Cinnamon

The two largest desktop environments for free and open source desktops both formed in the late 1990s: KDE and GNOME. After a decade, the two had matured into very distinct interfaces.

Then GNOME began to grow stagnant. It had matured into a functional and reliable piece of software, with each new release adding another layer of polish. GNOME’s developers eventually felt that they had taken the design as far as they could go, and with many components no longer actively developed, it was time for a change. A drastic redesign arrived in 2011 with the release of GNOME 3.0 GNOME Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Most Popular Desktops GNOME Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Most Popular Desktops You're interested in Linux, and you've come across "GNOME", an acronym for GNU Network Object Model Environment. GNOME is one of the most popular open source interfaces, but what does that mean? Read More .

Not everyone wanted this change. Some people took the code from GNOME 2 and kept it alive under a new name. The creators of Linux Mint, one of the most popular versions of Linux, wanted to stay with GNOME 2 but didn’t want to be left with unsupported and outdated code. So instead they used GNOME 3’s underlying code but swapped out the GNOME Shell (as version 3’s interface was known) for a creation of their own. That became Cinnamon.

For a few years, Cinnamon existed as an alternative interface for GNOME. But in version 2.0, Cinnamon branched off to become its own thing.

How Cinnamon Works

The initial Cinnamon layout places a panel along the bottom of the screen. In the bottom left there’s a Menu button that opens an application launcher akin to the Windows Start menu. Here you can open software, access your files, and toggle system settings.

linux cinnamon desktop explained

In the bottom right, there are the system indicators. In this area you have the option to swap users, connect to a network, view your battery life, check the time, and check a calendar.

linux cinnamon desktop explained

The rest of the panel shows all of the windows open on your desktop.

In short, if you’ve used Windows, you should have no problem figuring out Cinnamon.

linux cinnamon desktop explained

Unlike GNOME and some other Linux interfaces, Cinnamon lets you place icons on the desktop without having to install additional software or tweak a hidden setting.

While the default layout isn’t particularly innovative, Cinnamon is very customizable. You can change themes and icons under System Settings, and since Cinnamon uses such a classic approach to design, it’s compatible with a large number of themes Spice Up Your Cinnamon Themes – It's Easy! Spice Up Your Cinnamon Themes – It's Easy! Ever wanted to customize your Linux desktop, but just couldn't find that one perfect theme? If Cinnamon is your current desktop environment, creating your own theme is easy to learn. Read More .

Then there are desklets. These are widgets that you can drop onto your desktop. They perform simple tasks, such as showing you the weather, storing a quick note, or monitoring your CPU usage.

linux cinnamon desktop explained

Want to try out Cinnamon? You can do so by installing a Linux operating system that has it built-in, such as Linux Mint Linux Mint vs Ubuntu: Which Distro Should You Choose? Linux Mint vs Ubuntu: Which Distro Should You Choose? Linux Mint and Ubuntu are two of the most popular Linux distros, but there are real differences between the two. Which one is right for you? Read More . Alternatively, you can download it for your current Linux OS. Then, restart your computer, and at the login screen, click the current desktop icon on the panel. There you can switch from your current desktop environment to Cinnamon.

Downsides to Cinnamon

Cinnamon provides a traditional desktop experience. That’s both a draw and a detriment. While many people love Cinnamon for precisely this reason, I don’t. The interface doesn’t feel as dated as MATE MATE Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Most Enduring Desktops MATE Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Most Enduring Desktops Unlike commercial operating systems, Linux lets you change your desktop environment. One of the most popular is MATE, but how good is it, and should you install it on your Linux PC? Let's find out. Read More , but it still strikes me as a taste of the past.

That’s not to say that the Cinnamon team isn’t creating new things. For example, there are X-Apps How to Install Linux Mint's X-Apps on Ubuntu How to Install Linux Mint's X-Apps on Ubuntu If you're switching between Linux desktops, you'll need to get familiar with a bunch of new built-in apps. Can Linux iron out that bump that with the X-Apps project? Read More .

Unlike software designed for GNOME, X-Apps are meant to be desktop agnostic. They provide alternatives for desktops like XFCE Xfce Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Speediest Desktops Xfce Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Speediest Desktops If you've recently switched to Linux and are finding things a bit slow going, you probably need a lighter desktop environment. One good option is Xfce. Read More that GNOME apps no longer integrate well with. This makes it easier to swap desktop environments without having to adopt an entirely new set of apps. But the end result isn’t software that does something in a new way. Instead, X-Apps are alternatives that look and function the way software on Linux used to .

That said, this is something many Linux users want. That familiarity, alongside the similarity to Windows, is partly why some people love Cinnamon more than any other desktop environment.

Who Should Use Cinnamon?

Cinnamon is great for people who want a traditional Linux interface without having to depend on older, less supported code. If you like MATE but feel like it hasn’t quite evolved enough, Cinnamon may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Cinnamon is a good option for a straightforward Windows-like experience that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles you find in KDE KDE Explained: A Look at Linux's Most Configurable Desktop Interface KDE Explained: A Look at Linux's Most Configurable Desktop Interface What does Linux look like? Sometimes, Unity; other times, GNOME. Oftentimes, though, Linux runs KDE. If you're not using the erstwhile K Desktop Environment on your Linux PC, now is the time to change! Read More . The desktop environment is also a good candidate for aging PCs that can’t handle the strain of newer interfaces.

Do you use Cinnamon? What are your favorite features? Why would you recommend others give it a shot? Or if you don’t use Cinnamon, what has kept you from making the switch? Let’s chat in the comments!

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  1. Ove Ek
    November 24, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Cinnamon doesn't sork with Wayland.

  2. Ove Ek
    November 24, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    Why use this X 11 shit även Wayland is useable.

  3. jim
    November 22, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    I tried Cinnamon and then moved to Mate. Not that i didn't like Cinnamon but it crashed way to often. Now that was a while ago, it may have improved by now. I have not looked at Cinnamon lately. I do like Mate though. Mate is traditional, which I like, it is very light weight, and it configures easily and in ways I like. Mate is also very stable. For now I will stick with Mate. Cinnamon would be my next choice if Mate would disappear.

  4. GhostRider2001
    November 21, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    Never had an issue installing mint on new or old hardware, except for occasionally having to load some drivers by hand on older hardware. I much prefer nemo over nautilus. And cinnamon can be easily customized to whatever look and feel you desire. I no longer see much point in running windows and paying money to microsoft when distros like mint make life easy.

  5. Mike
    November 20, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    I never could understand people who install Linux and try to make it look like windows or Mac. What's the point? Linux in my opinion is not for the masses.

    • Jim
      November 24, 2017 at 1:16 am

      I agree I don't understand why you leave Windows or Mac and then try to make Linux look like what you left. Seems self-defeating in some ways. I disagree with you Linux is not for the masses. Just because the masses have not embraced Linux does not mean it would not work for them. All people need is the courage to try. Most people just prefer the familiar to the unknown, no matter what the problems they are dealing with.

  6. Kyle Lyles
    November 18, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    I left Ubuntu when they went down the"Dumb and Dumber" route with Unity. I have 8-10 systems running Mint with Cinnamon.

    It just works.

  7. rudy lewis
    November 18, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    I've installed and uninstalled Mint Cinnamon and KDE several times on my laptop and HTPC, but have always had one problem or another. I ended up installing Ubuntu. It is not as Windows-like, but more stable, in my opinion.

    • Allen Hood
      November 18, 2017 at 5:52 pm

      100% agree with you. Have a look at Zorin though. It's based on Ubuntu but with a Windows feel & look, close enough that I showed it to a high school kid who had never heard of Linux & within a week he switched. It comes with Wine preinstalled, & if you pay for Zorin you can get a desktop configured to look like a Mac & various options including more preinstalled software, but the free version is great in my opinion. I also keep it on a thumbdrive with the Portable Apps platform on it full of apps I can run via Wine. I have tried several versions of Linux & settled on Ubuntu a few years ago, but Zorin absolutely changed my mind.

    • Rann Xeroxx
      November 20, 2017 at 5:07 pm

      And frankly you can install Gnome ubuntu and make it into a Windows like task bar and install file explorer like apps.

  8. rudy
    November 18, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    I've installed and uninstalled Mint several times on my HTPC and laptops, but always seemed to have problems. Tried Cinnamon and KDE. Ended up with Ubuntu, which is less windows like, but in my opinion, more stable.