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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.
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.
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.
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one of the most popular versions of Linux, wanted to stay with GNOME 2 but didn’t want to be left with unsupported and outdated code.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Want to try out Cinnamon? You can do so by installing a Linux operating system that has it built-in, such as Linux Mint. 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, 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.
Unlike software designed for GNOME, X-Apps are meant to be desktop agnostic. They provide alternatives for desktops like XFCE 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. 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!