I think Ubuntu is a practical joke. After several years of progress, they were finally very very close to the mythical usable Linux desktop. And then they just started fucking with things seemingly at random. At the same time, the GNOME folks started making similarly erratic design decisions.
In response, the Linux Mint folks are making a new UI for GNOME 3 called Cinnamon with the goal of creating a more traditional desktop. They recently released version 1.2. I’ve been using it for a bit now, and some thoughts are below.
Now, let me get my biases out of the way. I like my taskbar. I think GNOME 2 was the best desktop UI ever created. Nothing has matched it in elegance, usability, clarity, completeness, and stability. So, the concept of Cinnamon of course appeals to me. However, it’s still a young project, and it shows. A ton of polish is needed. The GNOME folks spent several years polishing GNOME 2, so it’s not surprising that the Cinnamon experience feels a bit unfinished. Off the top of my head, my minor usability gripes are…
The font size in the panel is smaller than the font anywhere else. This makes it harder to read, makes it stand out and look funny, and seems a bit silly because I have a huge monitor and I don’t care about an extra pixel or two at the bottom if it makes me squint.
The default effects are way too flashy and slow. I was never a fan of effects, so I figured I could just turn them off. But if you do that, you get literally no effect when, for instance, you minimize a window. It just disappears. That’s not good either. Effects should be subtle and enhance usability.
The settings program has a lot of extraneous options. I know people are upset about the lack of options in GNOME 3, but do we really need a dedicated text field to allow the menu label to be changed from “Menu” to something else? This UI could use some polishing.
It seems like there’s no way to move around the applets in the panel. I’m not sure if I’m missing some obvious way of doing it, but if so, the UI should probably be made more discoverable.
The menu seems a bit laggy in general, relative to the old GNOME 2 UI. More problematic is that, if you press the Windows key to search via the menu but you start typing too fast, it won’t work. GNOME Shell has the same problem, but not as bad, in my experience.
If you switch it to a “Classic” layout (two panels like GNOME 2), the the “hot corner” which activates the overlay (similar to GNOME Shell, but just displays the windows and doesn’t have any other functionality) is right on top of the menu. So if you move your mouse to the menu, you almost always hit the overview hot corner by mistake. I think it would be better if the overview came up on a press of the Windows key, like in GNOME Shell, to avoid this problem.
All of those are minor nitpicky details. And honestly, before Cinnamon, I was using GNOME 3 Fallback Mode which has its own share of UI regressions since the glory days of GNOME 2. Beyond that, I don’t have any real overarching problems with Cinnamon. For me, it’s heading in the right direction. If sufficient interest can be generated in the developer community, I think Cinnamon has a good shot at becoming the most popular Linux desktop.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that what made GNOME 2 special was the polish. Cinnamon is still far away from matching that, but it’s a very encouraging sign that it’s so quickly turned into a usable desktop environment.
Lacking the time to help out with development myself, I donated some money to Linux Mint to help support the effort. If you try Cinnamon and like it too, I suggest you do the same.
So in conclusion, if you’re still missing that GNOME 2 usability and polish, Cinnamon isn’t there yet. It’s still too young. But if you’d been looking for a modern desktop environment to carry on the general principles of the GNOME 2 philosophy, Cinnamon just might be that that project.