The Linux Desktop situation and Cinnamon 
Wednesday, January 18, 2012, 01:41 PM
Posted by Administrator
I need a Linux desktop that is stable, reliable, feature complete, obvious to use, suitable for both programmers (such as myself) and users (such as the variety of people around me that I have converted to use Linux).

Unfortunately, as of today, there is no such desktop.

Once upon a time, we had a great Linux desktop environment, its name was Gnome 2. To my shock, Gnome 2, the central piece of software that gave the Linux desktop a chance for growth and success, has been declared as obsolete.

Because Gnome 2 is no longer supported, it effectively means it's no longer available for use on modern computer hardware that require a current Linux kernel and therefore require to use a very recent Linux distribution.

Gnome 2 had a rich set of features and standard add-ons, that made the Linux desktop really work, for example:
- adjustable starter shortcuts, visible for easy discovery
- a list of running programs and open windows
- an obvious, discoverable mechanism to safely shut off the computer, not requiring to be aware of and having to remember a keyboard shortcut
- notification icons for important events
- a mechanism to always display user configurable important information, such as weatcher, stock quotes or other news
- an obviously reachable place for current files of interest (the Desktop)
- quickly reachable monitor settingsm, helpful when connecting to a video projector
- preview of file contents for easy discovery
- it was very stable and reliable

What have we got instead? Let's have a look at the alternatives that are available today.

Gnome 3 is removing features and hiding functionality.
You no longer have a list of open windows, important for people that understand what's going on and want to have full control, and who want to check which applications might have unsaved data.
There are no easily customizable starters, only the ability to run applications with their default parameters.
It's difficult to create a list of easily visible shortcuts, which can help users to be reminded what applications they are supposed to use.
Instead, all users are expected to be smart and remember the name of programs and type those names in. How is that easier?
If a user moves the mouse to a certain position (upper left), the whole display changes, giving users the impression that something is suddenly broken.

XFCE has a nice and simple concept. In many areas it uses the expected, traditional approach to use the desktop.
Unfortunately it appears to be unrealiable. The most important part of the desktop environment, the window manager xfwm4, crashes frequently.
Whenever that happens, an ordinary user is completely helpless. No, they don't know how to open a terminal and restart it.
Sometimes the desktop gets stuck and it's impossible to logout or shutdown.
The desktop doesn't have a preview of file contents and labels are shortened radically.
The drag-and-drop interaction when interacting with files is unexpected and causes confusion, e.g. when dragging files to a folder within the filesystem, files get copied, not moved.
The sound level control is very complicated to use and not as elegant as in Gnome.

I have not looked at LXDE in much detail.
It appears to be very incomplete in terms of features, and does't seem like an alternative for demanding users.

My experience with KDE is mixed. I was a KDE user many years ago and I liked it. When incomplete KDE 4 came out, I had to switch to Gnome.
Now I've tried recent version 4.7. In the beginning I was very enthusiastic. I had the hope that I found what I was looking for, because a lot of things behave as I'd expect it.
But I quickly encountered frequent crashes.
Sorry guys. It's simply not acceptable to use unstable software for the central piece of computer interaction.

A group of people has started the Mate project, an understandable attempt to revive and maintain Gnome 2.
But it appears it's difficult to make Gnome 2 and Gnome 3 work right in parallel, and offer the full set of capabilities that Gnome 2 used to had, which effectively means to adjust and provide a large set of software around Gnome 2.
I honestly wish them good luck, but I'm not sure it's the right path, as attention focuses on the Gnome 3 libraries.

Then I heard about Mint Gnome Shell Extensions (MGSE), which is an attempt to "fix" Gnome 3 by adding workarounds to it.
That's what I'm using currently, but it was a mess to get installed correctly on Fedora.
I had to experiment with the shell extensions made available by Gnome on their own, with MGSE, and with some independent extensions published by third parties.
It was a mess to find a mix of extensions that is compatible with each other and provide a desktop experience as I expect it.
This is certainly not something an ordinary user can do.
I see this as a temporary workaround, feasible for me as a programmer, while I'm waiting for something better.

The most recent initiative I heard about is called Cinnamon.
This approach makes a lot of sense to me.

It uses the modern base libraries made available by the Gnome 3 project, so there is hope that it can be as reliable and as feature complete as Gnome 2 used to be.
It brings back the classic desktop interaction, list of open windows, area for system notifications, and panel starters.

There are a couple of things that don't work right yet.
The notification icons of some applications, such as the deja-dup backup tool, are not yet visible, apparently there is incompatibility between applications and the desktop environment. That's not surprising based on today's chaos of Desktop alternatives. I hope that can be fixed.
Cinnamon should fix the upper left mouse area and remove the desktop shuffle confusion.
Cinnamon should offer a mechanism to adjust the starter shortcuts shown on the desktop or the panel (something like the right mouse click, edit properties, command line) that we used to have in Gnome 2.
The integration of system control widgets needs to be completed and fixed.

Besides that, to me, Gnome 3 base plus Cinnamon appears to be the most reasonable initiative to fix the Linux desktop at this point of time.
While some convenience usability features are missing, at least the desktop is based on modern libraries and behaves according to my expectations

If you can, please support the Cinnamon project. I'm desperately waiting for it to be ready and available as the new default Linux desktop environment.

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