Updated: May 26, 2012
Unity is a controversial desktop environment. It's designed to please both people using traditional input methods, like keyboard and mouse, as well as those who prefer to use their hands on touch interfaces. So far, Ubuntu has yet to make it big in the smartphone and tablet space, where Unity probably will make tremendous sense, but in the classic computing sector, there's some efficiency left to be desired.
Not that long ago, I've discovered Cinnamon, a beautiful and classic desktop environment, developed by the Linux Mint team as a complete replacement for the Gnome 3 disaster. Alongside MATE, Cinnamon is designed to offer what desktops need - a simple and clutter free interface with a high level of situational awareness. So what happens when you try to run Cinnamon on Ubuntu? Do you get the desired effect of perfection?
The setup is very simple. You will need to add an unofficial repo. It's up to you to decide whether you wish to trust the installation source, but if you do, you will have Cinnamon up and running in minutes.
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gwendal-lebihan-dev/cinnamon-stable
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install cinnamon
Once this stage is complete, log out, change the environment and log in.
Cinnamon, first steps
Ubuntu Cinnamon comes with only three shortcuts, buttons on the right side and the rather unattractive Adwaita theme. You can quickly change this to anything you like, like Ubuntu Mono Dark, and then place some fresh icons onto the bottom panel. Now, icons are not very attractive, but we will discuss that shortly.
Everything worked fine, except one time when the window borders went crazy with some green and pink pixels after changing the theme. I haven't see this problem since. Not really sure what this was all about.
Like I said, if you invest some time changing themes and icons, you're in for a treat. As to how this is done, including the specific elements used in these screenshots, we will have a separate article quite soon.
Alternatives - and why not
Now, this is a funny sub-section, as Cinnamon itself is an alternative. But if you're wondering, there are several desktop environments that you may opt for instead of Unity. And at the same time, I will you tell you Cinnamon is preferable.
This is the name of the pseudo Gnome 2 environment available in Ubuntu. It sorts of looks like the traditional desktop looked like in Lucid. The one big difference is, you cannot edit the top panel without some extra work. And the menus are locked down. Not bad all in all, but when it comes to functionality and beauty, Cinnamon leads.
There's another one - a true Gnome 2 replacement. In my testing on top of Mint Lisa, MATE was very good, simple, robust and efficient. What it does lack is the unifying element that blends both the old and new together. The term unifying is problematic here, as one would assume that Unity is indeed the answer, but it's a completely different kind of integration. In this regard, Cinnamon has the modern savvy glimmer, but it does not give up on the user's ability to truly multi-task. You have the perfect visibility of your menu, your icons and shortcuts and your open applications.
Launcher at the bottom
Some people would have been able to accept Unity if only the Launcher was movable, i.e. you could place it at the top or bottom of the screen like all other operating systems offer, including rival Linux desktop environments. Well, it can be done. It's a hack, but it works rather well. But it's still Unity with Dash and Launcher and all that.
And there you are. Now, the conclusion.
So is Cinnamon any good on Ubuntu? Is it a good idea? The answer is, it's not a good idea. It's a great idea! Cinnamon is by far the best alternative to all other options available on Ubuntu, including Unity. Fast, stylish, elegant, flexible, efficient.
On Ubuntu, Cinnamon gives you all you need - a modern and beautiful desktop with all the tricks and bells and whistles you need, an instant visibility of your workspace without being limited to single-tasking as Unity and Gnome 3 are fond to do, in a way. You maintain control of your open applications, your icons, your shortcuts, everything.
If you liked Ubuntu BUT ... there's no more BUT. But this also means that you might no longer need Linux Mint. Really? It's a dangerous dance. Cinnamon offers a fresh breath of magical revival to pretty much any desktop shell it's placed upon. Still, let's put Mint aside for the moment. We will talk about Mint separately and what it can offer, and why you should be using it, Ubuntu and Cinnamon notwithstanding.
To sum it up, I am utterly pleased by the Cinnamon transformation on Pangolin. Ubuntu 12.04 now has all the potential it needs to satisfy everyone, classic users as well as touch fans. If you want Unity, just power a Unity session. Feel like being more productive, go for Cinnamon. It's all there, a complete package. And it's not about using it, it's about the possibility of having the choice to decide you can use something, if you feel like doing it. The ultimate freedom, that is. Finally. The Linux desktop reborn. In Cinnamon.