Is Cinnamon a worthy replacement for Ubuntu Unity?

Jack Wallen answers a question that a lot of open-source users are asking: Is Cinnamon a worthy replacement for Ubuntu Unity?


If there's one area of Linux that gets more scrutiny than any other, it's the desktop. From every corner, the haters and detractors abound. Nearly every publication that offers any focus on the Linux desktop at some point posts a piece about getting rid of the default Ubuntu desktop. Cinnamon is one of the primary replacement contenders.

Cinnamon is the default desktop for Linux Mint and, quite frankly, it's one of the main reasons why Mint has gained so much popularity. Why? Because it has the user-friendliness of Ubuntu and a desktop that dares to harken back to nineties-era Linux -- with a few modern touches.

With that said, let's install Cinnamon on your Ubuntu 14.04 desktop and find out if it's a worthy replacement for the metaphor defying Ubuntu Unity.


Note: This installation shouldn't break Unity. I have successfully installed Cinnamon and retained full use of Unity.

To install Cinnamon, open up a terminal window and enter the following commands:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gwendal-lebihan-dev/cinnamon-nightly sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get install cinnamon

When the installation completes, log out of Unity, select Cinnamon from the desktop selector (to the right of the username in the login window), enter your password, and hit Enter. When the desktop finally appears, congrats -- you'll be using Cinnamon.

The question

Is Cinnamon a worthy replacement for Unity? The answer to that question depends completely on how you use your desktop. If your desktop is nothing more than a launcher of applications, then Cinnamon is a great replacement. It offers a standard (if not aging) interface that includes a menu, quick launchers, and a notification/system tray area (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A
The Cinnamon desktop installed on Ubuntu 14.04.

If you right-click the desktop, you'll find a desk menu that allows you to add desktop launchers and Desklets. A launcher is exactly what you'd expect -- an icon that will launch an application. There is an easier way to do this:

  1. Click on the menu
  2. Locate the application you want to add to the desktop
  3. Right-click the application icon
  4. Select Add to Desktop (Figure B)

Figure B

Figure B
Adding an app launcher to the desktop.

The Desklets are comparable to Android widgets -- they're tiny applets that offer various types of functionality/information. By default, there are only three Desklets:

  • Clock
  • Digital photo frame
  • Launcher

You can click on the Get more online tab (Figure C) to locate others (in total, there are 17).

Figure C

Figure C
Adding a Desklet to the desktop.

The answer

Do I think Cinnamon is a worthy replacement for Unity? No. Although Cinnamon is a fine desktop, I think it's a bit too old-school. I've run the gamut of Linux desktops over the last 18 years and am glad to not have to deal with a desktop that looks as if it's just a bit behind the curve. For me, Unity and Linux Deepin are more inline with my tastes and needs.

However, that's just me. For anyone else wondering about Cinnamon, I'll take this angle:

If you want a performance-centric desktop that doesn't toss aside feature and customization, Cinnamon is for you. Cinnamon is a straight-forward desktop interface that pretty much anyone can use -- from your IT staff to your grandmother. It really is that easy to use. Cinnamon doesn't surprise you, it doesn't trick you, but it also (in my opinion) doesn't wow you. But that's not what Cinnamon is about. This take on the desktop is all about functionality -- on a standard level. It doesn't break rules, push envelopes, or have new tricks up its sleeve.

Cinnamon is a fairly pedestrian desktop that takes the bits and pieces of what's worked well over the years and cobbles them together into one, well-designed piece. So, if you're okay with using a desktop that looks and feels a bit long in the tooth (but one that functions very, very well), Cinnamon is for you. If you lean towards the bleeding edge of design and prefer a more modern look and feel, Cinnamon will most likely disappoint.

What do you think? Is Cinnamon the future of Linux... or is it the future with a tight grip on the past? Tell us your take on Cinnamon in the discussion thread below.