It’s been almost a month since Linux Mint 18 “Sarah” was released, so we decided to take it for a spin and have our first ever look at the Cinnamon desktop.
The FOSS Force Distro Review
Being a longtime Linux Mint user, I was happy at the end of last month when lead developer Clement Lefebvre and the gang released Linux Mint 18, otherwise known as “Sarah.” As always, the new Mint was first released with two desktops that are based on GNOME, Mint’s default Cinnamon and the more retro MATE. Those who prefer Xfce (my personal choice) and KDE will have to wait a while longer while the developers get them polished and ready to work and play well with the rest of Mint.
Normally I’d just wait until the Xfce edition was released and have a look at that, since it’s what I use to get my work done. However, with the buzz by some being that the new Mint is the best thing since sliced bread — SJVN seems to think it’s something akin to the best operating system in history — I was hankering to give it a look sooner rather than later. Besides, I see Xfce on Mint every day. I figured it was time to take a look at Mint’s flagship desktop, Cinnamon. Although based on GNOME, a DE I’ve never much liked, word from some users is that Cinnamon is a much better attempt to redefine GNOME than, say, Ubuntu’s Unity.
After downloading via torrent and making a bootable thumb drive, I booted the live version just long enough to make sure of a wireless connection before installing to the hard drive on the FOSS Force test machine, a System 76 Pangolin laptop with a quad core 2.53 GHz processor and 4 GB RAM. As I’ve been using Mint as my go-to distro for a number of years, the installer was familiar to me, so the installation was uneventful. In no time at all I was rebooting into a fresh install of Linux 18 Cinnamon.
Mint’s Welcome Screen always deserves a look on first boot, if for no other reason than for the “New Features” link that offers a heads up for additions and major changes in the new release. One new addition in Sarah is X-Apps, basically a reworking of GTK apps into a “generic” framework, primarily for the purpose of better integration. There’s also a new theme, called Mint-Y, which comes in three flavors, dark, GTK light and mixed. Mint 18 still defaults to the older Mint-X theme, but will probably be the last release to do so.
Other new features include some changes to the system that includes the addition of some easier ways to use the apt command. A complete list of Sarah’s new features can be found on the What’s New page on the Linux Mint website.
Out-of-the box, Cinnamon is beautiful. However, beauty and functionality don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand and the only way to tell if a desktop works — especially to tell if it works for you — is to jump in and start using it. I found that some things in Cinnamon required absolutely no learning curve for a Mint Xfce user like myself, mainly because the panel in Cinnamon is set up pretty much exactly like Mint’s default Xfce panel.
The first thing I did was to update the system using the update manager, which Mint keeps on the panel. Surprisingly for such a recent release, there was a long list of needed updates, which is a good example why updating a new installation should be near the top of every post-installation to-do list.
While the update was taking place, I putzed around in Cinnamon. The developers at Mint have done a pretty good job of melding a traditional desktop with GNOME’s newfangled way of doing things. While this hasn’t exactly pleased GNOME’s traditional users who’re still pining for the never-to-return days of GNOME 2, I found it to be quite easy to use and far preferable to both GNOME 3’s default UI and Ubuntu’s GNOME based Unity.
As with any desktop environment, most users will want to do a little tweaking so it’ll work according to their habits or workflow requirements. In my case, I found that the default way Cinnamon deals with workspaces is a little clunky for my tastes. That was easily remedied, however, by right clicking in the panel, clicking on “add applets to the panel” and selecting “workspace switcher,” which added the more traditional way of switching between workspaces through the panel. At the same time, I resized the panel to my liking by selecting “panel settings” and using the slider to increase the panel’s height.
Creating application launchers on the desktop is easily accomplished by simply right clicking on the application in the menu and selecting “Add to desktop.” The same method can be used to “Add to panel” and “Add to favorites,” as well as to uninstall an application. Creating a desktop link to an often needed file or folder is accomplished by navigating to the folder in the file manager, dragging the folder with the mouse wheel to the desktop and releasing, then clicking on “Link here.”
Although Mint installs the full LibreOffice suite by default, I find that a word processor is a bit of an overkill for writing articles for the web and prefer using an HTML editor. Since I like to write distro reviews on the distro I’m reviewing, my next task was to install Bluefish, my editor of choice. I opened a terminal and first updated apt-get with the command “
sudo apt update“. After the update was complete, I ran “
sudo apt install bluefish” to install the latest version of Bluefish in the repository, in this case version 2.2.7. While not the most recent release of Bluefish — version 2.2.9 was released in June — it’s close enough for my needs.
While I had the terminal open, I also changed a setting in the terminal emulator itself. By default, Mint’s terminal has a translucent background, which might seem like a cool, gee whiz effect until it’s run over wallpaper, at which point it becomes nothing but an annoyance. To fix this, select “Edit>Profile preferences,” then click on the “Colors” tab and untick the box labeled “Use transparent background.”
At this point I decided to get a little music happening while I continued my look at Mint 18, so I imported my music collection into Banshee, the default music player. I was soon listening to Janis Joplin singing “Summertime” and “Ball and Chain” just like she was still with us as I wallpapered the Cinnamon desktop.
Adding wallpaper to Cinnamon is easy enough. “Backgrounds,” the wallpaper configuration tool, can be brought up either by right clicking a graphics file and then choosing the “Set as Wallpaper” option, or by accessing the tool directly through the menu under “Preferences.” As with previous versions, Mint 18 comes with some wallpaper selections pre-installed. However, I wanted to use a photograph I’d taken as an illustration for an article I’d written a year or so ago for another website. To do so, all that was necessary was to add the folder where I had the image stored, then select the graphic.
While setting the wallpaper, I remembered that I’d forgotten to enable the firewall. For some reason, the firewall isn’t enabled by default in Mint, and this should have been first on my to-do list after installation. Enabling is easy. The firewall configuration tool is under “Preferences” in the menu and the default setting is good for most users. Just click “enable” and it’s done.
Now that I’ve had about a week to play around in Mint 18, I find a lot to like and have no major complaints. While Cinnamon probably isn’t destined to become my desktop of choice, I don’t dislike it and find it, hands down, the best of the GNOME based desktops I’ve tried so far. Anybody looking for a powerful, all purpose distro that’s designed to work smoothly and which can be mastered with ease would be hard pressed to find anything better.