Thursday, December 12, 2013

From Gnome to Cinnamon

Gnome 2 and 3

Ubuntu with Gnome 2
Ubuntu with Unity
After moving to Ubuntu GNU/Linux for all my work, in 2009, I used the default interface, Gnome 2, for a while.  Later, with version 3, Gnome moved to a completely new concept, but Ubuntu forked the development and moved to Unity, so I did that too.  


Gnome 3

Gnome 2 and Unity both had their virtues and their flaws.  The six-monthly upgrade cycle ("cadence") was never as smooth as it should be, so there have often been niggles that lasted a few weeks or months.  I didn't like Unity's two different search boxes.
Ubuntu with Gnome 3
I started using the Gnome Shell, ver. 3, on Linux (Ubuntu) after seeing my friends and colleagues using it at the TeX conference in Trivandrum in 2011.  I really liked Gnome 3, but with the update from 3.6 to 3.8 and 3.10, they did some major, major things wrong, and I've finally dumped it, in favour of Cinnamon.

The biggest boo-boo in the development of Gnome from version 3.8, was fooling with the default file-manager, Nautilus.  Many people have complained about the stripping out of function, like split-screen, and that was bad enough.  So was the nonsense about shifting the menus to the panel bar (or not!).  But what hasn't got mentioned so much (at all?) is that the new Nautilus changed all the keyboard shortcuts and rearranged the shortcuts relating to the menu system.  So Alt-F didn't bring up a "File" menu any more, for  example.  Right mouse-click+R didn't begin renaming a file.  If one uses computers all day, then one's fingers get trained, and no interface designer should mess with that stuff without expecting backlash.  With Nautilus 3.8, it was like being a beginning typist again, looking at my fingers, chicken-pecking for keys.

I liked the general design model of Gnome 3, with the corner switch to the meta level for choosing programs, desktops, and so on.  Searching for lesser-used programs with a few keystrokes rather than poking hopelessly through nested menus.  Much better.  A genuine and valuable contribution to the vision of how a computer should work.

Thanks to Webupd8, I was able to work around the Nautilus problem by uninstalling it and using Nemo instead.

But things just kept going wrong.  The shell crashed too often.  On two of my machines it stopped coming up at login, and had to be started manually.  Only after a couple of weeks did I track this down to a bad file in ~/.config/gnome-session (and I'm still not 100% sure).  Frequent crashes of the gnome-control-panel and other utilities.  More and more extraordinary tweaking to make it comfortable and useable.  Finally, I've had enough.

 

Cinnamon

Ubuntu with Cinnamon
I'm in my first few days of using Cinnamon, and so far things are okay.  I'm running Cinnamon on top of Ubuntu.  It's like stepping back in time, a bit, all those menus.  But one doesn't have to use them, and with a bit of tweaking one can set things up so that actual shell behaviour is very similar to Gnome 3.6.  Nemo is there - what a relief.  Alacarte actually works, but I've dumped it in favour of Menulibre in any case.  Configuration and tweaking is much nicer.  Many useful add-ons, and although I liked the http://extensions.gnome.org system, Cinnamon handles the add-on business in a much more integrated way.  Ibus+m17n work as expected again.  In general, it's an update from Gnome 2 in the direction of Gnome 3 but not the whole way.  And it seems more stable, which is critical to getting work done.

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