Best Linux desktop: which is ideal for you?

Get the features, the looks and the freedom with the ultimate desktop environment

The biggest feature of Unity's Dash that's absent in the Gnome version are the lenses. These allow you to focus your search on a particular area. For example, the videos lens allows you to search online videos. For those of us in the UK, this seems to bring back results mostly from the BBC's iPlayer. There's also a Wikipedia lens to help you quickly find articles on the online encyclopedia.

We can see real potential in these lenses, but for the moment they feel a little under done. The videos lens, for example, doesn't search a wide enough range of sources. If it provided a single point where you could search all video sources you had access to, then it would be a great feature. As it is, we find we hardly use it. We found that it took some time to get used to Unity, but now we can't remember why we ever used app menus.


Best for: Big icons and web apps
Avoid if: You like menus and panels
Try on: Ubuntu
In a nutshell: Innovative & bold

Mate and Cinnamon

A tale of two Gnome forks

Cinnamon started life as extensions to make Gnome 3 more user friendly, but forked after it became clear that the two projects were heading in incompatible directions

When Gnome and Unity both made radical changes to their desktops, two desktop environments emerged that sought to provide a comfortable home for disillusioned users. They both built upon Gnome code, and they both aimed to recreate a familiar look and feel, but they took different paths to that goal.

Here we'll look at Mate and Cinnamon. If you start either of them, you'll be presented with a similar screen. There's a desktop where files can be dropped, a panel along the bottom which shows notifications, a list of open windows, and an Applications menu in the bottom left corner. For the purposes of this article, we'll refer to this as the traditional desktop.

It's been the way many of us have interacted with our computers for almost two decades now, and most people find it easy to use. The differences between the two desktop environments really come down to the pedigree.

Mate is a continuation of Gnome 2, while Cinnamon is a fork of Gnome 3, which is designed to retain the structure of Gnome 2. The most obvious difference between the two is that Cinnamon takes advantage of modern hardware to provide slick graphics while Mate runs more efficiently on older hardware. The extra power of Cinnamon is used to provide things like an overview (swipe the mouse into the top-left corner and it will display an overview of the open windows). Less dextrous users, though, can find this annoying when they go for the file menu a little too aggressively and suddenly find that the desktop disappears.

In the latest version of Cinnamon (1.8), desklets have been introduced. These allow you to put dynamic objects on your desktop. For example, clocks or comic viewers that automatically update themselves. These are similar to widgets that are found in KDE, though they aren't as all-pervasive. Since they're a new feature, we don't yet know whether they'll become as powerful as KDE's widgets, or if they're just going to add a little glamour to the Cinnamon desktop.

Pick your Gimp

One of the advantages of open source is that users can keep a project going after developers abandon it, as has happened with Gnome 2 becoming Mate

The second biggest difference is that Cinnamon is based on the GTK 3 tool kit while Mate is built on GTK 2. This means the two look slightly different, and match a different set of applications. Of course, using a desktop that uses GTK 2 doesn't mean you can't use software using GTK 3 and visa versa, but it isn't as smooth an experience.