Linux Distro Reviews: Cinnamon Desktop Environment

Cinnamon is a desktop environment that is developed and maintained by the Linux Mint team and serves as the flagship DE of Linux Mint, as well as its sibling LMDE....
Linux Distro Reviews: Cinnamon Desktop Environment
Written by Matt Milano
  • Please note: Cinnamon is a desktop environment (DE), not a Linux distribution (distro). However, for those just looking at Linux for the first time, this series occasionally takes a slight detour to review a few of the most popular DEs in addition to some of the actual distros that use them.

    Cinnamon is a desktop environment that is developed and maintained by the Linux Mint team and serves as the flagship DE of Linux Mint, as well as its sibling LMDE.

    Cinnamon History

    Cinnamon was forked from Gnome 3 and was initially released in 2011. Throughout the following couple of years, Cinnamon’s separation from Gnome became more pronounced, with modern Cinnamon a complete fork of Gnome.

    The impetus behind Cinnamon’s creation was the controversial decisions made by the Gnome developers in the 3.x release. That release sparked the creation of several alternate DEs, as many users were unhappy with Gnome’s re-imagining of the desktop paradigm. Cinnamon, like many of the others, remains focused on a more traditional desktop design.

    Unlike some of the other DEs that came during this time—such as Mate—Cinnamon has continued to evolve and modernize while staying true to its goal of providing a traditional computing experience.


    Being forked from Gnome, it should come as no surprise that Cinnamon uses the same GTK toolkit as the more popular DE. This is in some ways both a blessing and a curse. GTK is the most widely used toolkit for Linux apps, so the vast majority of apps look completely native on Cinnamon.

    On the other hand, GTK is largely maintained by the Gnome developers. Over the last few years, Gnome developers have received widespread criticism for making decisions regarding GTK that show little to no regard for other GTK-based DEs.

    Fortunately, the Linux Mint/Cinnamon team has shown themselves adept at mitigating the more controversial decisions made by the Gnome/GTK developers.

    Cinnamon Strengths

    Cinnamon’s greatest strength is the balance it strikes between simplicity, customization, power, and stability. In the world of Linux DEs, users often have to choose between simplicity and customization, power and stability. For example, Gnome is well-known for being simple by default, but it lacks built-in customization. Similarly, by default, it is relatively stable but lacks power features. All of this can be changed by using third-party extensions, but this often comes at the expense of stability and simplicity.

    On the other end of the spectrum is KDE Plasma, a desktop renowned for being the most powerful and customizable on any platform. That power and customization often come at the expense of simplicity and stability, however.

    Cinnamon, on the other hand, almost bridges all four categories, offering a near-perfect blend of simplicity, customization, power, and stability. It has built-in support for theming and customization. It also supports extensions and applets that add additional features or refine existing ones. Unlike Gnome extensions, however, Cinnamon extensions and applets don’t break with every new version and tend to be extremely stable and reliable.

    The result is a DE that can easily be customized to suit your workflow. For example, while Cinnamon’s default look is reminiscent of Windows 7, just a few clicks can convert it into something more akin to macOS (my preferred layout), Ubuntu’s modified Gnome, standard Gnome, or virtually anything else.

    Cinnamon macOS Layout


    Cinnamon has sometimes been criticized for poor performance compared to Gnome, KDE, and especially Xfce. For the most part, these criticisms are outdated and don’t reflect Cinnamon’s current status.

    Older versions of Cinnamon suffered from memory leaks, but these have been largely fixed in recent versions. What’s more, the developers have added an option for users to set a threshold for how much memory the DE can use.

    Similarly, older versions of the DE did not disable compositing for full-screen windows, which could negatively impact gaming performance. Again, in recent versions, Cinnamon now sports the necessary feature.

    Cinnamon Compositing Settings

    The result is that Cinnamon now performs largely on par with any other DE, with any differences falling within the statistical margin for error.

    Wayland Support

    Another criticism levied against Cinnamon is that it does not support Wayland, the successor to the X11 window protocol. Gnome and KDE Plasma already support Wayland, with Xfce and others working on support.

    For some time the Linux Mint developers were non-committal regarding their plans for Wayland, but they announced definitive plans in late 2023. Cinnamon 6.0, which ships with Linux Mint 21.3, will feature experimental Wayland support. The developers will continue to improve Wayland support over the coming year or two and have said they will only make it the default when it is stable and reliable enough for their user base.

    The Goldilocks DE

    Cinnamon is easily one of the most well-rounded DEs available on Linux, providing something of a Goldilocks experience with a near-perfect blend of features, performance, stability, reliability, and power. While it may not be the flashiest DE, it’s one of the most solid options for users who want to spend more time using their computer, rather than tweaking and troubleshooting.

    While Linux Mint provides the flagship Cinnamon experience, the DE is available on a wide variety of distros, including Debian, Arch, openSUSE, Fedora, and more. Users—both old and new—looking to try something new should give the DE a spin.

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