And Gnome HAD gotten better. It has become a lot more configurable. Like KDE 3,5 I had panels I could freely move around and put on any portion of the screen I wanted. There were a plethora of GTK2 themes to choose from, and I could customize the look of Gnome to my heart's content. Couple that with being able to run Gnome on top of Compiz and I was one happy camper in the Gnome camp.
And then one day on my LMDE-sid install via apt-get upgrade, my Gnome 2 install was replaced by Gnome 3. Deja Vu all over again! I could no longer use Compiz. The themes I had previously used in Gnome no longer worked. Much like the 4.0 release of KDE, I had an ugly black panel that I couldn't change the color or position of. Everything I liked about Gnome had been taken away. It took me all of about 15 minutes of using Gnome 3 before I downloaded XFCE-4 and left the Gnome camp all together.
XFCE suited my needs pretty well. Cosmetically it was very similar to Gnome 2. Compiz worked, I could use all my old GTK2 themes, icon themes, and mouse cursor themes again. I set up XFCE and had it looking and running exactly like my Gnome 2 install had looked. This suited me fine for a couple of months, but over those months a growing frustration for how "patchwork" XFCE is began brewing inside me. Every piece of XFCE feels modular, and in-cohesive, nothing really meshes together. Changing GTK theme, icons, mouse pointers isn't centralized in one app, but in 2 or 3 different ones. Thunar is a very minimalist file manager, and it took all of a day for me to ditch it in favor of Nautilus. And even then I was pining for Nautilus-Elementary, which isn't available for Debian. Eventually my frustration with using the cobbled-together interface of XFCE became overwhelming. After hearing one of the hosts of the Linux Mint Podcast continually extol the virtues of KDE, I decided it was time to give KDE 4 another spin.
KDE 4 has come a long way. I'm currently using 4.6.5 which is leaps and bounds better than the 4.0 release. Much like KDE 3.5, KDE 4.6.5 feels like a complete desktop environment. Everything just seems to mesh; gone is that cobbled together, patchwork interface feeling XFCE gave me. I can now change the look and location of KDE's panel. Icons and themes can now be changed in KDE. And configuration settings can all be handled from a central app. Aside from multiple wallpapers not working, KDE 4.6.5 integrates well with Compiz (despite having it's own built in compositor). I was pleasantly surprised when I fired up kopete and found webcam chats actually worked! Something that for years was promised as "coming soon" in gaim/pidgin but never delivered. Dolphin is also the kind of power-file-manager I need. The F6 hotkey to open up the current path is a GREAT feature! Being able to type in the path is a lifesaver, especially when dealing with hidden directories that begin with . I also LOVE being able to right click in my current folder and launch a terminal that puts me at the CLI right in the same directory Dolphin is in. KDE has come a long way since the 4.0 days, and thanks to Gnome's boneheadedness, I'm back in the KDE camp
Enter Cinnamon. Today I was able to install MockTurtle's Cinnamon build on LMDE. I fired it up and it shows promise, but is clearly in it's early stages, with many unimplemented features that are yet to come. While there is a small central control center app, the GUI for it looks ugly and unpolished, much in the same way XFCE's configuration GUIs look. I'm sure with some small tweaks this can be fixed. I love how the community has stepped up and developed a handful of themes for Cinnamon. While there's not a lot to choose from now, Cinnamon is still in it's infancy and I'm sure more themes will be available the more exposure Cinnamon gets. Does Cinnamon support multiple workspaces? If so I didn't see it. One annoyance with Cinnamon was after moving my panel to the top every time I'd go to click on the menu button (now in the upper left hand corner of my screen) it would activate a feature to show all open windows. I'm sure this can be moved/turned off but it's really damn annoying. Ah yes another common annoyance shared between XFCE and Cinnamon: I shouldn't have to google "strftime" just to set my time and date to a format I find sane. Checkboxes for 12/24 hour time, show seconds, show day/date etc. are much more user friendly than having to read up on what % codes I need to use. That's one biggie right there. Second biggie is it would be WONDERFUL if in Cinnamon's control center there were apps to change the GTK3 theme/icon theme/window decor. And the third biggie is to allow Cinnamon to run on top of compiz. Why reinvent the wheel when Compiz already offers a ton of desktop effects and enhancements out-of-the-box. Cinnamon shows a lot of promise and potential, I'm interested to see how much functionality it gains as it matures as a project. Should it ever reach the functionality and configurability of Gnome 2, it has the potential to be an Ubuntu-killer.
Let me rephrase that, when Cinnamon reaches Gnome 2 functionality/configurability levels, LMDE will be THE Ubuntu-killer. Ubuntu has already alienated a LARGE percentage of their userbase by ignoring all the complaints regarding the Unity interface, going ahead full force with it despite users disliking it. That pisses off the crowd that likes Gnome (2&3). Add to that Ubuntu's announcement that the KDE-based Kbuntu will no longer be funded. Ubuntu has just pissed off/abandoned BOTH their Gnome-loving AND KDE-loving users. Lots of unhappy Ubuntu users who liked Gnome have already made the switch to Mint's Main edition. KDE users of Ubuntu will soon be following suit. All it would take is a shift of focus by Linux Mint to kill Ubuntu; base the MAIN edition of Mint on Debian. The advantages are plenty:
- Debian testing is light years more stable than the pre-alpha quality packages that make into LTS Ubuntu releases
- Rolling release. Imagine the pleasant surprise of ex-Ubuntu users migrating to Mint and saying "you mean I DON'T have to reformat every 6 months just to stay current?"
- "Spinoff flavors" for Desktop Environments virtually take care of themselves. KDE, XFCE, LXDE, and Fluxbox are currently in Debian wheezy and maintained. No need to devote a whole lot of time/money/dev resources to these projects and re-invent the wheel when it's already there for you to use. As well no fear of losing support for any of these Desktop Environments as happened with Ubuntu.
- No need to add PPAs for every little package under the sun. Chances are it's the debian repository already.
Ubuntu once served a purpose, that purpose was to cater to the general population. To make a distro that worked out of the box, and was intuitive enough that even grandma could use it. Ubuntu has clearly abandoned the community and the user-friendly approach with the recent Unity debacle. Users are leaving Ubuntu in droves for Linux Mint already. Ubuntu is only kept relevant BECAUSE Linux Mint is based upon it. Take away Mint's dependence on Ubuntu, and the only users of Ubuntu left will be the few in the minority who believe Unity is the greatest thing since sliced bread.