A couple of years ago, the Linux world was a nice, quiet place. Developers listened to their users and adapted their products based on their feedback. GNOME was the status quo desktop environment; it was sleek, simple, and fun to use.
But all that changed when the GNOME developers wanted something new; a change for the sake of change. What came out was GNOME Shell with GNOME 3.
It was received extremely poorly by the vast majority of the Linux community - even to this day, some distributions refuse to offer it as ‘stable’, such as in Gentoo and FreeBSD. The father of Linux, Linus Torvalds, called it ‘an unholy mess’, and having the father of Linux criticise your desktop environment is like Thomas Edison criticising your light bulb.
Alas, the community was divided. Ubuntu went off with its own Unity interface, which only now seems to be stable, and GNOME went off developing its own interface, obviously inspired by smartphones and tablets - but not, by and large, effective for desktop usage.
I think it is appropriate that I divulge my bias; I have never - ever - liked GNOME 3. I have tried using it numerous times since its release, and I have always either returned to KDE or Openbox out of sheer frustration. The interface made me feel like a total idiot who needed to have decisions made for him, instead of being able to customise everything to a state of comfort. Isn’t that what OS X is for?
Linus made the call to fork GNOME, and the community has responded. From the Arch Linux forums emerged the MATE desktop environment, which aims to continue GNOME 2. While this is valiant, I personally feel that they will only eventually get left behind unless they keep up to speed with the GTK+3 toolkit, and generally improve the pitfalls of GNOME 2. Another response, which forked the GNOME Shell into something usable and recognisable by any computer user, is the Cinnamon desktop environment, started by the Linux Mint developers.
I’ve never had the chance to use Linux Mint; the majority of the time I’m running Gentoo. But there is no denying that they have had some huge, positive impacts on the Linux community, not only with their distribution, but also with their GNOME Shell fork.
Cinnamon, while I have never used it, seems to be coming along very well. Ever since GNOME 2 died and GNOME 3 was all the hype, I felt that the Linux space had lost a significant draw card for itself, and instead of replicating the goodness of GNOME 2 it roughly spewed up new desktop metaphors for desktop environment, which should have remained nothing more than concept designs.
Cinnamon is not GNOME 2, but seeing Cinnamon in action revitalised that passion I once had for the Linux desktop. KDE is great - really, it’s my favourite desktop environment of this moment, especially with all the high-quality applications designed to work with KDE - but I was always a GNOME kind of person. As GNOME 3.4 nears, I can only see it going down hill from here. Their recent usability ‘enhancements’ (I prefer to call them restrictions and hindrances) made me cringe enough to never use GNOME 3.x again.
Once Cinnamon becomes stable in the Portage Tree, I see myself reinstalling Gentoo - starting afresh - with Cinnamon. It brings back that warm GNOME sensation I had many years ago; perhaps, even, it will win out over GNOME 3.x, and as such GNOME 3 will become back seat to Cinnamon. This would be the single largest example in the Linux community of how desktop environment development should not be conducted. It would be a larger example than the KDE 3.x —> 4.x changes, because in KDE’s example, users still retained control over their system. GNOME 3.x continues to remove any last trace of what we would call a usable desktop environment, made for real people in production circumstances, and not for hobbyists playing around with various desktop concepts.
GNOME 3.x is a failure, and at the rate they are going, it will remain that way for the rest of its life on the Linux desktop. Here’s to hoping Cinnamon shines light on the beauty GNOME was once famed for.