Read an updated version of this article at Your choice: Cinnamon or MATE.

MATE and Cinnamon are two recent additions to the list of desktop environments and window managers available for Linux and BSD distributions. You see, in the free software/open source community, there is nothing like too many options. The more, it appears, the better.

The aim of this article is not to present a point-by-point comparison of the two desktop environments, but to present a general overview, so a new user has a top-level idea of what they are.

MATE is a fork of GNOME 2, started as a result of widespread dissatisfaction with GNOME 3. Cinnamon also arose out of widespread dissatisfaction with the default GNOME 3 interface, but unlike MATE, it is atop the GNOME 3 code-base. In effect, it is the same GNOME technology, but with an interface that is just like that of GNOME 2, or the type of desktop environment that we are used to. Another way to put that, is that MATE is old technology, while Cinnamon is new technology.

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While I do not particularly like the default GNOME 3 interface, it is a major improvement over GNOME 2 and, therefore, over MATE. Both are works in progress and have a similar desktop layout. They are what most people expected GNOME 3 to be. Rather than presenting users with a new and, to some, an unsuitable-for-desktop computing interface, MATE and Cinnamon offer a familiar environment to many. Whether that environment is better than the new one depends on the individual and what he/she is comfortable with.

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If you have not used with MATE or Cinnamon, the best way to decide if they are worth using, is to evaluate them yourself. That means downloading Live images and running them on your computer – without installing them, of course. The distribution that makes it easy to do that is Linux Mint.

The most recent release of that distribution made Live environments of a MATE and a Cinnamon edition available for download. You can get both here.

Meanwhile, the following screen shots provide an idea of what the desktops looks like.

The Cinnamon desktop showing the menu.
Linux Mint 13 Cinnamon Menu

MATE’s desktop with the menu showing the Favorites column.
Linux Mint 13 MATE Menu

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41 Responses

  1. Both Cinnamon and MATE are awesome on Quantal Quetzal, however MATE has a very slight edge in performance over Cinnamon, and I tend to prefer its workflow more as well, however Cinnamon’s workflow is great too.

  2. Every screenshot I’ve seen of Gnome3, or Cinnamon, or Mate… All have the large (excessively large) slab of choices for the main/application menu. What I’m curious about, is which, if any of them, can disable that slab and give individual menu choices like classic Gnome2?

    Fewer selections and more organization leads to more efficient usage. As a visual learner I tend to organize/recognize/recall things by location and position. When you just throw all the choices on screen at once, it actually slows the recognition process. At least for me.

    Is there any option to enable classic menu views?

    1. MATE is effectively Gnome2 forked so everything you used to do with Gnome2 you can do with MATE. The screenshots above are not of MATE, but Linux Mint with MATE and the Mint Menu. My first job with Mint, I do like Mint, is rip out the Mint Menu and replace with the Applications | Place | System menu.

    2. Well, I tried putting the GNOME 2-style double-panel configuration in Cinnamon, and I guess ’cause of my theme or something, it didn’t look very good, however since MATE is literally a rebadged GNOME 2, I assume you can configure it the same way as GNOME 2. 🙂

      1. However on Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, Arch, etc, MATE comes configured in the default GNOME 2 double-panel configuration, separate menus and all.

  3. I’m wondering if there is a way to configure Mint to allow the selection or either Cinnamon or Mate user interfaces for one installation of Linux Mint. Would it be better to have Cinnimon and Mate user interfaces have its own installation copy of Mint?

    1. If you are running Linux Mint 14 Cinnamon, and you want to install MATE on the same system, just start a shell terminal and type sudo apt-get install mint-meta-mate. That will pull in all you need to run MATE. After installation, logout, then log back in after selecting MATE from the Session menu.

      If running MATE, and you want to install Cinnamon, type sudo apt-get install mint-meta-cinnamon.

      Note that either command will use up about 380 MB of disk space, so be sure that you have that much extra space on the disk before running the command.

      1. Thanks for the quick reply. I did find this thread of the Linux/Mint forum:

        http://forums.linuxmint.com/viewtopic.php?f=208&t=102932

        I was able to get the package installed but Unfortunately, when I logged out/in to use the Mate package, the menuing was acting very strange after I moved the menu bar from the top to the bottom of the screen. Much of it disappeared and was unresponsive even after several reboots. I didn’t know how to fix the problem so I decided to just start over with the Mint Mate edition, reformat the partition and install it and I’ll see how that goes.

        1. On my test installation on real hardware, I just moved the top panel to the bottom and the menu is working just fine. Did you also move the bottom panel to the top? You’ll have to do that, else you’ll have the menu panel below the original bottom panel.

          1. That could be the problem. The bottom panel was flickering a bit at startup but I just couldn’t find an eara to hoover the mouse pointer over to see the menu.

            I wonder why the Mate menu was at the top when I installed the Mate package on the Cinnamon Edition but the Mate Edition I did a fresh install has an entirely different look to the menuing (brushed metal, on the bottom, etc)? Was that a fuction of setting a skin or something?

  4. When I first tried cinnamon I liked it but found it unstable and buggy. I dislike Gnome 3 and Unity though I did persevere with them both for a few years. The latest iteration of cinnamon that comes with Mint 14 is cinnamon matured and I recommend it. If you like the old Gnome 2 style try the latest version of XFCE it’s very like Gnome 2. With regard to Fedora apparently there is going to a MATE spin of Fedora 18, I look forward to it and may go back to Fedora then, if it be true.

      1. Just tried that option. Somehow when I installed a stuff for xfce, lots of other stuff where installed and I didn’t look at exactly what it was. When I retarted my computer, I had a wtf debian like start menue and even with the right passwd, it was impossible to log in. So here am I this morning, using system rescue cd for cleaning the mess. Shame for xcfe, ’cause it was so fast to run, so quick… But I think either I should have stayed on xfce out of the box, either choosing a distro based 100% on xfce, ’cause for me, it seems it’s not very matured…

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