With my geek-out weekend ending I had a working installation of Linux Mint with the MATE desktop, and I was unhappy with it. My reasons for looking at Linux were simple, I was tired of the increasingly closed garden Apple was creating. I came to Apple because I knew the new OS X was a solid OS built on a fine pedigree of open source software.
I stayed because projects like Fink and MacPorts made grabbing the latest open source projects ridiculously easy. It was a good mix of stable, working, programs that let me get my day-today tasks finished without any headaches, yet I could take a dive deep into geekdom when I wanted to.
When the iPod became a huge hit, I looked like a genius to my friends and family for making the move to Apple when everyone else thought they were dead.
With the two Lion releases, however, Apple closed the door on the spirit of openness that made its OS popular with professional coders like myself. The door is not locked, you can still walk through it, but it is closer to being locked than with any other desktop OS I have seen.
I don't know if you follow the Linux desktop wars (if you're reading this post, you do, but humor me) but the Ubuntu team has created a stir with their Unity desktop fork of the Gnome 3 desktop. Before Canonical and Ubuntu created a user schism with their Unity changes, the Gnome team had to endure the same fate as they tried to move users to the Gnome 3 desktop. And, guess what, the KDE team created an outcry when they migrated from version 3 of their project to version 4. See a pattern?
As someone disconnected from the Linux desktop community for seven or eight years, I found the various states of outrage over desktop changes as... interesting. Since the step-by-step I had found to get Linux on my Nvidia equipped MacBook Pro were on a Linux Mint forum I was left with an impression that the MATE, and later Cinnamon desktops from the Linux Mint project were better than the desktops they replaced. MATE is a Gnome 2 improvement, and Cinnamon a fork of the maligned Gnome 3.
I had downloaded the MATE distribution of Linux Mint because that was the recommended version for newcomers to the project. My first boot to the desktop was on the Live DVD, and I thought it was a stripped-down version. I proceeded with the install and when the desktop first displayed, I thought I had been time shifted back to 1995. I could not believe that this was the better than Gnome 2 or 3 desktop. Remember I have used a Macintosh for twelve years, so I do have different standards than a Windows user. Even at that, I have used Windows through XP on various work computers, and this was much, much, worse. It looked like Windows 95. Maybe that is what some people like, but not me. I could even buy the argument that some older hardware needed this old frogy looking desktop, but I have found several reviews that indicate MATE takes more resources than its Cinnamon or Gnome 3 counterparts.
The greatest feature of Linux, however, is its openness. And thanks to that openness you can choose from a variety of desktops. Unlike the closed source systems of Windows or Mac OS X, with Linux you can recreate your entire computing experience with the installation of a few packages. I opened Mint’s Software manager and chose the Cinnamon Desktop packages. A few minutes later I was at the session manager.
This was my first visit to the session manager, and I noticed that besides the Cinnamon desktop I could choose the Ubuntu Unity desktop, and the Gnome fallback. I chose Cinnamon and while the desktop was an improvement over MATE, I can say that I was still not impressed. The biggest problem I had with Cinnamon was that when I enabled edit mode with the panel, I could break the desktop at will. The effects were better than MATE, but there was nothing new here.
Since the session manager gave me the options of choosing Unity and Gnome, I logged out and chose Unity. For the first time, since I started this Linux adventure I was impressed. Unity feels very much like the Macintosh. My favorite feature of the Mac is Spotlight. With a tap on Command-Space I can launch programs, or find a document.
Unity's HUD is similar. I have not seen it find a document based on its content, but I understand that is a lens I can add. Not unlike Spotlight expects programs to install access to its indexing database.
I was impressed enough with Unity's performance that I decided to go all Ubuntu and grabbed the original install DVD I had created to start this project and, with my new-found knowledge on getting past Linux's limitations with my graphic card, installed Ubuntu 13.04 from scratch. And there came my next big disappointment.