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1. Introduction

While there's no doubt that the leaders in the Linux desktop contest are GNOME and KDE, that does not mean they are catered for everyone. Different people have different needs and there were and still are voices in the community that criticize some of the choices the designers of the two desktops made. We, as always, prefer not to take sides, but we noticed that, as it often happens in Open Source, alternatives started to appear, addressing the aforementioned issues. Today we'll talk about two of the alternatives, so you know you always have a choice. So, for GTK and/or Qt fans that know how to install software on their distro of choice, we give you Cinnamon, an alternative to Gnome3, and Razor-Qt, a lightweight alternative to KDE4.

2. Cinnamon

The guys over at Linux Mint seem to quickly take action when their users voice their discontent. When Gnome 2 was threatened with disappearance, they started collaborating with the developers of MATE, a fork, and made it available. When Gnome 3 and Unity started to make a lot of users unhappy, they introduced Cinnamon, which is different from MATE, in that it's based on Gnome Shell, but the layout is different, as you will see in the screenshots below. That means that Cinnamon will also require 3D acceleration from your video card, and it doesn't seem to offer any fallback mode as Gnome3 does. So if you have the hardware and are willing to try something new, let's see how you can get Cinnamon installed on your computer. Our test computer for this is a laptop running Fedora 16, but we will show you how to install on other distributions as well.

2.1. Installation

The page where you can find Cinnamon offers options for Mint, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE and Arch, but that doesn't mean you can't compile from source if you're running another distro or if you simply want to, just 'cause. Use the classic method of ./configure/make/make install and you're set. So for the rest of this article we're gonna assume you have Cinnamon up and running.

2.2. Layout

When first presented with the Cinnamon desktop, you will probably first notice that it looks very much like Linux Mint's own Gnome desktop the way it was before Gnome3.

Cinnamon desktop

Our second observation is that, as it is normal, it inherits whatever settings you had from gnome-shell, like wallpaper, icons and so forth. As a personal opinion, the menu is miles more practical and efficient than Gnome 3. This is not a flame, just an opinion and hopefully it will be taken as such. Another thing Cinnamon inherits is the "mouse-to-upper-left-corner" concept, which will give you the option to manage windows and themes, not applications, since they are so nicely integrated into the menu. Speaking of the menu, it looks like Cinnamon's menu is somehow a variant of KDE's menu, but smoother. Regarding resources consumption, free(1) doesn't show anything scary and the CPU is pretty cool itself. Since, as said, the test system is a laptop, I believe I can safely say that it's a nice interface for a mobile computer. But, of course, your take on this might be 180 degrees different.

2.3. Other impressions

At the moment, Cinammon has some limitations inherited from Gnome 3, but that of course is not to say it's their fault. For example, if I imagine I'm a beginner desktop user and I want to use Gnome 3/Cinnamon, I will have to search on the 'Net for how to manage startup applications, by either removing or adding them.

Cinnamon tweaks

For adding, the suggested way I found is editing ~/.config/autostart, and for removal, one has to execute gnome-session-properties (then again, that can be used to add startup apps as well). I couldn't find that in the Cinnamon menu, so my take is that this feature is not-so-newbie-friendly. And here comes a Fedora quirk that wasn't there in older versions (or I forgot): once in a while, although I couldn't find how to disable PackageKit, yumBackend.py uses 100 % of my CPU time, probably looking for updates. I really don't want this, as I update manually, and since it's a laptop, I want to preserve my battery the best I can. After searching, looks like it's a known bug, but nonetheless, it's not to user-friendly {[EDIT] Looks like 'gpk-prefs' is the application I needed}. The general consensus here is that Gnome 3 still has a long way to go, so it's not fair to be harsh with a project that is still young. On the other hand, Cinnamon looks stunning, and after adding some custom themes, it can be the desktop you can impress your friends with. Another cool thing in the menu is that, in the left hand part, you have the Favorites menu, just as you do in Gnome 3 when doing that "mouse-to-upper-left-corner" thing. You can easily add/remove applications to Favorites by using the right button of your mouse, which is definitely simple and cool, allowing you to make your desktop more appropriate for your needs.

3. Razor-Qt

Just as some (many) users complained about Gnome 3 and/or Unity, there is a group of people that have their pet peeves regarding KDE4. While it's a very pleasant-looking desktop and very configurable, it's kinda...well, hungry. This gives the impression of bloatedness of the entire OS, although that fact might not be true. So again, it's a problem waiting to be solved. The solution is a desktop environment based on Qt that doesn't offer everything and the kitchen sink, but looks darn cool and even works on my Pentium 3 Thinkpad. The advantage, and a huge one at that, is that Razor can be used on lower-end computers, as well as on more powerful ones, because it doesn't require hardware 3D acceleration and it can be used with alternative window managers (that is, others than kwin) like Openbox for a faster experience.

3.1. Installation

The link above will help you get started, and again, of course you can build from source, which is fast (again, tested with Arch and AUR on a Pentium 3), which stands as proof that Razor is intended to be small.

3.2. Layout

My first impression when I started Razor was "whoa, this is like a Qt-based LXDE!". don't know if you'll perceive it like this, or like a smaller KDE, but I know this is entirely subjective. As you can see, the menu is similar to KDE's "classic" one, which many still prefer, and the style and general looks of windows are just as you set them up in KDE, so you don't get an uglier experience with Razor-Qt.

Razor-Qt desktop

The difference is that said experience is a way faster one, and I for one am a sucker for speed. What was said before also means that Razor has few settings to offer, because the rest can be configured using KDE's System Settings. Those few settings allow you to choose the wallpaper, mouse, icon theme, and you can control if the desktop is controlled by the WM you chose (as said, kwin or others) or fully controlled by Razor. You are invited to browse the rest of the options to find out what more you can do to customize Razor to your needs.

Razor-Qt windows

3.3. Other considerations

Again, if you find yourself wondering "why isn't feature X available?", take your time. First of all, unlike Cinnamon, Razor has some focus of being lightweight. Besides, the project is also young, so it'll take time until it gathers new developers, users, and so on. Personally, and I'm trying to be impartial here, I have nothing bad to say about Razor, because it does what it's meant to do: it provides a easy-to-swallow, small desktop, based on Qt, that's fast and doesn't eat lots of RAM and CPU, but still offers the beauty of KDE.

4. Final considerations

If you're always looking for something new to try, check Cinnamon and Razor-Qt out.

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