GNOME, Unity, Cinnamon, and MATE - Linux Desktops - Linux All-in-One For Dummies, 5th Edition (2014)

Linux All-in-One For Dummies, 5th Edition (2014)

Book II. Linux Desktops


webextras.eps Visit for great Dummies content online.

Contents at a Glance

Chapter 1: GNOME, Unity, Cinnamon, and MATE

Chapter 2: The KDE Desktop

Chapter 3: Commanding the Shell

Chapter 4: Navigating the Linux File System

Chapter 5: Introducing Linux Applications

Chapter 6: Using Text Editors

Chapter 1. GNOME, Unity, Cinnamon, and MATE

In This Chapter

arrow Discovering GNOME’s common features

arrow Understanding the GNOME panels

arrow Looking at Unity

arrow Exploring Cinnamon

arrow Finding a MATE

In the days of old, Linux distributions used to come with one or both of two popular graphical user interfaces (GUIs): GNOME and KDE. GNOME and KDE are similar to Microsoft Windows but unique in one respect: Unlike Microsoft Windows, you can choose your GUI in Linux. If you don’t like GNOME, you can use KDE; and if you don’t like KDE, you can use GNOME. With both installed, you can switch between the two in a matter of seconds. Try doing that with Microsoft Windows!

Today, that basic choice is often still the case, with one big exception: GNOME has given birth to a number of different variants. You’ll find GNOME widely used, but you’ll also find that some distributions like to include desktops like Unity, Cinnamon, and MATE. When you encounter them, just know that they started as GNOME and were altered to fit some specific purposes. They have the same basic structure; we walk through them here.

remember.eps GNOME and KDE were developed independently of Linux, and they run on other UNIX operating systems besides Linux. You also have the option to install other GUIs, such as FVWM and Xfce, in Linux. Visit to see a list of other X desktops (desktops that run on X Window System).

This chapter explores the major features of GNOME and its variants; Chapter 2 in this minibook does a similar comparison of KDE. You can best figure out these GUIs by simply starting to use them. No matter which GUI you decide to use, all GUI applications — whether they’re based on GNOME or KDE — run on all GUI desktops. In other words, you can run KDE applications under GNOME and vice versa. The only hurdle is that sometimes both GNOME and KDE applications may not be installed by default.

 width= Each Linux distribution typically installs one GUI by default. Each distribution also customizes that GUI to create a desktop that’s unique to the distribution. Because of this, there may be subtle, minor differences between what you see in your distribution and what is described here.

Getting to Know the GNOME Desktop

The initial desktop for GNOME looks like any other popular GUI, such as Microsoft Windows or the Mac OS X desktop. Figure 1-1, for example, shows the typical GNOME desktop.


Figure 1-1: A clean GNOME desktop in Fedora.

Running the Live distribution, a number of icons that would be present if the operating system were installed will not be there. When the system is installed, the desktop initially shows icons for your computer, your home folder, and the trash can for deleted files. Unlike some other distributions, Fedora strives for a minimum of desktop icons and has a clean look.

The GNOME desktop displays a context menu when you right-click an object or anywhere on the desktop. Depending on where you click, the menu can offer the following :

· New Folder to create a new folder in a directory

· Properties to see the properties, including permissions, associated with a file or folder

· Open to open a folder or file

· Compress to reduce the size of the file

· Make Link to create a shortcut

Figure 1-2 shows the context menus in a typical GNOME folder. If there are any menu options with a right-pointing arrow, it indicates that they have other menus that appear when you put the mouse pointer over the arrow.


Figure 1-2: Standard menu choices in GNOME for a folder.

Many items on this context menu are the same no matter what icon you click, but right-clicking certain icons (for example, the Trash icon) produces a somewhat different menu. For the Trash icon, the icon context menu typically provides an option to permanently delete the items in the trash. (You get a chance to say Yes or No.)

tip.eps I bet you see a pattern here: the right-click. No matter where you are in a GUI desktop, always right-click before you pick. You’re bound to find something useful when you right-click!

Understanding the GNOME Panels

lxo-102.eps The GNOME desktop has panels and each panel is similar to the Windows taskbar. The top panel has menu choices on the left, a time display in the center, and icons for common choices on the right. Between the left menu and the time, the panel shows any applications you’ve started (or that were automatically started for you).

The top panel

The top panel is the long bar that stretches across the top of the GNOME desktop. Figure 1-3 shows a typical view of the GNOME top panel.


Figure 1-3: The GNOME top panel.

The panel is a parking place for icons. Some icons start programs when you click them. Some show status (for example, what programs are currently running) as well as information such as date and time.

The desktop

lxo-102.eps After you choose Activities, the leftmost area of the desktop in GNOME shows the applications that can be opened in a panel that you can think of as the Main Menu. The Main Menu panel, like the Start button in Microsoft Windows, is where you typically find all your applications, organized into submenus. Figure 1-4 shows an example of this, again from Fedora.


Figure 1-4: The GNOME desktop.

In the case of the Live distribution version of Fedora, the default icons on this main menu (also known as the Favorites menu) represent the following features:

· Firefox web browser

· Evolution email package

· Empathy contact manager

· Rhythmbox

· Shotwell

· LibreOffice Writer

· Shortcut to your files

· Shortcut to your documents

· Install icon

· Link to your recent applications

You can click any icon to start the application associated with it, or right-click to start it in a new window or remove it from the menu.

remember.eps Chapter 5 of this minibook looks at applications, including the Firefox web browser and others discussed here.

On the right side of the desktop, you’ll see a quick method of accessing your various desktops — the Workplace Switcher. Assume, for example, that you’re working on a number of projects at once. You can bounce between them by choosing Activities, and then moving your mouse over to the panel on the right so it automatically expands to show you your options (as illustrated by Figure 1-5).

The bottom panel

lxo-102.eps In addition to the top panel, GNOME also includes a bottom panel. It does not appear onscreen by default (unlike the arrangement in KDE), but you can use it to find important information. Figure 1-6 is an example of this panel, showing three important notifications from the system and a link to a USB drive.


Figure 1-5: Choose between desktops.


Figure 1-6: The bottom panel in GNOME.

Looking at Unity

Just as there are differences among Windows desktops from Windows XP to versions 7 and 8, so too the GNOME desktop has variations. The first of these is Unity — which, while available for other distributions, is most closely associated with Ubuntu. Figure 1-7 shows an example of this desktop.

Unity was created by Canonical and Mark Shuttleworth (respectively the organization behind — and the head of — Ubuntu). Notice that the same clean desktop look of GNOME prevails. What differs is that the makers of Unity strive to make it as easy as possible for a user with no previous knowledge to use — and that makes it ideal for netbooks as well as desktops. Figure 1-8 shows an example of the desktop with a terminal window open and the drop-down menu displayed.


Figure 1-7: The Unity desktop is based on GNOME.


Figure 1-8: The Unity desktop focuses on simplicity.

One of the biggest pluses behind this desktop is that Unity is touch-ready.

Looking at Cinnamon

The Cinnamon desktop looks much like GNOME used to look several versions ago. Figure 1-9 shows an example of it in Linux Mint. Notice how similar this looks to Windows of the XP era.


Figure 1-9: The Cinnamon desktop resembles Windows.

The leftmost icon on the bottom panel is the Main Menu button. The Main Menu button, like the Start button in Microsoft Windows, is where you typically find all your applications, organized into submenus. Click the Main Menu button to bring up the first-level menu. Then mouse over any menu item containing an arrow to bring up the next-level menu, and so on. You can go through a menu hierarchy and make selections from the final menu.

In addition to the Main Menu on the bottom panel, in Cinnamon that bottom panel can make almost anything you want to do possible. Among the choices here:

· Show Desktop: Hide (but do not close) all windows and display the desktop.

· Firefox Web Browser: Quickly access the web.

· Terminal: Open a terminal window.

· Files: Display your files.

· Open Windows: Jump back and forth between any open windows.

· Active Icons: for ejecting drives, adjusting volume, viewing battery life, and so on.

Looking at MATE

The last GNOME variant to explore is MATE. Like Cinnamon, this desktop is often associated with Linux Mint — and the two look very much alike. Figure 1-10 shows an example of MATE in Linux Mint.


Figure 1-10: The MATE desktop looks like both Cinnamon and Windows.

As in life, so in Linux: Which desktop you choose to use is as much a matter of preference as which car you drive, which cologne you wear, or which outfit you buy. It’s important to what you’re comfortable with and try to interface with it as best you can.

In Chapter 2 of this minibook, we move away from GNOME altogether and look at its prime competitor: KDE.