Well, Ubuntu really messed up, yep, well actually Gnome messed up too, and we have definitely opened Pandora's box and let the evil's out. Everyone wants an edge, and the perception is the edge is the desktop. I guess, if Microsoft can switch its desktop around, and make users eat it, why can't the Linux distros do the same.
Let's review. In the beginning there was X Windows, and every one was happy, but then the software gurus got the brainy idea of doing something like Microsoft Windows for X Windows. What followed was a series of initial desktop applications, like KDE, Gnome, Xfce, and LXDE. There were a few others, along with a couple of bare window managers that sprang up. With the wide array of choices, folks interested in Linux were confused as to which distro to use, eventually KDE and Gnome came to the forefront.
In the meantime, while Linux distros were competing for users, Microsoft took over the world. The distro's started to stabilize around Gnome 2, and folks got used to that desktop. Linux started picking up some market share. I personally feel Gnome 2 ended up being the desktop of choice, although no disrespect to KDE, a noble competitor, especially with their latest release. The emphasis in Gnome 2 was on productivity, not on novice users.
If you follow DistroWatch, which has been ranking the distros now since May, 2001, Ubuntu has been the top distro for five years. It ran with Gnome 2, was stable, and had good support. It was the Microsoft of Linux distros. Now Linux Mint has taken over.
What happened? I like to think a bunch of egos got in each others way. The Gnome team decided they had to match Microsoft's 3d graphics and transparent desktop and decided to build Gnome 3. It was their design, and when Canonical, the maker of Ubuntu, saw it, they said, no way, we can do it better, and the world will follow us, because we're number one. The Gnome team wouldn't give in to Canonical, and Canonical wouldn't give in to the Gnome team. Canonical developed their own Unity desktop. Both teams wanted to make the desktop more friendly to the dumb Window's users as they saw Microsoft stumble with Vista.
The result was both teams stumbled, where they might not have if they had worked together. The losers were the already dedicated Linux users who just wanted to get their work done. They didn't care about 3d or transparency, they wanted the productivity that was provided by Gnome 2. So Ubuntu and Gnome both stumbled by taking Gnome 2 away from the user, and forcing the user to use their latest creations, Gnome 3 and Unity. Each turned out to be not ready for prime time. Heck, Microsoft can foist bugs on us why not buggy desktops, wrong.
Mint decided to take a different approach. They couldn't stay with Gnome 2, because the Gnome team wouldn't support it. They decided to make Gnome 3 as close to Gnome 2 as possible to ease their users problems with moving to the new desktop, and allow users to continue being productive as they were before. The result was a flood away from the Ubuntu distro to the Mint distro. Mint is now number one.
With the knowledge the Mint team gained developing their Gnome 2 version of Gnome 3, they used to create a new desktop offering, called Cinnamon. Mint just released Cinnamon 1.1.3. Whew, that was a long way to go to get here, but I thought the story was worth it.
Initially the Mint team with their program, called Mate, tried to mimic Gnome 2 using GTK+ and the Gnome shell, but that approach didn't provide what Mint needed in desktop functionality.
Cinnamon is a yet another new desktop, but it's different. First, if you've loaded Mint, and like Mint, you'll like Cinnamon. Cinnamon's main focus is on productivity. Unity and Gnome 3's focus is on making Linux easy to use for the new user.
Cinnamon offers a bottom panel you can configure and hide. It has all the features of the current Mint desktop, including an advanced menu system with the same layout as the Mint menu. It has a custom panel launcher, and an advanced sound control to manage your and control your music.
Cinnamon is still in the early stages of its life. They are working on a graphical configuration tool, and extensions and themes. The important thing is Cinnamon is stable. Cinnamon can be loaded with, or replace, any of those other desktops.
Cinnamon bears watching. KDE's 4.7 release is nice, and if you're a Fedora fan, this is the way to go, but if you like the old productive Gnome 2 desktop, it looks to me like Cinnamon will be the desktop of choice down the road, not Unity.
There's something else important about Cinnamon. Mint didn't come out and say, "Use us, it's your only choice, and tough luck if there's bugs", like Gnome 3 and Unity did. You can use Mint, while Cinnamon is continuing development, and has the proper time to bake, and become very stable.