Linux Mint is by far one of the most popular Linux distros on the market, especially among Windows users who are jumping into the Linux bandwagon. This is mostly because Linux Mint comes with a familiar desktop environment that resembles the classic Windows desktop. It offers tons of quality of life features, making it very user-friendly for users who have never tried Linux before.
Since Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, you get access to the largest Linux community to help you out with all your problems and issues.
With that being said, when you got to download the Linux Mint ISO, you will be presented with three desktop environments to choose from.
- Linux Mint Cinnamon: It is the most modern desktop environment that’s fully featured with all the necessary tools and programs.
- Linux Mint MATE: It is more stable and offers a faster and snappier desktop environment.
- Linux Mint Xfce: This is by far the most stable and lightweight option.
Out of these three, Cinnamon and MATE are the most popular and widely recommended options. In fact, the Linux Mint community is continuously debating on which desktop environment is the best.
Both desktop environments bring their own unique merits to the table. As such, it isn’t a matter of which one is the best, but a question of which one is best for you? And this is precisely what we are going to discuss here.
So without further ado, here is our detailed read on Linux Mint Cinnamon Vs. MATE: Which One Should You Choose? But before we get started, let’s get a clear understanding of what’s a desktop environment and its purpose.
What Is a Linux Desktop Environment?
A desktop environment is a bundle of different components that provides you with a Graphical User Interface (GUI). You can use Linux graphically with a mouse and keyboard, similar to operating Windows or macOS.
At the very least, a desktop environment will give you access to icons, a toolbar, wallpaper, and desktop widgets.
Other than this, most reputable desktop environments come with their own set of apps and utilities to provide a more prosperous and cohesive experience while using the OS. This includes a dedicated file explorer, desktop search functionality, a menu consisting of all installed applications, text editors, etc.
Without a desktop environment, your Linux installation will give you a terminal-like utility. You would have to interact with your OS through the command-line.
Linux Mint Cinnamon Vs. MATE: Core Differences
Both the Cinnamon and MATE edition of Linux Mint is based on GNOME. However, where Cinnamon is based on the modern GNOME 3 desktop environment, MATE is based on GNOME 2.
Since it’s inception, GNOME was one of the most popular and widely used desktop environments. However, it wasn’t perfect, and people had their criticisms. This was when GNOME 2 was introduced, which became a significant hit among users.
But again, when GNOME 3 was announced in 2012, it stirred up some controversy and few negative feedback. Some users liked the modern stylized look of the newer version, while others preferred the older GNOME 2.
The Cinnamon Desktop Environment
In response to the dilemma surrounding GNOME, the Linux Mint devs forked GNOME 3 and merged some of its core features with some of their tweaks to create the current Cinnamon desktop environment.
The Cinnamon edition is the primary focus of the Linux Mint devs. It is the most modern and sleek looking desktop environment for Linux Mint that gets all the latest features and updates.
The MATE Desktop Environment
The major criticism surrounding GNOME 3 was the introduction of the new GNOME shell. Many users didn’t like it. This encouraged an Argentine user to fork GNOME 2 and create what we know today as the MATE desktop environment.
It is a modern desktop environment officially used by over 20 Linux distros – Linux Mint being one of them. MATE keeps the same codebase as GNOME 2 and the same framework and core apps to keep the traditional Linux users satisfied. On top of that, it fully incorporates the GTK+ 3 framework.
It is worth noting that MATE misses some of the newer features that are available in Cinnamon. Also, it follows a slower development schedule compared to Cinnamon.
However, MATE is faster than Cinnamon, consumes fewer resources, and is more stable, which adds to its popularity.
Linux Mint Cinnamon Vs. MATE: The Visual Differences
At a visual level, Linux Mint Cinnamon and MATE are mostly similar with a few differences, mainly in the vibe and feel of the user interface and GUI.
Instead of talking about it, let’s take a tour through both desktop environments so you can get a better understanding.
Overall Look and Feel
Here is a look at the Cinnamon desktop environment looks like:
And this is what the MATE desktop environment looks like:
Right off the bat, both desktop environments feel similar, but as you look closers, you will begin to see a few subtle differences.
For example, here is the App Menu for Linux Mint Cinnamon.
As you can see, it has an incredibly sleek, minimal, and modern style.
In contrast, this is the App menu for Linux Mint MATE.
It follows a much more traditional look and feels, which is somewhat reminiscent of Windows 7 and XP. The overuse of text makes it look less minimal.
Similarly, here is a look at both the desktop environments with multiple windows open:
As you can see, there is an aesthetic difference between the two desktop environments, although it’s incredibly subtle. For example, notice that in the toolbar, the names of the opened apps are mentioned in MATE, whereas Cinnamon only highlights the app icon.
The most in-your-face visuall difference you will notice is with the lock-screen. Just take a look and see for yourself.
The Cinnamon lock screen looks more clean and classy.
MATE offers a more traditional lock screen with a dedicated window for entering your password. However, it does come with an extra feature that allows you to leave a message for the next user that logs in.
Linux Mint Cinnamon Vs. MATE: In-Built Software & Utilities
Both the Cinnamon and MATE edition of Linux Mint comes with in-built software and utilities. However, some of the software is different depending on which desktop environment you choose.
That being said, you can always install your favorite software and utilities for yourself. However, it is useful to know what you are getting right out of the box.
Linux Mint Cinnamon Vs. MATE: Terminal
With Cinnamon, you are getting the GNOME terminal as the default terminal emulator.
However, with MATE, you get the MATE Terminal.
Linux Mint Cinnamon Vs. MATE: File Manager
Linux Mint Cinnamon ships with the Nemo file manager out of the box. It is a lightweight, simple file manager, but comes with all the necessary features for your file management needs.
Nemo file manager is a fork of the Nautilus file manager.
With Linux Mint MATE, you get access to the CAJA file manager. It is a bit heavier compared to Nemo and comes with tons of advanced options. It is also a fork of the Nautilus file manager.
Linux Mint Cinnamon Vs. MATE: Text Editor
Both Cinnamon and MATE desktop environments for Linux Mint comes with the xed text editor. It is a small and lightweight text editor that comes with a bunch of useful options.
Linux Mint Cinnamon Vs. MATE: Image Viewer
Cinnamon and MATE also share the same Image Viewer as well. You will get access to Xviewer by default to help you view all the images on your system.
Linux Mint Cinnamon Vs. MATE: Media Player
For playing music, both Cinnamon and MATE comes with Rhythmbox.
Also, both desktop environments share the same Celluloid video player as well.
Linux Mint Cinnamon Vs. MATE: Which One is Right for You?
By now, you should have a clear understanding of the differences between Cinnamon and Mate desktop environments. As you can see, both flavors offer many of the same software out of the box, with a few exceptions. The main difference lies in the visuals and aesthetics, but it’s very subtle.
That being said, since both the desktop environments use GTK+, you have access to all the popular GTK+ themes to tweak the look and feel of your desktop. Also, Cinnamon has a dedicated library of themes and extensions, which gives you more theming options.
Overall, if you like minimal and modern design styles, then we would recommend that you go with the Cinnamon edition.
It is also recommended for Linux beginners, as it allows for a seamless switch from Windows OS. Furthermore, the active support from the Linux Mint devs with regular updates is always a plus.
On the flip side, if you run on older hardware with weak specs, then going with MATE will make more sense. It is less resource hungry and considerably lightweight. It is also more stable compared to Cinnamon. This is why it is the preferred choice of professionals who will use the system for serious work.
If you are still not sure whether the Linux Mint Cinnamon or Mate editions is right for you, you can always try out both of them in a virtual machine, and then make up your mind. To help you out, here is a guide on How to Install Linux Mint on Virtual Box.