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Linux Mint – Understanding the differences between MATE and Cinnamon

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At first glance, you may not notice a great deal of difference between MATE and Cinnamon. This is due to the fact that the Mint developers modeled the default layout of MATE to look closer to their other offerings, so as to create a consistent look and feel between versions. If you look at the screenshots on the official MATE website (mentioned earlier), you’ll notice that the version included in Mint looks quite a bit different than how MATE does by default. Despite the similarities in how the Mint developers have set it up, MATE is a completely different desktop environment and is unrelated to Cinnamon. The following screenshot shows the MATE desktop environment:

When you click on the Applications menu, you’ll notice one difference right away; MATE uses a different application launcher. Many consider the application launcher in MATE to be superior for several reasons. For example, there is a text box on the bottom of the Applications menu that allows you to search for installed programs (just as Cinnamon allows you to do), but in addition allows you to also search for more than just installed programs. For example, you can type the name of a package into this text box that you don’t have installed, and MATE will give you an option to install it, without even opening a package manager! In addition, you can even type a term into this text box, and options will appear that will allow you to look up that term in Wikipedia or to perform a Google search on the topic. The following screenshot shows MATE’s application launcher with a generic search term typed in to show the various search options:

Another difference between MATE and Cinnamon is how you configure the environment. While Cinnamon features a System Settings application from which you can configure your desktop, MATE features an application known as the Control Center which does essentially the same thing but has a different appearance. The following screenshot shows MATE’s Control Center:

In the Control Center, you can configure things such as Appearance (the look and feel of the desktop), Screensaver, Printers, Users, and more.

As mentioned, MATE is lighter on resources than Cinnamon, but by no means is it lighter on features. The environment is completely customizable, so it’s easy to make it your own. You can easily change the wallpaper, add applets to your panel, add a new panel, add application shortcuts to your panel and your desktop, change the theme, and much more. Just about anything you can configure in Cinnamon is configurable here as well, with one of the few exceptions being Cinnamon’s Desklets. The following screenshot shows how to add an applet to the panel in MATE:

Another difference between Cinnamon and MATE is the file manager. While Cinnamon bundles the Nemo file manager, MATE instead opts for a program called Caja. Although they are completely different programs, their basic usage is the same. Using Caja, you can easily browse your filesystem, rename files, remove files, and navigate in much the same way as in Nemo. The following screenshot shows the Caja file manager:

Aside from these differences, the best way for you to get a good feel for the MATE edition is to use it. After you’ve spent some time with it, you’ll be able to determine which one you prefer for your computer.

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