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Q&A: Clement Lefebvre: The man behind Linux Mint

Christopher von Eitzen | Oct. 22, 2013
The creator of the popular Linux distro talks candidly about his goals, his successes and his nightmares.

Tell us a bit about the sub-projects that currently fall under the Linux Mint umbrella, such as the Cinnamon desktop environment and Nemo, a fork of version 3.4 of the Nautilus file manager.
The most important project is what we usually refer to as the "Mint tools". These include the Software Manager, the Update Manager, the Driver Manager, the Software Sources management tool and smaller tools like the Upload Manager, the Backup Tool, the USB Image Writer and USB Stick Formatter, the Domain Blocker, the Welcome Screen. These are important because they are used by all our users across all editions.

The biggest development project is Cinnamon. In version 2.0 it includes the following sub-projects: cjs, cinnamon-session, cinnamon-settings-daemon, cinnamon-desktop, cinnamon-control-center, cinnamon, muffin, nemo, cinnamon-bluetooth and cinnamon-screensaver. It has become a complete desktop environment (mostly by necessity and for compatibility/portability reasons). Innovation happens mostly in the visual components: cinnamon, muffin, nemo, and cinnamon-screensaver.

Another important aspect of development are the technologies developed around MATE such as mintdesktop and mintmenu. And finally there's MDM, the display manager. It is used in all editions and it's quite an important project for us.

Recently some distributions such as Cinnarch have decided to drop Cinnamon in favor of GNOME due to technical problems with Cinnamon and upstream GNOME packages. What do the Cinnamon developers plan to do to rectify these issues?
Linux Mint maintains three releases at any given time: the latest release, the latest LTS release and LMDE. Linux Mint is also the center of attention for most Cinnamon developers and one important thing for Cinnamon is to be compatible with all target releases maintained by Linux Mint.

Now, it is important to understand one thing: GNOME changes every six months and its components often break compatibility with previous versions of themselves. This means for instance that gnome-settings-daemon doesn't speak the same language or that gnome-bluetooth doesn't answer the same DBUS calls between versions 3.2, 3.4, 3.6, 3.8 of GNOME.

When Cinnamon was just a frontend, it had to speak the same language as the GNOME backend it was using. In the scope of Mint this meant it had to be compatible with GNOME all the way to version 3.6. Not only did GNOME 3.8 introduce important regressions, it was a version of GNOME that wasn't used in Mint, Ubuntu or Debian. So when Arch and Fedora upgraded to GNOME 3.8 they basically broke Cinnamon 1.8, which was compatible with version 3.6, and none of our developers were focused on these distributions or this version of GNOME.

There was a bit of a political argument there as well, since GNOME 3.8 compatibility was not considered urgent from a Linux Mint/Cinnamon perspective, and Cinnamon itself wasn't considered important enough by Arch to delay the GNOME 3.8 upgrade. Eventually we provided distributions using 3.8 a compatibility branch and things worked out.


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