Cinnamon and KDE sync version numbers in desktop sibling rivalry

Expect the former in a Linux Mint point release later this year

Two of the most popular "traditional" – read Windows-like – desktops happened to land the same version number at once.

The overlap is just a coincidence, and the two projects have differing approaches to versioning. Cinnamon is much younger: the project began in 2011, based on GNOME 3.2.1. KDE, on the other hand, is 14 years older: the first beta was in 1997, making it one of the oldest open source desktops. It's not based on any other desktop's code, but it uses the Qt toolkit, whose first release, 0.90, was just two years earlier.

Cinnamon 6.0 is the latest version of Linux Mint's in-house desktop, which is based on GNOME but reshaped to provide a more familiar, Windows-like experience. Linux Mint maintainer Clement Lefebvre released two separate versions yesterday, one for Mint 21 and another for LMDE 6.

The new desktop should appear in Linux Mint 21.3, which is expected before the holiday season, as we covered in October. However, now that the source is available, we expect it will be picked up by several rolling-release distros before then, such as Arch Linux and openSUSE Tumbleweed.

The big-ticket new feature in Cinnamon 6 is experimental support for Wayland, which will be an option on the login screen. The Wayland session is not yet feature-complete, and Lefevbre warned that it might be unstable. There's a public Trello board in which the curious can track how far the team has got. At the time of writing, there are 11 items under TODO and 12 under PROBLEMS, which means they outnumber the two columns for things that work, but it's getting there.

Wayland isn't the only change, though, as the 180-line changelog suggests. This is the first release since Cinnamon 5.8.4, and most of the listed changes are bug fixes and cosmetic improvements, such as centering or wrapping text labels, using dithering to improve the display of gradients, and other things to improve how the environment looks. There are changes to the sound and power applets, and improved gesture handling. Generation and handling of file thumbnails has been improved, including creating them for AVIF image files. No big-bang new features are listed, and the major version number mainly seems to denote the new support for a different display server.

KDE 6.0 is not yet finished. What the team has just released is beta 1 of the new version, and a final version is expected around February next year. The new major version reflects that the underlying programming toolkit of Qt has been upgraded. The previous point-release was KDE Plasma 5.27 back in February, which used Qt 5.15. The snag is that's now out of standard support, and the KDE developers must for now maintain a version themselves, called the KDE Qt5 Patch Collection.

The alpha version of KDE 6 appeared earlier this month, and as the team said then:

Every few years we port the key components of our software to a new version of Qt, taking the opportunity to remove cruft and leverage the updated features the most recent version of Qt has to offer us.

With Qt 5 now at the end of its life, probably the most well-known Qt-based software project must up stakes and move in the same direction that the Qt Group is heading. Qt 6.0 came out in 2020 and it's now up to version 6.6, which is what the new KDE uses.

KDE encompassed several different sub-projects: there's the familiar desktop environment, KDE Plasma, but there are also the KDE Frameworks cross-platform app development libraries, and the large collection of KDE apps, collectively called KDE Gear. These use a year-based versioning system rather than a single version number, but they are all moving to Qt 6 too. Currently some are assembled as KDE Gear 24.02, and others numbered 24.01.80.

The most familiar face of KDE is the Plasma desktop, and version 6 will have visible changes, some of which developer Nate Graham described some months ago. By default, file and folder icons will now default to opening on a double-click, rather than the Windows 98 Active Desktop single-click that's been the default for many years. This particular vulture has disliked single-click-to-open since it appeared 25 years ago, so that's a welcome change. The desktop panel (i.e. the taskbar) will float by default, as first seen in Plasma 5.25, which is harmless but distinctive. The alt-tab task-switcher will default to a multi-line grid arrangement, and some other options are being removed.

The big change, though, is that Plasma 6 will be Wayland-based by default, although X11 will still be an option for those who need it for particular configs, drivers, or other reasons. The KDE 6 spin of Fedora is planning to drop altogether, but other distros will likely keep it around for a while longer.

If you want to try out the new desktop already, grab the Testing Edition of KDE Neon, the showcase distro started by former Kubuntu lead Jonathan Riddell. KDE Neon matches up the latest Plasma desktop with the latest Ubuntu LTS version, but the Testing Edition throws in unfinished and work-in-progress builds as well, including beta releases.

Ubuntu's fixed six-monthly release cycle often led to Kubuntu going out of sync with KDE Plasma releases, and we've written about updating Kubuntu's KDE before. It's not alone in this: Lubuntu has similar issues. Kubuntu's woes might be somewhat alleviated in the lifetime of KDE 6, though, because the project plans to move to a semi-annual release cycle. ®

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