After all, having to switch to a different screen, the way you do in GNOME 3, just to start another application does seem inefficient, unless you are working on a small-screen mobile device and have no choice.
As for alacarte, it seems ported directly from GNOME 2 without any changes in functionality. It allows complete editing of the menu, from repositioning items to choosing which to display. Alacarte also offers the choice of the multi-level but totally complete Debian menus.
However, for many users, including me, the greatest improvement in Cinnamon is the restoration of drag and drop. In the latest version, applications can be dropped freely from the menu to the workspace or the panel. With this simple feature, Cinnamon puts favorite launchers a mouse click away, enabling a work flow that GNOME 3's designers discarded, apparently in the mistaken belief that everyone would be happy to be forced to work another way.
True, features like automatic arranging of launchers would be welcome in future releases. But at least the current version of Cinnamon has set the principle that launchers are worth having.
GNOME 3 uses the overview mode for everything not directly involved with running the current application. The menu, favorites bar, and virtual workspaces all appear only in the overview mode, which is accessible by clicking the Activities link on the panel.
By contrast, Cinnamon lets users ignore the overview completely if they choose. Like the menus, virtual workspace controls are transferred to a panel in the main screen. There, they work exactly as in GNOME 2, with options for setting the number of virtual workspaces and arranging them in rows on the panel. The only feature of GNOME 2 virtual workspaces that is not enabled is the ability to name them, leaving users with the option of either displaying no name, or the unhelpful Workspaces 1, 2, and 3.
Users who want the overview can enable a corner hot spot or use Ctrl+Alt+Up or Ctrl+Alt+Down to switch to it. If you set the hot corner to make its icon visible, the result -- fittingly enough -- is an animation of radio waves that helps you zero in precisely at the corner.
Yet, even in the overview, Cinammon offers improvements over GNOME 3. In the Cinnamon settings, you can choose either Scale, a view of all the windows open in the current workspace that is much like GNOME 3's overview, or else the new Expo, from which you can drag and drop windows from one virtual workspace to another.
Of the two overviews, Scale will probably appeal most to those who make light use of virtual workspaces, but occasionally get lost in the clutter of open windows. Expo, in comparison, is better-suited to heavy users of virtual workspaces, for whom the panel controls are not enough. However, both are improvements over GNOME 3's concept of the overview.
Despite these features, Cinnamon is not the perfect desktop environment. Annoyingly, it requires a reboot for some changes to take affect. The ecosystem of applets and extensions remains less extensive than the original GNOME 2's, and Cinnamon badly needs to organize configuration tools, instead of dumping them into a menu simply labeled Other.
However, the main trouble with Cinnamon 1.4 is that it appears to install with alarmingly varied results. On one test machine, both overviews were unavailable. On another, no drag and drop capability was available, and selecting most panel options had no effect. The only way that I could try all Cinnamon's features was to move between machines.
Because of these problems, as much as I approve of the directions in which Cinnamon is heading, I would hesitate to recommend it yet. Although my experience might not be typical, the risk of a partially functioning desktop seems too great.
However, Cinnamon has come a long way quickly. The 1.4 release could do with some functional improvements, but in general the project seems at the stage where it can start giving more attention to functionality.
Give Cinnamon another release or two, and it might become the main GNOME desktop, squeezing out GNOME 3 and Unity by giving users what they want. But for now, Cinnamon is merely promising -- and, at times, annoying as well.