Ubuntu MATE 16.04
For several weeks I tinkered with the beta version of Ubuntu MATE 16.04 in a virtual machine. After the official release I installed the system on my laptop.
The MATE folks did well with the Ubuntu installer. While some technical knowledge of installing operating systems is required with any installation, the Ubuntu installer is reasonably straightforward to use.
The MATE Welcome app is impressive. The devs invested some serious effort into that app.
The overall desktop design is clean and crisp.
Ubuntu MATE uses the GNOME 2 two-panel layout for the default. I never liked that layout. I do not believe the layout encourages potential Windows converts. The MATE Tweak applet provides a simple way to change to a single bottom panel. Much like Xfce, this ability to change the panel layout with a single click is a significant improvement.
Rather than default to a two panel layout, a nice touch would be to ask the user during installation or first desktop instance whether to use a Redmond single bottom panel layout or a two-panel layout.
My complaint about the panels is the same with every distro. The panels are too thin. Especially with a single panel layout. I do not understand this design fad. Ubuntu MATE targets desktops and laptops, not tiny smart phones.
Another nit is the inability for many users to remove unwanted packages. The MATE developers made the MATE desktop packages dependencies of many apps and removing these packages seems impossible. For example, I wanted to remove the Universal Access apps, Onboard, Screen Magnifier, and Screen Reader. As well as apps such as Rhythmbox.
I discovered the dependencies are caused only by meta packages. The MATE meta packages can be removed without affecting the MATE desktop. This dependency approach is not user friendly. Users should be able to remove unwanted non MATE packages. Meta packages should be limited and should not be used to create an entire “user experience.” Create a user experience just by installing additional packages.
Ubuntu MATE seems to suffer the same fate as Xubuntu in that sometimes on reboot or halt the system will fail to unmount various partitions and NFS shares.
I am not enthusiastic about dark themes. I agree they can be beautiful but after a few hours of usage my eyes grow tired. I always struggle with light text on dark backgrounds. I replaced the default Ubuntu MATE dark theme with Clearlooks-Phenix. Some people might scoff at the theme because of the “1990s” look, but that kind of theme works well for me and my eyes.
I am not badgered with the panel menu opening delay. There remains a momentary delay the first access, but nothing horrible as I experienced in the past.
Configuring my network printer was a 30 second effort with no idiotic password prompts.
I have no idea how long the feature has been available in MATE, but during the configuration period I stumbled across the option to configure the Caja file properties dialog to show advanced permissions. This requires using dconf rather than a GUI control, but nonetheless is much welcomed.
I spent about three afternoons and evenings configuring Ubuntu MATE 16.04 to my liking. I installed probably a hundred additional packages, much more when including dependencies. Having cut my Ubuntu eye teeth on Xubuntu 15.10 for a couple of months helped to know what I wanted and have some familiarity with the Ubuntu design. Despite the many additional packages, my system partition uses only 5.9 GB of space. Compare that to Windows, which uses two to three times that just for the operating system.
Still being new to the Ubuntu way meant digging and writing notes about configuring things the way I prefer. In all, three days is not bad for the effort. I have a stable and useful desktop.
With respect to my laptop I am enjoying Ubuntu MATE more than Xubuntu.
After a couple of months Xubuntu did not set right with me. Unexpected paper cuts. For example, I replaced Thunar with Caja to obtain desired file management features. A goofy problem with the Xfce terminal shrinking in size when using mc. Firefox taking an extraordinary amount of time to launch. A long menu opening delay that appeared mysteriously. Clipman not working the way I want.
Satisfied with the laptop results, I installed Ubuntu MATE on a stand-alone desktop that has Windows 7 installed. I replaced an LMDE system, which I use as a front-end to Windows 7, which I run only as a virtual machine using the raw Windows partitions. The system is isolated from my LAN through a router VLAN. Rather than “front-end” perhaps “prophylactic” is a better description. I seldom use the Windows system and never for anything considered “productive.”
I next installed Ubuntu MATE to my office desktop. No serious problems. The office system uses cantankerous Nvidia chips for video but the nouveau driver seems to running fine. I am hoping this indicates I can use the newer nouveau driver when updating the Slackware 14.2 side when available. Currently I have to use the proprietary driver in Slackware 14.1.
For many years Ubuntu had a reputation of being unpolished and crash prone. I will not offer that opinion against Ubuntu MATE 16.04. I think the Ubuntu MATE devs have a clue about designing a distro and desktop. While I have not been using the system long enough to offer opinions about stability, I have not yet experienced any crashes.
I have read a handful of online reports that Ubuntu has become boring. Likely the Ubuntu devs have matured in their efforts with the underlying system. Boring is good rather than perpetually broken.
Ubuntu MATE 16.04 is now my primary operating system on my laptop. While not my primary operating system on my office machine, overall I am content with Ubuntu MATE 16.04.