Updated: June 8, 2012
All right, time for another Mint Maya review. With Cinnamon for desktop, it was a simple and quite perfect 10/10 grade, the highest accolade you can score. Worked fabulously, elegance, style and speed combined into an intuitive, fully functional formula for the desktop user. All you could wish for and then some.
MATE is the second official desktop interface offered with the spring release, the team having some trouble deciding which one would suit their users better, the more conservative MATE, which is a rather accurate Gnome 2 clone, or the more modern and sleek Cinnamon. In my first round, I selected Cinnamon, and now we will see what MATE can do. This review will be significantly shorter, but I still believe you will find the info useful.
I did not download the distribution from scratch and reinstalled it. Instead, I downloaded MATE through the already running Maya instance on my T61 test machine. In a way, you might call this cheating, but then, there's no point showing you all the same details all over again. You are convinced that music and programs and all that work perfectly.
Anyhow, MATE has changed a little in the latest version. The menu is no longer at the bottom, it's up on the top, like classic Gnome 2, with the three-column menu and some shortcuts. You also get the bottom panel.
For those only now switching from earlier versions of the distribution, it's like you've never left. You have your applications listed down in categories and sub-menus, just as they were once. However, if you've used the Mint's more pimped-up version of the system menu, you will find the lack of an instant inline search restricting.
Customization is terribly easy. You can quickly change your theme, window borders or icons, using the full might of artwork at hand. In this regard, nothing beats this simplicity anywhere.
Gconf-editor is not there, but you have the Desktop Settings applet to take of all the little details, like mounted volumes icons, terminal fortune cookies, window buttons, and such.
But there's more to it than just what MATE does, although I must admit most of this review is about the desktop interface, as the underlying system remains unchanged. However, to allay your fears, I thoroughly tested everything. There were no bad surprises, no crashes, no issues of any kind. Well, some cosmetic ones mostly. Some apps did not integrate well with MATE. Some of the icons popping up in the system area were too big. Those kinds of things, y'know.
I installed all that I could get my hands on, including the switcher icon for Fusion. Now, for some reason, I could not locate the Emerald windows decorator package, which makes me feel incomplete. Overall, most of the effects worked just fine, others flaked a little. Not sure if this is a MATE problem, but the fanboyish experience with the effect was not sensational. Quite good, but not spectacular.
Now, here's a tricky one. For some reason, MATE used more memory than Cinnamon, believe it or not. The responsiveness was pretty much the same, even though MATE was running in the 2D mode without any graphics effects. This on the rather lame 965GM graphics.
If you want to see how history unfolded, then perhaps you might want to take a look at my older review of MATE, as well as why I didn't recommend it as the default choice for Ubuntu, although it's possible.
Linux Mint 13 Maya + MATE desktop is a very interesting choice. You get good looks, decent speed, the classic behavior, an invisible infusion of nostalgia, and then some. Really lovely. But let me not give you a recommendation just yet. Let me deviate wildly into a different dimension of thought.
Choice. For people who need Gnome 2 before their eyes, there's a tricky question of Xubuntu/Xfce convergence toward the said desktop. The latest edition of Xubuntu is particularly sweet and as close to being a splendid alternative to the traditional Gnome and KDE dominance as it can get. In a way, you might be confused, since we've gone from too few choices to too many again. Half a year ago, I was consternated, seeing only trouble. Now, the bubble of hope has exploded again, and a plenty of good choices is coming to life all over, making my life more difficult as a rather happy user.
So if you are seeking to fill in the gap left by Gnome 2 disappearance, then you have quite a few options. There's MATE, Cinnamon, Xfce. Which one should you choose? If you ask me, and you might, it depends on what you're trying to achieve. Cinnamon seems like the best modern choice, the stepping stone between chic and duty. Xfce seems to be the best traditional choice, MATE sitting somewhere in between. It can be frugal and 2D only, but it can also run Compiz if you need.
Logically then, for the widest spectrum of uses that do not revolve around aesthetics, MATE is what you want, then. But beware the legacy core, as things might diverge too far from the Ubuntu main tree to be compatible some time down the development road. But then, Cinnamon is a blast, too. Damn. I'm spinning in circles.
I must vote, and I vote Cinnamon. Yes. That's it. MATE is a very close second. On Mint, it just feels less natural than Cinnamon for some reason, today, in this particular setting. Overall, it is the most optimal compromise between the future and the past. MATE leans more toward the past, and I'm afraid this might be a risk. Not because it will not work, but because there will be less interest maintaining and developing tools for the desktop. Given the market share and power of the players involved, MATE is the underdog. I love it, but I must also be pragmatic.
And so, to conclude, MATE works just great. Mint Maya with MATE works great. It's a nice combo. But just shy of perfect. You may think I'm selling you hogwash, but deep down, my feelings lean toward the Cinnamon version. Still, for older computers, diehard fans, and people who don't care about the future, MATE is an excellent choice. And in this incarnation, Linux Mint gets a nice grade of 9.5/10, but not the perfect score.