Updated: February 23, 2013
For me, Fedora 18 Spherical Cow was a big disappointment, mostly because Fedora 17 was a big positive surprise. It's like that woman who keeps smiling at you through the dinner and flirts with you, and then when you take her into your motel room, she suddenly starts crying. I mean what's up with that.
Anyhow, I know upfront that MATE will not change anything in terms of how friendly and simple Fedora 18 is. Anaconda stays Anaconda and whatnot. KDE is also a fairly sweet desktop environment, so the fact it did not quite work for me with Spherical Cows does not mean that MATE will suddenly warm my heart. But, if you can ignore the initial woes, and I surely can, then let's see what happens when you plaster the Gnome 2 reborn desktop on the latest Fedora release. Fedora + MATE, take one.
At the beginning of the mating season
MATE is available in the official repositories, so you just need to grab the meta package, wait a few minutes for the 120MB worth of data to download and install, then log out and log back in.
The initial impression is rather underwhelming. The MATE implementation in Fedora comes with super-old, bland icons and styling that really has no place in this modern era of decadence and cultural dilution. If anything, it somewhat reminds of openSUSE, but then all distributions look alike when you go for the stock, default settings. Still, this is just the very first step.
I definitely do not wish to turn this review into a MATE tutorial, so I will skimp on most of the gory details on customization and beautification. That said, some verbosity is needed. In general, if you remember how to tweak Gnome 2, then you will get along just fine. For me, it was the simple matter of reusing the themes and icons from Pangolin really, and the distro was soon ready and dandy.
However, not all was perfect. If you change the original theme, you might expect some artifacts here and there, which is what happened to me. If you go into the networking menu, you will see ugly gray backgrounds for Wireless access point names.
MATE handled the KDE set of applications without any hassle, with maybe just a tad of ugliness, but overall the mixing worked fine. Icons might look better in the system area, but I guess this can be sorted out by fixing the panel height.
MATE comes with its own humble set of programs. This is the wrong approach in my opinion. Either you bring everything or nothing, but there's no pointing in having just a different media player and reusing all the rest from another desktop environment. With that in mind, Fedora 18 MATE uses Yum Extender for package management rather than the new and fancy frontend. The reason is probably stability, as some people seem to have complained about the new stuff.
Here's a tricky one. Even though the core functionality remains unchanged, sort of, Spherical Cow with MATE struggled with the Samba printer definition. Yes, I did add the Samba package, and it was fine in KDE beforehand. For starters, as it turns out, there's no printing applet anywhere in the menu, really.
Eventually, I did find and add the missing software. Then, it would not work because of the firewall. Even after I managed to find the right systemd command to turn the firewall off, as there's no handy GUI utility, the printing failed for a while. Eventually, it started working properly.
The weird thing is, the KDE settings applet can also be used, so you can fire up that one too, and it will start on top of the MATE desktop, looking a little confused, but fully functional.
Is MATE integration in Spherical Cow perfect? No. Is it decent? Yes. Now, you might be asking yourselves, why do something like this? Why not go for Fuduntu? Honestly, I have no answer to that. You would probably want to use MATE if you do not like other alternatives to Gnome 3. But it makes for a tricky choice against KDE or Cinnamon.
In its current incarnation, MATE for Fedora needs more polish, better branding and a tighter integration with the system. The application set needs to be refreshed. And it really has to shine so that people will have a compelling reason why they should use it. But all in all, the desktop environment is done reasonably well. If you yearn for productivity and do not like the more recent, bloated setups, then MATE seems like a good choice for you. Indeed, it cannot transform Fedora into something else, but it offers a solid baseline for you to work with. And we should expect improvements as new versions are released. For now, an experiment, rough around the edges, sort of beta like the distro, but with a promising future, if the circumstances are right. There you go.