Updated: December 21, 2011
In the past few weeks, I've spent some time dabbling with MATE, the new Gnome 2 fork slowly gaining momentum in the Linux world. MATE is designed to be, and let me quote the author, a non-intuitive and unattractive desktop for users, using traditional computing desktop metaphor. It might be what everyone needs, a fully functional environment intended for users with opposing thumbs.
My Linux Mint 12 reviews, available hither and thither, show just how bad Gnome 3 is. If Linux Mint fails, then we have a serious problem. An abomination really. Well, maybe MATE can save the day. It's unto Gnome 3 what Trinity is unto KDE4. But then, I did not quite like Trinity, nor do I think it has any future in the desktop world. And yes, it's likely that distro developers have written off Gnome 2 forever and that MATE will never gain the critical mass of users required to sustain it and that it may yet fade into obscurity. For now, though, it's a beacon of hope in a bleak maze of code.
Linux Mint 12 offers MATE as the third desktop environment option once the system is installed from the 1GB DVD, after Gnome 3 and Gnome 3 Fallback. Logging in, you're presented with the classic interface you have seen in Mint for the past four releases.
The system is fast and responsive - and was quite stable while I was using it. All of familiar functionality from Gnome 2 is there, including the ability to interact with your panels, use the desktop for icons and applications and more.
Look and feel
The serene color scheme is there, including the fonts and windows decorations. You can also turn desktop effects on and off, if you like. Throw in a nice background, and you're in for a simple, pleasant treat.
MATE offers you a simple customization menu for your desktop, similar to Windows a bit, allowing you to hide or display certain items, move windows items from right to left, use compositing, and more. You can use gconf-like commands, but this is so much simpler.
If you need to make additional changes to your system, all the functions and options are available in a single menu.
It works. Yup. Remember my fiasco with printing in Gnome 3 in this very same desktop? Well, Lisa + MATE has no problems printing. For instance, just input the network address of your LAN box that has the printer connected to it, and it shall be found, including Windows printers via Samba. Just proves how much Gnome 3 sucks.
And one last screenshot, a desktop with a moody background and some shortcut icons near the menu button. Simple, uncluttered, useful, practical. As it should be. And the actual memory usage is less than Gnome 3, plus it's more responsive.
Sing song with me. Linux Mint with MATE works really really great. This sounds like a fanboy tripping, but it is a simple fact. So much rhyming! Winning!
Let's be serious. MATE cons, first. None that I could find during the test, expect the potential risk of no future development and growth. Seems like a nice idea and highly practical. If you must have the modern look, then Unity is worth considering, but if you need a practical desktop, this beats all the rest.
Now, the pros. Fast, elegant, simple, functional, without crashes or bugs, without visual inconsistencies, responsive, usable. MATE seems to be everything Gnome 2 ever was. This is excellent news, and I'm considering adding Lisa to my computing setup, paired to this desktop environment. Visually, MATE has a dire competitor in Unity on top of Ocelot, as Ubuntu guys have done a really great job. But MATE has an advantage that it can appeal to traditional users, too. At the moment, it seems like the best compromise around.
To sum it up, MATE seems to stand proud shoulder to shoulder with KDE4, and I dare add, Unity too. Trying to see beyond my own limited world of needs and desires and trying to leverage looks against pure functionality, Unity is becoming something that people can use on a daily basis, especially with the Launcher moved to the bottom of the screen. KDE4 really works well lately, it's smooth and polished and offers a great setup for Gnome refugees. And now, there's MATE, which is darn good. Elegance revived.
If I can be a prophet for a moment, MATE will, unfortunately, have a hard time fighting against the big bullies in the desktop playground. The KDE userbase will not be affected by MATE, or vice versa, so it will come down to how popular KDE is, regardless of the storms in the Gnome world. Then, I must tip my hat off to Mark and Canonical for making a sleek and non-geeky interface that I'm no longer hating. Now, not so with Gnome 3, the colossal disaster that it is. And this is exactly the one chance MATE has to make it big or become a collector's item, like Trinity. It won't be easy, as Ubuntu leads and Mint must follow, and thus Gnome 3 will always be there. But perhaps, just perhaps, it could reverse the tide. Hey, it's up to you to decide. Start using MATE, make your voice heard.