RPI 4 & Ubuntu MATE - Essential tweaks

Updated: August 17, 2020

All right. So I got myself a Raspberry Pi 4 and decided to try to turn into a proper mini desktop. This meant using an operating system with a full desktop environment. My choice for this experiment was Ubuntu MATE, which I installed and configured. The overall setup wasn't trivial, so I decided to dedicate a number of articles to showing you what you need to do to get the perfect desktop-like experience.

Most importantly, I've shown you how to enable video acceleration, how to setup audio, and now, I'm going to talk about various other changes and tweaks. We'll focus primarily on the desktop side of things, but there will be also be some pure Raspberry Pi elements. Let us begin then.

Nice desktop

Tools we will need

Before we start with specific changes, you should grab a few utilities. These will help you get the work done. Most notably, you want the dconf-editor tool, which lets you change various hidden values for the desktop and applications in MATE.

sudo apt-get install dconf-editor

Newly launched windows are not centered

You may notice that when you start programs, they are shown on the left side of the screen. This can be annoying, especially if you expect the desktop environment to remember the last position of application windows, or at the very least, on large monitors, to have them painted in the middle of the screen. You can change how MATE does this through a dconf tweak.

Launch dconf-editor (now that it's installed). Navigate to: org > mate > marco > general. Here, toggle center-new-windows to on. Next time you launch an application, it will render in the right spot.

Center new windows

Plank dock is not transparent

If you happen to be using the Cupertino layout, You may notice that the Plank dock doesn't have a transparent background, even if you do explicitly set it to be so. The reason for this is that you're most likely using no compositor. The solution is: Open MATE Tweak > Windows, and then under Windows manager, change from Marco (No compositor) to Marco (adaptive).

Plank background not transparent

Compositor

Plank, transparent background

If the change does not stick across reboots, you can change it with dconf-editor. Launch the tool, then navigate to org > mate > marco > general, and toggle compositing-manager to on.

Center new windows

Theme font color (set to black)

We discussed this in a dedicated tutorial, because this is an important topic.

Font color

And ... that would be all for this article, folks!

Conclusion

This wasn't a very long guide, because Ubuntu MATE is already fairly sorted out when it comes to everyday desktop activities. Not perfect, and there are problems here and there, but in general, the setup is mostly there. Some of the issues I tried to address here seem to be specific to the ARM implementation, and others - like the font color - are a generic thing.

Well, if you want to use Ubuntu MATE on a Pi (4), hopefully this article does it. I will shortly follow up with a longer, more detailed guide on how to tweak the MATE desktop environment on top of Raspberry Pi OS, which does not have many of the customizations and settings like the main project distro. That should be interesting, and we will go from a boring, bland desktop to a vibrant, colorful and modern desktop. Stay tuned.

Cheers.