Ubuntu MATE 20.10 Groovy Gorilla review

Updated: December 11, 2020

All right, let's continue the autumn distro testing session. So far, I looked at Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Fedora 33 and Manjaro, so I want to hop back to the *buntu family and review Ubuntu MATE. One, it's a sort of underdog retro-modern desktop designed to fill in the gap between Gnome 3, Xfce and Unity. Two, I've changed my testing methodology, so less patience and tolerance, more focus on fun. We need to see how that affects today's outcome.

Overall, Ubuntu MATE does a reasonable job. The default aesthetics are a bit tricky - the gray/green issue that affects Mint and Manjaro, too - but it offers a fairly balanced set of tools and applications plus a very cushy software managed called Boutique. I also tried it on Raspberry Pi with some quite decent results. But now, we need to see what the Groovy release brings to the table. My eight-boot Intel-graphics test laptop, at your disposal. Begin.

Teaser

Warming up

A short live session, mostly to check the network connectivity and install the distro. You get a chime sound when you enter the session and when you start the installer. The fonts are too pale. The installer took about fifteen minutes to scan partitions, and like Xubuntu, it showed /dev/sdb first, which cannot be used and just causes unnecessary alarm with the user, before displaying the relevant target partitions on the internal disk. The installation completed fine and without problems.

Live desktop

Partition scan

If sdb is the installation medium, why show it - and why show it first?

Partitions

Like Xubuntu, there is some text under the colored bars. What's the purpose?

The gorilla in the room

The Wireless connection was not preserved. The Welcome screen pops up on first login correctly. There was a bunch of updates available right away (downloaded during the installation). The language wasn't correctly set, the whole region/timezone/dialect problem that's been with us since the dawn of humanity, or maybe 2012.

Desktop, installed

Layouts

One of the strong suits of Ubuntu MATE is the ability to switch desktop layouts through MATE Tweak. I tried a bunch of different ones, including Mutiny and Cupertino. Not bad, slightly more polished than before. But there were issues. Brisk would open full screen, but then refuse to go away. It would take multiple mouse clicks and keyboard clicks (including some furious use of the Esc key) to get the menu to vanish. Very distracting.

Cupertino

Mutiny

Software management

Boutique does the job well. It's faster and more responsive than in the past. You can pretty much install any application you need. Lots of goodies, and all of it out of the box. Quite decent.

Boutique

Multimedia

Not the best. I tried to play some MP3 songs, and guess what - Rhythmbox simply added all of the songs into its list and then didn't play the one I selected. This bug has been around for three-four years, then it went away briefly, and now it's back, to say nothing of the removable devices. Makes the app useless.

But the other app - Celluloid - isn't much better. Yes it plays fine, but if you click on the time slider, it merely advances playback by 10 seconds and does not advance to the specific timestamp you have selected. You need to click and drag. VLC does a much better job.

Various inconsistencies

A lot of small papercuts from the olden days still persist. Brisk has a hard-coded Favourites (British) even if you use American English. Similarly, Plank has a hard-coded Trash even if you use British English, so you have Rubbish Bin on the desktop but Trash in the dock. Switching language dialect remains clunky. Plank also uses its own theme. Some windows have shadows in screenshots - like Boutique, others do not.

In the live session, hitting Ctrl + L to get the address bar for Samba connectivity would pop this window out like a separate utility. After the installation, it merely highlights the address bar in Caja. The login window, if you choose to exit your session, does not focus on the existing user, so you need to select your user first and then type in the password. An unnecessary mouse click, especially since I only had ONE interactive user defined on the host.

Samba credentials were not remembered - twice - eventually, the keyring popup happened, and after that, it was sort of all right.

Performance, responsiveness

The system is relatively fast, but it is not quite as sprightly as Plasma. Decent, but the resource usage stands at almost 900 MB RAM (twice what Plasma takes). The CPU was relatively quiet. Samba performance wasn't ideal. The remote filesystems weren't as responsive as I've seen in the more recent builds of Plasma, and the overall throughput is low - only about 3 MB/s - Plasma recently managed to go over the almost magical 4 MB/s limit, whereas Windows 10 does 15 MB/s easily over Wireless in the same physical location.

Resources

Why shadows, pray?

Looks what I configured after a while

The desktop, more or less ready to use, but without any major excitement factor:

Final looks

Conclusion

Ubuntu MATE 20.10 Groovy Gorilla is not a bad distro. But it's also not really fun. It's virtually identical to its predecessor, for better or worse. The annoying thing is - lots of existing bugs persist. There are some improvements, and the fixes to layouts and the overall Boutique speed are more than welcome. However, various inconsistencies remain, the fonts can be better, and the performance can be better.

I'd say, average score. If you're after Ubuntu MATE, then the LTS makes far more sense. The changes in this release do not warrant the hassle of an upgrade, especially since you will have to do it again soon, as the support timeframe for the interim releases is very short. Groovy is mostly for tinkerers and those who want the latest version of whatever, no matter what. Decent, but it can be vastly more fun. And we're done.

Cheers.

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