Ubuntu 14.10 MATE edition - Almost fabulous


Updated: November 28, 2014

As you all know, MATE is a desktop environment. Contrary to popular belief, it's not named after a South American beverage, but rather after the Croatian singer Mate Bulic. Just kidding. It's actually named after the Croatian football player Mate Bilic. Booyakasha.

Anyhow, Utopic Unicorn in its original Unity flavor disappointed me sorely, I actually had to exercise violence within my domicile. But then I decided to try Ubuntu MATE, which is a modern version of Ubuntu with the reincarnated old Gnome 2. Plus a dozen emails from you may have also affected my decision. But I must appear tough, so I won't admit being nice.

Teaser

You're my live session, I cannot sleep

Your possession, start up your CD. Ahem. The live desktop came up just fine, without any problems. It looks and feels very slick. Everything looks sharp, the fonts, the icons, even the desktop wallpaper is serene and friendly, and I did not feel like replacing it, not for a second.

MATE desktop

I can't say if the screenshot problem persists, because MATE is all about pure productivity and no 3D effects nonsense. But there were no problems with capturing any window, which makes me think there's something wrong with the whole 3D stuff in the newer, fancier environments. In addition to the expected underlying Xorg bugs, of course.

Connectivity and friends

Worked fine. Samba throughput was amazing. Blazing fast like the old CentOS. Wireless also worked like charm, in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz range. The system was usable, but you will need to wait a little, after the installation, to get all the really juicy stuff, like media codecs, for instance.

Installation

Here, I hit my first snag. As it turns out, Ubuntu MATE failed to format the target partition for the root filesystem. What! Yup, we saw this in stock Ubuntu, too. Here, the wizard did not stall, but during the slide show, the progress hung forever. This is a horrible thing, and it made my rage hormones spike up through the roof. Still, I decided to try a different kind of trick, to see whether I could work around this.

Prepare

Installation type

Slide 1, installer is stuck

Slide 2

You must excuse my newfound tolerance, because I probably should have exercised the same kind of justice like Ubuntu Unity. But having cooled down a little, I can now spare this distro more favor than I did the official version. More so, because the official version is supposed to be the flagship product, and it must shine, and there cannot be any room for error.

What I did was fire up GParted. It ate through the partition like a light saber through Danish butter. After that, the second installation attempt went successfully. And ultra fast. Maybe five minutes later, we were done. I can't say what makes this desktop environment superior to either Unity or Kubuntu, but the installation finished much more quickly. Maybe fewer packages to copy? Or less data to proceed, without wasting cycles on rendering nonsense?

GParted

Installing now

The quad-boot setup worked fine. And I must admit, Ubuntu 14.10 MATE has one of the most beautiful GRUB2 menus around. Really elegant. Alas, no screenshots, as I've done all this fine work on a real laptop.

Drinking MATE

Time to see whether the old desktop environment can stand against the modern and slick titans. At a first glance, it sure can. It offers a simple, non-nonsense work environment, free of any pseudo-modern mantras and distraction. Just workspace for your stuff.

Desktop

Resource usage

Let me begin with system resources. After using Cinnamon, KDE, Unity, and the rest for a while, you kind of forget the latency and enjoy the experience. Then you go to something like MATE and you remember how ultra-damn-blazing-super-total-fast it really is. Yes, fast. Unbelievably fast, light and responsive. Windows open in less time it takes you to blink, so you actually think it's some holistic predictive magic. Or something.

Resource usage

My T61 is not the fastest laptop around, even though it comes with a nice pair of SSD, but the general feel is unbelievable. Not only is the memory usage quite reasonable, at about 360 fairy dust pollens, the CPU is quiet. Virtually 0% usage on idle. As it should be. As it bloody well should be. There's no reason why a still desktop ought not to be still. Why waste all those cycles on rendering objects that do nothing productive.

Updates

Another cool thing was that the system popped up updates within seconds of reaching the desktop. Again, it happened so fast I thought blimey, this must be a marketing gimmick. But it worked fine, and I had my packages updates and all that. Quick and nimble, I go crazy when I hear a cymbal, solid Wireless speed, and such. Everything was silky smooth. Except the installer bug, of course.

USC

Updates

Multimedia playback

Now you get your fun. Worked as expected. Flash and MP3. I forgot to take the MP3 screenshot, and I can't be arsed to do it, so use your imagination.

Flash

Applications

The default selection is not very colorful, although you do get some extra MATE-specific software rather than the Gnome 3 and Unity programs. While the collection is functional and useful, it is somewhat boring. Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, Cheese, and a few more. Reasonable. But the distro can sure do better than this.

Apps

Naturally, I did some pimping up, which included VLC, Skype, Steam, GIMP. This makes the system even more usable and fun, although you may argue that none of these extras are really important. The only issue that I see if that the VLC and Skype icons do not really conform to my 37px wide top panel, and they prefer the default 24px setup.

Extra software, nice

Beautification

This is one of the cool things about Gnome 2, I mean MATE. So easy to polish it up to any level you want. You have a simple three-way menu, and the top panel is very easy to tweak. The only thing that could be easier is icon management once they are placed up there, but it's nothing cardinal. Overall, someone sometime back in the early 2000s came up with the ideal productivity formula, and it's never been bested.

Finished desktop

Notifications

MATE tweak

System control

The ease of use also persists when it comes to system management. One control center to rule them, and you can change the main menu without having to resort to any silly games with command line and scripts and configuration files. Nothing has even been more accessible and user friendly.

Control Center

Main menu changes

Printing

I have to say I was disappointed that Samba printing is not even an option in the printing menu. Why omit something nice and simple and necessary like this? Anyhow, this is the second big bug, on my checklist.

Samba printing does not work

Conclusion

Ubuntu 14.10 Utopic Unicorn with the MATE desktop environment is a very cool distro. It suffers from two big problems, one of which has been inherited from its Unity parent, and that would be the inability to format old partitions, created by previous versions of Ubuntu. This is somewhat worrying. Samba printing is another disappointment. There was no screenshot problem like with some other distros, though.

Besides these issues, everything else was perfect. Familiar, friendly, extremely productive. Super fast and super stable, too. There was nothing out of ordinary, no problems. Suspend and resume worked without any issues, the system blazed at the speed of light, and with maybe ten minutes of work, you can transform it into anything you want. Docks, menus, new fonts, new themes, all there, just waiting for you. Total freedom and fun.

There can't be a perfect score, because the associated problems do not allow it. But assuming you had this distro given to you, and someone bothered to install the needed Samba package that normal people require, it would be an excellent alternative to many other mainstream releases. Highly polished, slick, and almost overwhelmingly simple and easy to use. The grade is something like 9.0/10, but it can do better. I demand it. For you, this is an excellent test bed. Go for it.

Cheers.

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