Ubuntu 15.10 MATE - The wolf that cried sheep


Updated: November 28, 2015

Or befriended a sheep in the best of Balkan fashion, and they got married and lived happily ever after. Or something. But it is high noon, to spare more time and scrutiny to the MATE edition of the Werewolf breed. Maybe it will give us that extra something that the other three haven't?

So far, it's a mixed bag of fleas, lucky charms, and an odd sweet. Ubuntu was meh, Kubuntu was don't want, and Xubuntu was okay, which means a solid triple failure, as we've seen all these perform so much better. Let's see if Gnome 2 reincarnate can help bring back some of that old joy. After me.

Teaser

Live session

It is always fun to see an old friend show its face. MATE is like Gnome 2, and for many many years, it was the pinnacle of Linux efficiency. It still looks presentable, but it has been overtaken in many aspects of usability and ergonomics by the likes of Cinnamon and Plasma. Still decent, but it needs fire and energy. And better icons.

Live desktop

Live desktop, clean

Samba sharing & printing

Wireless worked well, and we'll address Bluetooth in a moment. Samba sharing was also lightning fast, as it ought to be. The printing side of thing is also positive, and you can actually send documents to a Windows machine and its associated printer.

Samba printing works

Multimedia

HD video is of no concern. MP3, too, but then VLC will play anything. Cheatin'!

HD video playback

MP3, no problems

Bluetooth

Off by default. Try to turn it on, boom! Headshot. Crash! Horrible.

BT crashed

Smartphone connectivity

No problems with iPhone. Good. Great. Ubuntu Phone, no issues. Wunderbar.

iPhone works

Ubuntu Phone mounted

Put that distro on that disk!

The installation was fussless and stress free. The installer looks like the one in Papa 'Buntu, which means it's a bit uglier than before, larger, but usable, with all the friendly extras you'd expect or need. Quick to the point, to the point, no faking. In other words, my anger levels were quite low overall.

Partitions

The slide size issue is present here, too. Moreover, the slides are rather unremarkable, and do not sell the distro in the brightest of lights. Lastly, 'tis the fastest installation of the four we've seen so far.

Slides

Let's get some tea, shall we?

The desktop is pleasant, fast, full of weird little noise sounds that this distro emits by default on your mouse clicks and actions. Touchpad, much like in the live session, did not bother me. All good, except the cross-distro inconsistency that makes the angels in my heart try to tear their wings out.

Desktop

Package management - all bungled up

Not a good one. Late update prompt. But that's the tiniest of issues here. You don't actually get a graphical interface. I looked through all the menus, and you can customize software sources and update your system, but you don't get any frontend to search and install new stuff. Not even Synaptic. I tried installing the Lubuntu Software Center, but even with the Canonical Partners repo enabled, it finds very little content. On the other hand, apt-get will get [sic] you all the programs you want. A big fail. You also get pestered by the language support crap. More fail.

Late update prompt

Software manager missing

LUSC

LUSC failing at search

Applications

You get a balanced if somewhat boring bunch, plus some dubious choices like the Plank dock. Why would you need that? And if so, what's the purpose of the bottom panel? On the sane side, you have the Mozilla pair, VLC, LibreOffice, Rhythmbox, and a webcam utility. For the rest, command line.

Plank

Apps

Multimedia

No Flash, no cry, Bob Marley once said. You don't get the plugin, even after you explicitly mark the operation during the installation. This is a consistent, quadrisuck on behalf of the Ubuntu family, as all of them fail miserably here. Finding Flash content is also ever so slightly more difficult, at least on SFW sites. I so love showing off random video clips and now the Ubuntu family has killed my joy. It's even worse than just not having a plugin. You can install things manually, but then, you can also use Trusty or Vivid or other non-sucky distros.

Flash not installed

Resource usage

Wily MATE is also a quiet, lithe performer. Like Xubuntu, it's friendly on your resources, tolling only about 420 MB, comparable to Xfce, and half that its big brothers. Then, the CPU is also quiet. Nothing beats good ole CentOS 6 when it comes to being fast, though.

Resources

Battery life

Despite a little noisier processor activity, MATE auto-dims aggressively when you disconnect the wall line, and consequently, plus the fact Bluetooth sucks and cannot be used, gives you more time than even Xubuntu. Top performer in this little category. About 4 hours total. Compare with the 15.10 players, and you will be pleased. Look backwards, and you won't.

Battery prompt

Battery life

Hardware stuff

Not the best, I'm afraid. The network actually DIED on one occasion, similar to what we had with the Realtek card in the 14.04 kernel. This should not happen again. Samba was also suddenly dodgy and never quite worked as I hoped. I wasn't able to stream my pr0n, and the file manager would get stuck. So would VLC. D state and such crap. The network speed wasn't stellar either. The rest of the stuff was properly detected and initialized. Sleep & resume work fine.

Tweaks & customization & more problems

The tools are there, including the impressive Faenza icons. But you will still struggle getting the distro to be as pretty as Xubuntu or Mint. I don't know why, but for some reason, the developers do not seem to want their distro to shine.

Tweaks

Look & feel

For example, not all icons get the Faenza looks, even if you log out and back in. The BT icon transforms from a fine icon to a generic Gnome thingie when you try to activate the driver, and then reverts back to its normal looks after failing.

Bad customization 1 Bad customization 2

The search functionality is also heavily outdated:

Old, outdated search

And if you install GIMP, it won't show in the menu:

No GIMP in the menu

And finally, something called Marco crashed for no good reason:

Marco crash

Final looks

The sum of my effort. I'm not too pleased.

Final

Conclusion

I'm not happy. At the end of my session, I had no reason to keep Wily MATE committed on my disk. Yes, it's fast and efficient, but other than that, it's not very practical, and if you can't use it, then it serves no purpose whatsoever. Crashes, bugs, network wonkiness, moderate aesthetics, bad package management, not exactly a walk in the park.

Ubuntu 15.10 Wily Werewolf with the MATE desktop feels like an afterthought. It really has no higher meaning, no objective, and it gives no added value to the user. It pushes only so much to be average, and then watches the life glide past. I can tell when people do not invest all their love into their work, and this is a prime example. Plus the underlying problems of the Wily family sure don't help.

All in all, it's just a tick the box exercise. Yay. Let's move on to the next numerical increment in the release schedule. Who cares. I want distros to thrive, to buzz with energy, to scream their pride. Not the case here, and MATE is one of the friendliest, most customizable environments around, letting you literally do anything. But someone, they put shackles on it, and chained it to the wall, and it's miserable. This little lycan only gets a very average 5.5/10. Shame. But then, your computing choices this coming winter are that much easier.

Cheers.

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