Ubuntu MATE 17.10 Review

I’ve been using Ubuntu MATE 17.10 as my daily driver for the last three weeks or so, and I really like it. For me personally, it’s like a GTK version of KDE, as it has a lot of great customizability like KDE, but with GTK-like themability. And while it doesn’t have the plethora of settings that KDE has available, it’s simpler and more stable than KDE ever will be.

The Ubuntu version of MATE has added some really great customizations this time around that make it much easier to make the desktop experience unique. They have added several different panels and menu presets that you can use that either mimic other environments or OSs or stick with the traditional GNOME 2.0 setup like MATE always has.

These panels are set up through the MATE Tweak tool, which is somewhat similar to the GNOME Tweak Tool, though it isn’t used for theming (as themes are built into MATE).

I admit to only having a passing knowledge of what MATE was like before this, but I’m pretty sure that you could mimic these changes on other versions of MATE. 17.10 seems to have them all done for you, however, which is great. The one that has sparked the most interest in the Linux Community is the Mutiny layout that mimics the Unity Desktop Environment that was abandoned by vanilla Ubuntu earlier this year.

All this being said, it isn’t without its drawbacks. I’m running Ubuntu MATE on a fairly old machine, but with mid-tier specs (dual-core processor, 16GB of ram) and the switching process between each of these panel presets is slow, and often buggy.

The mechanism for saving a preset is also unreliable, as it often does not bring back the exact layout you had before, though it sometimes does. It’s the slowness that bugs me, however. Sometimes it would take almost 45 seconds to a minute to switch over. Now that isn’t a deal breaker or anything, but it seems to be a tad bit slow for what it’s really doing.

The MATE Software Boutique

After my three months as an Arch fanboy, I’m not a big fan of apt any longer. Sure it’s easy to use, but having to find your own PPAs and making sure they’re still working and aren’t compromised is terrible.

I’m also quite neutral on GNOME Software Center, which is what Ubuntu uses in its vanilla version. It has always seemed half-baked to me. Some of the software has screenshots, some doesn’t. Some is in the form of snaps, others come from installed ppas. It’s inconsistent.

Ubuntu MATE has Software Boutique, which is awesome, and should be adopted by every single Ubuntu flavor.

The downside is that not everything is there out of the box, and the search function isn’t perfect (as seen above when I searched for Google Chrome). But it is extendable, in that you can add ppas and other sources for software. Unlike vanilla Ubuntu, you don’t have to go to another program to add those additional sources. You can do that right from the Boutique.

Ubuntu MATE 17.10 vs Linux Mint MATE 18.3

I’m not anywhere near ready to give a review of Linux Mint MATE 18.3. But there really isn’t that much of a difference between the two outside of the panel presets and the software boutique, which I talked about above. That is, of course, ignoring the fact that Mint is based on the last LTS version of Ubuntu and not 17.10. With MATE you can’t tell much difference, or at least I couldn’t. Most of 17.10’s improvements happened for vanilla Ubuntu (namely their change to GNOME 3.26).

That’s the great thing about MATE, really. It doesn’t change. If you liked it because it was a stable and steady fork of GNOME 2.0, then that’s what you’ll likely always get.

Problems

Normally, Internet problems aren’t something I have to deal with on a Linux Distro. Usually, it works fine (or it just doesn’t work at all, and I move on). But with Ubuntu MATE 17.10. that’s not the case. For some odd reason, my WiFI slows way down the longer the computer stays on. So I’ve had to reboot every day, something I don’t normally do. I didn’t have vanilla Ubuntu installed long enough on this hardware to find out if it was Ubuntu or MATE that was causing the problems.

Other than that, the whole thing has been as smooth as butter. I had the usual NVidia problems, but once I installed the NVidia X Server Settings, and changed a conf. file, it was fine. That by no means is a problem limited to Ubuntu or MATE.

Conclusion

I think I mostly like MATE because it’s MATE, not because it is Ubuntu MATE if that makes sense. I’ve not really used MATE before for any length of time, so I don’t really know. I’m still so new to Linux, my tools for comparing new things to old are quite limited.

But I will say this. I hate GNOME 3. I don’t like it at all. But I like GTK because the theming is so much better than on QT. That left me in a bit of a bind. So MATE has come in as a nice little compromise. It has the theme-ability of any GTK system (mostly) but has some of the panel customizability that I like so much from KDE. And while I miss some of the high detail settings from KDE, I’ve found that I don’t miss them enough to switch back to Arch or Kubuntu.