Should you install Ubuntu Mate?

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With Ubuntu’s release a few weeks ago of Ubuntu 14.10, Mate has now become an official flavor of Ubuntu.

There are two pieces of bad news that relate to this that we’ll get out of the way. First Ubuntu’s default distribution, which uses the Unity Desktop by default, broke a key Linux feature. If you install Ubuntu with Unity, you can’t easily change your desktop. Or, if you try, you’ll break your system. Ubuntu seems to want you to use Unity no matter what. Second, while at one time all flavors of Ubuntu were treated more or less alike (though the “Default” was gnome) now, the non-Unity distros are called “Older and other” and you have to dig around to find them. Apparently, Ubuntu wants you to use Unity no matter what. Where have I heard that before?

So, long term, don’t expect Mate, or KDE, or any of the other non-Unity distributions to remain as Ubuntu Flavors. I strongly suspect Ubuntu will eventually boot out all the non Unity distros. This will happen about the time Ubuntu gets past a certain percentage of the portable device market (which, at this time, it is not really part of) and it becomes in the interest of Ubunut’s backers to unify the look and feel, with Ubuntu Unityish being the operating system for the next generation of smart phones of which they will sell many. I assume. Or maybe not, we’ll see.

So, why should you install mate? Consider the following two reasons:

1) It isn’t Unity, it works better if you like the traditional Gnome 2.0 style of a desktop. This is really the only way to get that style desktop.

2) It isn’t Unity, and at this point as many of us as possible have to be using something other than Unity (unless of course you happen to like Unity in which case you’ve probably stormed off by now so good bye) in order to send the message that no, we won’t have the Linux Desktop broken by a big gorilla that first takes over the whole Linux thing by being so good at it then tells us what we have to eat for dinner every day thereafter. Thank you very much.

Beyond that, the reason to install the Ubuntu flavor of Mate instead of Mate on some other distro is that, like it or not, Ubuntu has the best distro if you don’t want to totally roll your own or fiddle a lot. You still have to fiddle (see here for example) but most will get their computer off the ground a lot faster and less painfully with Ubuntu.

I was not really happy with some of the earlier incarnations of Mate, partly because this Gnome fork seemed to have broken a lot of nice Gnome features, rather than just forking them. Now, however, either they have stopped doing that or I’ve forgotten what features Gnome had that I liked and don’t care any more. But seriously, Mate as implemented (version 17) on Ubuntu Linux (14.10) is a clean and nice installation.

To install go here, download the appropriate file, then make a bootable DVD or USB. The USB is easier. You can use the ddrescue command indicated here to make a bootable USB. Don’t make the mistake I did. I forgot that not all USB ports on your computer are created equal. Even if your bios is configured to allow you to boot from USB, that may refer to only some of the USB ports. Your computer might even be labeled to indicate this (mine was, but the labeling was tiny and criptic so I was unaware of it!) If you think you’ve got a working boot USB, and it does not work, move it to a different port.

Then, after you have installed Mate, you may want to mess around with it to make it work better.

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18 thoughts on “Should you install Ubuntu Mate?

  1. If you install Ubuntu with Unity, you can’t easily change your desktop

    Not strictly true. I installed cairo-dock. From the log-in screen(14.10) I can select cairo-dock which does not contain Unity. I love it!

  2. If it is not strictly true, then it isn’t true at all! In normal Linux, you could install exactly any desktop you want, many of them, and switch back and forth between them at log in. You can certainly install different desktops on Unity but not without consequences.

    By the way, what version of Ubuntu are you using?

    1. I should expect such exactitude form a scientist! But me, I am just a software professional.
      I use Ubuntu 14.10

  3. I changed to Mint with Mate after Ubuntu 10.4. My Gnome2(ish) desktop is as it has been for many years (very, very clean and functional). The idea of a smartphone interface on my desktop or laptop apalls me.
    I guess I’m getting old; I am enamoured of simple and uncluttered.

  4. You can install different desktops on Ubuntu Unity and select them at log in. KDE, Gnome, XFCE, and LXDE are each available in the Canonical repos. Typically, they’re packaged as so-called meta-packages that trigger the installation of all the packages that make up a desktop environment.

    The desktops are also available in their respective spins: Kubuntu, Ubuntu Gnome and Lubuntu. These are current, not ‘Old”, although Ubuntu Gnome is one release behind the Gnome team (out-of-sync development cycles).

    Ubuntu Mate is a great piece of work, but has not, quite yet, been awarded the “official” gong, I believe. Seems very close, though. A release based on 14.04 LTS is expected in a few days.

  5. Although I agree that Ubuntu is the easiest to go with, I prefer the tinkering. I have been a fan of enlightenment.org for years but it is not my go to system. I move in and out of linux year by year because no one else in the family is interested 🙂

  6. joncr, the alternative flavors are categorized on the web site exactly as I stated. Not “old” but the link from the top is to “older and alternative” desktops or word to that effect.

    Installing alternative desktops on Ubuntu with Unity is not seamless and can cause difficulties, depending on which desktop, and the problem may compound.

    And yes, it is an official flavor. Everything you are saying is correct for about six months ago.

  7. Greg, make your peace with Unity! It’s “just another option” with Ubuntu. Anyone can install Ubuntu using Ubuntu Server Edition, then add any desktop they wish. That’s one reason to install using the Server edition; the other is that it’s the only (workable) way to use RAID on your boot disk(s), if you want to do that.

    I think most people have a “cognitive inertia” regarding the phrase “Ubuntu Server Edition”.

    WRONG: “Ubuntu Server Edition is only appropriate if you’re building a server PC.”

    CORRECT: “Ubuntu Server Edition is pretty much the same as the Desktop Edition, except that you have to install the desktop of your choice as a separate step. You can use it to build either a Desktop or a Server PC.”

    Of course, if you want, e.g., the Xubuntu Edition of Ubuntu (Ubuntu with the XFCE desktop), then you can install it in one step: Install using the Xubuntu ISO download. Same with Kubuntu. Etc. But until there’s a “Mubuntu” ISO, then starting with the Server Edition is the way to get there.

    So while Canonical has ‘broken’ this key feature with their Debian derivative, they’ve *only* broken it with the default (Unity) Desktop Edition. (And to be fair to Canonical, it seems to be because of the internal changes that need to be made in order for the same source code to compile for a PC, a tablet, or a smart phone.)

    I do not think that Canonical is conspiring to make the alternative desktops go away… (And “alternative” does not mean “old”, “outdated”, “unsupported”, or “second-class”.) But I do expect Canonical to press forward with making a distro+desktop that will be multi-platform. Again, you’ll still be able to start with the Server Edition install and then add any desktop you wish to round it out.

    Next, Mate is *not* the only Gnome 2-ish desktop you can install in Ubuntu! There’s also Cinnamon and XFCE (to name two). I’m hoping that they’ll officially add Cinnamon as they’re doing with Mate, since –while they’re quite similar– I think Cinnamon is a bit nicer. YMMV. And of course you get XFCE if you install the Xubuntu flavor.

    One other alternative to using alternative desktops is to install an Ubuntu derivative. For Mate and Cinnamon, you can install LinuxMint, which is Ubuntu with an Irish spin: They package it with (among other things they add) Mate or Cinnamon — but not Unity. It’s still Ubuntu, however, and it’s even more friendly for new users than Canonical’s issuance is.

    Having once used Gnome 3, I grew tired of finding the latest version, then tweaking it to get it to work as full-featured, etc., and dropped back to using Unity. And since v7, I find Unity to be nice enough as a ‘daily user’. I like it, but I don’t love it (enough to feel I have to defend it). Yes, in its early versions it did suck. It doesn’t suck any more, so I suggest anyone on the fence give it a go. In fact, I suggest dual-booting between a Unity install and an alternative desktop, and compare while performing your typical daily tasks.

    Point is, find what you like and go with it. You can run Ubuntu with any desktop you want. Canonical is not MS and is not trying to force the market into using “only Unity”.

    A note on booting USB… One of the distinctions between USB ports on a PC involve USB2 vs USB3 ports. Intel chipsets before Ivy Bridge do not include USB3 support, although a given motherboard may include a third-party USB3 chip to provide USB3 ports (such as on more powerful Sandy Bridge machines). Unless your machine’s chipset supports USB3 directly, your BIOS will typically not support booting from USB3. And as you’ve apparently found out, even then not all the USB2 ports will support booting, as some of them will also be provided via a third-party chip, not the CPU’s Intel chipset.

    And it’s worse if you’re running from a VirtualBox VM: You can install Oracle’s Extension Pack in VirtualBox to get USB2 support, but you still can’t access a thumb drive plugged into a USB3 port on your machine — until they release their USB3 driver. If your machine has only USB3 ports… You’ll have to move files to/from your hard drive as an intermediary. Ugh.

  8. Sorry for the late words, but mine and my families 2c. I actually burned Ubuntu Mate by accident to a USB (not paying sufficient attention to anything other my daughter running, jumping hopping, “look at me,” “look at me!” Guys with girls know…
    Oops sidetrack. As soon as it b ooted my girl goes,, ” woooo, let me see. I want the mouse!”She’s just turned 4 and can tell which installation is currently running (from a 4-5 total – 4-5 better than my parents…. ahhh don’t get me started, stupid ppl suck!). But from the start, don’t know if it was the green or what, becsame my daughters, wife’s and my favourite ovrernight. I haven’t comp[leted the interviews and data cruncher, but hope to explain, why even Mint Mate comes far xsecond… oh gosh, here comes yet another Phd thesis…

  9. So far Mate has stayed on my test bed computer longer than any distro I’v installed in the last two years. I may actually go ahead and put it on my other machine.

  10. I started using Ubuntu with 8.04, which used GNOME 2.3, and looked on with dismay as GNOME went downhill in the “We’re making GNOME better!” and with Unity, a very powerful desktop which does have features no other desktop has, for Linux, Apple, or Microsoft. Nonetheless, I just dislike Unity. I have been a fan of MATE ever since it was first released as a version of Mint. When Ubuntu MATE 14.04 arrived (and that was a few weeks after the 14.10 release) and I had the features I wanted in a long-term release, without installing another version of Ubuntu and then installing MATE.

  11. After one Aw Snap message too many in Chromium, I replaced Ubuntu with Mint Cinnamon Qiana last weekend, and it upgraded to Rebecca. I was pleased to find gdebi, synaptic package manager and gimp already installed. Installing skype 4.3 was dead simple, but there was no sound. The fix for 64 bit Mint was to install libasound drivers, which wasn’t that difficult. My only gripe is that neither adduser nor useradd will add a second user. In graphical it just ignores me, in terminal it says I have to be root user.

  12. If I may still add something, for me as a complete newbie to linux who has first installed the vanilla Ubuntu 14.04 a few months ago and doesn’t know that much about how it specifically works, it was pretty easy for me to bring the Mate desktop to it. I had copied some commands into the console from Ubuntuusers.de that installed some additional packages and than Mate itself. After I figured out how to swich between the two desktops (Unity and Mate), it was quite simple to do, even for me.

  13. I am not sure how familiar the person who wrote this article is with Ubuntu 14.04. It’s extremely simple to indtall and use any Linux desktop environment. I use Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Mate, Cinnamon, xfce, and lxde without any problem and switch between them at the log in screen to fit whatever is currently necessary for me to use. This feller mustn’t know what he’s talking about. Just my 2 cents. Plus, unity is actually pretty innovative and awesome eye candy, but it is one of the more resource heavy environment. That’s the only reason I use lxde and mate as alternatives.

  14. I love mate!
    After all trials of Canonical, Microsoft … to reinvent the weel with Unity, Gnome3 and windows 8 I am really glad to have my good old computer desktop back.

  15. I first tried it on my old laptop (single core, 1.5gb RAM) and it interested me enough to replace one of the partitions on my newer laptop with MATE. I still keep Ubuntu Gnome as my primary workplace and have Unity on one of the others.

    All have their selling points. Why not do what I did and keep them all?

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