Unfortunately, Mate seems to have dropped the poorly organized but highly configurable fixed-window menu of earlier releases. The classical menu whose sub-menus sprawl across the desktop is clumsy on the large, application-packed hard drives of today and, while the fixed-window menu had problems, its customization features at least gave users more choice. Perhaps an upcoming release with different priorities will restore it.
Another area that has received some attention is the file manager. Caja now has Python support, as well as a number of other extensions, such as a mass image-converter, and a version of Gksu, a graphical login for use when logging into the root account or using sudo. A feature that is unadvertised but that I discovered by accident is audio previews of files.
However, the biggest change in Caja is the addition of Undo and Redo to its Edit menu. These features are so basic yet so useful that one of the first comments on the release announcement expressed appreciation of it.
Otherwise, Mate 1.2's enhancements are so minor that calling them incremental seems like an exaggeration. But, considering that the main point is clearly not features but stability and the general preservation of GNOME 2, that comment is not no much a criticism as a delineation of emphasis. Judged by its main goals, Mate 1.2 is unquestionably a success.
But how does Mate compare with other efforts to keep GNOME 2 alive?
Comparing Mate to GNOME 3's fallback mode shows mainly how half-hearted fallback mode really is. Supporting neither applets nor desktop icons and only limited configuration, the so-called GNOME Classic is a crippled and barely adequate imitation of GNOME 2.
While fallback mode allows users without 3-D hardware acceleration to run GNOME, little else can be said for it, and I doubt that anyone runs it any longer than they need to install another desktop environment to replace it. Probably no one runs it willingly.
With Linux Mint's Cinammon, the answer depends on what you are looking for. Running on top of GNOME 3, Cinnamon is an ingenious hack, but also an awkward one. At times, it feels like an uneasy welding of the two versions of GNOME, with GNOME 2 features like a bottom panel co-existing beside GNOME 3 features such as the overview screen. Such features have such a different design philosophy that they don't feel like they belong on the same desktop.
By contrast, Mate presents a much more unified look and feel. In fact, after a year of GNOME 3, it looks not only classic but pleasingly simple and unfussy.
However, one of Cinnamon’s advantages is that almost every GNOME 2 feature in it is a matter of choice. Far more than with Mate, you can turn features on or off to create a desktop that is exactly what you want. If your preference for GNOME 2 is qualified, or simply if you appreciate choice, then you might find Cinnamon more to your taste than Mate.
I have misgivings about the amount of effort being spent on keeping GNOME 2 or a look alike alive. While I admire the determination of the developers of such efforts -- to say nothing of their willingness to listen to what users want -- I question the time and energy being spent on such an old technology. What else, I keep wondering, might be developed if coders and distributions were looking forward instead of spending their main efforts looking back?
Clearly, though, many users are not yet willing to let GNOME 2 die. For those who feel that way, Mate is probably the most satisfying solution they are likely to get. If the enhancements have been slow in coming so far, perhaps they will come in the next release now that Mate has a solid foundation on which to build.