Friday, June 21, 2024

Why You Should Switch to Ubuntu MATE Edition

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Finding the right desktop can be a deeply personal experience. In this article, I’ll explain why I decided to make the switch to the MATE desktop and the reason behind using an Ubuntu base.

Different desktops for different needs

When I first came to Linux, I gravitated to KDE and then later on, early GNOME. Back then, these desktop environments were designed mostly to provide a usable X environment from which to use Linux compatible applications. Today, however, our need for a desktop environment is more varied. Some individuals prefer to have a desktop experience that is rich, full of nice effects and looks great. Others still, prefer a desktop experience that provides a simple, hassle free interface.

My own desktop needs, reflecting on the ideas above, have also evolved. I went from wanting a fancy, slick GUI desktop over to leaning with a lighter weight desktop. XFCE started off as my go-to lightweight desktop preference, while keeping Gnome 3 around on another machine because it was fun to use.

After a lot of recent thought and reflection, I have decided to commit full time to a “no frills” desktop environment. My desktop of choice: MATE on Ubuntu.

Ubuntu with a twist

In the past I have enjoyed Arch and various Arch-like distributions. My favorite part being the pacman package management and Arch’s User Repository (AUR). And as an added benefit, Arch users are also in a position to enjoy the latest in software packages. I must confess, the AUR’s software availability was something I was spoiled with – I really enjoyed it. The updates to these packages, however, were bleeding edge.

As my list of personal projects grew, I found that having my package updated less often, was actually a good thing. And, I started becoming less and less interested in bleeding edge software. Bundle this with me looking for a really nice MATE integration and I found myself coming back to Ubuntu MATE edition. Not only did it bring me back to apt for package handling, I was also thrilled to revisit an old friend – Ubuntu.

Coming from a rolling release, I felt returning to a release based distro would give me greater incentive to wipe and install when new releases were offered. The benefit being, “data cruft” would be eliminated with each new installation. I was also excited to work with a distribution where MATE was made to be a first class citizen.

I like using MATE for my desktop tasks because it feels like a modern refresh of Gnome 2. Simple, easy to navigate and free from unnecessary animations as you navigate from one window to the next. Bundle MATE’s choice of a standard Gnome 2 like menu or one closer to Linux Mint’s, and it provides a great user experience.

In the end, it simply does a solid job of putting the software first and making the desktop environment a means of utilizing the software installed on that system.

Personally, I think that Ubuntu MATE edition is on track to become an Ubuntu base flavor, second only to the Ubuntu Unity experience in terms of popularity for this distribution.

Why not Xubuntu?

Some of you might be wondering why I don’t embrace Xubuntu instead? The honest truth is that it both lacks the tools for monitor handling that MATE enjoys, plus it feels more dated and sparsely put together by comparison.

Then there’s the issue of continued XFCE development. Yes, as it stands now it’s still being supported. However, when we dig deeper into where the project is headed, it feels very much like it’s stalled and the development cycle appears to support this theory. So even though the XFCE Git repo shows ample activity, the lack of a clear direction is enough to give myself – and likely other users – some concern as to its long term viability.

If you’re currently relying on Xubuntu, I would encourage you to give Ubuntu MATE edition a strong consideration. It’s stable, very well supported and provides the best Ubuntu has to offer with the lightweight desktop we’ve come to love from Unity alternatives such as XFCE and LXDE.

Is MATE on Ubuntu right for you?

So what this article boils down to is whether Ubuntu MATE is right for you? My answer to this goes something like this:

  • Are you okay with not using a rolling distribution? If you are, keep reading. If not, then perhaps trying MATE on your current install of Linux is a better choice.
  • Are you okay with not using a rolling distribution? If you are, keep reading. If not, then perhaps trying MATE on your current install of Linux is a better choice.
  • Do you like the Ubuntu back-end, but would rather use something more lightweight? I’m looking at users who rely on Xubuntu or who might be ready to move onto something less resource intensive than what you’d find with Unity.

If you answered yes to both of the above questions, then you’re a good candidate for Ubuntu MATE edition. As you might have guessed, I answered Yes to both of the above questions myself.

For anyone coming away from an Arch based distribution and if you used it because of the package availability, Ubuntu MATE edition is a good alternative. In addition to a high package availability for Ubuntu, you’ll also find that tools like the Y PPA Manager make finding and installing AUR-like software discoveries a snap. While I would agree that the AUR is going to be far greater in release to repo availability, the PPA system is quite good once you have a tool that will search the repos for you.

Final thoughts

To me, Ubuntu MATE edition is a tool for those who value their time and want to get things done. It offers solid support for my work, playing video games and cooperates nicely across a large range of tested computer hardware. As things with this desktop stand now, I’d recommend Ubuntu MATE edition over Ubuntu proper all day long. It’s dead simple to use, lacks the Unity learning curve, and still offers the handy Ubuntu underpinnings as an after thought.

To be honest, I hadn’t planned on being this impressed with Ubuntu Mate edition. But my needs have evolved to the point where Ubuntu’s release cycle makes more sense for me. Using the MATE desktop was just the push I needed to get me back into the Ubuntu way of doing things.

Does this mean I won’t consider using other Debian and Arch-based distributions? At this time, yes, however only because I want a unified set of tools from which to run my software from.

The problem is, when I use other distributions, I tend to go wide and use a variety of them. That’s cool for awhile, however, in the long term it requires more care in maintaining those installations than I wish to spend. For me, Ubuntu MATE edition is just where I need to be right now.

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