I used GNOME2 since I first met Ubuntu 4.10 and not very long after GNOME 2.28 was released. I guess I still used 2.30-2.32 occasionally, but the announcement of the future GNOME3 has strongly upset me. Before GNOME2, I was into FVWM, FVWM-Crystal, IceWM, FVWM95. After GNOME2 died, I reluctantly chose XFCE as the only dependable DE, but as everyone knows, XFCE was thought to be moribund at least twice (4.12 and 4.16 were too late and extremely late to the show). Ah, the long road to GTK+3…
In the process, I disregarded MATE. At first, I thought there won’t be enough manpower to maintain an environment abandoned by the herd (sorry for the term). I already disliked the new names of the apps, and I still do when it comes to Atril, Engrampa, and Caja (which I see not as Box, but as Crate, as in “a crate of oranges”), but that doesn’t matter much. What counts is that, while I was sleeping under a rock, MATE not only transitioned to GTK+3, but it has even got rid of some old bugs, and to my huge surprise, it’s so well integrated in Ubuntu MATE 21.04 that it’s really the best 21.04 flavor of all!
Therefore, I simply didn’t know that since MATE 1.20 and Ubuntu MATE 18.04, I could have opted for MATE, as a better and yet so familiar GNOME2 continuation! Instead, I wasted so much time either trying to fall in love with XFCE (which I never quite did, especially as the default configuration is ugly, and customizing the panels is much more clumsy than in GNOME2/MATE), or trying to persuade myself that KDE Plasma 5 is finally usable and without the so many aberrations introduced with KDE4. But even as KDE5 is very decent nowadays, it keeps changing at a crazy pace (This Week in KDE is indicative of their craziness); and yet, they fixed the bug of a missing reflow of the text in Konsole eleven and half years later (but most distros won’t see it too soon), while the devs found more important to add “a variety of useful new features such as inline previews for images and HTML color codes that you hover the cursor over, the ability to assign custom colors to tabs, and a new on-by-default toolbar.”
Finding (rediscovering?) MATE, and especially Ubuntu MATE, seemed a godsend under the circumstances. (I had some useful experiences in Arch land meanwhile, after Manjaro and Debian.) I love how it integrates into the Control Center the Language Support
gnome-language-selector offered by the
language-selector-gnome package (the name inversion is probably caused by the fact that it replaces
language-selector), and the Yaru MATE themes are über-gorgeous! Also, the defaults are so well-thought that the distro is almost fully usable out of the box!
I said “almost” because the typical user would look for the traditional “The 10, 12, 15 or 25 Things to Do After Installing Distro X” article (many years ago I too had a list of “9 things to do after installing Ubuntu”); and even Ubuntu MATE 21.04 has a few steps of possibly desired customizations before reaching the optimal state (even when using it as a live distro):
- Change the layout from the Welcome screen or MATE Tweak: people used to Windows or KDE would prefer Redmond. Die-hard fans of the non-searchable Applications, Places, System trio would switch from Familiar to Traditional.
- Most people nowadays would prefer to change the theme to Yaru-MATE-dark.
- In such a case, they might also want to change in Pluma the color scheme to Yaru-MATE-dark.
- Change the font rendering smoothing to Grayscale, Full. (For years, I thought I was the only person in billions who considers RGB shades to a black-on-white text idiotic, and who actually sees rainbows on a supposedly B&W page; is there any printer in this world to replace gray shades with colors? Nope. Then, I noticed there are distros that default to Grayscale, Full, such as Linux Lite; and other people who think like me, such as Igor Ljubuncic aka Dedoimedo, which is even pickier than I.)
- Remove the Disk Mounter applet, which is too much in a one-panel layout, and even with dual-panel layouts.
- In Caja, change the Default View to Compact View, and uncheck “All columns have the same width.” (If a file manager doesn’t have a compact list view, I refuse to use it.)
- Install Synaptic. (GNOME2 without Synaptic? OK, it’s MATE now, but that’s no excuse.)
That’s about it. Sure thing, people using it as a live distro might also need to change the keyboard layout, the time zone, and possibly use the Language Support.
There is one severe criticism I had to direct to Ubuntu MATE’s team: it is not “why
snapd?”, nor “why is the Snap support enabled by default?”, but this one: why had
icon-theme-yaru-mate to be installed from Snap Store? They are three bloody packages that define an official Ubuntu flavor, and they should have been hosted as regular packages, in the package pool! Please don’t try to persuade me that Ubuntu would have refused @Wimpy this tiny demand!
OK, I understand: despite being so much into MATE, and despite having a “LINUX LUDDITES” sticker, he’s not a Luddite (I am!). He’s Uncle Snapcraft, and he also decided there’s a need for a new Ubuntu installer, using technologies I don’t approve of (Flutter), from companies I don’t trust (I don’t trust Google, which is different from how I despise Microsoft). I don’t care about
subiquity and other things I shouldn’t care of; for a text or
ncurses installer, there are choices even in Debian; otherwise, there’s nothing that cannot be fixed in Calamares, except that it can’t install
systemd-boot, and that nobody loves
systemd-boot, despite being much leaner than the abysmal rubbish that is GRUB2!
So Ubuntu MATE 21.04 could have been rated 10/10, but I’ll give it 8/10, because:
- It installs essential and identity-defining packages from Snap Store, being them only three. People have ditched distros for less (I’m thinking of the anti-
- Thus, it enables snaps by default, with the risk of making many users install things they don’t want to have installed this way. Most conscientious users would add a PPA or would find another way of installing their preferred apps instead of resorting to snaps, Flatpaks, or AppImages. Luring the users into things they don’t want is vile, and I thought it’s only used by the likes of Microsoft.
A great soup, with a flea in the middle of the tasty contents. Would the chef assume the reality? Of course, the customer can’t have a saying regarding this free soup, and even if it weren’t free, leaders be leaders, and users be losers. But I just wanted to express my opinion, however useless and unable to change a thing it might be.
All the best,
Ludditus, long ago known by some as Béranger