After using Arch Linux for two years, I finally thought I had found an Ubuntu distro worth using. I was tired of the breakages in Arch Linux that required user invention, and I decided that I just wanted something that was stable.
Initially, I was extremely excited about the release of Ubuntu MATE 16.04. Martin Wimpress and his team really know what they are doing when it comes to listening to the community and fulfilling the vision of a retrospective future. Some of the most prominent Linux bloggers have vouched for this distro’s unique combination of innovation and stability. Ubuntu MATE Welcome, TLP and Compiz are great examples of how the Ubuntu MATE team have gone above and beyond what is expected from an Ubuntu flavor.
Unfortunately, Ubuntu MATE has inherited many bad things from being a part of the Ubuntu family as well, and consequently using Ubuntu MATE 16.04 turned out to be an exhausting waste of time. It would be very easy for me to just turn my back on this whole experience and forget about it completely, but I think that would be selfish. Instead, I want to share some feedback so the distribution can continue to be improved for everyone. I’ll share the 4 most crippling issues when I used Ubuntu MATE 16.04, in from least frustrating to most frustrating:
4. Synapse segfaults a lot
I’ve really enjoyed using Synapse on other distros, and even on Arch Linux I found it to be extremely stable. So I was surprised when I found that on Ubuntu MATE 16.04 synapse couldn’t stop crashing. I would open it, type a key, and the window would disappear. Absolutely useless. Out of the four issues, though, I managed to fix this one. I Googled around for a bit, then changed something with the input method, and the problem went away. To me this seems like a misconfiguration on Canonical’s part of IBus, but I’m not super familiar with that infrastructure. A normal user shouldn’t be expected to know how to do this, but I managed to fix it (I don’t remember how, just Google around).
3. Ubuntu Update Manager is completely broken
One of the things that brought me from the Arch camp to Ubuntu MATE is that on an Ubuntu-based system the Update Manager will make sure that you get security updates on time, which makes system administration much easier. The Update Manager is supposed to pop up and tell you when updates are available, give you the option to install them, you type in your password, and then you continue on your merry way. Oh, and it will also tell you if you need to reboot after the updates are installed, which was always confusing for me when I used Arch. Ridicule me all you want, but this is the kind of hand-holding that I expect from a modern operating system. Instead, the Update Manager would show up in the taskbar, I would try to click on it and no window would pop up. When I tried to run the Update Manager from the command line it would spit out some information about a Python bug and not run at all. This came broken out of the box, and I couldn’t find anyway to fix this. I expect this is Canonical’s fault, and not the fault of the Ubuntu MATE team. Still, it ruined my experience.
2. Unless I used the Ubuntu MATE panel layout, my panels would be frozen when I logged in
I definitely prefer the Redmond layout. I’ve tried using the default one, but we just don’t get along. This is supposed to be one of the great things about Ubuntu MATE though. The Tweak tool makes it really easy to use other panel layouts. However when I logged in, my panel would first appear at the top of the screen, then jump down to to the bottom of the screen. After the panel finally found it’s resting place, all the items were frozen and could not be clicked on at all. My workaround ended up being launching Firefox from a keyboard shortcut, clicking on the Firefox titlebar, minimizing Firefox, alt-tabbing back to Firefox and usually some kind of jig like that would un-freeze the panels. Begrudgingly, I switched back to the default layout.
1. Wireless networking is completely and utterly broken
This was definitely the worst issue. Wireless networking only worked without some kind of struggle about half the time, and the wrong wireless connectivity icon was displayed in the tray close to all the time. I have a Realtek RTL8188EE. I don’t think it’s just the kernel. I’ve run Arch Linux with the same kernel and it didn’t have these issues, so maybe Ubuntu has a broken implementation of NetworkManager as well. I know I’m not the only person with this issue. Dedoimedo reported a similar finding in both his review of Ubuntu and Xubuntu and I expect when he reviews Ubuntu MATE he’ll have the same harsh words for Ubuntu MATE as well. Also, Joe Collins from Freedom Penguin has reported on some of these issues as well..
Joe Collins’ conclusion was to switch to Linux Mint, and ultimately that is what I ended up doing as well. I haven’t even touched on some of the other things, like my cursor disappearing upon resume, or LightDM locking me out after resume, which forced me to reboot my computer on several occasions. I’m sorry if my feedback seems harsh, but I wasted precious hours on Ubuntu MATE that I’m never going to get back.
I ended up spending several more hours trying to find a replacement for Ubuntu MATE, but I found that everything is pretty peachy on Linux Mint right now. I know that not everyone will encounter these issues, but I’m afraid I can no longer recommend Ubuntu MATE or any member of the Ubuntu family. From now on, my only recommendation will be Linux Mint 17.3. I hope this feedback is appreciated and is used to shape the future of Ubuntu MATE, so that others will not end up wasting their hours.