Linux Mint 13 – MATE Edition – is a supreme success!

Those who read my blog may recall that in February of this year, I wrote regarding the state of Linux desktop environments:

One of the burdens we all bear as Linux users is that from time to time, Linux (or one of its pillars) goes through an identity crisis. This time it’s the Gnome desktop. While working through any of these crises, users sometimes have to flounder around for a distribution to call home. For now, for me, that’s Linux Mint. On my “main box” though, I am still running Ubuntu 10.04 which has support until April 2013 and is still running true Gnome 2.x. That box runs like butter and for now I don’t plan to touch it.

Linux Mint 13 was released about a week ago. It was released in two distinct editions: Cinnamon and MATE. I’ve covered this topic before at length in the past, explaining that Cinnamon is a project of the Linux Mint developers to approximate the Gnome 2 interface using Gnome 3 code, whereas MATE was a real fork of the Gnome 2 platform. Ultimately, the goal of the MATE project was to maintain the feel of Gnome 2 using GTK2 code. I know there is a significant portion of users who want to retain that experience, myself included.

Mint 13 – MATE edition offers some very appealing features.

  1. It’s based on Ubuntu 12.04, which is a LTS (Long Term Support) edition, meaning it will continue to be supported with updates and packages for (5) years, until April 2017. Since Mint is based on Ubuntu 12.04, all those juicy forum posts that support Ubuntu questions & issues will work just fine under Mint as well.
  2. The Gnome 2.x feel is nearly entirely intact — bravo!

These features were critically important for me, since my main box at home was “stuck” running Gnome 2 under Ubuntu 10.04, which would only be supported until April 2013. The clock was ticking and I knew that soon I’d be unable to get updated packages or bug fixes.

Mint 13 offered me a way out, a way to keep my Gnome 2 style interface in a fully integrated & supported distribution of Linux that would continue to get bug fixes, updates and support well into the future.

I tried Cinnamon and Gnome 3, neither are my cup of tea (never mind Unity or KDE). I’ve heard of people using all sorts of extensions or addons under Gnome 3 to approximate the Gnome 2 look and I did try some of them, but all in all it was a poor approximation.

In preparation for this installation of Mint 13 MATE Edition, I purchased a new 2TB hard disk (my old disk was only 500GByte). My Ubuntu 10.04 hard disk had seen a lot of usage over the past few years and I do a lot of work on my main box. I felt it was time to not only move to a new distro given the state of desktop environments, but to install it on a recently manufactured hard disk to ensure some longevity. Even though I had already tested Mint 13 on my testing-box, I had planned to leave my original Ubuntu 10.04 disk intact temporarily, just in case. It would ride shotgun to my newly installed my 2TB disk which would be the destination of my new Mint 13 install.

Prior to doing anything of course I had (2) backups of the old 10.04 hard disk, including my entire /home partition. Everything was backed up to external drives.

The installation process was smooth and quick. It even saw my 10.04 install on the 2nd hard disk and populated Grub with boot options, so I could boot into 10.04 at will! At some point in the future when I’m thoroughly comfortable with the new install, I’ll be formatting that old hard disk with 10.04 on it and remove the 10.04 boot options Mint had added to Grub.

I’ve been using Mint 13 on my main box for about 3 days now and it’s been the a supremely smooth transition. I’ve had no major issues, and configuration was quick and easy. I brought over some dot-folders, such as .filezilla and .xchat2 so I could easily bring over my configs for those programs which I use heavily, so I wouldn’t have to reconfigure them from scratch. I had made notes of all my applications installed on my 10.04 box, including command line only applications as well as graphical ones. It took me all of 15 minutes to apt-get install and configure all of them.

I spent some time doing some customizations. Primarily, I still enjoy my main menu up at the top-left, and my open-window-tabs at the bottom, along with a desktop switcher in the lower right. I also like my time of day at the top right — like a classic Gnome 2 interface. Mint sets up the MATE interface to look a little bit like a classic Windows Start Menu and I didn’t care much for it. Within about 3 minutes I had taken the default MATE interface and changed it to my preferences. Adding new panels and making them transparent was easy and the same process as it would be under Gnome 2.x classic.

This shows the default Mint Desktop on the left and my customizations on the right. Click the image to see it in full fidelity

My system monitor applet was available as well (which can be seen above, in the upper right — the 4 squares) which allow me to monitor CPU usage, memory usage, network usage and swap file usage — all in real time. As far as I know, this is not even yet available for a panel in Gnome 3!

I have my classic cascading menus back, within a new distro that has 5 years of support — and now all is well with the world.

Many of the developers of MATE are hanging out on the IRC and since finding them I have struck up a nice conversation with them. I’ve been reassured that MATE will get tender loving care for some time to come and I’m glad to hear it. Like anyone else, I could have adapted to Gnome 3 or Unity — but I truly felt these were inferior desktop environments.

A great asset to being developed by a community, if enough people decide to change something, they can. Linux offers change with choice, and my choice is Linux Mint MATE Edition.

I personally want to thank the developers of MATE in this blog post: Perberos, Stefano Karapetsas (stefano-k), Clement Lefebvre (clem), Steve Zesch (amanas).

If you use MATE, please consider donating to the project as I have. It’s small and could use the funds for hosting the site as well as to support the developers.