Summary

I have been using Linux on the desktop full-time for over 15 years for nearly all my computer needs. I will briefly explain why I like the MATE desktop environment the best, suggest some programs to use, and possible changes to some settings.

Ubuntu GNOME vs MATE Desktops

For over a decade, GNOME was my favorite desktop. MATE preserves what I liked about GNOME before version 3. It is simple and and easy to customize. The main problem I have using GNOME 3 is with the virtual desktops. In fact, I wrote a whole article about it called Ubuntu 18.04 MATE vs. GNOME Desktops if you are interested in the details. I have read that you can customize GNOME 3 if you install some extra software package, but why should I have to do this?

Ubuntu MATE First Impressions

Ubuntu MATE 1804 Welcome
Ubuntu MATE 1804 Welcome

The Ubuntu MATE "Welcome Screen" makes it a great choice for newcomers to Linux. There are direct links to Ubuntu MATE features, additional software, and community/social links. For experienced users, uncheck the box that says to load the Welcome Screen each time and you'll never see it again.

I was pleasantly surprised that the Menu link in the upper left has been simplified /unified under one click. There is also the option of creating a list of Favorites for even easier access, but I like having the icons available on the desktop (described below).

One thing I have always given the Windows OS credit for is the Control Panel, where all of the settings you might need make can be found in one place. There is an analogous app in MATE called Control Center, and it is much easier than wading through the Menu choices for both "System" and "Preferences", because the difference often seems arbitrary. Whether you Favorite it or create a shortcut icons, I suggest using Control Center.

Linux Apps for Common Tasks

Obviously, your common tasks are not my common tasks, but some computer work is pretty generic, like looking a photos. Sometimes you just want to see what others are using for ideas. My choices are shown in the picture below, along with the changes I made to the desktop

Ubuntu MATE Desktop Customization
Ubuntu MATE Desktop Customization

The names of the programs are labeled on the picture. Tap it to get a larger version. I have been using LibreOffice (or OpenOffice) for over 15 years for all of my home office needs. Personally, I hate it when photo apps want to put all of your work into their own "catalogs" or whatever. You can tell Gthumb not to do this. For quick editing of photos, i.e., cropping and resizing, Gthumb is very easy to use and lightweight. To get a tools menu visible, you need to click on the "Edit File" icon in the upper right (don't know why they're hidden by default).

For multimedia player, I use VLC. It never seems to be the default player, but it is still the grandfather of Swiss Army Knife media players. One exception I make is to use Totem (Multimedia --> Videos) for streaming music. Totem has fewer settings, seems very lightweight but also up to the task. If you are still ripping CDs, or want to simplify your playlist creations, look into using the program Easytag. When you can group all of your music into 5 or 6 genres, instead of being told by someone else what the genre is, you will find creating playlists extremely easy (ex: smart playlist all Genre A + Genre B).

Ubuntu MATE Desktop Customization

I'm happy with the how much I can change the Linux desktop using MATE. I describe how I arrived at the changes in the picture above in case you see something you like. Because I make use of the multiple desktops so often, my desktop doesn't get filled up with windows, and I have never had a use for the "Show Desktop" button and I remove it. I also know where the Trash is in the Caja file browser, so I don't need that icon either. I don't mind taking up room on a vertical panel (like GNOME) for program shortcuts because modern screens are much wider than they are tall.

  • Move the Workspace Switcher applet to the top panel, just outside of the Notifications applet.
  • Move the Window Picker to the top panel, just to left of the Menu.
  • Delete the bottom panel.
  • Right click the top panel, choose "Add Panel", and in the Settings make the location Left.
  • Per personal preference, make the left panel as transparent as you want in its Properties.
  • Right click left panel --> Add To Panel --> Application Launcher --> ADD...
  • Expand the App choices (shown below) to add all the apps you want (you can move them later).
  • Increase the size of the left panel (Properties) to above 48 pixels to get larger icon set.
  • Likewise, increase top panel size to over 36 pixels to see icons in Workspace Switcher.
  • To top panel, add the Weather and System Monitor Applet. Show CPU, Memory, Network for Sys-Mon.
  • Menu --> Preference --> MATE Tweak, Uncheck "Show Desktop Icons" (& "Show Animations" if HW is old).

Ubuntu MATE Add Apps to Panel
Ubuntu MATE Add Apps to Panel

Some of the applets (panel apps) are highlighted in this picture below (originally from the link at the top of the page, where the MATE and GNOME desktops are compared).

MATE Desktop Applets
MATE Desktop Applets

Hardware

  • Dell Inspiron 545 64 bit, Manufactured 2010-01-08
  • CPU = Dual Core E5400 @ 2.7GHz
  • RAM = 6GB DDR2 SDRAM
  • Graphics = 82G33/G31 Integrated Graphics
  • Audio = 82801 I HD Audio
  • Ethernet = TRL8101/2/6E 100Mb/s
  • Hard Drive = IDE --> SATA adapter needed

The software loaded from a "live" DVD with almost no problems. I can tell you what happened, but have no idea how the problem fixed itself. Initially, there was no sound and the Control Center showed no sound card present. After updating all the software, making sure all of the "Partner" software was available, and restarting each time, the sound card was recognized and there have been no problems since(?).

Problems

I've been using desktops similar to this for so long it's hard to find something I'm having a problem doing, but I did find an annoying design aspect of the login page that could use some improvement. The default login screen has a geometric pattern of light and dark colors. The usernames are in white type on top of very light green or yellow colors. This goes back to HTML 101, where you should never specify a font color without specifying the background color as well. The usernames are almost unreadable. Furthermore, they FADE AWAY in some extremely stylish fashion that is confusing to beginners. Somehow, if you don't see your name, you are supposed to know where to click to get it to be shown? It's all just too fancy for the purpose of logging in to a computer. There should be a dedicated area where all names are shown, or at least a clearly visible scroll bar if they cannot all fit. Thank you.

Ubuntu MATE 18.04 Login Window
Ubuntu MATE 18.04 Login Window

Conclusion

If you still work on a computer with a desktop environment, Linux with the MATE desktop is one of your best choices. Linux is the only operating system with multiple virtual desktops, which I have found to greatly improve my productivity, and MATE makes using them easy. Ubuntu MATE 18.04 can be made to be a lightweight (easy on computer resources) distribution, and runs basic Web and Office software on a computer that is over eight years old. Given the requirements of many new OS versions, it can be a great choice to add new life to an older PC without compromising on quality.