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Ubuntu 18.04 MATE vs. GNOME Desktops

Summary

For people who use a computer desktop environment, and work on multiple tasks at once, the best thing about using Linux is the convenience of multiple virtual desktops using a single monitor. Each virtual desktop can be dedicated to a set or tasks with windows arranged to your liking and no need to minimize them to work on another task. I will show how this works with both the MATE and GNOME desktop environments.

Remarks 2023: All the stuff I wrote here is true. The MATE desktop is easier for me to get work done on. The truth is, however, I ended up switching back to the Gnome desktop because just about all of the crashes I was experiencing were from the MATE part of the code base. I think maybe there are too few people working on it? In any case, the thing that makes Gnome workable for me is that I use the Gnome Shell add-on “Auto move windows” extensions so that I have three main workspaces with browser, file browser, and media Workspaces set up that I can go to by clicking on the corresponding icons on the left, thereby approximating the Workspace Switcher.

MATE Desktop

If you add the “workspace Switcher” applet to your panel, nothing could be easier than changing virtual desktops. There is a rectangle for each desktop, with icons of the applications you have open represented in each rectangle. You click once to go to any given desktop. That’s it. All is visible at once and the change is immediate.

ubuntu 1804 mate desktop with workspace icons

GNOME Desktop

In the case of GNOME, you cannot see what is on each desktop without taking some kind of action. If you are not sure what is on each desktop, you actually have to click TWICE to get a view, then a third time to get to the desired desktop. It is absolutely mind-numbing to me how some designer can take something so simple and make it so complex. My computer life is much harder with GNOME, so I left it for an easier time with MATE.

NOTE: I know there is a keyboard shortcut to “zip right through” all the different desktops in GNOME, but I don’t use the computer often enough to remember which the special key is, and I would still have to look at the keyboard to get my fingers on both keys. It cannot compare with the ease of seeing a list of choices and clicking on one.

Update: I have been made aware of a GNOME extension called Workspaces-to-dock that creates permanent desktop icons on the current desktop. I have never used it, so I don’t know how much control you have over it, but if you do an image search for “workspaces-to-dock”, the dock takes up WAY too much desktop real estate to change my mind. Being and extension, it seems that normal GNOME development can break its functionality without warning. So, now you can do your own comparison if interested…

Conclusion

I have nothing against the GNOME desktop. Since 1999, it was my favorite desktop environment. It was so easy to use and customize to my liking. The newer version of GNOME 3 takes away what was great about using linux: simplicity and customization. These aren’t my words, but I thought it was accurate when someone said it was “linux designed for people who would never use linux”. A bit of an exaggeration, but it makes a good point. I’d love to be able to use the stock Ubuntu release, because I’d rather have the original than something based on another distribution, but alas, I cannot. GNOME 3 is too slick for a middle-aged tinkerer like myself.

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