By now I’m sure many of you have heard that the Ubuntu project is considering creating an Ubuntu derivative featuring the MATE desktop environment. The MATE desktop environment is a fork of the once-popular GNOME 2 desktop environment. GNOME was at one time the default Ubuntu desktop environment before they made the move to Unity. I’ll go ahead and clear any bias out of the way, I do miss GNOME 2, so using MATE has been an awesome experience. I love the simplicity, low resource requirements, and stability of MATE. I should also mention that I like Unity as well. It’s still the default on one of my laptops and it works great on that machine. However, when I’m doing a lot of work, having the more traditional menus and status bar are something I appreciate on my desktop.
Enough about my preferences, however. That would just be an opinion! On to the arguments in support of a MATE derivative of Ubuntu.
Lately there have been some articles such as this one which, like many of my posts here, is an opinion with varying concerns about spreading the project too thin or placing an additional financial burden on the project. My first point should alleviate most of those fears.
1) A MATE derivative of Ubuntu would be a community project
The Ubuntu project is large, and even far larger now than when I used to volunteer for the distribution several years ago. There are many different sub-projects including the derivatives of Xubuntu, Edubuntu, and Kubuntu. All three of those derivatives are purely community projects. They have the benefit of being “official” derivatives with direct access to Ubuntu servers, updates, and the like. However, their development, promotion, and maintenance are all handled by the community. Canonical, beyond the community manager position, must put forth little effort to keep those projects running.
This is not new, and in fact Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu, removed the Kubuntu derivative from an official status to a community project. For years, Kubuntu held nearly the same development priority and support from Canonical as did Ubuntu. With Canonical’s change in focus to placing Ubuntu on all manner of devices, Canonical made a sensible move and placed the management of the Kubuntu project under the control of the community. The Ubuntu project and its derivatives have a vibrant community and Kubuntu has done well over the past couple of years in their hands. An Ubuntu MATE derivative (Mubuntu? Hopefully not.) would similarly do well as a community project, especially given the rising popularity of the desktop environment.
2) MATE caters to those who still enjoy the classic desktop
In a world devoted to “convergence” even when it doesn’t always make sense, the MATE desktop environment provides a sensible, traditional desktop. To be competitive in the modern desktop environment, there is definitely a place for a mobile-enhanced interface that will work well in promoting the innovative ability of the Linux community. However, I’m one who disagrees with the need for convergence. Take a look at how Microsoft is now going to bring back the Start menu. They realized that a full on mobile interface is not only what customers didn’t want, but also that sometimes the traditional way of finding and opening applications is easier than scrolling through a grid of applications, especially if you’re using a traditional desktop. Scaling-up a mobile interface to work on a 27″ screen just doesn’t make sense. I like using my screen space as a canvas to work from, not as an over-sized tablet or smart phone.
In opposition to this world of convergence is an interface that has been around since I started using Linux in 2005. It’s based on an old concept to be sure, but not only does it work and work well, but it also looks good while doing it. MATE has the traditional setup that includes the basic three menus: Applications, Places, and System. There is a clean notification section that is unobtrusive. The layout provides for a clean, big desktop with enough customization options to make a power user happy. It’s also stable and solid. Practically every application can integrate with it without awkward menu display issues or ugly, out of focus icons sitting in the task bar (fellow Unity users know what I’m talking about). MATE is a good solution for someone who desires a stable, easy to use, get-out-of-your-way desktop. There are other good options out there too, such as LXDE, which incidentally has it’s own community project known as Lubuntu. This brings me to my third point.
3) An Ubuntu MATE derivative is good for the community
As previously mentioned, the Ubuntu project is rather large. Not only is it large but it is also very active which is great news for software projects that become involved with the Ubuntu community. MATE can benefit by having many people who enjoy using Ubuntu — the way it handles software, security, and updates — who would love to have MATE be their default desktop. The community can do great things when it’s passionate about something and there is no doubt in my mind that MATE would benefit from being a part of the Ubuntu family. First there’s the dedicated community searching for bugs and ways to improve the desktop environment. Secondly, MATE would certainly benefit from the amount of attention the project would receive. Being a first-tier Ubuntu derivative brings with it a lot of value for a project. For a humble project like MATE, this provides an effective, safe way to grow their user base.
An Ubuntu MATE derivative would be an excellent addition to the Ubuntu community, and I believe a likewise benefit to the MATE project itself. It’s a win-win for the Linux community and helps round out the Ubuntu family. I know that if the Ubuntu MATE derivative happens, then I will be one of the first to start using it as my primary desktop.