With the recent release of 16.10, I decided to do an Ubuntu 16.10 MATE Review and take a look at the changes from a user perspective to see how well it performs. I'll also be investigating whether it's a worthy upgrade, keeping in mind of course that the end of life for this (and other Ubuntu 16.10 variants) is 9 months, so it's certainly not something you'd want to move to if you are looking for a long term support release. In those instances, stick with the 16.04 or 14.04 releases.
This latest release, Ubuntu 16.10 MATE, has been completely rebuilt on GTK3+ and features the updated MATE 1.16 desktop environment.
Ubuntu MATE does the desktop justice in my mind; it's well laid out, easy to use and feels very usable. They also, in my mind, have nailed the new user experience with the excellent and well constructed Welcome app which launches at first boot. I'm going to quickly delve into the Welcome app for a moment because even though it's not exclusive to the 16.10 release, if you aren't familiar with Ubuntu MATE and are reading this, you may find this interesting.
Following installation and first boot you will be presented with the following screen:
This screen (well, it's more of an app really considering what it does) helps to introduce you to the environment, explain the features you can find within your new operating system and help you get started. If you click on Getting Started, the Welcome app will guide you through some typical first steps you may want to undertake.
Clicking on each of these buttons will guide you through specific tasks you can perform within your new environment. Items such as updating your software, installing drivers, selecting languages and other tasks are all listed here. If you click on Updates & Extras for instance, you'll be taken to the updates screen and given the option to check for updates and install additional codes, etc.
Each of the areas within the Getting Started section will guide you through different tasks and it's an incredibly intuitive way to get accommodated with your new Ubuntu MATE system.
The Welcome app also includes Software Boutique which you can access from the main screen by clicking on Software.
The icons at the top let you browse available software and quickly and easily install them individually. It's a very clean and beautiful integration and something I can appreciate as I'm a fan of aesthetics and the overall user experience. Of course, for more advanced software management, Synaptic and the terminal are still a mouse click away.
Welcome app aside, the system is fast and easy to use. I quickly installed my third party drivers with one quick command in the terminal:
sudo ubuntu-drivers autoinstall
Of course, you can always use the Additional Drivers launcher in the menu but I find this method to be quicker since it automates the whole process. Upon reboot, the system seemed to be running smoothly as always. Speed wise, Ubuntu MATE has always been a fast distribution from my experience and this release is no exception. It's snappy, quick to respond and launching apps requires very little wait time. I should note I'm running this test environment in a Virtualbox instance on my desktop (an Alienware X51 R3 with a 1TB SSD drive and 32 GB of ram). I've assigned 6 gigs of ram to the installation and 32 gigs of hard drive space.
One thing that does need to be resolved, however, is the constant screen tearing that is ever present in XFCE, MATE and KDE installations nowadays with my NVIDIA card. I've never experienced it in Unity (but I hate Unity so I'll never use it) or recent Gnome desktop environments but it continues to haunt me in these three. I've seen it on NVIDIA card as well as some people with Intel graphics but it doesn't seem to be an issue in the Virtualbox instance I am using for this review. Everytime I try to use one of these three desktops with proprietary drivers for my NVIDIA card, however, I get the problem. Fortunately, I have a post to help you fix it here: How to Fix NVIDIA Screen Tearing in XFCE, MATE, KDE, LXDE and others. At least it's not terribly tough to resolve but still something that irks me. For those who do experience it, the post above will help you get rid of it for good. To be clear, this issue isn't Ubuntu MATE's fault, but rather an issue with non-composited desktops and proprietary drivers.
For those running a recent release of Ubuntu MATE, you may not even need to use the fix above to fix tearing as the MATE Tweak tool has a possible solution within. By default, compositing is not enabled upon installation but fortunately, you can enable it with ease using the MATE Tweak tool. You can find it under System – Preferences – Look and Feel
Under the Windows section, click the drop down for Select a window manager and choose Marco (Compton GPU compositor).
Your screen should flicker and then, hopefully, your tearing will go away. If this or my fix above doesn't work for you, let me know in the comments, I'm happy to help if I can.
Another cool thing you can do with the MATE Tweak tool is switch your panel layout. The Ubuntu MATE development team have really tried to follow a “something for everyone” approach with Ubuntu MATE and as such, the tool comes with a host of panel layout options you can try.
Since I'm such a nice guy, I'm going to show you what each of them looks like. The default look is the Ubuntu MATE layout which you see in the screenshot above. It basically consists of two panels; one on top with your menu, clock, launchers, etc and one on the bottom for window management and workspace switching.
Next is the Redmond layout which looks like this:
As you can see, the menu is now in the bottom left and there's only a single panel with everything arranged on it.
Now let's look at the Netbook layout.
As you can see, the panel is now along the top with no bottom panel.
Also, you'll notice that I received an error pop-up when I switched to this layout. It doesn't seem to be reproducable as I couldn't get it to happen again no matter how much I switched the panels around but it did occur. This is the first bug I've encountered with this new release so far and I reported it right after it occurred.
Let's look at the Mutiny panel arrangement now:
As you can see, it's reminiscent of the panel style of Unity with the panel along the left hand side.
Next would be the Gnome 2 and Fedora panel but since it's virtually identical in look and feel to the Ubuntu MATE one, there's not much to see here.
As with the above layout, the Fedora layout is pretty much exactly the same as the Ubuntu MATE layout as well (aside from some different launchers on the panel by default.
Finally, last but not least, the Cupertino layout option.
This one, as you can see, is definitely a unique one with a launcher panel along the bottom ala Mac OS and a top panel as well.
There are plenty of other great options hidden within the MATE Tweak tool as well such as the ability to enable the drop down terminal, Tilda, which will allow you to hit F12 on your keyboard to get a dropdown terminal that you can use.
Ubuntu MATE also includes a complex Control Center that is chock full of configuration options that you can access by navigating to System – Control Center
Pretty much everything can be configured within here. There are so many options within the control center that you can spend forever picking through it and checking out all of the options. Things such as modifying how Popup Notifications are displayed and configuring printers are all available here for your use.
All in all, Ubuntu MATE 16.10 feels like a solid release. Other than the one oddball error that popped up when switching panels, I didn't find any other issues. That doesn't mean there won't be any, but rather that if there are, they aren't presenting themselves to me.
As a reminder, before considering upgrading to this release, keep in mind that the support period for 16.10 is 9 months and this isn't a long term support release. If you want something that will be supported for a longer period, stick with 16.04. This applies to any Ubuntu release.
Overall, I want to congratulate the Ubuntu MATE development team on really working hard to nail the user experience. This is one of the better distributions out there and a great example for others with regards to the Welcome app and the initial introduction to the system. If you are looking for a solid desktop environment to explore, be sure to give Ubuntu MATE a try, it's an excellent distribution.