MATE Desktop's failure in Fedora 18
For those of you who haven't heard, MATE Desktop promises to be the Gnome 2 desktop reborn. I very much like the Gnome 2 desktop for my midlevel machines and specifically for my laptop, which has been stuck at Fedora 14 for going on two years now precisely because I refuse to abandon a productive Gnome 2 environment. Since MATE is included in Fedora 18 I had high hopes of being able to upgrade at last. When Fedora 18 was initially released I eagerly spun it up on a virtual machine and installed MATE to try it out.
I don't know of a good way to put this: MATE Desktop in its current state in Fedora 18 is an abject failure because the MATE developers made an understandable but catastrophically bad decision.
You see, when the MATE Desktop describes itself as a fork of Gnome 2,
it really means that. The developers did not take Gnome 2 and rebuild
it; they took Gnome 2 and more or less changed everything that called
itself 'gnome'. In particular they completely renamed the preferences
system. MATE doesn't use Gnome 2 preferences; it uses MATE preferences,
complete with a MATE preferences daemon. One immediate consequence of
this is that you cannot use the very useful and important
to edit MATE preferences. After all,
gconf-editor edits Gnome
preferences, not MATE preferences (perhaps you are starting to see the
(People who migrate to MATE may not immediately see the problem because MATE runs a one-time preferences cloning operation. That they need to do this should have been a big warning sign to the MATE developers.)
There are a whole lot of tools and programs that have been developed
for Gnome 2 and now run under it (or Gnome 3). It is unlikely that many
of them will be recompiled for MATE and the MATE libraries. How well
any individual one is going to work in MATE is uncertain; at the least
it's clear that there are going to be frictions, where you wind up with
things like two preference systems running alongside each other. At the
worst, some of the tools that I really want may simply not work because
they have not been rebuilt and/or 'ported' to MATE (by running the
equivalent of a
sed pass over them to rename functions or whatever).
This practical issue is one part of why I abandoned MATE on the spot when I found this out. Another part is the mere existence of this issue demonstrates that the MATE people's priorities have nothing to do with mine. I want to continue using my perfectly functional Gnome 2 desktop environment. The MATE people apparently want to make a statement about how they are not Gnome. Well, congratulations. Consider it made and heard.
(Now I need a replacement laptop environment that I can stand, one that runs all of the magic programs necessary for a modern laptop that uses varied wireless, wired, and VPN connections, suspends itself at appropriate times, handles battery and power management, and all that jazz.)
In universities, computers are not an essential service
This is going to sound very odd, but it really is true: in most universities, computers and networking are not a truly essential priority. I don't mean that computers aren't important or that losing computing would not be a very serious problem, because in a modern university neither is true; if the university as a whole or even a department were to drop off the network it would be a very big deal and a crisis.
But in the worst case, if the university's computers all went away one day the university would not shut down until it could replace them. There would be major disruption and pain, but people would keep on getting taught and a fair amount of research would still keep happening (probably more than I would expect). It definitely would not be the kind of event where you tell everyone to stay home until further notice because there is no point in them showing up to work.
Partly this is intrinsic in what the core mission of a university is. A university exists to teach undergraduates, get graduate students to produce theses, and to obtain grant funding; none of these functions universally require computers (although in some fields they do). Another part of this is due to the patterns of communication inside universities, where for many professors and graduate students it is more important to communicate with people outside the university than most people inside it.
(This leads to a situation where the disaster recovery plan for many people would be 'take my personal laptop to a coffee shop, get a webmail account, and start mailing people from it to tell them my new address'.)
The one exception to this is HR systems, and in particular payroll. If the university cannot pay people their salaries somehow, it will stop having very many people before too long; not necessarily because people want to leave, but more because there's only so long that people can go without being paid before they have to find another job to cover the bills.
(I'll admit that I'm somewhat handwaving the issue of essential data like course records. In the medium term a university without access to its computerized course records might have problems giving out undergraduate degrees, which would mean that its undergraduates would start evaporating.)