MATE Desktop's failure in Fedora 18

March 12, 2013

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 gconf-editor to edit MATE preferences. After all, gconf-editor edits Gnome preferences, not MATE preferences (perhaps you are starting to see the problems here).

(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.)

Comments on this page:

From at 2013-03-13 10:07:24:

XFCE is Gnome2-like but is not a clone, fork or bizarre mutation. I recommend it as a general purpose desktop; it works well both on laptops and on multi-screen desktops.


From at 2013-03-13 21:17:29:

I second the recommendation for XFCE. I use Xubuntu on a laptop and it all works as you would expect. Xubuntu uses network-manager instead of the XFCE tool (wicd???) which works well enough.

Written on 12 March 2013.
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Last modified: Tue Mar 12 23:40:28 2013
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