How-To: Get My Desktop with MATE in Ubuntu

Installing MATE Patches
Finally, the busiest part of my week is over, and I have time to write this. Anyway, Ubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin" is getting ever closer to its final release, and that means Linux Mint 13 LTS "M[...]a" will be released soon afterwards as well. That version of Linux Mint will ship with the GNOME 3/Cinnamon and MATE DEs. I haven't tried Cinnamon for myself yet, so I will reserve judgment until later, but from what I can see, it looks like a pretty nice way to have a Linux Mint-style GNOME 2 interface in GNOME 3.

That said, there is always the possibility that I will not be able to get used to Cinnamon. In that case, I have essentially been exploring a contingency plan in the form of customizing MATE to act as closely as possible to my current GNOME 2 desktop on Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora", and I would like to share that here. Follow the jump to see what I did. I did this all in the live USB session of an Ubuntu remix made as a MATE live session.

After booting into the live session, the first thing I did was to right-click and change the GTK+ and Metacity themes to Clearlooks. This is because the version of MATE included on this particular live distribution is a slightly older one that has a serious bug that makes MATE crash if GTK+ or Metacity themes other than Clearlooks are used. After that, I closed Docky (because that is included) and removed it from the list of programs loaded upon startup, and then I moved the top panel to the bottom.

Installing Compiz
After that, I used this tutorial to patch MATE to allow for different GTK+ and Metacity themes without crashing. I also installed the Linux Mint Menu using these instructions. Following that, I used these tutorials to install the Zukitwo themes, Marlin file manager, and Gloobus Preview file previewer. After that, I followed these instructions to make Marlin only open folders and files on two clicks, be the default file manager, and use Gloobus-Preview.

Following that, I used the GNOME Appearance Properties dialog to set the GTK+ theme to Zukitwo. That also made Marlin look a lot nicer. In addition, Gloobus Preview had the window controls on the wrong side of the titlebar, so I used it once, right-clicked to click "Settings", chose "Use gtk theme", and then did it again but unchecking that last option the second time, and after that the window controls appeared on the right side.

After that, I installed the various Compiz packages, the CompizConfig Settings Manager, and the Compiz Fusion Icon from Synaptic Package Manager. Following that, I also used these instructions to install the Emerald window decorator, and after that I was able to download the Zuki theme package and extract the Zuki Emerald theme into the home folder. After that, I used the Emerald Theme Manager to import and select the Zuki Emerald theme, which unsurprisingly blends quite well with the Zukitwo GTK+ theme; in addition, in the "Emerald Settings" tab of the Emerald Theme Manager, I deselected "Show Tooltips for Buttons", "Use Button Fade", and "Use Button Fade Pulse" because I found all of those things distracting, and I changed the titlebar double-click action to "Maximize/Restore" from "Shade".
Marlin: Ugly
Following that and making the Compiz Fusion Icon start along with MATE after logging in, I configured Compiz in "General Options > Desktop Size" to have a horizontal virtual size of 4, a vertical virtual size of 1, and 1 desktop so that Compiz would synchronize with the MATE panel workspace switcher. Unfortunately, in this new version of Compiz, the desktop cube effect is buggy, so I had to settle for the desktop wall and "Expo" effects; I also configured the desktop wall in "Desktop Wall > Viewport Switching" to always wrap around. After that, I also configured the "Place Windows" to place certain applications on specific workspaces like I do on my installed setup, and that worked well. In addition, I enabled the effect for showing window previews on the taskbar. Finally, I used the Compiz Fusion Icon to reload the Compiz WM to make the changes take effect.

There was still more to be done, though. The panel was looking a little ugly because there are a few inconsistencies between MATE and the Zukitwo theme. That is why I followed these instructions to make the panel transparent, though I kept the opacity at 100%; the only differences were that instead of editing a theme file in the live session's home folder, I edited the global theme file in "/usr/share/themes/", and instead of commenting out 'include "apps/gnome-panel.rc"', I commented out 'include "widgets/panel.rc"' due to the differences in naming conventions between GNOME 2 and MATE. The only side effect of this was that Marlin started to look ugly again, so in the home folder subfolder ".config" I created a folder "gtk-3.0" and created a text file "settings.ini" according to these instructions, but with the desired themes in place of the ones present in that forum post.

Fixing the Panel Theme
The Linux Mint Menu is amazing in its capabilities, but one of its flaws is that it opens files and folders in Nautilus/Caja (the MATE file manager) even if another file manager has been selected as the default.  I changed that behavior to make the Linux Mint Menu open places in Marlin by following these instructions, though I used "marlin" instead of "dolphin" to replace "caja" rather than "nautilus". That worked well.

Finally, as icing on the cake, I installed the Kupfer quick-launch tool as a replacement for GNOME-Do, and that seems to work quite well too. My only gripe is that it does not seem to remember certain keystrokes to launch applications quicker; for example, after a few times of launching "Chromium", I would still have to type "chr" to get that result rather than just "c".

After logging out and logging back in to make all the changes take effect, a few things crashed, but nothing seemed to do so visibly, which was fine with me. The Linux Mint Menu and parts of Marlin all claimed to have crashed upon logging in, but after clicking to ignore future errors from those applications, logging out, and logging back in, I had in front of me my perfect desktop. Yay!

Installing Kupfer
To sum up, the crashes were a little disconcerting at first, but after clicking to ignore them, they didn't cause any problems. The only things that I couldn't copy over were the desktop cube in Compiz, the dark panel, and the fact that desktop icons still open in Caja rather than Marlin. Oh well. I guess the MATE developer might want to consider releasing a "Caja Elementary". Otherwise, I am quite pleased with how this has turned out, and I am happy in the knowledge that if all else fails, I will find a welcoming home in the form of MATE in Linux Mint 13 LTS "M[...]a".