Review: Linux Mint MATE 201204

I apologize for the lack of posts over the last couple weeks. Since two and a half weeks ago, I was hit with a steady barrage of homework, exams, UROP-related work, et cetera. Today was the last day of most of the hard stuff (until two weeks from now), so I'm reviewing this now.

Main Screen + Linux Mint Menu
Recently, the Linux Mint developers released a large set of major updates for users of its Debian-based GNOME edition. This would, among other things, replace GNOME 2 with GNOME 3/Cinnamon or MATE. To allow new users to try an updated version of the edition, they released new versions of the ISO files. I am now trying the MATE edition.

I tried the 64-bit version (because I also want to seriously see whether it could reside on the hard drive of my 64-bit computer full-time) using a live USB made with MultiSystem, and I did not test the installation procedure. To be honest, I would have liked to have tried the GNOME 3/Cinnamon and Xfce editions too, but I only have time for the MATE edition now. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After the boot menu, I was greeted by a scrolling wall of text; some of the messages seemed a little concerning, but thankfully nothing came of them. After that, I was taken to the desktop.

The desktop is just as it was before. The panel layout, theme, wallpaper, and everything else are the same as they were a few months ago, so I won't dwell on that further. That just goes to show how well MATE can replicate GNOME 2. In fact, some of the same theme problems present from a few months ago in GNOME 2 (like an off-color terminal menubar) are present now in MATE as well.
Also, there was one new issue I found: some of the expandable menu items in windows (where you click a box with the '+' sign to expand that item) are rather finicky and unpredictable, though this is a relatively more minor issue.
In addition, the desktop icon label fonts are the same as in Linux Mint 12 "Lisa" GNOME. That is to say, they look a little weird, have a white color on top of a light background, and have visibly tacky gray shadows underneath. Oh well.
Finally, one new thing I've seen is a configuration tool for the appearance of notifications. The traditional MATE notifications look a bit old and ugly, and Debian-based Linux Mint does not have the slick-looking Notify-OSD that Ubuntu and its derivative Linux Mint do. To fix that, the notifications can be made to look a lot like Notify-OSD with a button to close the notification (which Notify-OSD itself lacks by default), which is really cool. In fact, I'm not sure why that is not the default setting for notification appearance here.

Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer
Mozilla Firefox is the default browser, and surprisingly it is at version 11 (which, until this week, was the latest version). I think this is because the Linux Mint developers have accommodated the new rapid-release schedule by providing updates for it independently of the main update packs. Most multimedia codecs appear to be included out-of-the-box, which is the standard for Linux Mint. My laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts were recognized fine. YouTube worked, but Hulu unfortunately did not; I was able to see thumbnails of the video at each moment, but playback did not work.

LibreOffice is at version 3.4, although the latest version is 3.5. It seemed to work well too.
The standard set of applications is included as well. Unfortunately, Jockey-GTK and Simple-CCSM still have not been ported to Debian-based Linux Mint, though those aren't really big issues for me anymore. Plus, I know now that typing in "compiz --replace &" and seeing the results that I saw last time is standard behavior and is nothing to worry about.

Speaking of Compiz, it is included at version 0.8.4, which is prior to the versions of Compiz with a faulty desktop cube. Plus, this version of Compiz doesn't even require Emerald explicitly because Emerald emulates the selected Marco decoration perfectly, as has been the case for me through Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" GNOME. In addition, the Compiz Fusion-Icon is included out-of-the-box to allow Compiz to refresh itself after any change is made to make that change effective. That said, while I hope that this is the version of Compiz that will be used forever after in Debian-based Linux Mint as long as it continues to have MATE, because it's clear that versions after this are progressively buggier, I think that future updates would mean that I would need to lock the installed versions of Compiz.

Caja + Linux Mint Software Manager
I tested the 64-bit editions not just to give an overview of what this distribution is like, but more to see if it could really be a viable candidate for me to use daily on my laptop. This also meant that I installed Skype and Google Talk to see whether those would work fully. Not only did both work perfectly, but Skype never crashed once, which is unlike what it did in some other distributions. Plus, when I made a test call to test the mic, an icon popped up next to the volume icon in the system tray telling me the mic was muted, and all I had to do was double-click that to unmute the mic. This is the first time I've seen such a nice, smart control for the mic to appear; it know when to appear and when not to appear, and when it does appear it is obvious what its purpose is yet it is not obtrusive. Wow!

After that, I tried installing and using the F.lux GUI, Mupen64Plus, and the Marlin file manager.
Unfortunately, Linux Mint does not have F.lux (CLI or GUI) anywhere in its Debian-based edition repositories. Plus, downloading the DEB file from the Ubuntu PPA for F.lux gave dependency errors upon an installation attempt.
Mupen64Plus installed fine, and I was able to run the CLI version. However, although Synaptic Package Manager kept telling me that the GUI version was also installed, I could not find it at all. That was rather annoying, because it also meant there was no way for me to configure the keyboard mapping for the controls.
I was able to install Marlin through Hadret's Debian repositories. It worked fine, but there is no Gloobus-Preview for Debian at all. I found out that GNOME's Sushi file previewer also works fine with Marlin, so I tried using that. It didn't work, and running Sushi from a terminal gave errors about packages not present at all. That kind of defeated a large portion of my reason to use Marlin.

With Compiz, at idle, the system used...820 MB of RAM? Something is wrong with that. I went through the processes listed in the MATE System Monitor and could only get a total of 220 MB of RAM being used by the processes listed, so either something is wrong with the MATE System Monitor or there are some seriously inefficient zombie processes being run in the background. In any case, although the system never felt slow at all and in fact felt quite snappy, this kind of performance is the polar opposite of what I have come to expect from Debian-based Linux Mint, and that is not a good sign.

Well, that's where my time with this ended. Not that much has really changed from last time, so my high recommendation doesn't change either. For myself, though, there are enough (admittedly minor) gripes that I have with this, which I do not foresee having with Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" MATE, that I don't see why I should settle for 93% here when I can have 99% there instead.