Review: Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" MATE

Ah yes. I've been wanting to do this review for quite a while now. And now I can! So I will do just that.

Main Screen + Linux Mint Menu
Linux Mint has been my OS of choice for the last 3 years now. For the last 2 years, I have been using Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" GNOME. That will be supported for another year from now, but that also means that I need to start looking into replacements for when the old version loses its official support. I've played around with Cinnamon, but it's still a bit immature and unstable and doesn't quite fit my needs; given that MATE is supposed to be GNOME 2 with the essential components simply renamed, it seems like this would be the best candidate for remaining on my computer's hard drive for the next few years.

I tested the live session of the 64-bit version using a live USB made with MultiSystem. Follow the jump to see if this is a worthy successor to what I have been using thus far.

After the boot menu, I was greeted by a blank screen for the boot splash, as has become standard for Linux Mint. After that came the desktop, which really hasn't changed from previous versions, so I won't discuss it much. That statement alone is a testament to how well MATE replicates every aspect of GNOME 2. The only difference is that the nice indicator applet menus pioneered by Ubuntu around 2009 are not present, and in their place are the old, click-on-individual-icon applets from GNOME 2. This means that I cannot click on one applet and simply move the mouse to activate another; I must click on the other applet to gain its focus. That's a little too much of a throwback for me; I personally prefer the smooth operation of the indicator applets, and I hope they will be properly ported to MATE.

Mozilla Firefox
Mozilla Firefox is the default browser, and it works well as usual. As expected, Linux Mint comes with the usual set of proprietary codecs; my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts worked out-of-the-box, as did YouTube and Hulu, although Adobe Flash playback on Hulu was a bit jumpy. (Also, my ethernet connection does work now from a live system; it just doesn't work from my installed system.)

Other installed programs include LibreOffice, Mozilla Thunderbird, and others. Furthermore, some of the desktop configuration tools made by Linux Mint for GNOME 2 have been ported over to MATE.

Compiz is included, but there is no apparent way to start it (other than by adding "compiz --replace" to the list of startup applications) or configure it. I had to install things like the CompizConfig Settings Manager, and after doing so I found out that the desktop cube problem still has not been fixed. Furthermore, Emerald is nowhere to be found in the repositories, so the only other window decorator is the GTK Window Decorator which looks pretty bad (if you ask me) and is not really customizable.
LibreOffice Writer + Caja + Desktop Cube
What worked better was following the instructions from a previous post about installing Compiz 0.8.6; using that I was able to get the effects and decorations that I wanted. The only problem I have about that is that I am using an older version of Compiz and I anticipate dependency conflicts down the road because of that.

Skype could not be installed properly due to a particular repository not loading correctly. That's a major issue in my book, although I suppose if I had tried at a different time, it might have installed correctly. That said, I did try to rectify the issue by manually downloading the DEB files of the dependencies that failed to download correctly, and while those installed OK, Skype refused to install afterwards due to a different dependency issue.
Thankfully, Google Talk had no such issue. I was able to install and use that just fine.

I know now that Mupen64Plus after version 1.5 no longer has a working GUI. In fact, I apparently knew that many months ago as well because on my installed system, I have pinned Mupen64Plus to be at version 1.5. Anyway, for this, I went to its website, downloaded the TAR package, and followed the instructions to extract and install it. That worked well.
F.lux also does not start properly anymore. Since then, even on my installed system, I have switched to Redshift, which offers even more customization options, though those are through the CLI. That worked well here too.

The MATE System Monitor reported that at idle, with Compiz as the WM in the background, Linux Mint used 580 MB of RAM. That is quite a bit, and surprisingly the memory hog is the GTK Window Decorator for Compiz, much more so than Compiz itself.

That is where my time with Linux Mint ended. Maybe I picked the wrong day to try it, but in my mind, the lack of a working Skype is a deal-breaker. I suppose I can give it a good recommendation but not my highest; this sadly was not exactly the happy ending that I was expecting, so I am also hesitant to make it my new OS. Thankfully, though, I have options, and I have another year to consider said options. The two options into which I am looking the most are Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" KDE and SolusOS 2. The first is because it will come with all the goodness of Linux Mint combined with the power of KDE; furthermore, KDE 4.9 looks pretty awesome with the improvements to the interface of Dolphin and the release of the KLook file previewer integrated with Dolphin, and I can use KWin and its effects natively instead of using a kludge to get Compiz 0.8.6 to work. The second is because it will ship with a heavily modified GNOME 3 that should work with both GNOME 2 applets and Compiz, so using those along with Nautilus and GNOME Sushi means I will be able to carry over my desktop essentially unchanged. I now eagerly await the release of the KDE edition of Linux Mint!

(UPDATE: Indeed, yesterday was a bad day. Today, I tried out the Skype thing again because I hadn't done anything to the live USB and I needed it so it could recognize my ethernet connection because the wireless connection on my installed system was very flaky today. It worked just fine. This makes my opinion of this version of Linux Mint much higher, and the other issues are essentially just minor details. That said, I do still eagerly await the KDE edition of Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya", which is incidentally officially in testing now.)