Something rather odd is happening with Ubuntu MATE. A new desktop configuration has been made available in the daily build. That new interface looks surprisingly like Ubuntu Unity.
To prove it can be done. Sort of. Because it's Linux and that means options...oh so many options.
If you're running the 16.04 release (in the form of a daily build, as the official release is not out yet), you can opt to Mutiny against the default desktop and get a layout that looks similar to Unity.
Looks is key.
Before I dig into the heart of this issue, let's first talk about MATE itself. What exactly is MATE? Quite simply, it's a fork of GNOME 2. It looks and feels very much like the GNOME we all knew and loved back in the early 2000s. It's old school (relatively speaking) and was given birth simply because a certain faction of developers and users did not like the path GNOME 3 was taking. Users actually refused to accept the route GNOME was taking and wanted to hold tight to what was.
That lends a layer of irony to the fact that the designers have created a new theme (called Mutiny) that looks similar to yet another desktop interface a good portion of the Linux community refused to accept.
Are you tossing your arms up into the air yet?
Hold off on that.
How do you get it?
Getting Ubuntu MATE Mutiny is really quite simple. What you must do is download and install the daily build of Ubuntu MATE 16.04 and then immediately update it. You might actually have to update it two or three times before the Mutiny option becomes available (I had to run two updates).
Once you've updated you'll need to open up the Control Panel, go to the Look And Feel section, and click on MATE Tweak. From the MATE Tweak window (Figure A), click on Interface, and then select Mutiny from the Panels section.
Selecting the Mutiny theme for Ubuntu MATE.
At this point you can then tweak the two panels to suit your needs, by right-clicking each panel and selecting Preferences. Similar to how I run Unity, I tend to like a bit of transparency in my panels (Figure B).
A few tweaks in Mutiny.
How does it compare?
With all that said, how does Mutiny compare to Unity? I don't mean is it better or worse...I'm talking about the execution of design. First and foremost, I must say "bravo" to the designers of this theme. They've done a fairly decent job of re-creating the look Unity.
However...yes, there is always an however. Where Unity offers an almost unlimited amount of polish, Mutiny is a bit rough around the edges. For instance, when opening up a terminal window, Mutiny attempts a global menu in the upper panel, but the execution is a bit less-than-stellar (Figure C).
A bit of awkwardness in the "global menu" for GNOME Terminal.
There is also nothing to replace the Dash or HUD (two very critical components of Unity). There is only a standard "Start" Menu and standard window menus. So effectively, this is really nothing more than a nifty panel layout that gives you the look of the modern Unity interface.
But there's still that lack of polish...one that goes beyond the look. When I use Ubuntu MATE, I still get this feeling I'm back in the early days of GNOME 2, where windows, menus, and widgets don't always feel as stable as they should. And maybe that's because I've grown so accustomed to using the likes of Elementary OS Freya, where everything is as rock solid as any desktop interface has ever been. So going back in time makes me feel like I'm moving backwards with regards to efficiency and stability. And,honestly, if I want a Unity-like look, I'm going straight to the source and installing Unity. Why? Because no one does that layout better than Ubuntu...and Unity without the Dash and HUD is simply a second-rate knock off.
However...you cannot discredit the developers of Mutiny, simply because it's not Unity. If you look at Mutiny as nothing more than a MATE theme, then you'll be more than willing to give it a try and might (in the end) enjoy the layout. If you're looking for Unity that's not associated with Canonical's official release, you will be disappointed. If you're looking for something that's almost Unity, but without the Canonical trappings, you'll probably really enjoy Mutiny.
Awakens some memories
The second I installed Ubuntu MATE, I was taken back to those earlier days of GNOME. I started using GNOME during its beta period. I remember how incredibly flexible (yet, wholly unstable) the desktop was at the time. GNOME 1 was something really special. GNOME 2 polished that "special", but removed some of the flexibility. GNOME 3 completely changed the game...so much so that some desperately wanted to return to GNOME 2. Thus MATE was born.
If I had to choose between any of the GNOME incarnations (including MATE), I would, without hesitation, go straight for GNOME 3. Not only is it more efficient than the other iterations, it is so much more stable and polished.
But all those memories MATE awakened were pretty sweet.
Which is your GNOME of choice (and why)?
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.