If you long for the days of GNOME 2 and just can’t get along with Unity or GNOME 3, MATE is here to save you. It’s an actively developed fork of GNOME 2, and it’s easily installable on Ubuntu.

MATE isn’t available in Ubuntu’s repositories, but the MATE developers offer an official repository for Ubuntu. Unlike some methods that recommend you use Linux Mint’s repository on Ubuntu, this won’t mess up your system.


Launch a terminal window from the Dash and run the following command to add the MATE repository to your system:

sudo add-apt-repository “deb http://packages.mate-desktop.org/repo/ubuntu oneiric main”

This command works for Ubuntu 11.10, Oneiric Ocelot. If you’re using a different version, replace “oneiric” with the appropriate word – for example, “precise” for Ubuntu 12.04, Precise Pangolin.

Next, run the following command to download a list of the available packages:

sudo apt-get update

Use this command to install the MATE archive’s key. The archive uses this key to digitally sign its packages:

sudo apt-get install mate-archive-keyring

Finally, run the following command to install the MATE desktop:

sudo apt-get install mate-core

Type Y and press Enter when prompted.

You may also want to install the mate-utils package, which contains the screenshot tool and other small utilities. (That’s “sudo apt-get install mate-utils”.)

Launching MATE

Log out from the menu at the top right corner of the panel after installing MATE.

Select the MATE desktop from the list on the login screen before supplying your password.

Using MATE

If you’ve been using Linux for a while, MATE will feel extremely familiar. It’s the GNOME 2 desktop – last seen in Ubuntu in version 10.10.

If you don’t look too closely, you may think you’re using GNOME 2 again. However, MATE has a different logo and name. The About window betrays its lineage, though.

To differentiate the included applications from the GNOME 3 versions, they’ve also been . The Nautilus file manager is now Caja, the Eye of GNOME image viewer is now Eye of MATE, and GNOME Terminal is now MATE Terminal.

There’s a top bar with an applications menu and a bottom bar with a window list – the kind of thing being thrown out by new desktop environments.

The number of bars, their position, and the applets on them are still customizable, of course. Right-click a panel to add applets, customize it, delete the panel, or add a new one.

For a more Ubuntu-esque look, you can use the Appearance preferences panel (located under System -> Preferences) and select the Ambiance theme.

image-Appearance Preferences

What more is there to say about MATE? It’s GNOME 2 – and lots of users are looking for that, if you believe the comments you see all over the Web. If you’re one of them, you don’t have to beg Ubuntu and the GNOME project to change course – just install and support MATE. MATE and Linux Mint are listening to a vocal contingent of users, so it’s no wonder Mint is becoming so popular.

We’ve also covered installing the Cinnamon desktop on Ubuntu – it’s a more forward-looking desktop that’s also associated with Linux Mint.

What do you think of MATE? Do you prefer the old GNOME 2 environment to Unity, GNOME 3, and other newer desktop environments? Or have you fallen in love with the newer desktop environments? Leave a comment and let us know.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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