A look at Desktop Environments: MATE

Mike Turcotte-McCusker
Mar 24, 2017

One of the most amazing things about GNU/Linux is it's customizability, both on a deeper system level but also on the surface with various desktop environments and window managers at the users disposal.

My personal favourite of the various desktop environments is MATE (pronounced Mah-Tay). I started using GNU/Linux about 17 years ago on my buddies computer his uncle set up for him, which used Mandrake Linux, but it wasn't until about six years later when I decided to install Ubuntu on my own machine at home and really dive into learning how to use the operating system that would later become a major part of my life.

Back when I installed Ubuntu it used the Gnome 2 desktop environment, and so I became very familiar with its user interface. Nowadays Gnome has gone a different direction however there is still a huge userbase of people who loved the old interface, and so the MATE project was born out of the ashes of Gnome 2 as a fork of the original code.

MATE, while being based off Gnome 2 has further developed the code and brought forth a plethora of new features and updates, so it gives me that old nostalgic familiarity while still remaining relatively up to date with features; granted not quite as up to date as some of the other desktop environments, but I have yet to find a feature I desperately needed and was lacking.

So, for the first part in this series about the various desktop environments, let's have a look at MATE!

A look at Desktop Environments: MATE

The machine I am using for this has the following specs:

  • Intel i5-4210U

  • 8GB DDR3

  • SSD

  • Using Manjaro as the OS, initially XFCE edition but installing MATE afterwards

This will not be written so much as a scored review, but simply an overview for those who are not familiar with MATE, who may be looking for a change in their day to day happenings and clickings.

Customization and Default Appearance

MATE Desktop Default

The default appearance after I installed MATE onto my Manjaro system is honestly hideous in my opinion, but thankfully MATE is very easily themed.

It comes with two panels on the top and bottom of your screen that pretty much have everything you could need readily accessible; albeit perhaps a little more cluttered than some users may prefer.

I prefer to remove the bottom panel, and add a window list to my top panel; this saves a little bit of screen real estate which given that this laptop has a 13" screen is always nice. One thing I do add though is a dock that hides on the bottom of my screen using Docky, with my favourite applications added to it for quick and easy access.

MATE Desktop Themed

Customizing the appearance of MATE is fairly quick and painless and thankfully has quite a few options for pre-packaged themes and wallpapers to select from.

If you are using the MATE menu with the three "Applications / Places / System" buttons, you can easily access the theme section by clicking System > Preferences > Look and Feel > Appearance and then selecting the theme of choice.

Wallpapers can be accessed by right clicking the desktop and selecting "Change Desktop Background."

MATE has the option of using GTK 2.X as well as GTK 3.X, so there are hundreds of themes available. For more, visit https://www.gnome-look.org

Default Software


MATE comes with all the default software you'd expect from a general user environment, and actually is bundled with my favourite terminal software. 

While I admit that KDE has my favourite file manager, Dolphin, the file manager in MATE known as Caja is quite capable and decent all on its own.

MATE also comes with the Eye of MATE Image Viewer, which is a very lightweight but quite capable image viewing program that I have grown quite fond of over the years. It's definitely not the most powerful thing in the world, but it's quite useful.

Overall, any system that runs MATE will have most software you need preinstalled, and the MATE specific tools are all designed to be simple, light, and get the job done.

System resources used

mate system resources

MATE is known as a fairly lightweight environment, albeit not as light as XFCE, LXDE or the even more lightweight window managers like i3 or openbox.

Mate when I closed all software I had open, and shut down Docky, was using around 460MB of RAM only, and around 0.7% of my CPU on both cores -- so very little system resources were being used.

Even when I open Firefox with 40 tabs on google, Caja, Spotify with music playing, Eye of Mate with an image loaded, my terminal and OpenOffice with this tutorial opened; my system reported 1.9GB of RAM being used, so my laptop was able to handle it all without any issues whatsoever.

Final words

I can't stress it enough, I adore MATE. It's light, it's attractive, the software that comes bundled is useful without being overly complex or bogging down the system with bells and whistles you don't need. It's not as fancy as KDE, and it's not as light as XFCE or LXDE; but MATE does what it does well and I have nothing I personally can complain about.

What about you? What's your take on MATE? What DE do you use?

Stay tuned for overviews on other environments to come!

A look at Desktop Environments: MATE
Article Name
A look at Desktop Environments: MATE
Mike takes a closer look at the desktop environment Mate, and covers customization, default software, and resource usage in the overview.
Ghacks Technology News

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  1. Xerus said on March 31, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    Looking at MATE I was unamazed. I started using Linux few weeks ago, starting with Linux Mint Cinnamon and now using Linux Mint KDE (everything developed by KDE is so great imo). From my first look at MATE and the filemanager which doesn’t reach either Dolphin nor Nemo, I don’t see myself extensively trying it.

  2. supergirl said on April 1, 2017 at 9:05 am

    Hi Thanks for this article I appreciate it.

    I have Ubuntu MATE on a laptop…..& Lubuntu on this laptop.

    I like them both but I keep noticing every distro or DE has something great about it & each seems to have something I really like missing from it.

    So I will probably use 2-3 diff linuxes around from here on in,,,,,,

    I cant really say which I prefer..just yet…..

  3. Agent 86 said on March 29, 2017 at 5:52 am

    I like xfce in general, but it doesn’t have UI scaling (well it kind of does, but it’s very primitive and incomplete). So I have to find something else for my 4K TV. What’s the scaling situation with MATE?

  4. Max said on March 28, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    Enjoying Xfce on Linux Lite – a great solution for those wanting to escape from Windows, like me.

  5. mikef90000 said on March 26, 2017 at 3:01 am

    I’ve been ‘keeping an eye’ on MATE since its technology upgrade is proceeding well; the latest version is now GTK2 free. However, I find its default GNOME 2 style menu unnecessarily awkward to navigate. Give me the Xfce whisker menu any time.
    Worst of all, the panel customization functionality isn’t up to Xfce standards – just try to find and relocate a transparent widget like a separator or window buttons. The panel preferences desparately needs a expandable separator and a widget list like Xfce and Lxde.

  6. anon3 said on March 25, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    The difficulty of installation depends on the distro, but, if you don’t like the standard menu in MATE, you can install Cardapio, an Xfce-like menu.

  7. swamper said on March 25, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    I moved to MATE as soon as Gnome lost their minds and made Gnome 3 and MATE picked up Gnome 2. Haven’t bothered with another de much since. LMDE2 Mate hits my comfort zone. I agree with you about the color scheme on initial install. First thing I do is turn everything black lol. That might be my only hang up with MATE ever. Good post btw. I’ve hung around Ghacks for years and it’s good to see the Linux folks coming out.

  8. Bobzer said on March 25, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Solus have their MATE gameface ON. Seriously amazing. Ikey Doherty even wrote the Brisk Menu for it.

  9. asdf said on March 25, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    Kudos to you Mike for the great article, MATE is my favorite DE.

  10. Jim from PA said on March 25, 2017 at 11:02 am

    Hi Mike, great article. I also started on Mandrake, used Ubuntu with Mate for many years, but recently fell in love with ChaletOS 16.04 running XFCE. Mate on any distro is a great choice. All my 10 PCs are dual booted with Windows and Linux. The linux applications are what keep me coming back to it. They are very robust and stable, without the call for a paid license. The Internet has many articles how major companies, including Google, run their businesses on Linux. Finding wireless drivers is no longer an issue. I sill use Windows when I need to print, scan, or copy a blue ray disc. But I am working on solving these issues. Linux gives us all choices. And that is always a good thing…. :)

  11. Jozsef said on March 25, 2017 at 9:14 am

    I really appreciate this. So far I’ve had a peek at KDE Plasma 5, Mate and Cinnamon. I like them all but choosing the DE that suits me best is not a one evening undertaking. Your input will help a lot, otherwise the temptation to line up five computers and use them all as the mood dictates might win out! ;)

  12. lehnerus2000 said on March 25, 2017 at 3:25 am

    I’ve used Linux Mint MATE (dual boot with W7) ever since Ubuntu foisted Unity onto users.

    I find MATE easy to use (maybe because I mostly use W7).

  13. 420 said on March 25, 2017 at 12:15 am

    I am glad Martin enabled you Mike to start these linux columns, thank you, good job.

  14. Dan said on March 24, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    MATE is always a good DE. I used it because it reminds me of Gnome 2.xx and that makes it better than Cinnamon. But I personally prefer Xfce so I used that the longest. In the past year or so I have been using LXDE as my main DE, but I am growing concerned with their shift to Qt. I tried LXQt in Manjaro and it felt very different. I hope someone would continue to develop LXDE because LXQt is as ugly as KDE.

  15. ams said on March 24, 2017 at 10:19 pm


    mate, in its latest release, has forsaken gtk2 yes?

    1. Mike Turcotte said on March 24, 2017 at 10:50 pm


      You are correct; if the distro flavour of choice has added the latest MATE to their packages, GTK 2.X will be off limits, however not all distro’s have made the switch yet.

  16. mark said on March 24, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    thanks for the great in depth review martin loved it.

    A request , can you please do a review of LXDE/Lubuntu, thinking about going with it on my older systems but certainly would love your take on the DE.
    Please test LXDE .

    1. Mike Turcotte said on March 24, 2017 at 10:49 pm


      There is an LXDE Overview coming up in the near future; I will be reviewing all major DE’s and some of the Window Managers as well, so stay tuned!

      1. mark said on March 25, 2017 at 12:38 am

        Firstly sorry for the mix up, didn’t mean to be rude but thought martin had written it.
        Loved the review but Ubuntu Mate would have been a better choice ? It has some of the best layout/themes etc, would have loved to see it side by side with manjaro but thats me nitpicking.

        Looking forward to the LXDE/LXQT + Lubuntu overview, any timeline for it?

        DE + managers if i might advise usage tips on like i3 fluxbox etc will be greatly appreciated as most have no clue how to set them up but they are the most non resource hungry.

    2. Martin Brinkmann said on March 24, 2017 at 10:33 pm

      Mike is the author, I’m sure he reads this ;)

  17. ... said on March 24, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    Please review GeckoLinux (OpenSUSE-based) and Korora (Fedora-based) when you get an opportunity.

  18. RichardT said on March 24, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    I occasionally test out different Linux distributions and desktops, but keep coming back to Mint + MATE as my favourite. I have it configured with everything on a single panel at the bottom which I find more convenient than tracking from top to bottom panels.

  19. Daniel said on March 24, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    Can you autohide top panel?

    Latest Ubuntu Gnome has an extension to do that but doesn’t work.
    Something that usually happens at beta or recent release.

    Btw, couldn’t find link to download Manjaro MATE.

    1. Mike Turcotte said on March 24, 2017 at 10:48 pm


      You can hide it, yep!

      Manjaro does not have an official MATE edition, you must install it yourself.

      If you’re looking to completely switch to MATE and be rid of other DE’s, I personally recommend Linux Mint MATE, or Ubuntu MATE editions.

      If you’re running Manjaro and just want to try MATE, you can do:

      sudo pacman -S mate mate-extra

      Then log out and select MATE from the login screen.

  20. MdN said on March 24, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    Xfce here, but MATE does look interesting. Hoping to try it some day. I’m using the same layout, one panel, one dock (I found Plank better for my needs). And Caja is pretty great, many options, very good layout, and still light and fast. Been using it for a while now. Thanks for the article!

    1. Mike Turcotte said on March 24, 2017 at 10:53 pm


      XFCE is sweet, I love it too. Caja is awesome, but Dolphin is the king of file managers in my eyes.

      I recommend you give MATE a whirl sometime, if nothing else its 10 minutes of your time to install and test it out, and if you don’t like it; simply remove it. However, XFCE is definitely a great choice too!

      1. MdN said on March 25, 2017 at 1:33 am

        Thanks, I am actually itching to try it, might give it a shot soon. I do agree about Dolphin, tried it, but it was too sluggish on my (not exactly new) PC. Still, definitely the best one out there if you have the horsepower for it.

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