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Ubuntu MATE 18.04

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Ubuntu MATE 18.04 has been running on my daily laptop for a few weeks now. I like it! Its going to stick around for awhile.

A friend mentioned over Christmas holidays about trying Linux on a used laptop. I realized I did not have recent hands-on experience with a Linux distro that I could recommend as suitable for someone who was new to Linux and might be running older, low-spec (<=2G RAM) hardware. My minimal Debian + Openbox combo is certainly lightweight but not what I had in mind. I was thinking about something that was lightweight but provided a full-featured desktop, stable, with friendly community support forums; and something that I could offer help with because I would be running it myself and could tease out all the little details and niggles.

I hadn’t installed anything besides Debian for awhile so I have been doing a bit of distro hopping: installing (sometimes multiple times and iterations) the ‘buntus (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Ubuntu MATE); also MX-Linux, Fedora, Arch, and Manjaro.

I find lots to like about Ubuntu MATE. Some of the good stuff includes:

  • MATE desktop strikes a good balance between old and new elements (Ubuntu MATE’s motto: For a retrospective future) and is under active development
  • Very easy to customize; a great feature is the ability to switch between different panel layouts and present something familiar to Windows (Redmond layout) and Mac OS (Cupertino) users and GNOME 2 fans (Familiar)
  • Resource-wise its eminently usable on a laptop with 2G RAM and provides a complete, well-integrated desktop experience
  • Availability of a stable, long-term support (LTS) release (until April 2021); important for friends and family when I am not always available to help
  • Active and friendly-to-new-users community forum to discuss all manners of things Linux and ask for help

But, hey, its Linux. I have to make some tweaks after a fresh install!

12 things I do after installing Ubuntu MATE

Device is a Lenovo Thinkpad T430s with full disk encryption.

0. Update the system

Apply the latest security patches and updates and inspect their support status …

$ sudo apt update && sudo apt full-upgrade
$ ubuntu-support-status

1. SSH

Install openssh-server and secure remote access using SSH keys.

2. Dotfiles

Copy over my custom config files for $HOME.

3. Packages

Install extra packages:

For the console …

$ sudo apt install apt-file apt-show-versions apt-utils aptitude cowsay git htop keychain neovim openssh-server pylint pylint3 shellcheck rsync sl tmux unzip wget whois
$ sudo apt-file update

For the desktop …

$ sudo apt install clipit dconf-editor ffmpeg flashplugin-installer fonts-liberation fonts-noto fonts-roboto geeqie gimp gimp-help-en gimp-data-extras papirus-icon-theme qpdfview rofi rxvt-unicode sox vlc ubuntu-restricted-extras

Set the preferred application for (some) filetypes in Control Center > Personal > Preferred Applications.

4. Dynamic application menu + window switcher: rofi

I prefer rofi over the default Run application dialog box provided by MATE. To launch rofi from a terminal on the currently focused display with the run menu …

$ rofi -monitor -1 -show run

Open Control Center > Hardware > Keyboard Shortcuts and create a new shortcut. I unset the default Run Application, click +Add, and create a rofi action using the Alt+F2 shortcut to launch. Application options can be set in ~/.Xresources.

5. Terminal: urxvt

I like that in urxvt (Ubuntu package: rxvt-unicode) I can configure things like tabs (/usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/urxvt/perl/tabbed) and other options (~/.Xresources) by editing a text file vs manipulating a database (using dconf-editor) for MATE terminal.

6. Keyboard Shortcuts

Setting keyboard shortcuts beats dragging a mouse all over the desktop and multiple displays. In addition to the MATE defaults and the rofi setup above, I add a few more hotkey combos in Control Center > Hardware > Keyboard Shortcuts

Desktop
    Show the panel's "Run Application" dialog box   Disabled

Window Management
    Switch to workspace 1                       Alt+1
    Switch to workspace 2                       Alt+2
    Switch to workspace 3                       Alt+3
    Switch to workspace 4                       Alt+4
    Tile window to east (right) side of screen  Shift+Alt+Right
    Tile window to west (left) side of screen   Shift+Alt+Left
    Move window to north (top) monitor          Shift+AltUp
    Move window to south (bottom) monitor       Shift+Alt+Down
    Move window to workspace 1                  Shif+Alt+!
    Move window to workspace 2                  Shift+Alt+@
    Move window to workspace 3                  Shift+Alt+#
    Move window to workspace 4                  Shift+Alt+$

Custom Shortcuts
    Dynamic application menu                    Alt+F2
    Window switcher                             Alt+F3

7. Custom clock

I like to set a custom clock format of day_of_year:day_of_month:hour:minute.

Launch dconf-editor and modify:

  • /org/mate/panel/objects/clock/prefs/format from 24-hours to custom
  • /org/mate/panel/objects/clock/prefs/custom-format to %j:%d:%H:%M

Link: How to customize panel date time

8. Recent Documents

Increase the number of items stored under Places -> Recent Documents in the MATE menu by opening dconf-editor and navigating to org > mate > mate-menu > plugins > recent > num-recent-docs. Set Use default value to off and enter a Custom value.

Link: Documents in MATE panel

9. Theme

I use the Adapta GTK theme combined with Papirus-Adapta icons …

$ sudo apt-add-repository ppa:tista/adapta
$ sudo apt update && sudo apt install adapta-gtk-theme papirus-icon-theme

Configure the theme in Control Center > Look and Feel > Appearance.

9.1 Firefox

Dark themes can mess with the input fields on Firefox (white text on white backgrounds). Fix this by creating ~/.mozilla/firefox/xxxxxxxx.default/chrome/userContent.css with …

input:not(.urlbar-input):not(.textbox-input):not(.form-control):not([type='checkbox']):not([type='radio']) {
    -moz-appearance: none !important;
    background-color: white;
    color: black;
}

#downloads-indicator-counter {
    color: white;
}

textarea {
    -moz-appearance: none !important;
    background-color: white;
    color: black;
}

select {
    -moz-appearance: none !important;
    background-color: white;
    color: black;
}

Link: Unreadable input fields with dark GTK+ themes

10. Panel

I arrange the desktop with a top single panel and add applets (left to right): Global Menu (places an application’s menu in panel), Window List, Workspace Switcher, System Monitor, Notification Area, Indicator Applet, and Clock

My Ubuntu MATE desktop

11. Startup

I set urxvt and clipit (clipboard in the panel) to launch at login by creating entries in Control Center > Personal > Startup Applications.

Happy hacking!