Ubuntu MATE 16.10 progress update

The Ubuntu MATE Patrons have already received some updates explaining most of this, but here’s an update for everyone.

With a solid 16.04 release behind us it is time to focus on our “retrospective future” and not just languish as a retrospective only project. Ubuntu MATE 16.10 is the experimental playground to adopt, and experiment with, new technologies so that our traditional desktop environment can continue to flourish and remain relevant.

TL;DR Ubuntu MATE 16.10 is switching to GTK3+, Ubuntu MATE Welcome and Software Boutique are improving all the time, MATE Tweak has been tweaked and Ubuntu MATE is involved in the early prototyping of using Snap packages to package the MATE Desktop.

Read on to find out what that all means.


Snap is a new package format that was introduced to desktop Ubuntu, and flavours, in 16.04. Naturally Ubuntu MATE 16.04 has built-in snapd support. The general idea of a Snappy system is that all snaps are self contained, protected and isolated pieces of code that perform a well defined set of functions.

The Ubuntu MATE team are being supported by Ubuntu developers to create Snaps of various MATE desktop components in order to discover what works and what doesn’t. This is an iterative process to improve the snap platform and package more MATE components until running a full desktop environment on a Snappy system is possible.

We’re delighted to be involved with Snappy and are looking forward to the road ahead and the role Snaps will play in Ubuntu MATE’s “retrospective future”.

What! You’re dropping .deb? R-A-G-E!  Q-U-I-T! Alt+F4

We are not dropping the classic Debian package based distribution model.

We want to make this point as clear as we can. The classic Debian based package distribution model is not being dropped.


OK, got that? .deb packages are not being dropped. Good :-)

Snap progress

Right now we’ve got one snap package for Galculator, which is part of the MATE Desktop suite of applications, and our first attempt looked liked this:

Snappy Galculator

Oh dear! As you can see it’s very early days ;-) Fortunately, after some advice from Ubuntu developers, it now looks like this:

Snappy Galculator Day 2

Better! On the second day of experimenting with Snappy things improved. There is still an issue with rendering some images, the .png images that surround the buttons in this case, but fonts and themes are working.

Work has now started on Snapping more complex MATE applications such as Pluma (the text editor) and Caja (the filemanager).

Why are Snaps important to me?

Insightful question ;-)

The number one question in the Ubuntu MATE community right now is:

When can I get MATE 1.14 for Ubuntu MATE 16.04?

Snaps will make that problem a snap to solve.


Ubuntu MATE 16.10 will be a GTK3+ build only. This is both good and bad, here’s why.

Ubuntu MATE 16.10 (dev build) running MATE 1.14 built against GTK 3.18

The screenshot above shows an early development build of Ubuntu MATE 16.10 running MATE 1.14 built against GTK 3.18. Many improvements have been made since that screenshot was taken.

The Good

  • The MATE 1.14 package transition to GTK3+ was committed to Debian git a month ago
  • A PPA has been created for Ubuntu MATE 16.10 to test MATE 1.14 built against GTK3+
  • Ubuntu MATE themes have been adapted to work with GTK3+
  • Debian developers are currently reviewing and sponsoring the uploads MATE 1.14 into Debian unstable
  • We will be doing the work to support GTK 3.20 and upstream MATE are already working on GTK 3.21/3.22 support
  • MATE 1.14 built against GTK3+ works
  • Ubuntu MATE 16.10 Alpha 1 will feature MATE 1.14 built against GTK3+
  • During May 2016 Ubuntu MATE has transfered €1997 to 7 independant Open Source developers to accelerate the completion of the GTK3+ migration
    • Full details will be published in the Ubuntu MATE May 2016 financial summary that is due in the second week of June 2016.

MATE 1.14 also introduces the facility to change the size of Panel menu icons (the menus for Applications, Places, System) and Panel icons (anything in a panel), the supported resolutions are 16px to 48px. This will soon be exposed via MATE Tweak and has a few benefits:

  • Bigger icons for high resolution displays
  • Big icons for the visually impaired
  • And if you are so inclined, large panels suitable for touch input but without changing the desktop metaphor

The Bad

  • MATE Menu (the Advanced Menu option in MATE Tweak) is not compatible with GTK3+. However the porting project has started and is well advanced.
  • MATE Indicator Applet is a bit broken under GTK3+ but investigations are underway.
  • MATE Dock Applet is not compatible with GTK3+, the porting project has not yet started.
  • Topmenu Applet is not compatible with GTK3+, the porting project has not yet started.

The Ugly

  • GNOME Main Menu (the menu in the openSUSE panel layout) is GTK2+ only and unmaintained. None of the MATE developers are interested in migrating it to GTK3+. GNOME Main Menu will be dropped from the Debian and Ubuntu archives.

Why is GTK3+ important to me?

Good question, glad you asked ;-)

Some of the old libraries that MATE GTK2+ depends on are unmaintained, deprecated and being removed from many distributions. In order for MATE to remain relevant, the move the GTK3+ is essential.

HiDPI, is going to be a thing. Really, it is. With MATE 1.14 built against GTK3+ we have initial HiDPI support working. Don’t get too excited, this is an all or nothing implementation. It can be enabled via an environment variable and a session restart, but once done, all GTK3 applications (not just MATE) will be rendered using high quality pixel doubling. If you have a 4K display, it looks ace :-D

MATE Tweak

In other developments Tilda is no longer auto-started by default, it is now an option in MATE Tweak. MATE Tweak has a slight UI re-organise and now supports Xcompmgr as one of the compositor options. Xcompmgr support has been added because it is the preferred compositor to use on the Raspberry Pi. MATE Tweak has also separated the Interface section into Interface and Panels.

Welcome and Software Boutique

Ubuntu MATE Welcome has been ported to WebKit2 4.0, the animations and transitions are now much more fluid. Welcome has also been given a slight design refresh.

Boutique News

The Software Boutique now features News, to inform you of package additions, modifications and removals.

Boutique News

Boutique Search

A search facility has also been added and the Ubuntu MATE community has contributed some new applications, including Atom, Clementine and Lutris.

Boutique Search

What of Ubuntu MATE 16.04?

The Boutique News, Boutique Search and new Boutique software listings have already been back ported to Ubuntu MATE Welcome in 16.04. Subscribe Welcome to updates and you can have them today!

Some of the theme updates to support MATE built against GTK3+ have highlighted some bugs and those fixes will be back ported to 16.04 as well. This is in addition to a number of other Ubuntu MATE bug fixes that have already landed in 16.04.

What else?

Well, that’s all for now. But we have some other goals planned for 16.10 and if we’re able to deliver on them we’ll let you know here.


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