Ubuntu MATE (16.04) Review

By Russell Barnes. Posted

Ubuntu 16.04 LTS runs really well on the Raspberry Pi using the lightweight MATE desktop environment

With its 1.2GHz processor, plus WiFi and Bluetooth, the Raspberry Pi 3 has the chops to match some laptops. This speed boost has thrown new light on alternatives to Raspbian, the officially supported operating system.

On Intel-based desktops, Ubuntu is one of the biggest names in Linux. Canonical, the maker of Ubuntu, has just released version 16.04 LTS of the Ubuntu operating system. Surely this would be a splendid time to get Ubuntu on the Raspberry Pi?

The full article can be found in The MagPi 46 and was written by Lucy Hattersley

This is where Ubuntu MATE steps in. Ubuntu MATE isn’t quite the full edition of Ubuntu: it swaps out the Unity desktop interface for a lighter version known as ‘MATE’.

Ubuntu MATE for the Raspberry Pi was developed by Martin Wimpress and Rohith Madhavan, and it intersects nicely with the recently released Raspberry Pi 3. Ubuntu MATE is built on the brand new 16.04 LTS edition, but with an older and less demanding interface. Sounds perfect, right?

We found the installation to be a relative breeze, although a 16GB microSD card was required (the instructions hint that you might want to use one). When you start up Ubuntu MATE, a welcome screen offers specific Raspberry Pi information. Here you can resize the file system to use the full space on the SD card (rather than the default 3.9GB image size).

A familiar MATE

MATE is a slicker interface than LXDE (the desktop included with Raspbian). While the two are functionally similar in many ways, MATE has rounded windows and more colourful buttons. It’s also vastly more customisable, with a range of preferences to change how it looks and works. A MATE Tweak setting enables you to determine the appearance and included elements for the desktop, interface, and windows.

Ubuntu MATE comes packaged with a comprehensive set of default programs. Caja is the default file management app, which is on a par with PCMan, although not as feature-rich as Nautilus (included with the desktop version of Ubuntu). Pluma is the default text editor; again, we find this slightly more stylish than LeafPad, although both are basic as regards functionality.

Beyond this, you get the LibreOffice suite and Firefox web browser. Programming is covered with Scratch, IDLE, and Sonic Pi. One area where it excels is multimedia, with big-name apps like Rhythmbox, VLC media player, and Shotwell working out of the box.
Although you get access to the Ubuntu repository in Ubuntu MATE, you don’t get access to the Raspbian repository by default (and so we needed to add it from magpi.cc/24IM2D8).

It’s a good idea to manage your expectations on software. You still only get access to AArch32 (ARMv7) software, not Intel i86 packages. Programs like VirtualBox, Minecraft Java, and Adobe Flash remain out of reach.

While Ubuntu has a lot of consumer software, Raspbian has better programming tools in the box: Blue J Java, Node-RED, and a free version of Mathematica (software that costs £190 on other Linux operating systems).

 Firefox is the web browser of choice for Ubuntu MATE

An educational OS

Raspbian remains a much better choice for learning the nuts and bolts of programming, thanks to its wider range of coding programs. This is also because Raspbian features in so many tutorials, while Ubuntu MATE leaves you to figure things out.

It’s not a complete loss. Ubuntu MATE comes with RPI.GPIO and gpiozero installed, and we found it just as easy to get an LED blinking in Ubuntu as Raspbian.

Even so, with most tutorials aimed at Raspbian users, you’d be better off sticking with the official distro for education and learning.

We put both Raspbian and Ubuntu MATE through a series of speed tests to determine which has the edge for performance.

Our first test was a stopwatch for startup (from the time the power was connected to the point you can click and get a response from the menu). We disabled the welcome screen on Ubuntu MATE and turned on automatic login. Ubuntu MATE started up in 39.59 seconds while Raspbian was ready in 20.91 (almost twice as fast).

The slower performance extended to opening apps. LibreOffice took 9.18 seconds to start in Raspbian, and 16.25 seconds in MATE.

We installed HardInfo on both operating systems and ran a series of system benchmarks with the winners in bold:

 The winners of each test are in bold

Raspbian was faster in every test apart from CPU CryptoHash, where having a higher score is better (and the 0.3-second difference seems negligible to us).

Having said that, Ubuntu MATE is perfectly usable on the Raspberry Pi, and we had no problem running multiple apps and programs. If your focus is to run a Raspberry Pi as a regular computer, then Ubuntu MATE has a lot to offer over Raspbian.

Last word


While Raspbian remains a better choice for project building and education, we have oodles of admiration for this fully rounded desktop operating system running on the Raspberry Pi 3 microcomputer.

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