Yes, that means Ubuntu is giving a stamp of endorsement to GNOME 2 once again. You don’t need to switch to Linux Mint—just install the Ubuntu MATE disc and get a desktop that works like it did before Ubuntu’s Unity and the GNOME Shell came along.
It’s a continuation of the old GNOME 2 desktop code. The developers are continuing to improve how it works with new technologies without dropping everything and starting from scratch. This makes it more controversial than projects like Linux Mint’s Cinnamon desktop, which use take modern code and try to make it behave more like a traditional desktop, instead of bringing the old GNOME 2 code forward. GNOME 3 now also offers a Classic Mode to appeal to users who want a more traditional desktop experience.
But never mind the competitors, and never mind which project will have the easiest time coping with new technology in the future. The MATE desktop works well today. If you don’t want to play with new stuff, if you’re comfortable with GNOME 2, or if modern desktops just seem too unwieldy, it’s a great option. This is a core strength of Linux: When users don’t like desktop changes, they can bring the old desktop forward. Windows users are stuck with however Microsoft wants the desktop to work this year.
If you’ve ever used GNOME 2—in other words, used Ubuntu before Unity, or many other Linux desktops before GNOME 3—you’ll feel right at home. It’s GNOME 2, but polished and made modern to work well with the rest of the underlying system. For users who’ve never used it before, that means a traditional desktop taskbar, an easy application menu that doesn’t take up the full screen, no integrated shopping search results, and a simple interface that just gets out of your way.
The official recognition doesn’t mean Canonical will start offering Ubuntu MATE instead of its home-grown Unity desktop—far from it. It puts Ubuntu MATE on par with other official flavors like Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Edubuntu, Ubuntu GNOME, Ubuntu Kylin, Lubuntu, Mythbuntu, and Ubuntu Studio. Ubuntu offers a list of these flavors on its web page.
This recognition is an official endorsement of Ubuntu MATE going forward, and that means more press and recognition. It also means the Ubuntu MATE project gets access to Canonical’s infrastructure, which it can use to host its ISO images for download and automatically build and test them.
Want to try it yourself? Despite the first beta release of 15.04 being its first release as an “official flavor,” you’re probably better off grabbing a more stable release like Ubuntu MATE14.04 LTS from the Ubuntu MATE Project’s website.