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Mate Desktop Installation and Accessibility

by B.H.


For those unfamiliar with mate it is a fork of the gnome2 desktop that was used by many Linux distros including Vinux until around 2011-12. If you liked Vinux 3.x you will find mate very similar. Actually the presentation's the same as gnome2 on most distros. Vinux showed the main menus in one long list of sub-menus where as stock Ubuntu had a three column grid as does mate by default. There are a few relatively minor accesssibility issues that are still not resolved from gnome2, and a regression with some panel applets. One must press control f1 once or twice to get some applets to be announced by orca for example. The mate developers are quite active, and seem to genuinely care about fixing accessibility bugs; so I think there's reason to be optimistic about mate's future, and right now it is probably the fastest full featured accessible desktop there is for Linux. This speed will be most notable on slower hardware, but many users with faster systems report improved performance with mate compared with other desktop environments. Of course your mileage may vary.


First of all you will need to enable a ppa to get mate packages for Ubuntu-precise if you are installing on Vinux4.0.

* Mate is included on Vinux5. To install mate on some other Linux flavours you will find supplemental information at the bottom of this page in the Other Distros section. Search for exact commands to put the mate ppa in to your sources and add the keys for the repos, or just add the following lines to /etc/apt/sources.list file, cleaner would be to make a new file in /etc/apt/sources.list.d/ that contains the repository information.

deb precise main
deb-src precise main

You will see errors when updating until you add the key(s) for the new ppa, so fix this or ignore the error messages that appear when you update and install mate packages.

Now you are ready to install mate packages. They come in two groups. Almost all are useful and accessible, so I recommend just installing both groups and then going back and purging any you don't want. To install the core packages and the extras do

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install mate-core mate-desktop-environment mate-notification-daemon

For me this meant installing 69 new individual packages. This may vary a bit depending on the software you have installed on your Vinux machine. Vinux4 does not come with the gconf-editor that you will want to quickly enable accessibility settings, so unless you've installed it for some reason, let's get it now

sudo apt-get install gconf-editor

Accessibility Settings and Configuration

Now we need to export one gtk module required by mate and other desktop environments to make them accessible. Make a file in /etc/profile.d/ with a .sh extension. I called mine It'll need to be owned by root, so start a text editor with sudo or use chown after the fact. The file shouldlook something like the following. The comment can be changed or omitted as you wish, but make sure you get the last line correct.

##Should get gtk right for accessability for mate and xfce
export GTK_MODULES=gail:atk-bridge

Make it executable with

sudo chmod 755 /etc/profile.d/

Then run the commands to enable assistive tech in mate from the commandline

gsettings set org.mate.interface accessibility true
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.a11y.applications screen-reader-enabled true

If these commands are run from a console rather than a terminal run from with in unity or another GUI you will need to prepend dbus-launch to the commands as shown above.

dbus-launch gsettings set org.mate.interface accessibility true
dbus-launch gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.a11y.applications screen-reader-enabled true

You will almost certainly need to manually start Orca at least once, and likely each time after boot&log-in. Now that all is installed and you've done the accessibility configuration I recommend that you go in to the system menu/prefferences startup applications and disable any of the indicators you see checked. This should not effect their start inUnity, but you will know what to look for if for some reason you have trouble. Also you will notice two screen savers, one is mate's and the other unity's. You'll have to press the edit button to read what's going on, make no changes, you will be able to see which is which and uncheck the unity ones. There's another one for unity's polkit. Not unchecking these will likely lead to some service crashes and the like and waste your time, but things will generally run even if you don't clean this up. The last panel added that has applets or icons on it is the only one you will be able to use with orca, so it is best to remove all but one panel and put all the applets that you want to use on it. This means removing the bottom panel from the default installation and adding any items you want that were on it to the one remaining panel. This panel is on the top of the screen, but can be moved to the bottom or the right or left side if you prefer. Putting it on the bottom is probably the best for most people. Control f10 and shift f10 will give you access to panel and applet options menus.

Some notes on usage

 To set mate as the default desktop use
sudo /usr/lib/lightdm/lightdm-set-defaults -s mate
 The below switches Unity back as the default desktop environment. 
sudo /usr/lib/lightdm/lightdm-set-defaults -s unity2d

You can select a non-default desktop you want to use on the log-in screen by tabbing once out of the password field pressing the button and tabbing to the session you desire and pressing enter which will have you back where you select user and enter pw.

Control alt tab cycles between the desktop and the bottom panel. Alt f1 opens the main menu. You will be in the applications submenus column at th8is point. Use up and down arrows to navigate through accessories, internet, office, etc, and a right arrow opens a submenu as it should. Left arrow once to get at the system submenus such as admin, prefferences and log-out. Right arrowing once from where you are when the menus open and you are in the places column where you can see your bookmarked directories, mounted partitions, etc. alt f2 opens a run dialog where you can enter commands. The usual graphical interface keybindings are available for cut,copy and paste, closing windows and so fourth. Alt space bar opens the window menu where you can minimize, maximize or move a window, among other typical tasks. Keyboard shortcuts are very easy to add, disable, or change

A full list of shortcuts and other information on mate is avaiable at

You can also just browse the available shortcuts by opening the keyboard shortcuts interface found in the prefferences sub-menu found in the system section of the main menus.

Additional information and tips

Mate's default filemanager is called caja. It is a fork of the nautilus filemanager used by the gnome project. Caja also displays the desktop icons. Tip: While caja is lighter and faster than nautilus it can still be a bit slow with orca when working with large directories, so I highly recommend installing pcmanfm for many of your basic filemanagement tasks.

The default mate text editor is pluma. It's a fork of gedit that most of you know and if you are like me love from Vinux and other Linux istros. If you already have made significant changes to your gedit configuration you may not want to keep pluma, or perhaps you will want to configure it differently from gedit. With similar settings pluma will probably start a second or so faster than gedit, but there are a couple gedit plug-ins that are not available for pluma. Other packages also have their roots in the gnome project, so are likely to be quite familiar to many users, and many gnome programs will work perfectly when used with mate. Tip: Default installations usually do not come with many themes and wallpapers, but mate can use many GTK and Gnom e appearance related packages, and even current Ubuntu theme has been rewritten to be compatible with Mate. So if you can see a bit, or want things to look good for friends and family, you have plenty of eye-candy available for Mate.

Known issues

skype and some other QT using apps do not allow one to navigate away from their panel icons after they have been once focused on a mate panel. Once this happens the panel becomes unusable until the program has been closed. Use control alt tab or alt tab to navigate to the desktop or an open application Only the last panel where applets have been added are read by orca meaning that currently we need to put all of our applets and sys-tray goodies on the same panel.

Other Distros

Mate 1.8 is significantly better than 1.6, so where ever possible use newest mate packages. Debian stable users can get mate 1.8 packages by enabling the backports repositories. For more information regarding mate on debian systems check out Mate on the Debian Wiki.

For arch, just install mate and mate-extra from standard repos with pacman. You also need to install the mate-settings-daemon. Make sure to choose alsa packages, i.e. mate-media-gstreamer, mate-settings-daemon-gstreamer etc instead of the pulse versions of these packages if you have a pure alsa system, as pulse packages are probably default. At any rate double check. The same is also likely true for Debian.

For Ubuntu 14.04 and Vinux5 nightly builds mate 1.6 is all that is available from standard default repos used by the software center and apt-get and friends, so you will want to add a mate repository with the following command.

  sudo add-apt-repository "deb trusty main"

This repo is not signed, so you will encounter a warning stating that the packages can not be

 authenticated. (Please note that under normal circumstances installing unauthenticated packages from unknown   repositories or unknown sources may be a security risk.) However this repository is packaged by the MATE Team.

Type y to ignore the warning when prompted with Install these packages without

 verification? [y/N].

Now install as shown above for Vinux4 using

   sudo apt-get update
   sudo apt-get install mate-core mate-desktop-environment mate-notification-daemon gconf-editor

Follow the configuration instructions as for Vinux4.

Burt Henry 2014/07/16 03:22

mate_install.txt · Last modified: 2017/11/11 22:47 (external edit)