Ubunutu / Xubuntu / Mint 12.04 LTS, and then MATE
I love Ubuntu. It was the first Linux distro that I really stuck at. That's partly because my use of Ubuntu coincided with my departure from programming for Windows systems, and partly because I found the first versions of Ubuntu that I used (9.04, 10.04 LTS) to be very intuitive with sensible defaults.
I was a bit disheartened when Ubuntu's default desktop environment switched from Gnome to Unity. I'd really settled in to Gnome and my desktop worked almost exactly as I wanted. (My previous use of Windows had set my expectations to be high in certain areas.) Ah well, I'm not one to shy away from a new interface so I thought I'd give it a go anyway when 10.04 became unsupported.
One big niggle hit me right away and that was support for my hardware. I use two laptops (work and home) and both are plugged in to an external monitor. One of those monitors is a CRT I keep for photo-editing. Unity has no refresh-rate selection in its display dialog which led me to manually edit a config file. ( That's ~/.config/monitors.xml in case you need it.) That worked okay but sometimes the setting got lost when waking from standby, which forced me to log out and in again.
There was a time when I would have just put up with this behaviour or searched the net for a more robust solution (I love Ubuntu's forum and other Linux forums) but, dammit, I had such an easy time with 10.04 that I guess I was spoilt, so I went looking for a better OOTB 12.04 experience instead. Bear in mind that I was installing these distros and desktops on the same hardware that I'd been using with 10.04 for 3 years. I tried:
- Gnome Classic on Ubuntu (couldn't even get the desktop to use two whole monitors)
- Xubuntu (ditto)
- Linux Mint with it's default desktop Cinammon (the display showed "tearing")
- MATE on Ubuntu (worked but a bit ugly and not quite OOTB as I had to add repo myself. Yeah, I'm lazy, so sue me.)
- and finally Linux Mint MATE edition (Woohoo!)
You may (quite sanely) question why I was prepared to install all these distros rather than seek a robust solution on Unity. Did it really take less effort? Well, yes, because it was a very low stress approach. I know from installing Ubuntu on other systems that (A) it's pretty quick and (B) it's very simple. I couldn't know how long I might trawl the internet for a different solution. Also, most of the install is unattended so it meant I could do other things in parallel. Like I said, very low stress.
As you can guess from the list, the MATE edition of Linux Mint is now the OS on both my laptops. It plays nicely with both my screen setups, and MATE is so similar to Gnome 2 from which it was forked that my knowledge transfers seamlessly. No relearning. I love it.