Today Skip writes…
I’ve been using Ubuntu (with a NVIDIA card of some sort) for ten years now, but I’ve NEVER understood the difference between Gnome (I thought I liked that), Unity, and MATE(THREE thumbs UP!). Is there a simple explanation?
Boy Skip, this is a tall order. I’ll do my best though.
MATE and GNOME are considered desktop environments. Unity…and this is where it gets confusing…is a graphical shell running on top of GNOME Shell. Confused yet? Okay, bear with me as I break this down.
Think of a car
So we have car. This car has stuff like an engine, a radio, a gas pedal and the brake pedal. The GNOME desktop is basically your car radio, heater/AC, gas pedal, brake pedal, steering wheel, seat belts…stuff you would use to start, drive, stop and generally click buttons/turn knobs to make stuff happen in your car. The same exact thing would apply to MATE, as it’s the same brand of car, but a slightly different model with different features.
Both GNOME and MATE share one thing in common – the car’s engine. As we know from cars, they may share an engine type…but sometimes they’re slightly different models. In this case, our engine is called the GNOME Shell.
When I use the gas pedal, the engine responds. The same thing when I turn the key, the engine responds. And when I hit the brakes, the engine will go into an idle once the car’s at a complete stop. Each component of the car I use (very loosely speaking, obvious exceptions applied here) affects the engine at some level.
Then we have Unity. To use Unity, we need to use an engine lift to remove the existing engine (GNOME Shell), so we can drop in a new engine called Unity. This new engine isn’t really better or faster than your old one. It’s just a different type of engine. This different engine still uses the same gas, brake, radio, AC and other components as it did with the previous engine.
Wait, so what is the Linux kernel in car speak?
Ugh, this is going to be where my entire analogy will get people on edge – but let’s try this.
Add a new muffler? How about new belts, a lift kit and professional grade shocks and struts? This would be your kernel. Each time you upgrade your kernel, your car gets enhancements that make it drive better. Sometimes that upgrade means you’re able to support something it couldn’t previously; like adding a hitch to tow a trailer, for example. That would be like the kernel allowing you to run a hardware device previously out of reach due to incompatibility.
Some will say the Linux kernel is closer to an engine, and normally, I’d be inclined to agree. However, since we’re talking about visible components here…my analogy is better suited for a greater understanding. The single biggest key to this isn’t how close I am in my analogy. It’s whether you understand the difference between GNOME, MATE, and Unity.
By the way, if someone was to install the GNOME desktop on Ubuntu MATE installation, this is on par with dropping the engine from one car manufacturer into another. Sure, I guess it’s sometimes possible…but what would be the point? 🙂
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