There are many different distributions that use Ubuntu as a base, but one you might not have heard of is Black Lab Linux. Black Lab Linux uses…you guessed it…a cute black labrador retriever as its mascot, and the distro itself is focused on providing a compelling and easy to use desktop version of Linux. Toward that end they’ve tried very hard to create a desktop distro that someone coming from a Mac or Windows could jump in and use, even if they are completely new to Linux.
Since Black Lab is based on Ubuntu, you might be wondering why you should even consider it instead of Ubuntu. Well, Black Lab has a section on its site that explains the advantages of Black Lab Linux:
With Windows and Mac OS X you get support from Microsoft or Apple. When you contact them they don’t ignore you, they don’t say “Too bad”. With Black Lab Linux you get the same type of dedication that you get with Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X. We will help you with any problems or missteps you may have. We are 100% dedicated to you to make sure your experience is the best you ever had and we have phenomenal response times. Many inquiries and results are handled the same day. We have the most dedicated and friendly staff you can find.
Most Linux distributions, Ubuntu, Fedora, Linux Mint, OpenSUSE don’t come with any multimedia playback possible or they are very limited in functionality. With Black Lab Linux you get full multimedia playback of various formats: Windows Media, Apple Quicktime, Flash, HTML 5 as well as DVD and Blu-Ray. For audio playback you also get full functionality including: Windows Audio, Apples AAC and Real Media. This allows you to play all multimedia either hard drive based or on the web. For web browsing we use the popular Google Chrome browser so compatibility is ensured with all of your banking or personal sites. We are also one of the first Linux distributions to bundle the popular Steam gaming client. With HD capable graphics we offer a stunning user interface with unprecedented clarity and crisp graphics that’s unseen with anything on the Linux market today.
Black Lab Linux is designed for users by users. We understand that coming from a different operating system sometimes incorporates a rigid retraining process. You have to rethink your workflow and how you do things. Black Lab Linux is one of the only Linux distributions that users say is just as easy to use as a Mac. We designed the user interface so users can jump in without a manual and feel comfortable and knowledgeable on how the system works. Every part of the system is recognizable for any novice or advanced user.
Obviously, some of the quote I included leans a bit toward marketing-speak, but it gives you an idea of why Black Lab Linux might be a better choice for some users than Ubuntu. Do click through to the Black Lab site though to read much more than the three paragraphs I’ve included here. Black Lab is clearly taking the Ubuntu base and building on it to offer an experience comparable to commercial operating systems like OS X and Windows.
The MATE desktop is a new iteration of Black Lab Linux that was released mostly due to user demand, according to an interview with one of the developers on the Black Lab site:
We are releasing Black Lab Linux MATE because of user demand. Aside from KDE it has been one of the most requested desktop environments from our users.
We have actually produced a Mate build since Black Lab Linux 5 but that was produced for 1 specific customer. We had updated it to 6.0 to bring that customer up to date with what we were doing with 6.0. But the conversation about using Mate really started when we released Black Lab Linux 6.0 with GNOME3 which was a very popular release we had users write us and ask us if we wouldn’t mind doing a Mate or Cinnamon build. I gave one of our Facebook users a copy of the Mate build we were doing (without that customers customizations and specific apps) and it got passed around and so we decided to release an official build.
Mate is a great desktop. Its like XFCE on steroids…Mate is very compelling because of its speed, its beauty and its all around functionality.
What’s new in Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1
Here’s a sample of the new features in this release:
Linux Kernel 3.13.0-45
Mate Desktop 1.8.1
Steam Gaming Desktop
Pidgin IM client
App Grid appstore
Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 download and install
You can download Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 from the official downloads page. You can get Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 in 32-bit or 64-bit versions. Black Lab is a live distribution, so you can run it without doing an install on your system. The ISO file I downloaded weighed in at about 1.77 GB.
Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 uses the Ubuntu installer, so it’s about as easy as it gets. You have the option during the install of using the default hard disk partitioning or you can set up your own. You can also opt to download updates and have third party software installed by default. I did both things since I hate having to bother with updates or installing additional software after my installation is complete.
Note that this version of Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 currently uses the default Ubuntu slide show during the install. The developers noted on the Black Lab site that the next release should have a customized slide show instead of the default Ubuntu one. My install went perfectly, and it was very quick. If you’ve ever installed Ubuntu then you should have no problems with Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1.
Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 desktop
The Black Linux MATE 6.1 desktop is about what you’d expect from a distro based on Ubuntu. You’ll find the Home, Computer, Trash and Network Servers icons on the desktop itself. At the bottom is the panel where you’ll see a Menu button (complete with a cute paw icon), a hide/show desktop icon, Firefox and Thunderbird. Over to the right you’ll see a networking icon, volume and also your multiple desktops.
If you click the Menu button you’ll see the usual MATE menu. You can quickly access your Computer, Home Folder, Network, Desktop or Trash. The Control Center, Logout and Quit icons are also on the menu. The menu defaults to showing Favorites, but you can click All Applications to see a list of applications broken down into categories such as Education, Games, Internet, Sound & Video, etc. It’s very easy to find your way around the Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 menu, even if it’s your first time with this distro.
The only issue I really noticed with the Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 desktop is that the App Grid application isn’t on the desktop or panel by default. I’ve noticed this lately with a number of distributions. For some reason developers seem to forget that it should be easy to find the software management tool when you first load up a distro’s desktop. Instead of making it easy to find, some developers have tucked it away under the Administration category or some other category.
In the case of Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1; if Firefox and Thunderbird are going to be on the panel, then I think it makes sense for an App Grid icon to appear there as well. It’s better not to force users to poke around to find out how to add or remove software to their distributions.
Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 system settings
You can tweak your Black Lab system settings via the Control Center. Just click the menu button on the panel, then click Control Center. You’ll find the following categories:
The Personal section includes language, appearance, main menu, popup notifications, screensaver, as well as a few other options including MATE Tweak. MATE Tweak will let you alter the Desktop, Interface and Windows settings on your system.
The Hardware section of the Control Center lets you change Monitor settings, mouse, sound, printers, keyboard, etc. You can also manage Bluetooth and drivers, among other things.
The System section offers access to App Grid, your network settings, users and groups, Synaptic and the time/date settings.
Other lets you tweak firewall settings, set keyboard shortcuts, manage backups, change Qt 4 settings and change your Software & Updates settings (including repositories).
Linux software included in Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1
Here’s a sample of the software included in this release.
Eye of MATE
OpenShot Video Editor
Atril Document Viewer
Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 uses App Grid as its software manager. If you haven’t used it before, App Grid can take a little bit of getting used to since it’s quite different than the Ubuntu Software Center or Linux Mint’s Software Manager. That said, App Grid is quite good once you adjust to the interface differences.
You can easily search for applications, or you can browse apps by clicking on the Category link at the top. There are also State and Sort links at the top that let you see your installed software or see Top Rated applications. If you click on an application in App Grid, you’ll see a page with a screenshot of the application as well as a description. You will also see user reviews, complete with smilies or frowns.
If you want to install the application, just click the Install link. Or click the Remove link if it’s something you want to get rid of on your system. If the application is installed, there’s also a Launch link you can click in App Grid to start the application.
As I noted above, App Grid is a different cup of tea than some other software managers. But once you get used to it you’ll find that it works very well for adding or removing software. And it’s a good way to discover new applications that you haven’t used before but that might add some real value to your system.
Where to get help for Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1
If you’re having problems, please post your questions in the comments below. You might also want to check out these Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 resources:
Final thoughts about Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1
My experience with Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 was quite good. I think it’s one of the better Ubuntu-based distributions. It’s well suited for those who want a MATE version of Ubuntu that is set up well, and that essentially works “right out of the box.” Once you’ve installed it there’s not a lot left that you need to do to use it. It’s mostly one of those “it just works” kind of desktop distributions.
I think it was wise of the Black Lab developers to offer a MATE version for those who prefer it to the regular GNOME version. While GNOME has its virtues, many people simply seem to prefer the classic desktop environment offered by MATE. In that sense, Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 offers an important alternative for Black Lab users.
Now one question remains: Should you choose Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 or opt for the now-official Ubuntu MATE instead? Unfortunately, I have not had a chance to use Ubuntu MATE so I cannot tell you for sure which one is better. It may also simply be a case of both distros being great, and each user will have to figure out which one suits him or her the best.
The Linuxed blog has a full review of Ubuntu MATE 14.10 that you might want to read to get an idea of what that distro has to offer. My feeling after reading it is that you can’t really go wrong with Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1 or Ubuntu MATE 14.10, so you might want to try both in a virtual machine before trying to decide between the two.
What’s your take on Black Lab Linux MATE 6.1? Tell me in the comments below.