Last updated Mar 11, 2010: This post was originally intended to be used along side Ubuntu 8.10, which is over a year old now. While many aspects of it still apply to today, there are a few differences that I have made clear below by crossing out the inaccurate text and following it with a correction where necessary. It is now intended to be used with Ubuntu 9.10. Cheers!
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Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) was officially released yesterday. Boosh!! Often with each new release comes a spike in the number of people who are trying it out for the very first time. So to help the new users out, I’ve written this guide to introduce you to this popular Linux-based operating system and some of the cool software you can install on it.
Here’s what we’re going to go over:
- Customize the appearance of Ubuntu (wallpaper, theme, fonts, dockbars, etc.)
- Run Update Manager.
- Install Flash, Java, Windows Media Codecs and MS fonts with just 4 clicks!
- Install Compiz Fusion Advanced Settings Manager with one more click.
- Install WINE with one more click and use it to run Windows based software.
- Reveal Archive Manager in the Accessories menu and use it to create zip archives.
- Install the libdvdcss2 decoder so you can watch DVD’s.
- Install Skype from a *.deb file.
- Install Google Earth using Terminal.
- Install Virtualbox.
1.) Customize Your Ubuntu Desktop
Difficultly: Very Easy
The first thing anybody should want to do with their own computer is make it look the way they want it to look. Who wants an OS that forces its users to conform to one particular layout over another? With Ubuntu, you have a lot of flexibility. You even have the option to use a different desktop environment. GNOME is the default environment for Ubuntu and it’s what we will see used in the example screenshots in this guide. KDE (which looks very similar to Windows XP/Vista/7) is the default environment for Kubuntu; xfce is the default for the lightweight Xubuntu. There are others, such as Fluxbox and IceWM, that are geared towards being minimalistic in resource usage and makes them perfect for older, slower machines.
Below is a screenshot I took of my own desktop shortly after upgrading my computer from 8.04 to 8.10.
You may or may not like the looks of the default desktop. I’ve always though this default background just looked like a bunch of coffee stains… You can modify the interface in so many different ways the possibilities are endless. Check out this small gallery of Ubuntu screenshots I put together to see some examples of what you can do to your own Ubuntu desktop.
The best way to explain how to customize your desktop is to show you a video (albeit, from an older version of Ubuntu) that demonstrates how you can modify the following things:
- Changing Wallpapers
- Changing Screensavers
- Panel Properties (Location/Auto-hide/Background)
- Changing/Adding Desktop Themes
- Adding/Moving Launcher Shortcuts to your Panel/Desktop
- Modifying Menu Layouts
- Adding Applets to your Panels
- Modifying your About Me user info
- Customizing your Login screen layouts/themes
- Using Multiple Workspaces
EDIT: Since the original posting of this blog, Alan Pope has removed the video below from Google and I have not yet found a comparable replacement. A very good guide about how to do all of the above can be found here.
There are several little applets that widgets that can be added to your panel, but you can also make changes to the panel itself such as its orientation (Bottom/Top/Left/Right edge of the screen), its background (solid color or transparent), its width and a couple other minor things like auto-hide. Be careful, it’s easy to accidentally delete a panel. If that happens, right-click on a remaining panel and click “New Panel” to create a new one. Newly created panels will be completely empty and you will have to right-click on them and select “Add to panel” in order to add things back like a task switcher.
The video makes use of http://art.gnome.org/ during it’s demonstration of changing wallpapers and themes, but another noteworthy site you should check for such things is http://www.gnome-look.org/. My personal favorite website for wallpapers is InterfaceLift Wallpapers. You should also check this site out for wallpapers, too.
You might have noticed in some screenshots of Ubuntu that some people have added a dockbar (similar to the one used in Mac OS X) to their Ubuntu installation. Below is a picture of one in action.
Check out this guide I’ve written about adding Cairo-Dock to your Ubuntu install as it is one of the best available for Ubuntu (in my opinion).
2.) Run Update Manager
Difficultly: Very Easy
Typically, a fresh Ubuntu install is actually a tad bit older than the current status of the distribution (this happens with all operating systems, including Windows). So often times after a fresh install, your system might be needed a few updates to be applied. Running Update manager manually after installing can bring your system up to date with the latest security and software patches. While Update Manager does check for updates automatically, it often doesn’t do it immediately after you login for the first time. So after a fresh install it is a good idea to force it to check for updates. To do this:
- Click System>Administration>Update Manager
- Click on the “Check” button to check for updates
If there are updates available, you simply click “Install” to install them. It will ask you to enter your administrative password when you do this. This is the password you created for the “first” user during installation. Piece of cake.
*Note: If you’re having hardware issues (e.g., 3D video acceleration not working, wireless adapter not in use, etc.) after installing all available updates, you should check in System>Administration>Hardware Drivers to see if there are any proprietary drivers that need to be enabled. You simply check the appropriate boxes off for the driver needed, and they will be installed for you.
3.) Install Flash, Java and Extra Video Codecs in just four clicks!
Difficultly: Very Easy
In order to get the best multimedia experience out of our computer, we need to install a few programs and plugins. Most of you out there are familiar with Flash, Java and multimedia file formats like Divx, Xvid, MP3, ASF, Apple Quicktime, etc. Installing decoders to open these types of files has been made simple by bundling them all together into one package. And installing it is very easy. To get started, do the following:
- Click Applications>Add/Remove (now called Ubuntu Software Center). A new window will appear (see below.)
- Change the “Show:” drop menu in the upper right corner to “All Available Applications” (In Ubuntu Software Center, click View>All Applications)
- Search for the word “restricted”
- Once the search returns its results, check off the box next to “Ubuntu Restricted Extras”
- Sit tight. Don’t click the Apply Changes button just yet. We’re going to check off a few more things
Frequently Asked Question: “What does it mean by restricted extras?”
Answer: The word “restricted” in this context is used to describe these types of multimedia plugins and decoders because most of them are closed-source and proprietary. Hence, you are restricted from modifying their source code.
4.) Install Compiz Fusion Advanced Settings Manager
Difficultly: Very Easy
Compiz Fusion (the program responsible for the dazzling eye-candy special effects on Ubuntu) is included by default, but its advanced control panel is not. Need of this advanced control panel comes up if you are a power user who wants to use the 3D window management features to the MAX, which means turning your desktop into a rotating cube of multiple workspaces, among other nerdy things. You can also greatly customize your special effect animations and window behaviors using this control panel. So let install it!
- After you’ve checked off Ubuntu Restricted Extras in the above step, do another search for the word “compiz”
- Check off “Advanced Desktop Effects Settings” (shown above)
- Sit tight, and don’t click apply just yet. There’s more we’re going to search for and check off.
Once the control panel applet is installed, it can be found in System>Preferences>Advanced Desktop Effects Settings.
*Notice: You will want to make sure you have Compiz enabled in System>Preferences>Appearence>Visual Effects before using the above control panel you’ve installed. Otherwise changes you make with it will not be seen.
5.) Install WINE for running Windows-based software in Ubuntu
Difficultly: Very Easy
WINE is a program that acts as a sort of emulator for Windows programs to run on top of. Instead of needing to use Windows for running that favorite application or game, you can run the program right in Ubuntu with the help of WINE. The only catch is that not all Windows program run on WINE yet. So you should search the WINE applications database to see if a program you’re wanting to use works with WINE. Below is a screenshot of Half-Life 2 running in Ubuntu, thanks to WINE!
To install WINE:
- In the Add/Remove Applications applet (should still be open from the previous step), search for “wine” and then check off the box next to WINE in the results window.
- Finally, click Apply in the lower right corner to install WINE, as well as the other programs you’ve already checked off in Add/Remove.
Now if you want to run a piece of Windows based software, you simply double-click on the executable (like setup.exe) and it should run just as it would in Windows (provided the WINE Application Database lists that the program you are trying to use and says it works with WINE). Shortcuts created by software installers are typically added to the Applications>Wine>Programs menu. You can read more about using WINE here.
NOTE: If double-clicking on an EXE causes the Archive Manager to open instead of WINE, it’s because your default file-association needs to be changed. To fix this, right-click on an EXE file then click Properties. A new window will pop up with a few tabs along the top, one of which says “Open With”. Click this tab, then select WINE from the list and click Close. From now on, EXE’s will always open with WINE. Also, if you get a message that complains to you about an “execute bit”, it means the EXE file needs to be given permission to run as a program. To change permissions, right-click on the file, click Properties, then the Permissions tab and check the box off near the bottom that says “Allow to be executed as a program”.
6.) Enable (reveal) your Archive Manager and create zip files
Difficultly: Very Easy
Some of you might be wondering: How can I create a zip file? The answer is with the included Archive Manager. This tool (for some weird reason) isn’t shown in the Applications>Accessories menu by default. But we can reveal it very easily by doing the following:
- Click System>Preferences>Main Menu
- Click on the Accessories menu in the left panel, then check off the Archive Manager (see below). Then click Close.
That it! Now when you open your accessories menu, you’ll be presented with a new shortcut to your Archive Manager. You can use this utility to create zip files. Keep in mind that it can also create other types of archives, such as tar.gz, and a few others (not RAR, at least not without an additional package installed to provide this option to you). To explore the possibilities, click Applications>Accessories>Archive Manager. Once open, click New in the upper left corner and take a look at the bottom of the window where you can specify archive file type, password locking and spliting. After you create a new archive, you simply drag and drop files into the archive manager and it will add them to the new archive.
One other simple way to create an archive is to select all the files you want to put into a zip file (by CTRL-Clicking or SHIFT-Clicking them) or even by clicking on a folder containing the files you want. Then once they’re selected, right-click on any one of these files or folders and a drop menu will appear. Just click “Create Archive” and a wizard will appear asking you where you want to save the new file and what format you’d like it to be in.
7.) Install the libdvdcss2 decoder for DVD playback
Click Applications>Accessories>Terminal. This will open a new terminal window. (If you would like to know more about Terminal, check out my Terminal for Beginners guide). Copy the following command and paste it into the Terminal window and press Enter:
sudo wget --output-document=/etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list http://www.medibuntu.org/sources.list.d/$(lsb_release -cs).list && sudo apt-get --quiet update && sudo apt-get --yes --quiet --allow-unauthenticated install medibuntu-keyring && sudo apt-get --quiet update
This will add the Medibuntu repositories to your 3rd party software sources (in other words, this tells Update manager to check one additional server when it looks for system updates). Next we’ll install the libdvdcss2 decoder for playing commercial DVD’s as well as an additional set of video/audio decoders that weren’t included with the “restricted” extras from the steps above. To do this, paste this command into Terminal:
- sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install libdvdcss2 w32codecs
..And press the Enter key. It will ask you to type your password (which will not produce any characters on screen while you’re typing, so don’t expect to see *****’s show up) and say “y” for yes to confirm your command. Once installed, you should be able to watch a DVD simply by inserting a disc into the computer.
NOTE: You may have heard a rumor that installing the libdvdcss2 decoder is illegal. If you live in the US and someone tells you this, refer them to 17 U.S.C. Sec. 1201(f). The binaries to crack the DVD video stream encryption are not illegal if you have a license to the content. In other words, if you have purchased your own legal/legit DVD, then that means you have license to watch it. After all, the content must be decrypted in order to make the content usable. However, the law is not the same in all countries so you should check your local country laws.
8.) Install Skype
Difficultly: Very Easy
Skype is a very popular Voice Over IP application that allows you to make cheap phone calls from your computer. They ask you for 10 bucks for your first set of calls and send special offers your way from time to time. I’ve been paying 30 bucks a year for the last 3 years to make unlimited calls to anywhere in the United States, so that’s a pretty good deal if you ask me. It also features webcam capabilities and conference calling.
Installing Skype is easy. All you have to do is download the deb file from Skype.com. Here is a direct link:
Once the deb file is finished downloading, double-click on it. An installer window will appear with a “Install Package” button in the upper right corner of the window. Click that button, and when it’s finished, you’ll find Skype in Applications>Internet.
9.) Install Google Earth
First thing you have to do is download Google Earth. To do that, visit this link: http://earth.google.com/download-earth.html
After you agree to the license, you’ll be taken to a new page where an automatic download will begin and ask you what you want to do with a file called GoogleEarthLinux.bin. Simply save this file to your Desktop for now.
Next we’ll need to open up a terminal window. To open Terminal:
- Click Applications>Accessories>Terminal
When you first open terminal you’ll be given a prompt where you can enter commands. You also will be sitting in your Home Folder. If you type in the letters “ls” (That’s ls, short for the word “list”, in lowercase), you’ll be shown the files and folders in your home folder. Notice that one of them is called “Desktop”. We need to change our directory so we can run our GoogleEarthLinux.bin file. To do this:
- Type “cd Desktop” (no quotes) and hit enter.
In the world of Linux, everything is case-sensitive, so be sure to Capitalize the word “Desktop” in the above command. This command will bring you to your Desktop folder. If you type “ls” again and hit enter, you’ll see the files which reside on your desktop right now. Listed somewhere should be the bin file you just downloaded.
Now for the magic!
- In terminal, type: “sh GoogleEarthLinux.bin” (no quotes) and hit enter.
After you press enter, the following window will appear, and begin to install Google Earth for you:
Shortly after the above screen appears, you’ll get another one that says the program successfully installed. You’ll then be given the option to run Google Earth right away. If you don’t want to, you can just click Quit, and start it later by going to Applications>Internet>Google Earth.
NOTE: Google Earth runs best on PCs that are equipped with 3D graphics acceleration cards/chipsets. Some video cards require you to have their proprietary drivers enabled in order for them to be utilized by the system. You can check to see if you need to enable any such drivers by clicking System>Administration>Hardware Drivers.
10.) Install Virtualbox
Virtualbox is a popular application used on many different operating systems that allows you to create Virtual Machines, upon which you can install any number of operating system. So, for instance, you could be running Windows XP inside of a window on top of Ubuntu. This is good for users who are trying to migrate from Windows to Ubuntu but are not quite ready to take the big leap or are being held back by one or two applications that won’t run in Ubuntu.
So here’s what you need to do:
- Download the Virtualbox deb file for your particular processor architecture (i386 or AMD64) from here.
- Double-click on the the deb file you downloaded to start the installer. Click “Install Package” to install Virtualbox.
- Once that is finished, you will need to add yourself to the vboxusers group. To do this quickly, open up a Terminal window (Applications>Accessories>Terminal). Once Terminal is open, paste in the exact text and press the enter key: sudo adduser $USER vboxusers
- Reboot the PC.
- In terminal, type: sudo gedit /etc/fstab
- Paste the following text at the bottom of the fstab file: none /proc/bus/usb usbfs devgid=46,devmode=666 0 0
- Save the changes to the fstab file and close Gnome Text Editor.
- Reboot the PC.
Well, that wraps up this list of things to do. There are plenty of other very cool applications out there worth installing, such as Audacity, Avidemux, VLC, Amarok, DeVeDe and many more. Most of these programs can be installed using the Add/Remove applet Applications>Ubuntu Software Center which we used to install our Ubuntu Restricted Extras package. Simply searching for the program name will produce a result that you can check off install with a couple clicks, and that sure beats the hell out of looking through a filing cabnet for a software CD or a serial number.
Another cool thing you can do is add scripts to your Nautilus file browser that will give you new abilities when you right-click on something.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy your new Ubuntu Linux operating system!