So you want to run Ubuntu……….

I have a 2.15 gHz machine, which is substantially slower than a gaming machine, but fits my lifestyle perfectly, especially since I run an operating system that does not consistently hog all of my available RAM. I started a company in Portland called Evangelinux dealing with this topic, which gave me the intestinal fortitude to actually help people when they asked for it. I had to get over my shyness when it came to linux, because I realized something very important. If they were a basic desktop user, I knew more than them. Always. It’s only when you get into server administration and networking protocols that I am still watching videos like a fiend. I want to get all I can out of command-line tools, but for people who just want a basic setup that will just flat work, here is my advice.

The install for Ubuntu is fairly explanatory. Since you, presumably, are a total n00b (newbie), just let the installation program allocate your hard drive. I’m going to start with a fresh Ubuntu installation and go from there. These are the things I do to set up a perfect desktop.

Just fyi, sudo means “install as administrator.” When asked for the password, use the Administrator password you created in the setup process.

  • Unity does not place an icon for the terminal in the launcher. Click the Ubuntu button, type “term” and press enter. When the terminal starts, it will be listed in your open programs on the left-hand dock. Right-click the icon and click “Pin to Dock.” Additionally, I prefer my terminal to have greetings. This is easily accomplished by doing two things:
    • Install fortune-mod and cowsay. sudo apt-get install fortune-mod cowsay
    • Edit the file that controls what happens when you open your terminal. The terminal has a built-in text editor called “nano.” If you want to use something else and you know how, please update the command accordingly. nano .bashrc
    • After nano opens the file, scroll with the down arrow until you get to the end of the file and type fortune | cowsay
    • Hit CTRL-X to save the file and the next time you open your terminal, you’ll get a cow with a surprisingly deep thought…. for a cow.
  • In the terminal, type sudo apt-get update to refresh the list of available software/updates you can download.
  • When the catalog finishes loading, type sudo apt-get dist-upgrade to update your software with all the bug fixes, security updates, and newest software since the disc .iso was released.
  • There is a long and complicated explanation why the version of Flash is outdated for Firefox. Download Chrome. Netflix won’t work without it.
  • You will also need to install audio and video codecs that are proprietary (such as MP3) in order to play them. The command is sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras.
  • Once you have these extras downloaded, you need to run this script in order to watch or backup encrypted DVDs:
    • sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/

If you are only going to search the web and play the occasional video, you’re done now. From here on out are some advanced tweaks.

I think that Ubuntu uses swap too much. It slows down the operating system by quite a bit. Here’s the fix. Open a terminal and type sudo bash -c "echo 'vm.swappiness = 10' >> /etc/sysctl.conf". Your machine will run much faster when you reboot because the “swappiness” already set (60) works great on servers… not so much for your average desktop user.

From here on out, it’s all about user preferences. I hate the default desktop that ships with Ubuntu, called Unity. Lots of people prefer Gnome Shell, but I do not. I think it is an even bigger resource hog than Unity, and I would rather have more RAM for my applications than my operating system… However, if you have a boss machine and are not worried about resource allocation, install it by typing sudo apt-get install gnome-shell gnome-shell-extensions.

Once installed, log out and change the icon next to your user name from Ubuntu to Gnome. When you log in, the extensions will not be enabled by default. Put your mouse cursor in the top left-hand corner of your monitor, and type “tweak” into the search bar. Choose Gnome Tweak Tool to customize Gnome by turning on all the extensions. In order to use them, log out and log back in.

My personal preference is Mate, pronounced Mah-te like the tea. Get the latest version by adding their software catalog to your available list of downloads by going to the terminal and typing sudo apt-add-repository ppa:ubuntu-mate-dev/ppa. Again, update the list by typing sudo apt-get update.

Now, install MATE by typing sudo apt-get install mate-desktop-environment.

When it has been installed, log out and change the desktop to MATE on your login screen. When you log in, it will look surprisingly like Windows 98…. clean and minimal, helpful when you’re running games on a slow machine. 🙂

I do change it up a bit from the default, though. Not saying what you should do, just things that I find pretty and/or helpful.

I delete the bottom MATE panel entirely because I don’t think there’s a need for two of them. Just right click on the top panel and click “Add to Panel” in order to add a list of windows to it, because that’s basically all the bottom panel is used for, anyway…. and then click on the bottom panel and click “Delete this panel.”

I also change the top panel to a color (#333333 is my favorite) and set it to 50% transparency because I think it looks prettier.

If you are a Mac person and like that kind of doc, there’s an app for that (see what I did there?).

sudo apt-get install docky

It will be in the Accessories section of your programs once its installed.

The other thing that’s kind of cool is right-clicking on the clock and looking at the preferences. You can change it from military time to AM/PM and get it to show the weather. Since I’m in DC, I use National Airport (never calling it Reagan, not gonna happen).

In closing, I also recommend adding WebUpd8 to your bookmarks bar in either Chrome or Firefox, because there you can get information on cool software. And if anything you’re using on Windows is open source, there’s probably a Linux version of it, too, so the applications will be the same no matter what operating system you use.

Keep in mind that I am operating system agnostic. Mac and Windows are fine. I just like free.

It’s my favorite price ever.


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