Ubuntu Kung Fu
Prepared exclusively for J.S. Ash
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Andy Hunt
Prepared exclusively for J.S. Ash
Ubuntu Kung Fu
Tips, tricks, hints and hacks
Keir Thomas
The Pragmatic Bookshelf
Raleigh, North Carolina Dallas, Texas
Prepared exclusively for J.S. Ash
Many of the designations used by manufacturers and sellers to distinguish their products are claimed as trademarks. Where those designations appear in this book, and The
Pragmatic Programmers, LLC was aware of a trademark claim, the designations have
been printed in initial capital letters or in all capitals. The Pragmatic Starter Kit, The
Pragmatic Programmer, Pragmatic Programming, Pragmatic Bookshelf and the linking g
device are trademarks of The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC. The Ubuntu logo is a registered trademark of Canonical, Ltd.
Every precaution was taken in the preparation of this book. However, the publisher
assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages that may result from
the use of information (including program listings) contained herein.
Our Pragmatic courses, workshops, and other products can help you and your team
create better software and have more fun. For more information, as well as the latest
Pragmatic titles, please visit us at
http://www.pragprog.com
Copyright © 2008 Keir Thomas.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or
otherwise, without the prior consent of the publisher.
Printed in the United States of America.
ISBN-10: 1-934356-22-0
ISBN-13: 978-1-934356-22-7
Printed on acid-free paper.
B2.0 printing, July 15, 2008
Version: 2008-7-15
Prepared exclusively for J.S. Ash
Contents
1
Introduction
1.1
How to read this book . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1.2
Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
15
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2
An Ubuntu administration crash course
2.1
The Ubuntu desktop . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.2
Users, passwords and files . . . . . . . . .
2.3
Command-line or GUI? . . . . . . . . . . .
2.4
Software installation and management .
2.5
Using gconf-editor . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.6
Editing configuration files . . . . . . . . .
2.7
Making and keeping backups . . . . . . .
2.8
Rescue me! What to do if it all goes wrong
2.9
Miscellaneous things you ought to know
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The tips
1. Set any picture as wallpaper with a single-click . . . .
2. See (and reuse) the most recently typed commands . .
3. Add cool new visualizations to Totem/Rhythmbox . . .
4. Switch monitor resolutions with a single mouse-click .
5. Closely monitor a laptop computer’s power consumption
6. Stop the cursor blinking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7. Scroll without the mouse in Firefox and Evolution mail
windows . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8. Optimize startup for faster boot times . . . . . . . . . .
9. Graph the system bootup performance . . . . . . . . .
10. Change Gedit’s printing font . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
11. Shrink or enlarge images at the command line . . . . .
12. View all of a digital photo’s technical information . . .
13. Have Ubuntu speak to you . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14. Instantly search for files in Nautilus . . . . . . . . . . .
15. Take photos or record videos with your webcam . . . .
Prepared exclusively for J.S. Ash
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Add RAR file compression support to Ubuntu . . . . . .
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Add a swap file or expand existing swap space . . . . .
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Get rid of the virtual console legal boiler-plate . . . . .
76
Make Wubi installations of Ubuntu run faster . . . . .
77
Create website or email links that automatically install
software . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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Make fonts look superb . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
79
Download updates faster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
80
Slow down a touchpad’s scrolling . . . . . . . . . . . . .
80
Ensure your Windows partition is always available under
Ubuntu . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
82
Improve the GNOME Terminal look and feel . . . . . .
82
Ensure Ubuntu always knows the time . . . . . . . . .
83
Get more data onto CD-R discs . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
84
Share files across the network (without tearing your
84
hair out) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Save ink when printing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
86
Browse the web from the command-line . . . . . . . . .
87
Create an “Ubuntu install” USB stick . . . . . . . . . .
88
Add a menu entry for Ubuntu’s compression tool . . .
90
Quickly run applications without opening a terminal
window . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
90
Instantly search Google for any word or phrase . . . . .
91
Ensure you’re informed about the newest releases of
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Ubuntu . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Create a file delete command that uses the trash . . .
93
Configure Ubuntu’s firewall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
93
Repair Windows from within Ubuntu . . . . . . . . . . .
98
Empty the trash even if told you can’t . . . . . . . . . .
99
Logon automatically after boot-up . . . . . . . . . . . .
99
Use an alternative wifi connection manager . . . . . . . 100
Make Evolution more like Outlook (just a little bit) . . . 101
Give Ubuntu a static IP address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
Format a USB memory stick (or camera memory card) 104
Protect Ubuntu so it can’t be booted without a password 107
Dump the text on a virtual console to a file . . . . . . . 109
Eliminate the time period during which sudo/gksu powers hang around . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
Access Ubuntu files from Windows . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
Kill a crashed GUI . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
Make Ubuntu safe for children to use . . . . . . . . . . 113
Prepared exclusively for J.S. Ash
Report erratum
this copy is (B2.0 printing, July 15, 2008)
6
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Run two (or more) desktops at the same time . . . . . . 116
Go completely fullscreen in virtually any application . 117
Make Calculator to round-up (or down) to two digits . . 118
Follow the moon’s phases . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118
Import Internet Explorer settings into Firefox . . . . . . 118
Drag and drop files onto the terminal window . . . . . 119
Use older digital cameras with Ubuntu . . . . . . . . . 119
Use the ultra-quick xterm to bash-out commands . . . 120
Install all the program compilation tools you’ll need . . 121
Avoid network slowdowns and incompatibilities . . . . 121
Print at the command-line . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123
Find the Ubuntu version and code-name . . . . . . . . 123
Get your webcam working in Ubuntu . . . . . . . . . . 124
Downgrade to Firefox 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 124
Install all the multimedia playback codecs you’ll ever
need . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125
Get better DVD movie playback . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126
Run the terminal with a single key-press . . . . . . . . 127
See the APT cow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127
See what Firefox plugins are installed . . . . . . . . . . 128
Kill the network connection instantly . . . . . . . . . . 128
Post blog entries from your Ubuntu desktop . . . . . . 128
Intelligently select only the files you want . . . . . . . . 129
Temporarily disable a user account . . . . . . . . . . . 130
Take complete control of desktop effects and animations 131
Do some desktop publishing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
Control volume levels at the command-prompt . . . . . 133
Search the Ubuntu file system . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134
Remove the “bad password” wait period . . . . . . . . . 137
Make desktop icons REALLY big . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
Run Ubuntu... without Linux! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
Instantly hide a file or folder . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Scan for viruses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Temporarily login as root user at the command-line . . 142
Start the screensaver from the command-line . . . . . 143
Get the most out of (or into) a Nautilus window . . . . 143
View images at the command-line . . . . . . . . . . . . 144
Administer the printer from a web browser . . . . . . . 144
Move a window without clicking the titlebar . . . . . . . 144
Connect to shared folders from the command-line . . . 145
Deactivate Caps Lock . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147
Prepared exclusively for J.S. Ash
Report erratum
this copy is (B2.0 printing, July 15, 2008)
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Format floppies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Switch to a lightweight file manager . . . . . . . . . . .
Use syntax highlighting in Gedit . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Stop zip files sent colleagues getting lost in the email .
Use an alternative email client . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ensure people hear you when using a microphone . . .
Quick browse to a location . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Turn off the beep . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Add a second hard disk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Update Ubuntu in the background . . . . . . . . . . . .
Install 465 open source fonts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Be careful not to badly name files/folders in your Windows partition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Make your Windows partition read only . . . . . . . . .
Stop Nautilus neatly arranging icons . . . . . . . . . . .
Run GUI programs from a terminal window without
tying up input . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Set the CPU speed from the desktop . . . . . . . . . . .
Switch to Kubuntu, Xubuntu, or Edubuntu without
installing from scratch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
SSH into Ubuntu from Windows . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Recover a damaged desktop . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Recover a damaged desktop #2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Enable the root user . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Quickly create graphical text banners . . . . . . . . . .
Securely erase data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Play emacs games . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fix video playback problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Turn any text file into a PDF at the command-line . . .
Avoid repetitive strain injury when using Ubuntu . . .
Uninstall Ubuntu . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Network Ubuntu, Mac and Windows... without doing
anything . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Access ISO images as if they’re disk drives . . . . . . .
Improve Ubuntu’s Microsoft Office 2007 file support .
Use a friendly version of vim . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Get around partitioning errors if using BootCamp on
Macs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Have Macs correctly refer to Ubuntu in dual-boot mode
Sleep, Ubuntu, sleep! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Instantly create a HTML slideshow of photos . . . . . .
Prepared exclusively for J.S. Ash
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Reveal the desktop . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
Set hard disk power-saving . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172
View the GNOME desktop version . . . . . . . . . . . . 173
Avoid GNOME startup errors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173
Use FTP under Ubuntu . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173
Switch to old-fashioned tree-view in Nautilus . . . . . . 175
Kill any crashed program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176
Increase the number of documents remembered by Gedit 176
Utilize all a sound card’s features . . . . . . . . . . . . . 177
Monitor network speed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 178
Make the command-prompt colorful . . . . . . . . . . . 178
Make Windows permanently available . . . . . . . . . . 180
Give the boot menu a wallpaper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 180
Access all removable storage from the command-line . 183
Reconfigure your graphics card from the ground-up . . 183
Unlock the package database . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184
Administer Ubuntu using a web browser, from any computer (or operating system) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184
Give Nautilus windows their own wallpaper . . . . . . . 187
Create an encrypted filestore accessible from any operating system . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 188
Find out how much disk space is available . . . . . . . 192
Make Ubuntu blue (or dark grey, or dark brown) . . . . 192
Use versions of Ubuntu that are entirely Free Software 193
Install OpenOffice.org’s database component . . . . . . 194
Monitor your computer’s temperature and fan speeds . 194
Print multiple photos on one sheet of paper . . . . . . . 195
Try some alternative web browsers . . . . . . . . . . . . 196
Quickly hide/unhide windows using the keyboard . . . 197
Convert images from one format to another at the commandline . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 197
Significantly expand Gedit’s functionality . . . . . . . . 198
Make new mail windows taller . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 198
Avoid making badly burned CD-R/RW discs . . . . . . 199
Import email messages from Outlook and/or Outlook
Express . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199
Use the Mac OS “quit” keyboard shortcut . . . . . . . . 200
Switch to bash if sh is in use . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201
Instantly edit a file when you’re viewing it in less . . . . 201
Access Ubuntu’s desktop from any computing device . 201
Prepared exclusively for J.S. Ash
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CONTENTS
163. Remove the annoying delay when installing Firefox extensions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 202
164. View technical details of your PC’s hardware . . . . . . 202
165. Switch to old-fashioned “spatial browsing” mode . . . . 203
166. Clear the package cache . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204
167. Search man pages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204
168. Convert a PDF to an image . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205
169. Use a dial-up modem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205
170. Steal the Windows (or Mac OS) fonts . . . . . . . . . . . 206
171. Use unusual characters or symbols . . . . . . . . . . . 208
172. Encrypt and sign emails . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209
173. Get a nice trashcan on the desktop . . . . . . . . . . . . 214
174. Create .zip files using maximum compression . . . . . 214
175. Create an Ubuntu “updates” CD/DVD . . . . . . . . . . 215
176. Stop Ubuntu “greying out” stalled program windows as
quickly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 216
177. Get a high-quality (and free) command-line word processor by installing Microsoft Word . . . . . . . . . . . . 216
178. Create a “superuser terminal” shortcut . . . . . . . . . 218
179. Find out who you are! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 219
180. Install Ubuntu partner software . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 220
181. Use a GUI version of vim . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 220
182. Rescue a crashed GUI . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221
183. See a quote of the day whenever you login . . . . . . . . 221
184. Make GNOME System Monitor appear when Ctrl+Alt+Delete
is hit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 223
185. Change your computer’s name (hostname) . . . . . . . 225
186. Reduce the Wubi boot delay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 226
187. Swap around the minimize, maximize, and close buttons 226
188. Add an über-Start button to Ubuntu . . . . . . . . . . . 227
189. View technical details of PDF files . . . . . . . . . . . . 228
190. Connect to a remote computer as if you are sitting in
front of it . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 228
191. Change Ubuntu’s system sounds . . . . . . . . . . . . . 230
192. Move around the command-line like a pro . . . . . . . . 231
193. “Scroll” a virtual console . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 232
194. Do math at the command-line . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233
195. Create keyboard shortcuts that use the “Windows” key 234
196. Create a text file without a text editor . . . . . . . . . . 235
197. Turn off the OpenOffice.org splash screen . . . . . . . . 236
198. See which virtual console you’re working at . . . . . . . 236
Prepared exclusively for J.S. Ash
Report erratum
this copy is (B2.0 printing, July 15, 2008)
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Periodically change the desktop wallpapers . . . . . . . 237
Get warned when sudo powers hang around . . . . . . 237
Add a “similar words” sidebar to Dictionary . . . . . . . 238
Add drop shadows to screenshots . . . . . . . . . . . . 238
Create a backup ISO image of almost any physical CD/DVD 239
Change Firefox’s spellchecker language . . . . . . . . . 239
Take full control of Ubuntu’s PulseAudio sound output 240
Sleep, hibernate, shutdown, or reboot from the commandprompt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 241
Mirror commands and output across different terminal
windows . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 241
Instantly view a load of images as a slideshow . . . . . 242
Use a Windows-style “Start” button and taskbar . . . . 243
Change your password . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 245
Convert hex to decimal (and vice versa) . . . . . . . . . 246
Quickly save pictures on websites . . . . . . . . . . . . 247
Quickly send web links by email . . . . . . . . . . . . . 247
Sharpen images at the command line . . . . . . . . . . 248
View PDFs at the command line . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249
Run Windows programs under Ubuntu . . . . . . . . . 249
Uninstall Ubuntu if Wubi has been used . . . . . . . . 252
See a visual representation of file and folder locations . 252
Create text banners . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 254
Use a Macintosh OS X-like Dock . . . . . . . . . . . . . 255
Process words at the command-line . . . . . . . . . . . 256
View a calendar at the command prompt . . . . . . . . 258
Repair Ubuntu file system errors . . . . . . . . . . . . . 258
Clone your Ubuntu installation onto a new hard disk . 259
Create a boot log to help solve startup problems . . . . 264
Install a personal FTP server for file sharing . . . . . . 265
Shutdown, reboot, hibernate, or sleep Ubuntu with a
single click . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 268
Delete files rather than trash them . . . . . . . . . . . . 269
Yank a USB key stick even if you’re told you shouldn’t 270
Rename many files at once (a.k.a. bulk rename) . . . . 270
Get an alternative media player . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 272
Compare two files to see if they’re different . . . . . . . 276
Use the mouse at the virtual console (complete with
copy & paste) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 276
See a progress display as the desktop loads . . . . . . . 277
Get free-of-charge Ubuntu CDs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 278
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CONTENTS
236. Make the GNOME Terminal window translucent . . . . 278
237. Automate the download and installation of new theme
components . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 279
238. Burn Ubuntu CD images (ISOs) using Windows—for free 280
239. Quickly create links to files, folders, and/or applications 281
240. Monitor CPU usage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 282
241. See whenever Caps Lock is active . . . . . . . . . . . . . 283
242. Make files and folders entirely private . . . . . . . . . . 283
243. Get quick access to stuff you’re working on . . . . . . . 284
244. Insert command-line output and files into the clipboard 285
245. Have a cow talk to you . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 286
246. Get notified when new mail arrives . . . . . . . . . . . . 286
247. Increase output “remembered” by GNOME Terminal . 287
248. Use Ubuntu’s version of Microsoft Paint . . . . . . . . . 288
249. Have OpenOffice.org save in Microsoft Office format by
default . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 288
250. Password-protect and encrypt files . . . . . . . . . . . . 289
251. Add notes to any file/folder . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 293
252. Encrypt files so that only the recipient can open them
294
253. See your file browsing history . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 295
254. Define your own menu shortcut keys . . . . . . . . . . 295
255. Always know your IP address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 296
256. See the size of files/folders on the desktop . . . . . . . 297
257. View technical details of any multimedia file . . . . . . 297
258. Convert PDFs and images to Macromedia Flash slideshows 298
259. Create an alias to save typing long commands . . . . . 299
260. Send genuine smileys in your emails . . . . . . . . . . . 300
261. Add an “Open in terminal” option to Nautilus’ rightclick menu . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 301
262. Make Windows bootable if things go wrong during Ubuntu
installation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 301
263. Edit the name & artist information of MP3 files . . . . . 302
264. Never touch the mouse while using Ubuntu (well, almost) 303
265. Alter image viewer’s zoom speed . . . . . . . . . . . . . 304
266. Install Skype . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 304
267. Arrange output into columns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 305
268. View images without a graphical environment . . . . . 306
269. Synchronize files between a laptop and desktop PC . . 306
270. Rename files quickly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 310
271. Have sudo insult you . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 311
272. Make Nautilus display “traditional” file permissions . . 312
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CONTENTS
273.
274.
275.
276.
277.
278.
279.
280.
281.
282.
283.
284.
285.
286.
287.
288.
289.
290.
291.
292.
293.
294.
295.
296.
297.
298.
299.
300.
301.
302.
303.
304.
305.
306.
307.
308.
309.
310.
311.
See the GNOME fish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Use desktop widgets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Read eBooks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Make (almost) any wifi card work with Ubuntu . . . . .
Connect to a Windows Vista computer’s remote desktop
Use Ubuntu on your games console . . . . . . . . . . .
Use a “legal” MP3 codec . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Use look-a-likes of the Microsoft fonts . . . . . . . . . .
Play old MS-DOS games . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Install Google applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Install MS Comic Sans-style fonts . . . . . . . . . . . .
Use alternative office applications . . . . . . . . . . . .
Have the Firefox robot talk to you . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Backup your data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Use the Ubuntu install CD as a general-purpose partitioning tool . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Give old Macintosh computers a new lease of life . . . .
Use absolutely any picture as an icon . . . . . . . . . .
Install the GNOME wallpapers . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Zoom in for more info in Nautilus . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Play MP3/Ogg files at the command-line . . . . . . . .
Optimize Ubuntu’s performance . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tweak Ubuntu into oblivion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Do just about anything to a file by right-clicking it . . .
Get notified of new Gmail messages . . . . . . . . . . .
OCR scanned text . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Use Ubuntu’s movie player to watch YouTube movies .
Turn your desktop into your /home folder . . . . . . .
Avoid programs quitting when the terminal is closed .
Allow Terminal Server Client to access VNC desktops .
Search all of Ubuntu’s “supported” software . . . . . .
Install Windows on a computer that has Ubuntu on it .
Turn your computer into a egg timer . . . . . . . . . . .
Create a portable USB stick installation of Ubuntu . .
Enhance the copy and paste clipboard . . . . . . . . . .
Be told when your tea has brewed . . . . . . . . . . . .
Avoid bad formatting when viewing OpenOffice.org files
on Windows . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fix USB key sticks that wrongly report they’re full . . .
Use Ubuntu’s built-in download manager . . . . . . . .
Avoid an F-Spot startup error . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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313
315
316
321
322
322
323
324
325
329
329
332
332
337
337
338
338
339
339
340
341
343
346
347
349
349
350
350
351
351
354
355
359
360
361
361
362
364
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CONTENTS
312.
313.
314.
315.
Record your desktop . . . . . .
Take screenshots in any format
Where’s traceroute? . . . . . . .
Automatically scroll PDF files .
Index
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365
366
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367
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14
Bug #1 in Ubuntu’s bug database:
https://launchpad.net/ubuntu/+bug/1
“Microsoft has a majority market share in the new desktop
PC marketplace.
This is a bug, which Ubuntu is designed to fix.”
Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu founder
Chapter 1
Introduction
This book was born out of an experiment carried out when Ubuntu
6.06 was released in 2006. Back then Ubuntu was rougher around the
edges than it is today. Getting MP3 files to play took some effort. Only
a handful of wifi cards worked out of the box and the rest had to be
wrangled into working.
So I wrote 25 tips to get Ubuntu working the way I felt it should. I also
looked at some cool things that could be done with Ubuntu—the kind
of things that wowed people passing by your computer. Everything was
kept simple because I knew a high proportion of Ubuntu users had
switched from Windows, where things were done differently. Many of
the tips were pulled from my award-winning book, Beginning Ubuntu
Linux.
I put the tips on my website and then posted a link to the page on the
Digg.com social networking website. Within hours it was in the top 10
links for that day. My site was actually knocked offline by the sheer
volume of visitors.
The popularity of the tips was partly because Ubuntu has always been
popular with the Digg.com crowd, but there was a more important reason. People wanted Ubuntu to "just work". They brought with them the
expectations of Windows users. They didn’t want to make any compromises, either in terms of usability or function. And they wanted to learn
how Ubuntu worked. They wanted that above all, in fact.
Ubuntu Kung Fu is for those people, and others like them. It’s an Ubuntu
book for the rest of us.
In its pages you’ll find over 300 tips that:
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H OW
TO READ THIS BOOK
1. Make Ubuntu more usable for newcomers and experienced users
alike;
2. Point out cool and often extraordinary things that Ubuntu can do;
3. Show how Ubuntu can be fun.
Along the way you’ll pick up many skills that will make you a more
proficient Ubuntu user.
If you’d like to share some of the tips from this book on your blog
then feel free. I’m not sure my publishers will be too happy if you take
liberties, but sharing a handful of tips you’ve found useful with others
can only be a good thing. If you do, it would be great if you could link to
http://www.ubuntukungfu.org, the community site that partners this book
(if you’re feeling generous, you might also link to the book’s official
webpage—http://pragprog.com/titles/ktuk).
1.1 How to read this book
In a nutshell, Ubuntu Kung Fu is a big book of tips. As such I don’t
recommend any particular way of reading it. You don’t need to be sitting
beside your computer to do so. The whole point of Ubuntu Kung Fu is
that you can jump in anywhere. Start at the beginning or start in the
middle. You could even start at the end and work your way to the front.
Just start reading. If you find a tip you like then try it!
Ubuntu Kung Fu expects no prior Linux or Ubuntu experience from its
readers. That doesn’t mean all the tips are beginner-level. Some are
more involved than others and a handful are written for experienced
users. But in every tip I walk the reader through each step of the way.
I’ve also provided a crash-course in Ubuntu administration skills in
the second chapter of the book. This should get even the greenest of
newbies up to speed quickly.
Before you dive into the tips I need to mention some caveats. Some
of the tips affect your system in a profound way. Configuration files
are edited, for example, and one wrong keystroke could mean disaster
(although it’s nearly always possible to fix things—this is discussed in
Chapter 2, An Ubuntu administration crash course, on page 19). Be sure
to read through a tip before attempting anything it says. Check what
you type or click against what’s written.
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A CKNOWLEDGEMENTS
If you’re unsure about what you’re doing then skip that particular tip and
perhaps come back to it later.
If you spot anything that doesn’t seem to work, and you think it should,
contact http://pragprog.com/titles/ktuk/errata. Provide as many details as
possible. If possible, as well as correcting the tip in question, I’ll thank
you in a future edition of Ubuntu Kung Fu. Additionally, head over to
the forums at www.ubuntukungfu.org and see if a member of the Ubuntu
Kung Fu community can help you figure out what went wrong.
Secondly, please note that this book was written using Ubuntu 8.04.1
LTS (Hardy Heron) as a base. As with all releases of Ubuntu, this brings
a handful of small but important changes in the way system configuration is handled. If you haven’t already, I strongly advise you upgrade
to 8.04.1 if you’re using an earlier version of Ubuntu. If you’re using a
later version of Ubuntu then you might have to occasionally apply some
common-sense.
Lastly, please note that the tips concentrate on productivity, enhancements and doing cool stuff. I’ve deliberately steered-clear of providing work-arounds for bugs or gotchas. This is because the tips would
become dated very quickly as the bugs are fixed or patched, or official work-arounds are introduced. If you run up against something in
Ubuntu that doesn’t work the way it should, you first port of call should
be the official Ubuntu forums—www.ubuntuforums.org—where it’s very
likely somebody will have posted a solution.
1.2 Acknowledgements
Thanks go to Pragmatic Programmers for not slamming the door in the
face of a crazy guy who suggested a one-chapter book full of things he
thinks are cool. Thanks go to Jackie Carter, my editor, plus Pragmatic
Programmer overlords Andy and Dave for their patience, guidance and
encouragement. I’ve never met such switched-on, optimistic and genuinely agile people in over a decade of working in publishing. To paraphrase Simon & Garfunkel, they’ve got a groovy thing going on.
Thanks also to the small army of technical reviewers who put this
book through its paces prior to release and often suggested important improvements. My gratitude goes to John Dong, Matthew Helmke,
Eric Hewitt, Carthik Sharma, John Southern, and Aaron Porter. There’s
some astonishingly large brains in that list. A zombie would have a
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A CKNOWLEDGEMENTS
feast. I’m honored that they all agreed to give this book the benefit of
their experience and knowledge.
Finally, thanks to the beta testers who took a chance on this book
before it was officially published. Your errata comments made Ubuntu
Kung Fu a stronger book.
—Keir Thomas, September 2008
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Chapter 2
An Ubuntu administration crash
course
There’s a time when all of us sit down in front of Ubuntu for the first
time. The African drum beats of the login sound fade away and we’re
greeted by the orange and browns of the desktop wallpaper. (Orange
and brown? What were they thinking?)
What goes through your mind following this probably depends on how
busy you are. To quote from Peter Pan, Ubuntu can be an “awfully big
adventure.” But for that to be true you have to be the kind of person
who enjoys adventures. I suspect most people simply want to know
what’s what, and how things work.
That’s what this chapter is about. It’s a crash course in basic Ubuntu
skills and knowledge. It’s the mechanic’s guide that tells you which
end of a screwdriver is the useful one, and how to use it. It’s necessary
because you’ll have to get your hands dirty under the hood of Ubuntu,
not only to follow the tips in this book, but as part of day-to-day life
with the operating system.
There are certainly more comprehensive introductory guides to Ubuntu
(I recommend Beginning Ubuntu Linux, Third Edition, written by myself
and Jaime Sicam). However, if you have little time to spare, or just a
brief attention span, this chapter will give you enough know-how to get
by. You might have to read it more than once, and maybe come back to
it later. That’s fine. It isn’t going anywhere.
Even if you’re an experienced Ubuntu user it might be worth skimming
through this chapter to ensure you know enough to proceed to the
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T HE U BUNTU
DESKTOP
tips ahead. I’d ask that you pay particular attention to the section that
describes how to use gconf-editor, which is used extensively in some of
the tips. This is a lesser-known but very useful configuration tool.
So let’s get to it.
2.1 The Ubuntu desktop
Before we get down to specifics, let’s take an overview of the Ubuntu
desktop. If you’ve already spent time playing around with the desktop
then you can probably skip this part.
You first thing you might notice is that it’s virtually icon-free. This is
just because the Ubuntu developers don’t like clutter. You can drag and
drop icons onto the desktop and get it as messy as you wish.
At the top and bottom of the screen are the panels. These are almost
identical to Windows’ taskbar, except that there are two of them. The
one at the top tends to be about running software and presenting information to the user. The one at the bottom is where programs minimize
to, and contains a Show Desktop button (left) and Trash icon (right),
along with a virtual desktop switcher (far right).
On the top panel there are three menus—Applications, Places, and System. These will always stick around, no matter what. An application’s
own menus (File, Edit, View etc.) will appear underneath.
The Applications menu contains the software you use on a day-today basis—media players, office applications, calculator, and so on.
However, software used to administrate the software isn’t found there.
That’s on the System menu, which has two sub-menus—Preferences,
and Administration. Preferences lists programs that tweak settings specific to your user account, such as changing the desktop wallpaper.
Administration lists programs that configure the overall system.
Programs on the System → Administration menu won’t run unless you
type your login password when prompted. I explain more about this on
page 22.
The Places menu provides quick access to the file system, or to any
other file system that is attached to your computer, such as your Windows partition, or USB memory sticks that are plugged in. See Figure 2.1, on the following page for an example. The Windows partition
will probably be identified as x GB Media, where x is the size of the
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T HE U BUNTU
DESKTOP
Figure 2.1: Ubuntu’s Places menu
partition. USB memory sticks will be identified by their name (a.k.a.
their label). Incidentally, the file browser used in Ubuntu has a name—
Nautilus. It’s a cool piece of software in its own right so be sure to
explore its functions. Like most applications in Ubuntu, it can be configured by clicking Edit → Preferences on its menu.
Your personal area on the disk is a folder named after your user name
and can be found the /home folder. Often people simply refer to this
as their “home folder”. It’s analogous to My Documents under Windows.
There are several other subdirectories in your personal /home folder for
you to store stuff in—Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. There’s also
the Desktop folder that, like Windows, simply contains any files stored
on the desktop.
As mentioned earlier, the Trash icon lives at the bottom right of the
desktop. Drag and drop stuff onto it to delete (or just right-click what
you want to delete and select Move to the Deleted Items folder). Click the
Trash icon to see its contents and to see a button that lets you empty
it.
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U SERS ,
PASSWORDS AND FILES
At the top right of the screen is the notification area, which is just like
Windows’ System Tray area. Sometimes icons pop-up here to notify you
of stuff, such as the fact that there are system updates available, or that
you have new email. The volume control and clock live here, along with
NetworkManager, which lets you configure your wifi/network connection. There’s also something called the Fast User Switcher. That’s why
your login name is listed there. Clicking it lets you switch between users
on the system. It’s useless if there’s only one user setup on the system,
which is probably the case for 99% of Ubuntu installations. You can
get rid of it (or, indeed, anything on the panels) by right-clicking and
selecting Remove from panel. You can add it back in again if you wish
by right-clicking a blank spot on the panels and selecting Add to panel.
Then choose it from the list.
If you select Add to panel, you’ll also see lots of other handy applets
(small programs with a specific function) that can be added to the panel.
Some are very useful, so take some time to explore.
Icons can be clicked and dragged from the menus to the desktop for
ease of access. In addition, they can be dragged onto blank spots on
the panels. The desktop can used as a semi-permanent store area for
files, just like with Windows or Macintosh OS X. Just click and drag a
file from the file browsing window. Files are always downloaded to the
desktop by the web browser unless you specify otherwise.
Whereas Windows has Internet Explorer, Ubuntu uses Firefox (Applications → Internet → Firefox Web Browser). Outlook is replaced by Evolution (Applications → Internet → Evolution Email). Microsoft Office is
replaced by OpenOffice.org (Applications → Office). Pidgin is used for
instant messaging (Applications → Internet → Pidgin Internet Messenger). GIMP is used for image editing (Applications → Graphics → GIMP
Image Editor). Just have a click around on the menus—it’s fairly obvious what everything does and it’s pretty hard to break anything.
Many tips in this book make reference to Gedit, which is a text editor.
This can be found on the Applications → Accessories menu, although
you’ll nearly always start it from the command-line when following the
tips.
2.2 Users, passwords and files
When you first installed Ubuntu, you created a user account for yourself. You were allocated a tranche of space to save your personal data
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U SERS ,
PASSWORDS AND FILES
Drive letters and Ubuntu
Ubuntu doesn’t use drive letters. The root of the file system,
normally indicated by C:\ within Windows, is indicated by a
single forward slash (/) in Ubuntu. Thus you’ll see a path like
/usr/share/doc/ in Ubuntu, rather than something like C:\Program
Files\Microsoft Office within Windows. Whereas Windows uses a
backslash (\) to separate directories, Ubuntu uses a forward
slash. Other than that, there are no real differences.
But if there are no drive letters then how are things like additional hard disks or USB key sticks accessed? They’re mounted.
This is the magical process of “plumbing through” the contents
of a non-Ubuntu file system to a particular folder. For example, when you click the Windows entry on the Places menu,
the contents of the Windows partition will be accessible by
browsing the /media/disk/ folder. It’s nearly always the case
that empty and specifically-created directories are used for
mounting, but if there was anything already in the /media/disk/
folder it will temporarily disappear, until the Windows partition is
unmounted. In theory, any file system you want to access has
to be mounted, including things like shared network folders, or
the CD/DVD-ROM drive. It’s nearly always done automatically.
Unmounting is done by right-clicking the desktop icon of the
mounted file system and selecting Unmount (or similar—the precise language used varies depending on what you right-click).
Rather confusingly, to unmount at the command-line you have
to use the umount command—that’s unmount without the “n”.
(/home/username) and a desktop environment was automatically configured for your use.
Yours is an ordinary, unprivileged user account. You can administer
the system but only if you “borrow” administrative powers. When manually typing commands this is done by preceding them with either sudo,
in the case of command-line programs, or gksu, in the case of GUI programs. You’ll then be prompted for your login password. Type it correctly and the application will run with administrative powers. Simple
as that.
Some GUI programs on the System -> Administration menu automatically request administrator powers by popping up a password request
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U SERS ,
PASSWORDS AND FILES
Figure 2.2: Some commands need administrator powers
dialog box, while others require you to click the Unlock button somewhere within their program window. This will then pop-up a similar
password request dialog box. An example of such an application is the
Users and Groups program on the System -> Administration menu.1
If you try to run certain commands without borrowing admin powers,
you’ll see an error message of some kind, as shown in Figure 2.2. The
reason you’re not allowed to run around the system and do what you
want unhindered (like in, say, Windows XP) should be obvious: administering the system brings the possibility of breaking it. The password
request also reminds or informs you that the command you wish to use
has the potential to really mess things up.
What sudo or gksu actually do is borrow the root user’s power. Effectively, for the short time the command in question is running, you
become the root user.
The root user is another type of account. If you were to log in as root
user, you could do anything, unhindered.
1. Eventually all the system administration tools will have an Unlock button. This is part
of Ubuntu’s new Policy Kit feature that introduces better security by only giving certain
aspects of a program administrator powers, rather than all of it.
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C OMMAND - LINE
OR
GUI?
But, unlike most versions of Linux, Ubuntu doesn’t let you directly login
as the root user. It forces you to use sudo or gksu to borrow root powers.
Again, the reasoning behind this should be obvious: there’s simply less
chance of damage. You can’t switch to root user and then forget you’re
root, perhaps issuing a drastic command that breaks the system.
The idea of root and ordinary users pervades the entire system. All
files—even operating system ones—are “owned” by a user. That user
can then set access rights for him/herself, the group he/she is in (all
users are also members of a group), and also anybody of the system,
regardless of what user they are or group they’re in. For example, a
user could set a file so that it can only be read by and written to by
herself. Or she could add the ability for members of the group she’s in
to read it, but not write to it.
All of this might sound strange if there’s only one user on the system
(yourself!) but it’s just how Linux works. There is some logic behind it; it
should come as no surprise to learn that most operating system files are
owned by root. This is why it’s nearly always necessary to borrow root
powers when editing configuration files,2 or doing stuff like installing
software.
It’s not only files that can be owned and have restrictive permissions set
on them. Directories can too, and this can be used to stop unauthorized
users even viewing the list of files in some directories.
The end result is that, for many of the tips that make up this book,
you’ll need to enter your password to carry them out. You’ll need to
precede commands with either sudo or gksu, or just type your password
when prompted. I point this out in each tip, so it’s not something you
need to add-in yourself. However, it’s definitely something you should
know about.
2.3 Command-line or GUI?
Ubuntu might be described as an operating system with a dual nature.
For many administrative tasks you can use GUI programs that are usually provided on the the System -> Administration menu. Or you can do
The configuration files in your /home folder are owned by you, rather than root. This
is because they usually relate to your personal settings, such as those for the GNOME
desktop. These configuration files are usually hidden, which is to say, their filenames are
preceded with a period (.). Most are stored in the .gnome2 folder.
2.
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C OMMAND - LINE
OR
GUI?
One giant file system
Linux is one giant file system. If you attach a new piece of hardware to the system, it’s made accessible as a virtual file in the
/dev folder. The system “talks to you” by providing virtual files in
the /proc folder containing information about what it’s doing.
As a user, even you manifest as a handful of files on the system.
Linux is a giant file system because it reduces everything to the
same level so things can be accessed and manipulated in a
logical and structured way. The concept is one of the fundaments of Unix, which Linux is based on.
That everything really is a file can be demonstrated by opening
the file that the mouse is plumbed through to—/dev/psaux. Start
by opening a terminal window—click Applications → Accessories → Terminal. Then type sudo cat /dev/psaux. You’ll need to
type your password when prompted. Then waggle the mouse
around a little. The screen will fill-up with junk. The computer
might beep too. The cat command you issued displays the contents of a file on the screen, and you told it to display the contents of the file that’s magically plumbed-through to the mouse
hardware. So waggling the mouse causes data to appear onscreen.
When you’ve finished, just close the program window.
exactly the same thing by typing at the command-prompt. For example,
you can install the Epiphany web browser using the Synaptic Package Manager program. Or you can install it by typing sudo apt-get install
epiphany-browser. This applies equally to trivial things such as file management. You can delete that file on your desktop by dragging it to the
Trash, or you can type rm ~/Desktop/filename.3
Which should you use? The choice is yours. The command line is often
far more efficient, but can be arcane, especially for beginners. Yet it’s
where the real power lies. GUI tools make things simpler, but often at
the expense of flexibility in the form of configuration options.
This book prefers to use the GUI tools whenever possible. It’s only when
Note that the command-line doesn’t have a trash facility. Once a file is deleted, it’s
gone forever. Tip 36, on page 93, describes a workaround for this.
3.
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something isn’t possible via GUI software that we delve into command
line tools. This is very much in keeping with the spirit of Ubuntu which
is, after all, “Linux for human beings”.
But that’s no excuse for not having at least some command-line skills.
So how does the command line work? I’m glad you asked...
How the command line works
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: the command-line is just one
more way to administer your system or run software. You don’t have
to use it if you don’t want to, although there are a few tasks where it’s
unavoidable.
We’d better clear-up another misconception too: the command-line isn’t
some ethereal presence, always running in the background.4 This isn’t
like Windows 3.1, where everything “sat on top of” DOS, which was
always there ready to offer a C:\ prompt. In Ubuntu, everything sits on
top of a central program called the kernel. If the command-line isn’t
being used then the command-line isn’t running.
One last thing—how to refer to the command-line in polite conversation. Some folks refer to it as the shell. I tend to refer to the commandprompt or command-line.
The software that provides the command-line is called the Bourne Again
Shell but this is always abbreviated to bash. bash simply lets you enter
commands, and manipulate files, and see the output once you’ve done
so.
Let’s start a command-line session and see what it looks like. There
are two ways of doing this—either running a virtual console, or using
GNOME Terminal (usually referred to simply as terminal). Both provide
access to exactly the same thing—think of them as doors into the same
room.
You can start a virtual console by holding down Ctrl + Alt + F2 (or F3,
F4, F5 or F6—there are six in total, corresponding to the first six function keys, and all can be running at the same time, but the first—F1—is
used for log/debug output and so is best avoided).
It isn’t strictly true that the command-prompt isn’t always running; the program that
provides the command login, getty, is always running, and... What’s that? Your head is
about to explode? OK. I’ll ease off the pedantic explanations.
4.
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Figure 2.3: The virtual console provides a command-prompt
You’ll notice that the desktop and all signs of GUI-ness disappear. Don’t
worry. You can get it all back by hitting Ctrl + Alt + F7 . Give it a try.
Then hit Ctrl + Alt + F2 to get back to the virtual console.
What you’ll see will be something like this:
Ubuntu 8.04.1 keir-desktop tty2
keir-desktop login:
You must type your username and then, when prompted, type your
password. Then you’ll see the command-line prompt, followed by the
familiar cursor, as show in Figure 2.3.
As mentioned, you can also use the terminal program from within the
GUI desktop to get a command-line. This is far more convenient,5 so
quit your virtual console by typing exit. This will log you out (but only
out of that virtual console—you’ll still be logged into your desktop).
5. So when should you use a virtual console, and when should you use a GNOME
Terminal window? This is answered by situation and circumstance—the only time you
need to use a virtual console is when you have no choice. For example, if a program
crashes and locks up the GUI, you can switch to a virtual console to fix things. However,
for some Linux old-hands the virtual console is simply the first port of call when it comes
to typing commands. Each to their own.
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Then switch back to the GUI ( Ctrl + Alt + F7 ) and start GNOME Terminal by clicking Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal.
No login is needed this time around because you’ve already logged into
the desktop, and the terminal program runs “on top” of that. However,
what you see is exactly the same prompt you saw earlier on the virtual
console, and you can do exactly the same things.
Let’s take a closer look at the prompt. Here’s what the one on my test
system looks like:
[email protected]:~$
It looks complicated but isn’t. The first part, before the @ sign, is the
username I’m logged in as. My username is keir. The part after the @
sign is the hostname, which is to say, how the computer refers to itself
and is referred to by other computers on a network.
So if we “read” the prompt from left to right, it says that the user keir
is logged in at (@) the computer called keir-desktop. If I logged in as the
user called jane, the prompt would read [email protected]:~$.
Following this is a colon. That separates what we might call the “location” part of the prompt from the rest of it, which tells us where we
currently are in the file system—what folder we’re currently browsing.
It appears we’re browsing the ~ folder. What? Don’t worry. The tilde
symbol is command-line shorthand. It means that you’re currently in
your /home folder, which is where you’ll always be dumped when you
start a new command-line prompt. You can confirm the folder you’re
in by typing pwd, which stands for Print Working Directory (directory
being another term for folder). Give it a try. Type pwd and hit Enter .
Here’s what I see on my test PC:
$ pwd
/home/keir
Finally, at the end of the prompt line, is the dollar sign. This tells us
we’re logged in as a normal user. If we logged in as root, it would change
to a hash (#) but, as mentioned, this is moot as far as we’re concerned
because Ubuntu doesn’t allow root user login (with a notable exception:
if you use Ubuntu’s rescue mode, you’re logged in as root automatically).
Throughout this book all commands I want you to type are listed with
a dollar sign before them. Some will be preceded with a hash symbol
too if the rescue mode is being used. This is just one of the conventions
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Navigating text-mode menus
Not all command-line programs provide straight output. Some
invoke simple text menus, like you might be used to in any GUI
application but more primitive. You usually can’t use the mouse
to click on entries and instead must use the keyboard to navigate. The Tab key moves the selection highlight from entry to
entry, and Space normally confirms the selection of that particular option. Alternatively you can use the cursor keys to move
the selection highlight around. When you’ve finished selecting the options on any particular screen you should move the
selection to the OK button and hit Space to select it. Alternatively, on some more simple menus, you can move the selection
highlight to your choice in the list and just hit Enter , which will
both make the selection and hit the OK button. Esc will usually
quit the program without making any changes.
of computing literature. It doesn’t mean you need to type the dollar or
hash sign.
Back to the command-line tutorial. If you switch to the Desktop folder
by typing the following:6
$ cd Desktop
...you’ll see that the prompt changes to something like the following:
[email protected]:~/Desktop$
So we’re browsing in our Desktop folder in our personal /home folder
(represented by a tilde symbol). Again, prove this if you want by typing
pwd.
Some commands need what are called arguments—you need to tell the
command what file or folder you want it to work with. We’ve already
seen an example of this when we typed cd Desktop. cd is the command,
while Desktop is the argument.
Capital letters matter under Ubuntu, unlike with DOS/Windows, where they’re
optional. If a filename, folder or command has a capital letter in then you must type
it. You could feasibly have files called Filename.doc, filename.doc, FILEname.doc, and so on,
all in the same folder. Virtually all commands are entirely lower case and should be typed
as such. Adding capital letters will mean they won’t be recognized.
6.
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Figure 2.4: Using command options
Some commands also take options, which modify how the command
works. For example, the ls command (ls being short for list) will give us
a file and folder listing. Let’s try this. First, switch back to your /home
folder (cd ..—the two periods tells cd to switch back to the parent folder)
and type ls. Here’s what I saw on my test computer:
$ ls
Desktop
Documents
Examples
Music
Pictures
Public
Templates
Videos
There isn’t any information about file permissions here, and we can
make ls provide that by using the -l command option. Command options
are usually inserted after the command, so you would type:
$ ls -l
If you type that, you’ll get a long list of filenames/directories on the
right, with their permissions and ownership rules on the left. An example from my test PC is show in Figure 2.4. Often two or more command
options are used together—the -a option tells ls to list hidden files too,
so a command commonly typed by Linux users is ls -la.
You can usually get a list of a command’s most popular options by
typing --help after the command (that’s two dashes before help). For
example, to get a list of the ls command’s options, you would type:
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$ ls --help
Figure 2.5, on the next page shows some typical commands. These
make up the meat of day-to-day operations at the command prompt
when it comes to handling files. There’s lot more to each command,
of course, and a good tip is to use the man (manual) command. This
provides useful information about what a command does and how to
use it. For example, to learn about the ls command, you would type the
following:
$ man ls
More advanced command-line skills
It might sound obvious but all bash does is take input, usually in the
form of commands you type, and then output something. It’s like a
production-line machine—input goes in at one end and output comes
out at the other end.
Technically speaking, the input of the machine is called standard input
(stdin) while the output is called standard output (stdout).7 Stdin is
usually your keyboard and stdout your monitor but that doesn’t have
to be the case. The rather cool thing about bash is that it doesn’t care
what stdin and stdout actually are.
Why is this important? Well, the output and input a command can be
redirected. A command can be fed the contents of a file instead of what
you type. Alternatively, the output of a command can be redirected into
a file, rather than sent to the screen. Angle brackets are used for the
purpose of redirecting.
Let’s say that you wanted to create a text file showing a long file listing. All you’d to is type ls -l > listing.txt. Imagine the angle bracket as a
funnel—the ls -l command pours its output into the listing.txt file (after
first creating the file, of course).
Let’s also say that you have a shopping list and want to sort it into
alphabetical order. bash includes a handy command that can do this—
sort—but you have to make it take your file as input. The following will
do the trick:
7. Alongside stdout there’s actually a second output—standard error, or stderr. This is
simply the error output of a command (if there is any). It is usually sent to the screen,
like stdout, but it too can be redirected. To redirect stderr, use 2>, instead of a single
right-facing angle-bracket.
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ls
List files and folders in current folder.
-l : Provide long listing, including all details of files
-a : Show all files, including those that are hidden
-h : Provide “human-readable” file sizes (KB, MB, GB)
Example: ls -l
cd
Change folder; cd .. changes to parent folder.
Example: cd /home/keir
cp
Copy file and/or folder. First specify the file and then the new
location.
-r : Copy directories too (otherwise directories will be ignored).
Example: cp /home/keir/file.doc /home/keir/Desktop/
mv
Move file and/or folder. First specify the file and then the new
location. By specifying a new filename, mv can also be used to
rename. Unlike cp, no need for additional -r option for directories.
Example: mv /home/keir/myfile /home/keir/Desktop/
Example: mv oldfilename newfilename
rm
Delete file and/or folder.
-r : Delete directories too (otherwise directories will be ignored)
-f : Don’t prompt for confirmation
Example: rm -rf Desktop/newfolder/
mkdir
Create folder.
Example: mkdir newfolder
less
Display text file. Use up/down cursor keys to scroll and hit Esc
to quit.
Example: less file.txt
OR
GUI?
Figure 2.5: Typical day-to-day file management commands
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bash: The silent type
A common complaint from Linux newbies is that a command
hasn’t worked when, actually, it has. They base this assumption
on the fact that the command “didn’t seem to do anything”.
For example, if I update the locate database as described in
Tip 77, on page 134, here’s what I’ll see:
$ sudo updatedb
$
In other words, all I’ll see at the end of it is the command
prompt again. Nothing else. No message saying things went
OK. This is because most commands only give feedback to you
if (a) something goes wrong; or (b) giving feedback is what
they’re designed to do (for example, the ls command, which
is designed to list files).
If you don’t see any output after running a command then
don’t panic. It’s a good thing.
$ sort < shoppinglist.txt
This is slightly less intuitive because the command comes first, and
then the file is “poured into it”, courtesy of redirection of input.
If you were to try this, you’d find the shopping list would indeed be
sorted but it would also appear on-screen. This is because sort sends its
output to stdout, unless told otherwise. Many commands do this and
it might seem stupid but it reflects the deliberate simplicity of bash. To
get around it, you need to redirect the output of sort into a new file:
$ sort < shoppinglist.txt > sortedlist.txt
What about if you wanted to create a text file that contained file listings
of several different directories? You could create several text files using
redirection and combine them manually but a better plan is to type
something similar to the following:
$ ls -l > listing.txt
$ ls -l /etc >> listing.txt
$ ls -l /bin >> listing.txt
... etc.
Two angle brackets mean that the file is added to, rather than created
anew. The first command above initially creates our listing.txt file, while
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the two following commands add their output to the end of it.
The output of one command can also be piped into another, which is
to say, the output of one command can form the input of another. The
pipe symbol (|) is used to do this. The most basic example is to pipe the
output of the ls command into less, the text viewer:
$ ls | less
In other words, rather than sending the file listing to the screen, it’s
piped into the less command, so is then displayed on-screen for leisurely
scroll-through reading. This can be very useful when you’re working at
a virtual console, which lacks those handy scroll bars that GUI programs have.
Couldn’t we just redirect the output into less—something like ls > less?
No. Redirecting is about sending data into (or from) files. With piping
the output is simply transferred from one command to another without
the creation of a file. The ls > less command would create a new file called
less which contains the file listing.
Piping is often used with the grep command, which is able to search
through a file for text. For example, say you want to make a list of
all the files belonging to a particular project you’re working on. The
files are in your Documents folder, along with hundreds of others (for
the purposes of this demonstration you aren’t very well organized). One
thing is true of all the project files—they have the word “project” in their
filename, but that could be at the end, or in the middle, or at the front.
If you were an idiot you could type ls and the scroll through the list of
results looking for relevant files. However, a better way is to get grep to
search for you. We can do this by piping the output of ls straight into it:
$ ls | grep -i "project"
What you’ll see, as seen in Figure 2.6, on the next page, is the output
of grep which has filtered the output of ls to show only the lines that
contain the word “project“ (the -i command option tells grep to ignore
upper and lower case letters when searching).
2.4 Software installation and management
There’s a lot of software available for Ubuntu, in addition to that which
comes installed out of the box, and most of it is not only free but also
easily accessible. Because of this it’s possible to suggest that, as far as
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Figure 2.6: Piping the output of a command into grep
active and experienced Ubuntu users are concerned, software installation is almost as common as any other activity, such as browsing
the web. Part of the fun of using Ubuntu is exploring what software is
available, and taking a look at offerings provided by new and interesting
software projects that spring-up.
Therefore, gaining a good understanding of the software installation
subsystem of Ubuntu is vital. Many tips in this book involve adding-in
software to bring new functionality to Ubuntu. How software installation and removal is handled under Ubuntu is radically different compared to Windows or Mac OS X, but isn’t hard to understand.
To install a program, a Windows user will double-click an installation
.exe. Ubuntu is different because software installation is automated—
even including download. You literally just choose what you want to
install, and sit back while Ubuntu takes care of it.
Virtually all Ubuntu software is open source, and therefore available for
anybody to create their own versions of. So the Ubuntu developers take
the source code for thousands of software projects and compile it themselves, tweaking it to ensure it works correctly on Ubuntu, and put it
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Dealing with complex filenames at the command-line
The command-line interprets a space between two words as
an indication that a new command follows, or a commandoption. The question therefore arises of how to deal with filenames that have spaces in them. A logical continuation of this
thought is how to deal with filenames containing characters
that bash would otherwise interpret—symbols such as > or |, for
example, which are used in redirection and piping respectively.
The easiest solution is to simply enclose the filename in quotation marks (either single quotes or double—it doesn’t matter).
For example, to open the file <keir text file>.txt in less, I’d type less
"<keir text file>.txt".
Another method is to escape each problematic character
(including the spaces). This involves using a backslash (\) before
the character to tell bash not to interpret it in the usual way. To
view the file <keir text file>.txt in this case, I would type less \<keir\
text\ file\>.txt. Normally it’s just easier to use quotes around the
filename but with a minority of commands you must escape
instead.
Ubuntu’s graphical applications handle filenames containing
spaces and strange characters seamlessly. You don’t have to
escape or use quotes.
into large publicly accessible repositories (known as repos for short).8 In
nearly all cases when you install software, it’ll come from these repositories. Manually downloading and installing software is rare, although
not unheard of—several tips in this book do just that, in fact.
The second key difference between Ubuntu and other operating systems like Windows and Mac OS X is that Ubuntu lets you install and
remove just about everything, including system components that are
otherwise invisible but make everything work.
The bits of software that are installed and removed are referred to as
packages. Packages are nothing more than program and/or system files
bundled together in one file, complete with with scripts (chains of comRepositories are usually online but not always. The Ubuntu install CD is a small
repository containing just what you need to install Ubuntu.
8.
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Figure 2.7: Synaptic Package Manager
mands) that configure things so that the software works with everything
else on the system.
Typically, to install a particular piece of software, it’s necessary to
install not only the program itself, which is usually provided as a single package, but several other packages containing background system
software it needs to work. You might say that software installation is
modular. The software you want to install is said to depend on these
other packages that provide the system files. As you might be coming
to expect, Ubuntu’s software install/removal tools automatically take
care of installing these dependencies and because of this you will often
hear people talk of dependency management when discussing Ubuntu’s
software management system.
It isn’t just about managing the dependencies when software is installed,
of course. If you remove some software, you’ll be told if that software is
depended upon by any other software. If it is, you might see a suggestion that you remove the other software too. The other software might
have its own set of dependencies. Sometimes it can be the case that
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removing a seemingly innocent piece of software can set in motion a
cascade where half the system components get removed (although I’m
being melodramatic. This is rare. Rarer than it used to be, anyway.)
Dependency management can get fiendishly complicated at times.9 But
no worries. Like a good butler, the Ubuntu software subsystem hides
all that from you.
Software can be installed or removed both at the command-line, and
using a GUI tool called Synaptic. Let’s start by taking a look at Synaptic.
Using Synaptic
Synaptic can be found on the System -> Administration menu. When
it starts you’ll need to enter your password when prompted because
software administration affects the underlying system. See Figure 2.7,
on the preceding page, for an example of Synaptic’s user interface.
The first thing to do, which you should do always when starting Synaptic, is to hit the Reload button at the left of the toolbar. This grabs the
latest list of files from the repository of software on the server, so you’ll
have the latest list of software to choose from. The list changes pretty
often so this is good practice.
The Synaptic program window is split into three parts. On the left is
the package category list. This sorts the packages by what they do. On
the top right is the package list—the entire list of available software
you can install, including software that’s already been installed. On the
bottom right is where the description of each package will appear when
you select one by clicking on it.
Typically you’ll start by searching for the software you need. This can be
done two ways. The first is to click on any package in the list in the top
right of the screen, so that it’s highlighted, and just start typing. Say
you wanted to install Epiphany, which is an alternative web browser.
Just start typing epiphany. Before you’ve finished typing, the list will
have filtered down to a handful of possible results, and more likely just
the one.
If the dependency management system breaks, it gets real ugly real fast. This is one
argument people use if they object to package management systems, such as that used
by Ubuntu. However, the counter-argument is a good one: it never breaks. Unless the
user does something stupid, that is.
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Figure 2.8: Marking additional packages for installation
The second way to search is to hit the Search button, which will open
the Search dialog box. This is what I do, because it lets me search not
only the package names but also their descriptions. If I was looking for
an alternative web browser, for example, I would click Search and then
type web browser.
If you want to install a particular software package, click the checkbox
that appears on the left alongside it. This will cause a menu to appear,
of which one option is usually visible: Mark for installation. As you might
expect, this will mark the package so it can be installed, but installation
will happen only after you click the Apply button on the main toolbar.
This way you can search for and add in several other packages for
installation if you wish, before starting the installation process.
Immediately after clicking Mark for Installation you’ll be told if the software
has dependencies. A dialog box will pop-up asking if you want to “Mark
additional required changes”, as shown in Figure 2.8. Normally there’s
not much to see here, and you can click the Mark button. There are only
two things to watch out for.
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The first is that, along with software to be installed, Synaptic suggests
the removal of some software (this will appear under the To be removed
heading). This is probably because that software is incompatible with
what you’re about to install.
There’s no easy answer in this situation. You can either go ahead, or
you can click the Cancel button and not install the software. In theory
you can force through the installation but that would break things and
possibly leave the system in an unusable state. Never force, even if you
think you know what you’re doing. It causes pain.
The second thing to watch out for is if Synaptic wants to install a massive amount of dependency packages. A good example would be if you
wanted to install the Konqeuror web browser. This requires most of the
KDE desktop sub-system to be installed, and therefore marking Konqueror for installation also marks 22 other packages for installation.
There’s no harm installing these packages. The only problem is that
they might take a long time to download, and possibly weigh-in at hundreds of megabytes on your hard disk. However, if you have the bandwidth and cavernous storage then this obviously isn’t an issue.
Once you’ve marked the software you want to install, hit the Apply button on Synaptic’s main toolbar. A dialog box will appear summarizing
the selection of packages that are to be installed, and informing you
of the disk space required. Assuming you’re happy with this summary,
click the Apply button in the dialog box. This will then download and
subsequently install the package(s). When it’s finished another dialog
box will appear to tell you so and you can then quit Synaptic, or install
more software if you wish.
You might also see some software listed in the summary dialog box
under the heading of Unchanged. This is updated versions of software
already on your system that Synaptic would like to install. You can
mark it for installation by clicking the Mark All Upgrades button on the
toolbar in Synaptic’s main program window, but it’s perhaps better
to let the separate Update Manager program handle that kind of thing
automatically. It’ll probably pop-up as soon as Synaptic is closed anyway, having heard about all the updates it can install when you initially
updated the list of software by clicking the Reload button. It’s worth
noting that only one software installation program can run at one time;
you might notice that Update Manager’s notification area icon grays out
while Synaptic is running because of this.
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Software support
Some software packages have a little Ubuntu logo alongside
their checkboxes in Synaptic. This means the software is officially
supported, and will therefore be updated and maintained for
the life of that Ubuntu release (up until 2011 in the case of
Ubuntu 8.04, for example). If there’s no Ubuntu logo alongside,
that means the software simply comes from the Debian repositories and might be updated in future, although there’s no
guarantee. The list of officially supported software is proportionally small compared to the massive list of software in the Debian
archives. It’s a good idea to should shy away from unsupported
software because of the update issue, but few avoid it completely because there’s a lot of good software in its ranks. One
or two tips in this book advise you install unsupported software,
for example.
In Synaptic’s main program window, color-coding and icons in the
checkbox alongside a package name indicate its status. For example, if
the checkbox alongside a package in the package name is dark green
then that software is already installed. If you then click the checkbox
you can select Mark for Removal, which will remove the software but leave
behind its configuration files (useful if you want to install it again in
future). Alternatively, you can select Mark for Complete Removal, which
will remove both the software and its configuration files.
In a nutshell, that’s the basics of software installation using Synaptic. I
haven’t mentioned filtering search results, or reinstalling packages, or
lots of other perhaps less vital things. You’ll learn about these as time
goes on. One handy tip is to click Help -> Icon Legend so see what the
various checkbox graphics mean.
Software installation at the command line
As with all things command-line related, installing software at the commandline is where the real power lies. It can also be quicker than using
Synaptic, which makes the user jump through several hoops to do even
simple tasks. Therefore mastering command-line software administration is a good skill for any Ubuntu user to have. Several tips in this
book rely on command-line software installation.
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There are essentially two methods of installing software at the command line: using the APT commands, which automate software download and installation just like Synaptic, or using the dpkg command, if
you want to download a software package and install it manually.
Using APT
In reality, Synaptic is just a front man for the Advanced Packaging Tool
(APT) sub-system. It’s actually the APT system that manages access to
the software repositories, and takes care of package dependencies, and
installs or removes stuff. Synaptic just asks it to do things on its behalf
and then reports what it says back to you.
The APT system comes with several commands, and often using them
is simply quicker than using Synaptic.
The first useful command is apt-get. This handles installation and removal
of software from the repository. apt-get install will install software, while
apt-get autoremove will uninstall it.
But before you do that, it’s always advisable to get the most up to date
list from the software repositories. This is the equivalent of hitting the
Reload toolbar button in Synaptic. Type the following, remembering that
you shouldn’t type the opening dollar sign ($):
$ sudo apt-get update
You’ll notice that we precede the command with sudo. This is because
all software management requires root (administrator) powers. There’s
one exception, as you’ll see in a moment: searching.
Back to the apt-get command. The following will install the Abiword
word processor:
$ sudo apt-get install abiword
APT will look-up the package, see if it has any dependencies, and, if
it does, add them to the list of software it intends to install. Then it
will ask you to read through what it proposes to do and confirm its
suggestions, which you can do by typing y , for Yes, or n , for No.
As with Synaptic, sometimes apt-get will need to remove additional software to avoid incompatibilities, and you’ll also be told so that you can
confirm the choice.
The following will remove Abiword once you’ve installed it:
$ sudo apt-get autoremove abiword
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This will remove the original software plus any unused dependencies
that were installed alongside it (note that, in this way, apt-get offers a
function Synaptic doesn’t; Synaptic will simply leave any dependencies
in place, regardless of whether they’re needed by other applications or
not). Bear in mind that other applications you’ve installed since the
original application may use these dependencies, in which case they
won’t be removed. If for any reason you want to remove just the original
software package and nothing else, use apt-get remove in place of aptget autoremove.
Searching for files is just as easy but a different command is used.
Let’s say you’d heard about Epiphany web browser from a friend, but
wanted to find out its actual package name so you could specify it for
installation using apt-get. You need to use the apt-cache command, as
follows:
$ apt-cache search epiphany
A list of results will appear, as shown in Figure 2.9, on the following
page. The package name is listed on the left, with a brief description of
the package following. Included in the results because they also contain
the word “epiphany”, are several library packages that Epiphany needs
to work. These will probably be added as dependencies should we try to
install it using apt-get. Also included is a video game called Epiphany,
which apparently is a clone of Boulder Dash. However, it should be
obvious that the one we want is epiphany-browser.
If we want more information about the package (such as its full description, as appears in Synaptic) we can use the show option:
$ apt-cache show epiphany-browser
A lot of information is returned and it tends to flow off the screen so we
can pipe it into the less text reader:
$ apt-cache show epiphany-browser | less
Using dpkg to manually install packages
Every now and again you might need to download a software package and manually install it. This happens if the software isn’t in the
Ubuntu repositories, usually because it’s very new, or because the
Ubuntu head-honchos have decided not to offer it.
If the software isn’t in the official software repositories, you may well
find that the developers behind the software provide their own APT
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Figure 2.9: Searching for software using apt-cache
repository that you can add to your system. This is discussed in Section 2.4, Adding new software repositories, on page 48, and is certainly
very handy because it means, once the repository has been added, you
can use the APT tools and/or Synaptic to install the software.
However, although developers being kind enough to offer their own APT
repositories is becoming more and more common, it isn’t guaranteed.
So let’s assume that you have no choice but to download the package
and install it manually. This is the case with several tips in this book.
First, let’s talk about what you actually need to download. Ubuntu software packages all have the file extension .deb. This stands for Debian,
and is a legacy of Ubuntu’s history.
Ideally you should try and download not only the .deb package created
for Ubuntu, but also for your version of Ubuntu (ie 8.04 “Hardy Heron”,
or 6.06 “Dapper Drake”). This is because the package will be designed
to work within the system configuration of your version of Ubuntu, and
will also be aware of what dependencies it needs. It will then inform you
of its dependency needs when you try to install it. Package names and
contents vary between Linux distributions, and even between different
versions of Ubuntu. So this can be very handy.
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Using aptitude to install packages at the command-line
If you browse any of the Ubuntu community websites, you might
find that some people ignore apt-get and use aptitude instead.
aptitude is used in exactly the same way, with the same commands as apt-get (for example, to install Abiword, you would
type sudo aptitude install abiword). The difference is that, alongside updating the system log of installed software, it keeps its
own log of installations. This means that it can be better at
handling removal of software because it is better at tracking
dependencies. In addition, packages sometimes come with a
list of recommended but non-essential extras, and aptitude will
automatically add-in these to the installation tally, something
apt-get can’t do. Furthermore, when run without options or
arguments, aptitude will start in a semi-GUI mode, with a menu
system that lets you administrate software.
Whether you use apt-get or aptitude is down to personal preference. apt-get has one advantage, which is that it will always be
available on any system that is a Debian derivative (for example, Xandros, Mepis and Freespire). It isn’t guaranteed that aptitude will be installed. For this reason along you should at least
become competent at using apt-get.
If you can’t find a specific Ubuntu package, look for one that works
under the most recent release of Debian. Ideally you want the release
of the package made for Debian Sid (Ubuntu is based on Debian Sid10 ),
but also look out for releases made for Debian Lenny.
Download the package to your /home folder and be careful to avoid
allowing Firefox to open it automatically with GDebi Package Installer.
Installing the package is then simply a matter of typing the following:
$ sudo dpkg -i filename.deb
Obviously, you should replace filename.deb with the filename of the
package you downloaded.
10. Every version of Ubuntu uses as its base the perennial testing release of Debian
Linux, known as Debian Unstable or Debian Sid. All Debian releases are named after
characters in the movie Toy Story (you might remember that the character of Sid was
Andy’s neighbor in Toy Story, and was pretty, well, unstable!).
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If you’re lucky, everything should work fine. The package will install
without error. More likely, however, you’ll be told you’re missing dependencies. They will be named, and so it’s simply a matter of installing
them.
Until you can install the dependencies, you have a problem on your
hands. dpkg is nowhere near as clever as APT, and installs the package
even if the dependencies aren’t met. It just doesn’t configure the software for use because of the missing dependencies, so you can’t start
using it.
This leaves the software installation system in something of a state,
because it now has a “broken package.” You’ll be warned about this the
next time you run Synaptic, for example, as shown in Figure 2.10, on
the following page. Synaptic will still let you attempt to install software,
however, and if the missing dependency package(s) are available in the
repository, Synaptic will automatically add it to the list next time you
try to install anything. Alternatively, as Synaptic suggests in its error
message, you can click the Filter button in the bottom left and then
click the Broken link to see what packages are causing the problem and
try to enact a manual fix (including, if the dependencies simply aren’t
available, uninstalling the problematic package).
apt-get takes a harder line. It will refuse to work until the broken pack-
age with its missing dependencies are sorted out. It will suggest the
dependency, however, and also suggest you type apt-get -f install, which
will attempt to grab any missing dependencies to fix the problem.
dpkg can also remove software too. Say we had installed Epiphany. This
will do the trick of removing it:
$ sudo dpkg -r epiphany-browser
You’ll note that, in this case, we don’t specify the entire package filename. We refer to the package how it’s referred to by the system—within
Synaptic, and so on. Usually this is just the first part of the package
filename, sans the stuff afterwards, which informs us which hardware
platform it works on.
If there are dependency issues (something else depends on what you’re
trying to remove) then dpkg will tell you and will refuse to remove the
file. You can force through the removal but that’s an extremely efficient recipe for disaster. Note that, even though a package is manually
installed, it will still show up in Synaptic, so can be removed using
Synaptic in the usual way (or via apt-get autoremove). Using Synaptic
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Figure 2.10: Synaptic telling of a broken package
is infinitely preferable compared to using the basic and rather literal
dpkg.
In actual fact, however, dpkg can do just about anything you’d ever need
to individual packages. It’s one of the most powerful administration
tools on your system. However, the potential for damage is high, and
you’d be damaging a very important component of your system. It’s
always best to stick to Synaptic or apt-get if you possibly can. That way
dependencies will be taken care of automatically and the world will be
a happier place.
Adding new software repositories
It might sometimes be necessary to add third-party software repositories to install software that isn’t supplied by the Ubuntu project.
A good example is installing the Skype VoIP package, as explained in
Tip 266, on page 304. The people behind Skype provide their own software repository for Ubuntu users. The advantage of signing-up to a
third-party repository rather than installing by hand using dpkg is that
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you can then use Synaptic to install the software (it will appear alongside all the other software in the list). Because of this, if the software
requires any dependencies, they will be taken care of automatically.
Additionally, if a newer version of the software is released, you’ll be
automatically told about it alongside all the other updated software
presented regularly by Update Manager.
Adding a third-party repository isn’t hard. It takes the form of an address—
usually referred to as either an APT line or simply repository address11 —
which usually looks something like the following (this example is again
taken from Tip 266, on page 304, which explains how to install Skype):
deb http://download.skype.com/linux/repos/debian/ stable non-free
To add this to the system, start the Software Sources program (System → Administration) and then select the Third-Party Software tab. Then
click the Add button and, in the APT Line text field, enter the address,
as shown in Figure 2.11, on the next page. Then click the Add Source
button. Upon clicking Close in the parent dialog, you’ll be told that the
list of software needs to be refreshed. Choose to do so.
What Software Sources actually does is update the /etc/apt/sources.list
configuration file. You could just as easily open this in a text editor
and add the line to the bottom manually. But using Software Sources
stops you making a mistake editing a file without which the software
subsystem wouldn’t work, so is perhaps a better choice.
Wherever possible, in addition to adding the repository you should also
import the repository’s key file, which Ubuntu can use to work-out if
packages are authentic. Some packages are digitally signed, which is a
method of protecting the user from fake packages that contain malware.
If you should try and install a package that isn’t signed, Synaptic or APT
will throw-up a warning (although you’ll still be able to install).
All official Ubuntu packages are protected in this way, and Ubuntu
is setup with the relevant key files during initial installation. If the
third-party repository uses signing (not all do), a link will probably be
provided to the key file on the same page that lists the APT address.
Download the key file to your system and, in Software Sources, click
11. If, as described in some tips in the book, you install software from the Launchpad.net
website, which is a repository for up-and-coming software projects, the APT repository
address might be referred to as the Personal Package Archive, or PPA.
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Figure 2.11: Adding a new repository using Software Sources
the Authentication tab. Then click the Import Key File button and navigate
to what you downloaded.
Perhaps it goes without saying that key files can be faked, just like
packages. You should ensure you download the key file from the official
website of the application in question, and not from a mirror site.
2.5 Using gconf-editor
Like all versions of Linux, Ubuntu is actually a compilation of many
different software projects. The desktop interface is a modified form of
that offered by the GNOME Desktop Project (http://www.gnome.org).
Because of this, several tips in this book use a program called gconfeditor, which is designed to change the settings of the GNOME desktop,
or various GNOME applications. This program doesn’t have a menu
entry so must be started from either a terminal window, or by hitting
Alt + F2 and typing gconf-editor. Note that gconf-editor changes your
personal GNOME desktop software settings, so doesn’t require root
privileges. The configuration files it affects are stored in your /home
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Figure 2.12: gconf-editor
folder as hidden files, but you’ll probably never come into direct contact with them.
If you’ve ever used regedit under Windows then you have a head start
with gconf-editor. See Figure 2.12 for an example. The purpose of gconfeditor is to let you edit keys, which are individual program settings. For
ease of access, all the keys are organized by headings, which are listed
on the left of the gconf-editor program window. Most applications you
use every day can be found under the apps master category.
On the right of the program window is the area where the keys appear.
Usually these are either a checkbox or a value—a number or text field.
The value in a key can usually be changed by either single- or doubleclicking it. Beneath the key area is the Key Documentation area where
help text sometimes appears describing the key settings.
In several tips within this book I say something like, “Open gconf-editor
and head over to /apps/nautilus-cd-burner. Then put a check alongside
overburn on the right”, by which I mean, select /apps and then the
nautilus-cd-burner headings on the left and, on the right of the program
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window, change the overburn key to a different setting, in this case
by putting a check in its box by clicking it. Incidentally, the tweak
described here comes from Tip 27, on page 84, which explains how to
activate the overburn mode of some CD-R/RW drives to squeeze more
data onto discs.
Changes made in gconf-editor take effect immediately, often even if the
application concerned is still open. In the majority of cases there’s no
need to reboot or even log-out and back in again (if there is the tip in
question will tell you).
If you make a mistake, or if you find a setting you’ve changed isn’t to
your tastes, you can go back to the key in question, right-click it, and
select Unset Key. This will return it to the original value.
Once you’ve finished using gconf-editor, just close it as usual.
2.6 Editing configuration files
Some of the tips in this book require that you edit configuration files
by hand using a text editor. Under Ubuntu, system configuration files
are usually located in the /etc folder. This is a root-owned folder so root
powers are needed to alter files there.
In every tip requiring it, I’ll tell you the exact line within the config file
you’ll need to change, so there’s no need to fret over details. However,
some general points about configuration files are worth noting.
First, bear in mind that configuration files are plain text format. They’re
never saved as anything more complicated, such as a rich-text file.
Watch out for this if you have to create a new configuration file from
scratch and save it for the first time. Secondly, configuration files often
have the file extension .conf and usually not .cfg, as you might be used
to under Windows. Some have no file extension at all, such as the
/etc/fstab file that controls mounting of the basic storage devices on
the system.
Within a configuration file a hash symbol (#) at the beginning of a line
has a specific meaning. It tells Ubuntu to ignore that particular line.12
12. A hash at the beginning of a line in a file tells Ubuntu to ignore that line, with
one exception. Script files, which contain chains of commands and are used throughout Ubuntu, start with a shebang—the characters #!. This tells Ubuntu that the file is a
script. Usually following the shebang is the path to the shell that should run the script
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Thus, comments within the file inserted by its creator to aid understanding by everybody else are preceded by a hash symbol. Additionally, many configuration files come with examples of settings that aren’t
active by default, and are therefore preceded by a hash. To enable that
particular setting, all that’s needed is to remove the hash.
Because the hash symbol is used to add comments to configuration
files, you will often read instructions online where people advise you
“comment out” a particular line. They simply mean add a hash to the
front of the line so it will no longer be interpreted by Ubuntu.
A small amount of configuration files are in XML format, which are
a little like HTML files—all the settings you can change are enclosed
in tags (words surrounded by angle brackets). However, it’s unlikely
you will ever need to hand-edit an XML configuration file. For example,
the GNOME desktop and associated applications used under Ubuntu
use XML configuration files, but the gconf-editor program is provided to
tweak these settings.
2.7 Making and keeping backups
As mentioned, several of the tips in this book ask you to edit vital configuration files. If you follow the steps precisely this shouldn’t present
any issues but making backups before is always good idea.13
This doesn’t mean just creating a backup of the configuration file itself.
If you tweak a particular line within a configuration file, it’s a good idea
to make a copy-and-pasted copy of the original line too. As mentioned
in the previous section, any line in a typical configuration file that’s
preceded by a hash symbol (#) is ignored. Therefore, you can simply
copy and paste the line to a new line beneath, and then precede it with
a hash.
Let’s look at an example. In Tip 78, on page 137, I discuss removing the
login delay that occurs when you type a bad password. Take a quick
look now. It involves editing the /etc/pam.d/common-auth file, so before
carrying out the tip, you should create a backup of the file. This can
be done using the Nautilus file browser but it has to be running in
(for example, #!/bin/bash). But this is the only example of where a hash symbol is used for
anything other than a comment.
13. Of course, backing up all valuable files on a regular basis is a good idea. I explain
how to backup data in Tip 286, on page 332.
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Figure 2.13: Backing up configuration files
superuser mode because the file in question is in a root-owned folder.
Therefore we need to start Nautilus with root powers—hit Alt + F2 and
type gksu nautilus. Type your password when prompted. Then browse to
/etc/pam.d and locate the common-auth file. Right-click it, select Copy,
as shown in Figure 2.13, then right-click a blank space in the Nautilus
window and select Paste. This will automatically create a new file called
common-auth (copy). Alternatively, you can select the file and click Edit
→ Duplicate.
If you wish, you can backup the file at the command prompt instead,
using the cp command. Just specify a new filename for the copied file,
as follows:
$ sudo cp /etc/pam.d/common-auth /etc/pam.d/common-auth-backup
The tip goes on to tell you to open the file in the Gedit text editor
and change the line auth requisite pam_unix.so nullok_secure so that it
reads auth requisite pam_unix.so nullok_secure nodelay. Before doing this,
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you should highlight the line, and copy and paste it to a new line just
below. Add a hash (#) in front of it. Then make your change to the original line.
The benefit of creating a cut-and-pasted copy of the original line is, in
many situations, you have a concrete example of the syntax of how the
line should look. This can be particularly useful if you radically change
the line.
So if you follow Tip 78, on page 137, you’ll end up with two lines that
look like this:
auth requisite pam_unix.so nullok_secure nodelay
#auth requisite pam_unix.so nullok_secure
Following this, you can save the file and reboot, as the tip says, to test
the settings. In the highly unlikely event of anything going wrong, or
the system not working as it should, you can once again use Nautilus
to restore the original file (delete the old one and then rename the copy
so it has the original filename; ensure you perform these two actions
immediately after each other as quickly as possible in case the system
calls on the file and finds it isn’t there). Alternatively, you can open the
file again in Gedit and restore the original line.
Once you’re sure the tip has worked, you can either delete the backup
file, or just leave it there in case it’s needed in future.
2.8 Rescue me! What to do if it all goes wrong
Throughout this book I’ve tried very hard to ensure the tips not only
work but were also tested on as many computers as possible (I have
several computers in my test lab and also ran the tips on virtualized setups). Additionally, the book has been extensively technically
reviewed by some people with very large brains and bags of Ubuntu
experience. However, the fact is that all computers are different, and
some tips may have an adverse effect on your particular setup. Not
only that but human error—not just on my part but also yours, dear
reader—mean that occasionally things don’t work as they should. Very
occasionally, things might go really badly wrong. You might be left with
a system that’s unbootable.
The solution is to undo the changes you did. To do this you’ll need
some method of accessing your broken installation’s file system, and
you can do this by using your original Ubuntu install CD in live dis-
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tro mode. This is done by selecting the Try Ubuntu without any change to
your computer option on the CD boot menu. When the desktop appears
remember that you’re browsing the pseudo-file system created in RAM
by the Ubuntu live distro mode. To fix your system, you must mount
your Ubuntu hard disk partition so that it’s accessible.
To do this, click the entry on the Places menu relating to your Ubuntu
partition. It will be identified on the Places menu by its size—for example, if it is 160GB in size, then it will be identified as 160 GB Media.
Following this, an icon will appear on the desktop, from where you can
access the contents of the Ubuntu partition using Nautilus file browser.
Sometimes it’s useful to make your Ubuntu partition into the root of
the filesystem, as if you had just booted into it. It’s not a good idea to
do so while the live distro desktop is running, so you should switch
to single-user mode (effectively a command-prompt and nothing else)
before attempting it.
Here are the steps required:
1. Once the desktop has appeared in live distro mode, hit Ctrl + Alt + F2
to switch to a virtual console. Then type sudo telinit 1.
2. A text-mode menu will eventually appear. Select the option that
reads root - drop to root shell prompt.
3. At the prompt, type the following (note that you automatically run
as root user in single-user mode so there’s no need to precede
commands with sudo; remember that you shouldn’t type the hash
before each command below, just like you shouldn’t type the dollar
when typing commands normally):
#
#
#
#
mkdir ubuntu-partition
mount /dev/sda5 ubuntu-partition
chroot ubuntu-partition
bash
As before, if Ubuntu is the only operating system on the disk, replace
/dev/sda5 above with /dev/sda1.
You should now find that you are browsing your Ubuntu partition, as
if you had booted into it, and can carry out any repair commands.
Making a clean start
Sometimes the easiest thing if you’ve tweaked your system into oblivion
is just to start over. It’s not usually possible to reinstall Ubuntu “on top
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of itself” as you might have done with Windows, but if you choose to
reinstall Ubuntu it will offer to shrink your existing installation and
install a new one alongside. You can then delve into the partition to get
your data. Ensure you use the same username in the new installation
because this will avoid complications with file ownership between the
two partitions.
Alternatively, you might choose to keep your existing installation but
create a new user account for yourself. This can be done by using
the Users & Groups tool on the System → Administration menu. Click
the Unlock button when it starts, and then the Add User button. Type
the new details in the Username and password fields of the dialog that
appears (the rest can be left empty), and then click the User Privileges tab.
Ensure the boxes alongside Administer the System and Manage Printers are
checked.
Following this you can log in as the new user and import your data
from your old /home folder. You will have to change the file/folder ownerships, however, to be able to both read and write the files. To do this,
open an administrator Nautilus window (open a terminal and type gksu
nautilus), and then right-click the file/folder, click Properties, and then
click the Permissions tab. Then select your new username from the Owner
dropdown list, as show in Figure 2.14, on the following page (note that,
in the list, you will see several “non login accounts” used by the system;
you can ignore these). Don’t forget to close the administrator Nautilus
window when you’ve finished.
2.9 Miscellaneous things you ought to know
Here’s a selection of topics that it might benefit you to know when trying
some of these tips, but which I have been unable to mention above.
Understanding disk partitioning
When you installed Ubuntu you probably repartitioned your disk. The
hard disk partition containing Windows was shrunk and two new partitions were created alongside it for Ubuntu: root and swap. The root
partition is simply Ubuntu’s main partition where all the data is stored.
The swap partition is the same as the swap file under Windows (sometimes known as the paging file), except that it is housed within its own
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Figure 2.14: Changing file/folder ownerships
partition.14
What’s important to many tips in Ubuntu Kung Fu is how Ubuntu refers
to the partitions. Every item of your PC’s hardware under Ubuntu is
represented as a virtual file in the /dev folder. If you installed Ubuntu
in the standard way, opting for default installation choices and dualbooting with Windows, the Windows partition is referred to on a technical level as /dev/sda1, while Ubuntu’s root partition is usually referred
to as /dev/sda5 (assuming you’re using Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron or
later).15
14. Actually, the swap partition is not exactly the same as Windows’ swap file. The swap
partition is also used to hold the RAM contents when the hibernation power saving mode
is used. This is why the swap partition will always be the same size as your RAM, or
larger.
15. The installer of Ubuntu 8.04 (and later versions of Ubuntu) first shrinks the Windows primary partition and then creates an extended partition for Ubuntu’s root and
swap partitions. This explains why the root and swap partitions are numbered sda5 and
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M ISCELLANEOUS
THINGS YOU OUGHT TO KNOW
Figure 2.15: Checking to see how the hard disk is referred to
However, your computer might refer to the Windows partition as /dev/hda1
and Ubuntu’s root partition /dev/hda5. The only difference is that the
“s” is swapped for an “h”. This difference in nomenclature is simply
down to what hardware drivers are used for the motherboard chipset;
there’s absolutely no other significance in the case of a standard desktop or notebook computer.
To find out which side of the fence your PC sits on, open a terminal
window and type ls /dev/hda1. If you see the following error message:
ls: cannot access /dev/hda1: No such file or directory
...then your computer uses the /dev/sda references. See Figure 2.15 for
an example. If you see a file listed, and no error message, then your
computer uses the /dev/hda references. If that’s the case you will have
to do some substituting when reading the tips—every time you read
/dev/sda, regardless of the number that follows, you will have to type
/dev/hda.
sda6 respectively, rather than simply sda2 and sda3, as is the case with earlier releases
of Ubuntu, where the root and swap partitions were created as additional primary partitions.
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M ISCELLANEOUS
THINGS YOU OUGHT TO KNOW
For example, Tip 223, on page 258, explains how to fix file system
errors. At one point you’re told to type sudo fsck.ext3 -f /dev/sda5 into a
terminal window. If your computer is one of those that refers to the
hard disk partitions as /dev/hda, you would have to type sudo fsck.ext3 -f
/dev/hda5 (incidentally, don’t try this command without reading the tip
first!).
If you installed Ubuntu on a computer that had no operating system,
Ubuntu’s root partition will be the first on the disk, so will be identified
as /dev/sda1 (or, of course, /dev/hda1).
The boot loader software used under Ubuntu, known as GRUB, counts
hard disk partitions not from 1 upwards, but from 0. So it would refer
to /dev/sda5 as the fourth partition. On a dual-boot system with both
Windows and Ubuntu installed on the hard disk, in the language used
in the GRUB configuration file (hd0,4) refers to the Ubuntu root partition on most systems with Windows installed alongside. The Windows
partition will be referred to as (hd0,0). If Windows isn’t installed then
Ubuntu’s root partition will be referred to as (hd0,0). It doesn’t matter
to GRUB whether Linux refers to your hard disk as sda or hda.
Watching out for Wubi
From Ubuntu 8.04 onwards, it’s possible to install Ubuntu within the
existing Windows file system if you intend dual-boot, thus avoiding
repartitioning the disk. Effectively, the Ubuntu partitions (root and
swap) are created as large files within the Windows file system.
However, aside from possibly being a little slower in operation, there is
not much difference between a Wubi and standard Windows installation. The user chooses between Windows and Ubuntu at boot-up, using
the standard Windows boot menu, after which the Ubuntu boot menu
appears as usual and everything that follows is the same as a standard
Ubuntu session.
The main difference for readers of this book is that the tips in this book
that talk about manipulating partitions won’t apply. Nor will those that
talk about accessing the Windows partition, because this is off-limits
due to how Wubi operates.
Getting help if you need it
Help is never far away when you’re using Ubuntu. I mentioned the
man command earlier in this chapter. Other built-in documentation
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M ISCELLANEOUS
THINGS YOU OUGHT TO KNOW
worth reading is that contained in /usr/share/doc/. There you’ll find a
folder for virtually each piece of software installed on the system, and,
if you’re lucky, inside will be a README file that will run-through what
the software does and how it can be used. This file can be read using
the less command, or opened in Gedit.16 The README is usually more
informal and not as strictly technical as man pages. There are usually
several other files in the folder relating to copyright and authorship, but
the one other file worth reading—if present—is README.Debian, which
contains specific information about how the program is configured to
run on your system.
As always, the Internet can be a gold mine of information. Your first
port of call should be the Ubuntu Kung Fu community site—http://www.
ubuntukungfu.org, where you can talk to other readers and, if he’s around,
the author of this book. Other than this, the primary source of help for
all Ubuntu users is undoubtedly http://ubuntuforums.org, which is the
official meeting place for the Ubuntu community. Another forum worth
visiting is http://www.linuxquestions.org which, while catering to all renditions of Linux, has a very strong Ubuntu section.
Command-line text editors
There was a time when discussing command-line text editors was the
equivalent of walking into a lion’s den wearing a shirt made of bacon.
This was due to the intense rivalry between advocates of the emacs and
vi text editors.
But I’m not going to recommend either. If it’s ever the case that you can’t
use Gedit to edit a configuration file, I advise you use nano. Although it
runs at the command-line, nano is not a million miles away from oldfashioned word processors you might have used. The cursor keys navigate around the text and you can hit Backspace or Delete to remove
text. To insert a new line, just go to the end of an existing one and hit
Enter .
To save the file, hit Ctrl + o (not Ctrl + s ). Check the filename is correct
and then hit Enter. To quit the program, hit Ctrl + x . If you’ve made
any changes since you last saved, you’ll be prompted to “Save modified
buffer”. This is just another way of asking if you want to save the file.
Hit y to do so, or n if you want to abandon your changes.
16. Some README files are gzipped, so have the .gz file extension, but these can still be
read using less—decompression of the file is handled automatically.
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Chapter 3
The tips
The following pages—in fact, pretty much the rest of the book—contains
the 300+ hints, hacks, techniques, tips, and tricks that make up the
meat of Ubuntu Kung Fu. They’re arranged randomly, although if one
tip builds on another then it will be listed immediately afterward.
Some seemingly disparate tips make reference to others too, and if
you’re reading the PDF or HTML version of this book then you can
click on the relevant link to jump to that particular tip. If you’re reading the dead-tree version you’ve no choice but to wet your thumb and
start turning pages (pending a truly amazing technical breakthrough
from Pragmatic Programmer’s secret lab, of course).
The tips were written using Ubuntu 8.04.1 LTS (Hardy Heron) as a
base. Most tips are version-agnostic and will work on all versions of
Ubuntu. However, a little common-sense on behalf of the reader might
be required if she/he is using a future release of Ubuntu.
1
Set any picture as wallpaper with
a single-click
The easiest way of setting your own picture as a desktop wallpaper
is to click and drag the image to the desktop using the middle mouse
button (if the image is already on the desktop then click and drag it a
few inches to the left/right). On most modern mice, the middle mouse
button is the scroll-wheel, which also doubles as a third mouse button.
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S EE ( AND
REUSE ) THE MOST RECENTLY TYPED COMMANDS
On the menu that appears when you release the button, click Set as
Background.
If that sounds a little too unorthodox for you (it can be hard to use the
middle mouse button), you can also use Synaptic to install the nautiluswallpaper package, which adds a simple Set as Wallpaper option to the
menu that appears when you right-click an image file. After installation you’ll need to log out and then in again before the option becomes
visible.
For more wallpaper-related enhancements to Ubuntu, see Tip 139, on
page 180; Tip 144, on page 187; Tip 199, on page 237; Tip 237, on
page 279; and Tip 290, on page 338.
2
See (and reuse) the most
recently typed commands
The command-line includes a powerful history feature that can make
life much easier. To see the recently typed commands, type history. This
simply dumps to screen a hidden file in your /home directory called
.bash_history where up to 1000 commands are recorded. Because this
list will scroll off the screen when listed it’s a good idea to pipe the
output into a text reader, such as less:
$ history|less
To reuse one of your commands, at the command-prompt type an
exclamation mark (!; known as a bang in bash-speak) and then the
number alongside the entry in the history list. For example, on my
system, I noted when viewing the history list that the command cp
/etc/fstab ~/Desktop was command 591. To use it again, I typed !591 at
the command-prompt. If you ever need to simply repeat a command
you’ve just used, type two exclamation marks—!!.
To actively rifle through your command history, hit Ctrl + r and then
start typing the command you’re interested in. The prompt will “autocomplete” as you type. To use the command, hit Enter . To edit it before
using it, hit Esc and then make your changes.
Hitting the up and down cursor keys will also let you move through the
most recently commands typed. Just hit Enter when you find the one
you want to reuse.
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A DD
COOL NEW VISUALIZATIONS TO
T OTEM /R HYTHMBOX
For more command-line productivity tricks, see in particular Tip 46,
on page 109; Tip 56, on page 119; Tip 105, on page 157; Tip 192, on
page 231; Tip 259, on page 299; and Tip 193, on page 232, amongst
others.
3
Add cool new visualizations to
Totem/Rhythmbox
Both Totem and RhythmBox include a funky animation that appears
during music playback. Animations such as this are known as visualizations, but out-of-the-box Ubuntu only includes one, rather than
the hundreds found on the likes of Mac OS or Windows media players.
However, you can add-in more to Ubuntu, for use in both Totem and
RhythmBox, by using Synaptic to search for and install the libvisual-0.4plugins package.
Once the package has installed, to change the visualization in Totem
that appears when a music track is playing, click Edit → Preferences,
select the Display tab in the dialog that appears, and make your choice
from the Type of visualization dropdown list. Your choice will take effect
immediately, so drag the preferences dialog out of the way to preview
it.
In RhythmBox, click View → Visualization to start the animation and
then select from the dropdown list beneath the visualization.
4
Switch monitor resolutions with a
single mouse-click
If you have an external monitor or projector that you occasionally attach
to a notebook computer, you might be used to switching resolutions
on a regular basis. Unlike with Windows, this isn’t just a right-click
procedure—you must navigate the System → Preferences menu.
A good solution is to use Synaptic to search for and install resapplet. For
some reason, although it’s officially a GNOME applet, resapplet doesn’t
appear on the standard applet list. Instead, it must be configured to
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C LOSELY
MONITOR A LAPTOP COMPUTER ’ S POWER CONSUMPTION
start at login. To do this, click System → Preferences → Sessions,
ensure the Startup Programs tab is selected, and click the Add button.
In the Name and Command fields of the dialog that appears, type resapplet. Leave the Comment field blank. Then close the dialog box and log
out and back in again.
The new icon will then appear besides NetworkMonitor in the notification area. Clicking it will reveal a list of possible resolutions that you
can choose-from.
Incidentally, it should be possible to instantly step up and down resolutions by typing Ctrl + Alt and tapping the + / - keys on the numeric
keypad. Unfortunately this doesn’t work on Ubuntu systems because of
the way they graphical subsystem is configured. It may work on other
Linux systems, however.
5
Closely monitor a laptop
computer’s power consumption
Run gnome-power-statistics and you’ll see a graph of the exact power
usage of your computer over the time since it booted up (provided your
computer’s hardware supports it). Try boosting the brightness of your
screen or loading programs and see how much of a drain they can be!
For laptop power-saving tricks, see Tip 106, on page 158, and Tip 128,
on page 172.
6
Stop the cursor blinking
I’ve nothing against a blinking cursor myself but some find it distracting. To stop Ubuntu’s block blinking, open gconf-editor and navigate
to /desktop/gnome/interface and remove the check from cursor_blink. The
log out and back in again. Note that Evolution appears to ignore this
setting, but most other applications will now have a still cursor.
Alternatively by changing the value in cursor_blink_time, you can simply
make it blink more slowly. A value of 5000 equates to fives seconds–
each unit is 1ms. Be aware that a setting such as 5000 means that the
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S CROLL
WITHOUT THE MOUSE IN
F IREFOX
AND
E VOLUTION
MAIL WINDOWS
cursor will be visible for five seconds at a time and then invisible for the
same length of time...
7
Scroll without the mouse in Firefox
and Evolution mail windows
Both Firefox and Evolution have a hidden caret browsing feature. This
is where a cursor appears in a web page or received email, just like in
a word processing document. Just like in a word processor, its position
can be controlled using the cursor keys. When the cursor reaches the
bottom or top of the screen, the page (or email) scrolls.
Caret browsing was designed as an accessibility feature for those who
find reading difficult but it’s proved popular for every kind of user. This
is because it allows people to navigate web pages or emails without taking their hands off the keyboard (there’s no need to reach for the mouse
scroll-wheel, for example), and also keep track of where they were last
reading should they walk away from their computer. In addition to navigation, text can be highlighted in the usual way by holding down Shift
and using the cursor keys. It can then be copied in the usual way by
typing Ctrl + c .
To activate caret browsing in either application, just hit F7 while the
program is running. The cursor will appear at the top of the web page
or email preview window, although can be repositioned by clicking the
mouse anywhere.
For more Evolution and general email hacks, see Tip 42, on page 101;
Tip 156, on page 198; Tip 158, on page 199; Tip 172, on page 209;
Tip 246, on page 286; and Tip 260, on page 300.
8
Optimize startup for faster boot
times
Few operating systems seem to boot quickly enough, and unfortunately
Ubuntu is amongst them. However, there are four things you can do to
reduce delays and generally speed-up startup:
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O PTIMIZE
STAR TUP FOR FASTER BOOT TIMES
• Reduce or eliminate the boot menu countdown;
• Make boot runtime scripts start in parallel;
• Build a read-ahead profile personalized to your PC;
• Reduce the number of GNOME startup programs.
Reducing the boot menu delay
If you dual-boot Ubuntu and Windows on your computer the boot menu
appears for 10 seconds, during which you can select either Windows or
Ubuntu. If you only have Ubuntu installed, a prompt appears for three
seconds telling you that you can hit a key to see the boot menu.
This delay can feasibly be reduced to one second, providing you have
quick enough reactions—hitting a key during that second will cause
the countdown timer to stop so you can make your choice at leisure.
Alternatively, you can configure the system so the boot menu never
appears. This will deny access to the other boot menu options but if
Ubuntu is the only operating system on your computer then this could
be a good arrangement.
Start by opening the boot menu configuration file in Gedit:
$ gksu gedit /boot/grub/menu.lst
Then search for the line that reads timeout 10 and change the 10 to read
either 1, for a one second countdown, or 0, to disable the boot menu
completely. See Figure 3.1, on the following page for an example from
my test PC.
Save the file and then reboot to test the settings.
Run boot-time scripts in parallel
Whenever Ubuntu boots it runs several scripts that start necessary
background services. By default these are set to run one-by-one but if
you have a processor with more than one core, such as Intel’s CoreDuo
series or AMD’s Athlon X2, you can configure Ubuntu to run the scripts
in parallel. This way all the cores are utilized and quite a bit of time can
be saved at each boot.
To make the change, type the following to open the necessary configuration file in Gedit:
$ gksu gedit /etc/init.d/rc
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O PTIMIZE
STAR TUP FOR FASTER BOOT TIMES
Figure 3.1: Changing the boot menu countdown (see Tip 8, on page 66)
Look for the line that reads CONCURRENCY=none and change it so it
reads CONCURRENCY=shell. Then save the file and reboot your computer.
Using this method I managed to shave a massive 20 seconds off my
desktop PC’s usual start-up time of just under a minute.
Build a readahead profile personalized to your computer
Ubuntu includes a software called readahead that, according to the
official blurb, “allows the user to specify a set of files to be read into the
page cache to accelerate first time loading of programs”. In other words,
it allows Ubuntu to cache frequently accessed files to avoid searching
around for them at startup. A default readahead profile is included with
Ubuntu but you can create your own, tailored to your system.
Reboot Ubuntu and, at the boot menu, ensure the usual Ubuntu entry
is highlighted. Then hit e . This will let you temporarily edit the boot
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O PTIMIZE
STAR TUP FOR FASTER BOOT TIMES
Figure 3.2: Resetting Ubuntu’s readahead profile (see Tip 8, on page 66)
menu entry. Use the cursor keys to move the highlight down to the
second line that beings kernel and hit e again. Use the right arrow key
to move to the end of the line and, after the words quiet and splash, add
the word profile. See Figure 3.2 for an example taken from my test PC.
Then hit Enter and then b to boot your computer. Note that the first
boot will be slow because the readahead cache will have to be rebuilt.
In subsequent boots, however, you should see speed improvements.
I experienced a couple of seconds improvement by building a new readahead profile. This isn’t a dramatic increase but it was certainly worth
doing.
Trimming the GNOME startup programs
Once you’ve logged into the GNOME desktop, you’ll face yet another
delay as all the GNOME background software starts. A few seconds
can be saved by trimming this list and that can be done using the
GNOME Sessions program (System → Preferences → Sessions). Ensure
the Startup Programs tab is selected and then look through the list for
items you might want to prune. For example, if you’re never going to
use Evolution’s alarm function then Evolution Alarm Notifier can be disabled by removing the check alongside it. One word of warning: Volume
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G RAPH
THE SYSTEM BOOTUP PERFORMANCE
tion of external storage devices that are attached to your computer.
As such it should always be enabled. Nor should you disable Network
Manager—this is necessary to get Ubuntu online if you’re using wifi. (If
you absolutely have to disable it, follow the instructions in Tip 43, on
page 103, which explains how to configure Ubuntu’s network component using the older Network Settings tool.)
For another optimization hack, see Tip 293, on page 340, and, if you’re
using Wubi to run Ubuntu, Tip 19, on page 77.
9
Graph the system bootup
performance
If you’ve followed Tip 8, on page 66, which described how to optimize
Ubuntu’s boot-up, you might also be interested in Bootchart. As its
name suggests, this creates charts displaying exactly what starts during boot-up, and the time it takes. Once installed by Synaptic (search
for the bootchart package), it runs as a background service and no configuration is necessary. After each boot you’ll find the chart it has generated in the /var/log/bootchart/ directory—to view it, just precede its
filename at the command-line with eog or browse to it using Nautilus
and double-click it.
The chart shows the total time taken to boot along the vertical axis,
and beneath this shows the time taken by each of the startup services
to complete. See Figure 3.3, on the following page for an example taken
from my test computer.
Remember that programs such as Bootchart that log boot-up speeds
can themselves impact performance. When you’ve finished with it, be
sure to use Synaptic to remove the package.
10
Change Gedit’s printing font
Gedit shouldn’t really be used for printing stuff out. That kind of thing
is better handled by OpenOffice.org. But if you occasionally run off
a quick block of text, or look at hard copy of some code, you’ll have
noticed that Gedit always prints in Monospace font, even if you’ve set
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C HANGE G EDIT ’ S
PRINTING FONT
Figure 3.3: A chart produced by Bootchart (see Tip 9, on the preceding
page)
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S HRINK
OR ENLARGE IMAGES AT THE COMMAND LINE
the screen font to something else in Edit → Preferences. To change the
printing font, fire up gconf-editor and navigate to /apps/gedit-2/preferences/print/fonts.
Change the print_font_body_pango entry to read whatever you want—use
Gedit’s own font selector dialog to get the font name you should enter
(Edit → Preferences, click Fonts and Colors, and click the Editor Font
dropdown list). For example, to print using a sans-serif font1 at 9 point,
you could type Bitsream Vera Sans 9. For a serif font, you could type Times
9. To get a preview of how the new font will look, click File → Print
Preview within Gedit.
For another rough-and-ready printing tip, see Tip 61, on page 123.
11
Shrink or enlarge images at the
command line
GIMP can do just about anything to an image but it can be time-consuming
to fire it up just to resize an image. For ultra-quick manipulation, consider Imagemagick, a command-line image manipulation program. It
doesn’t come installed by default and you’ll need to install it via Synaptic (search for and install imagemagick). Once installed, the convert command should be used with the addition of the -resize command option.
For example, the following will shrink filename.bmp to half its original
size:
$ convert -resize 50% filename.bmp filename_small.bmp
The following will enlarge filename.bmp to twice its original size (although
there will be an obvious degradation in quality):
$ convert -resize 200% filename.bmp filename_larger.bmp
For more command-line image manipulation fun, see Tip 154, on page 197;
Tip 214, on page 248; and Tip 268, on page 306.
You will, of course, know that a serif font is one with “bits hanging off the edges” of
the lines that make up the letters, while sans-serif fonts don’t have them. A good rule of
thumb is that serif fonts are normally used for the text in newspapers, while sans-serif
fonts tend to be used for headings. This book follows the same principle.
1.
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V IEW
12
ALL OF A DIGITAL PHOTO ’ S TECHNICAL INFORMATION
View all of a digital photo’s
technical information
Most pictures taken by digital cameras are saved in EXIF JPEG format.
This means that they record technical details about the shot along with
the actual image data. The information includes the exposure time, the
aperture used, whether the flash was active, and so on.
In Ubuntu you can view this information by right-clicking any image,
clicking Properties, and then looking at the Image tab. To view even more
information, double-click the image so it opens in Eye of GNOME (the
default Ubuntu image viewer) and then click File → Properties. Then
click the Metadata tab and click the Details fold-down. Remember that
even dialog boxes within Ubuntu can be enlarged by clicking and dragging the corners—this can really help view all the available information.
To view the information at the command-line, use Synaptic to install
the exif package. Then, to view the EXIF information, simply type exif
photo.jpg, replacing photo.jpg with the name of the file.
13
Have Ubuntu speak to you
Ubuntu includes a built-in speech synthesizer called espeak. It’s there
to work in partnership with the Orca screen reader, which provides
support for those who are partially-sighted,2 but it can also be called
from the command-line, as follows:
$ espeak "Ubuntu Kung Fu"
As you’ll be able to tell it’s not the most sophisticated speech synthesizer in the world (it has a feel of Speak & Spell about it), but it can be
fun to play around with.
To enable the Orca screen reader program, click System → Preferences → Assistive
Technologies and put a check in Enable assistive technologies. Then log out and back in.
Then click System → Preferences → Preferred Applications. Click the Accessibility tab and
put a check alongside Run at start under the Visual heading. Then log out and back in once
more.
2.
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I NSTANTLY
SEARCH FOR FILES IN
N AUTILUS
By simply typing espeak, and then hitting Enter , whatever you type
after this will be spoken. To quit, type Ctrl + d .
To switch voices, use the -v command option, but first you’ll need to
find-out the available voices, which can be done by typing espeak -voices=en. For example, to have the phrase “How about a nice game of
chess?” spoken in a Jamaican voice, you could type:
$ espeak -s 140 -v en-westindies "How about a nice game ←֓
of chess?"
In the above example I also added the -s command option, by which
you can specify the speech speed in words per minute. The default
value of 170 tends to be a little fast, especially when it comes to longer
sentences.
14
Instantly search for files in Nautilus
What this tip describes is very obvious yet almost nobody knows it’s
possible. To quickly search through a list of files in a Nautilus window,
simply ensure the window is top-most and start typing the search term.
A small search text field will appear near the bottom-right of the window
and files/folders will be matched as you type.
For another tip about finding the files you want using Nautilus, see
Tip 72, on page 129. For general file searching tips, see Tip 77, on
page 134.
15
Take photos or record videos
with your webcam
Use Synaptic to search for and install cheese and you’ll be able to
turn your computer into a virtual photobooth and/or camcorder! Once
installed you’ll find the program on the Applications → Graphics menu.
Using it is simple and self-explanatory, especially if you’ve ever used
Mac OS X’s Photobooth software, which it is clearly modeled upon.
Once you’ve taken a snap, right-click it and select Save As to write it
to the hard disk. See Tip 63, on page 124, for instructions on how to
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A DD RAR
FILE COMPRESSION SUPPOR T TO
U BUNTU
get your webcam working if you see nothing when using Cheese (or if
you see a test pattern image).
To learn how to record the contents of your screen to a movie file, see
Tip 312, on page 364.
16
Add RAR file compression
support to Ubuntu
While Zip is the main compression file format used on most desktop
computers, some people prefer to use the RAR format. To install support for extracting files from a RAR archive, use Synaptic to search for
and install unrar. Following this, File Roller—Ubuntu’s default archive
manager—will be able to extract files from RAR archives. You can also
use the command from the prompt by simply typing unrar e filename.rar,
replacing filename.rar with that which you downloaded. Note that unrar
doesn’t require a dash before the e command option.
17
Add a swap file or expand
existing swap space
It’s a myth to say that Ubuntu (or any Linux) needs a swap partition.
This is certainly the preferred way of working, and is most efficient,
but Linux can also use a single swap file located in the root partition,
just like Windows or Mac OS X. There are times when this is advantageous, such as if you’re only able to create one partition for Ubuntu
(for example, Apple’s BootCamp software only allows the creation of a
single non-Mac partition when dual-booting).
To create a swap file, you need to first create a dummy file of sufficient
size, then format it as a swap file, and finally ensure that Ubuntu uses
it at boot-up. The following steps do just that (be extremely careful
entering these commands):
1. Open a terminal window and create an empty file in the root of the
file system using the dd command, as follows (this creates a 1GB
file—you should ideally adjust the count= figure to at least match
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G ET
RID OF THE VIR TUAL CONSOLE LEGAL BOILER - PLATE
the size of your memory, bearing in mind that there is 1,024MB in
a 1GB):
$ sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/swapfile bs=1M count=1024
2. Now we need to format it as a swap file:
$ sudo mkswap /swapfile
3. The final step is to make Ubuntu mount it at boot, which is done
by editing /etc/fstab:
$ gksu gedit /etc/fstab
Then make a new line at the bottom of the file and add the following:
/swapfile none swap sw 0 0
You can align the entries on the line under the column headings
in fstab, like the other entries in the file, but it doesn’t matter so
long as there is at least one space between each entry on the line.
Once done, save the file and reboot your computer.
Once the computer has rebooted, you can test to see if the swapfile is
being utilized by typing cat /proc/meminfo|grep Swap.
The steps above can also be used to add more swap space to a system
that has an existing swap partition. You might want to do this if you’re
editing extremely high-resolution photographs, for example, or working
with large video files.
18
Get rid of the virtual console
legal boiler-plate
Whenever you login to a virtual console, you’re show a few paragraphs
of legal boiler plate, reminding you that Ubuntu is free software and
is supplied without warranty. Once you’ve read this you’re unlikely to
forget it so to stop it appearing each time you login, type the following
into a terminal window, which will delete the contents of the “message
of the day” (motd) file, which is responsible for the message:3
Actually, the two commands first delete /etc/motd and then recreate an empty file
with the same name using the touch command.
3.
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$ sudo rm /etc/motd
$ sudo touch /etc/motd
Of course, rather than deleting the file, you might just choose to replace
the text within it with something else. It’s a simple text file. To load it
into Gedit, type gksu gedit /etc/motd and change its contents to whatever
you want.
For more virtual console-related productivity tips, see Tip 46, on page 109;
Tip 179, on page 219; Tip 193, on page 232; Tip 198, on page 236;
Tip 207, on page 241; and Tip 233, on page 276.
19
Make Wubi installations of
Ubuntu run faster
Try defragmenting your hard disk from within Windows after installing
Ubuntu using Wubi.. With a Wubi installation the Ubuntu file system is
stored in one large file (C:\ubuntu\disks\root.disk), as is the swap partition
(C:\ubuntu\disks\swap.disk) and if these are spotted around the Windows
partition as fragmented files then performance might suffer. Of course,
defragmenting the disk before installing Ubuntu using Wubi is an even
better idea...
See also Tip 186, on page 226.
20
Create website or email links that
automatically install software
Sometimes if you’re trying to help somebody fix a problem you’ll have
to tell them how to install software. Yet for some Ubuntu newbies even
this can be confusing. The solution is to create a “software install”
hyperlink within a web page (such as a forum posting), new email window or Pidgin message window. To do this, simply click the “create
link” button on the webpage or within the email (the precise name of
this will vary depending on the software/website used) and then type
apt:packagename in the URL field, replacing packagename with the precise name of the package as listed in Synaptic.
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Figure 3.4: Adding a “software install” link to an email (see Tip 20, on
the previous page)
For example, let’s say you want to tell somebody how to install the
thunar package, as referenced in Tip 92, on page 147. If you’ve creating
an email with the instructions, ensure the new mail uses HTML (ensure
HTML is checked on the Format menu) and then click Insert → Link. In
the URL field, delete what’s there and type apt:thunar. Don’t worry about
the Description field—leave it with the default contents that will probably
mirror what’s in the URL field. See Figure 3.4 for an example. Then click
the Close. Note that there’s a slight bug in Evolution that means, for
some reason, the hyperlink won’t actually appear as a link until you
type some more into the new mail window, or click the Send button.
Perhaps it goes without saying that should you ever receive such a link
in an email, or see one on a website, you should be very wary (especially if there are also additional instructions telling you to add a new
software repository). It would be very easy to disguise a malicious link
as something seemingly benign, although you will always be prompted
to confirm the choice of software before installation.
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21
FONTS LOOK SUPERB
Make fonts look superb
Most fonts contain within them “hints” laid down by their designer
about how they should look on-screen. However, Ubuntu ignores them
and uses a system called autohinting, which improvises the hints based
on the shape of the letters.4 It works well, and Ubuntu’s fonts look far
from ugly, but you might also want to try bytecode hinting. This uses
the hinting built into the fonts and is said to work particularly well with
Microsoft fonts (Tip 170, on page 206 discusses how to install these).
To activate bytecode hinting, open a terminal window and type the following:
$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure fontconfig-config
Using the cursor keys, select Native from the menu and then hit Enter.
On the next screen you’ll be asked if you want to activate subpixel
rendering. This is good for TFT screens, so make the choice (or just
select Automatic). Next you’ll be asked if you want to activate bitmap
fonts, which are non-true type fonts good for use at low point levels.
There’s no harm in using them, so select yes.
The program will quit when it’s finished. Once that’s happened, type
the following to write the changes to the system and update files:
$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure fontconfig
$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure defoma
Click System → Quit → Logout, and then log back in again. The difference should be noticeable immediately. Letters will appear more rounded
and the antialiasing will appear better.
Bytecode hinting isn’t to everybody’s taste. If you don’t like it, just
repeat the steps and enable autohinting again.
For more font related tips, see Tip 101, on page 155; the afore-mentioned
Tip 170, on page 206; Tip 280, on page 323; and Tip 283, on page 329.
Autohinting, as described in Tip 21, is used to avoid patenting issues with bytecode
hinting technology in some countries. This isn’t an issue for you, as an end-user, but it’s
why organizations like Ubuntu prefer to distribute Ubuntu with autohinting activated.
4.
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22
UPDATES FASTER
Download updates faster
Every now and again the Ubuntu update servers become a little congested, particularly when there’s a new release of Ubuntu. If you find
this happening, switch to an alternative server, preferably located near
where your computer is located—there are many servers around the
world, all mirroring the same repositories. Click System → Administration → Software Sources. Click the Download From dropdown list and
then select Other. In the list of servers, choose any you wish. You’ll need
to reload the package lists from the server when prompted.
Don’t worry about the possible security implications of signing up to a
server you’ve never heard of. All Ubuntu software packages are digitally
signed, so fakery is technically impossible (caveat: never say never, but
I’d be extremely surprised if any faked packages got onto a repository
server).
23
Slow down a touchpad’s
scrolling
If you’ve got a notebook computer, you might be used to edge scroll
on the touchpad when running Windows. This is where the right-hand
edge of the notebook’s touchpad is used as a virtual scrollbar—by running a finger up and down, the currently active window scrolls up and
down correspondingly.
You might already have realized that you can activate the edge scroll
functionality in Ubuntu using the Touchpad tab of System → Preferences → Mouse. The problem I had was that the scrolling was just too
fast. A light touch on the pad caused the webpage or file listing to fly
up or down the screen. The solution was to add a line to the xorg.conf
configuration file, as follows:
1. Open the Xorg configuration file into Gedit:
$ gksu gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf
2. Look for the two lines that read:
Section "InputDevice"
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S LOW
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Figure 3.5: Slowing down a touchpad’s edge scroll (see Tip 23, on the
preceding page)
Driver
"synaptics"
Then, beneath all the lines that begin Option, add a new line as
follows:
Option "VertScrollDelta" "50"
You can align the words with the other entries in the list if you
want, although this doesn’t matter. See Figure 3.5 for an example
taken from my test notebook.
3. Save the file, close any open programs, and hit Ctrl + Alt + Backspace
to restart the X server. Login again as usual and the changes
should be instantly visible.
If the scrolling is now too slow, try changing the value of "VertScrollData"
to 25, or perhaps even less—the lower the value, the more sensitive the
edge scroll becomes.
To make Firefox scroll fewer lines as you drag and scroll, start Firefox
and type about:config into the URL bar. Agree to carry on despite the
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warning about voiding a possibly warranty. Then, in the search bar,
type mousewheel.withnokey.sysnumlines. In the list of results, double-click
the entry so that it reads false, and turns bold. This try the new scroll
speed by opening a new tab and browsing to a website.
To speed up the scroll slightly, type mousewheel.withnokey.numlines and
change the value to anything above 1. For the ultimate in scrolling, click
Edit → Preferences in Firefox, click the Advanced icon, and put a check
in Use smooth scrolling.
24
Ensure your Windows partition is
always available under Ubuntu
Do you find that sometimes your Windows partition isn’t available in
Ubuntu? You’ll know because you’ll see the error message, “Cannot
mount volume”. This probably happens because Windows crashed or
hung during shutdown. If Windows isn’t cleanly shutdown then Ubuntu
will refuse to mount the partition. If, even after Windows is cleanly shutdown, the Windows partition refuses to appear, then run a chkdsk on
the partition from within Windows. See also Tip 38, on page 98, which
describes how to repair the Windows partition from within Ubuntu.
25
Improve the GNOME Terminal
look and feel
Both the color scheme and font of GNOME Terminal can be tweaked.
This can be a good way of improving legibility and also the amount of
space GNOME Terminal hogs on-screen, because a smaller font size
makes the window smaller too.
To change the font click Edit → Current Profile and remove the check
from Use the system fixed width font. Then click the Font dropdown list,
and select either a different font, or perhaps just a smaller point size (I
find 8pt is best). Not all fonts are suitable for use in GNOME Terminal—
generally speaking, it works best with Courier or Mono-style non-proportional
fonts, although a handful of proportional fonts suffice too. For the ultimate in small but still legible fonts, try selecting Bitstream Vera Sans Mono
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8pt. Also consider installing the ttf-inconsolata package—this provides
a high-quality monospace font for use at small point sizes. Once it’s
installed, close any open GNOME Terminal windows and then follow
the instructions above to change font and select the Inconsolata entry in
the list.
To change the color scheme, click Edit → Current Profile and select the
Colors tab. Then remove the check from Use colors from system theme and
select a replacement from the Built-in schemes dropdown list. For a retro
feel, try the Green on Black scheme. The Palette dropdown refers to how
items in things like file listings are colored. Generally speaking there’s
no need to change this. Consider combining changing the color scheme
with Tip 236, on page 278, which explains how to make the GNOME
Terminal window translucent.
If you want to really save screen space, click Edit → Current Profile and
remove the check from Show menubar by default in new terminals. This will
then hide the menus in any new terminal windows you open. To get it
back temporarily, right-click on the terminal window and select Show
Menubar from the menu.
26
Ensure Ubuntu always knows the
time
Several of my computers sometimes mysteriously lose minutes when
switched off, so that the time they display slowly becomes more and
more behind. Luckily I have Ubuntu installed. This can periodically
synchronize with the main Ubuntu time server, and thus never let the
computers get out of step with the rest of the world.
To set this up, use Synaptic to install the ntp package. Once the package
is installed, restart your computer. Configuration is automatic.
If, after rebooting, you find that the time display is still wrong, it’s likely
that you have Ubuntu setup for the wrong time zone. To fix this, rightclick the time/date display at the top right of the Ubuntu desktop and
select Adjust date and time. Then click the Unlock button in the window
that appears. Then click the Time Zone button, and click the nearest city
to you on the map that appears. Once done, click Close. The changes
will take effect immediately.
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27
MORE DATA ONTO
CD-R
DISCS
Get more data onto CD-R discs
Overburn is the process of cramming a little extra data onto CD-Rs,
in excess of the manufacturer’s recommendations. Typically an average 700MB CD-R will take 734MB. Sometimes it works, sometimes it
doesn’t, and discs created this way aren’t guaranteed to work on all
computers (there have been some suggestions that overburning can
even damage CD-R/RW drives). To enable overburn for Nautilus’ CD/DVD
Creator (Places → CD/DVD Creator), entirely at your own risk, open
gconf-editor and head over to /apps/nautilus-cd-burner. Then put a check
alongside overburn on the right.
For another CD/DVD burning tip, see Tip 157, on page 199.
28
Share files across the network
(without tearing your hair out)
If you opt to share folders across a network under Ubuntu you’ll find
they’re protected with your username and password, which you might
not want to share with others. The Shared Folders dialog box allows
you to setup guest access but, at the time of writing, this had a serious
bug that rendered it unusable.5
Below is described a method of securely, painlessly and easily sharing
files with colleagues or other computers in your house across the network, regardless of whether they run Ubuntu, Windows or Mac OS X.
It involves creating a dummy guest account solely for the purpose of
hosting the shared files and folders. Note that these instructions were
written using Ubuntu 8.04.1 Hardy Heron:
1. Use Synaptic to install the samba and libpam-smbpass packages.
These are the background programs that are needed for filesharing and user authentication.
5. The bug with guest access on shared folders (on an Ubuntu 8.04.1 installation) is that
files added to the folder by other users are owned by user “nobody”, and the Ubuntu user
whose shared folder it is only has read access. To change the ownership and permissions
you will need to use admin powers at the command-prompt each time a file is placed
there.
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S HARE
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Figure 3.6: The sharing dialog box might report an error but this is a
bug (see Tip 28, on the previous page)
2. Create a guest account. You’ll use this for hosting the shared folder(s),
and the other computers will use its login details to access the
shared folder. To create the account, click System → Administration → Users and Groups. Click Unlock and then the Add User
button. Give the new user the username guest and give it a simple password in the User Password field that you’ll be able to share
with others. Leave the other text fields as they are. Click the User
Privileges tab and check Share Files with the Local Network.
3. Log out of your account and into your new guest account. Create the folder(s) you want to be used for sharing (it doesn’t matter
where—you might as well create it on the desktop; nor does it matter what name you give it). Then right-click it and select Sharing
Options. Click Share This Folder and type a share name in the relevant text box (you might see error messages while doing this but
don’t worry, as seen in Figure 3.6; it appears the dialog box is a
little buggy). Check Allow Other People to Write in This Folder but don’t
check Guest access! Then click Create Share. You’ll be prompted to
add permissions automatically, so click to do so. Right-click any
other folders you wish to share and repeat this step, and then log
out and log back into your main user account. Note that there
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is no need to leave the account logged in—its shared folders are
available to everybody even if the account is logged out.
4. Now you must create a permanent launcher in your regular account
for the new shared folder so you can access it in future. Rightclick the desktop and select Create Launcher. In the Name field of
the dialog that appears, enter some memorable label, like Shared
Folder. In the command field, type nautilus smb://localhost. Leave the
Comment field empty, and then click OK. Double-click the new
launcher and you should see the shared folder(s). Double-click
the shared folder and, in the dialog that appears, enter guest in the
Username field, and the password you created in the relevant text
field. Then check Remember Forever. You should now have access
to your shared folder. A useful tip is to hit Ctrl + d to create a Nautilus bookmark. In future you can simply select this bookmark, on
the Bookmarks menu, to access the shared folder.
5. Other computers should now see your shared folder appear in My
Network Places, just like any other Windows computer with shared
files. They should use the username guest and the password you
created earlier. Don’t click the “guest access“ option—specify guest
as the username.
There should never be any need to directly login to the dummy guest
account in future, unless you specifically want to create new shared
folders.
For another method of painlessly sharing files with others, see Tip 226,
on page 265.
29
Save ink when printing
Inkjet fluid is one of the most expensive liquids in the world and replacing cartridges on a regular basis can be depressingly wallet-draining.
One quick hint is to print pages using draft mode, and also to reduce
the scaling of the print, so that either more fits onto the page you’re
printing, or less ink is used if you’re printing something like a photo.
In the Print dialog box that appears when you click File → Print, ensure
your printer is selected in the list and select the Advanced tab. Change
the Print Quality dropdown list to read Draft, Economy, or whatever you
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wish (the range of options will vary depending on the make and model
of printer).
To reduce the scaling, click the Page Setup tab and alter the setting in
the Scale box. I found that a setting below 60% was a step too far (at
least for my eyesight), and that about 75% was a comfortable compromise. If you’re printing from within Firefox, you’ll also need to click the
Options tab and uncheck Ignore Scaling and Shrink to Fit Page Width.
To learn how to print more than one picture per page, see Tip 151, on
page 195.
30
Browse the web from the
command-line
Call it a form of insurance but I like to have a command-line web
browser installed in case anything goes wrong with either Firefox or
the entire GUI system. I can then look-up help and solutions from a
virtual console, or just check the news while I’m waiting for things to
get better.
Command-line browsers are pretty primitive. There are no images, for
example, or even color. The page design always gets mangled. In other
words, they’re not for use all the time, unless you’re a masochist. Or a
command-line fanatic.
There are two competing text-mode browsers—links and lynx. links is perhaps the better of the two (see Figure 3.7, on the next page) because
it understands frames and thus gets the layout of pages slightly more
correct, but both are only a download away via Synaptic.6
Once either program has started, hit g to enter a URL (with lynx you’ll
also need to type http:// if the address doesn’t start with www). Once
the page has loaded, use Page Up and Page Down to scroll the page.
Use the up/down cursor keys to cycle through each link on screen
until you find the one you want, and then hit Enter to follow it. To go
back a page, hit the left cursor key. To download a file that’s linked to,
While installing links, you might see something called links2, which seems to promise
image support. It does! Sadly, this won’t work on Ubuntu because the necessary frame
buffer graphics mode isn’t activated for reasons of overall system stability.
6.
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Figure 3.7: Links (see Tip 30, on the previous page)
highlight the link and hit d . You can search for words using forward
slash (/), in the same way as with man pages (see Tip 167, on page 204).
Hitting Esc in Links will cause a rudimentary menu to appear—use the
cursor keys to navigate and hit Enter to select a menu option. Once
you’re done, hit q to quit the program.
If links is used in a terminal window you’ll be able to click on each link
using your mouse. If gpm is installed (see Tip 233, on page 276), you’ll
have rudimentary mouse control over the browser and can click on
links in a virtual console window.
31
Create an “Ubuntu install” USB
stick
If you don’t fancy carrying the delicate Ubuntu installation CD around
with you, you can copy its contents to a USB key stick and use that
to install Ubuntu onto computers (provided those computers can boot
from USB, and most modern computers will be able to).
This is also a handy way of creating a portable USB installation of
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Ubuntu on a small USB key (ie 1/2GB) for use on other computers
(if you have a larger USB memory stick, see Tip 305, on page 355). The
only problem is that the system software can’t be updated, and you’ll
always be running as root user, because that’s how the live distro mode
of the install CD operates.
This tip is only relevant for users of Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) or
below. Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) has built-in tools to install to create
an installer USB key stick.[[Author: Due in Intrepid and marked as
a high priority–see https://wiki.ubuntu.com/USBInstallationImages. I
can’t provide instructions or even details because it’s not completed
yet!]]
To make the process easier, a member of the Ubuntu community created the fantastic Liveusb software that will entirely automate the creation of a USB install stick. To install it, first add his software repository—
click System → Administration → Software Sources, select the ThirdParty Software in the window that appears, and then click the Add button. Then type the following into the APT line text field:
deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/probono/ubuntu hardy main
Click OK, then the Close button in the parent dialog box, and then click
to reload the list of packages when prompted. Then use Synaptic to
search for and install liveusb. You’ll be told the package isn’t authenticated but this is fine.
Insert the USB stick, insert your Ubuntu install CD, and then start the
program by clicking System → Administration → Install Live USB. In
the Options section, you can select to install Flash Player on the USB
stick, and also whether you want to make the USB stick “persistent”,
which is to say, any files you save after booting from it will stick around,
rather than being wiped each boot.
Note that a bug in the Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron installation CD means
that it is impossible to activate persistent mode on the USB key stick.
This has been fixed in the Ubuntu 8.04.1 install CD.
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A DD
32
A MENU ENTRY FOR
U BUNTU ’ S
COMPRESSION TOOL
Add a menu entry for Ubuntu’s
compression tool
File Roller is Ubuntu’s behind the scenes compression (zip) program. In
truth, there’s no need for you to come into direct contact with it because
it will automatically step-in to decompress archives when you doubleclick them, and compress files when you select Create Archive from the
right-click menu. However, if you want to run it separately (perhaps
if you want to create empty archives with the intention of filling them
later, or if you just can’t get over how WinZip does things), you can add
a Applications → Accessories menu item for it. Click System → Preferences → Main Menu, and select Applications → Accessories in the list
on the left. Then put a check alongside Archive Manager on the right.
Then close the program window.
From now on, File Roller can be found on the Applications → Accessories
menu.
For other file compression tips, see Tip 16, on page 75, and Tip 174, on
page 214.
33
Quickly run applications without
opening a terminal window
If you want to run a GUI application that doesn’t have a menu entry
(for example, gconf-editor), there’s no need to fuss with a terminal window. Just hit Alt + F2 . Then type the name of the program. If it needs
to run with root privileges, just type gksu beforehand. If the program
is command-line, check the Run In Terminal box. This will then open a
terminal window and run the command but be aware that the terminal
window will then close as soon as the command has finished, so you
won’t be able to inspect the output.
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I NSTANTLY
34
SEARCH
G OOGLE
FOR ANY WORD OR PHRASE
Instantly search Google for any
word or phrase
Have you ever been reading a document and wanted to look-up something in Google? In Firefox you can just highlight the word or phrase,
right-click it, and select Search Google. However, what if you’re reading,
say, a PDF file? Or a man page in a terminal window?
A very simple but effective solution is googlizer, which you can install
using Synaptic. Once installed, it’s added to the Applications → Internet
menu, so you’ll have to manually drag and drop it to a blank spot on
the panel for quicker access.
How it works is simple. Highlight any text, in any application, and then
click Googlizer’s icon to instantly search Google. If a Firefox window is
open, a new tab will be added showing the search results. Otherwise
Firefox will be started and the search results shown. Give it a try. It’s
one of those simple things that might just change the way you work
forever.
Googlizer can be personalized so that it searches the version of Google
localized to your country, or even a non-Google search engine. To do
this, you’ll need to discover the search URL for the engine you want to
use. To do so, just perform a search using either the localized version
of Google (for example, http://www.google.co.uk, if you live in the UK), or
a different search engine. Then look at the URL for the part where your
search term appears, and highlight/copy all that comes before.
For example, if I search for Ubuntu Kung Fu using http://www.google.co.
uk, I get the following URL for the search results page:
http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=Ubuntu+Kung+Fu&btnG=Google+Search ←֓
&meta=
...so I chop the end off, from the Ubuntu+Kung+Fu part onwards, and I’m
left with following, which I copy into the clipboard (hightlight the text
and hit Ctrl + c ):
http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=
Once you have the information, right-click the Googlizer panel icon and
select Properties. In the Command line, add --url after googlizer, then paste
your Google URL. For example, I ended-up with the following, as shown
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Figure 3.8: Altering Googlizer’s default search (see Tip 34, on the
previous page)
in Figure 3.8 (note that I resized the dialog box for the purposes of the
figure):
googlizer --url http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=
You can also change the icon if you wish by clicking the icon preview at
the top left of the dialog box.
When finished, click the Close button, and then test out the new localized search.
Here are some URLs that will make Googlizer use other search engines—
just add these addresses after the --url part of the Command line, as
described above:
Yahoo.com: http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=
Ask.com: http://www.ask.com/web?q=
Microsoft Live: http://search.live.com/results.aspx?q=
35
Ensure you’re informed about
the newest releases of Ubuntu
If you have Ubuntu 8.04.01 LTS (Hardy Heron) installed, by default
Ubuntu will only tell you when the next LTS (long-term support) release
of Ubuntu is available. However, newer versions of Ubuntu are released
every six months. To make Ubuntu inform you whenever any new
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release is made available, open Software Sources (System → Administration), click the Updates tab, and select Normal Releases from the Release
Upgrade dropdown list.
36
Create a file delete command
that uses the trash
As mentioned several times in this book, the rm command doesn’t have
a trash facility. Once files are deleted, they’re gone forever. However, you
can create your own trash command which, when used at the prompt,
will move files and/or folders to Ubuntu’s standard trash folder. The
files can then be recovered, if desired, or permanently deleted in the
usual way by emptying the Trash folder.
To add the new command, you’ll have to create an alias. Aliases are
discussed more in Tip 259, on page 299, but for now it’s enough to
know that you’ll need to edit the .bashrc file in your /home folder and
add a line to the bottom, as follows:
1. Open a terminal window and type gedit ~/.bashrc.
2. At the bottom of the file, add the following new line:
alias trash="mv -t ~/.local/share/Trash/files --backup=t"
Save the file, close Gedit, and open a new terminal window to
test your new command. To delete filename.doc, for example, you
would type trash filename.doc. The new command will work on folders too, and multiple files/folders can be specified one after the
other (for example, trash filename1.doc filename2.doc).
37
Configure Ubuntu’s firewall
You might not realize it but Ubuntu has a very powerful firewall built
in. However it isn’t activated out of the box. Some firewall configuration
tools are provided but aren’t easy to use and definitely aren’t recommended for those less-versed in networking fundamentals.
The firewall isn’t activated because Ubuntu has no outward-facing services—there’s no programs that allow incoming connections from the
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Internet, apart from those under the user’s control, like Firefox and
Evolution, where any incoming connections are requested. The analogy is that Ubuntu is a house without windows or doors, so enacting
further defenses against intruders isn’t necessary.
But a firewall provides more than simple protection against incoming
connections. It can protect you against unauthorized outgoing connections too, such as those enacted by spyware7 and also switch off some
network diagnostic tools that hackers have been known to exploit.
To easily configure Ubuntu’s firewall, you can use Firestarter. This is a
simple GUI program that lets you control both incoming and outgoing
connections. It works on the principles of policies and rules. Policies are
sets of rules that define what outside agents can and can’t access your
computer (and, conversely, what your computer itself can and can’t
access across the network/Internet).
Installing Firestarter
Firestarter can be installed via Synaptic (search for and install the
firestarter package) and subsequently found on the Applications → Internet menu. When it first starts you’ll need to complete a setup wizard. The default choices are usually correct although, if you use a wifi
connection, be sure to select the right type of connection you want
Firestarter to protect from the Detected device(s) dropdown list. You
can find out the device that provides your network connection by rightclicking the NetworkManager icon, selecting Connection Information, and
looking at the end of the line that’s headed Interface.
When the wizard finishes, opt to save the settings.
Configuring incoming connections
Once installed, Firestarter enacts a default policy of turning away unsolicited incoming connections (incoming connections that are requested,
such as when Firefox requests a web page, are still allowed). Although
extremely safe when it comes to security, turning away unsolicited connections isn’t always desirable. For example, the file sharing software
BitTorrent relies on other people connecting to your computer unsolicited in order to download file fragments. Additionally, services like
Ubuntu, and all Linuxes, has yet to see any spyware. It’s pretty unlikely too, considering of open source software and the generally higher level of awareness of Ubuntu
users. But never say never...
7.
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network file sharing rely on others being able to connect to your computer whenever they want to grab or drop-off files.
Therefore, it’s sometimes necessary to allow some incoming connections, which is done by creating an inbound rule, as follows:
1. Start Firestarter and click the Policy tab. Ensure Inbound traffic policy is selected in the Editing dropdown list. Then right-click in the
lower part of the window, underneath the Allow service heading. In
the menu that appears, click Add Rule.
2. In the dialog that appears, select the type of incoming connection
you want to allow from the Name dropdown list. If you want to
allow network file sharing, select Samba (SMB). Once you’ve made
your selection, the Port text field will be automatically filled-in.
There should be no need to change this. See Figure 3.9, on the
next page for an example taken from my test PC.
3. Under the When the source is heading, you can select Anyone, to
allow literally any Internet-connected computer to connect to your
computer (advisable in the case of BitTorrent), or IP, host or network to restrict it to a particular computer or range of computers.
To only allow computers in your private network to connect, for
example, you might type 192.168.1.1-255. This would add a layer
of security if you simply want to enable network file sharing, for
example.
4. Click the Add button and then click the Apply Policy button on the
main toolbar. The change will take effect immediately and there’s
no need to reboot. Once configuration is complete, you can close
the Firestarter program (remember that Firestarter is simply a
configuration program for the firewall, and not the firewall itself;
it doesn’t need to be running for the firewall to function).
Configuring outgoing connections
By default Firestarter allows all outgoing connections. For example,
should Firefox or Evolution attempt to connect to a website or mail
server, it won’t stop them. This is known as a permissive policy. To
block all outgoing network connections from software, apart from that
which you sanction, Firestarter needs to be switched to restrictive policy. The following steps describe how to enact a restrictive outgoing
policy and then create rules so that software is allowed to make outgo-
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Figure 3.9: Configuring an inbound rule in Firestarter (see Tip 37, on
page 93)
ing connections (this is also known as creating a whitelist because only
software you list is allowed through ):
1. Start Firestarter and ensure the Policy tab is selected. Then select
Outbound traffic policy from the Editing dropdown list. Then select
Restrictive by default, whitelist traffic.
2. In the space under the Allow service heading at the bottom of the
program, right-click and select Add rule from the menu that appears.
3. In the Name dropdown list, select the type of connection you’d like
to pass through unhindered. For example, to allow Firefox (and
also Ubuntu’s software management subsystem) to work properly, you’ll need to select HTTP, because HTTP is how web traffic
is referred to technically. You will almost certainly want to allow
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this. Once that’s done, the Port text field will be filled-in automatically. There should be no need to change this unless you know
what you’re doing.
4. If you need to manually create a rule (which is to say, those offered
don’t fit your requirements), type the port into the Port text field
and then type the name of the new rule straight into the Name
field (the Name field works as both a dropdown list and a text
field). You can give the new rule any name you wish.
5. Regardless of whether you create your own rule or use one that’s
already defined, don’t change anything under the When the source is
heading. In this case, the settings are only for use when Firestarter
is protecting a shared Internet connection. Just click the Add button to create the rule.
6. Click the Apply Policy button on the toolbar. The changes will take
effect immediately and there’s no need to reboot.
If you opt for a restrictive outgoing policy, at the very least you should
create rules to allow HTTP, HTTPS, POP3, and SMTP. The first two will
allow Firefox to fetch webpages unhindered while the latter two are
necessary for getting and sending email (if you use IMAP instead of
POP3 then, obviously, you should select that instead).
A restrictive policy can be a pain to maintain because some websites
ask Firefox to fetch data using non-HTTP or HTTPS ports. In particular,
this can be the case if certain types of plugins are used. In that case,
you need to create a rule for each port that gets used, and that involves
some technical knowledge of what port is being requested. Additionally,
if you install new software that requires Internet access, the port it uses
will need to be added.
Turning off network diagnostic tools
Firestarter has another trick up its sleeve. It can stop network diagnostic responses being sent from your computer. Network diagnostic
tools can be useful in problem-solving situations but there have been
a number of occasions when they have been exploited by hackers. To
turn off the ports, click Edit → Preferences within Firestarter, select
ICMP Filtering on the left of the dialog box that appears, and put a check
in the Enable ICMP filtering box (DON’T then put a check in any of the
boxes beneath—that will RE-ENABLE the ports!). See Figure 3.10, on
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Figure 3.10: Turning off diagnostic tools responses in Firestarter (see
Tip 37, on page 93)
the following page for an example from my test PC. Then click Accept.
You can quit Firestarter following this.
38
Repair Windows from within
Ubuntu
If Windows is refusing to boot, for whatever reason, you can try repairing the file system from within Ubuntu. Use Synaptic to search for
the ntfsprogs package. Once it’s installed, unmount your Windows partition (if it’s mounted) and type sudo ntfsfix /dev/sda1 to check and fix the
partition (assuming your Windows partition is /dev/sda1—likely if you
installed Ubuntu in a dual-boot configuration on a computer already
running Windows).
This tip is also useful if you see the “Cannot mount volume” error when
attempting to access your Windows partition from within Ubuntu.
To learn how to repair the Ubuntu file system, see Tip 223, on page 258.
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E MPTY
39
THE TRASH EVEN IF TOLD YOU CAN ’ T
Empty the trash even if told you
can’t
When emptying the trash you might see an error saying that the files
can’t be deleted. This is probably because files have ended-up in there
that are either owned by root, or that have adverse file permissions. The
solution is to empty the trash using administrator powers. To do so,
open a terminal window and type the following two commands, replacing username with your username:
$ sudo rm -rf ~/.local/share/Trash/{files,info}/
For more trash talk, see Tip 173, on page 214, and Tip 228, on page 269.
40
Logon automatically after
boot-up
If you want to stop seeing the username/password prompt when you
start Ubuntu, click System → Administration → Login Window. Then
click the Security tab, and put a check in Enable Automatic Login. From
the User dropdown list, select your username. Then click Close. Bear in
mind that this is obviously insecure because it gives virtually anybody
access to your desktop and files.
There is a slight downside if you’re using a computer with a wifi network card: a dialog box will appear each time you logon asking you
to enter your password to unlock your keyring. This is needed by NetworkManager so it can grab your wifi network key from the protected
keyring password file. Previously, logging in manually was enough to
unlock the keyring.
Short of massively overhauling Ubuntu’s authentication and security
system, there are a handful of possible solutions—using Wicd to replace
NetworkManager or using Ubuntu’s older network configuration tool.
See Tips Tip 41, on the following page, and Tip 43, on page 103, respectively.
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U SE
41
AN AL TERNATIVE WIFI CONNECTION MANAGER
Use an alternative wifi
connection manager
Wicd (http://wicd.sourceforge.net/) is an excellent swap-in replacement
for NetworkManager. NetworkManager is the system software that sits
in the notification area and handles network connections. Wicd does
the same job but using a piece of software that’s almost entirely independent of existing Ubuntu infrastructure, and packs in a few extra
features too, such as the ability to configure static IP/DNS addresses,
and use global DNS servers such as that offered by OpenDNS (http://
www.opendns.org).
Here’s how to install and configure Wicd:
1. You’ll need to add a new software repository. To do so, click System
→ Administration → Software Sources and click the Third-Party Software tab. Then click the Add button and enter deb http://apt.wicd.net
hardy extras. Click Close and then the Reload button to refresh the
list of software.
2. Use Synaptic to search for and install wicd. Once installed you’ll
need to reboot and following this you’ll find Wicd on the Applications → Internet menu. Note that the wicd package will remove
the NetworkManager packages during installation. You might see
a brief error message that “NetworkManager applet could not find
some required resources.” This can be ignored. Once Wicd has
installed, reboot the system, although if you want to setup a notification area icon for Wicd, follow the instructions in the next step
first.
3. To add a notification area icon, similar to that of NetworkManager, a few manual steps are necessary. Click System → Preferences → Sessions and click Add. Type wicd into the Name field
and /opt/wicd/tray.py into the Command text area. Leave the Comment text field clear. Then close the dialog box and reboot.
4. When you start Wicd (it can be found on the Applications → Internet menu), it will automatically scan for nearby wifi networks. If
no networks are shown, click the Refresh toolbar button.
5. Before you can connect, which is done by clicking the Connect
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M AKE E VOLUTION
MORE LIKE
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link, “unfold” the configuration options by clicking the little triangle symbol alongside the wifi base station’s entry on the list. Then
unfold Advanced Settings and put a check in Use Encryption. Select
the type of wifi protection the base station uses from the list and
and type the key or password in the text box provided. Of course,
if the network has no protection (usually described as an open
network) then you can skip this step. Then click the blue Connect
link. Once you’ve connected to the network, you can quit the Wicd
configuration program.
For more network configuration magic, see Tip 43, on page 103; Tip 60,
on page 121; Tip 70, on page 128; and Tip 119, on page 167.
42
Make Evolution more like Outlook
(just a little bit)
Nobody can reasonably suggest that Microsoft “got it right” with Outlook, the email component provided as part of their office suite. However, if you’re been using it for some time and have switched to Evolution, you might be annoyed by the slight differences. The good news is
that Evolution can be made slightly more Outlook-like with just a little
tweaking.
• Forward email inline: Whenever you forward an email Evolution
will attach it as a file that the recipient must then open. This can
cause confusion. To make Evolution forward email as text within
the new message (known as forwarding inline), click Edit → Preferences, click Composer Preferences on the left-hand side of the dialog
box, and click the Forward Style dropdown list. Then select Quoted.
• Change the plain text font: If you send or receive emails that
aren’t HTML (ie plain text), Evolution will use a monospace font
to display the text. This can look ugly. To switch to the standard
Sans proportional font, click Edit → Preferences, select Mail Preferences on the left side, and then remove the check alongside Use
the Same Fonts as Other Applications. In the Fixed Width Font dropdown
list, select Sans from the list beneath the Family heading, and 10 pt
from the size list.
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Figure 3.11: Making Evolution more like Outlook with a three-column
program view (see Tip 42, on the previous page)
• Always create HTML email: The fact is that, while the world once
sent plain text messages, nowadays we prefer color. That means
HTML email. To make HTML format the default for new mail,
click Edit → Preferences, click Composer Preferences on the lefthand side of the dialog box, and put a check alongside Format
Messages in HTML. It’s worth bearing in mind that some Ubuntu
mailing lists, such as those hosted at http://www.ubuntuforums.org,
will reject HTML email postings—plain text must be used.
• Vertical message preview window: Most versions of Outlook default
to a three-pane vertical view for the program window, with the
mailboxes at the far left, the list of messages in the middle, and
the contents of each mail on the right. To switch to this view in
Ubuntu, click View → Preview → Vertical View. See Figure 3.11 for
an example.
For more Evolution tips and tricks, see Tip 7, on page 66; Tip 156, on
page 198; Tip 158, on page 199; Tip 172, on page 209; Tip 246, on
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G IVE U BUNTU
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ADDRESS
page 286; and Tip 260, on page 300.
43
Give Ubuntu a static IP address
Network configuration in Ubuntu is handled by the NetworkManager
tool and it does a superb job. However, it’s primarily geared towards
wireless networking and always assumes a DHCP server is in use.8 You
might choose to use a static IP address, which is to say one that you
set yourself. A handful of workplaces insist their workstation computers
use static IP addresses.
If this is the case then you might consider using Ubuntu’s older but
still very functional Network Settings configuration tool. It comes with
some caveats, however. It’s compatible with wireless networking but
doesn’t have the ability to “roam” (detect other networks automatically),
so if you move into an area with a different wireless network, you’ll
need to manually reconfigure. Because of this, Network Settings is better
suited for situations where you’ll only ever connect to one wireless network. Secondly, Network Settings deactivates the NetworkManager icon
that shows the strength of your wifi connection. If you wish to configure a static IP address for a wifi card, considering using Wicd instead,
which features its own notification icon that shows signal strength and
allows the configuring of a manual IP address—see Tip 41, on page 100
Using Network Settings is easy. To do so, follow these steps:
1. Click the NetworkManager applet and select Manual Configuration, or
select Network from the System → Administration menu. Click the
Unlock button and enter your password when prompted.
2. Double-click the entry that reads either Wireless Connection or Wired
Connection, depending on whether you want to configure a wifi or
Ethernet connection.
3. In the dialog box that appears, uncheck Enable Roaming Mode. If
you’re configuring a wifi card, enter your base station details and
8. A DHCP server automatically assigns network addresses to other computers. Every
broadband modem and the majority of workplaces or other institutions use DHCP servers
because they simply make joining a network as fuss-free as possible. In the case of
Ethernet (cabled) connections you can just plugin and go. In the case of wifi, once the
base station password has been entered, you’re ready to go.
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F ORMAT
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password into the Network Name and Network password boxes. Select
the type of wifi protection in use from the Password type dropdown
list. If you click the dropdown arrow in the Network Name text
box, you might see that the base station has automatically been
detected, although I found this wasn’t always reliable.
4. In the Configuration dropdown, select Static IP address. Then fill in
the IP address, Subnet mask and Gateway address boxes. Click OK
when done.
5. Still in the Network Settings dialog box, click the DNS tab and then
click the Add button. Then type the first of the DNS addresses.
Once done, hit Enter and repeat the step for the second (or perhaps even third) addresses. Following this, close Network Settings
and then reboot your computer for the changes to take effect.
For more network configuration tricks, see Tip 41, on page 100; Tip 60,
on page 121; Tip 70, on page 128; and Tip 119, on page 167.
44
Format a USB memory stick (or
camera memory card)
Sometimes if a USB memory stick or memory card stops working correctly, the best plan is to reformat it. To do this under Ubuntu, follow
the steps below. Note that the instructions are extremely thorough—
first the partition on the memory stick is deleted, then a new one is
created and subsequently formatted. This should return virtually any
USB stick to life, provided it isn’t suffering from a hardware failure:
1. With the memory stick/card inserted, so its icon appears on the
desktop, look for what it’s called (its label) and make a note.
2. Now you must find how Ubuntu refers to it on a technical level,
so you can use the information later when formatting. Open a
terminal window and type mount. Look through the list of results
for the label you noted, and then make a note of the beginning of
the line, which will begin /dev. For example, on my test system,
the beginning of the line read:
/dev/sdb1 on /media/KINGSTON type vfat (rw.nosuid,nodev ...
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F ORMAT
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Figure 3.12: Finding out how a USB stick is referred to on a technical
level (see Tip 44, on the preceding page)
So I made a note of /dev/sdb1. See Figure 3.12 for an example from
my test PC with the relevant line highlighted. What you discover
may be different from my test PC because this identifier depends
on how many hard disks and other removable storage devices that
you have attached to your computer.
3. Right-click the desktop icon for the memory stick and select Unmount
Volume.
4. Back in the terminal window, type the following:
$ sudo cfdisk /dev/sdb
You should replace /dev/sdb with what you discovered earlier—
note that you will need to drop the number from the end. You
should now see a listing showing the partition on the USB stick,
as shown in Figure 3.13, on the next page. If you see an error
message instead, hit any key to quit cfdisk and try the following:
$ sudo cfdisk -z /dev/sdb
5. If you didn’t see an error message, hit d to delete the partition.
Then, regardless of whether you saw an error message or not,
hit n to create a new partition and hit Enter twice to accept
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F ORMAT
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Figure 3.13: Repartitioning the USB memory stick using cfdisk (see
Tip 44, on page 104)
the default suggestions of partition type and size. Then hit t ,
hit Enter , and type 0C (that’s zero then C) to set the new partition type. Finally, hit W (that’s Shift plus w ), type yes and, once
the partition table has finished being written to disk, type q to
quit cfdisk (don’t worry about the error messaging saying that no
primary partitions are marked bootable—this is irrelevant in this
case).
6. If, at this stage, the USB stick’s icon suddenly reappears on the
desktop, right-click it and once again select Unmount volume (close
the file browsing window first, if one has appeared). Then type the
following into the terminal window to format the new partition:
$ sudo mkfs.vfat -F 32 -n USBSTICK -I /dev/sdb1
You should replace USBSTICK with the label you want to apply to the
device, and /dev/sdb1 with the hardware identification you discovered earlier. Once the format has completed the USB memory stick
should automatically mount on the desktop. If not, remove it and
then reinsert it.
To learn how to do cool things with USB memory sticks, see Tip 31,
on page 88; Tip 113, on page 162; Tip 145, on page 188; Tip 229, on
page 270; Tip 305, on page 355; and Tip 309, on page 361.
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P ROTECT U BUNTU
45
SO IT CAN ’ T BE BOOTED WITHOUT A PASSWORD
Protect Ubuntu so it can’t be
booted without a password
You can lock the boot menu so that selected boot options won’t work
unless the menu is unlocked by hitting p and typing a password. Additionally, unless the menu is unlocked, it won’t be possible to edit the
boot menu entries, so an intruder can’t edit a boot menu entry to get
around the protection.
To be honest, a password-protected boot menu doesn’t offer any serious security because it’s easily overcome by booting from the Ubuntu
installation CD, which will provide unrestricted access to the hard disk
contents.9 However, the technique might be useful to protect your data
from nosey family members or work colleagues who are casually nosey
but not technically adept.
Start by opening a terminal window and typing the following:
$ grub-md5-crypt
You’ll then be prompted for a password. This will be the boot menu
password, so type it carefully. Then type it again when prompted to
confirm it. As with any password, it can include letters, numbers, symbols or spaces.
Once the password has been entered, a password hash is outputted
at the prompt—a stream of seemingly random letters, numbers and/or
symbols. This is the password in encrypted form. It’s encrypted so that
it can be added to the boot menu configuration file in a way that people
won’t be able to decode it by looking at the file.
To add it, open the boot menu file using Gedit:
$ gksu gedit /boot/grub/menu.lst
Better protection for a PC with a password-protected boot menu, as described in
Tip 45, can be had by simply removing the floppy and CD/DVD drive hardware from
the PC, thus limiting the opportunities to use a boot media that will give root access.
You should also disable booting from removable storage in the PC’s BIOS, and add a
BIOS password. Even after all this I can still think of a few ways of getting around the
protection, but it’s perhaps as good as it can get, short of locking away the PC or mounting
24-hour surveillance on it.
9.
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...and, at the top, add a new line that reads password --md5, then, immediately following, copy and paste-in the password hash you created.
Here’s how the line looked on my test machine:
password --md5 $1$Qeb3b$XO.lbPvj47A3GEywBcR6m
Following this, look for the line in the boot menu file that refers to your
Ubuntu installation. It’ll probably be something like the following, and
will be immediately below a line that reads ## ## End Default Options ##
(note that I’ve truncated the third line of the entry for reproduction
here):
title
root
kernel
initrd
quiet
Ubuntu 8.04.1, kernel 2.6.24-19-generic
(hd0,4)
/boot/vmlinuz-2.6.24-19-generic root=UUID= ...
/boot/initrd.img-2.6.24-19-generic
Add a new line at the end of the entry and type the word lock.
Here’s how the entry looked after I’d finished editing it (again, with the
third line truncated):
title
root
kernel
initrd
quiet
lock
Ubuntu 8.04.1, kernel 2.6.24-19-generic
(hd0,4)
/boot/vmlinuz-2.6.24-19-generic root=UUID= ...
/boot/initrd.img-2.6.24-19-generic
Add lock to all the other boot menu entries too, assuming you want to
stop somebody booting them without typing the password—if you only
want to stop Ubuntu being booted then no further work is needed. If
lock isn’t added to an entry in the boot menu file then any user will be
able to select that entry and boot into it.
See Figure 3.14, on the next page for an example of how the boot menu
file looked on my computer once I’d added lock to each entry.
Once done, save the file and quit Gedit. Following this, test out your
password protection by rebooting. Once the computer restarts, you’ll
see that the boot menu appears as usual, and you’ll be able to move
the selection highlight up and down using the cursor keys. But you
won’t be able to select any to boot into—if you try, you’ll see the error
message Error 32: Must be authenticated. You’ll then be prompted to hit a
key and return to the boot menu. Hitting e to try and edit an entry
won’t work either.
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D UMP
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Figure 3.14: Adding password-protection to the boot menu file (see
Tip 45, on page 107)
To authenticate, hit p when the boot menu appears. Then type the
password you chose earlier (the actual password, not the encrypted
hash!). Following this you’ll be able to select any entry on the boot
menu and subsequently boot the computer.
To do another interesting thing to the boot menu, see Tip 139, on
page 180.
46
Dump the text on a virtual
console to a file
If you’re trying to fix a problem you might want to capture the output of a command for reproduction on a website forum, along with the
command you typed to get the results. If you’re working in a terminal
window you can cut and paste, but what if you’re working at a virtual
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E LIMINATE
THE TIME PERIOD DURING WHICH SUDO / GKSU POWERS HANG AROUND
console? If you simply want to capture the result of a command, just
redirect the output:
$ ls > output.txt 2>&1
This will send both the output and error output (if any) of the ls command to output.txt. If you want to capture the command you typed, and
any other command-line detritus (including output), use the screendump command. The following will send everything currently on the
current screen (command-line prompts included) to a text file called
output.txt:
$ sudo screendump > output.txt
The command has to be issued as root because of permission issues
but the resulting file will be owned by you.
For more virtual console tricks and tips, see Tip 18, on page 76; Tip 179,
on page 219; Tip 193, on page 232; Tip 198, on page 236; Tip 207, on
page 241; and Tip 233, on page 276.
Eliminate the time period during
which sudo/gksu powers hang
around
47
By default sudo/gksu will “remember” your password for a short while
after you use them, so that if you use sudo/gksu again, you won’t be
prompted. This can make using sudo/gksu less annoying but can also
create security concerns—if you temporarily leave your computer unattended, for example, anybody who uses it will have sudo powers for that
short period.
If you type sudo -K after each use of sudo, the password will be required
again the next time sudo/gksu is used. To do away with the grace period
forever, you need to edit the /etc/sudoers file, and to do that issue the
following command at the terminal: sudo visudo. This opens the vim text
editor which is rather less than intuitive, but it’s not hard to use. Use
the cursor keys to move down to the end of the line that reads Defaults
env_reset, and hit a . Then type timestamp_timeout=0, so that the complete line now reads:
Defaults
env_reset,timestamp_timeout=0
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A CCESS U BUNTU
FILES FROM
W INDOWS
Then hit Esc , type :wq, and hit Enter . This will save the file and quit
vim.
The change will take effect immediately. If, for any reason, you want
to make sudo/gksu NEVER forget your password, so that you won’t be
prompted after you initially use sudo/gksu (until you log out of that
particular command-line session), change the line to read:
Defaults
env_reset,timestamp_timeout=-1
This is obviously very insecure, however. Note that if you make a mistake while editing the /etc/sudoers file, hit Esc , type :q!, and hit Enter .
This will quit the text editor without making any changes. Then try
again.
For more sudo and password-related tweaks, see Tip 271, on page 311;
Tip 200, on page 237; and Tip 78, on page 137.
48
Access Ubuntu files from
Windows
If you dual-boot, Ubuntu is kind enough to provide access to your Windows partition (Places → xGB Media, where x is the size of your Windows partition). However, Windows isn’t nice enough to return the favor
and you can’t access Ubuntu files from within Windows. Well, not without an ext2/3 file system driver for Windows.
A couple of such drivers are available and perhaps the best is the Ext2
Installable File System for Windows. This is freeware (not open source, alas)
and lets you both read and write files within your Ubuntu partition
while Windows is up and running. It comes in the form of a standard
Windows executable and can be downloaded from http://www.fs-driver.
org/download.html. During installation you’ll be prompted to assign a
drive letter to Ubuntu’s ext3 partition (any will do so long as it’s not
in use—I like to use Z:; see Figure 3.15, on the following page for an
example), after which you can simply access the Ubuntu files using My
Computer.
If you must have open source software, consider Explore2fs (http://www.
chrysocome.net/explore2fs), although it doesn’t integrate with Windows’
system tools and simply shows the Ubuntu files in its own program
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A CCESS U BUNTU
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Figure 3.15: Setting up Ext2 Installable File System for Windows (see
Tip 48, on the preceding page)
window. Additionally, at the time of writing, it doesn’t run under Windows Vista but works fine in XP.
Note that writing files to the Ubuntu file system from within Windows
gave me slight palpitations. I’d only do it if I had no other choice. Otherwise I’d treat it as a read-only volume.
To learn how to fix the Windows file system from within Ubuntu, see
Tip 38, on page 98.
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K ILL
A CRASHED
GUI
Kill a crashed GUI
49
This is an oldie but worth mentioning in case you don’t know. To kill the
GUI, for whatever reason, such as a crash, hit Ctrl + Alt + Backspace .
There’s no warning dialog boxes when you do this—any open applications will be terminated, and data lost. You’ll be returned to the GNOME
login screen, where you can login afresh.
If you’re working on a virtual console and want to kill the GUI for any
reason, typing the following will kill GNOME Display Manager (gdm),
which “owns” the desktop processes:
$ sudo killall gdm
To get the GUI back following this, start gdm again:
$ sudo gdm
To go on a virtual killing spree within Ubuntu, see Tip 133, on page 176.
50
Make Ubuntu safe for children to
use
Ubuntu can be as kid-safe as any other operating system with a little
work. Essentially, two things can be done. First you can create a new
restricted user account for the child (or children) that stops them from
doing anything that might break the system, or attempting to bypass
any protective measures you enact. Secondly, you can install a web filtering system so that nothing that isn’t entirely child-safe gets through
when they’re using Firefox.10
Creating a restricted user account
The first thing you should do is create a restricted user account for
the child. This will give them their own login on the machine, so they
10. Note that no type of filtering software is perfect. There’s an old saying: “Where there’s
a will, there’s a way...” The instructions in the tip above are primarily for younger children
who have no interest in by-passing web filters. The only way to be 100% sure of stopping
children of any age seeing objectionable material is to prevent them using the computer
in the first place.
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M AKE U BUNTU
SAFE FOR CHILDREN TO USE
won’t have to share your administrator account. To create the account,
click System → Administration → Users & Groups. Once the program
starts, click the Unlock button. Then click the Add User button. Fill in
the Username, Real name and password fields. In the Profile dropdown
list, select Unprivileged. This stops the new user from administrating the
system, thereby potentially getting around your lockdown measures by,
say, installing or removing software. When done, click OK.
Installing web filtering software
Dansguardian is filtering software that filters by content. This means
that anything requested by your web browser that includes objectionable words is blocked. This includes both outgoing and incoming requests,
so if the child sends a request to Google that includes objectionable
words, no results will be returned.
To install Dansguardian, follow these steps:
1. Use Synaptic to search for the dansguardian package. Whilst there,
also install tinyproxy, which is a system component Dansguardian
needs.
2. Once the two are installed, you’ll need to tweak a couple of configuration files. Open the tinyproxy configuration file in Gedit, as
follows:
$ gksu gedit /etc/tinyproxy/tinyproxy.conf
... then look for the lines that reads as follows:
# Port to listen on.
#
Port 8888
Change Port 8888 so that it reads Port 3128. When done, save and
close the file.
3. Back at the terminal type the following to open the Dansguardian
configuration file in Gedit:
$ gksu gedit /etc/dansguardian/dansguardian.conf
Look for the third line down that reads UNCONFIGURED - Please
remove this line after configuration and type a hash symbol (#) at the
beginning, so it reads #UNCONFIGURED - Please remove this line after
configuration. Then save the file.
4. Following this, type the following to start Dansguardian (and also
tinyproxy, a system service it relies upon):
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$ sudo /etc/init.d/tinyproxy restart
$ sudo /etc/init.d/dansguardian restart
You might see a warning message when Dansguardian restarts
about an out of date virus database. This can be ignored. The
antivirus component of Dansguardian updates itself automatically.
5. The user account now needs to be setup to let Dansguardian filter the incoming pages. To do this, you’ll need to change the Web
Proxy settings so that any application that attempts to access the
web (such as Firefox, or any other browser you might install) will
be routed through the Dansguardian software. To do this, log into
the new account you made for the child and click System → Preferences → Network Proxy.
6. Select the Manual proxy configuration radio button and check Use the
same proxy for all protocols. Then, in the HTTP proxy text field, type
localhost. Leave the Port field as it is, and click the Close button.
The changes take effect straight away so, still in the child’s user account,
try using Firefox to browse to a website containing objectionable material (for example, http://www.playboy.com; see Figure 3.16, on the next
page for an example of what you should see). You should see a page
informing you that it has been blocked. I strongly advise you thoroughly
test Dansguardian’s filtering before allowing your children unrestricted
access to the computer.
I’d also advise you visit http://dansguardian.org to learn more about how
it works. There are two key things worth knowing. Firstly, if you find
that Dansguardian blocks a site that you know to be fine, you can add it
to the “exception” list (/etc/dansguardian/exceptionsitelist). Open the file in
Gedit (gksu gedit /etc/dansguardian/exceptionsitelist) and add the address
to the bottom, without the http:// or www components. For example, to
add http://www.ubuntukungfu.org, you would add ubuntukungfu.org to the
bottom of the file on a new line. Once done, save the file, close Gedit,
and then restart the Dansguardian background service:
$ sudo /etc/init.d/dansguardian restart
On the other hand, if there’s a site that Dansguardian “lets through”
that perhaps it shouldn’t, then you can add it in exactly the same way to
the file /etc/dansguardian/bannedurllist. You might choose to add various
search engines to this list if you wish to stop children being able to seekout objectionable material. For example, to stop Google being used, you
could add google.com to the list. Bear in mind that you’ll also need to
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Figure 3.16: Dansguardian blocking an objectionable web site (see
Tip 50, on page 113)
add the Google domain for the country you live in if you live outside the
US (for example, you would need to add google.co.uk if you lived in the
United Kingdom.) Once you’ve added the site to the list, don’t forget to
restart Dansguardian, as mentioned above.
In child-proofing Ubuntu, you might also be interested in Tip 294, on
page 341, which describes how to use the Ubuntu Tweak program to
“lock down” program to disable certain features of the Ubuntu desktop.
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R UN
51
TWO ( OR MORE ) DESKTOPS AT THE SAME TIME
Run two (or more) desktops at
the same time
Ubuntu offers the handy User Switcher applet at the top right of the desktop to switch between the desktop of two or more users. This is cleverer
than it might first seem. When it’s used to switch to a second user, a
new X server is started for them in addition to the existing one. You’re
supposed to use the applet to switch between the two users but you
can switch between X servers by holding down Ctrl + Alt and hitting
F7 and F9 .
Should you need to, you can manually start your own additional X
servers for users. Assuming you’ve created a new account, switch to
a virtual console (this won’t work from a terminal window!), and then
login as the new user. Then type the following:
$ startx -- :1
A desktop GUI will then start for the new user. To switch back to the
already logged in user’s desktop, hit Ctrl + Alt + F7 . To switch to the
new user’s desktop, hit Ctrl + Alt + F9 .
The above step can be repeated to create yet more concurrent desktops
for other users: for example, to concurrently run a desktop for a third
user, just switch to the next virtual console, login as that user, and type
startx -- :2. That user’s desktop will then appear, and you can switch to
other desktops as described above, and back to the third user’s desktop
by hitting Ctrl + Alt + F10 .
52
Go completely fullscreen in
virtually any application
Some apps have a “fullscreen” mode that will cause the title bar, GNOME
menus and GNOME panel to temporarily disappear. This can be useful
for maximizing screen real estate, or just working without background
distractions. If the option is available it will show-up on the View menu.
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M AKE C ALCULATOR
TO ROUND - UP ( OR DOWN ) TO TWO DIGITS
However, even if an app is capable of full-screen mode, it isn’t always
shown as an option, and defining a global keyboard shortcut key will
force even reluctant apps to go fullscreen. To do so, open Keyboard
Shortcuts (System → Preferences) and look in the list for the entry
that reads Toggle Fullscreen Mode. Then click in the Shortcut column of
the entry and type your preferred keyboard combination (I recommend
Ctrl + Alt + f ). Then close the Keyboard Shortcut program window, and
test out the new shortcut in your favorite application. It works with
nearly every application. The only ones I found didn’t work were those
that rely on dialog box interfaces, such as Ekiga.
53
Make Calculator to round-up (or
down) to two digits
If you use Ubuntu’s Calculator application to work out nothing but trivial financial transactions in dollars and cents (or Euros/cents, pounds/pennies
etc), then you can force it to always round its results to two decimal
places, depending on which side of half a cent/penny the result is.
Start gconf-editor and navigate to /apps/gcalctool. Then double-click the
accuracy entry on the right and change it to 2. Note that, following
this, Calculator will still let you enter numbers with more than two decimal places, but it will always round-up the answer to just two decimal
places.
54
Follow the moon’s phases
If you’re into astronomy, or have a romantic streak, you might be interested in Lunar Clock, which adds a moon phase indicator to the panel.
To install it, use Synaptic to search for and install glunarclock. Once
it’s installed, right-click a blank spot on the panel where you want the
applet to appear, select Add to panel, and then select Lunar Clock from
the list.
Before using it, you must tell it where you are on the Earth so it’s
accurate. To do this, right-click its icon, click Preferences, and then
the Location tab. You’ll need your latitude and longitude figures—these
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I MPOR T I NTERNET E XPLORER
SETTINGS INTO
F IREFOX
can be obtained by typing the name of your town/city into http://www.
geonames.org.
55
Import Internet Explorer settings
into Firefox
During setup Ubuntu offers to let you import your IE favorites but what
about after this? Boot into Windows and, within Internet Explorer, click
File → Import and Export (if using Internet Explorer 7 or later, you
might first need to click a blank spot near the tab bar and put a check
alongside Menu Bar).
The Import/Export Wizard will start and it should be obvious which
options to choose. You should end-up with a file called bookmark.htm.
Now boot into Ubuntu, start Firefox, browse into your Windows partition
and click and drag the file on top of the open Firefox window. This will
open the file in Firefox, and your favorites will be listed at the bottom.
Right-click each link you want to import into your Firefox bookmarks
and select Bookmark this Link.
56
Drag and drop files onto the
terminal window
If you’re using a terminal command on a file and can’t bear to type the
entire path to the file, just drag and drop it onto the terminal window
using the mouse. The filename and path will then be autocompleted for
you.
For more cool terminal tricks and tips, see Tip 25, on page 82; Tip 236,
on page 278; and Tip 247, on page 287.
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U SE
57
OLDER DIGITAL CAMERAS WITH
U BUNTU
Use older digital cameras with
Ubuntu
Have you got a vintage camera that won’t work under Ubuntu because
it’s not a removable storage device (which is to say, its contents don’t
appear in a file browsing window when you attach the camera)? If the
camera connects via a serial, USB or parallel port, it’s very likely you’ll
be able to use the gThumb software to access it. This can be found
and installed via Synaptic (search for the gthumb package), and once
installed will appear on the Applications → Graphics menu.
To setup your camera, attach it to your computer and switch it to data
transfer mode (if applicable). Then click File → Import Photos in gThumb.
Then click the icon above the words No Camera Detected. All being well
your camera should be automatically detected and you can click OK.
If not you can click Choose from the Catalog, and select the model from
the list, as shown in Figure 3.17. The Port dropdown should then be
filled in automatically, but you should inspect it to make sure. Clicking
OK will then cause gThumb to probe the camera and import thumbnails, which you can then download. To make gThumb start automatically when you connect a USB camera, click System → Preferences →
Removable Drives and Media. Then, in the Command text box under the
Digital Camera heading, replace f-spot-import with gthumb --import-photos.
Note that this will cause gThumb to start whenever you insert any kind
of digital photograph storage device, such as a memory card reader.
58
Use the ultra-quick xterm to
bash-out commands
GNOME’s terminal program is very powerful but can take a few seconds to appear and I tend to be impatient. So often I use xterm instead,
which is the ultra-simple terminal program supplied on all Linux computers that have the X graphical system installed. Hit Alt + F2 and then
simply type xterm. Alternatively, you can create a desktop launcher—
right-click the desktop, select Create Launcher, and type xterm into both
the Name and Command fields. Leave the Comment field blank. Click
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I NSTALL
ALL THE PROGRAM COMPILATION TOOLS YOU ’ LL NEED
Figure 3.17: Configuring gThumb (see Tip 57, on the preceding page)
the icon button if you want to assign a more descriptive icon. If you
want a scrollbar to appear in the xterm window (far too fancy for my
tastes!), change the command in the launcher to read xterm -sb -rightbar.
59
Install all the program
compilation tools you’ll need
Sometimes there’s no other option but to compile software from source
code. Typically this is the case if you want the very latest version of
a software package that has yet to make it into Ubuntu’s repositories,
or if you want to support an esoteric piece of hardware with a kernel
module.11
Usually you’ll need to install the compilation toolchain piece by piece
but a quick shortcut is to install build-essential using Synaptic. This
11. If you are building software against the kernel there should be no need to download
the kernel source. The kernel headers are installed by default under Ubuntu (the package concerned is linux-headers-x, where x is the hardware architecture). If you do need to
download the kernel source code for whatever reason, install the linux-source package.
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AVOID
NETWORK SLOWDOWNS AND INCOMPATIBILITIES
installs make, gcc and a handful of other packages essential for the
familiar configure, make, make install sequence.
60
Avoid network slowdowns and
incompatibilities
Do you know what IPv6 is? If you don’t then it’s unlikely you need it,
even though it’s activated by default under Ubuntu. IPv6 is the new
network addressing scheme that’s designed to replace IPv4, which is
used across the Internet right now. One day we’ll probably all use it
but at the moment you’ll struggle to find it used outside of academic
institutions and some corporate environments. The trouble is that having IPv6 enabled can cause program incompatibilities and even network
slowdowns, especially with certain types of router and/or ISPs. To disable it, follow these steps:
1. Open a terminal window and type gksu gedit /etc/modprobe.d/aliases.
In the Gedit window, look for the line that reads alias net-pf-10 ipv6
and change ipv6 to off, so it reads alias net-pf-10 off. Then save the
file.
2. Open the /etc/hosts file in Gedit (gksu gedit /etc/hosts) and, after the
line that reads # The following lines are desirable for IPv6 capable hosts,
put a hash at the beginning of each line following that contains
ip6 within it (so the first line will read #::1 ip6-localhost ip6-loopback;
the second #fe00::0 ip6-localnet, and so on). See Figure 3.18 for how
the file looked after editing on my test PC. Once done, save the file
and quit Gedit.
3. Start Firefox and, in the address bar, type about:config. You can
ignore the warning that appears about changing settings. In the
Filter text field, type ipv6. Then double-click network.dns.disableIPv6
so that it now appears in bold (and you might notice that, at the
end of the line, false changes to true). Then close Firefox and reboot
your computer.
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P RINT
AT THE COMMAND - LINE
Figure 3.18: Editing the /etc/hosts file to disable IPv6 (see Tip 60, on
the previous page)
61
Print at the command-line
You can quickly sent text or configuration files to the printer using the
lp command. For example, to print the /etc/fstab configuration file, you
would type lp /etc/fstab. The formatting of the printed page is rough (no
margins, and Courier font used) but it’s OK for quick hard copy viewing.
If you want you can set a top page margins using the -o page-top=
command option. The following will print the same file with a one-inch
(72 pica) margin at the top:
$ lp -o page-top=72 /etc/fstab
Note that for the lp command to work, you’ll need to first make your
printer the system default (even if it’s the only one attached). To do so,
click System → Preferences → Default Printer. Select your printer and
then click Set Default. Then click Close.
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F IND
62
THE
U BUNTU
VERSION AND CODE - NAME
Find the Ubuntu version and
code-name
If you’re sitting in front of somebody else’s Ubuntu computer and want
to quickly identify which version of Ubuntu it running (not always easy
to do from the look and feel if it’s heavily customized), do the following: open a terminal window and type cat /etc/lsb-release. You can also
click Help → About Ubuntu, although bear in mind this won’t show the
“point release” (for example, on my 8.04.1 installation, Help → About
Ubuntu only mentioned the 8.04 release).
This trick can also be used to ensure that you’ve upgraded to a newer
version when one is released.
See Tip 129, on page 173 to learn how to find-out the GNOME desktop
version number.
63
Get your webcam working in
Ubuntu
Open a terminal window and type gstreamer-properties. Click the Video
tab and click the Test button under the Default Input heading. A video
window should appear showing what the webcam sees. If you receive
an error, try selecting the Video for Linux (v4l) option from the Plugin dropdown list. If you still receive an error, the webcam is probably incompatible with Ubuntu. Note that once the selection is made in the Plugin
dropdown list so that the webcam works, all applications that use webcams (such as Ekiga or Cheese, as described in Tip 15, on page 74) will
be able to utilize it.
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D OWNGRADE
64
TO
F IREFOX 2
Downgrade to Firefox 2
Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) uses Firefox 3, which brings in a handful
of new and pioneering features. To be frank, some of these irritated
me a little bit (the URL history completion and slow start-up times in
particular) so I downgraded to the older and more established Firefox
2. To do this, I searched for firefox-2 in Synaptic. Once installed, I could
run it by typing firefox-2 at the command-line or by creating a desktop
launcher.
To switch the entire system over to Firefox 2, so that all new links are
opened in it (links clicked in Evolution emails and so on), click System → Preferences → Preferred Applications. Click the Internet tab and
then, under the Web Browser heading, select Custom from the dropdown list. In the Command field, type firefox-2 %s. Close the dialog box
and then log out and back in again.
Note that Firefox 2 uses the older Plugin Finder service which might not
work well or offer the same degree of choice as the newer Plugin Finder 2
service included with Ubuntu 8.04 and used by Firefox 3. If you need to
install a plugin, it might be better to use Firefox 3 to install it—Firefox
2 will subsequently pick up on the plugin and use it. To run Firefox 3,
just type firefox at the prompt, first ensuring any currently-open Firefox
window is closed.
65
Install all the multimedia
playback codecs you’ll ever
need
Ubuntu will install the codecs you need for a multimedia file whenever
you try to play it. The problem is that you have to be online for this
to work. What if you’ve just installed Ubuntu and are about to hop on
a plane, with the intention of watching movies during the journey? To
install all the usual codecs before leaving the house, click Applications
→ Add/Remove and then, in the Show dropdown list, select All Available
Applications. Ensure All is selected in the list on the left, and then use
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G ET
BETTER
DVD
MOVIE PLAYBACK
the Search box to search for gstreamer. In the list of results, put a check
alongside the following—once done, click the Apply Changes button:
GStreamer extra plugins
GStreamer ffmpeg video plugin
Ubuntu restricted extras
GStreamer plugins for mms, wavpack, quicktime, musepack
GStreamer plugins for aac, xvid, mpeg2, faad
GStreamer fluendo MPEG2 demuxing plugin
Once the software is installed (it may take some time, and you might
have to agree to one or two license agreements that will pop-up), click
the Close button in the dialog that appears.
To enable DVD movie playback, you’ll need to complete one extra step.
Ensure Synpatic is closed (and no other software installation application is currently running, such as Update Manager), and then open a
terminal window. Type the following:
$ sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread3/install-css.sh
Note that you will need to install the Xine version of Totem Movie Player
if you want fuss-free DVD movie playback. See Tip 66, on the following
page.
See also Tip 231, on page 272, which describes how to install alternative media players under Ubuntu.
66
Get better DVD movie playback
If you followed Tip 65, on the preceding page, to enable DVD movie
playback, you might have noticed that Totem doesn’t provide access
to individual chapters from the Go menu. In fact, in my tests, clicking
entries on the Go menu while a DVD movie was playing did nothing.
To get around this, you can install the Xine version of Totem instead.
This uses the Xine multimedia back-end, which is used in the KDE
desktop, but is otherwise nearly completely identical. It fully supports
DVD menus and chapter navigation using the Go menu.
Simply open Synaptic, then search for and install totem-xine. Once it’s
installed, you’ll need to tweak a setting so that totem-xine automatically
starts when a DVD movie is inserted. OPen a terminal window and type
the following:
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THE TERMINAL WITH A SINGLE KEY - PRESS
$ sudo update-alternatives --config totem
Then type 2 to select the second option from the list presented. Following this, all movies will playback in the Xine version of Totem. Unfortunately, with Ubuntu 8.04 at least, there appears to be no way of making just DVDs play back in the Xine version of Totem (changes to the
system configuration using gconf-editor that should do the trick don’t
work). However, the Xine version of Totem is functionally identical to
Xine, so there should be no difference in usability.
If you ever get confused about which version of Totem you’re using
(Ubuntu’s own or Xine), click Help → About and look at the line that
begins Movie Player using... The native Ubuntu version will read “Movie
Player using GStreamer” while the Xine version will read “Movie Player
using xine-lib...”.
See also Tip 231, on page 272, to learn what alternative media player
applications are available, most of which can also play DVD movie
disks.
67
Run the terminal with a single
key-press
I don’t know about you but I spend about 50% of my time at the command prompt, so being able to open the terminal program quickly is a
real help. To assign a keyboard shortcut, click System → Preferences
→ Keyboard Shortcuts and look in the list for Run a Terminal, which will
be under the Desktop heading. Click the word Disabled alongside it, and
then hit Ctrl + Alt + t .
Any shortcut key combination can be used, aside from those involving the “Windows” keys (those the left and right of Space , and usually
with a Microsoft Windows logo on them, although these can be forced
to work with a little system configuration—see Tip 195, on page 234).
Even key combinations that are already in use by other programs can
be used—any key combination set in the Keyboard Shortcuts program
window will take precedence. For example, Ctrl + t could be used to
cause the terminal program to start, although it will override the shortcut used by Firefox to create a new tab.
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68
THE
APT
COW
See the APT cow
The apt-get command has an interesting if bizarre easter egg. Open a
terminal window and type apt-get moo to see it.
Not to be outdone, the aptitude software installation command has a
similar easter egg. Type apt-get -v moo to see it. Then try adding some
more vs to see what happens—apt-get -v moo, apt-get -vv moo, apt-get
-vvv moo, and so on.
Programmer humor, eh? Can’t beat it. Can’t understand it.
If you like cows, see Tip 245, on page 286.
69
See what Firefox plugins are
installed
Start Firefox and, in the address line, type about:plugins. The headings
show the type of content the plugin is designed to pick-up and below is
listed the Ubuntu plugin that handles the content.
To see what Add-ons are installed, click Edit → Preferences, and, in the
dialog box that appears, click the Manage Add-ons button.
70
Kill the network connection
instantly
Think your computer is the process of being hacked? Or have you just
clicked Send on that nasty email to the boss and instantly regretted
it? Whatever the case, simply right-click the NetworkManager icon (top
right of the desktop in the notification area) and uncheck Enable Networking. Bang. Network gone. NetworkManager will even display a little
exclamation mark to tell you. To get your network back, repeat, but
check the entry in the menu. Next time count to 10 before you click
Send.
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P OST
71
BLOG ENTRIES FROM YOUR
U BUNTU
DESKTOP
Post blog entries from your
Ubuntu desktop
Your author is not a particular fan of blogs, believing that it is better
to be an idiot in silence than to write a blog and prove it to the world.
However, he realizes he is in the minority, as do the GNOME developers
(probably), who provide an excellent piece of software to create quick
blog entries straight from your Ubuntu desktop.
Use Synaptic to search for and install gnome-blog. Once installed, rightclick a blank spot on the panel and select Add to panel. Then select Blog
Entry Poster from the list.
The program is designed to work with blogs hosted at Blogger.com,
Advogato, or Live Journal. Alternatively, you can configure the software to work with MovableType, Pyblosxon or WordPress installations
on your own website.
When it runs for the first time, the program will ask you to setup your
blog details. You’ll need to set the blog type in the Blog Type dropdown
list, and then set your username and password (if you’re attempting to
access blog software you’ve manually installed on a website, you’ll also
need to provide the URL). Then click the Lookup Blogs button to both
confirm the details are correct and to retrieve the list of blogs that you
can use the applet to contribute to. Once the lookup has completed,
select its entry from the Blog Name dropdown list. Note that you can
only contribute to one blog using the applet.
To make a new posting, just click the applet’s button on the panel.
Type the title, as prompted, and then the body of the posting into the
window. Then click the Post Entry button. Pictures can be dragged and
dropped onto the posting window for inclusion too.
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I NTELLIGENTLY
SELECT ONLY THE FILES YOU WANT
Intelligently select only the files
you want
72
Imagine the following: You’re working on a project and have been saving
the files in your Documents folder, which is where all your files tend to
end-up, regardless of project. This particular project involves pictures
(of varying file types), word processing documents, spreadsheets... You
spend a few minutes considering how chaotic it all is and then your
boss asks you to send all the files to him. However, there are hundreds, and you can’t sort by file extension or alphanumerically, because
they’re all different.
Assuming all the files contained the project name, you could use Nautilus’ Select Pattern function, which is found on the Edit menu. For
example, assuming the project is called Falken, and this word appears
somewhere within project files’ filenames, you could type the following
into the Select Pattern dialog box:
*falken*.*
This uses wildcards, in the form of asterisks, to indicate characters
within the filename that could equate to anything. So the files could
start with any text, and end with anything, and have any file extension,
but if it contains the word falken somewhere within it, it will be selected,
as if you’d just clicked on it. Assuming several files match the pattern,
they will all be selected, and you can then click and drag them to the
email you’re about to send to your boss. Note that the pattern selection
tool is case sensitive.
For more Nautilus tips, see Tip 85, on page 143; Tip 104, on page 157;
Tip 144, on page 187; Tip 261, on page 301; Tip 272, on page 312;
Tip 295, on page 343; Tip 165, on page 203; and Tip 132, on page 175.
73
Temporarily disable a user
account
If you’ve followed Tip 50, on page 113, which describes how to make
Ubuntu suitable for children, you might also want to occasionally deac-
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COMPLETE CONTROL OF DESKTOP EFFECTS AND ANIMATIONS
tivate your child’s account—as punishment for misdeeds, perhaps, or
just to force them to do something other than browse the Internet all
day!
The following command will effectively deactivate a user’s password,
making it so they can no longer log in. All settings and files belonging
to the user will remain in-tact:
$ sudo passwd -l username
Replace username with the user’s username.
To re-enable the account after the errant youngster has paid her/his
penance, type the following:
$ sudo password -u username
74
Take complete control of
desktop effects and animations
As you probably know, Ubuntu includes several desktop effects and
animations. For example, windows visually shrink to the panel when
minimized.12 You might also have realized that you can activate more
of these effects by clicking System → Preferences → Appearance, selecting the Visual Effects tab, and click the Extra radio button. This will add
“wobbly windows” to the visual mix, amongst other things.
To take more control over the desktop effects, consider installing one of
two packages. The first is Simple Compiz Config Setting Manager, which
can be installed via Synaptic by searching for the simple-ccsm package.
Once installed you’ll find the software on the System → Preferences
menu. At its simplest, the program lets you select between more profiles (collections of effects) compared to Ubuntu’s default tool. To select
a different profile, just select from the dropdown list at the top of the
program window. Alternatively, you can personalize the setup by tweaking the Animations, Effects, Desktop, Accessibility and Edges tabs. Animations
lets you change the minimize/maximize effects. Effects lets you change
12. If you don’t see any visual effects then it’s possible your computer isn’t capable of
supporting the effects. Alternatively, you might not have the correct graphics drivers
installed—click System → Administration → Hardware Drivers and, if necessary, put a
check alongside the entry in the list representing your graphics card.
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DO
SOME DESKTOP PUBLISHING
the animation that appears when you Alt + Tab through applications.
Desktop lets you control the animation that appears when you switch
virtual desktops. Accessibility controls screen magnification, while Edges
lets you define the hotspots at the sides of the screen; these are needed
by some effects.
For ultimate control over desktop effects, use Synaptic to search for
and install the compizconfig-settings-manager package (note that if you
installed Simple Compiz Config Settings Manager, this will already be
installed). Once installed, this can be found on the System → Preferences menu and is referred to as Advanced Desktop Effects Settings
(although the program refers to CompizConfig Settings Manager, and
this is how it’s referred to in the wider Ubuntu community). This lets
you manually activate and deactivate all the plugins that provide the
desktop effects functionality, as shown in Figure 3.19, as well as tweak
their settings by double-clicking their entries in the list. Some effects
require a key combination to activate them and this can also be found
(or changed) by double-clicking the entry of the effect within the list.
Ubuntu’s desktop effects can be hard to understand at times and a
good place to start your desktop effects adventure is at the Ubuntuforums.org forum dedicated to the purpose: http://ubuntuforums.org/forumdisplay.
php?f=330.
For more tricks to add zing to your Ubuntu desktop, see Tip 21, on
page 79; Tip 79, on page 138; Tip 147, on page 192; Tip 199, on
page 237; Tip 220, on page 255; Tip 274, on page 313; and Tip 289, on
page 338.
75
Do some desktop publishing
It’s possible to do just about anything on Ubuntu and desktop publishing presents no challenges. Simply use Synaptic to search for and
install the scribus package. Scribus is professional-level DTP software
designed to compete with the likes of Adobe Indesign and Quark Xpress.
As such it features CMYK color, color separations, press-ready output,
and much more. Indeed, several major publishing houses use it for
compositing. Once installed, Scribus can be found on the Applications
→ Office menu.
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Figure 3.19: CompizConfig Settings Manager [[Author: sic]] (see Tip 74,
on the previous page)
Need to create sophisticated diagrams, and used to the power of programs like Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw? No problem. Just use Synaptic to search for and install the inkscape package. Inkscape is a professionallevel vector drawing package that can be used for just about any task,
and is used to create much of the GNOME desktop artwork. It features
node editing, complex path operations, the ability to trace bitmaps, and
lots more. Files are outputted in the industry-standard SVG file format.
Once installed, Inkscape can be found on the Applications → Graphics
menu.
If you’d like to try creating your own TrueType fonts, or modify existing
ones, you might be interested in the Fontforge (use Synaptic to search
for and install fontforge). Once installed it can be found on the Applications → Graphics menu.
If you’re interested in DTP on Ubuntu, see also Tip 101, on page 155,
to learn how to install 465 excellent fonts. A handful more fonts are
available in Synaptic, and generally speaking their package names start
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C ONTROL
VOLUME LEVELS AT THE COMMAND - PROMPT
with ttf-.
76
Control volume levels at the
command-prompt
Ever been working away at the command-prompt and wanted to mute
the sound (or ever been working away at the prompt and wanted to
crank up the sound when your favorite track comes on)? Simply type
alsamixer. Hey presto—primitive but useful text-mode faders. Use the
left and right cursor keys to move between faders. Use the up and down
keys to change the values. Hit Escape to quit.
To play MP3s from the prompt, even if there’s no GUI up and running,
see Tip 292, on page 339.
77
Search the Ubuntu file system
A little known fact is that the average human spends a high proportion
of her/his time looking for things that have been lost. Ubuntu helps
avoid this, at least in computing terms, by including a number of powerful file search functions for both command-line and GUI users.
Command-line searching
There are essentially two methods used to search for files at the commandline: locate and find. The difference is that locate relies upon a database
of files and locations, while find literally searches the file system each
time you use it.
locate is partnered to a back-end program—updatedb—that is run peri-
odically and automatically by the system to update the database of files.
This highlights a weakness of the system—locate’s results are only as
good as the last time the database was updated. Therefore it’s often a
good idea to manually update the database using the updatedb command (as root—sudo updatedb) before using locate. There are several
different versions of the locate software and the version provided with
Ubuntu—called mlocate—is designed to update its database quickly by
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only looking for and adding new files. This means updatedb doesn’t take
long to run each time.
Using locate is easy. Just type locate and then the search word, or
search phrase. If the search phrase includes symbols or spaces, enclose
it in quotation marks. For example, to search for any files or folders
that include fstab in their names, you would type locate fstab. To search
for the file accounts 2008.xls, you might type locate "accounts 2008". locate
can use wildcards. To search for any MP3 files on the system, you could
type locate *.mp3.
Using find is a little different. First you must specify the search location
and then the search term. For example, to search for the file accounts
2008.xls in your /home directory, you could type find /home/username name "accounts 2008". You should replace username with your own details.
To search the entire file system, specify the file system root instead: find
/ -name "accounts 2008".
Both locate and find use regular expressions (known as regexes) to specify search terms. It’s beyond the scope of this book to go into this rather
arcane field but several very good beginner guides can be found by
searching Google. Regexes permeate all of Linux and spending some
time learning how to use them can be very rewarding.
Searching at the desktop
Ubuntu includes the Tracker tool for all desktop searching needs. Like
recent developments in Mac OS X and Vista, this is designed to catalog
all kinds of data, above and beyond just files. Recently visited websites
are cataloged, for example, as are programs installed on the system.
Tracker also indexes the contents of emails and also files (provided
it understands the file format). Thus a PDF file containing a certain
phrase can be searched for, even if its filename is obscure and/or unrelated.
Thus Tracker can actually be an alternative access point for day-to-day
use of Ubuntu. Rather than using Nautilus to navigate to a file in the
Documents directory, simply open a Tracker window and type its name
(or part of its name). Then double-click to open it. Rather than clicking
Applications → Office → OpenOffice.org Writer, just type writer and then
double-click the program that appears in the search results.
Tracker isn’t enabled by default in Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron because
some believe it can slow the system down. It runs a background service
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Figure 3.20: Tracker (see Tip 77, on page 134)
that’s always monitoring the file system and thereby using resources,
and it also performs an indexing run each time you log in. That said,
many report no problem using it, and there’s little reason to give it a
try. The same steps below that describe how to enable it can also be
used to disable it.
Before activating it, it’s a good idea to install the wv package using
Synaptic. This allows Tracker to index the contents of Word documents
(.doc files). Then, to activate the Tracker service, click System → Preferences → Search and Indexing, and click the check boxes alongside
Enable indexing and Enable watching. If you’re using a notebook, you
might also want to check the box alongside Disable all indexing when on
battery.
Click the OK button. You’ll be told the tracker daemon has to restart.
This is fine. Following this, a new magnifying glass icon will appear in
the panel. Clicking this provides access to Tracker’s search tool. However, you can’t use it just yet! First, you must let Tracker index your
hard disk and files. This might take some time. You’ll know when it’s
finished because the Tracker icon will change to an orange magnifying
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glass, rather than a clear one. In future the glass might change again
but this simply indicates that Tracker is “catching up”; you’ll still be
able to search.
To use Tracker, just click its panel icon, type the search term (or phrase,
if you want to search for content within documents), and then click the
Find button. The categories of search results will be listed on the left
of the program window (actual files, folders, applications, documents,
and so on), and the specific search results will be listed on the right.
To open any file or folder, simply double-click it. See Figure 3.20 for an
example.
Tracker can also be used from the command-line, once Synaptic has
been used to install the tracker-utils package. Once the package has
installed, just type tracker-search followed by your search term.
78
Remove the “bad password”
wait period
Whenever you mistype a password Ubuntu will pause for two seconds
before letting you try again. This is for a good reason, because hackers
often try “brute force” techniques to guess the password. This involves
using a computer program to try millions of passwords until the right
one is found. The two second delay when a bad password is supplied
makes such an approach much more impractical.
However, if you—like me—sometimes seem to have one too many fingers and constantly mistype the password, you can reduce the delay to
zero.13 This will mean that, upon a bad password being entered, you’ll
immediately be prompted to try again.
Start by opening the /etc/pam.d/common-auth password in Gedit by typing the following into a terminal window:
$ gksu gedit /etc/pam.d/common-auth
13. Perhaps it goes without saying that you should never use the above tip on a computer
that’s directly accessible on the Internet, such as a server, or a workstation with a fixed
non-private range IP address. Any computer connected to a server will see probings by
hackers on a daily if not hourly basis, and a brute force attack to guess a password is
highly likely.
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BIG
Then look for the line that reads auth requisite pam_unix.so nullok_secure,
and add nodelay to the end, so it now reads auth requisite pam_unix.so
nullok_secure nodelay. Then save the file and reboot the computer.
You should be able to test your change at the Ubuntu login prompt—
deliberately try a bad password and see what happens.
Note that this tip will reduce the bad password delay in all password
entry situations, including when requesting sudo/gksu powers, and so
on.
79
Make desktop icons REALLY big
Is your eyesight not what it was? Right-click any desktop icon and click
Stretch Icon. Then pull the handles at the corners of the icon. Most icons
can go to a quarter of the screen-size, but some look better than others. Those that look good are SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic) icons. The
default Human iconset is SVG. To make icons small again, right-click
them and click Restore Icon’s Original Size.
For more look-and-feel tweaks, see Tip 74, on page 131; Tip 21, on
page 79; Tip 147, on page 192; Tip 199, on page 237; Tip 220, on
page 255; Tip 274, on page 313; and Tip 289, on page 338.
80
Run Ubuntu... without Linux!
It’s unlikely you’ll have some fundamental objection to the Linux kernel
but if you fancy scrapping it and perhaps moving closer to Linux’s Unix
ancestry then give Nexenta a try. This uses Sun Microsystem’s OpenSolaris operating system base, instead of the Linux kernel and associated
toolset. OpenSolaris grew directly out of the original Unix, unlike Linux,
which was effectively a recreation of much of the Unix system.
The OpenSolaris kernel is perhaps more geared towards server hardware and its hardware drivers might be less comprehensive (particularly when it comes to wifi hardware or graphics drivers), but many
people consider it a rising star of the open source world. It comes with
a handful of system tools, such as dtrace (http://www.sun.com/bigadmin/
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I NSTANTLY
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content/dtrace/), that offer many advantages over anything currently
offered within typical Linux systems.
For more details, and to download an ISO image so you can burn a
bootable CD, visit http://www.nexenta.org.
81
Instantly hide a file or folder
Any file or folder whose name is preceded with a period (.) is hidden from
view in Nautilus, and also won’t appear in the list of shell commands
such as ls, unless the user specifically chooses to view hidden files (ls
-a, or clicking View → Show Hidden Files in Nautilus). So to hide a file
or folder, just rename it (select it and hit F2 ) and then put a period in
front of the filename. Gone. If the file doesn’t vanish, hit F5 to refresh
the file listing.
To return the file to view, just remove the period.
If you want to make a file disappear from Nautilus’ view of files (including the desktop) but still appear in command-line listings, add a tilde
symbol (~) to the end. For example, to hide partypicture.jpg, change its
filename to partypicture.jpg~. To hide text file, change its name to text file~.
This might seem like a secure method of avoiding prying eyes seeing
your personal files, but it’s not really. For genuine privacy and security,
you should encrypt files. See Tip 145, on page 188, and Tip 250, on
page 289, to learn how.
82
Scan for viruses
Put simply, viruses just aren’t an issue for Ubuntu. It’s unknown the
number of viruses out there that target Linux but the number has been
said to be less than 50. Most of those affect server software, such as the
Apache web browser. When it comes to the desktop, Linux is entirely
virus-free.
Of course, there’s no guarantee this state of nirvana will last forever
and, anyhow, installing antivirus software on your computer is so easy
that there’s little excuse not to do so. Any viruses found are likely to be
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S CAN
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Windows viruses, which pose no danger to you, but at least you’ll be
able to keep your unfortunate Windows-using friends safe.
This tip describes how to install ClamTK,14 which is a graphical frontend for the ClamAV command-line virus scanner (http://www.clamav.
net). ClamAV is designed for heavy-weight server use and as such is
an industrial-strength tool. However, there’s no reason why you can’t
employ it on your desktop.
Installing and configuring ClamTK
To install ClamTK and also ClamAV, use Synaptic to search for the
clamtk package. ClamAV will be installed automatically as a dependency. Once the program is installed, it can be found on the Applications → System Tools menu, under the title Virus Scanner.
But before using ClamTK to scan for viruses, it’s necessary to run it
as root so that the virus database can be updated. Start by typing gksu
clamtk into a terminal window. Once the program runs, click Help →
Update Signatures. Once the update is finished (look under the Information heading of the program), close ClamTK and the open it from the
Applications menu, as described above. Note that future updating will
be carried out automatically and periodically in the background as a
scheduled task.
Scanning for viruses
To scan the entire system, click the Options menu and click Scan Hidden Files. Then, to start the scan, click File → Recursive Scan, and, on
the left of the file browsing dialog that appears, select File System. Then
click OK.
There are several important things to note about a full system scan:
• A full system scan is very CPU and disk-intensive. Because of this,
for a minute or two it might even seem that ClamTK has crashed.
• The nature of the Ubuntu file system means that there are some
files ClamTK won’t scan, such as those in the /proc directory.
These will be reported in the program window as “excluded”, as
shown in Figure 3.21, on the next page.
14. Note for the technically curious: The program name ClamTK implies the use of the Tk
libraries but in actual fact ClamTK uses the GTK2 libraries, like all GNOME applications.
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Figure 3.21: ClamTK performing a virus scan (see Tip 82, on page 139)
• With a full system scan, it’s very likely that you will have at least
one false positive result, meaning that ClamTK will identify a file
as containing a virus when it actually doesn’t. This is due to a limitations in ClamAV (it’s primarily designed to be used on servers to
scan emails), but also a statistical likelihood because of the huge
number of files on an average system. The way to check a result
to see if it’s a false positive is to use Google to search for the name
of the virus that’s reportedly infecting the file, adding in clamav
and the filename to the search phrase. This will show what others
have found—it’s likely that others will have experienced the same
results as you.
Because system scans are problematic, you might want to keep them to
a minimum and simply scan your /home directory on a periodic basis.
After all, this is where you normally download files to, so it’s where
viruses are most likely to be found. Simply repeat the steps above, this
time selecting your /home directory from the file browsing dialog box.
If ClamTK finds a virus, it will list the suspect file in the program window, along with details of the virus it thinks is infecting the file. Note
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that ClamTK can’t remove viruses from files. Instead, dealing with the
suspect file is up to you. Assuming that you’ve ruled out the possibility
of a false positive, as described above, bear in mind that it’s extremely
likely that it will be a Windows virus and therefore of no danger to you.
ClamTK includes a “quarantine” function that can copy the file to a
special directory, but you may as well use Nautilus to browse to the
file and either delete it or, perhaps more sensibly, examine it in more
detail.
Adding a right-click scan-on-demand function
ClamTK comes into its own as an on-demand scanner, although it must
be manually configured to do this. To add an option to the right-click
menu within Nautilus that will cause ClamTK to scan that file or folder,
follow these steps:
1. Open Gedit (Applications → Accessories → Text Editor) and save a
new file called virus_scan to your /home directory.
2. Type the following into the Gedit window:
#!/bin/bash
# Scan the selected file in clamtk
clamtk [email protected]
Then save the file and close Gedit.
3. You must now mark the new file as executable and copy it to the
nautilus-scripts directory so that it integrates with Nautilus’ rightclick menu. To do this, type the following (both these commands
should be typed into a terminal window; ensure you’re in your
/home directory before typing these commands):
$ chmod +x virus_scan
$ mv virus_scan .gnome2/nautilus-scripts/
Following this, you can scan any file by right-clicking it, and selecting
Script → virus_scan.
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T EMPORARILY
83
LOGIN AS ROOT USER AT THE COMMAND - LINE
Temporarily login as root user at
the command-line
If you have a lot of administrative tasks to do, you can temporarily
switch to root user at the command prompt, even if you haven’t followed
Tip 111, on page 160 to permanently enable the root user account login.
You have a choice of methods—type either sudo su or sudo -i (the difference is that, with sudo -i, you’ll also use the root user’s environment
settings, so will be switched to the /root folder, for example).
You’ll know you’re root user because the prompt will change to a hash
(#), rather than a dollar sign (treat this as a warning!). To return to
being a normal user, just type exit.
84
Start the screensaver from the
command-line
If you’re hacking away at the terminal command line and need to leave
your computer unattended, you might consider deliberately starting the
screensaver. If a password has been set, you’ll also benefit from password protection. To start the screensaver, just type the following:
$ gnome-screensaver-command -a
See Tip 259, on page 299, to learn how to turn this into a simple singlecommand alias, to save typing.
85
Get the most out of (or into) a
Nautilus window
By default the Nautilus file browsing windows tend to be a little relaxed
when it comes to the spacing of icons. Actually, there’s so much space
between then that you could drive a bus through. To tighten things up,
click Edit → Preferences in a Nautilus window, ensure the View tab is
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selected in the dialog that appears, and put a check in Use Compact
Layout. Just like the days of Windows 95!
For more Nautilus tips, see Tip 72, on page 129; Tip 104, on page 157;
Tip 144, on page 187; Tip 261, on page 301; Tip 272, on page 312;
Tip 295, on page 343; Tip 165, on page 203; and Tip 132, on page 175.
86
View images at the
command-line
To quickly view a picture from the command line, just type eog filename.
For example, eog holiday.jpg will open and display holiday.jpg. To view
the picture full-screen, type eog -f filename. See Tip 208, on page 242 to
learn how to start a slideshow showing pictures in a particular directory.
See Tip 268, on page 306 to learn how to view pictures even if there’s
no GUI up and running.
87
Administer the printer from a
web browser
Like most Linuxes (and also Macintosh OS X), Ubuntu relies upon the
CUPS software for its printing subsystem. In addition to Ubuntu’s configuration software on the System → Administration menu, CUPS can
be configured using your web browser. Just type localhost:631 into the
Firefox address bar to access the CUPS control panel. You can administer any printers setup on the system by clicking the Printers tab in the
web page that appears, and look at the list of print jobs currently pending by clicking the Jobs tab. Remember that you might need to refresh
the page to see when jobs join/leave the print queue.
To learn how to administer your entire system from a web browser (from
any computer), see Tip 143, on page 184.
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88
A WINDOW WITHOUT CLICKING THE TITLEBAR
Move a window without clicking
the titlebar
To move any unmaximized window around, hold down Alt and then
click and drag anywhere in the window. The cursor will change to a
grab hand. This can be especially useful for moving windows whose
titlebars have accidentally moved outside of the desktop boundaries.
It’s also useful if you’re running Ubuntu on a very small screen, where
program windows are too big to fit and the OK/Cancel buttons are often
hid below the bottom of the screen.
89
Connect to shared folders from
the command-line
If you work in an office environment or have more than one PC in your
home you might be used to connecting to shared folders across the
network. Ubuntu’s Places → Network view should show the computers
that are local to you and let you connect.
If you’re working at the command-line and want to access shared folders then it’s a little trickier. Once a shared folder has been accessed by
Nautilus you’ll find it mounted in the hidden .gvfs folder of your /home
folder. But if the desktop isn’t up and running, or if the shared folder
isn’t mounted, then it won’t be accessible.
In such a case, you might want to use smbclient, which effectively lets
you “ftp” into a shared folder, and use almost exactly the same commands to down/upload files as the command-line ftp program (see
Tip 131, on page 173 for details of how the ftp command-line program
works).
1. Start by using smbclient with the -L option to list the shared resources
on the computer you want to connect to. You can either specify the
computer’s network name or the IP address. You can find out the
computer name on a Windows XP computer by right-clicking My
Computer, selecting Properties, and then looking under the Computer Name tab for the Full computer name entry. You can also click
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the Change button to assign a new name if the existing one is too
complex. To find out the IP address of a Windows computer, click
Start → Run and type cmd. In the DOS box that appears, type
ipconfig and, in the output, look for the line that reads IP addresss.
2. Here’s how to list what’s available on a computer with the network
name keir-windows:
$ smbclient -L keir-windows
You might be prompted for a password. It was enough in my tests
just to hit Enter at this stage. Then look in the output for listings
under the Sharename heading. Those with disk in the Type heading alongside equate to the shared folders available on the computer. You must specify a particular shared folder when you want
to connect—you can’t just connect to a computer and then switch
to whichever folder you want to access.
3. Connecting to the shared folders is a little strange because the
network name needs to be specified in an unusual way. Just like
Windows, smbclient uses backslashes (\) for addresses (rather than
forward slashes, as is typical with Linux/Unix), but these have a
quite distinct meaning at the Linux command-prompt and this
causes problems. Backslashes are used to tell the shell not to
interpret the next character you type in the way it normally does.
See the sidebar on page 37 for more information.
Perhaps ironically, we therefore have to use another backslash to
tell the command-line not to interpret the backslash in the way it
normally does. Confused? Don’t be. The simple fact is that, when
using the smbclient command to connect to a shared folder, one
slash should be replaced by two slashes. So an address like \\keirwindows\sharedfolder\, normally used under Windows, becomes \\\\keirwindows\\sharedfolder\\. Here’s how I’d connect to a folder called
sharedfolder on the keir-windows computer:
$ smbclient \\\\keir-windows\\sharedfolder\\
4. If the share name has a space in it, or a strange character (such
as an exclamation mark), they too will need to be escaped with a
backslash. So to connect to the shared folder accounts 2009! on the
computer called keir-windows, we would type:
$ smbclient \\\\keir-windows\\accounts\ 2009\!\\
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D EACTIVATE C APS L OCK
Once connected you can manipulate files on the shared computer using
FTP commands. See Tip 131, on page 173 for a brief rundown of the ftp
command-line program. As in ftp, type help for a list of commands.
90
Deactivate Caps Lock
If you find yourself sometimes accidentally hitting the Caps Lock key,
this tip will be a God-send. Just open a terminal and type xmodmap -e
"clear Lock" to disable it. On my system the keyboard LED for the key
still lit when it was hit, but there was no other effect within Ubuntu.
To make this tweak permanent, open your .profile file in Gedit (gedit
~/.profile) and add the command as a new line at the end of the file.
Then save the file, and log out and back in to see the changes.
If you’re like to leave the Caps Lock key active, and simply be told when
it’s been hit, see Tip 241, on page 283.
91
Format floppies
Still use floppy disks? To format the disks under Ubuntu, hit Alt + F2
and type gfloppy. Pretty much all the options are identical to what you
might be used to under Windows’ floppy formatting tool.
To learn how to format a USB memory stick or other memory card, see
Tip 44, on page 104.
92
Switch to a lightweight file
manager
Thunar is the default file manager used in the stripped-back Xfce4 desk-
top of Xubuntu. It starts quickly, has a low-memory footprint, yet is
very powerful and provides all the features you’re likely to need. In fact,
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it beats Nautilus in many departments when it comes to features.15
It can be used to replace Nautilus within the Ubuntu desktop for some
operations although bear in mind that Nautilus windows will still appear
sometimes, such as when using Nautilus CD-R/DVD Creator.
Follow these steps to switch to Thunar:
1. Start Synaptic and search for and install the thunar and thunararchive-plugin packages. After installation, you can run Thunar by
typing thunar in a terminal window.
2. To cause Thunar to open whenever you click an entry on the
Places menu, you’ll need to edit a configuration file: open a terminal window and type the following:
$ gksu gedit /usr/share/applications/nautilus-folder-handler.desktop
Scroll to the bottom of the file and look for the line that reads
Exec=nautilus --no-desktop %U. Change it so it reads Exec=thunar %U.
See Figure 3.22 for an example taken from my text PC.
Then save the file and test the changes by clicking Places → Home.
This tip works equally well for any alternative file manager. Others you
might like to try are Konqueror (KDE’s file manager), Dolphin (KDE4’s file
manager), and Rox-filer, a stripped-down file manager that’s extremely
lightweight. Just use Synaptic to search for and install konqeuror, doplhin or rox-filer respectively. When altering the nautilus-folder-handler.desktop
file above to make Rox-filer default, change the line to read Exec=rox-filer,
without the %U; Dolphin and Konqueror still require the %U after the
command. Note that Rox-filer’s configuration is carried out by rightclicking on a blank spot in its program window. It doesn’t use a traditional menu system, like most application windows.
If you want a lightweight command-line file manager, install Midnight
Commander (search for and install the mc package using Synaptic).
Then type mc at the prompt to start the program. Once it’s started,
hit Alt +1 and then use the cursor keys to highlight Contents and hit
Enter . This will display the help file explaining how to use the program.
If you ever used Norton Commander, back in the days of DOS, you’ll
15. One feature of Thunar I particularly appreciate is the ability to rubber-band-select
many files in list view, something Nautilus doesn’t allow. Thunar also includes the ability
to define your own right-click functions, something which is possible in Nautilus but only
if you add-in the Nautilus Actions component, as described in Tip 295, on page 343.
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U SE
SYNTAX HIGHLIGHTING IN
G EDIT
Figure 3.22: Configuring the system to use an alternative file manager
(see Tip 92, on the previous page)
find Midnight Commander very familiar, because it’s modeled on that
product.
93
Use syntax highlighting in Gedit
Programmers will be pleased to hear that Gedit includes syntax highlighting. However, it doesn’t appear until the document is saved. It
can be enhanced by clicking Edit → Preferences and checking Highlight
Matching Bracket which, as its name suggests, will highlight the opening and closing brackets of any command/phrase. If for any reason
you want to deactivate syntax highlighting, open gconf-editor and navigate to /apps/gedit-2/preferences/syntax highlighting and remove the check
alongside enable on the right-hand side.
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ZIP FILES SENT COLLEAGUES GETTING LOST IN THE EMAIL
For other Gedit tricks, see Tip 10, on page 70; Tip 134, on page 176;
and Tip 155, on page 198.
94
Stop zip files sent colleagues
getting lost in the email
When you create a zip file from a file using the right-click Create Archive
function, the .zip file extension will be appended to the end of the file.
However, the old file extension will still be there. If you compressed
document.doc, for example, you’d end-up with document.doc.zip. The
problem with this is that some Windows virus scanners interpret two
file extensions as the sign of a virus, and will strip them out of any
emails you send. Therefore if you plan to send the archive to Windows
users, simply delete the first file extension, leaving only .zip.
95
Use an alternative email client
The default mail client provided with Ubuntu, Evolution, is something
of a benign monster. It’s packed with features and is aimed squarely at
business users. It’s quite clearly modeled on Microsoft Outlook. Personally, I can’t help feeling it’s overkill for more modest needs. Below are
listed two alternatives, each of which can be installed using Synaptic,
and each of which are more than adequate alternatives.
Claws Mail
This is an email client with the emphasis on simplicity, although that
doesn’t mean it’s light on features. It integrates well with the GNOME
desktop used by Ubuntu and, in my opinion, has the look and feel that
email clients used to have back in the 90s, before they started trying
to organize our lives (although the look and feel can be changed via
themes—see http://www.claws-mail.org for more information and downloads). Thus there’s no calendar or to-do list, and even composing
HTML email is a feature too far (although you can view HTML mail sent
by others). You do get live spell checking and email filtering, however,
amongst other up to date and indispensable features, and the program
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Figure 3.23: Claws Mail (see Tip 95, on the previous page)
utilizes a plugin structure so many additional functions can be downloaded from the website (see http://www.claws-mail.org for downloads).
You can install Claws Mail by searching for and installing the claws-mail
package. See Figure 3.23, on the next page for an example of the program running on my test PC. Once installed Claws Mail can be found
on the Applications → Internet menu. When first run it walks through
a setup wizard in which you must enter your mail server details.
Thunderbird
Few people realize that Firefox isn’t Mozilla’s only product. Thunderbird
is its email client offering, and is perhaps the second most popular open
source email client in use today. Not without reason—Thunderbird
packs in the features you might expect of a modern email client, such
as powerful search, filtering, and junk mail detection, but keeps everything simple and usable. It also integrates a Usenet (news groups)
reader program and comes ready-configured to work with Gmail accounts.
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PEOPLE HEAR YOU WHEN USING A MICROPHONE
As you might expect, it features the same HTML-rendering technology
as Firefox, so HTML emails always look like they should.
Like Firefox, Thunderbird is extensible via add-ons, many of which
can be downloaded from https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird and
some of which improve Thunderbird’s functionality extensively. To install
add-ons, right-click the download link, save the add-on to the hard
disk, and then click Tools → Add-ons. Then click the Install button and
navigate to the downloaded file.
Thunderbird can be installed using Synaptic. The best way of doing
so is to search for and install the thunderbird-gnome-support package,
which will install Thunderbird along with software that helps it integrate into the GNOME desktop used by Ubuntu. You might also want
to add-in the relevant language settings package for your area, so that
spellchecking will work correctly—use Synaptic to search for thunderbirdlocale and select the correct package from the list.
Once installed, the program can be found on the Applications → Internet menu. When it first starts it will walk through a wizard during
which you can configure it to work with your email servers.
96
Ensure people hear you when
using a microphone
Ensure the Microphone slider isn’t muted in the mixer window by doubleclicking the volume control icon and clicking the speaker icon beneath
the Microphone slider so it no longer has a cross against it. You might
also have to activate the +20db microphone boost: click Edit → Preferences on the mixer window, and in the dialog that appears, put a check
in Mic Boost (+20dB). Click Close and, back in the mixer window, click the
Switches tab and put a check alongside Mic Boost (+20dB).
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97
BROWSE TO A LOCATION
Quick browse to a location
Want to browse to a file system location, but too lazy to grab the mouse
and click the Places menu? Hit the forward slash ( / ) and then type the
path into the dialog that appears.
98
Turn off the beep
Whenever you made a mistake, or if Ubuntu simply wants to tell you
something isn’t possible, it will cause the computer to beep. This can
become annoying and doesn’t really serve much purpose. To turn it off,
click System → Preferences → Sound, and then click the System Beep
tab. Then remove the check from the Enable System Beep box. You might
want to enable the check in Visual System Beep, because this will flash
either the screen or the top-most program’s title bar to indicate the
same type of error.
99
Add a second hard disk
If you run out of space on your main hard disk you might choose to add
a second hard disk.16 When adding a new disk, two things need to be
done. First the disk must be partitioned. Then it must be formatted. If
you want to make it accessible under Windows as well as Ubuntu, the
FAT32 format must be used. Before you can do either task, you need to
identify how Ubuntu refers to the new hard disk on a technical level.
The following steps will do all of this:
1. Boot into Ubuntu with the hard disk attached to your computer.
Open a terminal window and type sudo fdisk -l.
16. The instructions in the tip above assuming you’ve installed a brand new hard disk.
If you connect an old hard disk that already contains an operating system, you should
find the disk is detected automatically on the Places menu within Ubuntu. Rather than
repartitioning and reformatting, you may as well just wipe the files from the hard disk
using Nautilus and use the existing partition. Ensure that you select the right disk and
don’t accidentally wipe the files from your Windows partition!
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A DD
A SECOND HARD DISK
Here are the results I saw on my test system:
Disk /dev/sda: 81.9 GB, 81964302336 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 9964 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0x1c381c37
Device
/dev/sda1
/dev/sda2
/dev/sda5
/dev/sda6
Boot
*
Start
1
4743
4743
9745
End
4742
9964
9744
9964
Blocks
Id System
38090083+
7 HPFS/NTFS
41945715
5 Extended
40178533+ 83 Linux
1767118+ 82 Linux swap/Solaris
Disk /dev/sdb: 120.0 GB, 120034123776 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 14593 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0xb94838a4
Disk /dev/sdb doesn't contain a valid partition table
There are two hard disks listed in the results: look for the headings
Disk /dev/sda and Disk /dev/sdb. Beneath each heading is technical
information about the disk, and beneath that is listed the partitions on that disk.
It should be obvious that, on my test computer, /dev/sdb is the
new hard disk because it has no partitions (it “doesn’t contain a
valid partition table”), while /dev/sda has the standard partition
layout of a dual-boot Ubuntu system.
2. Type the following to start the cfdisk partitioning program:
$ sudo cfdisk -z /dev/sdb
You should replace /dev/sdb with what you discovered earlier. Then
type n to create a new partition, and hit Enter twice to select to
create a primary partition and accept the size suggestion. This will
create a partition that fills the entire disk.
3. Hit t and then hit Enter to scroll the list. Then type 0C (note
that’s zero and then C). Hit Enter . Then type W (note that’s Shift + w ).
Type yes to confirm your choice. Once the program has finished
writing the new partition table, type q to quit the program.
4. Now you must format the new partition. To do this, type the following:
$ sudo mkfs.vfat -F 32 /dev/sdb1
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You should replace the /dev/sdb component of the line above with
what you discovered earlier, although ensure you end it with a 1
(in other words, if you found the new disk was identified as, say,
/dev/sdc then you would type sudo mkfs.vfat -F 32 /dev/sdc1).
Following this, the hard disk is ready for use. To have it appear on
Ubuntu’s Places menu, restart the computer (it will be identified by its
size—for example, if it is a 160GB hard disk, it will appear on the Places
menu as 160 GB Media). The new disk should be automatically detected
and made available within My Computer when you boot into Windows.
100
Update Ubuntu in the
background
One of the best things about Ubuntu is the frequency of updates. It’s
nice to know your system has the latest security-patched software.
Yet this can also be annoying, because Update Manager seems to be
constantly pestering you to confirm new downloads. To bypass this,
and automatically download and install updates in the background,
open Software Sources (System → Administration), click the Updates tab,
and select Install Security Updates without Confirmation under the Automatic
Updates heading.
101
Install 465 open source fonts
All credit to Brian Kent (http://www.aenigmafonts.com) who’s not only
an excellent font designer but is also committed to the ideals of open
source software and has made 465 of his font creations available to
Ubuntu users. To install the fonts, you’ll need to add a new software
repository: click System → Administration → Software Sources, then
the Third-Party Software tab, and click the Add button. Then type the following into the dialog box that appears:
deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/corenominal/ubuntu hardy main
Click the Add Sources button, then the Close button, and, when prompted,
agree to reload the package lists. Then use Synaptic to search for and
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BE
CAREFUL NOT TO BADLY NAME FILES / FOLDERS IN YOUR
W INDOWS
PAR TITION
install the ttf-aenigma package. Once installed the fonts will be available
for use straight away in all applications.
To learn how to get other fonts for your system, see Tip 75, on page 133;
Tip 170, on page 206; Tip 280, on page 323; and Tip 283, on page 329.
102
Be careful not to badly name
files/folders in your Windows
partition
This is less of a tip and more of a warning. As you might know, Windows doesn’t let you use the following characters when naming files or
folders: \/:*[email protected]<>|.
Unfortunately, Ubuntu isn’t quite as fussy and allows some of those
characters into filenames. It also doesn’t realize you shouldn’t use them
when accessing a Windows partition. If you create new files or folders
on your Windows partition from within Ubuntu containing these characters, they will be rendered inaccessible when you boot into Windows.
In fact, Windows will become so confused that it won’t even let you
rename the file or folder (even at the DOS prompt). The only solution is
to boot back into Ubuntu and rename it there.
103
Make your Windows partition
read only
Ubuntu can both read and write files to your Windows partition, and
the software behind this (ntfs-3g) is said to be very reliable. However, it
still gives me sweaty palms—the possibility of data loss is too high. So
I decided to make the NTFS partition read-only whenever it’s mounted.
To do this, start gconf-editor and navigate to /system/storage/default_options/ntfs3g. In the right of the window, double-click the mount_options entry and,
in the dialog that appears, click the Add button. In the Add New List
Entry dialog, type ro into the New List Value textbox, and then click OK.
Click OK to close the parent dialog. The changes take effect immediately, although you will have to unmount if it’s already mounted, and
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S TOP N AUTILUS
NEATLY ARRANGING ICONS
then remount it. Note that this will make read-only ANY hard disk you
attach to your computer that contains an NTFS file system.
104
Stop Nautilus neatly arranging
icons
Nautilus sorts all file and folder icons into a grid pattern. If you would
like something more chaotic, whereby icons stay exactly where you drop
them, click View → Arrange items → Manually. Each folder can have its
own setting in this regard. To make Nautilus default to manual arrangement with new folders it creates, start gconf-editor and navigate to
/apps/nautilus/icon_view and put a check alongside default_use_manual_layout.
To stop desktop icons being arranged to a grid, just right-click a blank
spot on the desktop and uncheck Keep Aligned.
For other Nautilus hints and hacks, see Tip 72, on page 129; Tip 85,
on page 143; Tip 165, on page 203; Tip 144, on page 187; Tip 261, on
page 301; Tip 272, on page 312; and Tip 295, on page 343.
105
Run GUI programs from a
terminal window without tying up
input
Running GUI programs such as gconf-editor from a terminal window
tie it up, so no other commands can be entered until it is quit. To
avoid this, add an ampersand (&) to the end of the line. This makes the
program run as a bash background task (known technically as a job),
although it will still work fine. For example, to run gconf-editor so it is
possible to subsequently use the terminal for further commands, type
gedit &.
To see a list of programs you’ve started in this way, type jobs at the
prompt. Remember that the new program will still quit when the terminal window is exited. To get around this, see Tip 300, on page 350.
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106
THE
CPU
SPEED FROM THE DESKTOP
Set the CPU speed from the
desktop
With some types of CPU it’s possible to manually alter the clock speed
while the system is running. This can be very useful with a notebook
computer, for example, where you might choose to throttle-down the
CPU speed when on battery power to save juice, or to minimize heat
generation when the computer is resting on your lap.
The CPU Frequency Scaling Monitor applet takes care of this function
but before it can be used some additional configuration is necessary.
Open a terminal window and type the following:
$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure gnome-applets
You’ll see a warning about how enabling the cpufreq-selector program
could be a security risk if it is given root powers. This is true but, as
always, usability must be balanced against security. The chances of a
hacker exploiting this are very slim. Hit Enter and then, on the next
screen, use the cursor keys to highlight Yes and hit Enter again.
Following this, right-click a blank spot on the top panel, click Add to
panel, and then select CPU Frequency Scaling Applet from the list. A new
applet will be added, showing the current speed of the CPU. By leftclicking on it, you’ll be able to set either the speed you wish the CPU
to run at, or the power-saving mode it should use (these modes very
in name and nature from chip-to-chip but what they offer should be
obvious from their names).
If your CPU has more than one core, such as Intel’s CoreDuo series,
each core must be configured separately. For example, a dual-core chip
will need two CPU Frequency Scaling Monitor applets. Just right-click
the panel as explained above to add another. To alter which particular
core each applet controls, right-click an applet, select Preferences, and
choose the CPU core under the Monitored CPU heading.
Note that each core can run at a different speed compared to the other
core and be switched to a different power-saving mode.
To see the benefits or otherwise of scaling the CPU speed, see Tip 5,
on page 65, which explains how to graph your computer’s power con-
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S WITCH
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K UBUNTU , X UBUNTU ,
OR
E DUBUNTU
WITHOUT INSTALLING FROM SCRATCH
sumption. You might also be interested in Tip 240, on page 282, which
explains how to monitor CPU load.
107
Switch to Kubuntu, Xubuntu, or
Edubuntu without installing from
scratch
To switch to Kubuntu, Xubuntu, or Edubuntu, use Synaptic to search
for and install kubuntu-desktop, xubuntu-desktop, or edubuntu-desktop respectively (if you want the KDE4 release of Kubuntu, look for kubuntu-kde4desktop). These are metapackages17 on which the whole of the Kubuntu,
Xubuntu, and Edubuntu packages rely. Kubuntu, Xubuntu, or Edubuntu
will be installed alongside the standard GNOME desktop (in the case of
Edubuntu, the additional educational software will be installed along
with the Edubuntu kids’ GUI theme; this will be applied automatically
upon installation and you can manually switch back to the Human
theme if you wish).
To use Kubuntu or Xubuntu instead of GNOME, log out and click the
Options button at the bottom left of the login screen. Then click Select
Session, and select KDE or XFCE from the menu. To return to the GNOME
desktop, repeat this step and select GNOME instead.
108
SSH into Ubuntu from Windows
As discussed in Tip 190, on page 228, SSH is possibly the ultimate
remote administration tool. Alas, it’s completely unsupported by Windows (although it comes as standard on Mac OS X). However, you can
install PuTTY (http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/) to get instant
SSH/SFTP support on Windows.
17. Metapackages are effectively empty packages that have dependencies on a lot of other
packages. A metapackage is the standard way of installing larger applications such as
OpenOffice.org that come in lots of bits and pieces.
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R ECOVER
109
A DAMAGED DESKTOP
Recover a damaged desktop
If you’ve been tweaking your system to the point of breaking, and find
that the GNOME desktop no longer appears when you attempt to login,
click the Options button on the login screen, and click Select Session.
Next select Failsafe GNOME and click Change Session. Then login as usual.
From here you should be able to repair your desktop or possibly even
use the Users and Groups program to create a new account to use in
future (nothing like a fresh start, eh?).
110
Recover a damaged desktop #2
If you’ve having trouble logging into your GNOME desktop, first see
Tip 109. If that doesn’t work, you can try deleting your GNOME desktop configuration files and starting again. This is possible because, if
GNOME doesn’t find configuration files where they should be, it will
automatically create some afresh. Deleting these files is very radical
because it will delete all your desktop settings, plus those for GNOME
applications (although your Evolution mail and account settings will
remain because they’re stored in the .evolution folder). However, if you
have no other choice...
Log out of the desktop and then switch to a new virtual console ( Ctrl + Alt + F2 ).
Then login and type the following:
$ rm -rf .gnome-2
Then switch back to GUI mode ( Ctrl + Alt + F7 ) and login as usual.
111
Enable the root user
Ubuntu loves to use sudo/gksu to dish out superuser powers, but if you
want to permanently enable the root account so you can log into it, type
the following, which will assign the root user a password and thereby
activate it:
$ sudo passwd root
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Q UICKLY
CREATE GRAPHICAL TEXT BANNERS
Then type a new password that you’ll use in future when logging in as
root user.
In future you can switch to root user at the command prompt by typing
su -. You won’t be able to login as root from the login window, however,
unless you start alter a login preference. Click System → Administration → Login Window, then click the Security tab, and put a check in
Allow Local System Administrator Login. Then close the program and log out
and back in again as root (provide root as your username). Note that
running a GUI as root is about as dangerous as it gets but, then again,
it’s your computer!
If you don’t want to enable the root user, but would still like to switch to
root user account on occasion, Ubuntu can accommodate: see Tip 83,
on page 142.
112
Quickly create graphical text
banners
Tip 219, on page 254, discusses using the figlet command-line tool to
create ASCII banners of words but if you want to quickly create text
banners as a image file, perhaps for use on websites or presentations,
you can use GNOME’s font preview tool. It isn’t really designed for this
but appropriation of existing commands is the beauty of Linux!
You need to specify the text, plus which font to use (including its full
path), and the output filename. The following will create a banner saying ‘Ubuntu Kung Fu’ using the Arial font contained within my Windows
partition, outputting a file called banner.png:
$ gnome-thumbnail-font --text ‘Ubuntu Kung Fu' ‘/media/disk/WINDOWS/ ←֓
Fonts/ARIAL.TTF' banner.png
Obviously, you should ensure your Windows partition is mounted (select
its entry on the Places menu) before running any command using fonts
contained in its file system.
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S ECURELY
113
ERASE DATA
Securely erase data
There are a handful of situations where securely erasing data can be
useful. If you’re about to sell-on a computer, or even if you’re about to
dispose of it, it makes sense to completely wipe the hard disk.
Simply deleting the files isn’t good enough because they can still be
recovered using specialized software. Instead you must overwrite the
entire disk with junk data.
In addition to wiping entire storage devices, you occasionally might
want to wipe a file on your existing hard disk that contains personal
data so that it can’t be recovered, either deliberately or accidentally.
Ubuntu’s shred can help in both situations. It simply overwrites a file
(or hard disk/removable storage) over and over again with random data,
so that the original data isn’t recoverable (even by extremely specialized
data recovery agencies, or so it’s claimed by shred’s creators).
Wiping storage devices
Let’s say you want to securely erase the data on a USB key stick, so
that it can’t be recovered. You would follow these steps:
1. First you must find how Ubuntu refers to the USB stick on a technical level. To do so, insert it so that its icon appears on the desktop and then make a note of its name. Then open a terminal window and type mount and look for the line in the output what refers
to the USB keystick. For example, on my test PC, the keystick’s
label (name) was KINGSTON, so I picked out the following line (this
line has been truncated for brevity):
/dev/sdb1 on /media/KINGSTON type vfat (rw,nosuid,nodev, ...
I then made a note of /dev/sdb (note that the number at the end
should be dropped; it refers to the partition on the USB key stick,
and we intend to wipe the entire thing, regardless of partitions).
It’s very important you get this step right because there’s no going
back if you make a mistake! shred is irreversible.
2. After this, unmount the USB key stick by right-clicking it and
selecting Unmount Volume.
3. Then, at the command-prompt, type the following:
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S ECURELY
ERASE DATA
$ sudo shred -v /dev/sdb
It’s VITAL that you replace /dev/sdb with what you discovered earlier! This is one situation where typos can be disastrous.
Following this, shred will wipe the key stick. It will probably take a long
time to complete, but you’ll see a progress report on-screen every few
seconds.
By default shread overwrites the data 25 times, but you can speed up
the process by using the -n command option, which tells shred how
many times to overwrite. Unless you’re expecting the CIA to come and
visit, a value of -n1 should be good enough for most of us (the full command then becoming sudo shred -v -n1 /dev/sdb).
When the USB key stick has been erased, you’ll need to reformat it,
because the format component of the disk was part of that securely
erased. This can be done by following the steps in Tip 44, on page 104.
Essentially the same method as described above can be used to wipe a
hard disk but this time you must use Ubuntu’s live distro mode on the
install CD, so that the hard disk isn’t mounted. Boot from your Ubuntu
install CD on the computer whose disk you want to erase and select
to Try Ubuntu from the boot menu. When the desktop appears, open a
terminal window and type the following (this assumes the computer has
one hard disk fitted; note that you should remove any type of removable
storage device before issuing this command, such as USB key sticks):
$ sudo swapoff
$ sudo shred -v /dev/sda
Any hard disk containing any operating system (including Windows)
can be wiped in this way. To wipe a floppy disk, replace /dev/sda with
/dev/fd0.
Wiping files
Wiping files rather than entire disks is simply a matter of specifying the
file, this time adding the -u command option.18 For example, let’s say
you wanted to destroy partypicture.jpg beyond recovery:
18. If you read the shred manual, you’ll see a warning that when completely shredding
files on journaled file systems—such as the ext3 system used by Ubuntu—some trace
of the file might be left behind. However, this is only an issue for ext3 file systems that
use the data=journal mode. Ubuntu uses the data=ordered mode, which allows shred to
completely destroy files.
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EMACS GAMES
$ shred -v -n1 -u partypicture.jpg
Note that there is no need in this case to precede the command with
sudo because the file belongs to you.
114
Play emacs games
If you’re a fan of this arcane text editor, you might be interested in
the “hidden” games that help you take a break every now again. Start
emacs and then hit Esc and type x . Then type any from the following
list: tetris, pong, snake, solitaire, gomoku, doctor (an Eliza clone).
115
Fix video playback problems
If you find video playback is distorted or jumpy, open a terminal window and type gstreamer-properties. In the program window that appears,
select the Video tab and, in the Plugin dropdown list beneath Default
Output, select X Window System (No Xv).
If you run into problems with Totem video playback, you might be
interested in installing an alternative media player: see Tip 231, on
page 272.
116
Turn any text file into a PDF at the
command-line
There are a number of ways of converting a text file into a PDF at the
command line. Perhaps easiest is to “print” it to Ubuntu’s PDF printer
driver. The file will then be saved to the PDF folder in your /home folder.
This tip uses the lp command, telling it which printer to use with the -d
command switch:
$ lp -d PDF textfile.txt
For more PDF manipulation tips, see also Tip 168, on page 205; Tip 189,
on page 228; Tip 215, on page 249; and Tip 258, on page 298.
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164
AVOID
117
REPETITIVE STRAIN INJURY WHEN USING
U BUNTU
Avoid repetitive strain injury when
using Ubuntu
Although some might scoff at repetitive strain injury, it is a significant
cause of workplace injury. To help avoid it you might choose to install
WorkRave, a GNOME applet19 that includes timers to tell you when
to take a break, and then guides you through exercises to lessen the
chances of RSI occurring. To install the program, simply search for
and install workrave using Synaptic. Once installed, log out and back
in again, then right-click a blank spot on the panel and select Add to
panel. Select WorkRave from the list.
WorkRave works on the principle of three separate break timers. The
first is for “micro-breaks”, which are short pauses of a few seconds
every few minutes. The second are “rest breaks”, which occur maybe
every hour. The third is the “Daily limit”, which is intended to encapsulate your working day.
Each time a rest-break comes around, a window pops-up showing some
exercises you should do, along with a countdown timer, which is designed
to help you complete each. If you’re too busy to do the exercises, simply
click the Skip button. Whenever a micro-break is due, the icon on the
panel will switch to a green bar to tell you.
The times for each break can be set by right-clicking the panel icon and
selecting Preferences.
118
Uninstall Ubuntu
Yes, it’s unthinkable, yet it might be desirable for users who have tried
Ubuntu but found it’s not for them. Uninstalling Ubuntu safely and
cleanly, without data loss, is a must.
When used on a dual-boot computer, the following steps will restore the
Windows boot loader and then remove the Ubuntu partitions, before
19. A version of WorkRave is also available for Windows. Visit the project website for more
information: http://www.workrave.org.
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U NINSTALL U BUNTU
expanding the Windows partition to fill the empty space. Bear in mind
that this involves repartitioning, which you undertake at your own
peril. You should certainly back up any vital data first.
1. Insert your Windows installation CD and boot from it. When the
initial installation choices menu appears, hit r to get to the Recovery Console. Select your Windows partition when prompted, and
enter the Administrator password when prompted (if you didn’t
set an administrator password, just hit Enter ).
2. Type the following commands, the last of which will reboot your
computer:
C:\>
C:\>
C:\>
C:\>
fixmbr
fixboot
bootcfg /rebuild
exit
The bootcfg command will ask you for a load identifier. This is
the Windows boot menu entry and can be anything you want—
“Windows” is a good choice. When prompted for OS Load Options,
just leave the line blank and hit Enter.
3. You should now be able to boot into Windows when the computer
is rebooted, but to delete the Ubuntu partitions and enlarge the
Windows partition you’ll need to boot from your Ubuntu CD and
use Gparted. Select the Try Ubuntu option from the Ubuntu installer
boot menu and once Ubuntu is up and running, click System →
Administration → Partition Editor.
4. Look for your Ubuntu swap partition in the list—it will probably be
identified as linux-swap. Right-click it and then select Swapoff from
the menu that appears.
5. Select the main Ubuntu partition (it will be identified as ext3 in
the list), right-click and select Delete. Repeat with the linux-swap
partition. Note that the two partitions might be in an extended
partition. You may need to select this too and then select Delete.
6. Right-click the NTFS (Windows) partition and select Resize/Move.
Then, in the dialog that appears, click and drag the right-edge of
the graphical representation of the partition until it fills the disk.
Click the Resize/Move button. Then click the Apply button in the
main Gparted window. Note that if you see an error during NTFS
resizing, it’s likely you didn’t shutdown Windows properly the last
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N ETWORK U BUNTU , M AC
AND
W INDOWS ...
WITHOUT DOING ANYTHING
time you used it. Reboot into Windows and run a chkdsk. Then
repeat this step.
7. There’s one last thing to take care of—getting rid of the Windows
boot menu we introduced when restoring the Windows boot loader.
Using My Computer, browse to the root of C:\ and right-click
boot.ini (ensure you have chosen to show invisible files in Tools →
Options). Click Properties and remove the check from the Read Only
box. Then open C:\boot.ini in Notepad, and change the timeout=30
line to read timeout=0. Save the file and reboot to test.
119
Network Ubuntu, Mac and
Windows... without doing
anything
So a Mac, Windows PC, and Ubuntu box walk into a bar and plug themselves into an Ethernet hub. And that’s the end of the joke. From that
point onwards, without any configuration necessary, all three computers should be able to network with each other. This is because, in the
absence of a DHCP/DNS server to assign network addresses, all the
computers will default to the Zerconf system (known as Bonjour on
Apple Macs and Automatic Private IP Addressing on Windows; sometimes it’s also known as link-local). The machines will sort themselves
out with an IP address somewhere in 169.254 range (assuming all the
computers are set to use IPv4 by default, which is very likely).
120
Access ISO images as if they’re
disk drives
The standard method of distributing Ubuntu as a full operating system
is as an ISO image, which you can burn to disc and boot from. If you
need to look into what’s in an ISO image you have a number of choices.
The first is to right-click the image file and select Open with “Archive
Manager”. The slight issue with this approach is that opening larger
ISO files (DVD-ROM images, for example) can take some time, as can
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I MPROVE U BUNTU ’ S M ICROSOFT O FFICE 2007
FILE SUPPOR T
extracting files. A better way is to mount the ISO image just like you an
actual disk. To do so, open a terminal window and type the following
(this assumes the file ubuntu.iso is in your /home folder):
$ sudo mkdir /media/ISO
$ sudo mount -o loop ~/ubuntu.iso /media/ISO
Note that the first command creates a mount point and doesn’t need to
be typed in future. Once the ISO image is mounted, an icon for it will
automatically appear on the desktop.
To unmount the image, type sudo umount /media/ISO in the terminal
window.
To learn how to create your own ISO backup images of virtually any
physical CD/DVD, see Tip 203, on page 239.
121
Improve Ubuntu’s Microsoft
Office 2007 file support
You might be aware of the scandal surrounding Microsoft’s new Office
2007 file formats (also supported in Microsoft Office 2008 on the Apple
Mac). Luckily, few people are actually using the file format right now,
and the older .doc, .xls etc file formats remain dominant. OpenOffice.org
comes with the ability to open Office 2007 files but not save them, and
to be truthful it isn’t very good at importing (at least not at the time of
writing).
But there’s a simple solution. The OpenOffice Ninja website offers the
odf-converter-integrator package, which seamlessly converts files to and
from Office 2007 format, and integrates fully with OpenOffice.org so
you can save and load files. You can download the Ubuntu package
from http://katana.oooninja.com/w/odf-converter-integrator/download (select
the “Ubuntu i386” version). Download to the desktop. To install, open
a terminal window and type the following (ensure all OpenOffice.org
applications are closed):
$ sudo apt-get install libgif4 libungif4g
$ sudo dpkg -i ~/Desktop/odf-converter-integrator-chocolate_0.1.4-1. ←֓
i386.deb
Obviously you should replace the filename on the dpkg line with that
which you downloaded, because it’s very likely the version number will
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U SE
A FRIENDLY VERSION OF VIM
have changed. Ensure you update the package frequently because the
converter software is still being developed and improves all the time.
To configure OpenOffice.org to always save in Microsoft Office file formats, see Tip 249, on page 288.
122
Use a friendly version of vim
For reasons best known to Ubuntu developers, the version of the vim
text editor that runs if you type vi at the command-prompt isn’t setup
in the most user-friendly way. Backspace won’t work, while the cursor keys aren’t assigned properly and will cause letters to appear in
INSERT mode. This can make editing difficult unless you’re used to the
specific vim keyboard shortcuts. To make vim act more like it should,
you can install a better version using Synaptic—just search for and
install the vim package (the package that supplies vim out of the box is
vim-common). Configuration is automatic and typing either vi or vim will
start the improved version.
To install a GUI version of vim, see Tip 181, on page 220.
123
Get around partitioning errors if
using BootCamp on Macs
I wanted to install Ubuntu alongside OS X on my Apple Macbook. I tried
to use BootCamp but it threw up an error about unmovable files and
suggested I blank the hard disk and start again. I was a tad too busy
to do that so I booted Ubuntu in live distro mode (insert the CD and
hold down c when booting), and clicked System → Administration →
Partition Editor. Then I resized the OS X HFS partition there. Of course,
as with any repartitioning process, you should back up your data first.
I also created the new ext3 partition using Partition Manager (remember
that you shouldn’t create a swap partition because it confuses BootCamp) and then ran the installer from within live distro mode. The only
other thing I had to remember was to set GRUB to install to /dev/sda
at the end, rather than (hd0,0), which is default. Following this I could
boot Ubuntu by holding down Alt during the boot chime and selecting
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H AVE M ACS
CORRECTLY REFER TO
U BUNTU
IN DUAL - BOOT MODE
Windows (see Tip 124 for a way of getting around this incorrect boot
label).
124
Have Macs correctly refer to
Ubuntu in dual-boot mode
The BootCamp provided by Apple to allow dual-booting on Macintosh
computers is designed for Windows. The Macintosh boot menu that
appears when you hold down Alt during boot confirms this—even if
you install Ubuntu, it will still read “Windows”. There are some ways
around this using OS X’s own tools but none are satisfactory. The easiest way to get around it to install rEFIt (http://refit.sourceforge.net), a
third-party Mac boot manager. This shows a nice graphical boot menu
each time you start-up, complete with the correct icons and terminology for Linux partitions. You can install it from within OS X or create a
bootable CD and install it that way. Setup is automatic after installation
and no configuration is needed. Just reboot to see the effect.
125
Sleep, Ubuntu, sleep!
The sleep command is usually used in shell scripts but it can be useful
in simply delaying day-to-day commands typed at the prompt. As its
name suggests, it causes the prompt to pause for a set period before
executing any more instructions. Inserted before another command, it
can cause the computer to pause before executing that command. For
example, the following will cause the computer to shutdown (switch to
run level 0) in 30 seconds:
$ sudo sleep 30s; sudo telinit 0
Note that this particular example only works because the computer
“remembers” the sudo powers used with the first command (sleep), so
when they’re called by the second command (telinit 0), they’re still relevant. In this particular case, if the pause was longer than 160 seconds
(two minutes; the sudo grace period) then the command wouldn’t work.
To learn about how to extend the sudo pause, see Tip 47, on page 110.
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I NSTANTLY
126
CREATE A
HTML
SLIDESHOW OF PHOTOS
Instantly create a HTML slideshow
of photos
Use Synaptic to install igal. Once installed, copy all the pictures that
you wish to make into a slideshow into one folder. Then switch to that
folder and type igal. Simple as that—there’s no need to specify the files.
The necessary HTML files for a slideshow will be created automatically
and all you need do is upload all the files to your website. The main file
igal creates is index.html, and you might want to rename this to something like slideshow.html, to avoid overwriting your website’s index.html
file. You should also be aware that igal creates thumbnails of the images
as hidden files (files preceded by a period), and these will need to be
uploaded to the website too. To view then in a Nautilus file browsing
window, click View → Show Hidden Files.
There’s no reason why the slideshow will only work online. You could
also email the whole folder full of images plus HTML to others as a single compressed file, and instruct them to double-click index.html when
they’ve decompressed the folder. The slideshow will then open in their
browser.
If all you want to do is instantly view a folder full of photos as a
slideshow, see Tip 208, on page 242.
127
Reveal the desktop
Like it or loathe it, Windows has a lot of useful productivity features.
One of those is the Show Desktop icon which appears in the Quick Links
toolbar and allows users to instantly minimize all windows in order to
access the desktop. Ubuntu includes its own variation at the bottom
left of the screen but more useful is to hit the keyboard combination
that does the same thing: Ctrl + Alt + d . If you have the desktop effects
activated, everything will slide out of the way to the edges of the screen.
Otherwise it’ll simply be like everything has minimized to the taskbar.
Hitting the combo again will cause the windows to reappear in their
original positions.
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S ET
128
HARD DISK POWER - SAVING
Set hard disk power-saving
Ubuntu has a powerful raft of power management features, accessible
through System → Preferences → Power Management, but you might
notice one missing if you’re used to Windows or OS X: hard disk spin
down time. This is where the hard disk powers-down after a period of
inactivity. When data is requested after this, it spins up again, although
there is sometimes a momentary pause while this happens.
It’s possible to set your hard disk to spin down under Ubuntu, in order
to save power and/or wear and tear (particularly on a computer left
on most of the time), but you’ll need to edit a configuration file. Follow
these steps:
1. The configuration file containing the settings is hdparm.conf, so
open it in Gedit by typing the following into a terminal window:
gksu gedit /etc/hdparm.conf.
2. Look for the line that reads #spindown_time = 24 and remove the
hash from the beginning of the line, so it reads simply spindown_time
= 24.
3. Alter spindown_time time to any value you want. Each number is
five seconds, so the default setting of 24 equates to 120 seconds (24
x 5 = 120 seconds). However, a value over 240 changes things—
beyond 240, each unit equals 30 minutes. So a value of 241 will
spin down the disk after 30 minutes, a value of 242 will spin down
the disk after 60 minutes, and so on. Setting the line to read spindown_time = 241 is a good choice, because the disk will spin down
after 30 minutes of inactivity.
4. Save the file when you’ve finished and reboot for the changes to
take effect.
Remember that this doesn’t mean the hard disk will spin down 30 minutes after you stop using the computer. It means it will spin down 30
minutes after all hard disk access has ceased. Often Ubuntu will do
things like flush its caches or run anacron jobs in the background,
meaning the hard disk can’t spin down until 30 minutes after these
jobs have finished.
For some laptop power-saving tricks, see Tip 5, on page 65, and Tip 106,
on page 158.
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V IEW
129
THE
GNOME
DESKTOP VERSION
View the GNOME desktop
version
You might find that some software you want to install requires a particular version of the GNOME desktop to function correctly. To find
out the version number, click Help → About GNOME. For instance, the
default version shipped with Ubuntu Hardy Heron (8.04.1) is 2.22.2.
To learn the Ubuntu version number, see Tip 62, on page 123.
130
Avoid GNOME startup errors
Every now and again I see the following error message when booting
into GNOME: “There was an error starting the GNOME Settings Daemon.” To avoid it appearing in future, I clean-out my /tmp folder, which
contains temporary files. Start by logging out so that you’re back at
the login screen. Then switch to a virtual terminal ( Ctrl + Alt + F2 ) and
login. Then type sudo telinit 1. This will switch to the first run level and
shutdown the graphical subsystem. On the menu that appears, select
the root - Drop to root shell prompt option and then type the following
(exactly as written—be careful not to mistype!):
# rm -rf /tmp/{*,.*}
# reboot
Once your system has restarted, login as usual. Some suggest that
disabling IPv6 can also avoid GNOME startup errors—see Tip 60, on
page 121.
131
Use FTP under Ubuntu
When it comes to FTPing into a site, there’s a wealth of choice under
Ubuntu. You can use Firefox, the Nautilus file manager, or the command line.
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U SE FTP
UNDER
U BUNTU
Firefox
To use Firefox, simply type the address into the address bar, remembering to preceded it with ftp:// rather than http://. Once you’re connected,
Firefox lets you drag and drop files onto the the desktop (or Nautilus
windows), but you can’t upload files to a site.
If the FTP site requires a username/password you’ll be prompted for it,
or you can also supply it within the url in the form username:[email protected],
for example:
ftp://keir:[email protected]
Nautilus
Using Ubuntu’s default file manager provides perhaps the most fussfree and capable choice of FTP client and allows drag and drop of files to
and from the server (ie download and upload). To access a site, click on
any Nautilus file browsing window and click Go → Location. Then type
the site address, remembering to include the ftp:// prefix. Once connected you’ll be prompted for your username/password, if applicable,
and you’ll be able to have Nautilus remember it for future access.
Following connection, the FTP site is treated like any other mounted
file system and an icon will appear on the desktop. To disconnect from
the site, right-click the desktop icon and select Unmount Volume. One
handy tip is to create Nautilus bookmarks of FTP directories you access
frequently. You can do this by clicking Bookmarks → Add Bookmark, or
just hitting Ctrl + d , as in Firefox. Once the bookmark is clicked upon
in future, Nautilus will connect automatically, as if the folder concerned
were on your own computer or the local network.
Command-line ftp tool
The third method of FTPing provided by Ubuntu is to the use the
command-line ftp tool. You can connect to a site by typing the following:
ftp ftp.example.com
Obviously, you should replace ftp.example.com with the address of the
FPT site. Following this you’ll be prompted for your username (just hit
Enter if it’s the same as your Ubuntu login) and then your password.
Following connection, ftp works mostly the same as a standard commandline prompt. ls can be used to list files, cd can be used to switch folders,
and so on. The two unique but essential commands are get and put,
which download and upload specified files, respectively.
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S WITCH
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N AUTILUS
Typing an exclamation mark (!)20 will give you a shell session on your
computer for quick file operations. To return back to the ftp program,
type exit (don’t type ftp—that will start a NEW ftp session!).
Another useful command is help, which lists the available commands.
You can then use help to ask for information about a specific command:
help pwd. Once you’ve finished your uploading/downloading work, type
quit to disconnect from the site and quit the ftp program.
If you long for a Windows-like FTP experience of using a program such
as FTP Explorer or CuteFTP that shows the site contents within a single
window, then give Gftp a try. Use Synaptic to search for and install the
gftp-gtk package. Once installed, this can be found in the Applications
→ Internet menu.
To learn how to setup your own personal FTP server, see Tip 226, on
page 265.
132
Switch to old-fashioned tree-view
in Nautilus
Remember how file manager windows used to show files on the right,
and show a tree-view of the file system on the left? This made it easy to
hop from place to place in the file system.
To switch back to this way of working with Nautilus, click the Places
dropdown above the left-hand pane and select Tree. By default you’ll
only see folders listed in tree view. To have files listed too, click Edit →
Preferences and remove the check from Show only folders under the Tree
View Defaults heading in the dialog box that appears.
For more Nautilus tricks, see Tip 72, on page 129; Tip 85, on page 143;
Tip 165, on page 203; Tip 104, on page 157; Tip 144, on page 187;
Tip 261, on page 301; Tip 272, on page 312; and Tip 295, on page 343.
20. An exclamation mark (!) is known as a “bang” in Linux-speak. You’ll often hear it
referred to as such in Linux documentation.
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K ILL
ANY CRASHED PROGRAM
Kill any crashed program
133
When a Linux users wants to get rid of a crashed program, he kills
it—literally. The kill command is used for this purpose, but it needs the
program ID (PID) number to work. This can be discovered using the
pgrep. For example, let’s say Firefox has crashed and won’t respond to
requests to quit. Open a terminal window, and type the following:
$ pgrep firefox
A three or (more likely) four digit number will be returned—something
like 7198. All you need then do is type the following:
$ kill 7198
You might also try the killall command. This lets you specify the program
name—killall firefox, for example.
The kill command has a more ruthless brother, designed to click-andkill GUI programs: xkill. Just type the command from a terminal window
and, after the cursor has changed to a cross, click on the crashed program. It will be terminated instantly. If you decide to change your mind,
right-clicking anywhere will cancel xkill. Bear in mind that xkill can also
terminate components of the GNOME desktop, so if the panel stops
responding, for example, it can be used.
134
Increase the number of
documents remembered by
Gedit
You can give Gedit the memory of an elephant when it comes to the
recent files listed on its File menu. Open gconf-editor and navigate to
/apps/gedit-2/preferences/ui/recents and change max_recents on the right
to virtually any number you wish. About 10 is a sensible number, but
20 or 30 are possible.
For more Gedit tips and tricks, see Tip 93, on page 149; Tip 10, on
page 70; and Tip 155, on page 198.
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U TILIZE
ALL A SOUND CARD ’ S FEATURES
Figure 3.24: Activating a sound card’s full feature range (see Tip 135)
135
Utilize all a sound card’s features
Out of the box, Ubuntu only gives access to a fraction of your sound
card’s functionality. For example, if you have a four-point surround
sound system, the mixer window—accessible when you double-click
the volume control icon on the desktop—won’t show a fader for the
rear channels. To utilize all your sound card’s useful functions, including the surround sound feature, double-click the desktop volume icon
and, in the mixer window that appears, click Edit → Preferences. Then
select the faders and/or switches you want to appear on the main mixer
window. An example is shown in Figure 3.24.
To learn how to adjust the volume from the command-line, see Tip 76,
on page 133.
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M ONITOR
136
NETWORK SPEED
Monitor network speed
Sometimes it’s useful to be able to see the speed of data transfers either
across the network or Internet. To do so under Ubuntu, install the
netspeed package. This is a GNOME applet that shows both up- and
download speeds (represented by up and down arrows, respectively).
Once installed, you can activate it by right-clicking a blank spot on the
panel, clicking Add to panel, and selecting the second Network Monitor
entry in the list (it will have a description that reads “Netspeed Applet”).
If the applet seems to show no throughput, right-click it, select Preferences, and then, in the dialog that appears, ensure the correct network
device is selected in the Network device dropdown list. You can discover
the network device that’s providing your connection by right-clicking
the NetworkMonitor applet at the top right of the screen, clicking Connection Information, and looking at end of the Interface line.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to monitor her/his network speed,
you’re probably the kind of person who likes to know their IP address
too. See Tip 255, on page 296.
137
Make the command-prompt
colorful
This is a simple tweak that adds a little color to the command-prompt
so that it’s easier to pick-out amongst a lot of output.
Open your .bashrc file in Gedit (gedit ~/.bashrc) and add a new line at the
bottom that reads as follows:
PS1='${debian_chroot:+($debian_chroot)}\[\033[01;32m\]\[email protected]\h\[\033[00m\]: ←֓
\[\033[01;34m\]\w\[\033[00m\]\$ '
Your fingers will probably ache after typing that! Check to ensure you’ve
typed it correctly and then save the file. From now on, all commandprompts will be in color, in both terminal windows and virtual consoles.
Changing the color scheme is a little complicated. Look at the commandline above and pick-out 01;32m and 01;34m. The first numbers refer to
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M AKE
THE COMMAND - PROMPT COLORFUL
the coloring of the [email protected] component of the prompt, and
the second to the path listing that comes after the colon (:).
Possible values are as follows:
Style
00 -- Normal (no color, no bold)
01 -- Bold
Text color
30 -- Black
31 -- Red
32 -- Green
33 -- Yellow
34 -- Blue
35 -- Magenta
36 -- Cyan
37 -- White
Background color
40 -- Black
41 -- Red
42 -- Green
43 -- Yellow
44 -- Blue
45 -- Magenta
46 -- Cyan
47 -- White
It doesn’t matter in which order the numbers are written and you can
supply more than two (ie 01;34;43m). For example, to change the prompt
to a magenta background with white text for the [email protected]
component, and green text for the path component (without bold in
both cases), you could change the line to read:
PS1='${debian_chroot:+($debian_chroot)}\[\033[45;37m\]\[email protected]\h\[\033[00m\]: ←֓
\[\033[32m\]\w\[\033[00m\]\$ '
To simply make the entire prompt bold, but no colors, so that it’s simply
easier to spot in a long list of output, set the values at 01:
PS1='${debian_chroot:+($debian_chroot)}\[\033[01m\]\[email protected]\h\[\033[01m\]: ←֓
\[\033[01m\]\w\[\033[00m\]\$ '
Bear in mind that bold text does not appear on virtual consoles. You
should also check any color schemes you set against the black background of the virtual console—a common mistake is to set colors that
just aren’t visible against anything other than the white background of
the GNOME Terminal window.
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M AKE W INDOWS
138
PERMANENTLY AVAILABLE
Make Windows permanently
available
Do you find it annoying that, after booting, your Windows partition
must be manually selected from the Places menu? Me too. To ensure
Windows is always mounted, you’ll need to add an entry to the /etc/fstab
file, as follows:
1. Mount your Windows partition (click its entry on the Places menu)
and then open a terminal window. Type mount. Look for the line
that includes /media/disk, and look at the front of the line. It should
read something like /dev/sda1. Make a note of this.
2. Create a permanent mount point for the Windows partition by
typing sudo mkdir /media/windows.
3. Open the fstab file for editing by typing gksu gedit /etc/fstab. Add a
new line at the end that reads as follows:
/dev/sda1 /media/windows ntfs-3g rw,defaults 0 0
If necessary, replace /dev/sda1 with what you discovered earlier.
Then reboot. From now on, your Windows partition will always be
available whenever you boot and an icon should appear on the
desktop at all times. If you want to mount the partition read-only
(very wise), replace rw in the line above with ro.
You will not be able to unmount the Windows partition in the usual way
by right-clicking its icon and selecting Unmount volume. To do so, open
a terminal window and type sudo umount /media/windows.
139
Give the boot menu a wallpaper
Ubuntu’s boot menu is ugly and looks like it’s straight out of 1985. It
doesn’t have to be this way. Ubuntu uses the GRUB menu software, and
that’s capable of having a graphical backdrop that can be any picture.
However, you’ll need to shrink the picture and reduce its color level.
Because of this need to simplify the image, graphical designs tend to
work better than photographs (I noticed that cartoon images work well
too—pictures from The Simpsons being a particularly good choice!).
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G IVE
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1. Choose a picture and then load it into the GIMP (right-click and
select Open With → Open with "GIMP Image Editor"); you might
like to know that the default Ubuntu desktop wallpapers are stored
in /usr/share/backgrounds. You should select a picture that’s roughly
in 4:3 ratio, such as a digital camera snap. Don’t select very tall
or broad images—they won’t work.
2. Right-click the image within GIMP and select Image → Scale Image.
In the Width box, type 640 and hit the Tab key. The Height box
should then automatically change to 480. If it doesn’t, click the
small chain icon to the right of the Width and Height boxes, so that
it changes to a broken chain icon. Then enter 480 into the Height
box. Once done, click the Scale button.
3. Right-click the image again within The GIMP and select Image
→ Mode → Indexed. Ensure Generate Optimum Palette is selected,
and then type 14 into the Maximum Number of Colors box. Then
click the Convert button. The picture might now look ugly, but
such a low color count is all the GRUB boot menu allows. You
might want to try an alternative simpler image if you don’t like
what you see. Some nice Ubuntu-themed readymade boot menu
wallpapers are available for download from https://wiki.ubuntu.com/
Artwork/Incoming/Hardy/Alternate/Grub.
4. Right-click the image again within GIMP and select File → Save
As. Give the file a name in the Name box, and use the .xpm file
extension. You might save the file as bootwallpaper.xpm, for example. Bear in mind that GIMP automatically detects the file type it
should save the file as from the file extension. Click OK to select
the default alpha values, if prompted.
5. Open a terminal window and type the following (this assumes the
file was saved to the desktop):
$ sudo mkdir /boot/grub/splashimages
$ gzip ~/Desktop/bootwallaper.xpm
$ sudo mv ~/Desktop/bootwallpaper.xpm.gz /boot/grub/splashimages
6. Replace bootwallpaper mentions above with the filename you chose.
7. Then open the boot menu file for editing in Gedit:
$ gksu gedit /boot/grub/menu.lst
Look for the line that begins ## ## End Default Options ## and, below,
add a new line that reads splashimage=(hd0,4)/boot/grub/splashimages/bootwallaper.xpm.gz.
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Figure 3.25: Editing the boot menu configuration file to add a wallpaper
entry (see Tip 139, on page 180)
As above, replace bootwallpaper with the filename you chose. See
Figure 3.25 for an example taken from my test PC. Save the file
and then reboot to see the new wallpaper in action.
Note that the last step above assumes your computer is dual-booting
with Windows. If Ubuntu is the only operating system on your computer, the line should read splashimage=(hd0,0)/boot/grub/splashimages/bootwallpaper.xpm.gz.
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A CCESS
140
ALL REMOVABLE STORAGE FROM THE COMMAND - LINE
Access all removable storage
from the command-line
Any storage device you insert or otherwise connect to from your computer, including digital cameras, MP3 players, USB memory sticks,
network shared folders, and so on, will most likely be automatically
mounted in one of two file-system locations:
1. The /media folder (this is where USB memory sticks usually get
mounted);
2. The .gvfs in your /home folder;21 note that this is a hidden folder
that won’t show-up during normal file browsing. You must select
View → Show Hidden Files within Nautilus to see it, or use ls -a at
the command-line.
141
Reconfigure your graphics card
from the ground-up
If Ubuntu just hasn’t got it right when it comes to your graphics card
and/or monitor, you can configure things manually. To do so, open
a terminal window and type gksu displayconfig-gtk. Settings relating to
your monitor are located on the Screen tab, while you can change the
graphics driver in use by selecting the Graphics Card tab. If you can’t
seem to get any driver to work, try clicking the Driver dropdown list,
and then selecting VESA from the Choose Driver by Name dropdown list.
VESA is a kind of failsafe driver that only uses the most primitive parts
of a graphics card, and should allow you to get at least some kind
of desktop visible, although performance will not be very good (video
playback might stutter, for example).
21. This book was written using Hardy Heron (8.04) as a base. This is the first release
of Ubuntu to use GVFS, a virtual file system layer. The goal of GVFS is to take care of
all kinds of external storage so that everything is available in a uniform way to desktop
users, but at the time of writing it’s in its infancy and some devices—such as USB memory
sticks—are still mounted in the old-fashioned way, in the /media folder. This is almost
certain to change with the next release of Ubuntu.
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U NLOCK
THE PACKAGE DATABASE
Don’t forget that, if you have an nVidia card or certain ATI Radeon
cards, you might want to select to use proprietary drivers. To do so,
click System → Administration → Hardware Drivers. Then check Enable
alongside the entry for your card and, once the driver installation has
completed, reboot the computer. Often using a proprietary driver is
the only way to get support for less usual screen resolutions, such as
widescreen settings.
142
Unlock the package database
Have you ever received either of the following errors at the commandprompt when trying to install software?
dpkg: status database area is locked by another process
Or
Could not get lock /var/lib/dpkg/lock - open (11 Resource temporarily ←֓
unavailable)
Unable to lock the administration directory (/var/lib/dpkg/), is ←֓
another process using it?
What it means is that another software installation application is open—
probably Synaptic or Update Manager. Only one program can install
software at any one time. You’ll need to close any others to continue.
143
Administer Ubuntu using a web
browser, from any computer (or
operating system)
Webmin is some fun software designed to let a user administrate his/her
system using a web browser. The web browser can be running in the
computer itself, or on another computer on the same network or even
the Internet (provided the network is configured correctly). Webmin is
geared around server configuration, but it still offerers one or two tools
for more humble users.
Unfortunately it isn’t contained within the Ubuntu software repositories, and must be downloaded from the Webmin site. Additionally, sev-
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A DMINISTER U BUNTU
USING A WEB BROWSER , FROM ANY COMPUTER ( OR OPERATING SYSTEM )
185
eral dependencies must be manually taken care of. Start by visiting
http://www.webmin.com/download.html and download the Debian package (if an Ubuntu package is available, download that instead, but at
the time of writing both Debian and Ubuntu packages were combined).
Open a terminal prompt and type the following, which will install the
dependencies needed by webmin:
$ sudo apt-get install libnet-ssleay-perl libauthen-pam-perl libio-pty- ←֓
perl libmd5-perl
Then to install the Webmin package, type the following (assuming it’s
been downloaded to the desktop):
$ sudo dpkg -i ~/Desktop/webmin_1.420_all.deb
Obviously you should replace the filename with that which you downloaded.
Once installation has completed, Webmin is ready to use immediately.
To access it from your own machine, open a web browser and type the
following address:
https://localhost:10000
To access it from another computer, you’ll need to know your computer’s IP address. This can be discovered by right-clicking the NetworkManager icon, selecting Connection Information, and looking at the
IP Address line in the dialog box that appears. For example, the computer
I installed Webmin into had the IP address of 192.168.1.6, so to connect
from my Apple Macbook computer I open the Safari web browser and
type the following into the address bar:
https://192.168.1.6:10000
Regardless of how you connect, the first time you do so you’ll be warned
about an invalid security certificate. This happens because Webmin
uses the encrypted https:// web browser protocol and this relies on
security certificates that are issued by a handful of Internet agencies.
Because getting one of these certificates is impractical for every installation, Webmin generates its own certificate for the purposes of allowing
https:// connections. 22
22. If you get hold of a digital certificate, or already own one for the machine that Webmin
is installed on, you can configure Webmin to work with it instead of its own self-generated
certificate. Once it’s installed, click Webmin on the left of the window and then Webmin
Configuration. Then click the SSL Encryption icon and click the Upload Certificate tab.
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Figure 3.26: Adding a security exception for Webmin (see Tip 143, on
page 184)
Therefore on each machine you use to access Webmin, you must tell
the web browser to either ignore the seemingly insecure certificate, or
add an exception, as in the case of Firefox under Ubuntu—click the Or
you can add an exception link when the warning dialog box appears and
then click the Add Exception button. Then click the Get Certificate button
in the dialog box that appears and then click Confirm Security Exception,
as shown in Figure 3.26.
Following this you’ll see a username and password login. Type in your
standard Ubuntu username/password combination and you should be
presented with Webmin’s dashboard. On the left are the system administration categories you can choose from. You can choose to add users,
for example, by clicking the System link and selecting Users and Groups.
You can edit the book loader menu by clicking the Hardware link and
selecting GRUB Boot Loader. You an even run shell commands by clicking
Others and then Command Shell.
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G IVE N AUTILUS
WINDOWS THEIR OWN WALLPAPER
Remember that, if you have activated Ubuntu’s firewall (see Tip 37,
on page 93), you’ll need to add an outgoing rule to allow Webmin to
be accessed by computers on the network. Bear in mind too that if
you have a computer that directly connects to the Internet (that ISN’T
behind a NAT firewall, such as that provided by a broadband router)
then your Webmin login screen will be accessible by the entire Internet.
You should ensure that you keep Webmin up to date if this is the case,
to keep on top of potential security vulnerabilities.
144
Give Nautilus windows their own
wallpaper
You can apply a colored or textured background to Nautilus windows
by clicking Edit → Backgrounds and Emblems and then clicking and
dragging your choice on top of any open Nautilus window. To get rid of
it, click and drag the Reset icon on top of a Nautilus window.
To use your own image for Nautilus wallpaper, you must copy it to the
/usr/share/nautilus/patterns folder, and then add it to the Nautilus Backgrounds and Emblems selection dialog. To do this, first copy the image
to the relevant location using sudo powers:
$ sudo cp image.jpg /usr/share/nautilus/patterns/
Replace image.jpg with the file name of your image. Then open the Backgrounds and Emblems dialog box, as described above, and click the
Add a New Pattern button. Your new image should be listed as one of
the choices, so double-click it to add it to the choices of wallpaper in
the Backgrounds and Emblems dialog box. Then select it in the main
dialog box. Note that the wallpaper will be tiled—there is currently no
way to centre or stretch wallpaper in Nautilus windows.
For more Nautilus tricks and tips, see Tip 72, on page 129, Tip 85, on
page 143; Tip 165, on page 203; Tip 132, on page 175; Tip 104, on
page 157; Tip 261, on page 301; Tip 272, on page 312; and Tip 295, on
page 343.
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C REATE
145
AN ENCRYPTED FILESTORE ACCESSIBLE FROM ANY OPERATING SYSTEM
Create an encrypted filestore
accessible from any operating
system
Tip 250, on page 289, explains how to encrypt individual files under
Ubuntu but if you spend time on many different computers and operating systems, it might be worth creating an encrypted file store that
you can copy to, say, a USB stick and carry around with you. An
encrypted file store is a single file that is then mounted by the system and accessed as a virtual disk drive. When you’ve finished, you
unmount it, thus “locking” the store so that nobody can access it without typing the password. 23
TrueCrypt is open source software and runs on Ubuntu, Windows and
Mac OS X. It’s extremely easy to use, and it’s very simple to create as
many encrypted filestores as you need.
Installing TrueCrypt
Start by downloading TrueCrypt from http://www.truecrypt.com. Select the
Ubuntu x86 .deb release. You might also choose to download the versions
for any other operating systems you’d like to use your new filestore
under.
At the time of writing, the Ubuntu release is supplied in a tar archive,
which must be first uncompressed. Additionally a dependency package must be installed from the Ubuntu repositories. The following commands, to be typed into a terminal window, first install the dependency,
then extract the TrueCrypt .deb file and, lastly, install it (these instructions assume the file was downloaded to the desktop):
$ sudo apt-get install dmsetup
$ tar zxf ~/Desktop/truecrypt-6.0a-ubuntu-x86.tar.gz
$ sudo dpkg -i truecrypt-6.0a/truecrypt_6.0a-0_i386.deb
23. It’s possible to create a so-called ’traveller’ version of a TrueCrypt filestore, that
means the computer you attach the USB memory stick to doesn’t need to have TrueCrypt installed. For more information, see http://www.truecrypt.org/docs/?s=traveler-mode.
Of course, another method of doing this is to simply carry around the installation file
for TrueCrypt on the same USB memory stick, so you can install it where you need to.
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Obviously, you should replace the filename with that which you downloaded. It’s likely the folder into the which the .deb file is extracted will
also be different.
Creating an encrypted filestore
Once TrueCrypt is installed, you can start it by typing hitting Alt+F2
and typing truecrypt. The following instructions explain how to create
an initial encrypted filestore:
1. The first step is to create your initial encrypted file, known as a
volume. So click the Create Volume button. A wizard will appear.
Ensure Create a file container is selected, and click Next. (Note that
the second option, Create a volume within a partition/device, might
seem to suit our needs better, but creating a container file allows
the encrypted file store to be transferred easily from one USB key
stick to another, if need be; thus it’s the best choice here.)
2. Next, select the type of volume you wish to create. The default
choice of Standard TrueCrypt volume is fine. You might want to investigate the Hidden TrueCrypt volume option at some point, but it has a
specific purpose and adds some complications. When done, click
Next.
3. In the Volume Location text field, enter where you want to create the
encrypted filestore. If you plan to create it on your USB keystick,
you should click Select File, click the Browse for other folders link, and
then click its entry in the Places list on the left. Don’t forget to type
a filename in the Name text field in the file browsing dialog box
one you’ve navigated to the mount point. Give the filename the
extension .tc. This isn’t essential but will enable you to doubleclick the filestore to open it in Windows and Mac OS X. Once done,
click the Save button to close the file browsing dialog box, and click
Next in the wizard to move to the next step.
4. You’ll be invited to choose the encryption algorithm you want to
use. As you select from the dropdown list, the description will
change to show the pros and cons of each choice. AES is a good
choice for most uses. You can also change the hash algorithm if
you wish, but there shouldn’t be any need to do this. Once done,
click Next.
5. Now you’ll be prompted to enter the size the archive. If you’ve
selected a USB stick, you’ll be told how much free space is avail-
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Figure 3.27: Generating random data for TrueCrypt (see Tip 145, on
page 188)
able. You can’t enter fractions of a GB/MB, so to enter 1.9GB, for
example, you would need to select MB from the dropdown list and
type 1945 into the Volume Size text box (bearing in mind that there
are 1024Mb in 1GB). Once done, click Next.
6. After clicking Next, you’ll be invited to choose a password for the
archive. As always, a good password involves both lower and upper
case characters, and should be as long as you can make it while
making it possible to remember. Avoid cliched phrases, or anything else that might be easily guessed. Click Next when done.
7. You’ll now be asked to choose the filesystem for the filestore. FAT
is the best choice because it’s understood by Windows, Mac OS X
and Ubuntu. Click Next when you’ve made your choice.
8. When you click Next, you’ll move to the filestore creation screen.
However, first you must create some random data for the encryption process. Strange as it might seem, this is done by waving the
mouse pointer around within the TrueCrypt program window! So
do this for a few seconds (see Figure 3.27 for an example taken
from my test PC) and then click the Format button. Following this,
the filestore will be created. This might take some time! Once it’s
done, click Exit.
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Accessing the filestore
Following creation of the filestore, you must mount it so it’s accessible.
Follow these steps to do so, and to configure your computer to do so in
future:
1. Start TrueCrypt if it isn’t already running, as described above,
and, in the main TrueCrypt dialog box, select 1, under the Slot
heading.
2. Click the Select File button. Navigate to your new filestore using
the file browsing dialog box and click the Open button. Back in
the TrueCrypt window, click the Mount button. You’ll immediately
be prompted for its password, so type it. Then a dialog box will
appear asking you to type your Ubuntu login password, because
the mount procedure needs superuser powers. Following this a
new icon should appear on your desktop offering access to the
encrypted filestore, as if a new drive had been connected to the
system. Double-clicking the icon will open a Nautilus window showing its contents and you can drag and drop files to it, just like any
removable storage device. You can close the TrueCrypt program
window.
3. Once you’ve finished using the filestore, open the TrueCrypt dialog
box by clicking its notification area icon, select the mount in the
list, and click the Dismount button. This will “lock” the filestore.
Then, if the filestore is on a USB keystick, right-click it’s desktop icon and select Unmount Volume. Note that the filestore will be
automatically dismounted when you logout or shutdown, provided
TrueCrypt is running (you’ll know if this is the case because the
notification area icon will be present).
4. One useful tip is that, when the filestore is mounted, click Favorites
→ Add Selected Volume in the TrueCrypt window. From then on,
you can quickly mount the filestore by right-clicking the TrueCrypt notification area icon and selecting Mount All Favorite Volumes.
5. To unlock a filestore when it’s double-clicked, so that TrueCrypt
hasn’t got to be started manually each time, right-click a filestore
file and click Properties. Then, in the dialog box that appears, select
the Open With tab, and click the Add button. In the new dialog
box that appears, click the Use a custom command fold-down, and
in the text field type truecrypt %. Then click the Add button, and
the Close button in the parent window. Note that this will only
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work if, as described above, you ensure all filestore files you create
have the file extension .tc. To subsequently lock the filestore, you’ll
need to start TrueCrypt and use the Dismount button, as described
above. Rebooting or shutting down the computer will also lock the
filestore.
146
Find out how much disk space is
available
As with Windows, you can find out how much space is free on a disk
(including removable storage devices like USB memory sticks) by clicking Places → Computer, right-clicking the drive in question, and selecting Properties. To do the same at the command-line, type df -h. The -h
command option is necessary to provide “human-readable” figures (ie
figures in MB, GB etc, rather than in bytes).
147
Make Ubuntu blue (or dark grey,
or dark brown)
Use Synaptic to search for and install the blubuntu-look package, and
you’ll get a complete theme based around the color blue. Once the
packages are installed, right-click the desktop and select Change Desktop Background. Then select the new blue wallpaper. Click the Theme
tab and select the new Blubuntu option. You’ll need to log out and then
back in again for the changes to fully take effect, but before doing that,
click System → Administration → Login Window and, in the dialog box
that appears, click the Local tab. Then select the radio button alongside
Blubuntu in the list and click the Background Color box and manually
select a pleasant shade of blue from the color wheel (this color will form
the background when the desktop is loading). Then log out and back in
to see the full effect.
If you’d like a glossy black/dark grey finish to your windows, use Synaptic to install the ubuntustudio-theme package. Then select Ubuntu Studio
from the theme chooser (System → Preferences → Appearance).
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If you’re using Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) and would like to use the
dark brown theme slated for inclusion in Ubuntu 8.10 (at least at the
time of writing), use Software Sources to add the following repository:
deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/kwwii/ubuntu hardy main
...and then do a system update (System → Administration → Update
Manager). Log out and back in again and then use the theme chooser
(System → Preferences → Appearance) to select the NewHuman theme.
For other tips that tweak the Ubuntu look and feel, see Tip 74, on
page 131; Tip 21, on page 79; Tip 79, on page 138; Tip 199, on page 237;
Tip 220, on page 255; Tip 274, on page 313; and Tip 289, on page 338.
148
Use versions of Ubuntu that are
entirely Free Software
Ubuntu was created from the ground-up to respect the ethics and purpose of the Free Software movement. However, the decision was taken
a few years ago to include a small quantity of proprietary software in
the form of graphics and wifi drivers. This is seen as a stop-gap measure until usable open source alternatives are available. Additionally,
some software—such as the Firefox web browser—is covered by trademark agreements that are more restrictive than advocates of true Free
Software ideals would like.
At the present time, two projects distribute versions of Ubuntu that are
completely—and strictly—Free Software. The first is GNewSense (pronounced G-new-sense) which, as its name suggests, is a project sponsored by the Free Software Foundation. An installable ISO image can be
downloaded from http://www.gnewsense.org. The project’s major releases
tend to follow those of Ubuntu itself.
The other project is Gobuntu, which is officially supported by the Ubuntu
Foundation.24 Its releases trail a little behind the official releases, however, and it presently uses the text-mode (alternate) installer, rather
than the live distro installer. It can be downloaded from http://cdimage.
24. At the time of writing, it seems Gobuntu might be heading for the rocks. Mark Shut-
tleworth has suggested that effort should be invested in GNewSense instead.
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ubuntu.com/gobuntu/releases/, while more information can be found at
http://www.ubuntu.com/products/whatisubuntu/gobuntu.
The Ubuntu install CD also includes an option that will cause the
installer not to install proprietary drivers and also disable the restricted
and multiverse software repositories that contain software of a non-Free
nature. At the install CD boot screen, move the highlight using the
cursor keys so that Install Ubuntu is selected and then hit F6 twice. Then
highlight Free Software Only on the menu that appears, again using the
cursor keys. Hit Enter , then Esc , and finally hit Enter to start installation. Note that this doesn’t remove software of questionable trademarking.
You might also be interested in Tip 80, on page 138, which describes
how to use the open source OpenSolaris remix of Ubuntu.
149
Install OpenOffice.org’s
database component
OpenOffice.org Base—the database component of the venerable office
suite—isn’t installed out of the box. This is because it simply wouldn’t
fit on the install CD. This is a shame because Base offers a very simple
and usable front-end to database creation and maintenance, just like
Microsoft Access. To install Base, use Synaptic to search for and install
openoffice.org-base. Once installed, you’ll find it on the Applications →
Office menu.
150
Monitor your computer’s
temperature and fan speeds
Some people just like to have a virtual dashboard on their computer,
showing the temperature their computer is running at, along with the
speed of fans in the computer. If you have a high-performance computer, this can be very useful in diagnosing crashes due to overheating.
To see this kind of information in Ubuntu, use Synaptic to search for
and install sensors-appplet. Once done, reboot your computer. When the
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desktop reappears, right-click a blank spot on the panel, click Add to
panel, and then select Hardware Sensors Monitor from the list.
The information used by sensors-applet is supplied by kernel modules, and not all computers are fully compatible. You’ll know if you
see patently false information (such as temperature readings of zero),
although you might first check to ensure the applet is viewing your
hardware configuration correctly—right-click the applet, click Preferences, and then click the Sensors tab.
To monitor your CPU load, or alter the CPU speed on the fly, see
Tip 240, on page 282 and Tip 106, on page 158, respectively.
151
Print multiple photos on one
sheet of paper
Got a lot of pictures to print but not got a lot of paper? To print small
pictures, with many to a page, use GNOME Photo Printer—use Synaptic
to search for and install gnome-photo-printer; it can be found on the
Applications → Graphics menu once installed.
Start by clicking and dragging photos onto the GNOME Photo Printer
program window (ensure the Files tab is selected). Then click the Layout
tab and select the size you’d like each photo to be. Very small sizes are
possible using the Custom option. The aspect ratio of each picture will
be preserved, so you needn’t get the exact dimensions right here. Once
done, click the Print Preview button to see how it all looks. You might
find you’re able to get more pictures into a single page by switching
to landscape—click the Paper tab and select the option beneath the
Page orientation dropdown list. To really cram pictures onto a page, try
reducing the margin sizes too, under the Margins heading.
Once done, ensure the correct printer is selected in the Printer tab, and
then click the Print button.
Of course, there’s no reason why GNOME Photo Printer can’t be used
to print just two or four pictures on a sheet of paper, for use in the likes
of photo frames, provided the correct image size is set under the Layout
tab.
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152
SOME AL TERNATIVE WEB BROWSERS
Try some alternative web
browsers
Konqueror, Epiphany, Seamonkey, Midori are just some of the alternative web browsers available under Ubuntu that can make a good
alternative to Firefox. All can be installed from Synaptic (search for
epiphany-browser in the case of Epiphany).
Konqueror usually comes installed on versions of Linux using the KDE
desktop. While most don’t have any complaints about Firefox, Konqueror is said to be faster and more compatible with web standards.
Epiphany is officially the GNOME default browser, and is built using
the same Mozilla technology as Firefox, although most versions of Linux
built using GNOME rely on Firefox instead. However, Epiphany mirrors
the overall look and feel of the GNOME desktop, and is a true GNOME
application. For example, you can redefine the menu shortcuts by following Tip 254, on page 295, something which you can’t do with Firefox.
Seamonkey is the new name of the old Netscape Communicator browser
suite and as such it includes an email client and news reader alongside
a browser and even an HTML creation tool. If you were a fan of Netscape
Communicator in its heyday, it’s definitely worth trying.
Midori is a newcomer to the scene and uses the Webkit rendering
engine, rather than Mozilla, for its web browsing backend. Webkit is
used in Apple’s Safari web browser and was originally based on Konqueror’s KHTML engine, so it comes with a good pedigree. It’s a good
choice to use in the unlikely event that a page doesn’t render correctly
using Firefox.
Once installed, you can make any of these browsers the system default
by clicking System → Preferences → Preferred Applications. Then, in
the Web Browser dropdown list, make your choice. Now, whenever you
click a link in an email (or similar), the alternative browser will start
instead of Firefox.
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153
HIDE / UNHIDE WINDOWS USING THE KEYBOARD
Quickly hide/unhide windows
using the keyboard
Ubuntu can ‘roll up’ windows to just their title-bar (known as shading),
but the function isn’t activated by default. However, the function can
be coupled to a keyboard shortcut so that you can quickly roll-up a
window to see what’s behind it, before unrolling it again (for example,
if you’re typing something you’ve seen on a Firefox web page into a
terminal window). To set this up, start Keyboard Shortcuts (System →
Preferences) and scroll down to the Toggle Shaded State entry in the list.
You’ll need to use a keyboard shortcut not already in use and also one
that you won’t accidentally press. I find Ctrl + Alt + Space works pretty
well, so click in the shortcut column alongside the entry in the list and
then hit the shortcut combination (ie hit Ctrl + Alt + Space —don’t type
the words!). Then give it a try on the Keyboard Shortcuts window—roll
it up and then roll it down! If you want to get rid of the shortcut, repeat
the step above to create a new shortcut combination for the entry and
hit Backspace (not Delete !).
154
Convert images from one format
to another at the command-line
Although you can fire-up the GIMP to convert an image from one format to another, it’s something of a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and
time-consuming too. An easier way is to use the Imagemagick software.
You’ll need to use Synaptic to install it first, however (search for and
install the imagemagick package). Once installed, simply use the convert
command. The command is intelligent enough to work out what you’re
trying to do from the filenames you give it. For example, the following
will use Imagemagick to convert filename.jpg into a bitmap file:
$ convert filename.jpg filename.bmp
If you’re converting an image into a JPEG file, which sacrifices image
quality for file size, you might want to add the -quality command switch.
Here you can set a value between 0 (poorest quality) to 100 (highest
quality); better quality equates to larger filesizes. Most consider settings
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S IGNIFICANTLY
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of between 60-80 good enough for most uses. The following will convert
filename.bmp into a JPEG image with a quality setting of 80:
$ convert -quality 80 filename.bmp filename.jpg
For more command-line image conversion tips, see Tip 11, on page 72,
and Tip 214, on page 248.
155
Significantly expand Gedit’s
functionality
In my humble opinion, Gedit is one of the most amazing text editors
in the world. It goes far beyond the usual confines of editors, not least
because it’s extensible—it utilizes a plugin structure. Amazingly, not
all the plugins it comes with are enabled by default and you can enable
more by clicking Edit → Preferences and then clicking on the Plugins
tab. Put a check alongside those you want to activate. If the plugin has
options you can configure, the Configure Plugin button will stop being
grey. My favorites? Change Case is useful, as is Snippets, which lets
you paste in familiar chunks of text (particularly useful for programmers). Once a plugin is activated, you’ll most-likely be able to access
its functionality from the Tools menu in Gedit although some, such as
the Change Case plugin mentioned above, add an entry to other menus
(in this case, the Edit menu).
Even more plugins can be downloaded from http://live.gnome.org/Gedit/
Plugins.
For other Gedit tricks, see Tip 10, on page 70; Tip 134, on page 176;
and Tip 93, on page 149.
156
Make new mail windows taller
Whenever I start a new mail in Evolution, the first thing I do is click
and grab the resize handle and make it bigger. Maybe I just write a
lot in my emails, but I realized I could avoid it happening in future
by tweaking a gconf-editor setting. Once the program has started, head
over to /apps/evolution/mail/composer and change the height key to something like 600 or 700, depending on the resolution of your screen (the
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value simply refers to the number of pixels). The changes take effect
immediately—try creating a new mail to see what happens.
For more Evolution and general email hacks, see Tip 42, on page 101;
Tip 7, on page 66; Tip 158; Tip 172, on page 209; Tip 246, on page 286;
and Tip 260, on page 300.
157
Avoid making badly burned
CD-R/RW discs
Some CD-R/RW drives use so-called BurnProof technology to avoid
buffer underrun errors that result in unusable discs. This will probably be activated by default in the drive’s hardware, but you might as
well make the GNOME desktop attempt to activate it, in case it isn’t.
To do so, start gconf-editor and navigate to /apps/nautilus-cd-burner and
then put a check in the burnproof box.
To learn how to activate the equally useful overburn mode of CD-R/RW
drives, see Tip 27, on page 84.
158
Import email messages from
Outlook and/or Outlook Express
If you’ve a former Windows user with a huge Outlook archive (.pst file)
packed full of messages, and would dearly love to import these into
Evolution, then you’re in luck. Evolution can’t understand .pst files
out of the box but you can install Mozilla Thunderbird under Windows
and then use it to import the .pst file. Thunderbird uses the industrystandard mbox file for its mail store, and you can then import this into
Evolution under Ubuntu.
Here are the steps:
1. First you’ll need to remove any password protection from the .pst
file. You’ll have to delve into Outlook’s Tools → Options menu to
do this (on Outlook 2003, I clicked the Mail Setup tab, and then
clicked the Data Files button; following this I clicked the Settings
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button and clicked Change Password; then I left the new password
fields blank).
2. Still in your Windows system, download and install Thunderbird
(http://www.mozilla.com/thunderbird). Quit Outlook and, during the
first run of Thunderbird that happens immediately after installation, select to import from Outlook (and/or Outlook Express, if
applicable).
3. Thunderbird should now list your Outlook messages. Now, within
Thunderbird, click Tools → Account Settings and look in the Local
Directory text field. This is where your all-new mbox files are stored.
Make a note of the location.
4. Boot Ubuntu and mount your Windows partition by selecting its
entry on the Places menu. Start Evolution and then click File →
Import. In the dialog that appears, select Import a Single File. Then
click the Filename dropdown to browse to the location you noted
earlier (remember that your Windows partition will be mounted
at /media/disk). The mbox files are in the Mail/Local Folders folder of
the Thunderbird profiles folder. The mbox files have no file extension, but will be simply called inbox, Sent, Trash, and so on. Once
you’ve selected the file you’ll be asked where you want to import
the messages into within Evolution—Inbox, Sent, and so on. Once
you click the Import button, the messages will being to appear. You
can repeat this step to import all the Thunderbird mbox files.
159
Use the Mac OS “quit” keyboard
shortcut
If you’ve just switched from Mac OS, you might be used to hitting
Command + q to quit a program. Ubuntu prefers Alt + F4 (like Windows)
but using Command + q can be a hard habit to break.
Therefore, to bring this little piece of Mac to the Ubuntu world, open
gconf-editor and head over to /apps/metacity/window_keybindings and look
for the close key in the list on the right. Then double-click the entry and
change it to read <Super>q. This will cause an open application to close
when the Windows key plus q is hit (when a Mac keyboard is being
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used, the Command key equates to the Windows key). Try your new
shortcut for the first time to close the gconf-editor window!
160
Switch to bash if sh is in use
Sometimes, particularly if things go wrong, you might find yourself
dumped to the simple Bourne Shell (sh) command prompt in order to
rescue the system. sh is pretty primitive and, depending on the version
in use and how it’s set-up, might not have useful features like Tab
autocomplete. You’ll know if this is the case because the prompt will
probably be a simple dollar ($) or hash (#) sign. To switch to bash, just
type bash. If that doesn’t work, you may have to specify the exact path:
/bin/bash.
To find out which shell you’re currently using, type ps -p $$ and look
under the CMD heading.
161
Instantly edit a file when you’re
viewing it in less
Have you ever been viewing a file in less and wanted to start editing it?
Just hit v . This will open it in the nano text editor.
162
Access Ubuntu’s desktop from
any computing device
The Ubuntu Remote Desktop software (System → Preferences → Remote
Desktop) is designed to let another computer take control of your desktop across a network, or the Internet.
It’s based on VNC, an established open source technology, and there
are versions of the software for virtually every type of computing platform, including handhelds (and, of course, the various Windows and
Mac OS operating systems). Just search Google for a version for your
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particular computer—because the original VNC is open source, there
are many ports of the original. Beware that one or two organizations
charge a fee for VNC, however.
TightVNC (http://www.tightvnc.com) is a good choice if you’re running
Windows, although a cross-platform Java version is also available. Chicken
of the VNC (http://sourceforge.net/projects/cotvnc/) is considered a good
choice for Mac OS X.
VNC usually comes in two separate components: server and viewer. To
access a remote computer’s desktop, you’ll need the viewer program. To
make your desktop accessible from another computer, you’ll need the
server component. Both are already installed on Ubuntu, although to
activate the server component you’ll need to click System → Preferences
→ Remote Desktop and click Allow other users to view your desktop.
163
Remove the annoying delay
when installing Firefox extensions
If you install Firefox extensions (Tools → Add-ons with the Firefox program window) there will be a three second delay before the Install Now
button becomes active. This is there for a good reason—to ensure you
don’t just click it automatically without first reading what the dialog box
says you’re about to install. To eliminate (or just reduce) the delay, type
about:config in Firefox’s address bar and click the I’ll be careful, I promise
button. Then, in the Filter text area, type security.dialog_enable_delay.
Double-click the entry under the Value heading and change it to read
0, for no delay, or perhaps 1000, for a one-second delay (the units are
milliseconds).
164
View technical details of your
PC’s hardware
GNOME Device Manager used to be a standard feature of Ubuntu but,
for some reason, isn’t any longer. You can still install it using Synaptic—
search for and install gnome-device-manager. Once installed you’ll find
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it on the Applications → System Tools menu. To significantly enhance
its usability, click View → Device Properties in the program window.
This adds a second Properties tab to the display that shows the technical details about each application. In some ways it’s an information
overload but it can prove vital when problem solving.
In most ways GNOME Device Manager is similar to its Windows counterpart. The main difference is that it’s purely an informational tool,
with no ability to change drivers or configurations. The other difference
is that, just because hardware appears in the list under GNOME Device
Manager, that doesn’t mean it’s setup for use under Ubuntu. GNOME
Device Manager’s list is produced by simply probing the hardware and
reporting what it finds.
lspci and lsusb do a similar job at the command line. You can use the
-v, -vv, and -vvv commands with lspci, depending on how much informa-
tion you would like returned (-vvv providing the most information). lsusb
takes a simpler -v command option if you require more information.
Also worth investigating for command-line hardware diagnosis is hwinfo,
which you can install via Synaptic. This provides extremely detailed
lists of hardware connected to the system, and it’s usually best to pipe
its lengthy output to a viewer application (hwinfo|less). hwinfo also takes
the --short command option to reduce the volume of its output slightly.
165
Switch to old-fashioned “spatial
browsing” mode
Nautilus can work in two separate modes. The default, in which you
see a toolbar, and the window is “reused” to show the contents of each
folder you double-click, is known as browse mode. The other mode is
known as spatial browsing, and you might already be aware of how it
works because it’s how file browsing windows used to work in the days
of Windows 95—every time you navigate to a new folder, a new browsing
window opens.
Some people swear by spatial browsing, although quite a few others
find it annoying. If you want to give it a try, click on any open Nautilus window and click Edit → Preferences. Select the Behavior tab and
remove the check alongside Always open in browser windows. Then close
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all Nautilus windows and open a new one. Note that spacial browsing
Nautilus windows have an additional feature in the form of a dropdown
list showing the current browsing hierarchy. This is found in the bottom left of the window, and lets you both find out where you are in the
file system and also change to a parent folder quickly and easily.
For more Nautilus tricks, see Tip 72, on page 129; Tip 85, on page 143;
Tip 132, on page 175; Tip 104, on page 157; Tip 144, on page 187;
Tip 261, on page 301; Tip 272, on page 312; and Tip 295, on page 343.
166
Clear the package cache
If you’re running tight on disk space you can try deleting the cache
of package files. By default, the APT system keeps all the packages it
has downloaded in case they’re needed in future. It’s very rare this is
the case (and, anyway, assuming you have a decent always-on Internet
connection, you can just download afresh if you need to).
To clear the package cache in Synaptic, click Settings → Preferences
and click the Files tab. Then click the Delete Cached Package Files button.
To clear the cache from the command-line, type the following:
$ sudo apt-get clean
167
Search man pages
Whenever you read a man page it’s very likely you’ll be looking for a
particular term, such as a command option. You can search by hitting
the forward slash key ( / ) and typing your search query at the prompt
that appears. Then hit Enter . The document will scroll to the example
found, which will be at the top of the terminal window. Every other
instance of the search term will now be highlighted. You can simply
move through the document using the cursor keys or type n to jump
straight to the next example of the search term (typing a slash once
again also does this). Shift + n will search backwards.
If you want to search for a character, you need to “escape” the character by typing a backslash, just like with filenames (see the sidebar on
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C ONVER T
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page 37). To search for the dollar symbol ($) in a man page, you would
hit / to open a search prompt, and then type \$.
If you want to search ALL man pages for a particular term, use the
apropos command at the prompt. Let’s say you wanted to search for any
man page that discussed fonts. To do this, you could type the following:
$ apropos font
This will return the line from any man page that the search term is
on, alongside the name of the man file. If you’re searching for a phrase,
enclose it in quotes:
$ apropos "font name"
168
Convert a PDF to an image
Not every computer has a PDF viewer and not everybody likes handling
PDF documents. Sometimes the best policy is to convert a PDF to an
image. To do this, first install the imagemagick package using Synaptic,
then open a terminal window and type the following (this will convert
filename.pdf to filename.png:
$ convert filename.pdf filename.png
You can specify a different file type by changing the file extension of
the second file—to output bitmap files, for example, you could alter the
above example to read convert filename.pdf filename.bmp.
A separate image file will be outputted for each page of the PDF file, and
they will be numbered sequentially from 1 onwards (ie filename1.png,
filename2.png, filename3.png etc).
For more PDF manipulation tips, see Tip 116, on page 164; Tip 189, on
page 228; Tip 215, on page 249; and Tip 258, on page 298.
169
Use a dial-up modem
Like all Linuxes, Ubuntu has spotty support when it comes to dial-up
modems (those used to dial into ISPs over the phone line). Some work.
Some don’t. Generally speaking, those that work tend to be older models that connect via the serial port, or newer more expensive models
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that connect via USB (more expensive models have dedicated modem
hardware, rather than relying on software drivers to handle the decoding, which is what causes problems for Ubuntu).
If your modem works, you can use the gnome-ppp software to connect/disconnect. It can be installed via Synaptic and, once installed,
you’ll find it on the Applications → Internet menu. When running it for
the first time, click the Setup button and then click the Detect button
under the Modem heading in the dialog box that appears. Once done,
click Close to return to the main dialog, where you can enter your ISP’s
username, password and phone number. Then click Connect to dial-up.
When connected, gnome-ppp minimizes to the notification area. Rightclick it to disconnect from the call.
170
Steal the Windows (or Mac OS)
fonts
Some Windows fonts are ubiquitous (Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana etc), to the extent that websites and business documents demand
them. There are two ways of grabbing them for your Ubuntu system.
The first, and easiest, is to use Synaptic to search for and install the
msttcorefonts package. This will give you the Microsoft Core Web Fonts,
which includes most of the popular ones. Note that during installation
you’ll be warned about needing to install Debian Font Manager. This
can be ignored—just click Next when it appears.
The other way to get the fonts is to steal them from your Windows or
Mac OS X installation. This is better in some ways because you can grab
all the fonts included with Windows and Mac OS X (including some like
Tahoma, that aren’t provided by the msttcorefonts package), as well as
those installed subsequently by other applications, such as Microsoft
Office.
Importing fonts from Microsoft Windows
To import fonts if you dual-boot with Windows, follow these steps:
1. Access the Windows/fonts folder in your Windows partition—it’s
usually called something similar to Fonts and can be found in the
Windows folder. Then, click to View as List in Nautilus and then click
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Figure 3.28: Selecting Windows fonts for importing into Ubuntu (see
Tip 170, on the preceding page)
the Type heading to sort by file extension. Shift-click to select all
the TrueType fonts, then right-click the selection and select Copy.
See Figure 3.28 for an example.
2. Use Nautilus to browse to your /home folder. Then right-click,
select Create Folder, and type fonts as its name. Once it’s created,
double-click it. Then right-click anywhere in the empty space and
select Paste. Once the files have been copied across, return to your
/home folder and rename the fonts folder to .fonts. Note that this
makes it into a hidden folder—to access it in future in Nautilus,
you will need to click View → Show Hidden Files.
Your fonts will now be available in all applications, although you will
have to restart any applications that are running (Firefox, OpenOffice.org etc) so they can make use of them.
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Import fonts from Macintosh OS X
To import fonts from your Mac OS X partition, a little more work is
required. Generally speaking, Mac fonts are usually either in TrueType
form (.ttf), as with Windows, or .dfont, in which case they must be converted using the fondu tool.
Here are the necessary steps:
1. The easiest method of importing your Mac fonts is to copy all the
fonts into a new folder on your Ubuntu desktop. Do this by mounting the Mac partition (selecting its entry on the Places menu) and
copying the contents of both /Library/Fonts and /System/Library/Fonts
in the Mac partition to the new folder.
2. Use Synaptic to search for and install fondu. Once it’s installed,
open a terminal window, navigate to the new folder full of Mac
fonts, and type the following to convert them:
$ fondu *
3. Open the new folder in a Nautilus window, click to View as List, and
sort the fonts by file extension (click the Type heading), so you can
then select all the .ttf fonts by shift-clicking. Once selected, rightclick the fonts and select Copy. Then follow the second step in the
Windows instructions to create a .fonts folder into which you can
copy the .ttf fonts.
When using Microsoft or Mac OS X fonts, follow Tip 21, on page 79
to switch Ubuntu to a different type of font rendering. I also found
imported Mac OS X fonts looked better if I subsequently switched font
hinting to either None or Slight (System → Preferences → Appearance;
click the Fonts tab and then click the Details button)
171
Use unusual characters or
symbols
If you write in foreign languages, or just use unusual symbols in your
work, you might have used Character Map under Windows. Ubuntu’s
equivalent is found on the Applications → Accessories menu. It works
in pretty much the same way—double-click the letter(s) you want and
then click Copy. One useful tip is that right-clicking a letter enlarges it.
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You can make Character Map quite literally fill the screen, to aid searching, by running gconf-editor, navigating to /apps/gucharmap and putting
a check in the fullscreen box. To quit the program when it’s in full-screen
mode, either hit Alt + F4 or click File → Quit.
By right-clicking a blank spot on the panel, selecting Add to panel, and
selecting Character Palette from the list, you can have a constantly onscreen list of unusual foreign characters—useful if you often type in
languages other than your own. Click the small down arrow to the left
of the applet to change the selection of characters shown. Selections of
characters are available for most languages.
172
Encrypt and sign emails
Some people like to digitally sign their emails. This means that the
recipient can be sure that the email is from them. Alternatively, or
additionally, emails can be entirely encrypted so that only the recipient
can read them—anybody who intercepts the message along its travels
through the Internet will see only garbage.
Email encryption and signing works on the principle of a key pair. Two
cryptographic keys are created by an individual—a private one, that
you keep secret, and a public one that you share with others, either by
giving them the details in a file or uploading it to a public key server.
The two keys work in concert—effectively, anything encrypted with one
can only be decrypted with the other. When used with email, this allows
you to digitally sign using your private key. Those who have the public key can check the signature of the email, which could only have
been generated by you, and which is also based on the contents of the
email, thus proving things weren’t tampered with in transit. Alternatively, anybody with your public key can encrypt an email (and/or file)
so that only you can decrypt it using your private key. If you have their
public key, you can encrypt emails so that only they can read them.
The steps below look at setting up encryption, first by creating a key
pair, and then configuring Evolution to use it (note that you can skip
creating a key pair if you have already followed the instructions in
Tip 250, on page 289).
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Creating a key pair
Here’s how to create a key pair (note that this only needs be done once):
1. Click Applications → Accessories → Passwords and Encryption
Keys to start the Seahorse application, which is used to manage
all encryption keys within Ubuntu.
2. In the program window that appears, click the New button. In the
dialog box that appears, select PGP Key25 and click the Continue
button.
3. In the dialog box that appears, fill in the Full Name and Email Address
fields. You must type both a forename and surname into the Full
Name text field. In the Comments field you can type a short description to describe who you are, such as your location or job. This can
help avoid confusion if more than one person shares the same
name as you, or has a similar-looking email address. See Figure 3.29, on the next page for an example.
4. In the Advanced key options dropdown, you can select to choose a
different type of encryption, although the default choice of DSA
Elgamal and 2048 bits is considered extremely secure and also
flexible enough to meet most needs. Once done, click the Create
button.
5. Following this, you’ll be prompted for a passphrase. Essentially,
this is the password that you will need to decrypt emails others
have sent to you. It’s important that you make the passphrase
something hard to second-guess but also memorable enough so
you don’t forget it. The passphrase can include letters, numbers,
symbols and space characters.
6. After this the key will be generated. This will probably take some
time. Depending on the speed of your computer, it could take up
to an hour.
7. Once it’s finished, you’ll need to export public key so your email
contacts can use it. To export it as a file, so you can hand it to others on a floppy disk or USB key stick, simply click select the new
key, right-click it, and click Export Public Key. You’ll be prompted to
25. Ubuntu and most other versions of Linux use the GNU Privacy Guard (GPG) software,
which is an entirely Free Software version of the original Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) software. GPG uses the OpenPGP standard, just like PGP, so the two are entirely compatible.
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Figure 3.29: Creating a key pair (see Tip 172, on page 209)
save a .asc file, so do so. Then simply pass this file onto friends or
colleagues, and ask them to import it as a trusted key.26
8. Alternatively, you might choose to upload it to a public key server.
This is like a worldwide phonebook of public keys. It certainly
saves a lot of effort handing the key out to your contacts oneby-one. To do so, right-click the new key you created and click
Sync and publish keys. Then click the Key Servers button in the dialog
box that appears and, in the new window, select an option from
the Publish keys to dropdown list (pgp.mit.edu is a good choice). Click
the Close button, and then the Sync button in the original dialog
box.
26. Perhaps it goes without saying that your contacts will need some kind of PGP email
setup before they can import your public key. Encryption programs are available for both
Mac and Windows—just search Google. If they’re using Windows, direct them towards
http://www.gpg4win.org, which is an implementation of the same GPG software used under
Ubuntu.
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Signing email
Once the keys have been generated, signing email using Evolution is
easy. Just select the PGP Sign option from the Security menu in the Evolution new mail window. However, prior to this, you’ll need to configure
Evolution to use the key, as follows:
1. Start the Seahorse application (Applications → Accessories → Passwords and Encryption Keys), right-click your key, and select Properties from the menu that appears. In the dialog box that appears,
click and drag to highlight the text alongside the Key ID heading
so. Then right-click the highlight and select Copy.
2. Close Seahorse and then start Evolution. Click Edit → Preferences, ensure Mail Accounts is selected in the window that appears,
and double-click your email address on the right of the window.
3. In the dialog box that appears, click the Security tab and then, in
the PGP/GPG Key ID field, paste the key ID you copied earlier. Click
the OK button and then then Close button in the parent window.
Following this, you should be able to sign messages.
Encrypting email
If you want to encrypt messages for other people within Evolution, so
that only they can read them, you’ll need to import and trust their
public keys, and subsequently select to encrypt the emails in Evolution,
as follows:
1. Start Seahorse (Applications → Accessories → Passwords and Encryption Keys) and click the Find Remote Keys button. In the dialog box,
type the email address of the individual in the Search for keys containing text field. Then hit Search.
2. In the search results window, select any key you wish to import,
and click the Import button on the toolbar. Then close the search
results window, and click the Other Collected Keys tab in Seahorse.
3. You should now physically check that the key was actually created
by the recipient. Ideally, this should be done in person, or over the
phone, and can be done by reading-out the key ID to them—this
is listed alongside the key and is eight digits. Try to avoid using
email for this task because emails can be tampered with in transit.
4. If you are sure the key was generated by the individual, rightclick it, select Properties, and then the Trust tab. Then put a check
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alongside I have checked that this key belongs to.... You can also put
a check alongside I trust signatures from..., which will mean that any
further keys you import that have been trusted by your contact
will automatically be trusted by you.
It’s also a good idea to click the Sign this key button, which will
prompt you to state how well you trust the imported key. Once
the information has been entered, the level of trust will be added
to the key, and the whole thing signed using your own key. These
details can then be uploaded to the key server and serve as part of
the PGP Web of Trust system that helps prove the authenticity of
public keys (for more details, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_
of_trust). Following this, the new key will now appear under the
Trusted Keys in Seahorse (which you can now close).
5. Close the Properties dialog box. You should now find the imported
key is in your Trusted Keys collection—ensure the Trusted Keys tab is
selected to see this.
6. If you individual has handed you their public key file in person,
perhaps on a USB memory stick or floppy disk, then click Key →
Import, and navigate to the key file. Then follow the steps above
to trust and sign the key, if desirable. Remember that emailing a
public key is not a good way of exchanging keys, because they key
may be tampered with (or swapped with another) in transit.
7. Switch to Evolution and click Edit → Preferences. Ensure Mail
Accounts is selected on the left of the window that appears, and
double-click your email address on the right. In the dialog that
appears, click the Security tab and put a check the box alongside
Always trust keys in my keyring when encrypting. This option will let you
send encrypted email to a recipient even if you haven’t signed their
key, as explained in the step above (if you intend to sign all keys
you import then this can be skipped). Then click OK, and Close in
the parent dialog box.
8. Following this, to encrypt emails for that recipient in Evolution,
click Security → PGP Encrypt in the new mail window. If you see
an error message about a “broken pipe”, it’s likely that you don’t
have that recipient’s public key, or you posses it but have not
signed it. Check the details and try again.
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A NICE TRASHCAN ON THE DESKTOP
Get a nice trashcan on the
desktop
By default Ubuntu keeps the desktop clean. I think that if your desktop
isn’t cluttered with icons then you’re not human (and may possibly be a
robot). To add the usual Trash, Computer, Network Servers and other icons
to the desktop, start gconf-editor and head to the /apps/nautilus/desktop
entry. Then, on the right-hand side, put a check alongside trash_icon_visible,
home_icon_visible, and so on. The new desktop icons should appear
immediately.
For more useful desktop organization tips, see Tip 104, on page 157,
and Tip 256, on page 297.
174
Create .zip files using maximum
compression
When you right-click a file or folder and select Create Archive, File Roller
steps in to shrink things down. However, it will only use “normal” compression for zip files. This is for a reason—not all operating systems are
compatible with the more aggressive “maximum” compression, and it
can also take quite a bit longer to crunch/uncrunch files. Yet the savings in file size can be worthwhile and the truth is that both Windows
and Mac OS X are fine with maximally compressed files.
To switch file roller to use maximum compression by default, start
gconf-editor and navigate to /apps/file-roller/general. Then change the compression_level key to read maximum. The changes will take effect straight
away whenever you next opt to compress a file.
To learn how to add RAR archive support to Ubuntu’s compression tool,
see Tip 16, on page 75.
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AN
U BUNTU “ UPDATES ” CD/DVD
Create an Ubuntu “updates”
CD/DVD
If you’re installing Ubuntu afresh on more than one computer, your
Internet connection can start to feel the strain as each computer attempts
to download and install available updates. There are a handful of solutions but perhaps the simplest is to set one of your new Ubuntu computers to cache the update package files and then burn the cached
package files to a CD/DVD for manual installation on any other computers.
Of course, this technique can also be used if you’ve just installed Ubuntu
on just one computer and would like to create an “emergency” archive
of updates, although bear in mind that the sheer frequency of Ubuntu
updates mean it will become out of date very quickly.27
Here’s what to do:
1. Before you let the first computer update, start Synaptic on that
computer and enable full package caching. Click Settings → Preferences, click the Files tab, and ensure Leave all downloaded packages in the cache is selected. Then close Synaptic and allow Update
Manager to update the system as usual (you’ll find Update Manager on the System → Administration menu if you want to force
an update; hit the Check button when Update Manager starts to
refresh the package lists).
2. Once the updates have downloaded and installed, select CD/DVD
Creator from the Places menu and then open another Nautilus
window (Places → Home Folder). Using that window, browse to
/var/cache/apt/archives/. Copy all the files ending in .deb to the
Nautilus CD/DVD Burner window. Then click the Write to Disc button. Insert either a CD or DVD-R/RW disc, depending on the total
filesize of the packages.
27. I once created a disc of updated packages for use on several computers I was installing
Ubuntu upon. In the five minutes it took me to burn the disc and install the packages on
one of the new computers, a new tranche of updated packages were released, and Update
Manager subsequently popped-up to tell me.
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3. On the computer(s) that is to be updated, copy all the packages
from the freshly burned CD/DVD disc to an empty folder and then
type the following (this assumes the packages have been copied to
a folder called packages on the desktop):
$ sudo dpkg -i ~/Desktop/packages/*.deb
Once the command has completed (it will take some time and you
will see a lot of output scroll past; this is harmless), you can delete
the folder containing the packages.
4. If you wish you can now delete the cached packages from the first
computer by following Tip 166, on page 204.
176
Stop Ubuntu “greying out” stalled
program windows as quickly
If you have desktop effects enabled, Ubuntu will “grey out” program
windows that it thinks have either crashed or stalled. This can be a
useful visual indication that something has gone wrong but the delay
before it happens—five seconds—is just too quick. Programs like Synaptic have a habit of pondering their next action for slightly longer than
that, and that can cause them to “grey out”.
You can alter the time-out by editing a setting using gconf-editor. Navigate to /apps/compiz/general/allscreens/options and change the ping_delay
key to 10000. This will change the “greying out” delay to 10 seconds
(10,000ms). For 15 seconds, change the setting to 15000.
177
Get a high-quality (and free)
command-line word processor
by installing Microsoft Word
If there’s one piece of software the Linux world seemingly lacks, then it’s
a good-quality command-line word processor (which is to say, one that
works entirely within a virtual console or a terminal window). There are
some excellent text editors, of course. There are even some text editors
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with word-processor-like features. However, there are none that include
the likes of easy formatting tools, or built-in spellchecking.
The solution? Download and install an old DOS version of Microsoft
Word that is now offered for free from Microsoft’s website. You can then
use the DOSBox software to run it. It really does work! (Although you
can’t print – at least not unless you want to hook-up your old dot matrix
printer...).
Here’s how to get it all working:
1. Use Synaptic to install dosbox. This is a DOS emulator and virtualization program primarily designed for old games but we’re going
to use it to do some magic.
2. The first thing to do is create a virtual hard disk for DOSBox by
creating an empty folder in your /home folder.
3. Back in Ubuntu, download the old DOS version of Microsoft. It’s
freeware nowadays. Here’s the address: http://download.microsoft.
com/download/word97win/Wd55_be/97/WIN98/EN-US/Wd55_ben.exe. It’s
just over 3MB.
4. In Ubuntu, copy the downloaded file into your virtual hard disk
folder and switch back to the DOSBox window. Then start DOSBox (Applications → Games) and connect to the virtual hard disk
you created earlier by typing mount C foldername, replacing the foldername with the name of the folder. Then switch to the new hard
drive by typing C:.
5. In the DOSBox window, type Wd55_ben.exe to uncompress the
installer. You’ll see a few errors about files that already exist. Just
ignore the errors – overwrite, or don’t overwrite. It’s up to you.
6. Once the decompression has finished, type setup.exe to run the
installer. Work through the installation options. Don’t let Word
alter your system settings or add a new mouse driver—DOSBox
takes care of all that for you.
7. Once installation has finished, type word.exe to run Microsoft Word.
See it in action in Figure 3.30, on the following page. It’s still a
useful bit of software for basic word processing tasks.
Every time you start DOSBox you’ll need to remount the virtual hard
disk and this can be annoying. To avoid this, start DOSBOx and type
CONFIG -writeconf dosbox.conf. This will write-out a configuration file.
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Figure 3.30: Microsoft Word running in DOSBox (see Tip 177, on
page 216)
Quit DOSBox and open the new config file in Gedit (gedit ~/dosbox.conf)
and add the following two lines to the end of the file:
mount C foldername
C:
Again, you should replace foldername with the name of the virtual hard
disk folder you created eariler.
If an old DOS version of MS Word is still too high-tech for you, see
Tip 221, on page 256, although if you like your new DOS adventures
and would like to expand it into playing some classic DOS games, see
Tip 281, on page 324.
178
Create a “superuser terminal”
shortcut
Some versions of Linux offer a “superuser terminal” which, when run,
automatically logs you in as root user so you can perform system
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administration tasks unhindered (you’ll need to enter your password
when the terminal program is first run, of course). There’s little doubt
that, if you have a lot of tasks to do, this can be a useful thing.
To create your own superuser terminal shortcut, right-click the desktop and select Create Launcher. In the Name box of the dialog box that
appears, type Terminal (superuser). In the Command box, type gksu gnometerminal. A suitable desktop icon will be automatically added (a guy
flashing an ID card!) but by clicking the icon preview you can choose
your own. Leave the Comment field blank, and click the OK button. Then
test your new shortcut by double-clicking it.
To add the shortcut to a menu, start the Main Menu program (System
→ Preferences). In the Main Menu program window, select which of the
menus (Applications, Applications’ submenus, System → Preferences
or System → Administration) you’d like the new shortcut to appear on.
Do this by selecting them in the Menus pane on the left-hand side. Then
drag and drop your new launcher to the Items pane on the right. In
my opinion, the new launcher is perhaps best stored on the System
→ Administration menu, along with other programs that are used to
administer the system and require root powers. Once the menu entry
has been created you can delete the desktop launcher if you wish.
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Find out who you are!
If you use more than one user account under Ubuntu it can sometimes
be confusing to remember who you are logged in as, and which user
accounts are logged in at the current time (am I still logged in as user
franko on virtual console two...?). To find out who you’re currently logged
in as, type whoami. To find out which user accounts are currently logged
in, type users (bear in mind that your username might appear more than
once because every virtual console login and open terminal window
counts as a login). To find out which groups your user account belongs
to, type groups.
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PAR TNER SOFTWARE
Install Ubuntu partner software
Every now and again Canonical—Ubuntu’s corporate sponsor—partners
with various proprietary software companies to bring their products to
Ubuntu. Examples in the past have included Real, the company behind
the RealPlayer software, and Panda Security, which offers an antivirus
program for Ubuntu. To gain access to this software, first enable thirdparty repositories—click System → Administration → Software Sources,
and click the Third-Party Software tab. Then put a check in the first line—
http://archive.canonical.com/ubuntu hardy partner. Click the Close button
and agree when the program advises that you need to reload the software list.
Then, to browse and install the partner software, click Applications →
Add/Remove and, in the Show dropdown list, select Third party applications. Put a check in the box alongside any you wish to install and then
click the Apply Changes button.
181
Use a GUI version of vim
If you’re a fan of the respected vim text editor then you might be interested in Gvim, which is a version of the vim text editor with an added
GUI. To install it use Synaptic to search for vim-gnome.
The program doesn’t add itself to any of Ubuntu’s menus but can be
run by typing gvim at the command-prompt. Once up and running you
can use it just like any other version of vi/vim, typing a colon to enter
commands and switching to text insert mode by hitting i . However,
the menus and icon bar offer access to all the usually hidden vi/vim
features, as well as some new ones. Gvim is primarily built for programmers and offers the like of syntax highlighting and the ability to
compile straight from the program window, but the fact it offers a GUI
way of working and luxuries such as GUI file open/save dialog boxes
should make it appeal to everybody!
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A CRASHED
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Rescue a crashed GUI
Very occasionally I find that a GUI program crashes and seems to lockup the desktop. If this happened under Windows I’d be reaching for the
reset button on the case but Ubuntu is different. I’m able to switch to
a virtual console and kill the errant program from there. Then, when I
switch back to the GUI, everything is usually fine again.
If a similar thing should happen to you, first switch to a virtual console
by typing Ctrl + Alt + F2 . Then use the following command, substituting programname for the command-line name of the program that’s
crashed (tip: you can try to discern what the command-line name might
be by typing the first part of what it’s likely to be and using Tab autocomplete to get the rest):
$ killall programname
To learn more about killing programs, see Tip 133, on page 176.
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See a quote of the day
whenever you login
Back in the Unix days of old having a quote-of-the-day (QOTD) appear
whenever you logged on was considered the height of fashion. Sadly
it’s no longer as popular but it can still be fun, and is easy to enact in
Ubuntu.
Have a quotation appear at the command-prompt
Here are the steps to have a QOTD appear whenever you login at a
virtual console, or open a terminal window:
1. Start by using Synaptic to install signify.28 This is a simple program
that outputs lines from a text file whenever it’s used. It’s designed
28. Actually, if you don’t want to install and configure Signify then there’s no need. Out
of the box, Ubuntu includes a similar program called fortune with ready-made mottos,
literary quotations and jokes. To use it instead of Signify, substitute fortune in place of
signify in the tip above.
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primarily for email signatures but doesn’t have to be used that
way.
2. Once it’s installed, open Gedit and create a new file called .signify in
your /home folder. Then head off to your favorite site that’s full of
pithy or funny quotations. I recommend http://coolsig.com but bear
in mind that, as with all quotation sites, some of the quotations
are mildly sexually suggestive. Ideally you should find a series
of quotations that you can cut and paste and that are separated
by blank lines between them. Avoid any quotations that include
percentage or dollar signs, because they’re interpreted differently
by Signify and can cause problems.
3. Cut and paste the quotations into the new Gedit document. At the
top create a new line that reads % {. At the bottom of the file, so
it’s the last line, add % }. Between each of the quotations, on a line
of its own, add % |. Each quotation can run across multiple lines
and will be distinct from the next provided it’s separated by % |.
Here’s what a file containing just four quotations might look like:
% {
A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won' t change the ←֓
subject.
-- Winston Churchill
% |
All the people like us are We, and everyone else is They.
-- Rudyard Kipling
% |
Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.
% |
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet (Act 1, scene 5)
% }
4. Save the file and then open .bashrc in your /home folder for editing
(in a terminal window type gedit ~/.bashrc). At the end of the file
add a new line that reads, simply, signify. Then save the file.
Whenever you log in at a virtual terminal, or open a terminal, one of
your quotations will appear at the top of the screen above the commandprompt, or at the top of the terminal window.
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M AKE GNOME S YSTEM M ONITOR
APPEAR WHEN
C TRL +A L T +D ELETE
IS HIT
Have a quotation appear whenever you login to your desktop
There’s one final trick. To make your quotation of the day appear in
a dialog box whenever you log into the Ubuntu desktop, follow these
steps, which will create a new script and make it run each time the
desktop starts (these steps assume you’ve followed the steps above to
install Signify and have created a hidden .signify file containing quotes):
1. Start Gedit and create a new file called .quod in your /home folder.
Then type the following into it:
#!/bin/bash
# Pop-up a dialog box showing output from signify
zenity --info --title "Quote of the day" --text "$(signify)"
2. Save the file and close Gedit. Open a terminal window and type
the following to make the new script executable:
$ chmod +x .qotd
3. Click System → Preferences → Sessions. Click the Add button in
the dialog that appears. In the Name field, type Quote of the day. In
the Command field, type /home/username/.qotd, replacing username
with your username. Leave the Comments field blank. Close all the
dialog boxes and log out and in again to see the results of your
effort. See Figure 3.31, on the following page for an example taken
from my test PC.
184
Make GNOME System Monitor
appear when Ctrl+Alt+Delete is
hit
Windows NT, 2000, XP and Vista all bring-up the Windows Task Manager application when Ctrl + Alt + Delete is hit. Under Ubuntu, this
key combination brings-up the shutdown window. If you want to switch
to the Windows way of working, and start GNOME System Monitor each
time Ctrl + Alt + Delete is hit, follow these instructions:
1. Start by removing the existing key binding. Click System → Preferences → Keyboard Shortcuts and scroll down to the entry under
the Desktop heading that reads Log out. Click Ctrl+Alt+Delete on the
right-hand side of the window and, once it’s highlighted, hit the
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M AKE GNOME S YSTEM M ONITOR
APPEAR WHEN
C TRL +A L T +D ELETE
IS HIT
Figure 3.31: A QOTD message appearing after logon (see Tip 183, on
page 221)
Backspace key. It should now read Disabled. Close the Keyboard
Shortcuts window.
2. Start gconf-editor and navigate to /apps/metacity/keybinding_commands,
and double-click the command_1 key. In the Value box of the dialog
that appears, type gnome-system-monitor. Then hit OK. Now navigate to /apps/metacity/global_keybindings in gksu gconf-editor. Look
for the key that reads run_command_1 and double-click it. In the
Value text field of the dialog that appears, type the following (type
the actual words, including the enclosing angle brackets—don’t
hit the actual keys!): <Control><Alt>Delete.
Following this, Gnome System Monitor should start whenever you hit
Ctrl + Alt + Delete . Unlike with Windows, you will be prompted to type
your administrator password. Bear in mind that Gnome System Monitor will be running with full administrator privileges. You can kill any
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C HANGE
YOUR COMPUTER ’ S NAME ( HOSTNAME )
program by right-clicking its entry in the list under the Processes tab
and selecting Kill Process.
185
Change your computer’s name
(hostname)
When you first installed Ubuntu you were offered the chance to set
the Ubuntu hostname, which is what appears at the command-prompt
and is also how your computer is identified should you activate services
such as file sharing.
You probably ended-up with something like john-desktop. To change
the hostname to something more exiting, you’ll need to edit both the
/etc/hosts and /etc/hostname files. This is best done in run level 1 (rescue mode), when practically no other software is running.
Here are the steps required:
1. Logout so you return to the login screen and then switch to a
virtual console. Login and type sudo telinit 1. This will switch you to
rescue mode. At the text menu that appears, use the cursor keys
to select Root - drop to root shell prompt and hit Enter .
2. Type nano /etc/hosts. Identify your hostname within the file (it will
most likely be on the second line) and change it to what you
wish. Remember that hostnames only involve letters and/or numbers, and no spaces. You should also steer-clear of symbols. When
you’ve finished making your edits, hit Ctrl + x to quit the program. Type y to save the modified buffer (ie save the file), and
then hit Enter to actually save the file and quit the program.
3. Repeat the step above, this time editing the /etc/hostname file. This
file contains only the hostname. Change it to exactly what you
typed earlier (it must be completely identical!). Then save the file
and quit nano.
4. Reboot the computer by typing telinit 6.
When the computer reboots you should find that your hostname is
changed. If the computer shares files with other computers, they may
find that any shortcuts they created to your computer’s shared resources
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R EDUCE
THE
W UBI
BOOT DELAY
no longer work. They will now have to recreate them afresh by browsing
for your computer as if you had just started sharing folders.
186
Reduce the Wubi boot delay
If you’ve used Wubi to install Ubuntu into your Windows file system,
you’ll be used to seeing the Windows boot menu, from which you can
either choose Windows or Ubuntu. If you’re an impatient type you might
like to know you can reduce the number of seconds this menu appears.
To do so, open C:\boot.ini in Notepad from within Windows, and look
for the line that reads timeout. Change the value following this to the
number of seconds you want the menu to appear for. For example, for
a five second delay, change the line to read timeout=5.
Don’t change the value to zero! This will mean the menu won’t appear.
You won’t be able to save the file until you change its read-only status—
using a file browsing window, right-click the file, click Properties, and
remove the check from the Read only box under the Attributes heading.
Note that if you can’t see the boot.ini file, you’ll need to configure Windows to show hidden files. Open My Computer, click Tools → Folder
Options, and then click the View tab in the dialog that appears. In
the list under Advanced settings, ensure Show Hidden Files and Folders is
checked, and ensure both Hide Extensions for Known File Types and also
Hide Protected Operating System Files are unchecked.
For more Wubi tips, see Tip 19, on page 77, and Tip 217, on page 252.
187
Swap around the minimize,
maximize, and close buttons
I don’t know why you’d want to do this, unless you’re an inveterate
tweaker (or maybe a migrating Mac OS X user), but to reorder the minimize, maximize and close buttons, fire up gconf-editor and head for the
/apps/metacity/general entry, and look for the button_layout entry. Simply rearrange the order of menu:maximize,minimize,close to the order you
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A DD
AN ÜBER -S TAR T BUTTON TO
U BUNTU
want. For example, to have the close button at the left of the arrangement, you’d change it to read menu:close,maximize,minimize. The changes
will be instant.
The colon (:) between menu and the other words serves a specific purpose. Anything to the left of the colon appears on the left of the window
bar, and anything to the right of the colon appears on the right. This
is why the maximize, minimize and close buttons appear on the right,
and the menu button appears on the left. With this in mind, to create a Mac OS X-like arrangement you could change the key to read
close,minimize,maximize:menu.
188
Add an über-Start button to
Ubuntu
In Tip 209, on page 243, I explained how to add a Windows Start-like
button to your panel. If you would like to investigate an interesting
development based on the Start-button concept, use Synaptic to install
gimmie. Once it’s installed, right-click a blank spot on the panel, select
Add to panel from the menu that appears, and then select Gimmie from
the list.
As you can see, Gimmie adds four new buttons to the panel: Linux, Programs, Library, and People. Each provides access to a different aspect
of your computer’s functionality or your online life. Linux gives access to
the file system, including removable storage devices. By clicking the Settings button, you can also administer your computer. Programs provides
access to installed software—the submenus off the Applications menu
are listed as buttons on the left. Library provides access to not only your
documents, but also music and movies, arranged in the order you last
accessed them. Finally, People ties into Pidgin, to show who is currently
online, or who you’ve recently chatted to.
Give Gimmie a trial. It has all the hallmarks of being one of those radical
ideas that might just change the way you use your computer.
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V IEW
189
TECHNICAL DETAILS OF
PDF
FILES
View technical details of PDF files
To learn nearly every technical detail of a particular PDF file, including
what software outputted it, its page size, and creation date, use the
pdfinfo command at the terminal: pdfinfo filename.pdf. If for any reason
you want to know what fonts a PDF uses, use the pdffonts command:
pdffonts filename.pdf.
For more PDF tips, see Tip 116, on page 164; Tip 168, on page 205;
Tip 215, on page 249; and Tip 258, on page 298.
190
Connect to a remote computer
as if you are sitting in front of it
SSH is a method of remotely accessing a computer as if you were sitting
in front of it. All the data between the two computers is sent encrypted
and SSH is considered a very secure way of working. It’s also very simple to use.
The steps required to install ssh and make a connection are as follows:
1. Start by using Synaptic to install openssh-server on the computer
that you intend to connect to. This computer is known as the
remote computer. The computer from which you intend to make
the connection is known as the local computer. If it’s running
Ubuntu, or indeed almost any version of Linux (and also Mac OS
X), it already has the software installed to connect to a remote
computer.
2. Once the software is installed on the remote computer, on the local
computer open a terminal window (or switch to a virtual console)
and type the following:
$ ssh [email protected]
Obviously, you should replace username and address with the details
specific to your setup. The username should be for an account on
the remote computer. address can be an IP address or the fullyqualified domain name of the computer, if it has one—if you’re
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C ONNECT
TO A REMOTE COMPUTER AS IF YOU ARE SITTING IN FRONT OF IT
just connecting across a local network then it’s unlikely this will
be the case.
For example, to connect as user keir on a computer with an IP
address of 192.168.1.13, I would type the following:
$ ssh [email protected]
If you need to find out the IP address of the remote computer, move
over to it and right-click the NetworkMonitor icon. Then select
Connection Information and, in the dialog box that appears, read
the four sets of numbers alongside the IP Address heading.
3. Upon first connection you’ll be warned that “the authenticity of
the host can’t be established”. This is not an issue, so answer
yes to the question of whether you want to carry on connecting.
Following this you’ll be prompted for the password of the user
account you’re logging into, so type it.
4. And then you’ll be logged in to a standard shell session on the
remote computer. Remember that the command-line prompt tells
you the current username that you’re logged in under, and also
the name of the host that you’re logged into.
When you’ve finished, just type exit to log out of the remote computer and end your SSH session.
You can even run graphical applications across an SSH connection. To
do so, use the following command to connect to the remote computer:
$ ssh -X [email protected]
Once connected, you can start any graphical application by typing its
name. For example, to start Gedit, you would type gedit, as shown in
Figure 3.32, on the following page. Always remember that, although the
program appears on your computer, it’s actually running on the remote
computer. If you were to start OpenOffice.org Calc, and run complex
calculations, the remote computer would be the one doing the numbercrunching. It then tells the computer you’re sitting in front of how to
draw the program window.
An additional feature of SSH connections is that you can also transfer
files. This is done using the SFTP command at the prompt, which is part
of the larger SSH suite of software and which works much like the FTP
command (see Tip 131, on page 173). You can also transfer files using
Nautilus. Open a Nautilus window and click Go → Location. Then, in
the Go To text field, type sftp://address, replacing address with the details
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C HANGE U BUNTU ’ S
SYSTEM SOUNDS
Figure 3.32: Running GUI applications across a remote connection (see
Tip 190, on page 228)
you discovered earlier. You’ll then be prompted for the username and
password of the remote computer. Once entered, you’ll be browsing the
remote machine’s files and can copy/delete files at will.
191
Change Ubuntu’s system sounds
Ubuntu doesn’t make as heavy use of sounds as some other operating
systems but there are still some in use—when you login you hear the
familiar music at login, for example.
To change the system sounds, do the following:
1. Click System → Preferences → Sound, and then click the Sounds
tab. As you can see, there are entries for just about any significant
system event, such as an error dialog appearing, but most aren’t
used by default. By clicking the dropdown entry in the list, you
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M OVE
AROUND THE COMMAND - LINE LIKE A PRO
can select from a variety of default sounds, or click Select sound file
to choose your own.
Ubuntu understands any sound file in .wav format. As you’ll see
from the file chooser dialog box, there are already quite a few
sounds to choose from, and an additional small but basic sound
theme can be found in the purple folder.
2. New sound themes can be downloaded from http://www.gnome-look.
org (click the Systemsounds[[Author: Sic]] link on the left). Any downloaded sound themes should be copied across to their own folder
in /usr/share/sounds. Because this is a root-owned folder, you will
have to do this with administrator powers—type Alt + F2 and type
gksu nautilus. Then move the new files. Don’t forget to close the Nautilus window immediately afterwards because otherwise you might
forget and use it to accidentally wipe protected files.
3. Some sounds are distributed as Ogg or MP3 files, which need to
be converted to .wav files before Ubuntu can use them (and before
you copy them to /usr/share/sounds). To do this you can use the
SoundConverter program, which can be installed using Synaptic
(search for and install the soundconverter package). Once the program starts (it will be added to the Applications → Sound & Video
menu), click Edit → Preferences and then select WAV from under
the Type of result? heading. Then click the Close button. Following
this, click the Add File button on the toolbar to locate the Ogg/MP3
files, and then click the Convert button to write-out converted .wav
files.
To turn off the annoying beep that sounds whenever you hit a wrong
key, see Tip 98, on page 153.
192
Move around the command-line
like a pro
Seeing a true expert use the command-line can be a dazzling experience. The cursor leaps from word to word, and commands are executed
in milliseconds. It’s a strong reminder that the command-prompt is by
no means more primitive than more recent GUI developments. However,
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“S CROLL ”
A VIR TUAL CONSOLE
being a whizz at the command-line doesn’t take that much experience.
It just needs know-how.
To jump from word to word, hold down Ctrl 29 and use the left and right
arrow keys. To jump to the beginning of the line, type Ctrl + a . To jump
to the end, type Ctrl + e . Ctrl + u will delete everything “behind” the
cursor, back to the dollar prompt. Try it to see what happens. Ctrl + k
does the opposite—it deletes everything from the cursor to the end of
the line. Ctrl + w and Alt + d do the same with any word the cursor is
in the middle of— w deletes everything before the cursor to the beginning of the word, while d deletes everything to the end of that particular word. Alt + Backspace deletes the entire word behind the cursor.
If you make a mistake while deleting anything using Alt + Backspace
(or any of the other delete keyboard combinations mentioned here), hit
Ctrl + y to restore it. Ctrl + l will clear the screen (although previous
commands will still be viewable by scrolling the terminal window).
193
“Scroll” a virtual console
One benefit of using a terminal window over a virtual console is that
the terminal window records just about everything you type, along with
the output. It’s just a matter of scrolling the window. However, a littleknown fact is that the virtual console has a similar feature, although its
memory isn’t quite as large. To scroll up or down, type Shift + Page Up
or Shift + Page Down .
For more virtual console-related productivity tips, see Tip 46, on page 109;
Tip 179, on page 219; Tip 18, on page 76; Tip 198, on page 236;
Tip 207, on page 241; and Tip 233, on page 276.
29. In man pages and other technical documentation,
Ctrl is often indicated by a caret
symbol (∧), or by the letter C. Alt is often referred to by the letter M, which stands for
“meta” (a relic of older keyboard types used in Unix days).
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DO
194
MATH AT THE COMMAND - LINE
Do math at the command-line
Sometimes it can be handy to do simple math at the command prompt.
The built-in bc command is the front-end to an “arbitrary precision
calculator language” and if you work or study in a field involving mathematics it’s well worth reading its man page to find out how it works.
Yet, as powerful as it is, it can also be used for more trivial calculations
at the command line.
To use it, type bc at the prompt. Then type in the math you want to
work out, using the +, -, * (multiply), and / (divide) symbols. For example, to work out what 200 multiplied by 133 is, you would type 200*133,
and then hit Enter .
By default there are no decimal places, but this can be changed by
typing scale=8, which will return results with up to eight decimal places
(like a standard calculator).
When you’ve finished, hit Ctrl + d to quit bc.
Using bc interactively can be annoying for quick sums, so you can
create a small shell script that takes math as an input and then run
it through bc in non-interactive mode. Effectively, this is like creating
your own command that will do simple math.
Start Gedit and start a new file called calc. Type the following into it:
#!/bin/bash
# Run input through bc for simple math purposes
scale='scale=8;' # No of decimal places for result
math=${scale}[email protected]
echo $math|bc
Save the file and close Gedit. Then mark the script as executable and
then copy it to the /usr/bin folder, so that it will be available for all users,
as follows:
$ chmod +x calc
$ sudo mv calc /usr/bin/
Following this, the script can be used from the command line, in a way
similar to this:
$ calc 203+99/16
This will add 203 and 99 and then divide by 16, returning a result of
209.1875.
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C REATE
KEYBOARD SHOR TCUTS THAT USE THE
“W INDOWS ”
KEY
234
To learn how to convert hexadecimal to decimal, and vice versa, see
Tip 211, on page 246.
195
Create keyboard shortcuts that
use the “Windows” key
If you’ve tried to define your own keyboard shortcuts using the program
on the System → Preferences menu, you’ll have noticed that it doesn’t
let you use the “Windows” key (the keys to the left and right of Space
that usually have the Microsoft Windows logo on them). The Keyboard
Shortcuts program sees the Windows key as just any other key, like a
letter and number, so you can’t combine it with any other keys to create
a combination.
But a solution isn’t far away. Click System → Preferences → Keyboard
and then click the Layouts tab in the window that appears. Then click
the Layout Options button and, in the new dialog that appears, click the
small arrow alongside Alt/Win Key Behavior. Then select the radio button
alongside Super is mapped to the Win-keys, and click the Close button, and
then the Close button in the parent dialog box.
You can now use the Keyboard Shortcuts program, as mentioned at the
start of this tip, to define new shortcuts involving the Windows key.
You can also make certain programs start on key combinations, including the Windows key, and/or the Alt and Ctrl keys. Let’s take as an
example having Nautilus open in Computer view when Windows + e is
hit, a useful keyboard shortcut you might be familiar with when using
Windows. The first thing to do is define the command we want to run in
this instance, so start gconf-editor and navigate to /apps/metacity/keybinding_commands
and double-click the command_1 key on the right. In the Value text field
of the dialog that appears, type nautilus computer://.
To define the actual keyboard shortcut, switch to /apps/metacity/global_keybindings
in gconf-editor and double-click the run_command_1 key. In the dialog
box that appears, type <Super>e.
Following this, you can quit gconf-editor and test your new shortcut—
Nautilus will open in Computer display mode whenever you hit Windows + e .
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C REATE
A TEXT FILE WITHOUT A TEXT EDITOR
Any command can be used typed into the command_1 key in gconfeditor, as described above, with virtually any arguments or options.
Additionally, up to 12 command keys are available in gconf-editor, as
described above, along with corresponding run_command keys, where
keyboard shortcuts can be defined.
You might notice that, even though you enable the Windows key as
described earlier, some options in the Keyboard Shortcuts program just
don’t seem to work when a Windows key is used in their shortcuts, even
though using Ctrl or Alt seems to work fine. It’s not clear why this
is, but you can use gconf-editor to alter existing keyboard shortcuts so
they work with the Windows key. Most can be found by navigating to
/apps/metacity/global_keybindings and /apps/metacity/windows_keybindings—
just double-click the key relating to the shortcut, delete the contents,
and type the new keyboard combination. <Super> can be combined with
<Shift>, <Alt> and <Control>, in any number of combinations.
If you want to include the cursor keys in any shortcut combinations,
just type Left, Right, Up, or Down. For example, to cause Nautilus to start
in Computer mode, as described above, whenever Windows + Cursor Left
is hit, you would change the value of run_command_1 to read <Super>Left.
<Home>, <End>, <Insert>, <Delete>, and <Pause> are also available for use,
and correspond to the keys above the cursor keys on a standard desktop PC keyboard. Page Up , Page Down and Scroll Lock must be written as <Page_Up>, <Page_Down> and <Scroll_Lock>.
196
Create a text file without a text
editor
Often creating a quick text file is necessary. The following will do the
job without running any external programs other than those built into
the command-line. You can type what you want, including line spaces.
Obviously, replace textfile.txt with any filename you choose. Once you’ve
finished entering the data, hit Ctrl + d to save the file:30
30.
Ctrl + d sends an “end of file” (eof) message, thus ending input and causing the file
to be saved. Some other commands use Ctrl + d too, and if you read their man pages
they will say something like, “...to terminate input, send eof.” Because it effectively tells
BASH that you’ve finished your input, Ctrl + d is also a quick way of logging out of a
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T URN
OFF THE
O PEN O FFICE . ORG
SPLASH SCREEN
$ cat > textfile.txt
To subsequently process the words you’ve typed, see Tip 221, on page 256.
197
Turn off the OpenOffice.org
splash screen
OpenOffice.org applications can take some time to start and during
that period the splash screen stays on top of all other windows. To
turn off the splash screen so you can get on with other tasks while
OpenOffice.org starts, open a terminal window and type the following
to open the OpenOffice.org central configuration file:
$ gksu gedit /etc/openoffice/sofficerc
Change the line that reads Logo=1 to read Logo=0. Save the file. The
changes will take effect the next time you start OpenOffice.org.
For more OpenOffice tips and tricks, see Tip 121, on page 168; Tip 149,
on page 194; Tip 249, on page 288; Tip 295, on page 343; and Tip 308,
on page 361.
198
See which virtual console you’re
working at
If you’ve got a number of virtual consoles running at the same time, it
can become confusing to know which of them—1 to 6—you’re currently
switched into. To find out, just type tty. The result will be something
like /dev/tty2, and the number at the end refers to the virtual console
number.
For more virtual console-related productivity tips, see Tip 46, on page 109;
Tip 179, on page 219; Tip 193, on page 232; Tip 18, on page 76;
Tip 207, on page 241; and Tip 233, on page 276.
virtual console or terminal session.
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P ERIODICALLY
199
CHANGE THE DESKTOP WALLPAPERS
Periodically change the desktop
wallpapers
Adding a bit of variety to the desktop experience is always good and
Drapes can be used to rotate the desktop background to a different
image at a predefined interval, or whenever the icon it adds to the notification area is clicked.
It can be installed by using Synaptic to search for and install drapes.
Once installed, run it by starting a command-line prompt (or by hitting Alt + F2 ) and typing drapes. Upon first running, Drapes will add
a notification area icon at the top-right of the screen. Right-click this
and select Preferences. Once the Drapes dialog box appears, click the
General tab and check Start Desktop Drapes on start[[Author: sic]] .
Following this, you can add whatever wallpapers you want by clicking
the Display tab and clicking the Add button. Navigate to where your wallpaper images are stored (if you wish to add the Ubuntu defaults navigate to /usr/share/backgrounds) and use Shift -select to select many files
at once. Then click Open. Following this they will all be imported into
Drapes and will added to the list of wallpapers to be periodically used as
desktop backgrounds. They will be sorted and categorized according to
size upon being imported, but you can ignore this. To vary the timing,
click the General tab and change the slider under the Timing heading.
For other wallpaper-related enhancements to Ubuntu, see Tip 139,
on page 180; Tip 144, on page 187; Tip 1, on page 62; Tip 237, on
page 279; and Tip 290, on page 338.
200
Get warned when sudo powers
hang around
When you type your password to run a system administration application, the system remembers the authorization for a short time. If you
then run another application that requires authentication, you won’t be
prompted for your password. This is both good and bad: good because
it makes life easier, but bad because, sometimes, the password prompt
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A DD
A
“ SIMILAR
WORDS ” SIDEBAR TO
D ICTIONARY
serves as a warning that the software might do drastic things to the
system.
Tip 47, on page 110 explains how to eradicate the period that sudo
hangs around, but as an alternative you can make a warning dialog
box appear each time a GUI application runs when it would ordinarily
require authentication.
Open gconf-editor and head over to /apps/gksu. Look for display-no-passinfo on the right of the screen and put a check in it. The change will
take effect immediately.
For other sudo/password-related enhancements, see Tip 271, on page 311,
and Tip 78, on page 137.
201
Add a “similar words” sidebar to
Dictionary
This tip makes the Dictionary application return words that have similar spelling to the one you asked it to look up, such as permutations
of the word. Start Dictionary (Applications → Accessories → Dictionary)
and click View → Sidebar. Note that the sidebar will need to be moved
because it squashes the Dictionary program window by default—click
and drag its handle to do so.
202
Add drop shadows to
screenshots
Taking screenshots of your Ubuntu desktop is easy—simply hit Print Screen
(or Alt + Print Screen to capture the currently active window). You
can automatically add a stylish drop-shadow to screenshots by loading
gconf-editor and looking up /apps/gnome-screenshot. Then change the
border_effect key so that it reads shadow. To add a slight black outline,
type border instead. Screenshots are saved as PNG files with a transparent background, so the shadowed screenshot can be used against
virtually any background within a document or website.
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C REATE
203
A BACKUP
ISO
IMAGE OF ALMOST ANY PHYSICAL
CD/DVD
Create a backup ISO image of
almost any physical CD/DVD
Backing up valuable CDs or DVDs is always a good idea. Ubuntu includes
a tool that can backup just about any CD or DVD, whether it contains
data, music or video. It outputs ISO images, similar in nature to the
ISO images that are used to distribute Ubuntu. They’re simply large
files containing a verbatim (uncompressed) copy of the disc contents.
To create your own ISO images, right-click the disc’s desktop icon,
select Copy Disc, and in the dialog box that appears, select File image
from the Copy disc to dropdown list. When you click the Write button,
you’ll be prompted for a filename to save the disc as.
If you ever need to burn the ISO to a disc, right-click it and select
Write to Disc. Alternatively, see Tip 120, on page 167, which explains
how to mount an ISO image as if it were a physical disk drive on your
computer.
204
Change Firefox’s spellchecker
language
Firefox includes a handy spellchecker that will ensure anything you
type into text boxes is correct. Any incorrect words are underlined in
red. The problem is that it defaults to American English, which can be
annoying for the British, Canadians, Australians and those of other primarily English-speaking nations. The solution is easy—just visit http://
addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/browse/type:3, and then click the Install link
alongside your language of choice. After Firefox has restarted, and next
time it hightlights a word it thinks is mispelled, right-click the word
in question, click Languages in the menu that appears, and select your
choice from the list. This will then become Firefox’s default. Note that
it’s possible to have many different spellcheck languages installed and
to switch between them this way.
For more Firefox-related tips, see Tip 7, on page 66; Tip 55, on page 118;
Tip 64, on page 124; Tip 69, on page 128; Tip 163, on page 202;
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T AKE
FULL CONTROL OF
U BUNTU ’ S P ULSE A UDIO
SOUND OUTPUT
Tip 212, on page 247; Tip 213, on page 247; and Tip 285, on page 332.
205
Take full control of Ubuntu’s
PulseAudio sound output
Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron introduces a new sound sub-system to Ubuntu:
PulseAudio. Amongst other things, this is designed to give fine-grained
control over audio output—the sound from each application can be
adjusted manually, for example (useful if you want to turn down the
audio from a Flash animation without also turning-down the MP3 music
playing).
Unfortunately the other Ubuntu audio control tools are lagging a little
behind. The PCM component of the main volume control window that
appears when you right-click the volume control and click Open Volume
Control no longer controls application audio output, This means it’s no
longer possible to adjust the output of, say, Totem Movie Player against
the volume of the CD player.
An interim solution until this is fixed is to use Synaptic to search for
and install PulseAudio Volume Control (its package name is pavucontrol).
Once installed it can be run by typing pavucontrol into a terminal window and, once up and running, any application that’s currently outputting audio will appear under the Playback tab.31
To have PulseAudio Volume Control start instead of the standard GNOME
volume control utility when the desktop volume icon is double-clicked,
type the following to open the relevant configuration file into Gedit:
$ gksu gedit /usr/share/applications/gnome-volume-control.desktop
Look for the line that reads Exec=gnome-volume-control and change it so
it reads Exec=pavucontrol. Then save the file.
From now on, whenever you right-click the volume control applet and
select Open Volume Control, or simply double-click the volume icon, PulseAudio Volume Control will open instead. Note that the older volume control
program can still be run by typing gnome-volume-control into a terminal
window.
31. To have Firefox appear under the Playback tab of PulseAudio Volume Control when playing
back Flash animations/games, it’s necessary to install the libflashsupport package.
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S LEEP,
206
HIBERNATE , SHUTDOWN , OR REBOOT FROM THE COMMAND - PROMPT
Sleep, hibernate, shutdown, or
reboot from the
command-prompt
Assuming that your computer uses ACPI (virtually all computers do
that have been made in the past five years), typing any of the following
commands into a terminal window or virtual console will cause Ubuntu
to enter sleep mode, hibernate (suspend to disk), shutdown and switch
off, or reboot. Bear in mind that if you installed Ubuntu using Wubi,
hibernate isn’t possible.
To hibernate, type the following:
$ sudo /etc/acpi/hibernate.sh
To put Ubuntu into sleep mode (enter a low-power mode but leave the
computer switched on and able to resume at a keystroke or after hitting
the PC’s power button), type the following:
$ sudo /etc/acpi/sleepbtn.sh
To cause Ubuntu to shutdown, save your data and close your applications, and then type the following (there are NO warning dialog boxes
with this command!):
$ sudo telinit 0
To reboot Ubuntu, again save your data and close your applications,
because there are no warning dialog boxes, and type the following:
$ sudo telinit 6
To learn how to do all of the above with a single mouse-click, see
Tip 227, on page 268.
207
Mirror commands and output
across different terminal windows
To have one terminal window mirror the contents of another, first start
a screen session in one of them. screen effectively allows you to create a
command-line login that’s independent of any actual terminal windows
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I NSTANTLY
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or virtual consoles (so if the terminal window quits, the command-line
login will still be running in the background). To start it, simply type
screen. Then open another terminal window and attach to the currently
running screen session by typing screen -x. Now try typing something to
see what the effect is.
To detach from the screen session, in either or both terminal windows,
type Ctrl + a and then hit d . Note that if you detach in both terminal
windows, the screen session will still be running in the background. To
quit it, you must reattach to it (type screen -r), and hit Ctrl + d (or just
type exit at the prompt).
This trick works in a virtual console too—you could start a screen session in a terminal window and have it mirrored at a virtual console
prompt by attaching to it using screen -x.
By combining this tip with an SSH remote connection (see Tip 190,
on page 228), you can not only create a command-login using screen
that will persist on the remote computer even if the SSH connection is
lost (useful if running commands that take some time to complete, or
if you’re using a flaky connection), but you can create a setup whereby
what you type is mirrored on the remote computer in a terminal window—
just ask the user sitting in front of the remote computer to open a terminal window and type screen -x, once you’ve started screen in the SSH
session. This provides an excellent way of remote teaching.
208
Instantly view a load of images
as a slideshow
To instantly view all the images in a particular folder as a slideshow,
just type eog -f *.jpg. This uses the Eye of GNOME default image viewer
built-into Ubuntu (eog) and the -f command option switches it to fullscreen mode. To move through images, use the left/right cursor keys or
hit Space . To quit the slideshow, hit Esc and then quit Eye of GNOME.
Unfortunately, at the command-line it isn’t possible to specify how long
each slide is shown for but this can be done when the slideshow is up
and running by hitting Esc , to leave full-screen mode, and then clicking
Edit → Preferences, clicking the Slideshow tab, and changing the Switch
image after value.
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U SE
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W INDOWS - STYLE “S TAR T ”
The command above assumes the images
If you specify a wildcard to indicate any
will be confused by non-image files and
get around this by using brace expansion
formats, as follows:
BUTTON AND TASKBAR
concerned are JPEG images.
file (eog -f *) Eye of GNOME
throw-up an error. You can
to specify all potential image
$ eog -f *.{jpg,tif,bmp,gif,png}
... but this can be hard to remember and annoying to type. You might
consider turning the command into an alias—see Tip 259, on page 299—
but perhaps a better solution is to use Synaptic to install mirage. This
is an alternative image viewer that’s almost identical to Eye of GNOME,
but lacks the problems mentioned above. To use it to create an instant
slideshow in any folder (even one that contains files that are not images),
just type mirage -f -s *.
To create an HTML slideshow of images, see Tip 126, on page 171.
209
Use a Windows-style “Start”
button and taskbar
Ubuntu uses a dual-menu system, whereby the Applications, Places
and System menus are always visible at the top of the screen, and an
application’s menus appear below. This isn’t the most efficient use of
desktop space and you can add a single Windows-like “Start” button
to access Ubuntu’s software, and off which can be found the Places,
System → Preferences and System → Administration menus.
The following steps explain how to combine the top and bottom panels
of Ubuntu into one, to create a similar arrangement to Windows:
1. Start by pruning the top panel of any features that you don’t need.
This is necessary to save space. For example, Ubuntu activates the
Fast User Switcher by default (look for your username at the top
right of the screen), even if the system only has one user account.
To remove it, right-click it and select Remove from Panel. You might
also choose to make the time and date display take up less space—
right-click it, select Preferences and uncheck Show the date. Following this you can find the date by hovering the mouse cursor over
the time display.
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BUTTON AND TASKBAR
2. Right-click a blank spot on the top panel and select Add to Panel.
In the dialog box that appears, look for Show Desktop and click
the Add button. Do the same with Window List, Deleted Items and
Workspace Switcher. Once done, leave the Add to Panel dialog box
open but move to the next step.
3. Right-click anywhere on the Applications Places System menu text
and click Remove from Panel. Then return to the Add to Panel dialog
box and select Main Menu. Click Add and then close the Add to
Panel dialog box. You will now have a Start-like button. Look for
the icon—it will be the circular Ubuntu logo.
4. You can now delete the bottom panel. Right-click it and select
Delete this Panel. Then click-and-hold on the top panel and drag it
down to the bottom of the screen (assuming you want it at the
bottom—many people prefer to have it at the top).
5. Now you can move everything on the main panel to where you’d
like it to be. To do so, right-click each item and select Move. If
Move is greyed-out you’ll need to uncheck Lock to Panel. If some
icons are locked, you won’t be able to move anything past them,
so it’s a good idea to first ensure everything is not locked. If you’d
like to add a dividing line between certain elements on the panel,
right-click a blank spot on it, select Add to Panel and, in the dialog
that appears, select Separator. This can be handy in order to clearly
separate the new Start-like button from its neighbors.
The steps above reproduce a Windows 95-like Start menu, which is vertical, with submenus coming off it. See Figure 3.33, on the next page
for an example taken from my test PC. For something closer to the Windows XP/Vista Start menu, complete with separate areas for recently
accessed documents and applications, use Synaptic to search for and
install gnome-main-menu. Once installed, right-click a blank spot on the
panel, click Add to panel, and select the second Main Menu entry in the
list (it will have the icon of a monitor, rather than the Ubuntu icon; if it
doesn’t appear to be in the list, log out and back in again).
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C HANGE
YOUR PASSWORD
Figure 3.33: Adding a Windows-like start button and panel arrangement (see Tip 209, on page 243)
210
Change your password
When it comes to changing your login password, you have two options.
The first is to use the Users & Groups tool on the System → Administration menu. When it starts, click the Unlock button, then highlight your
username in the list and click Properties. In the Password section of the
dialog box that appears, type the new password in the User password and
then the Confirmation text boxes. Then hit OK. The changes take effect
immediately.
The alternative (and less involved) is to open a terminal prompt and type
passwd. Type your old password, and then type the new password twice.
If there are other users on the system you can change their password
here too—just type sudo passwd username, replacing username with their
username. Note that you won’t be prompted to type the old password
first in this case.
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C ONVER T
211
HEX TO DECIMAL ( AND VICE VERSA )
Convert hex to decimal (and
vice versa)
Tip 194, on page 233, explained how the bc can be used to create a
script that can do simple math at the command line. As mentioned, bc
has many features. One of the many other things it can do is convert
decimal to hex, and vice versa (if you’re wondering what hex is, you
might want to skip this particular tip). To convert from decimal to hex,
start bc by typing bc at the command line and then type obase=16. Then
type the number you want to convert.
To convert hex to decimal using bc, start bc and type ibase=16. Then
type the hex number, ensuring that A, B, C, D, E or F are all typed in
uppercase.
When you’ve finished, hit Ctrl + d to quit bc.
As with the earlier tip, a simple script can be created to carry out the
conversion at the command-line. To create a script that converts decimal to hex, open Gedit and create a file called dec-to-hex. Then type the
following:
#!/bin/bash
# Take hex input and run it through bc for decimal output
option='obase=16;'
convert=${option}[email protected]
echo $convert|bc
Save the file and close Gedit. Then mark the script as executable and
then copy it to the /usr/bin folder, so that it will be available for all users,
as follows:
$ chmod +x dec-to-hex
$ sudo mv dec-to-hex /usr/bin/
Following this, the script can be used from the command line, in a way
similar to this:
$ dec-to-hex 255
To create a similar home-made command that converts hex to decimal,
repeat the above steps but call the new script hex-to-dec and, in the
third line of the script, type option=’ibase=16;’ instead. You will need to
change the comment on the second line too, so it explains what the
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Q UICKLY
SAVE PICTURES ON WEBSITES
script does. Then follow the instructions to mark the script as executable and copy it to /usr/bin, substituting the different filename for
dec-to-hex. The new command than then be used from the commandline in the same way (for example, hex-to-dec FFC21A).
Ubuntu’s default Calculator application (Applications → Accessories)
can also convert between hex and decimal. To do so, select Scientific on
the view menu. Then, if you want to convert a decimal number to hex,
type it and click the Hex radio button. To convert a number from hex
to decimal, select the Hex radio button. Then type the hex number and
click the Dec radio button.
212
Quickly save pictures on websites
Did you know that if you click and drag a picture on a website to
your desktop, it will be automatically copied across? Unfortunately, this
doesn’t work if the picture is also a link—in that case, a new file will be
created that, when double-clicked, opens the link in the web browser.
This also works in reverse with a new Evolution email—drag the image
onto a blank spot of the new email text area, and it will be automatically
attached.
For more Firefox-related tips, see Tip 7, on page 66; Tip 55, on page 118;
Tip 64, on page 124; Tip 69, on page 128; Tip 163, on page 202;
Tip 204, on page 239; Tip 213; and Tip 285, on page 332.
213
Quickly send web links by email
Nearly all of us spot links whilst browsing that we want to send to
friends. Usually we have to cut and paste the email address into a new
email, which can take quite a few steps. An easier process is, within
Firefox, to click File → Send Link. This will create a new email with the
link in the body of the email, and a suitable subject line. All you have
to do is fill-in the address.
If even that sounds like too much trouble, install the Email This! Firefox
extension from https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/3102. This is
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S HARPEN
IMAGES AT THE COMMAND LINE
evant text in the page and then right-click anywhere in it. Select Email
This! and then select Mail-To This! (Windows/OS-X/Linux). This will create a
new Evolution email with the link in the body of the mail, along with
the highlighted text and the subject filled in automatically. If you don’t
want to send any text from the page, just right-click without first highlighting.
214
Sharpen images at the
command line
If you followed Tip 154, on page 197, and Tip 11, on page 72, you’ll
already have come into contact with Imagemagick. This command-line
program can do just about anything to images and you can learn more
about it by viewing its man page (man imagemagick) or viewing its website: http://www.imagemagick.org/script/convert.php.
Perhaps one of the most useful functions it can perform, besides file format conversion and resizing, is to sharpen an image. Almost all images
look better when sharpened, particularly if they’re being shrunk for use
in printing or use on websites. To sharpen an image, use the -sharpen
command option with convert. The possible values to be used range
from .1 up to 3. A value of around 1 gives good results.
The following will sharpen an image:
$ convert -sharpen 0x1 filename.bmp filename_sharpened.bmp
That’s zero after sharpen and before x. Obviously, you should replace
filename.bmp with the source image, and filename_sharpened.bmp with a
name suitable for the new sharpened image.
Imagemagick can also be used to process lots of images at once (known
as batch processing), although in that case the mogrify command must
be used instead of the convert command. For example, to sharpen all
the images in the current folder, type:
$ mogrify -sharpen 0x1 *
Note that the original files will be overwritten with sharpened versions of
themselves, so you might want to make backups first. mogrify can also
be used in place of convert in the aforementioned tips to shrink/enlarge
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V IEW PDF S
AT THE COMMAND LINE
lots of images at once, or convert lots of images from one format to
another.
215
View PDFs at the command line
If you want to view a PDF, simply use the evince program: evince filename.pdf. This will open a program window showing the PDF file.
If you actually want to look at the PDF within the terminal window (or
maybe in a virtual console), you’ll first need to convert it to text. To do
this, use the pdftotext program: pdftotext filename.pdf. This will create
a .txt file containing the contents of the PDF. To view it, use the less
command: less filename.txt.
To extract the images from the PDF, use the pdfimages command. You’ll
need to specify the filenames for the pictures, and also the -j command
option to ensure the photographic images are outputted as JPEG. For
example, the following:
$ pdfimages -j filename-pdf pictures
...will extract the images as JPEGs and give them filenames beginning
with pictures. So the first might be pictures-001.jpg, the second pictures002.jpg, and so on.
You can also convert PDFs to images by following Tip 168, on page 205.
For other PDF tips, see Tip 116, on page 164; Tip 189, on page 228;
and Tip 258, on page 298.
216
Run Windows programs under
Ubuntu
You might have heard about Wine, the software that recreates much of
the Windows infrastructure under Linux so you can run some Windows
software (not, unfortunately, all Windows software; newer titles in particular tend to be non-starters. For details of the success or otherwise
of particular Windows programs, see http://appdb.winehq.org).
There isn’t space in a quick tips book like this to explain how to use
Wine, but here are some tips:
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R UN W INDOWS
PROGRAMS UNDER
U BUNTU
Figure 3.34: Installing Windows applications using Wine (see Tip 216,
on the previous page)
• Wine can be installed by using Synaptic to search for and install
the wine package. It’s strongly advised you also install the msttcorefonts package, to install the Windows fonts, and also the nas package, which provides enhanced sound support. However, Ubuntu
versions can be a little behind the main Wine release, so you might
want to add the official Wine repositories—see http://www.winehq.
org/site/download-deb for details. However, don’t assume that the
newest version is always the best—sometimes newer releases break
compatibility with some Windows programs. Often you upgrade at
your peril!
• To run a Windows program, just download it (or insert the CD/DVD)
and then precede its installation program filename with wine. For
example, to run the WinZip installer, I typed wine winzip112.exe. See
Figure 3.34 for an example.
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R UN W INDOWS
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• Wine creates a whole fake C:\ drive when it’s first run, but it’s hidden within your /home folder. To access it, type cd ~/.wine/.drive_c.
Then, to run any program, for example those from the Program Files
folder, once again precede their .exe filenames with wine. Remember that filenames including spaces need to be enclosed in quotation marks, for example: wine ".wine/drive_c/Program Files/Internet
Explorer/iexplore.exe".
• If a Windows program prompts you to reboot, you don’t actually
have to reboot! Instead, issue the wineboot command at the terminal.
• Bear in mind that Wine likes to provide lots of debug feedback,
in the form of worrying messages when it runs any Windows program. You can ignore this.
• The program Wine Doors makes setup and use of Wine much easier, providing a centralized GUI configuration program that will
walk you through installing certain Windows applications. It can
be downloaded from http://www.wine-doors.org. For best results, this
should be installed before Wine is used for the first time, so it can
setup things correctly.
• Lots of software won’t install unless Internet Explorer is installed.
This can be done using Wine Doors. Installing Internet Explorer
using Wine Doors will also install other useful Windows software,
such as the DCOM98 system files, which helps many programs
work under Wine.
• Wine can be difficult to get the most from, so you might be interested to hear that a handful of commercially-sold versions are
available that not only automate installation of popular applications but also iron-out some of the bugs that stop applications
working. CrossOver Office (http://www.codeweavers.com) will let you
run many Windows applications and games, including many recent
examples (including versions of Microsoft Office up to Office 2003),
while Cadega (http://www.transgaming.com) concentrates on games.
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U NINSTALL U BUNTU
217
IF
W UBI
HAS BEEN USED
Uninstall Ubuntu if Wubi has been
used
If you want to uninstall Ubuntu, and have used Wubi, resist the temptation just to delete the C:\ubuntu folder. This will remove the Ubuntu
system files but leave behind the boot menu entry. Instead, browse to
C:\ubuntu and double-click Uninstall-Ubuntu.exe.
For other Wubu-related tips, see Tip 19, on page 77, and Tip 186, on
page 226.
218
See a visual representation of file
and folder locations
If you’re new to the Ubuntu file system (or even an old hand), it can
be easy to get lost while browsing the file system. As mentioned in
Chapter 2, An Ubuntu administration crash course, on page 19, the pwd
can be used to get a quick reminder of the current folder, but you might
also use the tree. First you’ll need to install it using Synaptic—search
for and install tree. Then just type tree at the prompt.
Here’s what I saw on my test system when I typed the command within
my /home folder:
.
|-|
|
|-|
|
|-|-|
|-|
|
|-|-`--
Desktop
|-- gnome-terminal.desktop
`-- synaptic.desktop
Documents
|-- accounts08.ods
`-- brochure.pdf
Examples -> /usr/share/example-content
Music
`-- tom gold-magic.mp3
Pictures
|-- barbecue.jpg
`-- disneyland.jpg
Public
Templates
Videos
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S EE
A VISUAL REPRESENTATION OF FILE AND FOLDER LOCATIONS
It should be obvious what’s what here. The folders (Desktop, Documents,
Music etc) are represented as branches on the virtual tree, and the files
(or subfolders) as sub-branches. What you don’t see here, and which
is very useful, is that everything is color-coded according the standard
color-coding used at the prompt. Thus folders are light blue, image files
are purple, the MP3 file is green, and so on.
To see only folders, and not files within them (possibly more useful),
use the -d command option: tree -d. To filter the results for a particular
type of file, or files with a particular name, use the -P command option.
For example, to filter for .doc files, you could type:
$ tree -P *.doc
Or to filter for files that include disneyland in their name, you could type:
$ tree -P *disneyland*
As if all this wasn’t enough, tree has a trick up its sleeve. It can output
everything as a hyperlinked HTML file. This can be useful if you need
to quickly create a directory listing of online files.
Let’s assume that you have a website called http://www.example.com and
the local folder that contains your local copies of the site is /home/keir/website.
The following command will output a file called index.html that contains
a visual tree representation of the files contained within website, including hyperlinks to the files themselves:
$ tree -H http://www.example.com -T "Click a file to download" /home/ ←֓
keir/website/ > index.html
First we provide the URL that the hyperlinks should be prefaced with.
This could be a path on the server (for example, www.example.com/files;[[Author:
Note that this isn’t a real URL, just a dummy example—example.com
is a mandated “test” URL]] note that you must not include the trailing
slash in the path). Then we provide the -T command option, which gives
the webpage a header—this can be anything you want but steer clear of
symbols like !, which have specific functions at the command prompt.
Following this we provide the location of the files. Finally, we redirect
output into the index.html file.
See also Tip 132, on page 175, to switch to a tree view in Nautilus.
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TEXT BANNERS
Figure 3.35: Using Figlet to create a text banner (see Tip 219)
219
Create text banners
Some tips in this book are useful. Some less so. Some are just fun. This
tip is one of them.
Start Synaptic. Then search for and install figlet. Then type the following
into a terminal window:
$ figlet "Ubuntu Kung Fu"
See Figure 3.35 for what I saw. The output is built from symbols, letters
and other characters. There’s even different fonts available—take a look
in /usr/share/figlet. Any file with an .flf file extension is a font. To use a
different font, just specify its name after the -f command option, without
a file extension:
$ figlet -f lean "Ubuntu Kung Fu"
Believe it or not, figlet did have a serious use (well, actually, its older
brother called banner did). In the days of shared dot-matrix printers
and sheet-fed paper, the command was used to clearly indicate who
had sent which print job. The banner text would appear at the start of
any printed documents, so it was clear where the sheet output could
be torn-off.
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I like to add a figlet command to the end of my .bashrc file so that figlet
runs every time I login at a virtual console or open a terminal window.
Just type gedit ~/.bashrc to open the file in Gedit and add the entire
command as a new line at the end. If you want a sentence to appear,
as opposed to just a single word, ensure you enclose the sentence in
quotation marks (ie figlet -f small "Greetings Professor Falken").
You might want to take a look at the unfortunately-titled toilet, which
does exactly the same thing but with added color. Once it’s installed,
try the following:
$ toilet -f mono12 -F gay "Ubuntu Kung Fu"
220
Use a Macintosh OS X-like Dock
Users of Mac OS X will be aware of the Dock, which forms the central
hub around which programs can be launched and activated. AvantWindow-Manager is a faithful reproduction that includes several additional features, such as customization options. See Figure 3.36, on the
next page for an example of it in action. However, it only works if you
have desktop effects enabled—see Tip 74, on page 131 for more information.
Use Synaptic to search for and install the awn-manager package. This
will install Avant-Window-Manager and also a useful configuration program. Once installed, you can start Avant-Window-Manager by clicking
its entry on the Applications → Accessories menu.
You’ll need to start by adding some program launchers to it, so click and
drag your favorite application icons from the Applications or System
menus and drop them onto Avant-Window-Manager. Following this you
can launch the applications by simply clicking their icons. Note that
Avant-Window-Manager effectively negates the need for a bottom panel
so you might choose to delete it (right-click and select Delete This Panel).
In fact, the functionality provided by the bottom panel interferes a little
with Avant-Window-Manager because applications will minimize to it,
rather than to Avant-Window-Manager itself.
To configure Avant-Window-Manager, click System → Preferences →
Awn Manager. Amongst the options worth playing around with are the
Look dropdown, under the Bar Appearance tab. Here you can select 3D
Look to get a Dock more in style with Mac OS X Leopard.
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Figure 3.36: Adding an Mac OS X-like Dock with Avant-WindowManager (see Tip 220, on the preceding page)
To make Avant-Window-Manager start each time you login, click System → Preferences → Sessions, ensure the Startup Programs tab is selected,
and click the Add button. Then type avant-window-navigator into both the
Name and Command text fields. Leave the Comment field blank. Then
click the OK button.
As mentioned, Avant-Window-Manager can be heavily customized. For
more information, take a look at the program’s wiki: http://wiki.awn-project.
org, or post a message on the program’s forums: http://awn.planetblur.org.
For other tips that add bling to the Ubuntu desktop, see Tip 21, on
page 79; Tip 79, on page 138; Tip 147, on page 192; Tip 199, on
page 237; Tip 74, on page 131; Tip 274, on page 313; and Tip 289,
on page 338.
221
Process words at the
command-line
No, this tip isn’t a rehash of Tip 177, on page 216, which describes how
to install Microsoft Word for use at the command-line (yes, really).
Instead this tip is a rundown of several useful text-processing tools
available at the command-line. The fact is that bash (and sh before it)
predate the serious introduction of word processors. In fact, it could be
argued that many word processing features evolved from text-manipulation
tools built into bash.
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WORDS AT THE COMMAND - LINE
Start by consulting Tip 196, on page 235, to find out how to create
a text file at the prompt with the minimum of fuss. Assuming you’ve
now created a document, let’s move on to look at the tools available to
process it.
• Spell checking: As its name suggests, aspell is a spell-checker. To
use it, provide the filename of the text file to be checked after the
-c option: aspell -c file.txt. Once it’s running you’ll be presented with
a list of alternatives for words that are misspelled. To select one,
type the number next to its entry in the list. To skip that word,
type i . To quit, type x . Bear in mind that the corrected file will
overwrite the original once you’ve finished, although a backup of
the file will be created with a .bak file extension.
To spellcheck a single word at the command-line, use the look
command: look mississippi, for example. If the word is in the list of
results then it’s spelled correctly. If it’s not in the list then it isn’t
spelled correctly. Note that a long list of results might be returned
because every permutation of the word will be returned. Search
for cart, for example, and carton, cartographer, and others will be
returned.
• Word count: wc stands for “word count“ and, sure enough, can be
used to count the words of a specified file (ie wc textfile.txt). Three
figures will be reported. The first is the number of lines, the second
the number of words, and the third is the filesize (in bytes). Use
the -w command option if you just want to know the number of
words.
• Word wrap: You can make a document “word wrap” using the fold
command. This sets carriage returns at the end of lines, so it isn’t
quite like the dynamic word wrap function you might be used to
in word processors. Yet it’s sometimes useful nonetheless. The w command option is used to set the character count (per line)
when the line should be broken. It’s also advisable to add the -s
command option to stop fold breaking words in half. The following
will set a word wrap after approximately 40 characters on each
line, creating a new file called wrapped.txt with the changes within
it:
$ fold -sw 15 file.txt > wrapped.txt
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222
A CALENDAR AT THE COMMAND PROMPT
View a calendar at the
command prompt
You’ve probably already realized that clicking the time display at the
top-right of the screen shows a calendar. To see the same kind of thing
at the command-line, type cal. Without any command arguments, it
will show the dates for the current month. If you want the axis of the
calendar reversed (days down the side, rater than across the top), type
ncal instead. To see the dates for last month, this month, and next
month, type cal -3 (for some reason, however, this particular commandoption doesn’t work with ncal).
To see a calendar for a whole year, type the year straight afterward: cal
2010. To see a calendar for December of any particular year, type cal
dec followed by the year (or you could type jan, feb, mar and so on).
Both cal and ncal can be used to find out historical dates. To find out
the day when the Declaration of Independence was signed, type cal july
1776. If you seriously need to know precise dates going back millennia
there might be issues with the Julian/Gregorian calendar switchover—
see cal’s man page for details.
223
Repair Ubuntu file system errors
On the whole Ubuntu’s file system is robust. I can honesty say that in
years of using Ubuntu I’ve never had to manually check the hard disk
for errors. Even if the power has suddenly gone off, Ubuntu has booted
correctly the next time with no data loss. This is helped by periodic disk
checks that run automatically at boot-up.
But if you need to manually check the disk, it’s only a single command
away. You’ll need to boot from your Ubuntu install CD because it’s not
possible to check a file system while it’s in use. Select Try Ubuntu from
the install CD-ROM boot menu. When the desktop appears, open a
terminal window and type the following:
$ sudo fsck.ext3 -f /dev/sda5
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This assumes that Ubuntu is installed alongside Windows on the hard
disk. If it’s the only operating system on the disk, replace /dev/sda5 with
/dev/sda1.
If there are any errors, you’ll be prompted to repair them. Usually you
can agree to the repair.
To perform a surface scan for bad blocks in addition to a file system
check, add the the -c command option:
$ sudo fsck.ext3 -fck /dev/sda5
To fix the Windows (NTFS) file system from within Ubuntu, see Tip 38,
on page 98.
224
Clone your Ubuntu installation
onto a new hard disk
Just upgraded your system with a shiny new hard disk and want to
make it your new book disk? Cloning Ubuntu to another hard disk
is easy. In fact, Ubuntu provides tools to clone the entire hard disk—
including the Windows partition, if there’s one on there. This is the kind
of fundamental task that Linux excels at, in fact.
Three things must be done. First, you must discover how Ubuntu refers
to the hard disks. Secondly, you must install the ddrescue software and
then use it to clone the disk. Thirdly, once ddrescue has finished, you
must use the Gparted utility to expand the disk partition(s) (assuming
that the new disk is bigger than the old one, which is almost certainly
going to be the reason for upgrading in the first place).
It’s not a good idea to clone a hard disk that’s in use (any more than
it’s a good idea to repair a car while it’s being driven), so you must use
your Ubuntu install CD’s live distro mode. To carry out the instructions
below, boot from your Ubuntu install CD and select Try Ubuntu from the
boot menu.
Note that ALL the stages below are carried out using the Ubuntu install
CD’s live distro mode. At no point do you need to boot into your standard Ubuntu installation, apart from to test the cloned disk at the end.
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Preparing to clone
Before starting, it’s a good idea to do three things in preparation. Firstly,
backup all valuable personal files to CD/DVD-R/RW disc, USB keystick
or an external hard disk. The instructions that follow involve drastic fundamental disk management and the possibility of data loss is
present.
Secondly, it’s a good idea to check the file system of the original hard
disk for errors, and possibly enact repairs. This can be done by following the instructions in Tip 223, on page 258. Ideally, you should
check the Windows file system for errors too. This can be done within
Windows itself, or by following the instructions in Tip 38, on page 98.
Thirdly, remove any USB memory sticks, card readers or other kinds
of attachable storage, such as MP3 players or mobile phones. This will
avoid confusion when partitioning.
Following all this, open a terminal window and type the following, which
will scan the hard disks and list their partitions:
$ sudo fdisk -l
Here are the results from my test system:
Disk /dev/sda: 81.9 GB, 81964302336 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 9964 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0x1c381c37
Device
/dev/sda1
/dev/sda2
/dev/sda5
/dev/sda6
Boot
*
Start
1
4743
4743
9745
End
4742
9964
9744
9964
Blocks
38090083+
41945715
40178533+
1767118+
Id
7
5
83
82
System
HPFS/NTFS
Extended
Linux
Linux swap/Solaris
Disk /dev/sdb: 120.0 GB, 120034123776 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 14593 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0xb94838a4
Disk /dev/sdb doesn't contain a valid partition table
There are two hard disks listed in the results: look for the headings
Disk /dev/sda and Disk /dev/sdb. I’ve boldened them for you to see more
clearly. Beneath each heading is technical information about the disk,
and beneath that is listed the partitions on that disk.
It should be obvious that, on my test computer, /dev/sdb is the new hard
disk because it has no partitions (it “doesn’t contain a valid partition
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table”), while /dev/sda has the standard partition layout of an Ubuntu
system, so is clearly the old disk. Yours will probably be very similar, if
not identical.
Look for the reference to your new hard disk and make a note of it. In
my case, I make a note of /dev/sdb. Then type the following to start the
cfdisk partitioning program, which we’ll use to write an initial partition
table to the disk:
$ sudo cfdisk -z /dev/sdb
If necessary, replace /dev/sdb with the details of the new hard disk you
discovered earlier. All you have to do when cfdisk starts is type W (note
that’s Shift + w ), and then type yes to write a blank partition table. Then
hit q to quit cfdisk. Don’t worry about the handful of minor errors that
are reported—these can be ignored.
Cloning the disk
Now we have this information, we can install ddrescue and use it to
clone the disk. This needs to be installed because it isn’t a default system tool. Although the computer is running the Ubuntu install CD live
distro mode, it’s still possible to install additional software from the
online repositories. However„ before doing this, it’s necessary to enable
the Universe software repository (of course, you will need to use Network
Managaer to get online too, if you haven’t already). Click System →
Administration → Software Sources and put a check in the box alongside Community-maintained Open Source software (universe). Then click the
Close button and agree to refresh the list of software when asked.
Following this, type the following command at the prompt to install
ddrescue:
$ sudo apt-get install gddrescue
[[Author: Not a typo! the package name is gddrescue]] Following this,
the ddrescue command is used as follows—first we specify the old hard
disk, and then specify the new hard disk. The -v command option is
added to ensure ddrescue provides a status report as it progresses:
$ sudo ddrescue -v /dev/sda /dev/sdb
It’s EXTREMELY important that you ensure you get the old and new
disk in the right order. Otherwise you might overwrite the data on your
old disk!
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Once the cloning has finished—it will probably take an hour or maybe
more, depending on the size of the original hard disk—you should shutdown the computer, remove the old disk (you must disconnect the old
disk before you can continue!) and boot from the cloned copy to test
things out. Remember that Windows XP/Vista might object to a new
hard disk as part of its “Windows Genuine Advantage” system, and you
might have to revalidate online. Of course, Ubuntu will work fine without any such worries.
Assuming everything works correctly, you can move onto the next step:
expanding the partitions to take advantage of the larger hard disk.
Expanding the partitions
Before attempting to expand the partitions, it’s a good idea to check
your Ubuntu partition’s file system is sound. To do this, boot into the
Ubuntu install CD’s live distro mode as before. Open a terminal window
and type the following to perform a disk check (these steps assume
that Ubuntu is installed alongside Windows on your hard disk in the
standard configuration):
$ sudo fsck.ext3 -f /dev/sda5
Once this has completed, close the terminal window and click System
- Administration → Partition Editor.
What happens next depends on your requirements. If you just want to
expand the Ubuntu partition, follow these steps:
1. In the Partition list, right-click the linux-swap entry and select Swapoff.
This will stop Ubuntu’s live distro mode accessing the swap partition, so that it can be moved on the hard disk.
2. Before anything else can happen, the extended partition that contains Ubuntu must be resized. Right-click the extended entry in
the list and select Resize/Move. In the dialog box that appears,
change the Free Space Following (MiB) box to read 0. Then hit Tab .
This will cause the partition to be expanded to fill the space. Hit
the Resize/Move button when done. Bear in mind that no changes
are carried until the Apply button is hit, which you will do after
making all the changes to the disk’s partitions.
3. Right-click the linux-swap partition once again and select Resize/Move.
In the dialog box that appears, click and drag the graphical representation of the partition to the end of the free space (in other
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words, click and drag it to the right of the graphical display). Following this the Free Space Following (MiB) box should read 0. Click
Resize/Move.
4. Back in the main GParted program window, right-click the ext3
entry in the list and select Resize/Move. Click and drag the rightmost edge of the partition in the graphical representation so that
it “grows” to fill the free space. Eventually the Free Space Following
(MiB) box will read 0. When this is the case, click the Resize/Move
button.
5. Finally, click the Apply button on the main GParted toolbar. Then
click Apply in the dialog box that appears and sit back and wait
while the partitions are moved and resized. If you would like to
see what’s happening, click the small arrow alongside Details in
the Applying pending operations dialog box.
6. When GParted has finished, close the program and then open a
terminal window. Type the following, which will once again check
the Ubuntu partition for errors (and, again, these steps assume
that Ubuntu is installed alongside Windows on your hard disk in
the standard configuration):
$ sudo fsck.ext3 -f /dev/sda5
If there are any errors, you’ll be prompted to repair them. Usually
you can agree to the repair.
Following the file system check, you can reboot your computer from the
new hard disk. You should find the Ubuntu partition is now larger.
If you wish to resize your Windows partition too, these steps are still
relevant. However, you will have to move the swap and ext3 partitions,
as well as the extended partition containing them, before resizing the
NTFS partition.
If you want to dispose of the old hard disk, or pass it on to somebody
else, be sure to securely wipe it, as described in Tip 113, on page 162.
However, don’t do so until you’re 100% sure your new cloned copy is
working correctly (I usually wait at least a week or two to ensure the
copy works fine before doing anything to the old disk).
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225
A BOOT LOG TO HELP SOLVE STAR TUP PROBLEMS
Create a boot log to help solve
startup problems
As a sibling of Unix, Ubuntu includes software to log just about everything (generally speaking, log files are stored in /var/log). The main kernel log can be viewed by typing dmesg into a terminal window, and most
others can be viewed by clicking System → Administration → System
Log.
But, if you’re using Ubuntu 8.04 (or a handful of releases prior to this),
you won’t be able to log boot-time messages (for example, the stopping
and starting of background services.32 This is because the system software that does this—bootlogd—isn’t compatible with the Upstart component of Ubuntu and has been deliberately disabled. As a workaround
for Hardy Heron (8.04) you can install a hacked version of bootlogd
put together by a member of the Ubuntu community. This is strictly
untested, however, and might be buggy. It should only be used if it’s
vital that you see boot-time messages to solve a problem.
Start by downloading the file linked to from this bug report: https://
bugs.launchpad.net/upstart/+bug/98955/comments/34. Then issue the following commands at the terminal to install the software (these commands build the package from the source code you downloaded and
ensure that some vital dependencies required for building packages are
installed too; the commands assume the file has been downloaded to
the desktop):
$
$
$
$
$
$
cd ~
sudo apt-get install devscripts build-essential fakeroot
tar zxf ~/Desktop/bootlogd_2.86.02.tar.gz
cd bootlogd-2.86.02
debuild -us -uc -b
sudo dpkg -i ../bootlogd_2.86.02_i386.deb
From now on, and after rebooting, you’ll find a log of the startup messages in the /var/log/bootmsg file. This can be viewed using Gedit, or by
using less at the command-prompt: less /var/log/bootmsg.
32. Startup messages are usually hidden by the Ubuntu splash screen/progress bar but
can be made visible by editing the /boot/grub/menu.lst file and removing quiet splash from
the end of the line relating to the Ubuntu entry.
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It might be wise to remove bootlogd when you’ve diagnosed your boottime problem to avoid future incompatibilities. To do so, type the following:
$ sudo dpkg -r bootlogd
226
Install a personal FTP server for file
sharing
Setting up Ubuntu’s file sharing component, as described in Tip 28,
on page 84, is perhaps the best method of making files available to
others across a network. However, the underlying technology—known
as SMB/CIFS—is not very reliable. Network shares sometimes mysteriously disappear, only to reappear minutes later. Sometimes a computer
stubbornly refuses to connect, even though everything is set correctly.
Often there are long pauses.
A more robust method of sharing files on your Ubuntu machine is to
install a personal FTP server. This is less secure than SMB/CIFS33 but
if you’re working on a private network protected by a NAT and/or firewall device then it should be fine (most broadband routers use NAT).
Every operating system available right now (Windows XP/Vista, Mac OS
X, and other versions of Linux) can natively connect via FTP, without
installing additional software.
Here are the necessary steps to install and configure a personal FTP
server—these steps also activate anonymous access, so no username
or password is required:
1. Start by installing vsftpd using Synaptic.
2. During installation, vsftpd creates a new dummy user account—
ftp—where the shared files will be stored. However, before any file
sharing can happen, a container folder must be created within
the dummy account’s /home folder. To do this, open a commandprompt and type the following:
33. FTP
servers send everything—including usernames and password details—
unencrypted across the network. Thus, passwords could theoretically be “sniffed” by
malign interests. Ideally we would create an SFTP server for the tip above but, unfortunately, Windows XP/Vista does not natively support SFTP.
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Figure 3.37: Configuring vsftpd (see Tip 226, on the previous page)
$ sudo mkdir /home/ftp/Shared\ files
$ sudo chmod a+rwx /home/ftp/Shared\ files
3. Open vsftpd’s config file in Gedit: gksu gedit /etc/vsftpd.conf. Look for
the the following lines in the file and remove the hash (#) before
them (see Figure 3.37 for an example of the edited file with the
relevant lines highlighted):
write_enable=YES
anon_upload_enable=YES
anon_mkdir_write_enable=YES
4. Following this, save the file, close Gedit, and type sudo /etc/init.d/vsftpd
restart to restart the vsftpd with the new settings. It will automatically start each time the computer boots.
To access the new shared folder on your computer, click Places → Con-
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nect to Server, and in the Server field, type localhost. Then click the Connect button. Following this you can create a Nautilus bookmark for
future access—click Bookmarks → Add Bookmarks in a Nautilus window, or hit Ctrl + d .
To access the shared folder from other computers, you’ll need to tell
the users of the computers the IP address of your Ubuntu computer.
To discover this, right-click the NetworkManager icon and select Connection Information. Then look for the IP Address line in the dialog box that
appears. You will see four numbers separated by periods. On my test
computer, I saw 192.168.1.13.
• Windows: Open a My Computer window and, in the Address bar,
type ftp://address, replacing address with what you discovered earlier. Then right-click and drag the Shared files folder to the desktop
and, when you let go of the mouse button, select Create Shortcut
Here. From now on, the desktop shortcut can be used to access
the shared folder contents, even after a reboot.
• Macintosh OS X: By default, Macs can only access an anonymous FTP in read-only mode. To do this, open Finder and then
click Go → Connect to server. In the Server Address text field, type
ftp://address, replacing address with what you discovered earlier.
A Finder window will open showing the contents, but this can be
closed. A desktop icon will also appear for the new FTP connection.
Right-click it and select Make alias. Use this new desktop shortcut
whenever you wish to connect in future.
To get read/write access to your new FTP server, Mac users will
need to install MacFusion. Head over to http://www.sccs.swarthmore.
edu/users/08/mgorbach/MacFusionWeb/, then download and install
MacFuse and MacFusion. Launch MacFusion after installation
and click its icon at the top right of the screen. Then select Quick
Mount and then FTP. In the dialog box that appears, type an easily remembered name into the Name field (something like Ubuntu
shared will do), and the IP address you discovered earlier into the
Server field. Then click OK. From now on, click the relevant entry
after clicking the MacFusion icon.
• Other Ubuntu computers: Right-click the desktop and select Create Launcher. In the Name text field, type something memorable—
anything will do (maybe “Shared folder on Bob’s computer”). In the
Command field, type nautilus ftp://address, replacing address with the
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address you discovered earlier. Then click OK. Use this shortcut in
future whenever you wish to connect. Alternatively, if you don’t
wish to have a desktop shortcut, you can connect once and then
create a Nautilus bookmark. Then delete the shortcut.
You might also want to look at Tip 131, on page 173, which describes
the cornucopia of FTP tools provided under Ubuntu.
227
Shutdown, reboot, hibernate, or
sleep Ubuntu with a single click
By creating desktop shortcuts to the terminal commands mentioned
in Tip 206, on page 241, you can create one-click shutdown, reboot,
hibernate, or sleep commands (although you’ll need to enter your root
password each time). You can do this by creating a launcher on the
panels.
To create a panel launcher, right-click a blank spot on a panel and
select Add to panel. Then select Custom Application Launcher and click
the Add button. This will open the Create Launcher dialog box. It doesn’t
really matter what you type in the Name field of this dialog box—something
like Hibernate will do fine, assuming you’re creating a hibernate shortcut, of course. In the Command field, type any of the following, depending on what you’d like the shortcut to do (the function of each command
is mentioned in parenthesis after each command—there’s no need to
type that part):
gksu
gksu
gksu
gksu
telinit 0 (shutdown)
telinit 6 (reboot)
/etc/acpi/hibernate.sh (hibernate)
/etc/acpi/sleepbtn.sh (sleep)
Select an appropriate icon by clicking the icon preview button and then
click OK.
Note that, aside from the password prompt, there is no confirmation of
any of these actions (and remember that the password prompt might
not appear if you’re in the sudo/gksu grace period—see Tip 47, on page 110
for details on how to change this). Before clicking any buttons that you
create, before sure to save your work and also close open applications.
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D ELETE
228
FILES RATHER THAN TRASH THEM
Delete files rather than trash
them
As you probably know, to delete a file (or files) you can right-click it and
select Move to the Deleted Items folder, or just drag it to the trash icon at
the bottom right of the screen. The only problem with this is that the
files stick around in the trash until you opt to empty it, and this can
present security issues with sensitive data.
To genuinely delete a file, rather than trash it, select it and then type
Shift + Delete . You can also add a Delete option to the menu that
appears when you right-click a file by opening gconf-editor, heading
over to /apps/nautilus/preferences and checking the enable_delete key.
This will do the same thing—permanently delete the file.
At the present time it’s not possible to deactivate Ubuntu’s trash function so that files are automatically genuinely deleted, no matter how
you choose to delete them. To get around this you can create a simple
script that empties the trash, and then make it run periodically as an
hourly scheduled task (a personal cron job).
Start by creating a new file in Gedit called .emptytrash in your /home
folder (bear in mind this file will be invisible because the filename is
preceded with a period). Type the following into it:
#!/bin/bash
# Empty the GNOME trash by deleting the two relevant folders
rm -rf /home/username/.local/share/Trash/{files,info}/
The script works by deleting the two folders that contain and index the
trash files within the GNOME desktop. Once the folders are deleted,
new empty versions are automatically recreated by GNOME the next
time the trash facility is used. A more elegant solution is possible, but
this script has the benefit of being quick and thorough. Obviously, you
should replace username with your own username. Then save the file,
quit Gedit, open a terminal window and mark the new script as executable, as follows:
$ chmod +x ~/.emptytrash
Following this, add a job to your personal cron file by typing crontab -e.
This will open your cron file in the nano text editor. Use the cursor keys
to select a new line at the bottom of the file and then type the following,
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YANK
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KEY STICK EVEN IF YOU ’ RE TOLD YOU SHOULDN ’ T
which will cause the script to periodically run one minute past the hour
while Ubuntu is up and running:
1 * * * * /home/username/.emptytrash
Again, you should replace username with your own username. Once
done, hit Ctrl + x to quit nano, and type y and then hit Enter to save
the buffer (save the file).
Note that Ubuntu’s desktop trash icon might still indicate it’s full even
though it’s been emptied in this way.
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Yank a USB key stick even if
you’re told you shouldn’t
You probably know by now that you shouldn’t just pull-out a USB key
stick out of an Ubuntu computer. This can cause data loss. Instead,
you must right-click the desktop icon and select Unmount Volume. However, sometimes you might see an error message along the lines of “An
application is preventing the volume from being unmounted”. If you
have no applications open, this can seem confusing.
The error message isn’t just referring to applications. Any Nautilus window that’s currently browsing the memory stick will have to be closed,
and if you’re browsing the USB memory stick contents from the terminal then you’ll need to cd away from that particular folder (ie cd ~, to
return to your /home folder). Then try again to unmount the key stick.
230
Rename many files at once
(a.k.a. bulk rename)
Have you ever been out with your digital camera and then returned
home to find yourself with lots of files with names like IMG_0159.jpg,
IMG_0160.jpg, IMG_0161.jpg, and so on? And have you then gone through
one-by-one renaming them with something relevant? Well, there’s no
need to ever do that again because Ubuntu can come to the rescue!
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R ENAME
MANY FILES AT ONCE ( A . K . A . BULK RENAME )
There are a handful of ways of bulk renaming files at the commandline but many are quite involved and you’ll need to remember a chain
of commands. To save the effort, use Synaptic to install purrr (that’s pu,
followed by three “r”s!). This is a GUI application that allows simple bulk
renaming. Once installed, you’ll find the program on the Applications
→ Accessories folder.
1. Start by clicking and dragging the files from a Nautilus window
onto the Files section of Purrr. If you intend to bulk rename the
files with sequentially increasing numbers, it’s important to first
sort them into the right order before dragging across—possibly
the best way of doing this is to click View → View as List in Nautilus,
and then click the Date Modified heading to sort by the time the
files were created (this is ideal for digital photographs). Alternatively, you might click the Name heading if the filenames can be
sorted alphanumerically. Then Shift +click to highlight many files
at once and drag them into the Purrr window.
2. In the Name template text field, you need to type the basic format
of the new filenames. For example, if the pictures were all taken at
Disneyland, you might type that. You’ll see the effect on the new
filenames as you type, although they won’t actually be renamed
until you hit the Rename button.
3. There are a handful of useful special inserts you can make into
the filename. Typing [N] causes the original filename to be added
to the renamed files, while [C] adds a sequential number count. [E]
causes the file extension to appear (necessary if [N] isn’t used).
Here’s an example. The following, when typed into the Name template box, will cause all the files to be named Disneyland, followed
by a sequentially increasing number, and then followed by the
original file extension:
Disneyland [C].[E]
Try it to see what happens. The [C] (count) operator can be further
configured. A single comma inserted after C, followed by a number,
sets the start number for the count. For example, [C,400] will start
the count at 400. See Figure 3.38, on the next page for an example
from my test PC. Two commas causes the count to skip numbers
as it counts upward. For example, [C„4] will name the first file with
1, the second with 5, the third with 9, the fourth with 13, and so
on. In other words, +4 each time.
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Figure 3.38: Bulk renaming files using Purrr (see Tip 230, on page 270)
Three commas causes the count to be “padded” with zeros, and
the number of zeros is specified by the number that follows. [C„,3]
will cause the count to start at 001, then 002, then 003, and so
on. When the count reaches double or triple figures, the padding
zeroes will disappear (ie disneyland_009.jpg, disneyland_010.jpg ... disneyland_099.jpg, disneyland_100.jpg and so on).
4. Once you’ve typed your selection, hit the Rename button to carryout the renaming.
231
Get an alternative media player
Once upon a time Linux simply wasn’t very capable when it came to
multimedia playback. But times have changed, and nowadays the typical user is spoiled for choice. There are essentially two well-established
choices available to the Ubuntu user, above and beyond the built-in
Totem: Mplayer and VLC. Alongside Mplayer and VLC, the curious
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Ubuntu user can also install Kaffeine, which is the default media player
of the KDE desktop. Kaffeine works well under Ubuntu but it’s really
built to fit-in with wider KDE functionality, and also requires some
extensive additional configuration when first installed.
Mplayer and VLC are entirely self-contained media players, meaning
that they don’t rely on external media frameworks provided by desktop
environments.34
The benefits of using a different media player are found largely in the
fact that Totem is very much a work in progress and its competitors are
simply more mature. This manifests itself in things such as multimedia playback in web browsers, where personally I find Totem’s browser
plugin lacking.
Because Mplayer and VLC are free to try, there’s no reason not to
give either a whirl. Below are more details about them. Following the
descriptions are some notes about how to configure each application to
be the Ubuntu default for multimedia file playback.
Mplayer
Mplayer has claim to be the granddaddy of all Linux media playing
applications and has been fighting its corner since the early days. Since
then it has matured into possibly the most well-equipped media player
application available for Linux (or Unix, bearing in mind Mplayer is
open source).
In actual fact, Mplayer is a command-line program but it’s nearly always
installed with a GUI front-end, and that’s how most people use it. To
install it, just search Synaptic for mplayer. To make Mplayer the default
application for browser-based audio/video playback, you should also
install mozilla-mplayer. Once installed, Mplayer can handle just about
any kind of mainstream audio or video format, including Windows Media,
Real, DivX, and others. You’ll find it on the Applications → Sound &
34. Both GNOME and KDE utilize multimedia frameworks that effectively split the play-
back and decoding of video or audio into separate tasks that are handled by different
programs. GNOME uses the Gstreamer framework, while KDE uses Xine. The benefit of
a framework approach is that creating multimedia playback applications is simplified,
and configuration (and initial setup) for the user is also simplified because it only need
be done once. Of course, this being Linux, there’s no reason why GNOME can’t use Xine,
or KDE can’t use Gstreamer, if that’s beneficial to the user. For example, Tip 66, on
page 126, discusses how to install a version of Totem that uses Xine, because Xine has
better DVD playback capabilities (at the time of writing).
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Video menu. Once started, Mplayer usually shows two program windows: the video window, and the transport (controls) window. To configure its options, right-click anywhere on either window and choose
from the pop-up menu that appears. To change technical settings (only
advised if you know what you’re doing because Mplayer lets you tweak
just about everything), click the Preferences option.
Mplayer’s video window can be resized by clicking its edges. Mplayer’s
interface can be changed and interface designs are known as skins.
Select the Skin browser option in the right-click menu to choose between
three default options provided out of the box. More skins can be downloaded from http://www.mplayerhq.hu/design7/dload.html—once downloaded,
place the unpacked files into the /usr/share/mplayer/skins/ folder.
Some addition configuration might be required if you find that video
playback results in a blank screen with only audio playback. Start
Mplayer (Applications → Sound & Video → Mplayer Movie Player) and
then right-click anywhere on the transport controls window. From the
menu that appears, click Preferences and, after clearing the warning
dialog about changes not taking place until you restart, click the Video
tab. Then select an alternative from the Available drivers list. If your computer has a 3D driver installed (you’ll know this if desktop effects are
activated), you can experiment with the gl or gl2 options. However, others will want to try the X11 option.
VLC
VLC and Mplayer are very similar because both are self-contained applications that playback multimedia files, although VLC hasn’t yet got
100% support for playback of the RealPlayer audio/video format. However, VLC has a trick up its sleeve—streaming and file format conversion (the latter is commonly-known as transcoding). For example, if you
download a WMV (Windows Media) movie file and would like to convert
it to DivX, VLC will be able to help. Or you could download a file on one
computer and stream it across the network (or even the Internet!) for
other computers to watch.
To install VLC, search for and install the vlc package. See Figure 3.39,
on the next page for an example of VLC in action. If you want VLC to
handle playback in the Firefox web browser, you should also search for
and install mozilla-plugin-vlc. Once the application is installed you’ll find
it on the Applications → Sound & Video menu. Most options can be
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Figure 3.39: VLC (see Tip 231, on page 272)
found on the program’s menu, and a handy tip is to click Settings →
Extended GUI, which will provide video and audio tweaking controls.
To convert video or audio to a different format, or stream across a network, click File → Wizard. Then follow the wizard through, selecting
the options you need (to convert a video, click the Transcode/Save to file
option). When prompted to select an Input, click Existing playlist item to
convert/stream the currently playing file.
To configure either Mplayer or VLC as default for multimedia file playback, right-click any multimedia file (such as an .avi file) and select Properties. Then click the Open With tab in the dialog box that appears and
ensure the radio button alongside your player application is selected. If
the application isn’t listed, click the Add button and locate it in the list
that apperars.
This configuration will need to be done for all file types you wish the
media player to automatically playback (.mp3, .wmv, and so on).
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C OMPARE
232
TWO FILES TO SEE IF THEY ’ RE DIFFERENT
Compare two files to see if
they’re different
Sometimes you might be working on a file with a colleague and be sent
a version with the same filename as one you already have. But how do
you know if that version has been updated? You can check the filesize
but that’s not 100% reliable—your colleague may have added data, but
also removed an equal amount.
There are two simple methods for quick file comparison at the commandline. The first is to use the md5sum command, which outputs a unique
32-digit number based on the contents of the file. You’d then compare
the md5sum output for each file side-by-side (one tip is that I usually
compare a few digits from the start and a few from the end—if these
are the same then it’s extremely likely the rest will be too). To use the
command, just type md5sum filename1, and then md5sum filename2.
md5sum falls down a little on larger files, because it can take a while
to generate the checksum. Another trick is to use the diff command.
Just type diff filename1 filename2. If there’s no difference, there will be no
output. If there is a difference, you’ll see one of two things: the message that “binary files filename1 and filename2 differ”, which is likely if
you’re comparing, say, Word documents. Alternatively, the screen will
fill with text, showing the difference between the files on a line-by-line
basis. This is only likely to happen if diff thinks that the file is plain
text (or, indeed, if the file actually is plain text, in which case you could
redirect the output into a file for viewing later: diff filename1 filename 2 >
changes).
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Use the mouse at the virtual
console (complete with copy &
paste)
This is a neat hack that brings a block cursor to virtual console windows so that text can be easily copied and pasted. Just use Synaptic
to install gpm. Once installed, open a terminal window and type sudo
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/etc/init.d/gpm start to get the program running. In future, gpm will start
automatically on bootup.
Then switch to a virtual console to see the fruits of your labor. You
should now have a block mouse cursor that moves around the screen.
You can highlight text in the usual way. To paste it, click the middle
mouse button (on most mice, this is the scroll-wheel button; if your
mouse only has two buttons, the right-click button will paste the text).
Some software that offers text-mode menus also respond to mouse
clicks in this way. Check the command’s help output to see if a special command-option is needed to support gpm.
234
See a progress display as the
desktop loads
Many programs have splash screens when they start that give useful
progress updates, or just something to stare at while the hard disk
grinds away. The GNOME desktop used with Ubuntu also has one
of these but it’s disabled by default (at least in 8.04 Hardy Heron;
some earlier releases had a splash screen). To activate it, fire up gconfeditor, navigate to /apps/gnome-session/options, and put a check alongside show_splash_screen.
To be honest, GNOME tends to start so quickly on my system that I
only ever glimpse the splash screen, but there have been one or two
situations where GNOME has got “stuck” while starting up, and the
splash screen has given me valuable information about which component was causing the problem (as part of its display, the splash screen
cycles through the system components that are being activated).
To personalize the splash screen, see Tip 237, on page 279.
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235
FREE - OF - CHARGE
U BUNTU CD S
Get free-of-charge Ubuntu CDs
If you have a friend who wants to try Ubuntu but is scared off by the
process of downloading an ISO image and burning their own CD, direct
them towards Ubuntu’s ShipIt service (https://shipit.ubuntu.com/). They
can then register to get sent a free copy of the latest Ubuntu release.
Delivery might take up to 10 weeks, however, so it might be quicker
to simply burn a CD yourself and mail it to them. However, ShipIt will
deliver a CD worldwide and you can also order more than one CD if,
for example, you want to hand-out discs to colleagues, or maybe even
strangers!35 Sometimes a professionally-manufactured CD is more convincing than a hastily-burned CD-R with a hand-written label...
236
Make the GNOME Terminal
window translucent
This tip gives GNOME Terminal windows an impressive graphical look
and feel. Once made translucent, you’ll be able to “see-through” GNOME
Terminal windows to the desktop below. This is mostly useless but
looks great.
Start GNOME Terminal and click Edit → Current Profile. Then click
the Effects tab and select the Transparent background radio button. The
changes will take effect immediately. You might want to click and drag
the slider more toward Maximum, to increase the opacity from the default
setting because it leaves a distracting amount of the background visible.
To learn how to further customize the terminal look and feel, see Tip 25,
on page 82, and Tip 137, on page 178.
35. Once of the technical reviewers of this book, John Southern, regularly rents stalls at
computer fairs to hand-out free Linux install CDs. When pioneering Linux outfit Red Hat
first started, they attended various shows and gave away Linux CDs, although made a
healthy profit selling hats, t-shirts and other promotional items. This is the inverse of the
usual approach, where promotional items are given away, and the product is sold!
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A UTOMATE
237
THE DOWNLOAD AND INSTALLATION OF NEW THEME COMPONENTS
Automate the download and
installation of new theme
components
Any Ubuntu user worth her/his salt knows about personalization. By
clicking System → Preferences → Appearances, you can change just
about any aspect of Ubuntu’s look. You might also have discovered
the http://art.gnome.org website, which offers many more widgets and
wallpapers for download.
But downloading and installing new themes can be a time-consuming
pain. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could see a preview and then just
click once to both download and install? As I’m sure you’ve probably guessed, Ubuntu Kung Fu has found a solution, and its name is
GnomeArtNg (short for Gnome-Art Next Gen). This is a program that
provides a front-end to the http://art.gnome.org website in a desktop window and shows thumbnails of themes (or theme components). You can
then click to download and install any items you’re interested in.
Unfortunately Gnome-Art Next Gen isn’t yet provided in the Ubuntu
repositories so you must download and install it manually. Start by visiting http://developer.berlios.de/projects/gnomeartng/. Click the Download
link alongside the Packages heading (not Source or Binaries!). Then click
to download the latest .deb file. Save the file to the desktop. Then issue
the following command in a terminal window to install the software:
$ sudo dpkg -i ~/Desktop/gnomeartng-0.5.1-all.deb
Obviously you should replace the filename with that which you downloaded. Once installed, the program will appear on the Applications →
System Tools menu. When it first runs the program will automatically
download the latest thumbnails from the http://art.gnome.org/ site. This
takes some time to complete and will happen each time you click on
the selection tabs in the program window. However, it only needs to
be done once in each case—following this, the information is merely
updated with any new components that have become available.
Running down the left-hand side of the program window are the various
categories of GUI items that can be personalized. Clicking each will
show previews in the main program window of each component. To
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B URN U BUNTU CD
IMAGES
(ISO S )
USING
W INDOWS — FOR
FREE
download, install and activate any of them, simply select them and then
click the Apply button. In some cases additional options are available—
in the case of wallpapers, you can set whether the wallpaper centers on
screen, or is stretched, for example. If these options are available they
will be listed above the Apply button.
See also Tip 21, on page 79; Tip 79, on page 138; Tip 147, on page 192;
Tip 199, on page 237; Tip 220, on page 255; Tip 274, on page 313;
Tip 74, on page 131; and Tip 289, on page 338.
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Burn Ubuntu CD images (ISOs)
using Windows—for free
There’s a curious chicken and egg situation for Windows users who
would like to try Ubuntu. Although Ubuntu itself is fully conversant
with the ISO image format, by which Ubuntu installation CDs are distributed across the Internet, ISO files are completely foreign to Windows. So how do does a migrating Windows user burn an ISO image?
Sure, they might have software like Nero installed, which can burn ISO
images. However, if they don’t they face paying quite a lot of money to
buy it.
I recommend Windows users who want to burn ISOs without buying
any additional software download and install ISO Recorder from http://
isorecorder.alexfeinman.com/. This is free-of-charge for personal use.
Once the program is installed, just right-click any ISO image and select
Open With → ISO Recorder. You can then burn straight away, or click
the Properties button to set the burn speed (bear in mind that ISOs have
a habit of not burning correctly at faster speeds).
To check the md5sum figure of the downloaded ISO before burning,
download the Windows version of the md5sum command, which is available from http://etree.org/md5com.html. To use it, open a DOS prompt
(Start → Run, and type cmd) and then navigate to where md5sum.exe
has been saved to. Type md5sum and then click and drag the ISO image
onto the DOS window to complete the path and filename components.
Then hit Enter .
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Q UICKLY
239
CREATE LINKS TO FILES , FOLDERS , AND / OR APPLICATIONS
Quickly create links to files,
folders, and/or applications
There’s a curious feature missing from the GNOME desktop that Ubuntu
relies upon: quick and easy shortcut creation. For example, suppose
you want to create a desktop shortcut to your Documents folder. You can
right-click it and select Make Link, but this won’t work with all folders
because the new link is created within the parent folder, and you might
not have permissions to write there (this can be an issue when creating
links to system programs in the /usr/bin folder, for example). You can
create a desktop launcher that redirects to the folder or file, but this
is annoyingly long-winded and involves working your way through a
dialog box.
A solution to this problem is built-into GNOME. It’s just hidden. Simply
middle-click the folder or file and drag it to where you want the shortcut
to be, and then select Link Here from the menu that appears when you
release the mouse-button. This will create a new link to the folder or
file. On most modern mice, the middle mouse button is the scroll-wheel,
which doubles as a third mouse button.
The type of link created is a symbolic link, which isn’t just a GNOME
desktop shortcut. It will also work at the command-line too.36
To create a symbolic link at the command-line, type ln -s, specifying the
original file and then the new link name (including paths, if necessary).
For example, the following will create a link to the Gedit text editor
(which lives in the /usr/bin folder) on the desktop, and call it Text Editor;
this command assumes you’re currently browsing your /home folder:
$ ln -s /usr/bin/gedit "Desktop/Text Editor"
36. There are two types of links offered by the Ubuntu file system—symbolic links, and
hard links. Symbolic links are like shortcuts created within Windows—they’re very small
files that “point” towards another file (or folder). However, the link file exists at file-system
level, unlike those in Windows, which are actual files. In contrast, a hard link is a little
like copying the file, except the actual data isn’t copied. Instead an additional “pointer”
is made for the file. In other words, two (or more) files share the same block of file data.
Hard links introduce some complexity into proceedings and have a very specific use, so
in most cases it’s best to stick with symbolic links.
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M ONITOR CPU
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Following this the link will act just like the original file—double-clicking
it will start Gedit. It’s worth pointing out for the nervously inclined that
deleting the shortcut won’t delete the original file.
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Monitor CPU usage
Keeping an eye on CPU load can be a good way of spotting if something
is going wrong on your computer—if the system is doing nothing in
particular, but CPU usage is at 99%, then it’s likely a program is in the
process of crashing.
A variety of CPU load applets are available under Ubuntu and each
go about the task in different, often entertaining, ways. Perhaps my
favorite is bubblemon, which shows CPU usage as a vessel of bubbling
liquid. If it boils, your computer is busy! You’ll find it listed in Synaptic.
Once installed, log out and then back in again, and then right-click a
blank spot on the panel. Select Add to panel and select Bubblemon from
the list. A good way to test the new applet is to drag a window around
quickly—this taxes the CPU, so should cause some virtual bubbles to
rise.
Worth investigating if you’d like to take an opposing approach is cpufireapplet which, as its name suggests, shows CPU load as rising licks of
flame. It can be installed via Synaptic and configured in the same way
as bubblemon—after logging out and back in, add the CPU Fire Applet,
as described above, by right-clicking the panel.
As entertaining as they are, neither applet offers much concrete information. Ubuntu’s built-in System Monitor applet is much in the same
vein and provides only a graph of CPU activity across time. To see
actual numbers, you’ll need to use Synaptic to search for and install the
hardware-monitor applet. Once it’s installed, log out and then back into
Ubuntu. Right-click a blank spot on the panel, click Add to panel, and
select Hardware Monitor from the list. The applet is very small and you
might just notice it where you initially clicked on the panel. By default
it shows a graph of CPU activity. To see percentage figures, right-click
it, select Preferences in the menu that appears, and, after selecting the
Viewer tab, click the Text radio button. If your computer has a dual-core
processor, hardware-monitor will report the speed of both cores, and this
can mean the display gets quite cramped. Therefore you might want to
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click the dropdown list under the Font heading of the Viewer tab and
select a smaller point size (maybe 8 point, depending on your screen
resolution and eyesight).
See also Tip 106, on page 158, which describes how to alter the CPU
speed on the fly, and Tip 150, on page 194, which explains how to
monitor CPU temperatures.
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See whenever Caps Lock is
active
Some say that Caps Lock is one of the most useless keys on the keyboard. It’s certainly more of a pain than a help when hit by accident, particularly on some keyboards that lack the usual LED lights
to show it’s active (such as battery-powered models). You can turn-off
Caps Lock by following Tip 90, on page 147, but another solution is
to use Synaptic to install lock-keys-applet, which will simply warn you if
Caps Lock has been activated. Once installed, right-click a blank spot
on the panel, click Add to panel, and then select Lock Keys from the list.
Now, whenever Caps Lock is hit, you’ll have a visible notification.
Lock Keys also shows if the numeric keypad button is active (it should
be, unless you like the keypad being a clone of the cursor keys), as
well as the Scroll Lock key, which isn’t used much nowadays. By
right-clicking the applet’s icon and selecting Preferences, you can control which keys are shown in the display.
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Make files and folders entirely
private
Ubuntu is setup so that, if one user creates a file, all other users have
read-only access to it (in other words, file permissions of -rw-r--r-- and
folder permissions of drwxr-xr-x). To make any files or folders you create
accessible only by yourself (-rw-––– and drwx-––-), open your .profile file in
Gedit (gedit ~/.profile) and remove the hash alongside umask=022. Then
change the entire line to read umask=077 (that’s zero, seven, seven). Save
the file, and log out and back in again.
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You can also alter the permissions on folders and files you’ve already
created. To protect filename.doc, for example, you would type chmod gorw filename.doc. This will remove (-) read and write (rw) permissions from
members of your group (g) and others not in your group (o). To change
permissions on a folder and everything in it, you could type something like chmod -R go-rwx Documents/, which will change your Documents
folder—and all files/folders within it—so that only you can access them.
Resist the temptation to change permissions on your entire /home folder.
Various pieces of software store configuration files there and sometimes
run with unique ownerships, so changing permissions could cause real
problems. Many folders holding personal information, such as your
Firefox browsing history, already have restrictive permissions set so
that only you can access them.
243
Get quick access to stuff you’re
working on
If you’re working on a particular project it’s very likely that there will
be a handful of files that you’ll access on a regular basis. Yet it seems
strange that no operating system ever takes this into account. Some
operating systems will give quick access to recently accessed files, but
none (to my knowledge) will tell you which are the most popular.
Until such a feature arrives, you might like to take a look at TopShelf,
which can help organize your workflow. It’s a simple panel applet that
lets you create organized shortcuts to files that you’re currently working
on. Then all you need to do whenever you boot your computer is click
the Topshelf icon and then double-click the relevant file entry from its
list. TopShelf doesn’t actually copy the files. It just creates shortcuts
and then organizes them in one easily-accessible location. It’s simple
but useful.
The program can be installed by using Synaptic to search for topshelf.
Once it’s installed, right-click a blank spot on the panel. Select Add to
panel and then TopShelf from the list.
Click its icon and then click and drag any files you want TopShelf to
organize for you onto the TopShelf window. Remember that you’re only
creating a shortcut—the actual file isn’t copied. From then on, you can
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simply click the TopShelf icon and double-click the file’s icon to open
it. Folders can be added too. To remove a file or folder from the list, just
highlight it and click the Remove button.
244
Insert command-line output and
files into the clipboard
Wouldn’t it be useful to quickly pump an entire configuration file, or
the output of a terminal command, into the clipboard for pasting into a
website forum’s posting page, or similar? Well, that’s just what xclip is
designed to do. It can be installed via Synaptic.
Once installed, you can either redirect text files into xclip, so that they
become the clipboard contents:
$ xclip < /etc/fstab
...which will add the contents of the /etc/fstab configuration file to the
clipboard, or you can pipe the output of a command into it:
$ dmesg|xclip
...which will place the output of the dmesg command in the clipboard
(dmesg shows system log output, and can be useful when diagnosing
problems).
There is one proviso. The piped output/files are placed in the selection buffer clipboard, which is distinct from the standard cut/copy and
paste clipboard accessible from the Edit menu of most applications.
xclip’s output can be pasted by positioning the cursor in the relevant
spot and clicking the middle mouse button (this means pressing the
scroll wheel, if your mouse has one; if not, click both the left and right
mouse buttons simultaneously).
In theory the use of the -selection command-option with xclip should
allow the user to add to the primary clipboard but this doesn’t appear
to work, perhaps because of the way the Ubuntu desktop is configured.
To be honest, I see this as less of a bug and more as a feature—xclip
will leave any existing clipboard contents untouched.
If you’re in the process of asking for help on a forum, as mentioned
earlier, see also Tip 312, on page 364, which describes how to record
your on-screen actions for posting on a forum.
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A COW TALK TO YOU
Have a cow talk to you
Do you see anywhere in this book that said the tips actually had to be
useful? Me neither (well, I might have hinted at it in the introduction).
With this in mind, use Synaptic to search for and install cowsay. Once
it’s installed, open a terminal and type the following:
$ cowsay "Ubuntu Kung Fu"
You can have the cow say a single word or an entire phrase. Cows aren’t
the only things that can talk. If you look in /usr/share/cowsay/cows/,
you’ll find other models that can be made to talk. Just specify the model
using the -f command option (without the .cow extension). For example,
to have Tux (the Linux mascot) appear instead, type the following:
$ cowsay -f tux "Ubuntu Kung Fu"
For a little fun, add one of these commands to the end of your .bashrc
file (to edit the file, type gedit ~/.bashrc). Then you’ll see it every time you
open a terminal window or log in at a virtual console.
You could even combine this tip with Tip 183, on page 221, to have
your quotation of the day come out of the mouth of a cow. Just add the
following line to your .bashrc line (adding any cowsay command options
you wish after the command):
signify|cowsay
If you like having things talk to you, see also Tip 13, on page 73, which
describes how to use the Ubuntu built-in speech synthesizer.
246
Get notified when new mail
arrives
If Evolution is running it will pop-up a message telling you when new
mail has arrived. However, what if it’s not running? After all, you might
not choose to keep Evolution running all the time.
The solution is gnubiff[[Author: sic]] , a GNOME applet that is able to
periodically check mailboxes and report when there are new messages.
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Its actually a modern version of biff, an old and venerable program that
does much the same thing at the command-line.
gnubiff can be installed using Synaptic by searching for gnubiff. Once
it’s installed, right-click a blank spot on the panel, select Add to panel
from the menu that appears, and select gnubiff from the list.
To configure it for your email account, right-click the applet’s icon and
select Preferences. Then, with the Mailboxes tab selected, click on mailbox
1 in the Mailboxes list and click the Properties button. Assuming your
email provider uses POP3 email (it probably will), select Pop from the
Type dropdown list. The dialog box will then change to accommodate
new information fields, which you should fill-in as usual. You’ll need to
supply your mail server’s POP3 address in the Address field. If the server
uses encryption, click the Details dropdown list and select the type from
the Authentication dropdown list (if in doubt, try SSL). Then click the OK
button.
To disable Evolution’s own email alert, start Evolution and click Edit →
Plugins. In the dialog that appears, look down the list on the left-hand
side for Mail Notification. Then remove the check from alongside. Quit
Evolution and then start it again, if desired.
See also Tip 296, on page 346, which describes how to enact a desktop
notifier for Gmail accounts.
247
Increase output “remembered”
by GNOME Terminal
By default GNOME Terminal “remembers” 500 lines of output, which
you can then scroll through. That’s a lot but you’ll be surprised at how
quickly you’ll burn through it in a typical session. Just one long file
listing (ls -la) of my home folder took 59 lines, for example. To increase
the number of lines remembered, click Edit → Current Profile in an
open terminal window, and then click the Scrolling tab. Then increase
either the Scrollback figure, or the kilobytes figure—the two are related,
and if one increases, so does the other.
Even at 500 lines, 318KB is used when all 500 lines are inputted, and
that’s a significant chunk of the system memory. The trick is, as always,
to balance functionality with memory demands. Personally, I think a
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value of 1000 lines (636KB) is good on a system with 1GB or more of
memory.
248
Use Ubuntu’s version of Microsoft
Paint
I’ve worked in several offices where people have made heavy use of
Microsoft Paint, not only to alleviate the boredom of a long day, but
also to sketch quick diagrams (such as maps) that were then faxed to
others. Under Ubuntu you can use GIMP for sketching things, but it’s
a sledgehammer to crack a nut when it comes to simple diagrams.
Ubuntu’s equivalent to Microsoft Paint is GNU Paint, and it can be
installed using Synaptic (search for the gpaint package). Once installed
it can be found on the Applications → Graphics menu, and operation is
almost exactly the same as the Windows program. GNU Paint is a fork of
the older but perhaps more feature-full XPaint, which is also available
in Synaptic (search for the xpaint package; once installed, you’ll find
it also on the Applications → Graphics menu). However, Xpaint lacks
integration with the GNOME desktop. For example, it utilizes menu
buttons that you access by clicking and holding, rather than simply
hovering your mouse over.
If you’re just looking for a package for kids to play around with, try
installing the tuxpaint package. Once installed, this can be found on the
Applications → Education menu.
249
Have OpenOffice.org save in
Microsoft Office format by
default
Like it or loathe it, Microsoft’s file formats dominate the world of office
work. .doc, .xls and .ppt are the lingua franca of most workplaces. OpenOffice.org is fully conversant with these file formats, and can open/save
them, but defaults to its own file format for saving new documents. It
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P ASSWORD - PROTECT
AND ENCRYPT FILES
can then be a pain to keep having to manually select Microsoft Office
format.
To make the OpenOffice.org programs default to MS Office file formats when saving, open OpenOffice.org Writer (Applications → Office
→ OpenOffice.org Word Processor) and then click Tools → Options.
On the left-hand side of the dialog that appears, expand the Load/Save
heading by double-clicking it, and click then General, which will appear
beneath it. In the Always Save As dropdown list at the bottom right of the
dialog box, select Microsoft Word 97/2000/XP. Then, in the Document Type
dropdown list, select Spreadsheet, and once again click the Always Save
As dropdown list and this time select Microsoft Excel 97/2000/XP. Repeat
again, this time selecting Presentation, and selecting Microsoft PowerPoint
97/2000/XP. Once done, click the OK button.
See also Tip 121, on page 168, which describes how to boost OpenOffice.org’s support for newer Microsoft Office file formats, and Tip 308,
on page 361, which explains how to avoid formatting incompatibilities
when outputting Office file-format documents.
250
Password-protect and encrypt
files
Any file or folder within Ubuntu can be encrypted so that it can only
be decrypted with the use of a passphrase. What actually happens is
that an encrypted version of the file or folder is created that requires a
passphrase to unlock it. The original file or folder must then be deleted
by the user. Whenever you wish to edit or view the file after this, you
must double-click the encrypted file to extract a decrypted copy. Then,
if you update the file in any way, you must re-encrypt it again.
This isn’t the most user-friendly solution for protecting files and is best
used with files that you wish to archive and access occasionally. A
better solution of protecting files you regularly access is described in
Tip 145, on page 188.
Some setup work is necessary before the files or folders can be encrypted,
and you must generate a personal key pair, as described in Tip 172, on
page 209, which explains how to encrypt and sign emails (in fact, essentially the same technique and underlying technology is used here).
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Files encrypted using the method outlined in this tip aren’t particularly
“portable”, which is to say, this isn’t a system designed to let you copy
files to another machine and decrypt them. For that to happen you
would have to export your key pair, which represents a security risk.
Nevertheless, how to do this is explained later in this tip.
First we look at creating a key pair, and then look at how to encrypt/decrypt
files or folders.
Creating a key pair
Follow these steps to create a key pair, which is necessary before you
can encrypt/password protect any files (note that you can skip these
steps if you’ve already created a key pair by following the instructions
in Tip 172, on page 209):
1. Click Applications → Accessories → Passwords and Encryption
Keys to start the Seahorse application, which is used to manage
all encryption keys within Ubuntu.
2. In the program window that appears, click the New button. In
the dialog box that appears, select PGP Key and click the Continue
button.
3. In the dialog box that appears, fill in the Full Name and Email Address
fields (you can leave the Comment field blank). To be frank, the
email field is only used if you later publish the public component
of the key pair for email encryption purposes. If you don’t intend
to do this then it doesn’t matter what you type. Note that you must
type both a forename and surname into the Full Name text field.
4. In the Advanced key options dropdown, you can select to choose a
different type of encryption, although the default choice of DSA
Elgamal and 2048 bits is considered extremely secure and also
flexible enough to meet most needs. Once done, click the Create
button.
5. Following this, you’ll be prompted for a passphrase. Essentially,
this is the password that you will need to decrypt files. It’s important that you make the passphrase something hard to secondguess but also memorable enough so you don’t forget it. The passphrase
can include letters, numbers, symbols and space characters.
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Figure 3.40: Encrypting a file (see Tip 250, on page 289)
6. Following this the key will be generated. Depending on the speed
of your computer, this could take up to an hour. Once it’s done,
quit the Seahorse application.
Encrypting/decrypting files or folders
Once the key pair has been created, encrypting a file or folder is as
simple as right-clicking it and selecting Encrypt. In the dialog box that
appears, put a check alongside the key you created and then click OK,
as shown in Figure 3.40.
If you’ve selected to encrypt a folder you’ll be asked if you want to
encrypt each file separately, or automatically create a zip archive which
will then be encrypted. The latter is the best option in most cases.
If you password protected a file, once the encrypting process is complete
you should find yourself with a new version of the file that has a .pgp
extension. You can then delete the old file. If you encrypted a folder, you
should find two files have been created—the protected .pgp version and
a zip archive of the original folder. That archive, along with the original
folder itself, can then be deleted.
For security reasons, the unencrypted versions should be permanently
deleted, rather than just sent to the trash. To learn how to securely
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erase files, see Tip 113, on page 162. Before destroying the old file,
however, you might want to first test-run decrypting the file.
To do so, just double-click the .pgp file and then type your passphrase
when prompted. The original file will then reappear. In the case of a
folder, the zip archive will appear, and you can then double-click it to
extract the contents.
Decrypting files on another computer
As mentioned in the introduction to this tip, this isn’t a system designed
to create portable encrypted files. To decrypt files on another computer, you need to export your key pair and the import it on the other
computer. Anybody in possession of your key pair file along with any
encrypted files will be able to decrypt them, so this represents a security risk. However, there are situations where it might be necessary to
decrypt files on another machine. Here are the necessary steps:
1. On the computer that created the encrypted file(s), start Seahorse
(Applications → Accessories → Passwords and Encryption Keys)
and then right-click your personal key (the one created in the
steps above). Select Properties from the menu that appears.
2. In the dialog box that appears, click the Details tab and click the
Export button alongside the Export Complete Key heading. Save the
file to the desktop. You will find a new file has been created with
an .asc extension. This is your key pair in text format.
3. Copy the .asc file to a USB key stick or floppy disk and take it
over to the second computer. Still on the second computer, start
Seahorse (Applications → Accessories → Passwords and Encryption Keys) and click the Import button. Navigate to your key file
and click Open. This will import the key. Following this, close Seahorse. You can then double-click any encrypted files to decrypt
them.
4. If the other computer doesn’t have Seahorse installed—perhaps
if it’s a different version of Linux, or maybe an older version of
Ubuntu—copy the key file to the desktop and then type the following into a terminal window (these instructions assume gpg is
installed, which is very likely):
$ gpg --import "/home/username/Desktop/key file.asc"
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NOTES TO ANY FILE / FOLDER
Obviously, you should replace key file.asc with the name of the .asc
file, and username with your username. Then, to decrypt a file, type
the following:
$ gpg filename.pgp
Again, you should replace filename.pgp with the name of the file
you wish to decrypt. You’ll be prompted for your passphrase, so
type it. Following this the original file will be restored in the same
location as the .pgp file.
Note that you must ensure the internal PC clock is set correctly and
shows the current time before exporting/importing keys. For various
technical reasons, Seahorse and the gpg command cannot import a key
if the time on the PC appears to be before the key file appears to have
been created. Of course, this means that if the computer that created
the key file had the wrong time, you will have real problems importing
the key. The solution is to set your PC’s clock to a time and date in the
future. Then import the key, and return the PC’s clock to the present
time.
To have your computer always know the correct time, follow the steps
in Tip 26, on page 83, which explains how to synchronize Ubuntu to
Internet time servers.
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Add notes to any file/folder
Any file or folder under Ubuntu can have notes attached to it. This
might be considered a solution waiting for a problem in some people’s
eyes but it’s a cool feature nonetheless. To add a note to a file or folder,
right-click it and then select Properties from the menu that appears.
Then click the Notes tab in the dialog box that appears and type what
you want. Click Close when you’ve finished. Following this, the file or
folder icon will have a note emblem in one of its corners (probably the
top-right).
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FILES SO THAT ONLY THE RECIPIENT CAN OPEN THEM
Encrypt files so that only the
recipient can open them
Passing a confidential file (or files) to others is fraught with dangers.
You can email it to them, but what if the email is intercepted in transit?
You can pass them it to them on a USB key stick, floppy disk, or CD-R
disc, but what happens if you lose the disk or stick, or it gets stolen?
The solution is to encrypt the files using the key pair system. Once
this is done, only the recipient will be able to decrypt the file. Nobody
else will, even the person who originally encrypted it, or anybody who
intercepts the file.
For it to work the recipient will have to have their own key pair, and
have shared the public key with you. They will also need to be running
Ubuntu, or have GPG installed (most versions of Linux come with GPG
installed nowadays).
For more details on key pairs and importing the public key of another
person, see Tip 172, on page 209. You should also take a look at
Tip 250, on page 289, because that tip describes almost exactly the
same thing as described here—the only difference is that you’re encrypting a file/folder for another person to decrypt, rather than yourself. To
perhaps state the obvious, this tip differs in that you shouldn’t delete
the original file after encryption is complete—only the recipient will be
able to decrypt the file. You won’t be able to, even though you encrypted
it.
Assuming that you’ve imported the recipient’s key (click Key → Import
in Seahorse if it’s provided as a file), simply right-click the file in question and select Encrypt. Then, in the dialog box that appears, put a
check alongside their details, and click the OK button. You will then
create a new file with a .pgp extension, which is the encrypted version
of the file, and which you can then pass to the other person. Any existing file extension will remain in place, and the new .pgp extension will
be added to the end.
Some email server scanners automatically remove files with two file
extensions; to get around this, place the new .pgp into a zip file (even if
it was a zip file prior to encryption!). You can do this by right-clicking
it and selecting Create Archive. Then remove the .pgp component of the
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new zip’s filename (for example, file.pgp.zip would become file.zip). Following this, the recipient will have to unzip and then decrypt the file;
this shouldn’t pose any problems for them and it should be obvious to
them what to do.
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See your file browsing history
Nautilus includes a little-known feature that will track folders you view,
just like a web browser tracks the sites you visit. This can be very useful
when performing system maintenance, especially if, like me, you tend
to forget where you’ve just located that all-important file.
To activate it, click the Places dropdown above the left-hand pane and
select History. The history view places the most recently visited folders
at the top of the list.
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Define your own menu shortcut
keys
As with Windows, most menus in Ubuntu show the keyboard shortcut
of a particular function alongside it. For example, the File menu of
Nautilus points out that Ctrl+N will open a new window.
You can redefine these shortcuts on the fly by simply hovering the
mouse cursor over the menu option and pressing the new keyboard
combination. However, first you need to activate this particular Ubuntu
option. To do so, right-click the desktop and select Change Desktop Background. Then click the Interface tab in the window that appears, and put
a check alongside Editable menu shortcut keys. Then close the program
window.
The changes will take effect immediately, so try it out. Start your favorite
application, highlight the mouse cursor over the menu option you want
to change, and hit the new combination. You’ll see that the menu
instantly reflects the changes. To remove any keyboard shortcut, just
hit the Backspace key (not the Delete key—that will cause Delete to
be the new shortcut).
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If you define a keyboard that’s already in use in that application, it
will be “stolen” from that particular function and that function will no
longer have a keyboard shortcut.
Note that this only affects GNOME applications, such as Nautilus, GNOME
Terminal and Gedit. It won’t work with non-GNOME applications like
OpenOffice.org and Firefox.
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Always know your IP address
You can find-out your IP address in a number of ways. For example,
right-click NetworkManager, select Connection Information in the menu
that appears, and look for IP Address in the list. At the command-line you
can type ifconfig and look for the Inet addr line (assuming your computer
isn’t using IPv6, the new networking addressing system currently only
used in a handful of academic and corporate institutions).
But you might come across a limitation if you’re behind a NAT router.
It’s very likely the case you’re behind one of these if you use a broadband modem/router, or use Ubuntu in an office environment. In that
case, you’ll only see the private network address—usually something
like 192.168.1.45. These are non-routable, which means that they mean
nothing to anybody else on the Internet. They’re just for use on a local
network. If you’re trying to make an Internet phone call using some programs, or connecting to a gaming server, then knowing your actual—
rather than private—IP address can be very useful, so that others can
connect.
The solution is giplet, which you can install using Synaptic. Once installed,
right-click a blank spot on the panel, select Add to panel, and then select
Giplet from the list. By default you’ll see your private IP address so rightclick the icon, click Preferences, and ensure the Get IP from Website button
is selected. This will ensure your external IP address is displayed.
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THE SIZE OF FILES / FOLDERS ON THE DESKTOP
See the size of files/folders on the
desktop
Wouldn’t it be handy to have the size of files written underneath their
names on the desktop? No problem! Open a Nautilus window and click
Edit → Preferences. Then click the Display tab and change the three
dropdown lists under Icon Captions to read Size, Date Modified, and Type
(or, indeed, the latter two can be anything you wish from the dropdown
list provided the first dropdown reads Size). The changes will take effect
immediately. Unfortunately, the side-effect of this is that all file icons
will now have their size listed under them in Nautilus windows. Then
again, this is no bad thing.
For more desktop organization tricks, see Tip 104, on page 157, which
describes how to stop the icons being aligned, and Tip 173, on page 214,
which explains how to add the familiar desktop icons for system functions, such as Trash, or My Computer.
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View technical details of any
multimedia file
If you right-click an audio or video file, click Properties, and then click
the Audio/Video tab in the dialog box that appears, you’ll see the technical details of the file, such as the bitrate, for audio files, or the resolution of a video file. Note that this will only work if you have the correct
codecs installed—codecs are automatically installed upon demand, but
to learn how to manually install all the codecs you could ever need, see
Tip 65, on page 125.
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AND IMAGES TO
M ACROMEDIA F LASH
SLIDESHOWS
Convert PDFs and images to
Macromedia Flash slideshows
Although PDFs have become the de facto document transfer format
across the Internet, there are still lots of computer users who haven’t
heard of them. Unfortunately, they are also the kind of people who
don’t understand how to install new software, so getting them to install
Acrobat Reader is often asking too much.
In such a situation, you could try converting the file to a Flash animation. Virtually all Windows computers come with Flash pre-installed.
To do this conversion under Ubuntu, use Synaptic to install the swftools
package. This is a series of command-line programs designed to manipulate or create Flash files.
When typed into a terminal window, the following will convert chapter.pdf into a Flash file:
$ pdf2swf -t chapter.pdf
This will output chapter.swf, which can then be loaded into Firefox for
viewing although note that Totem movie player associates with .swf files,
so you specifically opt to open it in Firefox by right-clicking it and selecting from the Open With menu, rather than just double-clicking the file.
The -t command option turns off automatic scrolling through the pages
of the file. To turn pages, the reader must right-click the presentation
and select Forward or Back. To avoid this inconvenience, you can combine the new Flash file with a simple pager, provided by the swftools
team. The following uses the swfcombine tool to create a new Flash
file called paged_file.swf, using chapter.swf as a base. The new Flash file
incorporates two arrows at the top of the document to move back and
forwards:
$ swfcombine -o paged_file.swf /usr/share/swftools/swfs/simple_viewer. ←֓
swf viewport=chapter.swf
Obviously, you should replace chapter.swf with the name of the file you
created earlier.
To create a slideshow from JPEG photos, use the jpeg2swf command.
The following will output slideshow.swf from the specified JPEG images
follows:
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C REATE
AN ALIAS TO SAVE TYPING LONG COMMANDS
$ jpeg2swf -r 0.1 -o slideshow.swf photo1.jpg photo2.jpg photo3.jpg ←֓
photo4.jpg
You can specify as many images you wish, although this works best
if the images are all the same resolution. The -r command option sets
the frames per second, which in this case means the pause between
pictures—put simply, a value of 0.1 means that one picture appears
on-screen for 10 seconds (this effectively sets the frame rate at one
frame per second divided by 0.1, which is 10 seconds; for a value of 20
seconds, you’d need to set 0.05—1/0.05=20 seconds).
If your images are in .gif or .png format, use gif2swf and png2swf, respectively.
There’s no reason why you can’t include the pager tool, as used with
PDF conversion above, to let the user scroll through the images. The following will add-in the pager and output a file called paged_slideshow.swf,
using the slideshow.swf file created above as a base:
$ swfcombine -o paged_slideshow.swf /usr/share/swftools/swfs/ ←֓
simple_viewer.swf viewport=slideshow.swf
To simply create an HTML slideshow of images, see Tip 126, on page 171.
259
Create an alias to save typing
long commands
Several tips in this book—such as Tip 208, on page 242, which explains
how to view images in a folder as a slideshow—involve typing a chain
of commands at the prompt. If your memory is as bad as mine you
may find it hard to recall the precise order of commands (or even the
command itself).
The solution is to create a bash alias. This lets you create a homemade single-word command that, when typed into a terminal window or
virtual console, invokes another command, or a stream of commands,
if need be.
Let’s take as an example the aforementioned tip—Tip 208, on page 242.
The command needed to view all the images in a folder as a slideshow is
eog -f *.{jpg,tif,bmp,gif,png}. It would be nicer, and easier, to just switch to
the folder and type slideshow. To make this possible, open your .bashrc
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GENUINE SMILEYS IN YOUR EMAILS
file in Gedit (type gedit ~/.bashrc into a terminal window) and add the
following new line at the bottom:
alias slideshow="eog -f *.{jpg,tif,bmp,gif,png}"
In other words, the new command you want to create comes first, after
which you list the command (in quotation marks because it includes
spaces).
Open a new terminal window to see if your new command works by
typing slideshow in a folder full of images.
You can have as many aliases as you want listed in the .bashrc file. Just
type each on a new line. Before creating a new alias, ensure that the
command you intend to use isn’t already in use—a surprising amount
of seemingly innocuous words are already in use as commands. This
can be done by simply typing whereis followed by the command. To
check to see if slideshow is in use, I’d type whereis slideshow. If I received
back a listing of a folder then I’d know the command is in use. If I see
just the command with nothing after it then I know it’s not in use.
If all you want to do is create personalized shortcuts to already-installed
applications, see Tip 239, on page 281.
260
Send genuine smileys in your
emails
Are you a fan of emoticons, the little pictures of smiley, unhappy or
confused faces that help convey emotions in online correspondence?
Although they’re never more than a few keystrokes away, Evolution can
enhance the effect by automatically inserting actual pictures of smileys
into your emails in place of the usual :), ;) and so on. The recipient will
then see these pictures alongside your text.
To configure this, click Edit → Preferences in Evolution, and then select
Composer Preferences. Then check Automatically insert emoticon images.
Obviously, if you haven’t already, you should also check the box alongside Format messages in HTML, because plain text images cannot have
images inserted into them.37 Following this, the smiley images will be
37. There isn’t a great deal of tolerance in the wider Linux world for HTML email. It’s
considered an aberration. As a rule, Linux people prefer plain text emails and get annoyed
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A DD
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“O PEN
IN TERMINAL ” OPTION TO
N AUTILUS ’
RIGHT - CLICK MENU
inserted automatically whenever you type a smiley combination.
For more Evolution tricks, see Tip 42, on page 101; Tip 156, on page 198;
Tip 158, on page 199; Tip 172, on page 209; Tip 246, on page 286; and
Tip 7, on page 66.
261
Add an “Open in terminal”
option to Nautilus’ right-click
menu
Have you ever been browsing through the Ubuntu file system using
Nautilus and wanted to open a terminal window where you ended-up?
Just use Synaptic to install nautilus-open-terminal. Then log out and back
in again. In future you can either right-click blank space in a particular
folder and select Open in terminal to open a terminal window automatically in that folder, or right-click a folder itself and click the option.
262
Make Windows bootable if things
go wrong during Ubuntu
installation
Sometimes resizing the Windows partition during the installation of
Ubuntu can make it unbootable. You’ll know if this is the case because
Windows will appear to boot but will just sit there forever, with the
boot-time progress bar scrolling. You’ll need to run chkdsk from within
Windows to fix it, but how do you do this if Windows won’t boot (even
into Safe Mode)?
You’ll need to use the Windows recovery console. Boot from the Windows installation CD/DVD and, at the menu, hit r to enter the recovery console. Select your Windows partition when prompted and enter
your administrator password when prompted (just hit Enter if you
with anybody who disagrees. However, they usually don’t mind smileys typed as text.
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E DIT
THE NAME
&
AR TIST INFORMATION OF
MP3
FILES
didn’t set an administrator password). Then, at the command-prompt,
type chkdsk C: /r (assuming C: is the drive on which you have Windows
installed). Once it’s completed, type exit to reboot the computer.
You can also try repairing the Windows file system from within Ubuntu:
see Tip 38, on page 98.
263
Edit the name & artist
information of MP3 files
Most MP3 files contain ID3 tag information, usually indicating the artist,
song name and album, amongst other things. Unfortunately, some of
this information can be wrong. RhythmBox features the ability to change
it, but you have to right-click on the track in question and select Properties, which can be long-winded if you have lots of files to edit.
To edit the track information quickly and efficiently, consider using
exfalso, which can be installed using Synaptic (search for and install
the exfalso package). Once installed it can be found on the Applications
→ Sound & Video menu. Simply select the folder the track(s) is in on
the left, and then the track itself, and double-click each entry on the
right to edit the ID3 information. Click the Add button to add entirely
new information, if you think you need to.
If your problem is the inverse of this—that the ID3 tag information is
correct, but the filenames are wrong, use Synaptic to install mp3rename.
This is a command-line program that, as its name suggests, renames
files based on their ID3 tag information. Either specify a file for it to
work on (mp3rename filename.mp3) or switch into the relevant folder and
type mp3rename * to rename all MP3 files. Remember that if you do this,
and RhythmBox has previously cataloged the files, you’ll have to make
it reindex. To do this, click Music → Import Folder within RhythmBox
and select the folder containing the MP3 files.
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N EVER
264
TOUCH THE MOUSE WHILE USING
U BUNTU ( WELL ,
ALMOST )
Never touch the mouse while
using Ubuntu (well, almost)
GNOME Do is an exciting piece of software that lets you start programs, play music, browse to websites, create emails, and much more,
all without taking your hands off the keyboard. It does this by opening
a kind of search box into which you simply type what you’re interested
in. To start Firefox, you’d simply type firefox, for example. GNOME Do
will likely almost instantly recognize what you want, so before you’ve
even typed fir, it will suggest that you want to run Firefox. All you
need do then is hit enter. Similarly, by typing a URL such as http://
www.ubuntukungfu.org, Firefox will open with the URL. To start an email,
you’d simply type the name of your contact (they will have to be in your
email address book, of course). To add an MP3 to RhythmBox’s playlist,
type its title.
To install GNOME Do, use Synaptic to install both the gnome-do and
gnome-do-plugins. Once installed, a little extra configuration work is nec-
essary to make it start on login: click System → Preferences → Sessions
and then click the Startup Programs tab. Click the Add button and in the
dialog box that appears, type GNOME Do in the Name field, and gnomedo –quiet in the Command field (note that there are two dashes before
quiet). Leave the Comment field empty and then click OK, then the Close
button in the parent dialog box. Following this, log out and back in.
The GNOME Do search box can be brought up by hitting Windows + Space .
GNOME Do is a very powerful piece of software. To learn more about
what it can do, visit the website of its maker: http://do.davebsd.com.
For an almost completely mouse-free email reading and web browsing
experience, see Tip 7, on page 66.
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A L TER
265
IMAGE VIEWER ’ S ZOOM SPEED
Alter image viewer’s zoom speed
You might have already noticed that, if you roll the mouse wheel while
viewing an image in Eye of GNOME (GNOME’s default image viewer),
you’ll zoom in and out of the image. You can alter the rate of zoom by
firing-up gconf-editor and heading over to /apps/eog/view. Then change
the value in the zoom_multiplier key. The figure is the zoom in/out percentage divided by 100—the default value of (circa) 0.05 is 5%. This
means that each “click” of the mouse wheel zooms in 5%. A value of
0.01 makes for smoother zooming (1%), although you’ll need to spin
the mouse wheel quite a lot to make much progress! A value of 0.1 or
even 0.2 (10 and 20%) makes for faster zooming.
If you’d like to turn off zooming with the mouse wheel, and make
the wheel simply scroll the window as in any other application, open
gconf-editor and head over to /apps/eog/view and remove the check from
alongside scroll_wheel_zoom. The changes will take effect immediately, so
open an image by double-clicking it and see what happens!
266
Install Skype
Skype is software used to make phone or video calls, either to other
computing devices, or to actual phones. It’s proprietary software but
free-of-charge. To install it under Ubuntu, the best plan is to add the
Skype repository, so that you can then install it via Synaptic. If any
updates of the software are released, as they are frequently, they’ll be
suggested for installation using the Update Manager tool.
To add the Skype repository, click System → Administration → Software
Sources and then ensure the Third-Party Software tab is selected. Click the
Add button and, in the APT Line text field, type the following:
deb http://download.skype.com/linux/repos/debian/ stable non-free
Click the Add Source button, then the Close button, and agree to reloading the list of packages when prompted. Open Synaptic and use it to
install the skype package. Once installed, you’ll find the program on
the Internet menu. To have Skype start on login, click System → Preferences → Sessions, and click the Add button, In the dialog box that
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A RRANGE
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appears, type Skype in the Name field, and skype in the Command field.
Leave the Comment field empty and then click OK, then the Close button
in the parent dialog box.
To change configuration options, click the small Skype icon at the
bottom left and select Options. See also Tip 96, on page 152, which
describes how to ensure others can hear you if you run into audio
problems.
If you run into problems with Skype’s audio output, use Synaptic to
install the nas package. Then restart the computer.
267
Arrange output into columns
This is a handy hint if you have to read-through system configuration
files.
Virtually all configuration files have some attempt at layout within
them, to make for easier reading, usually in the form of spaces between
the various configuration options. The problem is that these become
eroded by constant editing of the file. When used at the prompt, the
column command is able to spot these attempts at layout and use them
to arrange the data into columns. It’s best demonstrated by a beforeand-after example so open a terminal window and type the following:
$ cat /etc/fstab
Used in this way the cat command simply displays the contents of a
file. You’ll see that /etc/fstab is a pretty messy file.
Now run it through the column command by piping the output of the
previous command, as follows:
$ cat /etc/fstab|column -t
The -t command-option tells column to figure-out the layout using the
spaces within the file.
What you’ll see is a file that’s better formatted. It should be easier to
make out the data within the file. It probably won’t be perfect, because
column isn’t very intelligent. But it’ll probably be an improvement.
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V IEW
268
IMAGES WITHOUT A GRAPHICAL ENVIRONMENT
View images without a graphical
environment
The issue of how to view graphics at the command-line is a thorny
one. Theoretically, should you find yourself without a GUI, it should
be possible to install and use simple image viewing programs that use
the framebuffer. This is where the image data is written straight into
the memory of the graphics card, without any need for complexities
such as actual graphics drivers. However, Ubuntu prohibits the use of
the framebuffer because it can cause problems with the hibernation
power-saving mode.
A solution, and it’s one that has a measure of entertainment value, is
to convert the image to lots of letters and numbers. When viewed from
a distance, or through squinted eyes, the contents of the photo can just
about be made out. It’s far from ideal, for sure, but can be surprisingly
useful and is often entertaining to boot.
Start by using Synaptic to install the aview and imagemagick packages.
Then switch to a virtual console, login and type the following:
$ asciiview filename.jpg
Obviously, you should replace filename.jpg with the name of your file.
The file can be any image format.
You can zoom into the picture using the plus and minus keys, and move
around it using the cursor keys. See Figure 3.41, on the following page
for an example from my test PC. A good tip is that repeatedly zooming in
and out somehow causes the image to be easier to comprehend. When
you’ve finished, hit q .
269
Synchronize files between a
laptop and desktop PC
If you have two computers you might want to synchronize data between
the two. For example, if you have a laptop, you might want to transfer
the files in your Documents folder to the main PC (and vice versa). You
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S YNCHRONIZE
FILES BETWEEN A LAPTOP AND DESKTOP
PC
Figure 3.41: A photo rendered by asciiview (see Tip 268, on the
preceding page)
could do this manually, by creating a network share (see Tip 28, on
page 84 for details), but it’s much better to do it automatically, with
just a single click.
There are a variety of ways of synchronizing files under Ubuntu and,
indeed, this is the kind of task that Linux excels in. However, perhaps the most fuss-free method is to use a program called Unison (or,
actually, Unison GTK, which adds a graphical front-end to the Unison
command-line program; throughout I refer to the whole thing at Unison, for simplicity). Unison uses built-in Linux tools to sync files but
hides everything behind a friendly user-interface.
Below are the steps required to sync the Documents folders on two separate computers using Unison. Before following these steps, follow the
instructions in Tip 26, on page 83, which explain how to ensure Ubuntu
always has the correct time. Follow the steps on both computers. This
is essential because synchronization will fail otherwise.
These instructions make reference to a desktop PC and laptop computer, but could be any two computers capable of running Ubuntu (or
indeed any computer with Linux installed that can run Unison):
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S YNCHRONIZE
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Figure 3.42: Resolving a file clash in Unison (see Tip 269, on page 306)
1. On the desktop PC, use Synaptic to install the unison-gtk package.
Meanwhile, on the laptop, use Synaptic to install the openssh-server
and unison-gtk packages. As you might have guessed, Unison uses
SSH in the background to provide the file transfer conduit. If you
want to learn more about SSH, see Tip 190, on page 228.
2. Once installed on the desktop PC, Unison can be found on the
Applications → Accessories menu. When it starts a wizard will
walk you through creating an initial profile. The first step is to
enter the folder on the desktop PC that you want to synchronize.
Click the Browse button and then locate your Documents folder.
Click OK to close the file browsing dialog and OK again to move
onto the next step of the wizard in Unison.
3. In the next step, you must tell Unison which folder you want to
synchronize with on the laptop. In the Directory text field, type Documents again. There’s no need to precede it with /home/username
because Unison will automatically log into the laptop’s /home/username
folder each time it synchronizes.
4. Click the SSH radio button. You’ll now need to find the IP address of
the laptop. This can be done by moving over to it, right-clicking its
NetworkManager icon and selecting Connection Information. Then
look in the dialog that appears for the line that reads IP Address.
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S YNCHRONIZE
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Type what you see (four numbers separated by dots) into the Host
text field back on the desktop PC.
5. In the User text field, still on the desktop PC, type the login name
you use on the laptop. Then click the OK button.
6. You’ll immediately be told that the laptop computer is being contacted. Then a dialog box will pop-up telling you that the “authenticity of host can’t be established”. This is fine. Just type yes to
continue and hit OK.
7. You’ll then be prompted for the login password on the laptop. Type
it and then click OK.
8. Following this you’ll see a scary-looking warning dialog box saying
that “no archives were found for these roots”. Don’t worry. This
appears because this is the first time you’ve synchronized. Once
you click OK, Unison will detect the files both on the desktop PC
and the laptop (it’s worth pointing out that you won’t see any sign
of Unison running on the laptop, nor do you have to do anything
on the laptop—Unison runs automatically in the background).
9. After a few minutes the program window on the desktop PC will
indicate the file differences between the two folders. The Path heading will show the file in question, and under the Action heading will
be the “direction of travel”, indicated by an arrow—if the arrow
points left, the file will be transferred to the desktop PC from the
laptop. If it points right, the file will be transfered from the desktop
PC to the laptop. If you don’t want to synchronize a particular file
or folder, select it and click the Skip button on the toolbar. However, assuming you’re happy with everything, click the Go button
on the toolbar. The files will then be copied across. When Unison
has finished (look at the status bar in the bottom left of the Unison
window, and the Status heading in the list of files), you can close
the program window.
And that’s all there is to it. Following this, you should run Unison on the
desktop PC every time you want to sync the Documents folders on the
two computers, such as when you get home from work. When Unison
starts, just select default from the list.
Note that Unison always updates older files when synchronizing. For
example, if you started a file on your desktop PC, transferred it to
your laptop using Unison, and edited it while out and about, Unison
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R ENAME
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will automatically overwrite the older file on the desktop PC with the
updated version. This makes sense, of course. If the situation arises
that the file gets updated on both machines between synchronizations,
a question mark will appear alongside the file when you come to synchronize—
see Figure 3.42, on page 308 for an example—and it won’t get automatically copied across. You’ll then have to manually intervene to decide
which to overwrite—the copy on the desktop PC or the copy on the
laptop. Click the Right to Left toolbar button to overwrite the file on the
desktop PC, or the Left to Right button to overwrite the file on the laptop. Of course, it might be simpler just to manually copy the file across
in this case—because SSH is providing the connection Unison uses to
transfer files, you can use Nautilus to browse the files on the remote
computer via an SFTP connection. To learn how, see the closing paragraphs of Tip 190, on page 228.
You can create additional profiles to sync other folders too—just click
the Create New Profile button in Unison’s startup program window, type
a name for the profile when prompted, and then double-click its entry
in the list to start working through the wizard again. I find it useful to
synchronize the Desktop folder on both machines because I tend to temporarily store a lot of files there. Don’t choose to sync your entire /home
folder—hidden files are copied across too by Unison, and hidden files
within your /home folder contain program configuration files unique to
each computer. Upon synchronization there would be some almighty
file clashes, and the likelihood of the login accounts on both systems
getting damaged beyond repair because of mangled configuration files
is high.
It’s worth noting that you don’t necessarily have to sync between two
computers. You can also sync between a folder on a removable storage
devices and one on the computer’s hard disk, or even just another folder
on the same computer. Just select the Local radio button in the step
above when you chose SSH and fill-in the details appropriately.
270
Rename files quickly
Ubuntu doesn’t allow the “slow double-click” used on some operating
system to rename files. The best solution for quick renaming is to select
the file/folder in question and hit F2 . Then type the new filename. By
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H AVE
SUDO INSUL T YOU
Figure 3.43: Editing the Sudo config file (see Tip 271)
default only the actual filename is selected for renaming and not the
file extension. To select this too before typing, quickly tap Ctrl + a .
To rename lots of files at once, see Tip 230, on page 270.
271
Have sudo insult you
This is a strange tip that reflects the Monty Python-style humor that
pervades Linux. To see mild and humorous insults whenever you get
your sudo/gksu password wrong, open a terminal and type sudo visudo.
Then navigate to the end of the line that begins Defaults and type a .
This will switch to INSERT mode, so type a comma, and then the word
insults. See Figure 3.43 for an example of how the file looked after editing
on my test PC.
Following this, don’t hit Enter , but instead hit Esc , and type :wq to
save the file and quit the text editor. The changes will take effect immediately so try preceding a command with sudo and deliberately get your
password wrong to see what happens (first you will have to kill the sudo
grace period: sudo -K).
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M AKE N AUTILUS
DISPLAY
“ TRADITIONAL ”
FILE PERMISSIONS
Note that if you make a mistake editing the file above, just hit Esc and
type :q! to quit without saving. Then make another attempt.
272
Make Nautilus display
“traditional” file permissions
If you right-click a file, select Properties, and click the Permissions tab,
Nautilus will show the permissions of the file in a series of three dropdown lists. To be honest, although designed to be simple, these sometimes confuse me and I long for the more arcane but recognizable -rwxr--r-- style of permissions listing.
I was therefore very happy when I discovered this tweak. Start gconfeditor and head over to /apps/nautilus/preferences and put a check alongside show_advanced_permissions. The changes take effect immediately.
Any new Nautilus Properties dialog boxes that are opened will now
show a series of simple checkboxes for permissions (once the Permissions tab is selected, of course), as well as a “Text view” section, listing
traditional-style file permissions that would appear at the commandline. See Figure 3.44, on the following page for an example.
For tips describing how to alter how Nautilus displays files and file
information, see Tip 85, on page 143; Tip 104, on page 157; Tip 165,
on page 203; and Tip 132, on page 175.
273
See the GNOME fish
This is a nice little hidden feature of GNOME. Hit Alt + F2 and type
free the fish into the text field. Then click Run. Wait a second or two and
you’ll see a fish swim across the screen. It’s a lady fish and she’s called
Wanda. Yes, really. She even has her own fan site: http://jrong.tripod.com/
wanda.html, and you’ll have realized that she’s probably named after the
eponymous hero of the movie A Fish Called Wanda.
To get rid of her, just click on her. But she’ll be back... To really get
rid of her, you’ll have to log out and back in again, or open a terminal
window and type killall gnome-panel.
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DESKTOP WIDGETS
Figure 3.44: Switching to a traditional permissions view (see Tip 272,
on the preceding page)
She also plays a mean game of Space Invaders, except the invaders
are cows with five legs. Yes, really. To play the game, once again hit
Alt + F2 and type gegls from outer space (note that that’s “gegls”, with an
“l”, and not “gegis”). To move Wanda left or right, use the cursor keys.
To fire, hit Space . To regain your sanity, lie in a darkened room for 30
minutes.
You can put Wanda in a tank and have her contained on the desktop
by right-clicking a blank spot on the panel, selecting Add to panel, and
selecting Fish from the list. If you click on her tank you’ll see a pithy or
witty motto.
274
Use desktop widgets
The fashion amongst desktop operating systems is to utilize desktop
widgets. These are small programs that float on the desktop and provide
specific but useful functionality, such as telling the time, or showing the
weather. Mac OS X has included them since version 10.4 in the form of
its Dashboard component, while Windows Vista introduced them upon
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release in the form of the desktop sidebar.
As you might expect, Ubuntu offers its own variation on this theme in
the form of Screenlets. This needs Ubuntu’s desktop effects to work—
see Tip 74, on page 131 for more information.
To install Screenlets, use Synaptic to search for and install the screenlets package. Whilst Synaptic is open, also search for and install the
compizconfig-settings-manager package. This is needed because, before
running Screenlets, you first need to enable the “widget layer” visual
effect. To do this once the software is installed, click System → Preferences → Advanced Desktop Effects Settings and, in the program window that appears, put a check in the box alongside Widget Layer, under
the Desktop heading.
Then close that program and start Screenlets by clicking System →
Preferences → Screenlets. Note that Screenlets will automatically start
each time you login, and add an icon to the notification area which,
when clicked, will open the Screenlets configuration panel.
When the program first starts you might see a warning about how there
is “no existing autostart directory”. Click the Yes button to create one.
Following this, to add a Screenlet to your desktop, just select it in the
list, check the Auto start on login box at the bottom right of the program
window, and then click the Launch/Add button. The Screenlet will be
placed somewhere on your screen (probably the top-left), but you can
then drag it to wherever you wish, as shown in Figure 3.45, on the
following page. Right-clicking each Screenlet will let you configure it.
Instead of having Screenlets floating on the desktop (or in addition), you
can create a setup like Mac OS X, where the widgets are on a floating
layer that appears whenever F9 is hit. To add a widget to the floating
layer, add it to the desktop as described above, and then right-click it
and select Window → Widget.
Many more Screenlets are available in addition to those provided outof-the-box. To download them, visit http://www.screenlets.org. Look for
the Downloads heading and click an entry beneath the Third-party Screenlets link. To install a new screenlet, download it to your desktop (don’t
unpack it if it’s an archive!), open the Screenlets configuration program
(System → Preferences → Screenlets, or just click the Screenlets notification area icon), and click the Install Screenlet button. Then select the
download using the file browser, then select it from the list of Screenlets
in the main program window once it’s been added to the main collec-
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Figure 3.45: Adding Screenlets to the desktop (see Tip 274, on
page 313)
tion. Following this, add it to the desktop as described above. You can
delete the file you downloaded once it’s installed.
More more tips on adding desktop bling, see Tip 21, on page 79; Tip 79,
on page 138; Tip 147, on page 192; Tip 199, on page 237; Tip 74, on
page 131; Tip 274, on page 313; and Tip 289, on page 338.
275
Read eBooks
eBooks are, as the name suggests, electronic versions of books. Many
classics of literature have been converted to eBook format and can be
downloaded from sites such as Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.
org). Additionally, some contemporary authors and publishers release
their work as eBooks.
To read any eBooks that are in plain/rich-text format, FictionBook,
HTML, Plucker, or Windows Help formats, use Synaptic to install FBReader
(search for the fbreader package). Note that FBReader isn’t able to read
eBooks in PDF format—for that, Ubuntu’s default PDF viewer can be
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used. Nor can it read eBooks protected by Digital Rights Management,
such as some Mobipocket files (although standard Mobipocket books
should work OK).
Once installed, you’ll find FBReader on the Applications → Office menu.
Any eBooks you download will have to be imported into FBReader’s
library before you can read them, and to do this, click Add eBook to
Library toolbar button—it’s the third icon from the left on the toolbar,
and you can hover the mouse cursor over each icon to see a tooltip
explaining what the icon does. Then navigate to the file. You may need
to fill in author and title details when prompted, depending on the
eBook format.
To choose between the eBooks in your library in future, click the first
icon on the toolbar.
Once the eBook has been opened, use the Page Up and Page Down
keys to page through the document. A progress bar at the bottom of
the screen will show your progress through the entire text.
276
Make (almost) any wifi card work
with Ubuntu
Ubuntu’s wifi support has got steadily better over the years and with
Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) it’s safe to say that the majority of wifi
devices will work fine. However, if you find that yours doesn’t (you’ll
know because it will be like no wifi hardware is installed), help is at
hand in the form of Ndiswrapper.
This lets you use Windows XP wifi drivers under Ubuntu. As you can
imagine, it’s something of a hack and doesn’t always work, although in
most cases the results are very good.
The steps below walk you through what’s needed to get XP wifi drivers
working under Ubuntu. The guide is split into three sections: Identifying your wifi card make and model; sourcing the Windows driver and
extracting the driver file components; and finally installing the Windows
XP driver files.
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Identifying the wifi card hardware
To source the correct driver for your wifi hardware it’s necessary to find
out its make and model. However, you don’t need the make and model
listed on the box or in the specification list. You must find out who actually manufactured the hardware, which will probably be different from
the company that sold it (particularly with more inexpensive hardware).
You must also find out the PCI ID number, which is how operating systems like Ubuntu and Windows refers to the card on a technical level.
1. Open a terminal window and type the following:
$ lspci -vv -nn|less -i
This will list the hardware on your system connected through the
PCI bus (which is practically all of it). The command options specified cause lspci to return more information (-vv) and cause the vital
PCI ID numbers to be returned too (-nn).
2. Hit the forward slash (/) to search and type wireless. Then hit Enter .
If you find no result, hit forward slash again and search for wlan. If
you still get no results, try searching for 802.11. These are the common terms used to describe wifi hardware. When you get a match,
use the up/down cursor keys to scroll so you see the entire entry
for that device (each entry is separated from the others in the list
by a blank line). Make a note of the make and model name listed
on the first line.
3. Following this, look at the end of the same line for a pattern of
numbers and letters that look like [168c:0013]—four digits, a colon,
and then four more digits (the digits are hexadecimal, if knowing that helps you identify them). Write these down too. See Figure 3.46, on the following page for an example taken from my test
PC with the relevant parts of the entry in the listing highlighted.
Be careful not to get the details mixed up with the Subsystem line.
Sourcing the Windows XP driver
Finding the Windows XP driver isn’t too difficult. The easiest way of
doing it is to head over the Ndiswrapper website and browse their
database of cards, which links to the download sites of drivers known
to work. Of course, you’ll need to do this using a computer that can get
online (assuming your Ubuntu computer is presently unable to for lack
of wifi drivers), and the easiest way of doing this is simply to boot into
your Windows partition.
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Figure 3.46: Identifying a wifi card’s name, model number and PCI ID
(see Tip 276, on page 316)
Once you’ve found the correct driver file, you must extract the components you need.
The following instructions describe how all of this is done:
1. Use a web browser to head over to http://ndiswrapper.sourceforge.
net. Once there, click the Documents/Wiki link on the left, and then
click the link that reads List of cards known to work. On the following
page click the entry in the alphabetical list that refers to the first
letter of the manufacturer details you discovered earlier.
2. In the listing page that appears, search using the PCI ID number you noted earlier. Note that you shouldn’t include the square
brackets surrounding the numbers and letters. The details from
my test PC were [168c:0013], so I searched for 168c:0013.
3. It’s likely more than one entry in the list will match, so you should
then check the details listed in the Card: and Chipset: components of the website listing against the manufacturer and model
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details you wrote down earlier. Try and get the best match possible. Some entries in the Ndiswrapper website list might even refer
to the make and model of computer the wifi card is used in. Once
you find a match, click the link provided to download the driver.
Avoid any drivers marked as x86_64 in the list—these are designed
to work on 64-bit versions of Linux (unless you have the 64-bit
version of Ubuntu installed, of course, although this is unlikely
unless you specifically opted to).
4. Once you have the driver file, you must extract the necessary
driver components from it. To be frank, this is easier done using
Windows rather than Ubuntu, so if you don’t already have Windows up and running, copy the driver installation file to your
Windows desktop and then boot into Windows. Once Windows
has started, download a program called Universal Extractor from
http://legroom.net/software/uniextract. This is a clever open source
program that’s able to extract files from just about any archive file,
including Windows setup executable files (.exe). Once it’s downloaded and installed, right-click the Windows XP driver file and
select UniExtract to Subdir. This will create a new folder containing
the individual driver files.
5. The files you want will probably be in a folder named WinXP, WindowsXP, or similar. If you’ve ever installed hardware drivers in Windows this will sound familiar, although the folder might be called
ndis5x or similar. In the folder, look for .inf files. If you’re in luck
there will be only one, and you can skip straight to the last step
in this section. If there’s more than one then you’ll need to search
through each until you find the correct one.
6. Open the first .inf file in Windows Notepad by double-clicking it.
Click Edit → Find and search for the first part of PCI ID you noted
earlier. For example, the whole PCI ID number on my test PC was
168c:0013, so I searched for 168c. If you find no match, close the
file and move onto the next .inf file. If you do find a match, look
further along that particular line and look for the second part of
the PCI ID. It will probably be next to the word DEV_. If you find a
match then congratulations! You’ve found the .inf file you need.
7. Copy the .inf file to a new folder, along with any .sys and .bin files
you find in the driver folder (you may not find .bin files). Any other
files can be ignored. You now have all you need to install the XP
driver under Ubuntu but don’t reboot just yet. First you’ll need to
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grab some package files from the Ubuntu repositories.
Installing the XP driver files
As mentioned, installing the XP drivers is easy but first you’ll need
to download and install the Ndiswrapper configuration software (the
actual Ndiswrapper system software is already installed out-of-the-box
on Ubuntu). The following steps describe all the steps needed to install
the driver:
1. Type the following addresses in the address bar of your browser.
Each will cause a file to be downloaded:
http://us.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/pool/main/n/ndiswrapper/ ←֓
ndiswrapper-utils-1.9_1.50-1ubuntu1_i386.deb
http://us.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/pool/main/n/ndiswrapper/ ←֓
ndiswrapper-common_1.50-1ubuntu1_all.deb
http://us.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/pool/main/n/ndisgtk/ndisgtk ←֓
_0.8.3-1_i386.deb
2. Reboot into Ubuntu and copy the XP driver files to the desktop,
plus the three system software packages you downloaded. Open a
terminal window and type the following to install the software:
$ sudo dpkg -i ~/Desktop/ndis*.deb
3. Once installation has finished, click System → Administration →
Wireless Network Drivers. Once the program window appears, click
the Install New Driver button.
4. A dialog box will appear prompting for the location of the .inf file.
Click the Location dropdown to open a file browsing window and
navigate to navigate to the .inf file. Then click the Install button.
5. In the Wireless Network Drivers program window, you will now see
your wireless hardware listed on the left of the window. Hopefully,
beneath it will be listed the words Hardware present: yes, as shown
in Figure 3.47, on the next page. If you see Hardware present: no,
you have an incompatible driver. Select the hardware in the list
and click Remove Driver. Then repeat the steps above to download
an alternative driver.
Following this your wifi hardware will be immediately available for configuration using NetworkManager at the top right of the desktop. You
can close the Wireless Network Drivers window, and delete the driver
and package files from the desktop.
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Figure 3.47: Confirming correct installation of the Windows XP wifi
driver (see Tip 276, on page 316)
277
Connect to a Windows Vista
computer’s remote desktop
If you have any problems connecting to a Windows Vista computer’s
remote desktop using Terminal Server Client (Applications → Internet),
you might have to tweak a setting or two on the Vista computer. Try the
following things:
• Ensure the Vista username you’re using to login has a password.
Password-less accounts won’t work when it comes to remote desktop access. (This is true of Windows XP computers too.)
• On the Windows computer, click the Start button and then rightclick Computer. Click Properties, and in the window that appears,
click the Remote Settings link on the left-hand side. In the dialog
that appears, click Allow Connections from Computers Running Any Version of Remote Desktop (Less Secure). Then click Apply.
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278
ON YOUR GAMES CONSOLE
Use Ubuntu on your games
console
If you’re a fan of gaming then you might be interested to learn that
Ubuntu can—with some effort—be installed on the latest range of games
consoles, such as Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3, and even
the Nintendo DS Lite handheld console. All of this is strictly unofficial,
of course, and supported by “homebrew” communities who enjoying
hacking hardware and software. As such it brings with it the possibility
of damage to the existing console software if you don’t know exactly
what you’re doing.
Running Ubuntu on consoles is usually done more for fun and educational value rather than actual utility, although a handful of users have
reported turning their games console into streaming media servers.
Unfortunately, the use of consoles in this way is something the manufacturers dislike and frequently update the system hardware to make
the task impossible (at least until somebody figures out how to bypass
it!).
There isn’t space here to describe the often extremely lengthy steps
describing how to install Ubuntu on the consoles. Instead you should
visit https://help.ubuntu.com/community/PlayStation_3, to learn how to install
it onto a PS3, or http://forums.xbox-scene.com/index.php?showtopic=595543
to learn how to install it onto an Xbox 360. To install Ubuntu on the
Nintento DS Lite, visit http://dslinux.org. It’s worth noting that Google
lists many guides written by other community members which can
often be worth trying.
279
Use a “legal” MP3 codec
Although Ubuntu will install multimedia playback codecs upon demand,
the actual software it installs resides in a legally grey area. Much of
what the software implements is protected by patents in countries that
allow software to be patented, such as the United States of America
(currently European Union countries do not allow software patenting).
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Nobody is entirely sure of the implications of software patenting on
open source codec software, as used under Ubuntu. If it’s an issue at
all it’ll likely affect those creating and distributing the codecs, rather
than those who download and use them.
But if you simply don’t like the idea of using the codecs but still want
MP3 playback, you can install the Fluendo MP3 codec. Just use Synaptic to search for and install the gstreamer0.10-fluendo-mp3 package. Once
it’s installed MP3 playback should work straight away in Totem and
RhythmBox.
Fluendo is a multimedia software company that, in an egalitarian spirit,
licensed MP3 patents for the use by all the Linux community. The only
issue is that the codec is one-way only—it will only decode, and can’t
be used to encode MP3 tracks. However, I strongly advise that you
use Ubuntu’s built-in Ogg Vorbis encoding for future ripping of music
tracks. Ubuntu is setup automatically to use this. It is very similar to
MP3 in both audio quality and file size results.
See also Tip 65, on page 125 to learn how to install all the codecs you’ll
ever need, although these may suffer from the issues mentioned above.
280
Use look-a-likes of the Microsoft
fonts
Tip 170, on page 206, explains how to install the popular Microsoft Windows fonts on your system. Yet if you feel the whole point of installing
Ubuntu is to get away from Microsoft products of any kind, you might
not want to do this.
The solution is to install the Liberation fonts, created by Linux vendor
Red Hat to be metrically identical to Microsoft’s fonts. In other words,
the three fonts fonts offered—replacements for Arial, Times New Roman
and Courier—are exactly the same size as the Microsoft fonts, so can
be used as swap-in replacements without any disruption to websites or
office documents.
Just use Synaptic to search for and install the ttf-liberation package.
Once installed you might choose to configure Firefox to use the fonts as
defaults. Click Edit → Preferences, select the Content icon, and click
the Advanced button alongside the Fonts & Colors heading. Then, in
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the dialog box that appears, select Liberation Serif in the Serif dropdown
list, Liberation Sans in the Sans-serif dropdown, and Liberation Mono in the
Monospace dropdown. In the Proportional dropdown, you might choose
to change it to read Sans Serif—this will cause a sans serif font to be
used with sites like http://slashdot.org or BBC News (http://news.bbc.co.
uk), something you might have been used to under Windows.
Once done, click OK and then the Close button in the preferences dialog
box. Then browse to a website to test your new settings.
281
Play old MS-DOS games
This tip should appeal to anybody brought up in the 80s and 90s,
arguably the period of classic gaming. It involves the use of DOSBox, a
program that emulates DOS inside a virtual computer. However, unlike
DOS days of old, there’s no need to spend hours installing drivers or
extended-memory managers—everything is setup for you.
Start by using Synaptic to install the dosbox package. Once installed,
you need to create a virtual hard disk so create an empty folder in
your /home folder and call it something like dosbox_c. Following this
start DOSBox by clicking its link on the Applications → Games menu,
and mount your new hard disk by typing the following at the DOSBox
prompt:
mount C dosbox_c
Then you’ll need to switch into the folder in the usual DOS method by
typing:
C:
Then all you need do is raid the attic for all those DOS games diskettes
you stored there back in 1995. Alternatively, you could search Google
for abandonware—old computer software that has been released into
the public domain. A particularly good site is http://www.abandonia.com.
Once you have downloaded a game, copy it into your dosbox_c folder
and then use DOSBox to either run its installer or, more likely, just
run the executable to start playing the game. See Figure 3.48, on the
following page for an example game played on my test PC.
Note that you might need to quit and then restart DOSBox for it to see
the contents of the mounted folder after files have been copied there.
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Figure 3.48: Playing old games using DOSBox (see Tip 281, on the
previous page)
If you find you really like your reintroduction to DOS, see Tip 177, on
page 216, which describes how to run an old but freely available version
of Microsoft Word under DOSBox.
282
Install Google applications
As with Windows and Macintosh, Google has released a series of downloadable applications for Linux: Google Earth, Picasa and Google Desktop. Google Earth allows you to spin around the globe looking at satellite photographs and planning routes between locations. Picasa lets you
catalog and tweak photographs on your hard disk and then upload
them to online photo albums provided as part of your Google account.
Google Desktop lets you organize and search your files, as well as
quickly search your Gmail account (rather like Tracker, the built-in
Ubuntu search tool, as discussed in Tip 77, on page 134, although
Tracker will not search your Gmail unless it’s been downloaded using
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Evolution).
Both Google Desktop and Picasa can be downloaded by adding Google’s
APT repository to your system. However, for reasons best known to
Google’s engineers, Google Earth can’t be installed this way and must
be installed manually.
Installing Google Desktop and Picassa
The following instructions explain how to add the Google APT repository, install Google Desktop and Picasa, and configure them afterwards:
1. Start by adding Google’s APT repository to your Ubuntu setup.
This will let you install the applications using Synaptic and also
receive regular updates in a fuss-free way. Click System → Administration → Software Sources and then click the Third-Party Software
tab. Click the Add button and then type the following:
deb http://dl.google.com/linux/deb/ stable non-free
2. Still in the Software Sources application, click the Authentication
tab. Then open a terminal window and type the following to download the Google APT GPG key, which will authenticate any Google
packages you install:
$ wget https://dl-ssl.google.com/linux/linux_signing_key.pub
In the Software Sources program window, click the Import Key File
button. Then navigate to and select the file you downloaded—it will
be saved in your /home folder and be called linux_signing_key.pub.
Once done, click the Close button in the Software Sources program
window. Agree to reload the list of applications.
3. Following this, you can use Synaptic to install the Google packages. Here are their package names:
Google Desktop Search: google-desktop-linux
Picasa: picasa
If installing Picasa, it is also a good idea to install the Microsoft
fonts, as described in Tip 170, on page 206. This is because the
program is actually a modified Windows program made to work
using the Wine program (for more information about Wine, see
Tip 216, on page 249; note that the Wine components are “builtin” to Picasa, so are not visible to the user).
4. Once installed, Picasa can be started by clicking Applications →
Other → Picasa. Before running it, click Applications → Other →
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Picasa Font Settings. Click the Menu Font tab and change the Menu
Font Size setting to 13. This will ensure Picasa’s menus are readable
and not in too small a font. Then quit the application and start
Picasa. To sign into your web albums, click the link at the topright of the program window.
5. Google Desktop will be added to the Applications → Google Desktop menu. Once started it will add a new icon to your notification
area which, when clicked, will open the Google Desktop search
window. To have Google Desktop search your Gmail too, rightclick the icon, select Preferences, and then click the Gmail tab in
the browser window that appears. Check the Index and search email
in my Gmail account box, and then provide your login details when
prompted.
Note that Google Desktop first needs to index your files and emails
before searching will be successful. To see how far it has progressed, right-click the notification area icon, select Index, and
then click Index Status.
Google Desktop will start automatically upon login following its
initial activation.
Installing Google Earth
Google Earth for Linux must be downloaded and installed manually.
This isn’t difficult—just follow these instructions:
1. Follow the instructions in Tip 170, on page 206, and install the
Windows fonts. This is useful because Google Earth is actually an
adapted Windows program made to work under Wine, and as such
looks and functions better with typical Windows fonts. For more
information about Wine, see Tip 216, on page 249; note that the
Wine components are “built-into” Google Earth and aren’t visible
to the user.
2. Google Earth requires your computer to be using 3D drivers for
best performance. Click System → Hardware Drivers to check that
this is the case for your PC and, if necessary, choose to enable 3D
drivers (users of computers containing recent Intel and some ATI
graphics chips do not need proprietary drivers).
3. Browse to http://earth.google.com and opt to download the installation file. Once the file has downloaded, you can install it by open-
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Figure 3.49: Google Earth (see Tip 282, on page 325)
ing a terminal window and typing the following (this assumes the
file has been downloaded to your desktop):
$ chmod +x ~/Desktop/GoogleEarthLinux.bin
$ ~/Desktop/GoogleEarthLinux.bin
When the installer dialog box appears, click inside the Install Path
text field and put a period before google-earth. On my test PC, this
meant the line read /home/keir/.google-earth. Then click the Begin
Install button.
Following this you can start Google Earth by double-clicking its desktop
icon. See Figure 3.49 for an example of Google Earth running on my test
PC.
There’s no Linux version of the handy Gmail Notifier program, the system tray application that can inform you of new Gmail messages. However, there is a community-created alternative that’s perhaps even better: see Tip 296, on page 346.
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Install MS Comic Sans-style fonts
MS Comic Sans is the “handwriting” font offered under Microsoft Windows and is supposed to be based on handwriting used in comic speech
bubbles. It has to be said that there are possibly more people who dislike it than actually like it, but Comic Sans lovers might have already
spotted that Ubuntu has only one handwriting font out of the box
(Purisa).
Luckily, some excellent handwriting fonts are just a download away
via Synaptic—use it to search for and install the ttf-fifthhorseman-dkghandwriting, ttf-sjfonts, and ttf-breip packages. The fonts that will be installed
are called Delphine, Steve, Breip and DkgHandwriting. Additionally,
you might be interested in the ttf-dustin package, which includes a handful of fonts, one of which—Domestic Manners—has a similar “marker
pen” feel to MS Comic Sans.
284
Use alternative office
applications
The office suite provided with Ubuntu, OpenOffice.org, is certainly comprehensive. However, it’s not the only set of office applications available
for Ubuntu. Here are some alternatives you might like to try—all are
just a download away via Synaptic.
• Abiword: Abiword is a word processor that ties in tightly with the
GNOME desktop look and feel. It understands most common document file formats, including Microsoft Word, and supports all
of the common ease-of-use features you might be used to, such
as live spell-checking, WYSIWYG page formatting, font previews,
mail merge, and more. As is typical with open source applications,
a plugin structure is utilized, meaning that function add-ins are
available—for more details of the plugins that are available, see
http://www.abisource.com/wiki/PluginMatrix.
Abiword can be installed by using Synaptic to search for and
install the abiword-gnome package. You should also add-in the
useful abiword-plugins package, which automatically installs a hand-
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Figure 3.50: Abiword word processor (see Tip 284, on the previous
page)
ful of the more useful plugins, including a thesaurus tool (most of
the plugins, once installed, can be found on the Tools menu). Once
installed, you’ll find Abiword on the Applications → Office menu.
For an example taken from my test PC, see Figure 3.50.
• Gnumeric: In many ways Gnumeric is the spreadsheet equivalent of Abiword, being closely tied-in to the GNOME look and feel
(hence the name, pronounced the same hard G as “GNOME”).
It too features excellent file format support, being able to read
the pervasive Microsoft Excel spreadsheet type (although, unfortunately, it doesn’t understand Visual Basic macros; for that you’ll
need to use OpenOffice.org). However, most of the useful mathematical functions from Excel are included and Gnumeric also features a plugin structure, so its usability can be expanded. Gnumeric also claims to be more accurate than its competitors—apparently,
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a recent report found that Gnumeric was even more accurate than
Excel when it came to statistical analysis! See the Gnumeric website for more information: http://www.gnome.org/projects/gnumeric.
Gnumeric can be installed by using Synaptic to search for and
install the gnumeric package. Once installed it can be found on the
Applications → Office menu.
• Koffice: It’s probably fair to call Koffice the KDE Desktop Project’s
equivalent of OpenOffice.org but that isn’t to say that it’s a clone.
It’s a completely separate project, and in many ways exceeds the
boundaries set by OpenOffice.org. Included in the Koffice suite
are a word processor (KWord), a spreadsheet (KSpread), a presentations package (KPresenter—notice a naming theme here?), a
database application (Kexi), a flowcharting application, like Microsoft
Visio (Kivio), a drawing application (Karbon14), a bitmap image
editor (Krita), and a project management tool (KPlato). Phew! And
I haven’t mentioned several support applications, such as KChart,
which is a graphing and charting tool.
All the applications are designed to work under KDE but operate
fine under the GNOME desktop of Ubuntu, although their look and
feel is sufficiently different to be a little off-putting at first. Additionally, some applications take a rather unorthodox approach
to usability—KWord is based around the concept of frames, for
example, like the Windows application Adobe FrameMaker. However, each of the applications include just about every function
you would expect, and each understands the relevant Microsoft
Office file format. It’s well worth spending some time to explore
their features.
To install Koffice, use Synaptic to search for and install the koffice
package. Note that a lot of support packages will be added and
the total size of download is large. Once the suite has installed,
the applications can be found on the Applications → Office menu.
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285
THE
F IREFOX
ROBOT TALK TO YOU
Have the Firefox robot talk to you
Open a Firefox window and type about:robots in the address bar to see
the Firefox 3 easter egg. Do you know which book the third line of the
text that pops-up is taken from? Here’s a hint: Meditate on the number
42.
286
Backup your data
If they aren’t already, regular backups should be a part of your routine.
The fact is that computers are fallible and hard disks break. Humans
are also fallible and tired minds mean we don’t always watch what we
type or click.
Backup is one task that Linux is particularly good at and a wealth of
command-line tools are available. For this tip we’re going to look at
a GUI tool called Simple Backup, which automates the procedure of
backup but uses the traditional backup tools. It produces the standard
Linux backup filetype: compressed tar archives.
But what kind of data should you backup? Data on your system falls
into three broad categories: program data, configuration data, and personal data. It’s reasoned that backing up all three is inefficient, because
that would mean backing up the entire hard disk. Even if you have
the storage capacity, this simply takes too long. Therefore people usually back up configuration and personal data. If a disaster strikes, the
operating system can be reinstalled from CD and, once the configuration files are restored from the backup, it should work just like it did.
Part of the technique of backing-up is to copy the backup archives you
create to a secure location. Backup files should certainly be copied off
the hard disk that contains the original data as soon as possible after
creation. Good choices for safe storage of the backup onto are rewritable
DVD discs, or a separate hard disk that connects via a USB connection.
Some higher-capacity USB memory sticks can also be used.
To install Simple Backup, use Synaptic to search for and install sbackup.
Once installed, two new entries will be found on the System → Administration menu: Simple Backup Config, and Simple Backup Restore. As
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Figure 3.51: Simple Backup Configuration (see Tip 286, on the
preceding page)
you might expect, Simple Backup Config is used to create or amend the
backup job, while Simple Backup Restore is used after the disaster has
occurred to restore the files.
Creating and scheduling a backup job
Start by clicking System → Administration → Simple Backup Config. In
the program window that appears, you’ll have three choices: Use recommended backup settings, Use custom backup settings, and Manual backups
only. See Figure 3.51 for an example.
Automated backups
The first option configures Ubuntu to run an automated backup job
every day, in the background and shortly after the computer has booted
for the first time. Vital configuration files along with all the data within
users’ /home folders are backed-up, although audio and video files as
well as any file over 100MB are ignored to avoid the backup archive
becoming too large.
Once an initial backup has been taken, the daily backup pass creates
incremental backups, meaning that only altered files are backed-up.
This makes all subsequent backup passes much faster.
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If all of this sounds like what you want then select the Use recommended
backup settings option and click the Save button. Then click the Backup
Now! button to create the first backup. And that’s all you need do. You
can immediately close the Simple Backup window because the actual
backup job runs entirely in the background. The downside of this is
that you have no progress display but, generally speaking, it’s best to
wait about an hour for the backup to complete. You can check on the
backup job from the command line by typing the following:
$ ps aux|grep tar
This checks for the tar archiving program amongst the currently running processes. Look for the command in the output—it will probably
run across several lines and begin tar -czS -c / -no-recursion.... If the command is not listed in the output (ignore grep tar in the output), then the
command has finished.
The backup folder containing the actual backup archive and necessary
directory files will be placed in the /var/backup folder (not /var/backups!).
It will have a .ful extension. You can copy this folder to wherever you
wish (for example, a DVD-RW disc, depending on size).
Subsequent incremental and much smaller backup folders will be saved
to the same location every day (these will have .inc extensions), although
every seven days a completely new backup will be taken, which will
result in a new main backup .ful folder. Old backup files are automatically deleted after 30 days. Each backup file is named after the day’s
date. Note that you should copy the incremental backup files to your
chosen storage media along with the main backup file—incremental
files are useless without the main backup file.
Configuring backup jobs
If you want to tweak the backup job, click the Use custom backup settings button. Then click the tabs to change the options. The backup is
entirely configurable but here are some particular options you might
like to change:
• Backup all types and sizes of file: If you intend to store the eventual backup archives on an external hard disk, there’s no reason
why you shouldn’t backup all the files in your /home folder, including multimedia files, which tend to make the eventual backup
archive very large. To allow this to happen, click the Exclude tab,
click the Max Size sub-tab on the left of the program window and
remove the check alongside Do not backup files bigger than[[Author:
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sic]] . Additionally, click the File Types sub-tab and remove all the
entries in the list by highlighting them and clicking the Remove
button.
• Changing the backup file location: By default the backup files are
saved to /var/backup (not /var/backups!) but you might choose to
save them direct to an external hard disk or a network share. To
do this, click the Destination tab and select Use custom local backup
directory. Then click the file browse dropdown and select the location.
• Changing the backup time: By default the backup will occur each
day shortly after your computer has booted for the first time. To
change it so that the backup occurs hourly, weekly, or monthly,
click the Time tab and select the relevant option from the Do Backups dropdown list. To set a specific time when the backup should
occur—maybe 1.30pm while you’re at lunch, for example—click
the Precisely button and set the time in the Hour and Minute boxes.
If you select Weekly or Monthly in the Do Backups dropdown list,
you’ll also be able to select from the Day of month or Day of week
lists.
Once done, click the Save button and then the Backup Now button to
create the initial backup.
Restoring a backup
If the worst happens and you need to restore any number of files from
the backup, click System → Administration → Simple Backup Restore.
If the very worst happens and you had to reinstall Ubuntu from scratch
then ensure you recreate the exact same username for yourself—this
will avoid problems with file ownerships and restored file locations.
Then follow these steps to restore the data:
1. The first step is to select the location of the backup archives.
Select the Use Custom radio button and click the folder icon to
open a file browse dialog so you can navigate to where the backup
is stored. It’s important not to specify the backup folder itself—
just the folder that it’s in. For example, if the backup folder was
stored on your desktop, you should enter /home/username/desktop
as the location (replacing username with your username). Once
done, click the Apply button. This will cause Simple Backup to
scan the archives.
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Figure 3.52: Simple Backup Restore (see Tip 286, on page 332)
2. Click the Available Backups drop-down list to choose a backup from
which to restore—they are sorted by the dates they were made.
3. Once the backup has been selected, the files that the backup
archive contains will be displayed below the Files and Folders to
restore heading, as shown in Figure 3.52. Each folder will have a
small triangle to its left, which you can click to expand the folder
and show its contents.
4. After you’ve found the file(s) or folders you want to restore, highlight them, and then click the Restore button. To restore system
configuration settings, you should select to restore /etc, /usr and
/var. Beware: this will rewrite the files and folders to their original
locations. Files or folders already there with matching filenames
will be overwritten! If you want to restore any files to a different
location, click the Restore As button, and then choose a folder.
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U SE
287
THE
U BUNTU
INSTALL
CD
AS A GENERAL - PURPOSE PAR TITIONING TOOL
Use the Ubuntu install CD as a
general-purpose partitioning tool
The Ubuntu install CD includes Gparted, a powerful partitioning tool
that can create, delete and also resize partitions. It’s there to aid Ubuntu
installations but there’s no reason why that’s all it should ever do. It
doesn’t just work with Linux partition types—it can create, delete and
resize most Windows and Macintosh partition types. Considering that
this kind of functionality costs a lot of money in the form of commercial products like Norton PartitionMagic, the Ubuntu install CD should
have a place in any PC repairman’s kit—even if they don’t use Ubuntu!
To use the Gparted, boot from the Ubuntu install CD, select Try Ubuntu
from the boot menu and, when the desktop appears, click System →
Administration → Partition Editor. The best thing is that, while the
repairman is waiting for the partitioning to finish, he can use Ubuntu
to browse the web or play games on the Applications → Games menu!
Even PartitionMagic doesn’t offer that!
Once the live distro mode is up and running, software can be installed,
just like on a “real” Ubuntu installation. If you really are in the business
of fixing Windows computers, you might be interested in installing the
ntfsprogs package, which, amongst other things, can help fix NTFS file
systems. See Tip 38, on page 98.
288
Give old Macintosh computers a
new lease of life
When Apple introduced OS X, lots of less powerful computers were left
out in the cold, unable to cope with the high hardware requirements.
This is still the case today, as newer releases of OS X simply refuse to
work on even quite recently-manufactured computers.
But there’s no need to turn them into doorstops just yet. Ubuntu is
available in a PowerPC remix that will run on computers containing
G3, G4 and G5 chips. However, the very latest releases of Ubuntu aren’t
officially supported, meaning that future security updates aren’t guar-
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U SE
ABSOLUTELY ANY PICTURE AS AN ICON
anteed. The previous long-term support release, 6.06 Dapper Drake, is
supported on PowerPC until June 2009.
The PowerPC versions of Ubuntu can be downloaded from http://cdimage.
ubuntu.com/ports/releases/—just select the version number you’re inter-
ested in and then click the release link. Then select the “Mac (PowerPC)
and IBM-PPC (POWER5) desktop CD” link. For instructions on how to
install Ubuntu on older Macs, including a handful of caveats to watch
out for, visit https://wiki.ubuntu.com/PowerPC.
289
Use absolutely any picture as an
icon
Any image file can be used as an file/folder/launcher icon—even JPEG
images straight from your digital camera. Just right-click the file/folder/launcher,
select Properties, and click the icon preview at the top left of the dialog that appears. Then browse to the image. Don’t forget that desktop
icons can also be resized (see Tip 79, on page 138), allowing you to
create quarter desktop-sized icons of your partner’s face which, when
double-clicked, launch the terminal program. Should you want to...
290
Install the GNOME wallpapers
The GNOME Project supplies the desktop technology used by Ubuntu,
and the default installation of GNOME includes several very pretty wallpapers that sadly aren’t included with Ubuntu. However, you can get
them by using Synaptic to search for and install the gnome-backgrounds
package. Once installed, just right-click the desktop as usual and select
to Change Desktop Background. The new wallpapers will be included in
the list.
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Z OOM
291
IN FOR MORE INFO IN
N AUTILUS
Zoom in for more info in Nautilus
Did you know that the more you zoom-in to an icon in a Nautilus file
browsing window, the more file or folder information becomes visible?
Try it! Ensure icon view is active and click the zoom control on the
toolbar. You’ll see that new text is added to the label beneath each
showing how many files a folder contains, or a file’s size. To zoom in
using the main keyboard, hit Ctrl + = . To zoom out, type Ctrl + - . To
zoom in/out using the numeric keypad, if your computer has one, use
Ctrl + + and Ctrl + - .38
To change what information is revealed, click Edit → Preferences and
click the Display tab in the dialog that appears. Then choose from the
dropdown lists. Note that, although two file detail items can be displayed at Nautilus’ default zoom level, Nautilus is only configured to
show one by default.
292
Play MP3/Ogg files at the
command-line
So you’ve tweaked Ubuntu into a state of disrepair. Any hope of a GUI
is a pipe-dream, at least for the moment. While you hack away fixing
things, wouldn’t it be nice to have some music to console you at the
console?
Just switch to an unused virtual console, login, and type sudo apt-get
install vlc. VLC s a GUI media playback application mentioned in Tip 231,
on page 272, but it can also run with a text-mode interface—just start
it with the -I ncurses command option (note that’s a capital I, not L).
For example, to play back filename.mp3, I would type vlc -I ncurses filename.mp3. Multiple files can be specified one after the other, thus cre38. I should point out for the pedants amongst the readership that in Tip 291, I misstate the “zoom-in” keyboard shortcut. The required keyboard combination is actually
Ctrl + + . Of course, the = key doubles-up as both = and +, depending on whether
the Shift key is pressed. Nautilus is just considerate enough to realize that you mean
Ctrl + + when you actually hit Ctrl + = .
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O PTIMIZE U BUNTU ’ S
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ating a playlist, or a wildcard can be used to playback all files in a
particular folder (ie vlc -I ncurses ~/Music/*.mp3). Use a and z to alter the
volume.
Once the music starts playing, switch back to the original console to
continue enacting repairs (and maybe see Tip 30, on page 87, which
explains how to install a text-mode web browser; very useful for lookingup solutions!). See Tip 76, on page 133 to see how to alter the master
volume of the audio system at the command-line—this might be necessary if playback is too quiet.
293
Optimize Ubuntu’s performance
If you’re using Ubuntu on an older computer, you might find that performance is not what you’d like. The best solution is always to expand
the system if possible, and more memory will make the biggest difference. However, if that’s not possible then you might want to try prelinking. This makes for faster program start times by linking library files
and executables for better memory usage. However, it doesn’t work with
all programs and larger programs in particular seem to benefit most. In
fact, you may not see much improvement and a handful of users have
even reported that some applications won’t start after prelinking. However, it’s trivial to remove prelinking, so you might as well give it a try.
To enable prelinking, start by using Synaptic to search for and install
the prelink package. Once installed, open a terminal window and open
the prelink configuration file in Gedit:
$ gksu gedit /etc/default/prelink
Look for the line that reads PRELINKING=unknown and change it to read
PRELINKING=yes. Then save the file and close Gedit.
Prelinking is now activated and a prelinking pass of your system’s executable files will run in the background periodically, but it’s a good idea
to create an initial prelinking pass of the system. To do this, type the
following into a terminal window:
$ sudo prelink -a
It will take some time to complete, and you’ll see a lot of output, but
don’t worry about it. Once complete, try starting some of the larger
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applications on your system—OpenOffice.org Writer, for example, or
Firefox—to see if there’s any improvement in start times.
Should prelinking cause problems, type the following to remove it from
your executable files:
$ sudo prelink -ua
Then uninstall the prelink package using Synaptic.
294
Tweak Ubuntu into oblivion
Some people are born with the desire to poke around inside their operating system’s deepest settings. If you’re one of them then take a look
at Ubuntu Tweak, a program created by an Ubuntu community member. It brings to the surface usually hidden GNOME desktop settings to
allow for true customization.
To install it, click System → Administration → Software Sources, then
the Third-Party Software tab, and the Add button. Then type the following
into the dialog box:
deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/tualatrix/ubuntu hardy main
Click the Add Source button, and agree to refresh the list of software
when prompted. Following this, close Software Sources and use Synaptic to search for and install the ubuntu-tweak and compizconfig-settingsmanager packages. Once installed, Ubuntu Tweak can be found on the
Applications → System Tools menu.
The tweaks are split-up into six categories: Applications, Startup, Desktop, Personal, System, and Security, and the details are as follows (for
an example of the interface, see Figure 3.53, on the following page):
• Applications: This section lets you install and remove some of
the most popular Ubuntu software, including adding a handful
of third-party APT repositories to add-in useful third-party applications. It’s well worth investigating the lists of software provided
because they filter out much of the dross available in the package
archives.
• Startup: Here you can control what happens when the Ubuntu
desktop appears, such as what programs automatically run, or
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Figure 3.53: Ubuntu Tweak (see Tip 294, on the preceding page)
whether the splash screen appears. Much of the same functionality can be accessed using the System → Preferences → Sessions
program.
• Desktop: This option gives control over the desktop and windows
appearance/operation, such as whether desktop icons appear, or
what happens when you double-click the title bars of windows.
You can also configure some of the desktop effects functions (select
the Compiz Fusion option), and unlike CompizConfig Settings Manager, as described in Tip 74, on page 131, everything is kept very
simple and only the most pertinent options are offered for tweaking.
• Personal: This is something of a grab-bag of options related to
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DO
JUST ABOUT ANYTHING TO A FILE BY RIGHT - CLICKING IT
your useraccount that don’t fit elsewhere. You can alter the location of your document folders, for example, or add some template
documents to the right click Create Document menu.
• System: Here you can change options relating to how the GNOME
desktop used by Ubuntu functions, including the Nautilus file
manager and also some specific power management settings.
• Security: This option lets you “lock down” some features of the
Ubuntu desktop, such as stopping people hitting Alt + F2 to run
arbitrary programs. If you’ve followed Tip 50, on page 113, which
explains how to “child-proof” Ubuntu, this could be very useful.
295
Do just about anything to a file
by right-clicking it
In a default Ubuntu setup, right-clicking a file offers the opportunity to
open it with an application, or delete it, rename it, and so on. Wouldn’t
it be useful if you could add your own right-click option that performed
a specific action on the file? For example, if you right-clicked a Microsoft
Word or OpenOffice.org document, how about if a Print document option
appeared? If you right-click an image, how about if an option appeared
to shrink the image, or sharpen it?
All of this is possible using the Nautilus Actions add-in. As its name
suggests, this lets you add options to the right-click menu that perform
certain actions on particular types files. It’s very simple to create your
own action but hundreds of ready-made scripts are available and can
be imported easily.
To install Nautilus Actions, use Synaptic to search for and install nautilusactions. Once installed, the configuration program can be found on the
System → Preferences menu.
Creating a configuration from scratch
Let’s take as an example adding a Print document option that will appear
whenever a word processing document is right-clicked. This takes advantage of the fact that OpenOffice.org Writer can be used from the commandline to print any document by using the -p command option, without
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actually starting the program in editing mode—for example, oowriter -p
filename.doc.
Here are the necessary steps (these steps can, of course, be adapted for
any type of file and/or action):
1. Start by running the Nautilus Actions Configuration program, which
can be found on the System → Preferences menu. When the program window appears, click the Add button.
2. In the Label field of the dialog that appears, type Print document.
This is the text that will actually appear on the right-click menu
and can be anything you wish. You can add some text to the Tooltip
menu too—this will appear if the mouse is hovered over the menu
option. However, it isn’t essential. You can also select a suitable
icon from the Icon dropdown. This will appear alongside the new
entry on the menu but, again, it isn’t essential.
3. In the Path field, type /usr/bin/oowriter. Most programs you use every
day can be found in /usr/bin, and it’s necessary to provide the path
to the program along with its command-line filename. If you are
in any doubt as to where an application “lives,” open a terminal
window and type whereis command, replacing command with the
name of the command in question.
4. In the Parameters text field, specify any command options that
are needed, along with the filename and path. For our particular example, we need to type -p and then %d/%f, so the line reads
-p %d/%f. %d and %f are Nautilus Actions shorthand—%d refers to
the path of the file that’s been right-clicked, and %f refers to the
filename itself. The slash in the middle separates the two, just like
at the command-line. As you type, an example of the command
that will be executed appears at the bottom of the dialog box. This
is effectively what you would type at the command-line to run the
same command, so you can check to ensure it makes sense.
5. Click the Conditions tab. Here we can ensure that the new Print document option only appears whenever we right-click word processing document files, and not any others. We do this by specifying
file extensions in the Filenames text field—several extensions can be
entered but they must be separated by a semicolon (;). Most word
processing documents you’re likely to encounter will be .doc, .sxw,
.rtf, or .odt files. If you know you will encounter others—for example, WordPerfect documents (which use the .wpd file extension)—
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Figure 3.54: Nautilus Actions configuration (see Tip 295, on page 343)
then add the relevant file extension. Precede each file extension
by a wildcard (an asterisk). See Figure 3.54 for an example. Once
done, click OK. Click the Close button on the main Nautilus Actions
configuration window.
Following this you can test your new action by right-clicking a word
processing document and selecting the new option—it will appear about
two thirds of the way down the menu. Try right-clicking other non-word
processing files too and note how the option doesn’t appear. If the menu
option doesn’t appear when it should, try logging out and then back in
again.
Note that, if you find it annoying that the OpenOffice.org splash screen
appears even when just printing a file automatically, see Tip 197, on
page 236 for details of how to turn it off.
Importing configurations made by others
By visiting http://www.grumz.net/index.php?q=configlist you can download
Nautilus Action schemas (effectively configuration files) for just about
any task you might want to do to any kind of file. To download a
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G ET
NOTIFIED OF NEW
G MAIL
MESSAGES
schemas file[[Author: sic - with an s]] , click on the header in the list
and then click the schemas link to download.
Be sure to read the schemas description to see if any particular software
is needed. For example, schemas that manipulate images will almost
certainly need the ImageMagick software installed, so use Google to
search for it. Schemas that manipulate video files fill probably need
the ffmpeg software installed. Bear in mind that the notes alongside
each schemas are probably not written specifically for Ubuntu users,
so don’t name specific packages you’ll need. You might have to use
common-sense when searching through Synaptic’s package archive.
Once the schemas has downloaded, open Nautilus Actions Configuration (System → Preferences menu) and click the Import/Export button.
Then click the button to the rigt of the File to Import text field and browse
to the schemas file. Then click the OK button, and then the Close button in the Nautilus Actions parent window. The new menu option will
appear immediately although you might have to log in and out again to
see the icon (if applicable) appear alongside its entry in the list.
296
Get notified of new Gmail
messages
Part of the usefulness of Google’s Gmail service is provided by the Notifier programs provided for Windows and Mac OS X, and which tell you
about new messages from the system tray area. Sadly Google doesn’t
currently produce a Linux version, but no worry—just use Synaptic to
download the community-created checkgmail package.
Once installed, you’ll need to make the program start on boot-up, so
click System → Preferences → Sessions, click the Add button, and in
the dialog that appears, type checkgmail in both the Name and Command field. Leave the Comment field empty and click the OK button.
Then close all programs, and log out and back in again.
As soon as the desktop appears, a dialog box will pop-up asking you
to input your Gmail details. You’ll only see this once. Fill in your username and password in the relevant text boxes. If you don’t want to
be prompted for your password each time you login, click the Save Password box, but bear in mind that password is saved as a text file that any
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OCR
SCANNED TEXT
user of the system can access, so this is considered insecure. There’s
no need to change any of checkgmail’s other details, so click the OK
button.
Following this, a new Gmail icon will be added to the notification area.
It will change from grey to red to indicate new mail, and a small window
will scroll down to tell you who the sender is. If there’s more than one
message, the senders will be listed in order in the scroll-down window.
You can then hover the mouse over the icon to see previews of the
messages , and select any of them to open them in Firefox (or just click
the icon itself to view your Inbox). To create a new mail, right-click the
icon and select Compose mail.
If you’d like to be notified of emails in non-Gmail accounts, see Tip 246,
on page 286. To search your Gmail messages from the desktop, consider installing Google Desktop—see Tip 282, on page 325.
297
OCR scanned text
Optical Character Recognition is the process of turning printed text into
electronic text. Utilizing it under Ubuntu is a breeze, as follows:
1. Start by using Synaptic to search for and install gocr. This is
optical character recognition software that integrates into XSane,
Ubuntu’s scanner program. Once installed, it doesn’t create an
Applications menu entry.
2. Instead gocr is accessed through XSane, so start the program
(Applications → Graphics → XSane Image Scanner). Before scanning, you must choose settings conducive to good OCR, so, on the
main XSane control panel, set the image type dropdown list to
Gray and the resolution dropdown to 300. These two dropdowns
aren’t labelled but can be found roughly in the middle of the XSane
configuration window, as shown in Figure 3.55, on the next page.
3. In the XSane Preview window, click the Acquire Preview button.
This will run a preview scan. In the resulting image, drag the
selecting bounding box in the Preview window from the edges of
the image in order to tightly define the text area that you want to
scan. Ensure you crop-out as much surrounding area as possible—
this will help avoid errors in the OCR output.
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OCR
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Figure 3.55: Changing the resolution and color settings of the OCR scan
(see Tip 297, on the previous page)
4. Back in the main XSane control panel window, click the Scan button.
5. Once the scan is complete and the image viewer window appears,
rotate the image so it’s the right way up using the relevant toolbar
buttons (if necessary). Then click File → OCR - Save As Text. A dialog box will then pop-up asking you for the name of the file you’d
like to create. After you click the Save button, the OCR process
will start and might take some time to complete, depending on the
complexity of the scanned page. Alas, no progress display is provided, although the image viewer window will remain grayed-out
and unresponsive until the OCR process has completed.
Once the OCR process has completed, take a look at the output file. It’s
unlikely this will be perfect and you should definitely check it against
the original source to correct errors. I noticed that apostrophes seem to
cause problems with the character recognition. You might even want to
try scanning again, this time perhaps altering the brightness and contrast settings in the main XSane control panel window before scanning.
Perhaps it goes without saying that less complex documents tend to
OCR better—straight text on a page is likely to produce a better result
than complex magazine layouts involving pictures, colored backgrounds
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and different fonts/sizes. If you have to scan such documents, it might
be worth scanning parts of the page piece by piece by selecting each
column or block of text in the image scan preview window, scanning it
separately, and running an OCR pass on it.
298
Use Ubuntu’s movie player to
watch YouTube movies
Like many open source applications, Totem utilizes a plugin structure,
meaning that its functionality can be expanded by add-in modules. Several are supplied out of the box, including a YouTube browser. This lets
you search for and playback YouTube videos within Totem. However,
none of the plugins are activated.
To activate the YouTube plugin, start Totem (Applications → Sound &
Video → Movie Player), click Edit → Plugins, and put a check alongside
YouTube Browser in the list. Click the Close button and then, in the main
Totem program window, select YouTube from the dropdown headed Properties at the top right. Following this a search box will appear, in which
you can search for videos on YouTube. Double-click any entries in the
Search Results field to play them in Totem.
Note that you might need to follow the instructions in Tip 65, on page 125
to ensure all the multimedia codecs are installed prior to playback in
order to watch YouTube videos in Totem; for some reason, codec installation for YouTube videos isn’t automatic, as it is for other video file
formats.
299
Turn your desktop into your
/home folder
Do you use your desktop as a dumping ground for files, and pretty
much ignore your actual /home folder, which is where you should store
things? If so, you might be interested in this tweak, which effectively
makes Ubuntu use your /home folder for the desktop, instead of the
actual /home/username/Desktop folder. Anything saved to the desktop,
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such as files/folders dropped there, will be placed in your /home folder.
Additionally, anything in your /home folder will appear on the desktop.
To give this a try, start gconf-editor and navigate to /apps/nautilus/preferences
and put a check alongside desktop_is_home_dir. Then log out and back
in again.
Remember that the contents of your desktop haven’t vanished. They’re
still in the Desktop folder in your /home folder.
300
Avoid programs quitting when
the terminal is closed
You might have noticed that, whenever you run a program from a terminal window, it quits when the terminal window is closed (there are some
exceptions to this, such as the Firefox web browser, but it’s generally
the case). There are a handful of ways around this. Perhaps the easiest
is to precede the command with nohup. For example, to run Gedit, you
might type nohup gedit. Try this now. Then close the terminal window
and see what happens (or, actually, what doesn’t happen).
The reason Gedit doesn’t quit is that nohup tells the new program to
ignore any future “hangup signals”, which is to say, Gedit is told ignore
requests to terminate that are sent to it when the terminal quits.
See also Tip 207, on page 241, which describes how to use the screen
command to create a command-line login that’s independent of any
terminal window.
301
Allow Terminal Server Client to
access VNC desktops
In Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron, the Remote Desktop Viewer software on
the Applications → Internet menu is used to access VNC-based remote
desktops. This is a new addition to Ubuntu’s software line-up and I
found it a little clunky. It also refused to connect to my MacBook’s
shared desktop.
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The Terminal Server Client program (Applications → Internet) was used
for this up until the 8.04 release and is rather more established than
Remote Desktop Viewer. However, out of the box in 8.04 it lacks support
for such connections—the VNC option on the Protocol menu is grayed
out. This is easily fixed—just use Synaptic to search for and install
xtightvncviewer. Then restart Terminal Server Client if you have it open.
VNC will now appear as an option under the Protocol dropdown list.
302
Search all of Ubuntu’s
“supported” software
One of the fun things about Ubuntu is the sheer volume of software
available, and it can be both entertaining and productive to spend a
few minutes (or hours) taking a look through what’s available. Ideally
you want to install the officially supported software because the other
software available might not be updated. You can make Synaptic sort
by supported software by clicking the second column heading in the
package view, but it’s a little slow when operating this way.
A better method is to use the Add/Remove program on the Applications
menu. By selecting Supported applications in the Show dropdown list, the
list of packages will filter to show only officially supported software. As
a bonus, you can then click the Popularity heading in the list to sort by
popularity, as voted by Ubuntu users who participate in the package
survey. This should then display particularly useful applications.
To install a software package, click the checkbox alongside it in the list
and then click the Apply Changes button.
303
Install Windows on a computer
that has Ubuntu on it
The Ubuntu installer is fully capable of squeezing Ubuntu onto a computer that has Windows on it. What about the other way around? What
if Ubuntu is the only operating system that’s installed and you want to
install Windows alongside?
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Figure 3.56: Resizing the Ubuntu partition to make space for Windows
(see Tip 303, on the preceding page)
Here’s how it’s done—these steps tell you how to make space for Windows, install it, and then repair the boot loader so that Ubuntu can
once again boot:
1. Boot from your Ubuntu installation CD/DVD and select the Try
Ubuntu... option from the Ubuntu installer boot menu. Once Ubuntu
is up and running click System → Administration → Partition Editor. This will start the Gparted partitioning tool.
2. Right-click the Ubuntu partition (it will be the largest in Gparted’s
display) and click Resize/Move. In the dialog that appears, click
and drag the right-hand edge of the partition so that the Ubuntu
partition shrinks to make space for Windows. About 3-4GB should
be enough, depending on your needs. Click the Resize/Move button.
Then click the Apply button in the main Gparted window. Once
resizing is complete, you should see that Gparted now indicates
an “unallocated” area to the middle-to-right of the disk display,
similar to that shown in Figure 3.56.
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Figure 3.57: Restoring the Ubuntu boot loader (see Tip 303, on
page 351)
3. Reboot the computer using your Windows installation CD/DVD
and install Windows as you would normally, on a blank hard
disk, but with one caveat—select the Unpartitioned Space option
when prompted where on the disk you want to install Windows.
Be careful you select it again after creating the partition—it will
probably be identified as Partition 3 [New (Raw)]. You’ll be warned
the other operating system on the disk must be marked inactive.
This is fine.
4. Once Windows installation has completely finished and the Windows desktop appears, reboot from your Ubuntu installation disk.
You’ll now need to restore the Ubuntu boot loader (you’ll no longer
be able to boot your Ubuntu installation on the hard disk, but
don’t worry—it’s still there!). Select the Try Ubuntu... option on the
menu. Once the Ubuntu desktop appears, open a terminal window
(Applications → Accessories → Terminal). Then type the following:
$ sudo grub
grub> find /boot/grub/stage1
You will see something like (hd0,0). Using this information, type
the following (see Figure 3.57 for an example):
grub> root (hd0,0)
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grub> setup (hd0)
grub> quit
Replace (hd0,0) with the details you discovered earlier, if applicable.
5. When you reboot, the Ubuntu boot menu will be back but you
now need to add an entry for Windows. Choose to boot Ubuntu
and, once the desktop appears, open a terminal window. Type gksu
gedit /boot/grub/menu.lst. At the bottom of the file, below the line
that reads ### END DEBIAN AUTOMAGIC KERNELS LIST, type the following (this assumes that, as described above, you created the Windows partition in the middle of the disk, in-between the Ubuntu
main and swap partitions):
title Boot into Windows
rootnoverify (hd0,1)
makeactive
chainloader +1
6. You’ll also need to change two lines at the top of the file—put a
hash before the line that reads hiddenmenu on its own, so that it
now reads #hiddenmenu. Then change the line that reads timeout 3
to read timeout 10 (the number of spaces between timeout and the
number don’t matter). Then save the file and reboot. You should
find that there’s now a Windows entry on the boot menu.
304
Turn your computer into a egg
timer
Nice and simple, this one. Just install timer-applet using Synaptic. Once
installed, right-click a blank spot on the panel and select Add to panel.
Then select Timer from the list. Click the applet that appears on the
panel (it will look roughly like a cook’s kitchen timer), and then set
three minutes in the Minutes text field for the perfect boiled egg (or any
other time in the Hours, Minutes or Seconds fields, in fact—it does more
than time boiling eggs). To pause the countdown, for any reason, just
click the timer.
If all you want to do is countdown how long it takes for a cup of tea to
brew, see Tip 307, on page 360.
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Create a portable USB stick
installation of Ubuntu
This is a handy hack that lets you install Ubuntu to a USB key stick,
so you can use it on just about any computer (provided the computer
concerned can boot from USB—computers younger than about three
years-old should be fine). This is ideal for situations where using a computer’s permanent operating system might pose a security risk, such
as in Internet cafes. You can even use it on computers that lack a hard
disk.
Unfortunately there are a number of caveats. Running Ubuntu from a
USB stick is slow, due to read/write speeds that are a fraction of those
of standard hard disks (write speeds in particular). Additionally, you’ll
need a large USB key stick to make this work properly—at least 4GB—
and the Ubuntu 8.04.1 install CD, or later, because there’s a bug in the
original 8.04 install CD that stops the new OS from booting correctly
once installed.39 See Tip 31, on page 88, to see how to get an Ubuntu
installation on smaller USB sticks, although a handful of compromises
are necessary in that case.
Here are the steps involved to install Ubuntu on a USB key stick:
1. If possible, disconnect any hard disks in your computer while you
carry out the installation onto the USB stick. This stops Ubuntu’s
setup routine from incorrectly referring to the USB key stick during boot menu configuration. Disconnecting the hard disk(s) can
be done by opening up your computer and temporarily removing
the data cable connected to the hard disk drive. If your drive is
SATA, bear in mind that the smaller of the two cable connections
is the data one—take a look at Figure 3.58, on the following page
to see where the data cables connect on SATA and older EIDE
hard disks.
39. The bug with the original Ubuntu 8.04 install CD causes the desktop to hang after
you login when installing on a USB key stick. If you have no choice but to use the
original install CD, the bug can be fixed by booting from the USB stick after installation,
then switching to a virtual console before logging in. Kill the X server (sudo killall gdm),
empty the /tmp folder (sudo rm -rf /tmp/*) and manually start X (startx). Once the desktop
appears, configure your network connection and update online. This will install new
system software that fixes the bug.
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Figure 3.58: Data cable connection points on typical hard disks (see
Tip 305, on the preceding page)
If you have a notebook computer, it might be possible to temporarily remove the hard disk—consult the manual, where removing the
disk might be described under the section describing upgrading it.
You’ll be able to reconnect the disks after the installation has finished.
However, if you can’t disconnect the hard disks, don’t worry too
much—it just adds a little complexity to the issue and you’ll have
to perform a handful of extra steps later on (and also whenever a
system upgrade brings a new kernel file).
2. Other than the step above, installing Ubuntu on a USB key stick
doesn’t differ much from installing it on any kind of storage device.
Ensure the stick is inserted and start by booting from the Ubuntu
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CD, selecting Install Ubuntu from the boot menu.
3. When Ubuntu starts, work through the usual questions and prompts
until you reach the partitioning stage. Then select Guided - use
entire disk and click the radio button alongside your USB key stick.
You should be able to identify it by brand and model, as well as
its capacity, which will be a lot less than the hard disks installed
in your computer (or it might simply be identified as USB DISK). If
you’ve disconnected your hard disks for the duration of the installation then there will only be one option here. Once done, click the
Forward button.
4. Again, follow through the installation procedure, creating your
new user account when prompted, until you reach Ready to install
summary screen. If you’ve disconnected your hard disks then simply click the Install button to start the installation. If the hard disks
are still connected, click the Advanced button. In the dialog that
appears, click the dropdown list under the Device for boot loader
installation heading and again look for the entry referring to your
USB key stick. However, select the entry beneath it in the list—it
will be identical to the entry for the key stick but have a 1 after it
(in other words, the first partition on the memory stick). For example, on my computer the memory stick was identified as /dev/sdb
Easy Disk (7.5GB), and I therefore selected the entry under this—
/dev/sdb1. See Figure 3.59, on the next page for an example. Once
done, click the OK button, and then the Install button in the parent
dialog.
5. If you installed Ubuntu without the hard disks connected, once
installation has finished you can now shutdown the computer,
reconnect the drives, and then boot the computer from the USB
stick to test everything. Don’t forget that some computers have to
be manually configured to boot from USB—this can normally be
done by hitting the Esc during initial self-testing to see a boot
device menu, or by changing a setting in the computer’s BIOS
setup screen.
6. If you installed Ubuntu to a USB disk with the hard disks connected, one more step is necessary before you can boot from the
USB stick. Reboot the computer using the Ubuntu installation CD
and select the Try Ubuntu option. Once the desktop appears, click
the USB stick’s entry on the Places menu to ensure it’s mounted
and that its files are available—you should be able to identify it on
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Figure 3.59: Selecting the right device to install the boot loader (see
Tip 305, on page 355)
the Places menu by its size.
7. You now need to ensure that the USB stick’s boot menu correctly refers to the USB key drive and this involves editing the
boot menu file. You will need to repeat this step whenever Update
Manager installs a new kernel update because the update process
will rewrite the boot menu. Open a terminal window and type the
following to open the menu.lst file on the USB key stick:
$ gksu gedit /media/disk/boot/grub/menu.lst
Look for the line that reads ## ## End Default Options ## and look
almost immediately underneath for a line beneath it for the first
line that reads root (hd1,0) (or similar—the first number might be
different on your computer if you have more than one hard disk
installed). Change it to read root (hd0,0). Although not essential,
you might want to change the two other identical lines in the boot
menu entries beneath so they say the same thing (ie root (hd0,0)).
These refer to the Ubuntu rescue boot option and memtest86+. You
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might also want to delete everything that appears beneath the line
that reads ### END DEBIAN AUTOMAGIC KERNELS LIST, so that it then
becomes the last line, because these are effectively useless boot
menu entries added by the Ubuntu installer that refer specifically
to the PC configuration used to create the USB Ubuntu installation. Once done, save the file and close Gedit.
Following this you should be able to reboot from the USB key stick.
Again, keep in mind that some computers have to be manually
configured to boot from USB—this can normally be done by hitting
the Esc during initial self-testing to see a boot device menu, or by
changing a setting in the computer’s BIOS setup screen.
306
Enhance the copy and paste
clipboard
Perhaps surprisingly, the GNOME desktop clipboard—as supplied with
Ubuntu—is rather basic. You can only copy and paste single items at a
time. Keeping a clipboard history—where several items can be held in
the clipboard at one time—can sometimes be useful, and is one of those
features that, once tried, is hard to give-up. Luckily the KDE desktop
project comes to the rescue with Klipper, a desktop applet that also
works under GNOME.40
To install it, use Synaptic to search for and install klipper. Be sure to
select the version of Klipper that’s officially supported by the Ubuntu
project—you can tell if this is the case because there will be an Ubuntu
logo alongside its entry in Synaptic’s list of packages.
Once installed, you’ll need to make Klipper start when you login, so
click System → Preferences → Sessions. In the program window that
appears, ensure the Startup Programs tab is selected, and click the Add
40. There is a Klipper-like project for the GNOME desktop—Glipper. Unfortunately it
didn’t function correctly with Ubuntu 8.04 in my tests, and selected text was added incorrectly so that the history list became prematurely full. Feel free to try Glipper, however—
the package is called glipper and, once installed, you can start the background demon by
typing /usr/lib/glipper/glipper. Then right-click a panel to add the Glipper applet (it’s referred
to in the applet list as Clipboard manager). If you intend to keep using Glipper, add it to
your startup items, as described in the tip above. Bear in mind that Klipper and Glipper
can’t work alongside each other.
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button. In both the Name and Command fields, type klipper. Leave the
Comment field empty. Then hit OK and log out and then back in. You
should now find the Klipper icon in the notification area.
Using Klipper is simplicity itself. It records any text that is copied/cut
into the clipboard, along with any text that is selected using click-anddrag using the mouse. You can then select from its history of cuttings
by clicking the icon, which will insert that cutting into the clipboard so
you can paste it as usual by clicking Edit → Paste within an application.
Klipper remembers the cut/copy history even after reboots. You can
boost Klipboard’s memory beyond the default seven entries by rightclicking it and selecting Configure Klipper. Then click and drag the Clipboard history size slider.
To turn off the perhaps less-than-useful facility of recording click-anddrag selections to the clipboard, open Klipper’s configuration options,
as described above, and put a check in Ignore selection. This can avoid
several seemingly blank entries being added to Klipper’s history list.
When configuring Klipper, bear in mind that many of its options and
program features only apply when the KDE desktop is being used. However, the core functionality works fine in the GNOME desktop.
See also Tip 244, on page 285, which explains how to utilize the cut
and paste function at the command-line.
307
Be told when your tea has
brewed
It’s said that the Boston Tea Party is responsible for the fact that America, unlike many parts of the world, doesn’t have a taste for hot tea.
Compare that to England or China, for example, where tea is drunk
by the gallon. Had the Boston Tea Party not happened then I’m sure
that the Teatime applet—which can be installed by searching Synaptic for the teatime and gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly packages—would be a
standard feature of Ubuntu. Put simply, it times how long tea should
be left to brew, and informs you when that time is up.
Once the package is installed, right-click a blank spot on the panel,
click Add to panel, and select Teatime from the list. Then right-click the
icon to select the the tea you’re brewing—Assam, Darjeeling, and green
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tea are available, amongst others. This will start the timer and, when
the tea is ready, you’ll be told courtesy of a spinning tea-cup in the
centre of the screen. Click the teacup to get rid of it. Then drink your
tea. But not too quickly or you’ll burn your lips.
308
Avoid bad formatting when
viewing OpenOffice.org files on
Windows
OpenOffice.org is pretty good at exporting files in Microsoft Office format but there might still be one or two occasions when what you created in Ubuntu just doesn’t translate well when opened in Microsoft
Office. Provided the document doesn’t need to be further edited by the
recipient, the solution is to save it as a PDF, in which case its formatting will remain fully intact. The recipient can then print it out at their
end, if need be.
To save as a PDF, just click File → Export as PDF within any OpenOffice.org application. Alternatively, if that doesn’t produce optimum results,
try printing to Ubuntu’s PDF printer—click File → Print, and select PDF
from the printer selection dropdown.
But what about OpenOffice.org Impress presentations, that include
moving images and maybe even sound? In that case, you should choose
to export the presentation as a Macromedia Flash file—click File →
Export and then select the option from the File type fold-down menu. The
recipient will then have to drag and drop the file onto his/her browser
window to open it (assuming they have Flash Player installed, and most
Windows computers do).
309
Fix USB key sticks that wrongly
report they’re full
Have you ever tried to copy files to a USB key stick (or other removable
storage device, such as a memory card), and received an error message
to say that the disk is full even though the total filesize of the files
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is nowhere near the USB key stick’s limit? The probable cause is the
invisible .Trash folder that Nautilus creates on a USB key stick each
time you delete something on it. This fills up with old files each time
you delete something on the USB stick.
The quickest solution is just to unmount the USB stick by right-clicking
it and selecting Unmount Volume. You should then be prompted if you
want to empty the trash on the device. Click the Empty Deleted Items
button, and then pull the USB stick out of your computer and reinsert
it again to remount it.
If this doesn’t work, or if you don’t see the prompt asking if you want to
empty the trash, you can delete the hidden trash folder using a handful of terminal commands. Start by reinserting the USB stick so it’s
mounted again. USB key sticks are usually mounted in the /media
folder, in a folder named after their label. For example, the USB key
stick on my test computer is called KINGSTON, so I opened a terminal
window and issued the following command to change into the relevant
folder: cd /media/KINGSTON.
Use the ls -a command to reveal hidden files, then use the rm -rf to
remove any file called .Trash, or a variation of this. On my test system
the folder was called .Trash-1000, so I typed the following to delete it:
$ sudo rm -rf .Trash-1000
In actual fact, assuming you’re using the USB stick simply to store files,
it might be wise to delete all other hidden files (those with a period in
front of them). Ubuntu isn’t alone in saving hidden files to the disk for
the purposes of trash (and more)—Macintosh OS X does too.
To stop the disk from getting full in this way in future, follow Tip 228, on
page 269, which describes how to add a Delete entry to the right-click
menu that bypasses the Trash facility. Unfortunately, at the present
time, it is not possible to disable Ubuntu’s Trash function.
310
Use Ubuntu’s built-in download
manager
Downloading big files that take a long time to arrive, such as new
Ubuntu installation ISO images, can be fraught with difficulties. You’ll
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need to have a perfect connection for the duration of the download (not
always possible with wifi), and the remote server may sometimes drop
the connection. Restarting from scratch to download a 670MB file when
669MB of it has arrived fine can be a very frustrating experience!
The solution is wget, Ubuntu’s built-in command-line download manager. It runs at the command-line and all you need do is specify the
complete path to the download file, including the http:// or ftp:// components, as applicable. For example, at the time of writing, the Ubuntu
8.04.1 release can be found at http://releases.ubuntu.com/hardy/ubuntu-8.
04.1-desktop-i386.iso, so to download this I would type the following into
a terminal window:
$ wget http://releases.ubuntu.com/hardy/ubuntu-8.04.1-desktop-i386.iso
As the download progresses, you’ll see a percentage figure progress display, along with figures showing how much has been downloaded and
the speed of the transfer. If wget loses the connection for any reason,
it’ll automatically try again, and attempt to resume where it left off. If
you want to quit the download, type Ctrl + c . Don’t forget to clear-up
the partially-downloaded file.
Because large downloads can take a long time, you might want to use
nohup with wget, to avoid wget quitting when the terminal window that
started it is closed. This will effectively invisibly download the file in the
background, and will persist even if you log out (to stop the download
if needed, type killall wget into a terminal window/virtual console). See
Tip 300, on page 350 for more information. Alternatively, you might
consider using screen to start the wget download in a background terminal instance that you can switch in and out of in order to check
progress—see Tip 207, on page 241 for more info.
You might also be interested in kget, which can be installed using
Synaptic (search for the kget package; don’t install the KDE4 version),
and provides a GUI front-end to wget. It’s officially a component of the
KDE desktop, and is designed to work with the Konqueror web browser,
but works fine under the GNOME desktop and Firefox of Ubuntu. Once
installed, you’ll find it on the Internet menu. You can drag and drop
download links to its program window to start them downloading, or
click Settings → Show Drop Target, for a small window onto which you
can drag and drop the download links, like with some Windows download managers. (Tip: Right-click the floating window’s minimize/maximize
buttons and select Always On Top; this will stop it falling behind other
program windows.)
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AN
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STAR TUP ERROR
Avoid an F-Spot startup error
When you start F-Spot for the first time after a fresh installation, you’ll
be warned that “The folder contents could not be displayed”. This is
caused by the fact that the Photos folder that F-Spot expects to find isn’t
present. It’s a trivial error but one that can be alarming for newbies.
To fix the problem, just rename the Pictures folder to Photos on any new
installation of Ubuntu. Following this F-Spot will startup without any
gripes.
312
Record your desktop
Have you ever been chatting on a website forum and been totally unable
to describe an action you’ve performed on Ubuntu? “Click the top bar—
the grey thing at the top, you know. Then drag the icon. The blue icon.
Drag it to the desktop...”
The fact is that it can be hard describing in words what are simple
procedures with a mouse. A solution is at hand, however. The Byzanz
application lets you record your desktop, a window, or a defined area
of the screen as a movie. The resulting file is an animated .gif, so is
viewable in almost any web browser ever made. You could attach it to a
forum posting if you’re asking for help, for example. The only downside
is that the resulting movie file can be large, depending on the area
you’ve defined and the length of the movie. Full desktop recordings can
easily run in at double-digit megabytes, in fact.
The package can be installed using Synaptic—search for byzanz. Once
installed, right-click a blank spot on the top panel and select Add to
panel. Then select Desktop Recorder from the list.
Once the application’s icon appears on the panel, click the small down
arrow next to it to select to record the desktop, an area of it, or a particular window. When selecting to record an area of the desktop, the
screen will turn black and you should click and drag to define where
you want to record (the screen turning black is an unfortunate bug,
and you’ll have to try and remember where on the desktop it is you
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T AKE
SCREENSHOTS IN ANY FORMAT
want to record). If you select to record a program window, the mouse
will turn to a cross-hairs—just click on the window you want to record.
Following this, recording will start. The Byzanz icon will turn to a red
circle to indicate this. When you’ve finished, click the red circle to stop
recording. You’ll then be prompted to save the movie file. Click Cancel
to discard the movie.
Bear in mind that resulting movie .gif files won’t play in Ubuntu’s default
image viewer, which will open when you double-click the file. You’ll see
nothing but the first frame. Instead, you must play them in Firefox to
see the full animation. To do this, right-click the file, and select Open
With → Open with "Firefox Web Browser".
313
Take screenshots in any format
Have you ever wondered why many Linux desktop screenshots on websites or even within books seem to have GIMP running? It’s not because
the authors are inveterate image tweakers. It’s because the GIMP includes
a powerful screenshot tool. To use it, start the program and click File
→ Acquire → Screenshot. Then make your selection of what you want
to capture from the dialog box that appears—single program window,
defined region, or entire screen. Particularly useful is the Delay function, listed under the above options, which allows you to set a delay (in
seconds) before the screenshot is taken.
Once taken, the screenshot will be opened as a GIMP image. You can
choose to crop it down, if necessary, or just click File → Save As, and
save it to disk. Remember that GIMP sets the image type automatically,
based on the file extension you type. So typing a file name of screenshot.bmp will automatically save the file in BMP format.
See also Tip 202, on page 238 to learn how to use Ubuntu’s built-in
screenshot tool. Note that this only saves in PNG format, however.
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314
TRACEROUTE ?
Where’s traceroute?
If you’re used to using the network diagnostic command traceroute, you
might wonder where it’s gone under Ubuntu. It’s simply been replaced
with tracepath, a similar tool that works in exactly the same way.
315
Automatically scroll PDF files
And now for the last tip in this monster of a book. If you’re viewing a long PDF file (such as, say, Ubuntu Kung Fu, if you purchased
it as a PDF file), then you can scroll automatically within the Evince
PDF viewer by right-clicking and selecting Autoscroll from the menu that
appears. Simply drag the mouse up or down to scroll through the pages.
The closer the middle of the program window the mouse cursor gets, the
slower the scrolling will be. Experiment with it. It takes a little while to
get used to but it can be very useful. Just click the left mouse button
to cancel when you’re done.
What do you mean I should have told you this tip right at the beginning,
so it would have helped you when reading the PDF? I did say back in
the introduction chapter that I don’t necessarily recommend reading
this book from the first tip onwards. In fact, I believe I might have
suggested staring at the back and working your way to the front...
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Index
B
Beginning Ubuntu Linux (Thomas), 15
T
Thomas, Keir, 15
U
caveats, 16
community site for, 16
errata, 17
forums, 17
origins of, 15
version, 17
V
Ubuntu
Versions, 17
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