Installing Ubuntu

Installing Ubuntu
Fully revised
and updated for
The complete introduction to Ubuntu
Emilio Raggi, Keir Thomas,Trevor Parsons,
Andy Channelle, and Sander van Vugt
Accompanying DVD includes full versions of Ubuntu 10.04,
as well as Kubuntu, Edubuntu, Xubuntu, and PPC releases!
Beginning Ubuntu Linux
Fifth Edition
Emilio Raggi, Keir Thomas,
Trevor Parsons, Andy Channelle,
Sander van Vugt
Beginning Ubuntu Linux, Fifth Edition
Copyright © 2010 by Emilio Raggi, Keir Thomas, Trevor Parsons, Andy Channelle, Sander van Vugt
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any
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To my wife, Pim, and my two children, Camilo and Dante
About the Authors.................................................................................................. xxi
About the Technical Reviewers ............................................................................ xxii
Introduction ......................................................................................................... xxiii
Part 1: Introducing the World of Linux .....................................................................1
■ Chapter 1: Meet Ubuntu Linux..............................................................................3
Ten Reasons to Try Ubuntu Linux ...........................................................................................................3
What Is Ubuntu Linux Anyway? .......................................................................................4
Ubuntu Linux Is an Operating System ....................................................................................................4
Ubuntu Is a Distribution of Linux, Based on Debian ...............................................................................5
Ubuntu Linux Is a Full Desktop Solution .................................................................................................6
The Ubuntu Linux Experience ..........................................................................................6
“Linux for Human Beings”......................................................................................................................6
A Powerful yet Flexible Operating System .............................................................................................7
Continuous Improvements......................................................................................................................8
The Product Family.................................................................................................................................9
The Ubuntu Linux Community...............................................................................................................10
Praise for Ubuntu Linux .................................................................................................11
Should I Stop Using Windows?.............................................................................................................11
Ubuntu Linux and its Strengths ............................................................................................................12
Summary .......................................................................................................................12
■ Chapter 2: GNU "slash" Linux ............................................................................13
UNIX ...............................................................................................................................13
The Rise of the IBM PC… and of Microsoft ...................................................................14
RMS on Free Software...................................................................................................14
The Quest for a UNIX-like Operating System .................................................................16
Linus Torvalds and His Little Project .............................................................................16
GNU “slash” Linux .........................................................................................................17
The Linux Diaspora ........................................................................................................18
Open Source ..................................................................................................................20
The South African Factor ...............................................................................................20
The Year of the Linux Desktop.......................................................................................21
Summary .......................................................................................................................22
Part 2: Installing Ubuntu.........................................................................................23
■ Chapter 3: Pre-installation Steps.......................................................................25
Understanding Partitioning ............................................................................................25
Freeing Up Space...........................................................................................................28
Reclaiming Space.................................................................................................................................28
Removing Windows ..............................................................................................................................29
Using Another Hard Disk.......................................................................................................................29
Backing Up Your Data ....................................................................................................31
Backing Up E-Mail Files........................................................................................................................33
Making Notes........................................................................................................................................33
Summary .......................................................................................................................34
■ Chapter 4: Installing Ubuntu ..............................................................................35
An Overview of the Installation Process ........................................................................35
A Stage-by-Stage Installation Guide..............................................................................37
Stage 1: Prepare the Windows Partition for Resizing...........................................................................37
Stage 2: Boot from the DVD-ROM.........................................................................................................39
Stage 3: Try or Install ...........................................................................................................................40
Stage 4: Select Your Location and Time Zone ......................................................................................41
Stage 5: Confirm Your Keyboard Layout...............................................................................................42
Stage 6: Repartition Your Hard Disk .....................................................................................................43
Stage 7: Set Up a User..........................................................................................................................54
Stage 8: Import Documents and Settings.............................................................................................56
Stage 9: Confirm Installation Choices...................................................................................................56
Stage 10: Perform Installation ..............................................................................................................57
Stage 11: Reboot and Enjoy Ubuntu! ....................................................................................................58
Summary .......................................................................................................................61
■ Chapter 5: Solving Installation Problems ..........................................................63
A. Preinstallation Problems............................................................................................63
The Disc Doesn’t Boot ..........................................................................................................................63
The Computer Is Having a Kernel Panic ...............................................................................................64
The DVD Starts to Boot, but the Screen Goes Blank or Corrupted........................................................64
The Computer Freezes During Installation ...........................................................................................65
Installer “Unrecoverable Error” Message.............................................................................................66
My Notebook Display Looks Corrupted During Installation ..................................................................66
I’m Using a KVM, and the Screen Looks Wrong ...................................................................................66
B. Installation Problems.................................................................................................67
I’m Offered Only a Text Login ...............................................................................................................67
The Computer Can’t Find My Hard Disk................................................................................................68
I See Lots of Hard Disks in the Partitioner............................................................................................68
I Have Too Many Partitions ...................................................................................................................68
C. Postinstallation Problems ..........................................................................................69
My Monitor Resolution Is Not Recognized ............................................................................................69
My Keyboard or Mouse Isn’t Working...................................................................................................69
The Computer No Longer Boots............................................................................................................70
Ubuntu Is Working, but Windows Won’t Boot .......................................................................................70
I Can See Only a Text Login Prompt .....................................................................................................71
Graphical Problems........................................................................................................71
Summary .......................................................................................................................74
Part 3: The No-Nonsense Getting Started Guide .....................................................75
■ Chapter 6: Booting Ubuntu for the First Time ....................................................77
Starting Up.....................................................................................................................77
Logging In ......................................................................................................................79
Exploring the Desktop....................................................................................................80
First Impressions ..................................................................................................................................81
Exploring the Panels.............................................................................................................................83
Shutting Down or Restarting Ubuntu ....................................................................................................85
Quick Desktop Guides...........................................................................................................................86
Running Programs .........................................................................................................90
Working with Virtual Desktops ......................................................................................90
Using the Mouse ............................................................................................................92
Cutting and Pasting Text................................................................................................93
Summary .......................................................................................................................93
■ Chapter 7: Getting Everything Up and Running..................................................95
Will Ubuntu Support My Hardware?...............................................................................95
Using Proprietary vs. Open Source Drivers...........................................................................................97
Installing Device Manager ....................................................................................................................98
Configuring Ubuntu........................................................................................................99
Configuring Input Devices............................................................................................100
Configuring Mouse Options ................................................................................................................100
Changing Keyboard Settings ..............................................................................................................103
Creating Keyboard Shortcuts..............................................................................................................106
Getting Online ..............................................................................................................106
Using NetworkManager ......................................................................................................................107
Configuring Wired Networking ...........................................................................................................108
Connecting to a Wireless Network .....................................................................................................110
Installing Windows Wireless Network Device Drivers ........................................................................113
Connecting to a Mobile Broadband Network ......................................................................................121
Working with a Proxy Server ..............................................................................................................123
Adding a Printer...........................................................................................................124
Configuring a Local Printer .................................................................................................................125
Configuring a Network Printer ............................................................................................................127
Configuring a Windows/SMB Shared Printer......................................................................................128
Administering a Printer.......................................................................................................................130
Using Digital Cameras, MP3 Players, and USB Memory Sticks ...................................130
Configuring a Scanner .................................................................................................132
Installing 3D Drivers and Activating Desktop Visual Effects ........................................133
Configuring Bluetooth ..................................................................................................135
Pairing Bluetooth Devices...................................................................................................................136
Transferring Files Between Bluetooth Devices...................................................................................137
Using a Bluetooth Keyboard or Mouse ...............................................................................................139
Configuring Sound Cards .............................................................................................140
Using Power-Management Preferences ......................................................................141
Summary .....................................................................................................................145
■ Chapter 8: How to Secure Your Computer .......................................................147
Windows Security vs. Linux Security...........................................................................147
Root and Ordinary Users..............................................................................................148
Setting Up for Encryption....................................................................................................................151
Encrypting and Decrypting Files.........................................................................................................160
Signing and Encrypting E-Mail ...........................................................................................................164
Commonsense Security . .............................................................................................165
Online Updates.............................................................................................................166
Configuring the Ubuntu Firewall . ................................................................................169
Installing Firestarter .............................................................................................................................169
Configuring Firestarter .........................................................................................................................170
Adding Virus Scanning to Ubuntu . ..............................................................................175
Installing ClamTk ..................................................................................................................................175
Updating the ClamAV Database . ..........................................................................................................176
Scanning for Viruses ............................................................................................................................176
Dealing with Infections.........................................................................................................................178
Summary .....................................................................................................................180
■ Chapter 9: Personalizing Ubuntu: Getting Everything Just Right.....................181
Changing the Look and Feel . ......................................................................................181
Altering the Theme ...............................................................................................................................182
Changing the Desktop Background . ....................................................................................................187
Setting Font Preferences ......................................................................................................................188
Using Desktop Visual Effects ................................................................................................................189
Changing Your Login Picture ................................................................................................................198
Adding and Removing Desktop Items. ........................................................................199
Adding a Shortcut.................................................................................................................................199
Personalizing the Panels . ....................................................................................................................202
Adding and Removing Menus. .............................................................................................................202
Moving Panel Items ..............................................................................................................................204
Working with Applets ...........................................................................................................................204
Summary . ...................................................................................................................207
■ Chapter 10: Managing Your Data .....................................................................209
Using Nautilus..............................................................................................................209
Changing the View Mode......................................................................................................................212
Searching for Files ...............................................................................................................................213
Working with File and Folder Icons ....................................................................................................214
Special Nautilus Windows ..................................................................................................................214
Launching Files and Running Programs.............................................................................................216
Viewing File Sizes and Other Information...........................................................................................218
Tips and Tricks for Nautilus................................................................................................................218
The Home Folder ................................................................................................................................219
Understanding File System Concepts ..........................................................................222
The File System Explained..................................................................................................................222
Drive References ................................................................................................................................225
Names of Files....................................................................................................................................225
Real Files and Virtual Files ..........................................................................................226
Working with Disks and Volumes ................................................................................228
Mounting Volumes..............................................................................................................................228
Viewing Disk and Volume Information................................................................................................229
Managing Disks ..................................................................................................................................230
Managing Volumes .............................................................................................................................231
Advanced File Operations ............................................................................................231
Working with Files in Windows Partitions ..........................................................................................232
Accessing Networked Files ................................................................................................................232
Sharing a Folder from Within Ubuntu .................................................................................................234
Accessing Removable Storage Devices..............................................................................................235
Working in the Computer Window ......................................................................................................235
Ejecting Media ....................................................................................................................................236
Summary .....................................................................................................................237
Part 4: Working and Playing with Ubuntu ............................................................239
■ Chapter 11: A World of Applications ................................................................241
Available Software.......................................................................................................241
A Quick Start with Common Ubuntu Programs............................................................244
Word Processing: Writer ............................................................................................244
Spreadsheet: Calc......................................................................................................246
Presentations: Impress ..............................................................................................247
Database: Base..........................................................................................................249
E-Mail/Personal Information Manager: Evolution ...............................................................................250
Web Browser: Firefox .........................................................................................................................251
Audio Playback: Rhythmbox ...............................................................................................................253
Movie Playback: Totem Movie Player .................................................................................................254
CD/DVD Burning: Brasero/Nautilus CD/DVD Creator...........................................................................255
Photo Editing: F-Spot and GIMP..........................................................................................................256
Other Handy Applications ............................................................................................257
Calculator ...........................................................................................................................................258
Archive Manager ................................................................................................................................258
Dictionary ...........................................................................................................................................259
Empathy Instant Messaging Client .....................................................................................................260
Windows Applications ........................................................................................................................263
Summary .....................................................................................................................264
■ Chapter 12: Working with Text Files................................................................265
Text: A History Lesson .................................................................................................265
Piping and Redirecting .......................................................................................................................265
The Text Editor Wars ..........................................................................................................................269
Working with Text Files ...............................................................................................270
Introducing gedit ................................................................................................................................270
Working with gedit .............................................................................................................................272
Comparing Multiple Files with Diffuse................................................................................................277
Summary .....................................................................................................................278
■ Chapter 13: Making the Move to .............................................279
Similarities to Microsoft Office ....................................................................................279
■ CONTENTS Key Features .......................................................................................281
File Compatibility .........................................................................................................281
The Right Fonts............................................................................................................284
Copying Windows Fonts .....................................................................................................................285
Installing TrueType Core Fonts ...........................................................................................................285
Introducing the Interface .............................................................................................287
Customizing the Interface............................................................................................288
Adding Functions to Toolbars .............................................................................................................288
Adding a New Toolbar ........................................................................................................................290
Customizing Menus ............................................................................................................................290
Personalizing the Look and Feel.........................................................................................................291
Configuring Options ...................................................................................................291
Using Core Functions ..........................................................................292
Using Wizards.....................................................................................................................................292
Getting Help ........................................................................................................................................293
Inserting Objects with Object Linking and Embedding.......................................................................293
Creating Macros .................................................................................................................................295
Saving Files ........................................................................................................................................295
Beginning Applications .......................................................................296 Word Processor: Writer..............................................................................................297 Spreadsheet: Calc......................................................................................................300 Presentation: Impress................................................................................................303
Summary .....................................................................................................................307
■ Chapter 14: Communicating with Others.........................................................309
Introducing Evolution...................................................................................................309
Basic E-Mail Tasks ......................................................................................................311
Configuring E-Mail Access .................................................................................................................311
Sending and Receiving E-Mail............................................................................................................313
Reading E-Mail ...................................................................................................................................315
Deleting Messages .............................................................................................................................315
Flagging Messages.............................................................................................................................316
Composing a Message .......................................................................................................................317
Creating an E-Mail Signature .............................................................................................................319
Advanced E-Mail Tasks ...............................................................................................320
Creating New Folders .........................................................................................................................320
Dealing with Junk E-Mail ...................................................................................................................321
Sorting and Filtering Messages..........................................................................................................321
Creating Search Folders .....................................................................................................................323
Adding or Editing Contact Information................................................................................................324
Creating a Contact List .......................................................................................................................326
Specifying Appointment Types ...........................................................................................................326
Adding or Editing a Diary Entry...........................................................................................................327
Additional Calendars....................................................................................................329
Memos and Tasks........................................................................................................330
Configuring Instant Messaging ....................................................................................331
Installing Skype ...........................................................................................................334
Summary .....................................................................................................................336
■ Chapter 15: Social Networks and Cloud Computing ........................................337
Social Networking Applications...................................................................................338
Introducing the MeMenu ....................................................................................................................338
Microblogging with Gwibber ..............................................................................................................340
Cloud-Based Services..................................................................................................342
Storing Your Data Online with Ubuntu One.........................................................................................342
Sending Photos to the Cloud with F-Spot...........................................................................................347
Summary .....................................................................................................................348
■ Chapter 16: Digital Audio .................................................................................349
Issues Surrounding Multimedia Playback ...................................................................349
Playing Audio Files.......................................................................................................351
Installing Codecs in a Single Package................................................................................................352
Installing Codecs when Required .......................................................................................................353
Using Rhythmbox Music Player ..........................................................................................................355
Purchasing from Online Music Stores .........................................................................357
Using the Jamendo Store ...................................................................................................................358
Purchasing from Magnatune ..............................................................................................................358
Purchasing from Ubuntu One .............................................................................................................359
Tuning In to Online Radio Stations...............................................................................360
Listening to Podcasts ..................................................................................................361
Listening to Audio CDs and Ripping Tracks........................................................................................362
Choosing a Format .............................................................................................................................363
Ripping Tracks....................................................................................................................................364
Creating Your Own CDs................................................................................................365
Recording from a Microphone .....................................................................................367
Summary .....................................................................................................................368
■ Chapter 17: Movies and Multimedia ................................................................369
Installing Playback Software .......................................................................................369
Installing Codecs ................................................................................................................................370
Installing RealPlayer 11 ......................................................................................................................371
Adding Flash Support .........................................................................................................................373
Adding Java Support ..........................................................................................................................374
Watching Movies .........................................................................................................375
Watching DVDs ............................................................................................................377
Watching TV.................................................................................................................381
Checking for Video Input ....................................................................................................................381
Installing tvtime ..................................................................................................................................381
Summary .....................................................................................................................382
■ Chapter 18: Digital Photos ...............................................................................383
Downloading and Cataloging Images ..........................................................................383
Connecting Your Camera ....................................................................................................................383
Importing Photos Using F-Spot...........................................................................................................384
Using GIMP for Image Editing ......................................................................................388
The Basics of GIMP.............................................................................................................................393
Making Color Corrections ...................................................................................................................395
Cropping and Healing .........................................................................................................................397
Applying Filters...................................................................................................................................397
Sharpening .........................................................................................................................................400
Summary .....................................................................................................................401
■ Chapter 19: Playing Games..............................................................................403
Linux Games ................................................................................................................403
Official Sources ..................................................................................................................................403
Additional Sources..............................................................................................................................407
Adobe Flash and Web-based Gaming..........................................................................408
Installing Windows Games...........................................................................................410
Summary .....................................................................................................................411
Part 5: Keeping Your System Running..................................................................413
■ Chapter 20: Installing and Removing Software ...............................................415
Using the Ubuntu Software Center ..............................................................................416
Navigating the Ubuntu Software Center .............................................................................................416
Browsing and Searching for Software................................................................................................418
Software Installation Basics ........................................................................................421
Formats of Linux Installation Files......................................................................................................421
Package Management........................................................................................................................422
Dependency Management..................................................................................................................423
Software Repositories ........................................................................................................................424
Advanced Application Management ............................................................................428
Managing Ubuntu Software Options............................................................................429
Adding Software Sources ............................................................................................430
Managing Software Updates .......................................................................................431
The Synaptic Package Manager in Depth....................................................................433
Searching for Software.......................................................................................................................433
Installing Software .............................................................................................................................435
Removing Software ............................................................................................................................437
Manually Installing Using Gdebi...................................................................................437
Installing Windows Applications with Wine .................................................................438
Installing and Configuring Wine..........................................................................................................438
Installing a Windows Application........................................................................................................439
Installing from Source .................................................................................................440
Installing the Compiler Tools ..............................................................................................................440
Unpacking the Source Tarball and Solving Dependencies .................................................................440
Summary .....................................................................................................................442
■ Chapter 21: Understanding Linux Users and File Permissions ........................443
Understanding User and Group Accounts ....................................................................443
Users and Groups ...............................................................................................................................443
Root User ............................................................................................................................................444
Users and File Permissions ................................................................................................................445
Root vs. Sudo......................................................................................................................................446
UIDs and GIDs .....................................................................................................................................447
Adding and Deleting Users and Groups ..............................................................................................447
Adding and Changing Passwords .......................................................................................................450
Understanding File and Folder Permissions ................................................................452
Viewing Permissions ..........................................................................................................................452
Typical Data File Permissions.............................................................................................................453
Permissions on a User’s Directory......................................................................................................454
Permissions on a Directory Owned by Root .......................................................................................454
Altering Permissions...........................................................................................................................455
Summary .....................................................................................................................458
■ Chapter 22: Optimizing Your System ...............................................................459
Speeding Up Booting ...................................................................................................459
Reducing the Boot Menu Delay ..........................................................................................................460
Managing GNOME Sessions ...............................................................................................................461
Configuring Prelinking ........................................................................................................................465
Deactivating Prelinking.......................................................................................................................465
Optimizing the Kernel ..................................................................................................466
Freeing Up Disk Space.................................................................................................467
Emptying the /tmp Folder ...................................................................................................................468
Emptying the Cache of Package Files ................................................................................................468
Removing Unused Software ...............................................................................................................469
Summary .....................................................................................................................470
■ Chapter 23: Backing Up Data ...........................................................................471
What Data Should You Back Up? .................................................................................471
Using Simple Backup...................................................................................................472
Backing Up Data via Simple Backup ..................................................................................................473
Restoring Data via Simple Backup .....................................................................................................476
Managing Archive Files ......................................................................................................................478
Saving the File to a CD-R/RW or to a DVD-R.......................................................................................479
Summary .....................................................................................................................480
■ Chapter 24: Scheduling Tasks .........................................................................481
Scheduling with GNOME Scheduler.............................................................................481
Creating a Recurrent Task..................................................................................................................482
Scheduling One-Off Tasks ..................................................................................................................485
Scheduling with anacron .............................................................................................486
Summary .....................................................................................................................488
■ Chapter 25: Accessing Computers Remotely ...................................................489
Using Secure Shell.......................................................................................................489
Logging In to a Remote Computer ......................................................................................................490
Transferring Files Between Remote Computers.................................................................................493
Accessing GUI Applications Remotely .........................................................................495
Running X Applications on a Remote Computer .................................................................................496
Accessing Ubuntu via Remote Desktop..............................................................................................497
Connecting to Remote Windows Computers ...............................................................498
Connecting to Windows 7 and Vista ...................................................................................................498
Connecting to Windows XP Professional, 2000, and NT.....................................................................499
Connecting to Other Computers .........................................................................................................500
Summary .....................................................................................................................501
■ Chapter 26: Taking Control of the System .......................................................503
Viewing Processes.......................................................................................................503
Controlling Processes ..................................................................................................507
Killing Processes ................................................................................................................................507
Controlling Zombie Processes ............................................................................................................509
Using Other Commands to Control Processes ....................................................................................510
Controlling Jobs...........................................................................................................511
Summary .....................................................................................................................513
Part 6: Appendixes ...............................................................................................515
■ Appendix A: Introducing the BASH Shell..........................................................517
■ Appendix B: Glossary of Linux Terms ..............................................................553
■ Appendix C: Getting Further Help.....................................................................575
■ Appendix D: Exploring the DVD-ROM and Other Ubuntu Versions....................583
About the Authors
■ Emilio Raggi lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and has been managing IT Projects for the past 12
years. He was very much a Windows fanboy, until one day he had to manage an Ubuntu desktop
deployment project. He was highly qualified as Microsoft implementer, holding certificates as an MCP
and MCSE, and was a consultant for an MS Partner. Still, Ubuntu had its charms and won him over. He
is now an avid fan, user, and promoter, to the benefit of his family, friends, and colleagues. He is also an
avid student of philosophy.
■ Keir Thomas is an award-winning author who has written several best-selling Linux titles for Apress.
A former computer magazine editor, he has been writing about computers, operating systems, and
software for a decade. He has also served as editor on several computer books. His works have been
translated into many languages. Thomas works as a full-time author and has written five books for
Apress. He lives on the side of a mountain in England, and his hobbies include hiking and playing
musical instruments.
■ Trevor Parsons has been using free software for a decade, and was founding editor of the UK’s Linux
User magazine. When he's not writing, editing, and breaking computers, he sidelines as a drummer and
fiddle player. Even then there's always an Ubuntu Flash drive in his violin case.
■ Andy Channelle is a lead instructor and web systems coordinator at the University of the West of
England specializing in journalism and new media. He has written for a variety of technology magazines
including Linux Format and Mac Format over the last ten years and has also managed a few large web
projects based on free software and open principles.
Andy lives in the UK and enjoys writing, playing the guitar and drums, and sitting out in the sun reading
■ Sander van Vugt is an independent Linux expert, living in the Netherlands. He delivers his Linux
training courses worldwide and is specialized in Linux performance issues. Sander is the author of many
books, including Beginning Ubuntu Server and Pro Ubuntu Server. Sander can be reached at his e-mail
address, [email protected]
About the Technical Reviewers
■ Bruce Byfield is a journalist who specializes in writing about free and open source software. He has
been a contributing editor at, and his articles have appeared on the Datamation, LWN, Linux
Developer Network, Linux Journal, and LinuxPlanet sites. He also writes a monthly column for the Linux
Journal web site and a weekly blog called “Off the Beat” about the free software community for Linux
Pro magazine. In addition to his online publications, he has published in such magazines as Linux
Journal, Linux Pro magazine, Maximum Linux, The New Internationalist, and Ubuntu User. Although he
long ago lost count, he has sold over 750 articles in his career.
Before becoming a journalist, Byfield was marketing and communications director at Progeny Linux
Systems, and product manager at Stormix Technologies. His book Witches of the Mind is considered the
definitive work on the American fantasist Fritz Leiber. He also designs elearning courses and is a
marketing and communications consultant.
Byfield lives in Burnaby, Canada. In addition to free and open source software, his interests
include parrots, aerobic exercise, science fiction, listening to punk-folk music, and collecting Northwest
Coast art.
■ Richard Hillesley writes about free software and lives in the southwest of England.
Linux applies an alternate philosophy to computing that revolves around the sharing of not only
software but also knowledge. To use Linux is to become part of a huge global community of people who
have caught on to a phenomenon that is changing the world.
Ubuntu ( is the natural continuation of these goals. It’s a project founded
by entrepreneur businessman Mark Shuttleworth with the intention of bringing a freely available,
high-quality operating system to the world. To this end, Shuttleworth invested $10 million of his own
money to guarantee that this will be the case for many years to come. In 2010, the project has moved
closer to becoming self-sustaining as Ubuntu becomes part of the mainstream for desktop, Netbook,
and server users.
The fundamental concept is that Ubuntu is available for use by anyone in the world, no matter who
or where they are. As such, many different languages are supported, and the operating system can also
be accessed by those with disabilities, such as partial sight or hearing. Ubuntu might just as easily be
found on a Wall Street banker’s laptop as on a battered old computer in a Brazilian favela.
Ubuntu is built around one of the most established versions of Linux: Debian
( The Debian Project was started back in 1993, shortly after the very first version
of the Linux software was released, and has become one of the pioneering varieties of Linux. Ubuntu and
Debian Linux both share common goals and are closely allied, but Ubuntu focuses largely on the
desktop. For example, it provides a powerful office suite by default, as well as some excellent pieces of
Internet software. Only recently has a dedicated server version become available.
It’s also very easy to use. Ubuntu works straight out of the box. As soon as it’s installed, you should
be ready to start using it without any further work. In addition, tasks such as updating your software are
as easy under Ubuntu as they are under Windows—in many cases, easier. Above all, however, Ubuntu is
designed to be shared. You can take the DVD-ROM included with this book and install Ubuntu on as
many computers as you want. You can also copy it as many times as you want and give those copies to
your friends. We’re serious! This isn’t some kind of trick, either—Ubuntu isn’t a trial version that will
quit running in a month. You will never find yourself having to pay a fee further down the line, even if
you want to install additional software. Ubuntu, and much of the software that runs on top of it, will
always be free of charge.
Since its inception in 2004, Ubuntu has literally taken the world of Linux by storm and has even
broken out of the technically demanding world of open source software. It’s consistently voted the most
popular desktop Linux and has even garnered a handful of celebrity users along the way: Jamie
Hyneman of the popular TV show MythBusters is a fan, as is novelist and blogger Cory Doctorow. Within
some Internet communities, such as and Reddit, you may struggle to find individuals who
don’t use Ubuntu.
Ubuntu’s popularity has risen as the software appears on desktop and laptop computers from the
likes of Dell and HP, and it is finding its way into many users’ hands through Netbooks.
What You’ll Find in This Book
Beginning Ubuntu Linux, Fifth Edition is divided into five parts, each of which contains chapters about a
certain aspect of Ubuntu use. These parts can be read in sequence, or you can dip in and out of them at
will. When a technical term is mentioned, it is defined on first use in the chapter, or a reference is made
to the chapter where the term is explained.
Part 1 examines the history and philosophy behind Ubuntu and the Linux operating system. We aim
to answer many of the common questions about Linux. Such knowledge is considered to be as
important, if not more so, than understanding the technical details on how Linux works. But although
these chapters should be read sooner rather than later, they don’t contain any technical information that
you absolutely require to get started with Ubuntu.
Part 2 covers installing Ubuntu on your computer. An illustrated guide is provided, and all
installation choices are explained in depth. Additionally, you’ll find a problem-solving chapter to help,
just in case anything goes wrong.
Part 3 focuses on getting started with Ubuntu. It covers setting up the Linux system so that it’s ready
to use. First we explore the graphical interface, so you know where to go to perform the most basic tasks.
One chapter is dedicated to setting up common hardware devices, such as printers, and another
explains how you can secure your system. You’ll also learn how to fully personalize Ubuntu so you feel
more at home with it, and how to work with your files.
In Part 4, we take a look at how you can use Ubuntu to perform your day to day tasks. We list the
most common Ubuntu applications as an introduction for users more acquainted with Windows. Then
we take a look at working with text files and with, the complete office suite built into
Ubuntu. Then we explore ways to get connected with other people through e-mail or instant messaging.
A whole new chapter takes a look at hot topics like social networks and cloud computing, and how
Ubuntu can help you make the most of them with minimal effort. We also look at working with audio,
movies and multimedia, and digital photos. And we finish Part 4 by going over different options for
playing games with your Ubuntu PC.
Part 5 is dedicated to give you the skills necessary to keep your system running smoothly. You’ll
learn how to install new software, manage users, optimize your system, back up essential data, schedule
tasks, and access computers remotely.
Finally, Part 6 contains four appendixes. The first is a full introduction to the command-line
prompt, and includes a quick reference to the most used commands. Appendix B is a glossary of Linux
terms used not only in this book but also in the Linux and UNIX worlds. The third appendix explains
how to get further help when using Ubuntu, and the fourth explains how to use the DVD and the
differences between the various versions of Ubuntu.
What’s New in the Fifth Edition
The original edition of Beginning Ubuntu Linux was the first English-language book to provide a guide to
using Ubuntu, and it remains one of the best. Successive editions of the book have tracked the changes
within the Ubuntu project and have improved each time.
This edition of Beginning Ubuntu Linux has been thoroughly updated and revised to take into
account improvements with the 10.04 release of the software, code-named Lucid Lynx. The previous
edition covered the 9.04 release. This version of Ubuntu has incorporated a new level of integration with
social networks. A new cloud service, Ubuntu One, helps you keep your files and personal information
synchronized to multiple PCs. Ubuntu 10.04 also simplified, with Ubuntu Software Center, the way you
can search for and install new applications. And it is a Long Term Support release, meaning that you will
be given support and updates for your desktop installation for three years.
About the DVD-ROM Supplied with This Book
The DVD-ROM attached to the book is completely new, compared to that offered with previous editions.
This edition offers a double-sided DVD-ROM that contains virtually every official release of Ubuntu
10.04, including not only the main Ubuntu release, but also Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and releases for servers
and Netbooks.
By booting from Side A of the DVD-ROM you can opt to install Ubuntu or run in “live” mode, which
means that the entire operating system boots from the disc and doesn’t touch your hard disk. This can
be useful for those who want to “try out” Ubuntu.
The contents of the DVD-ROM are explained in detail in Appendix D.
Conventions Used in This Book
The goal when writing Beginning Ubuntu Linux was to make it as readable as possible while providing
the facility for readers to learn at their own pace.
Throughout the book, you’ll find various types of notes and sidebars complementing the regular
text. These are designed to provide handy information to help further your knowledge. They also make
reading the book a bit easier.
■ Note A note is designed to provide an important piece of information that you should know and that will help
your understanding of the topic being discussed.
■ Tip A tip is something that will help when you need to perform the task being described. Alternatively, it might
be something that can make your life easier when using Ubuntu.
■ Caution A caution is something you should certainly pay attention to, because it warns of a hidden danger or
particular caveat that applies to the topic being discussed.
In the sidebars, we take a moment to explain something that you should know, but that isn’t vital to an
understanding of the main topic being discussed. You don’t need to read the sidebars there and then;
you can return to them later if you like.
Introducing the
World of Linux
Meet Ubuntu Linux
Because you’re holding this book in your hands, there is a good chance that you have heard of Ubuntu
Linux before. Maybe someone suggested it to you or you have read about it in the media. Anyway, we
will try to show you how you can use it to make your life easier. First we point out ten (though there are
certainly more) good reasons why you should give it a try. Then we talk about Ubuntu Linux in more
detail, showing what it is and what it is like to work with.
We will be happy if, by the end of this chapter, you feel confident enough to install Ubuntu Linux on
a PC. Of course, you’ll get the maximum benefit from it by reading the rest of the book. Without proper
guidance you may sometimes feel that Linux is a wild jungle, but this book can help you become an
expert user.
Ten Reasons to Try Ubuntu Linux
In our experience there are at least ten good reasons to try Ubuntu Linux right away:
You want your computer to boot really fast and to be fully functional after that.
You want to use a sleek and modern operating system (OS) but are reluctant to
buy a Mac.
You are an idealist who thinks that software should be free (“free as in free speech”).
You are a materialist who would rather have software for free (“free as in free beer”).
You have seen Ubuntu Linux installed in a friend’s PC and want the same “wow”
computer experience for yourself.
You are tired of being exposed to hackers and malicious users every time you open
Internet Explorer.
You just bought a netbook and it either (a) comes loaded with an old OS, or (b) has
a brand new OS that limits you on what you can do.
You have an old PC that you don’t want to throw away just yet, but which is nearly
useless under the latest versions of Windows.
You are a hardcore Linux user who wants to figure out why Ubuntu has been
chosen the best Linux desktop distribution so many times.
You have been asked by your boss to evaluate Ubuntu Linux as a replacement for
Windows on your organization’s desktop computers. Or maybe you are the boss
and want to motivate your crew with a great project.
This list could go on; we all have good reasons to try Ubuntu Linux on our PCs. More reasons will
occur to you once you get to know it.
Of course, if you’re already using an older version of Ubuntu (and taking into account that, in
Ubuntu’s terminology, “older” means six months), you don’t need us to point out its virtues, right?
What Is Ubuntu Linux Anyway?
Ubuntu Linux can be defined in many ways and from different angles. First off, it is an operating system
(usually shortened to OS). Ubuntu is a distribution of Linux, based on Debian, and that gives it some
characteristic features. But to describe it only as an OS would be nothing short of unfair: it also has a
wide range of pre-installed applications and many more readily available at the click of the mouse, and
an ever-growing user community. Let’s talk about what Ubuntu is in a little more depth.
Ubuntu Linux Is an Operating System
Ubuntu Linux, as an OS, is, very simply, what makes your computer work.
A computer is much more versatile than a TV or DVD player. You can plug different input devices
into it, run applications, and expect it to do a lot of stuff. To be able to do all this, your computer needs
an OS, the underlying software that instructs it in how to perform all its functions.
An OS tells your computer what to do when it starts, for example. Without it, your computer would
beep and wait in annoyance when you turned it on. The OS also communicates with your computer’s
hardware, and with the applications that you use to perform your work. The OS glues together all aspects
of your computer.
The first and most important of those components is you, the user. You’re the one who chooses
which applications to run, what actions to take, and whether the PC should be turned on or off. The OS
needs input from you and needs to communicate to you the result of your actions.
Usually, you work with applications, which enable you to do specific tasks, such as writing
documents or browsing the web. Applications also need to communicate with your OS, to interact with
other applications, and to make the computer’s hardware work. How they do this varies by operating
system, which is why most Windows applications will not work out of the box with Linux. But, as we will
see later, that shouldn’t deter you from using Linux.
You also have data, the information you need to perform your work. You might save photos,
documents, and other files. In this respect, the OS should provide a means to access storage capacity,
whether it is local (a hard disk attached directly to your computer), removable (USB drive), or remote (a
file server or online storage system). Data comes in different formats, and each format is usually tied to a
specific application, which may even be registered as proprietary. For example, a document with the
extension “.doc” or “.docx” has been written and saved with Microsoft Word. This is why
interoperability—the ability to use different data formats with various applications—is important. As an
analogy, think about a thermometer reading 64° F. We can say that temperature itself is the data, and the
measurement unit the format. You can change the format (to degrees Celsius) while keeping the same
data, but you can’t have measurement of temperature without a measurement unit. An interoperable
application would be able to read the temperature whether it is in degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius.
Last but not least, you have the hardware, such as graphic and sound cards, printers, scanners, and
many other devices. Usually, to make a specific piece of hardware work, the OS needs a driver, a special
piece of code that handles communication with the device. Maybe the greatest challenge you’ll face
when using Ubuntu Linux will be getting all your hardware up and running. Although most devices
should run out-of-the-box with Ubuntu, you might have to follow some additional steps to make some
specific pieces of hardware work. That’s why we pay so much attention in this book to this topic.
As you can see, an OS does a lot of stuff. On desktop computers, the most popular OS is Microsoft
Windows, with Windows 7 being the latest incarnation.1 Windows is a closed and proprietary OS, which
means that nobody outside Microsoft can view or modify its source code (unless you are given
permission to do so by Microsoft, and even then you must sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement). It is
also “non-free” in the sense that you must pay for it, and depending on the version Windows can be
really expensive.2
But, as with any other component of your computer, the OS can be swapped out for a better one.
Welcome to Ubuntu Linux.
Ubuntu Is a Distribution of Linux, Based on Debian
Ubuntu, as an OS, is part of the larger family of Linux distributions.
You’ll find out more about that in Chapter 2. For now, suffice it to say that Ubuntu uses Linux as its
kernel. The kernel3 is the portion of the OS that performs the most basic functions, such as memory and
process management. Linux is an open and free kernel, strongly based on concepts first sketched up for
UNIX, Linux’s honorable ancestor. That’s why it is said that Linux is a UNIX-like OS.
Linux is one of the flagship developments of the free and open source software movement. It is a
very versatile and powerful OS that runs on many different hardware platforms. Although widely
adopted in devices such as servers and smartphones, it hasn’t yet earned great market share on desktop
computers. But that might be about to change—thanks in part to Ubuntu Linux.
Because Linux is just a kernel, it usually needs other programs to run as a full OS. Different Linux
distributions (or distros for short) package all the other software needed to make an OS, each with a
different philosophy in mind. More often than not, there are organizations behind each distribution, and
these organizations often drive the development of new packages.
Ubuntu Linux is one such distribution, but it isn’t completely original, which is to say it wasn’t
created from scratch. It is in fact an adaptation of Debian. Debian has been around almost as long as
Linux itself, having been founded in 1993, just two years after Linus Torvalds4 made his initial
announcement of the Linux kernel. Debian is widely respected within the Linux community and has
some claim to be the definitive Linux distribution.
The Debian project was started by a computer scientist named Ian Murdock, and its name comes
from a combination of his Christian name with that of his girlfriend Deborah—hence Deb-Ian (sort of
like Brangelina).
Debian is well known for its strict adherence to the spirit of free and open source software, which is
embodied in the Debian Social Contract and the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG). These
documents5 lay down rules for the governance of the decentralized worldwide community that is
Debian is not, like many other Linux distributions, sponsored by any company, but rather by a notfor-profit organization called Software in the Public Interest.6
Windows is of course very popular as a server OS also.
At the time of this writing, the full version of Windows 7 ranged from $199 to $319
( This price did not include Microsoft Office.
The kernel is commonly presented alongside with the shell, the latter being the interface between the user and
the kernel. The traditional shell for Linux is based on the command line.
Linus Torvalds is the original creator of the Linux kernel. See Chapter 2 for more details.
Available here:
Debian is also well known for how it manages its software. Part of the Debian project is to maintain
an online database and repository of software, which is available to all Internet users. Today, more than
25,000 free applications are in there, and much care has been taken to make software installation and
upgrade as easy as possible.
Ubuntu Linux Is a Full Desktop Solution
But to talk about Ubuntu Linux as just an OS would be unfair. It is much more than that.
Ubuntu Linux is built upon the sound foundation of Debian, and by all standards they are very
much alike; however, they do differ in their approaches. Although supremely flexible, Debian is mostly
used on servers. Ubuntu, on the other hand, is primarily a desktop distribution, although it also has a
Server edition. In terms of their approaches to releasing new software, Debian is extremely cautious and
issues a release only after a through bug-testing procedure. In contrast, Ubuntu is very aggressive, which
allows it to include more modern software, though sometimes in not-so-stable versions.
Building upon Debian’s premise, Ubuntu Linux is a full-featured desktop solution that comes with
tons of applications ready to install and use. It is not just the OS that is free and open: you also get, preinstalled, the full productivity suite, a browser, a photo manager, mail and messaging
clients, and much, much more. Once you install Ubuntu Linux, you will seldom need an application that
is not found in its repositories. It’s like being granted unrestricted access to a warehouse full of goodies!
Computers can be money pits. But with Ubuntu Linux, you can stop worrying about how much
software costs and start thinking what you want to do and how to use the right tools to do it.
The Ubuntu Linux Experience
When you replace your OS, many things change with it. The interface might not look the same, the
applications can be different, and you may not be able to ask the same people for help. So you may ask:
“What would it be like to work with Ubuntu Linux? What would I be getting into?”
Those are good and legitimate questions. We will try to give you a preliminary impression, but the
answers can be truly obtained only when you use Ubuntu yourself for the first time.
“Linux for Human Beings”
If you have heard about Linux before, you might think it is a dull and text-based OS that can only be used
by computer geeks. But although the command-line shell has a central role to play, there are many
different flavors of Linux (called distributions, as you will see in Chapter 2), and Ubuntu is aimed at
being easy to use.
One of the nicknames for Ubuntu is “Linux for human beings.”7 This means that when the
developers get together to analyze future directions for the OS, they talk about what people want to use
the computer for.
Many of the improvements of Lucid Lynx, the latest version of Ubuntu Linux, are in the area of
integration with social networks. It is not that the development team has any special relationship with
those applications; it’s just that they acknowledge that a great part of our activities with a computer
today involves using sites like Facebook and Twitter. Services that so many people use should be simple
and straightforward.
Another area of great improvement has been application installation. There is a new concept
regarding how applications should be looked for and installed. With other operating systems, you
normally go to the store and buy a box. Then you go home, pull the DVD from the box, and figure out
how the software is installed. You even have to store a paper with information about licensing for the
rest of your life! The whole process is cumbersome and prone to problems. Ubuntu, with its Software
Center, has a completely different approach. Installing applications is as easy as browsing categories and
selecting which application best suits your needs. Then it is installed and ready to use. For free.
Those are just two examples of the OS being designed “for human beings.” It means, in short, that
the user interface is easy and simple and that its features are there only to be of use to you. The ultimate
goal of Ubuntu Linux is to make your life easier.
Ubuntu is also meant to communicate in the local language of the user, and that’s human-friendly
too. It takes into consideration that different people have different abilities. And, as you’ll read later in
this chapter, it makes you part of a broad community of people sharing knowledge and trying to help
other people.
If you take a look at the Table of Contents of this book, you will find that there is no single chapter
devoted to working with the command-line shell. Strange in a Linux book, right? It’s not that we forgot to
write about it! But we think that Ubuntu Linux is such a user-oriented OS that access to the shell can be
reduced to a minimum.
■ Note Of course, the command-line shell is still an important part of Ubuntu Linux, and it makes a lot of sense to
learn about it in depth if you want to become a true guru. We devote an appendix to the subject, and there are also
many books on the shell available from Apress if you want to learn more.
A Powerful yet Flexible Operating System
Maybe you’re wondering whether Ubuntu Linux is a stable and versatile OS or just one that is free and...
you know... better not examined too thoroughly. After all, haven’t we all been told that anything free is
worth what you paid for it?
If that is your concern, you should worry no further. Ubuntu, as we stated before, is a distribution of
Linux. And Linux is running on quite a lot of computing devices, from tiny ones to gigantic ones. One of
the smallest computers in the world, CompuLabs fit-PC,8 runs Ubuntu, and so do many phones. On the
other end of the spectrum, the Jaguar,9 the world’s most powerful supercomputer, runs Linux as well.
That means it is both flexible and powerful. If you look at the computer market as a whole, it seems that
desktop computers are the last stronghold outside of the hands of Linux (the reason for that lies
elsewhere, not in technical limitations).
Is it powerful? Of course it is! Of the 500 most powerful computers, as measured by the TOP500
organization in June, 2010,10 91% run some version of Linux. Microsoft Windows runs on just 1% of those
computers. This dominance wouldn’t be possible if Linux weren’t a stable and efficient OS.
Once upon a time z/OS, a proprietary OS from IBM, was the only option for the powerful mainframe
computers in use today for mission-critical operations in many industries; now, more and more use
Linux on System z, accounting today for roughly one third of the mainframes running worldwide.
Linux also drives almost half of the servers that make up the Internet. 11 Together with the Apache
HTTP server, the MySQL database engine, and programming languages like PHP, Python, and Perl,
Linux forms an open source bundle collectively known as LAMP, which is a free alternative to
proprietary (and expensive) solutions. And LAMP is not just for low-traffic web sites: the mighty
Wikipedia runs on Linux—on Ubuntu Linux, in fact12).
Linux is also hard to beat when it comes to flexibility. It not only runs huge servers hidden in
datacenters; many Linux derivatives found their ways into the smartphone market, Google’s Android
being the most popular but not the only one (and there are plans to use it on more devices, such as
TV sets). And after HP’s acquisition of Palm in late April, 2010, it has plans to use WebOS, which
uses the Linux kernel as well, as a platform for its Tablet PCs and connected mobile devices.13 This
flexibility is what allows Linux to be a serious contender—many would say the perfect option—in the
netbook market.
When the first generation of netbooks came out, the concept was nothing short of a revolution.
Until that moment, PC manufacturers had thought that users would always be willing to spend money
on ever-more powerful computers with a lot of unnecessary software. Windows Vista was the logical
conclusion of that line of thought: a bloated OS, hungry for hardware resources. Microsoft seemed to
hope that people would buy a new and expensive computer just to be able to run its latest OS, which was
full of functionality many did not want or need. What happened was just the opposite: to avoid having to
do that, many stuck to Windows XP or turned to Linux. And some even went one step further, by
replacing big desktops and notebooks with the smaller netbooks. The unthinkable had happened:
people actually wanted less than what the market had been providing. What they wanted was a “good
enough” computer that allowed them to do their work, while being cheap enough to be affordable in a
time of economic uncertainty.
Microsoft was startled. It was obvious by then that Windows Vista was not designed for that kind of
device, so it allowed netbook manufacturers to install Windows XP and wait for Windows 7 to save the
day. Now that Windows 7 is out, what netbooks have is an artificially reduced version of the Windows
OS—reduced not to accommodate the simpler hardware imprint, but to make you pay extra money if
you want all the functionality.
Ubuntu Linux sees things differently. Because it is free, it doesn’t have to be limited for commercial
purposes. Because it needs fewer hardware resources to run, it is natively better suited to small
netbooks, and can run more applications on them as a result. And because it is relatively safe, it doesn’t
need antivirus software running constantly in the background, consuming valuable processor cycles and
disk I/O on a computer with limited hardware resources.
Continuous Improvements
One of the things you have to get used to is the frequency with which new versions of Ubuntu Linux
appear, each with new features and hardware support. The release cycle of Ubuntu Linux is every six
months. The development team follows a time-based release cycle, not a feature-driven one. What does
this mean?
Some operating systems, including Microsoft Windows, are launched only when all the planned
and committed features are ready. At the beginning of the development cycle, the list of proposed
features for the product is set. The company then starts selling the idea of the future product, full of new
toys. Because of this, they must finish programming all the new features before launching the product,
and a delay in any feature (no matter whether it is important or not) can slow down the whole project.
That’s why Microsoft Windows delays are so common and launch day announcements are so widely
publicized. Sometimes features go live half baked, just to avoid pushing the date still further back, and
then a maintenance update has to be made available just after launch.
Things are different with Ubuntu Linux. From the very beginning, the development team made a
commitment to release a new version every six months.14 Release dates are usually scheduled for April
and October. That’s why a relatively young OS (born in 2004) is now, six years later, on its 12th release.
How does Ubuntu do this? Are its programmers more responsible or better at project management?
Well, that could be part of the explanation, but not all of it. The reason Ubuntu can do it this way is
because it follows a completely different release philosophy.
Instead of basing releases on features, Ubuntu bases them on time. It is a fine example of the
“timebox” method15 of agile software development. Ubuntu sets a release date for a new version of the
OS long before it actually happens, and some guiding goals are given for that version. After that the
development works entirely differently, because Ubuntu Linux depends on many unrelated teams of
developers working together on some specific piece of software. Those teams have no relationship with
Ubuntu or Canonical. They can be as disparate as the GNOME team (developers of the GNOME desktop
environment used by Ubuntu), Mozilla (maintainers of the Firefox web browser), and Oracle (home of
the project).
Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, can’t enforce a release schedule for all those projects. So,
as the launch date approaches, Ubuntu enters a “feature freeze” state. All packages are updated to the
latest stable version and bundled together to test compatibility. Most problems are fixed, and the
product is released right on schedule.
This means that sometimes, if a team is delayed, the price of timely release is that the latest
functionality of a certain product will not be included. That is a shame, sure, but then again, with a
release cycle of just six months, the updated functionality will be available to Ubuntu Linux users almost
immediately when it’s ready. And upgrades, like Ubuntu itself, are completely free of charge—and easy
to apply as well.
■ Note It has become customary that Ubuntu releases are named after animals, preceded by an adjective that
suggests the philosophy behind the particular version. At the time of writing, for example, the latest releases were
Jaunty Jackalope, Karmic Koala, and Lucid Lynx. The OS also uses a version number that references the year and
month of the update. So 10.04 means 2010, April release.
Make features available when they are ready. Have a state-of-the-art OS release every six months.
This is such a common-sense approach! Too bad Microsoft will never be able to use it with Windows. Do
you think they could convince anybody to buy a new version of Windows every six months?
The Product Family
Since Vista, one of the odd things about Microsoft Windows has been the number of different editions
on offer. Windows Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, Ultimate... the
diversity seemed to be there just to confuse consumers.
But no, that wasn’t the goal: it was there to make them pay more. Like a used car salesperson, they
first tell you that it is cheap, based on the price of the Starter edition. And then, when you ask why you
There is plenty of information about timeboxing in the web—for example, here:
can’t do a certain thing, they say: “Oh, for that you need another edition, available for just a few more
bucks.” Suddenly you find yourself going up the editions stairway, “few bucks” after “few bucks,” ending
up having to pay quite a few hundred bucks for the whole experience.
Ubuntu Linux, too, comes in many different editions, but the rationale is quite different. First off, all
editions of Ubuntu are free. Technically speaking, these are not different editions of Ubuntu, but
derivatives. A derivative of Ubuntu means that some people packaged things differently to produce an
OS targeted at a specific set of users. For example, some people find the KDE desktop environment more
appealing than GNOME. So Canonical provided a new derivative of Ubuntu, which installs KDE by
default instead of GNOME. There’s nothing more to it than that. It’s for simplicity’s sake. To make your
life easier. Linux for human beings, remember?
There are a lot of derivatives. Some are maintained by Canonical, and some are not. The most
common are:
Ubuntu: The well-known, GNOME-based OS.
Kubuntu: Like Ubuntu but with the KDE desktop environment.
Edubuntu: A special derivative loaded with applications for educational purposes.
Ubuntu Netbook Remix: A special version, targeted at mini notebooks. The
desktop is somewhat redesigned to fit smaller screens, and special care is taken to
have it preloaded with web-enabling technologies such as the Flash plug-in.
But there are many others. There are Ubuntus for Christians and for Muslims, Ubuntus in Chinese
and in Italian, Ubuntus for anthropologists and for designers. There is even an Ubuntu for Google
employees, called Goobuntu. Because Ubuntu is a full desktop solution with a staggering number of
applications, anyone can mix the ingredients the way he likes and share what he has done with the rest
of the world.
Just to be clear: it is not that a derivative blocks some features the way Windows Starter does. It’s
just a customization. If you want KDE, for example, you can start with Ubuntu, install the required
packages, and end up with the exact same desktop as you would have if you installed Kubuntu in the
first place.
The Ubuntu Linux Community
One of the arguments Microsoft uses to try to scare you away from Linux is that you will have no
support. That there’s nobody “on the other side of the line” when you have a problem.
It’s totally the other way around. Linux is much more than a computer OS. It’s an entire community
of users all over the globe. When you start to use Linux, you become part of this community (whether
you like it or not—although you will!).
One of the benefits of membership is that you’re never far from finding a solution to a problem. The
community likes to congregate online around forums and newsgroups, which you can join in order to
find help.
Your initial placement in the ranks of the community is “newbie.” This is a popular term for
someone who is new to Linux. Although it may sound derisive, it actually helps when you talk to others.
Advertising your newbie status encourages people to take the time to help you—after all, they were
newbies once upon a time.
There is another reason not to be disheartened by your newbie tag: you’ll outgrow it very quickly. By
the time you reach the end of this book, you’ll be on your way to the other end of the spectrum: guru.
You’ll be one of those giving out the advice to those newbies, and you’ll be 100% confident in your skills.
But being part of a community is not just about getting free technical support. It’s about sharing
knowledge. Linux was created to be shared among those who want to use it. There are no restrictions,
apart from one: any software changes you make and distribute must also be available to others.
The spirit of sharing and collaboration has been there since day one. One of the first things Linus
Torvalds did when he produced an early version of the Linux kernel program was to ask for help from
others. And he got it. Complete strangers e-mailed him offering to contribute their time, skills, and effort
to help him with his project. This has been the way Linux has been developed ever since. Thousands of
people around the world contribute their own small pieces, rather than one big company being in
charge. And the same concept applies to Linux knowledge. When you learn something, don’t be afraid to
share this knowledge with others. “Giving something back” is an important part of the Linux
community, and that doesn’t mean just creating programs—people contribute artwork, documentation,
and time to help others.
To understand why Linux is shared, it helps to understand its history, as well as the history of what
came before it. You’ll learn more about this in Chapter 2.
Praise for Ubuntu Linux
By now, you know a lot of reasons to begin using Ubuntu Linux. We’ll wrap up the chapter by
highlighting why is wise to stop using Windows and try Ubuntu Linux instead. Many of the topics
touched on in this section have already been mentioned; now you have them all together in one place to
help you argue with Windows die-hards.
Should I Stop Using Windows?
This question could be split into two smaller problems: why would I want to stop using Windows? And, is
it a wise move? There are many reasons to stop using Windows, some of which are:
It is insecure: Security is only a recent concern for Microsoft. And in spite of the
many efforts the company claims it is making, new security flaws are detected
each and every month, making “patch Tuesday” a nightmare for many system
administrators. The lax security also necessitates expensive antivirus programs,
which consume precious hardware resources.
It is expensive: Although Windows often comes pre-installed on new computers,
its cost is built into the computer price, and it may be in only a limited version.
You have to pay more for the advanced versions, for upgrades when a new version
is released, and for any additional software you want to install.
It is full of bugs: In his 1999 essay “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” Eric S.
Raymond, an open source advocate, stated Linus’ Law that goes like this: “Given
enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” This means that software is less likely to
have bugs when more people can review its code. Microsoft Windows is closed
source software, so only its own developers get to view the source code. When
they overlook a bug, there is no way of detecting it until a problem actually
happens. It is not that there are no bugs in open source software, but they are
more likely to be found and corrected in a timely manner. You can try to find
them yourself!
Now, is it wise to stop using Windows and start using Ubuntu? Let’s answer some of the most
common questions regarding the move to Ubuntu Linux:
I won’t be able to run my applications! This is true at some point, but it has three
workarounds: first, you can use Windows applications with Wine, an
implementation of the Windows API. Second, there are a lot of replacement
applications that also happen to be free. And third, there is a strong tendency for
applications to become web-based, so what’s important then is the web browser,
not the API.
I need to use Windows for my job! There are plenty of workarounds if you really
can’t get away without using Windows from time to time. You could set up dualbooting and use both on one computer. You could use Ubuntu for your everyday
tasks and Windows to keep yourself up-to-date with that technology, or you could
install Windows in a virtual PC inside Ubuntu with VirtualBox.16 This way you get
the best of both worlds—but remember that you’ll need a valid Windows license
for either of those scenarios.
I will need to get help sometimes! We have already mentioned the Linux
community. Think about it this way: Microsoft has a monopoly over Windows
support. Because its source code is closed, they are the only ones that can help
you at certain problems. And they are often unwilling to do so, maybe because
your product is no longer supported, or because “your problem will be resolved
with the next service pack.” And what would happen to your support if Microsoft
went out of service?
There are many reasons to drop Windows, and there is no good reason to be afraid of doing so. It
should be painless if you do it properly.
Ubuntu Linux and its Strengths
“Okay, so I should stop using Windows. Why should I start using Ubuntu and not another operating
system?” you might ask. Because:
Ubuntu is the best Linux distribution for desktops: It is Linux, which means it is
stable and secure; it is derived from Debian, so it is free, open source, and has a lot
of applications available; and it is Ubuntu, a distribution oriented to human
It is beautiful: The aesthetic aspects of the interface are well polished, so your
friends will be really surprised by its looks! It is a “wow” operating system.
It will make your life easier: A lot of work has already been done for you.
Applications have been catalogued and published. The interface has been
tweaked. Hardware has been made compatible. Communities have been formed.
All this social capital is there for you to take advantage of it. Wouldn’t it be foolish
not to?
If we have convinced you to try Ubuntu Linux, let us be your guide on your first baby steps. On the
journey, you will feel your strides growing stronger chapter after chapter. By the end of it, you should be
able to stand by yourself and on your way to becoming a senior member of the community!
But first let us tell you some more about the history of Ubuntu Linux. That is the subject of Chapter
2, which completes Part I of this book.
In this Chapter, the first in the book, we introduced you to Ubuntu Linux and pointed out some of its
salient features. You learned how it is an OS based on Linux and derived from Debian. We talked about
how Ubuntu is developed and why are many different versions or editions, such as Kubuntu or
Edubuntu. Finally, we analyzed reasons for making the change to Ubuntu Linux.
GNU “slash” Linux
We talk in this chapter about some of the major driving forces behind Ubuntu Linux. Although it is a
young operating system (OS), it has a history and a family to be proud of, because it is the heir of a
tradition dating back to the late 1960s, and even before.
If, after reading Chapter 1, you started wondering, how could it all be free of charge? Where’s Linux
Corp. and how does it make a profit? Who are the members of the Linux community that answer my
questions without expecting anything in return? If you are asking yourself those questions, then you
should read this chapter.
We start our history at a rather arbitrary point in time: the birth of UNIX in the late 1960s. Our rationale
for doing so is quite straightforward: Linux is a UNIX-like OS, designed and written specifically with the
aim of reproducing UNIX’s core functionality.
UNIX is an extremely successful OS, originally developed in 1969 at Bell Labs, New Jersey, by a
group of AT&T employees. Its creators, who included Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and Brian
Kernighan, are ranked today as some of the most prominent personalities in computer history and are
even idolized by some UNIX gurus. UNIX was, and still is, a very modern, portable, multi-tasking OS.
Did you know that there was a Microsoft version of UNIX? In 1979, Microsoft acquired a license from AT&T
and produced a derivative of UNIX for microcomputers. It was called Xenix, and for a time was the UNIX
version with the largest installed base, piggybacking on the x86 processor success.
To produce Xenix, Microsoft worked with The Santa Cruz Operation, which later retained the rights and
produced SCO UNIX. In recent years, this company has been actively fighting other UNIX and Linux
manufacturers over the ownership of the rights to UNIX and related intellectual property issues. Several
judicial proceedings are being held in the U.S. over those issues.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, UNIX had a tremendous preeminence in academic circles. It was
highly respected by computer scientists of the day and became the basis for many subsequent variants
made by different companies. Operating systems such as HP-UX, Solaris, and IBM AIX were a result of
those efforts.
The Rise of the IBM PC… and of Microsoft
In 1981 IBM introduced the IBM PC in an attempt to gain share in the microcomputer market. It was
such a huge success that in the end it turned against its creator and undermined IBM’s market
dominance. What IBM did at the time was sharply at odds with its previous corporate culture. To
shorten the development cycle, it chose to integrate components from different vendors instead of using
proprietary components from IBM itself. It also published detailed documentation of the PC’s internal
architecture, so other companies were able to create their own expansion modules. There’s nothing
wrong with those practices, except when they clash with (or even undermine) your own business model.
One of those components was the CPU: IBM used the Intel 8088 microprocessor. This allowed other
computer manufacturers to create compatible computers, collectively known as PC clones.
And there was also the operating system: MS-DOS, from Microsoft. Bill Gates and his company had
a brilliant idea: instead of selling their OS to IBM, they only licensed it. They thus reserved their right to
license the OS to other hardware makers—namely the ones that were already cloning the IBM PC.
So the only identifiable components that remained the same across all these computers were the
processor and the OS. Eventually the “Wintel” duo (short for Windows and Intel) began replacing “IBM
PC” as the brand of the new revolution. The dream of “a PC on every desktop” running Microsoft
software spun off in a thousand directions from that point onwards.
Independence from any particular hardware provider and the freedom to license its OS to different
manufacturers has been the foundation of Microsoft’s success with Windows. The hardware and the OS
evolved, from XT to Pentium, and from MS-DOS to Windows, but the underlying business model
remained the same (with an ever-stronger arm to force deals as Windows became more popular).
Microsoft became one of the most salient examples of a closed and proprietary software business model.
RMS on Free Software
Speaking out against the practice of proprietary and closed software was an MIT Lab programmer called
Richard Matthew Stallman, or RMS as he prefers to be called.
Working at MIT labs, several episodes warned him about how proprietary and closed software was
imposing severe limits to their users’ freedoms. He believed that users should be free: free to create, to
study, to use, to reproduce, to share, to modify, and to do with software what they wanted. The
principles of free software were born.
Sometimes people get confused about what “free” means in this context. RMS has often explained
that what he means by “free” is “free as in free speech,” not “free as in free beer.” That is, free software
should not necessarily be given away for free, but it definitely should not limit in any way what the user
can do with it.
He set himself the task of creating an OS and enough applications to make proprietary software
unnecessary, in a collaborative project he called GNU. This is a recursive acronym (and programmer’s
in-joke) that means “GNU’s Not Unix!” Although the goal was to make it UNIX-like, it was meant to be
entirely free and rigorously excludes any UNIX code. The project was first announced on September,
1984, and started development a few months later.
They had to write the core of the OS, or kernel (which was given the name HURD), and a set of
applications that reproduced the operation of UNIX. The latter part advanced swiftly, but development
of the kernel stalled. It soon reached a point in which the only part missing from the free UNIX-like
utopia was the kernel.
As part of his efforts, Stallman also created the Free Software Foundation, which, as its name
implies, advocates for the use of free software.
There are hardly two people more at odds than Richard Stallman and Bill Gates. A few anecdotes may help
illustrate their different attitudes towards software and life in general. Here they are, the Harvard dropout
and the MIT hacker, face to face:
In 1975, Paul Allen and Bill Gates licensed a version of BASIC to the company
MITS, for use with its newest creation, the Altair Computer. After seeing that
computer sales were strong, but BASIC’s were lagging, they discovered that many
hobbyists from a club in Palo Alto were making illegal copies of the OS and
installing it on their own. Bill Gates then wrote an infuriated letter in which he
defended the right of software makers to earn profits by selling their products for a
price. He asserted that widespread adoption of such software without proper
payment would discourage developers from producing quality software. (Maybe if
he opened the code to the hobbyists, the Altair BASIC would have improved from
their collaboration!)
In 1977, RMS was a programmer working at MIT’s AI Laboratory. When the
authorities tried to enforce password-protected access, Stallman convinced many
users to set a blank password in order to re-enable anonymous access. He linked
freedom to anonymity; today, he recommends not using a cellphone or a key card,
so your movements cannot be tracked.
In 1980, a new printer arrived at the AI Lab, and RMS requested access to its
source code. He and some fellow hackers had successfully modified the code for
the previous printer in order to enhance user experience. He was denied, and the
printing with the new device was worse than with the previous one. That
confirmed to him that people should have the right to access and modify the
programs they use, in order to better them.
Two questions Richard Stallman had to answer when laying the foundation for free software
development were whether it should be licensed and, if so, how.
There was a problem with the original idea of free software, a hole through which a malicious
company could profit from the efforts of altruistic programmers. If a person, organization, or
community writes an application and gives it away for free, making it part of the public domain and
granting all rights in an unrestricted fashion, then what prevents a greedy user from registering the
application under his name and trying to profit from the copyright? That type of practice had to be
somehow avoided without limiting user freedom.
Something like that happened to RMS. He was asked to write an application; he agreed to do it and
to make it public domain, and was later denied access to the modified version as updated by the same
people who had requested it in the first place.
But he disliked the idea of copyright, because he thought it was inherently limiting. It gave an author
excessive power over his work, letting him or her define what the user could or could not do with it.
Copyright was not the solution for RMS. But somehow he had to play by the rules in order to avoid being
deprived of the results of his work once again.
So he conceived the idea of “copyleft” as a special kind of copyright which imposes limits on one
thing only: the right to prevent sharing. Works registered under copyleft licenses can be used, studied,
shared, modified, and redistributed as anyone likes; but every modification or addition must be licensed
under similar copyleft terms. That way everyone benefits from the work of others, even the original
author. It’s also called a “viral” license, because it is transmitted from person to person. No one has the
right to prevent others from sharing the software.
Because copyleft granted users the right to modify the work, an important side effect was that the
source code had to be released together with the application.
Stallman decided that a copyleft type of license was ideal for the GNU project and so created the
GNU Public License, or GPL. Today, much of the work from the open source community is licensed
under the GPL or other licenses inspired by the same concepts.
The Quest for a UNIX-like Operating System
Richard Stallman was not the only one with the idea of making a UNIX-like operating system. In fact, in
the 1980s the technical superiority of UNIX was widely recognized, so everyone expected it to become
the dominant force in the PC market recently created by IBM and its clones.
But that wasn’t happening. Disputes over copyright issues spread among UNIX companies in what
became known as the “UNIX wars.” The HURD (the kernel of the GNU project, remember?) was
nowhere near finished (even today there is still no stable release). And MS-DOS continued to gain
popularity, a Microsoft trend that later intensified with the graphical interface of Windows.
As an exception, from the BSD version on, UNIX spawned a little derivative that today, after years of
evolution, is giving Microsoft people more than one headache: the Mac OS. That’s right: the sleek
operating system from Apple (now in the version Mac OS X) shares a foundation with Linux as a UNIXlike operating system.1
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, a computer science professor named Andrew Tanenbaum was
writing a classic book called Operating Systems: Design and Implementation. He decided that for it to be
more didactic, the book should be accompanied by a complete operating system, including its source
code. The result of this work was MINIX, short for “minimal UNIX.” It was developed for compatibility
with the IBM PC models available at the time and included a kernel (the core of the OS, remember), a
memory manager, and a file system—pretty much the most important components of any OS. The book
became very popular, and MINIX became the learning tool of many students worldwide. Linus Torvalds
was one of them.
Linus Torvalds and His Little Project
In 1991 Linus Torvalds was a student at the University of Helsinki, Finland, when he purchased an Intel
80386-based IBM PC, which he intended to use as a terminal emulator for remotely connecting to the
University’s lab.
The main choices at that time for a PC operating system were MS-DOS and MINIX. He was rapidly
disappointed with MS-DOS, and given his respect for UNIX and his willingness to learn, his choice was
the latter. But his dissatisfaction with some technical aspects of MINIX encouraged him to create his
terminal emulator from scratch, although based on MINIX. He also wanted his version to be
noncommercial, which MINIX, although inexpensive, was not. The terminal emulator soon evolved into
a full OS kernel he first called “Freax” (a combination of “free,” “freak,” and the “X” that identified it as a
As we are writing this, Apple’s market cap just surpassed Microsoft’s:
UNIX-like system), but in the end “Linux” (yes, standing for “Linus”) became popular because that’s
how a friend named the folder in which the files were stored and shared.
Torvalds then decided he wanted his OS to do more things, but he needed outside collaboration so
he didn’t have to do all the hard work. It was due to a bit of laziness that he posted a message to the
MINIX user group which started with the less-than-visionary statement: “I’m doing a (free) operating
system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.”
LINUX 0.01
The first version of Linux, dubbed Linux 0.01, was extremely limited. It only ran on AT 386 machines and
even then only a small subset of the hardware worked. Because for a long time he was a lonely coder
hiding from the Finnish winter, it was as though the hardware required for making Linux work was... Linus
Torvalds’ own PC! Even having a Finnish keyboard was recommended.2
What followed was his “accidental revolution.” Soon more and more developers were following his
lead in the development of the Linux kernel, starting what is now considered the most important
collaborative effort in computing history. He even had a fierce debate with Andrew Tanenbaum,
who declared in the same user group that “Linux is obsolete” as early as 1992. In the end, of course,
Linus prevailed.
Today, Linus Torvalds lives with his wife Tove and their three daughters in California, supervising
the Linux kernel development and directing The Linux Foundation, a not-for-profit organization
sponsored by individuals and companies that advocate the use of free software and Linux in particular.
He is seen by the community as their leader, and is often called the “benevolent dictator of planet
Linux,” even though he likes to describe his own position as the “hood ornament” of Linux.
GNU “slash” Linux
But Linux wasn’t a complete OS. It was just a kernel, unable to do anything useful without programs
running in top of it.
So Linux was in search of programs already available for free that emulated the working
environment of a UNIX-like computer... which was exactly what the GNU project was producing.
Meanwhile the GNU project was struggling to develop a free, open source, UNIX-like kernel... which was
exactly what Linus Torvalds and his crew were doing. So a perfect match was found.
It is not that both teams merged into one. The GNU project continued with its development of the
HURD. It’s just that for practical purposes, if one person wanted to have a complete OS, he needed both
parts: the Linux kernel and the GNU applications.
That was the origin of a very fruitful relationship between Linux and GNU. Today many free
software advocates call the OS by the full name GNU/Linux (pronounced “GNU slash Linux”). Richard
Stallman even proposed the name “Lignux” one time. It you ever come across a discussion as to whether
the OS should be called “Linux” or “GNU/Linux,” you should know that the latter name is defended by
the followers of Richard Stallman who think his applications are as important as the kernel itself.
The Linux Diaspora
For a Linux newbie, one of the most disorienting aspects is: why are there so many versions? You
just want to use Linux, but which one? Linux itself seems to be nowhere—all there are to be found
are distributions.
That is quite true, but the real question you should be asking yourself is: what do I want to do
with Linux? Anwer that question, and the perfect distribution (or at least a short list of them) should
emerge naturally.
Distributions appeared at first as a way to make Linux installation easy by integrating all the
required software plus additional applications that made that distribution unique. There were some
original distributions, and then many that spawned from there in order to achieve a particular goal, and
this makes Linux history resemble a tree-like structure. There are commercial distributions, sponsored
by companies that sell services associated with their products, and there are completely free
distributions. There are even free distributions that are almost 100% copies of commercial distributions!
Thus Linux is a never-ending story, like human history, because there will always be new objectives and
goals. This dispersion is not a liability for Linux, but one of its major strengths: you’ll always have a
distribution that matches your exact needs... and if not, you can create your own!
The penguin is the official mascot of the Linux kernel and was suggested by Linus Torvalds himself. He
had quite a fixation with penguins, and even claimed to have been bitten by one in Australia, which
caused, according to him, dreams of penguins for several days.
In 1996, Torvalds said the mascot should be a penguin—a contented penguin with its stomach stuffed
with herring and about to burp. He used the words “cuddly” and “cute” to describe what he was thinking.
He preferred that Linux be associated with a cute little animal instead of a ferocious one, because he
wasn’t in the arena to fight but to have fun and making a great OS.
The idea of having an animal as a mascot, he also reasoned, gave people freedom to change the logo
while retaining the link nonetheless. This proved to be true. We have today a lot of variations of the
penguin that still makes us think of Linux.
The penguin’s name is Tux, which can be explained as meaning (T)orvalds (U)ni(X), and as a reference of
the tuxedos penguins seem to be wearing.
Table 2-1 lists some (but by no means all) of the most popular Linux distributions in use today.
Table 2-1. Linux Distributions
Brief Description
One of the first Linux distributions and the oldest in active maintenance, which intends
to keep its design simple often to the detriment of its usability. First released in 1993.
A free Linux distribution that emphasizes the principles of free software and
collaborative development through the Debian Constitution and a Social Contract.
Debian is released with access to a load of free applications available online. It was
created by Ian Murdoch in 1993, the name being a combination of Debra, the name of
his girlfriend, and his own.
SuSE Linux
A Linux distribution based originally on Slackware and created by four German students
in 1994. It is very popular in Europe and in academic circles. In 2004 it was acquired by
Novell and later divided into a free and developmental version (openSuSE), and two
commercial ones (SuSE Linux Enterprise Server and SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop).
Novell has an interoperability agreement with Microsoft (which is a source of a lot of
scorn towards SuSE in the free software community) and leads several projects that aim
at being friendly with Windows shops (such as the Mono project or the Evolution mail
and calendar client).
Red Hat
One of the first and most popular commercial versions of Linux. First launched in 1994,
Red Hat gave Linus Torvalds shares of stock when it went public, allowing him to make
a small fortune (he hadn’t profited much from Linux before). In 2003 it spawned the
Fedora project to take advantage of external and community developers instead of
relying exclusively from internal programmers. It now sponsors both a free distribution,
Fedora, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, available only through a subscription.
A French distribution, derived from Red Hat and formerly known as Mandrake Linux. Is
very popular in France and focuses on ease of use.
CentOS is a distribution based almost exclusively on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. As the
source code of that OS is entirely available for free, it can be packaged to create another
distribution, and that’s what CentOS does after stripping it of Red Hat branding and
logos. Even its version schema exactly follows that of Red Hat.
A distribution based on Debian and the main focus of this book. It has also some
derivatives like Kubuntu (that uses KDE instead of GNOME), Edubuntu (for the
academic public), and even Goobuntu, a version developed by Google employees for
internal use in the company. It was first launched in 2004 and is maintained by
Canonical, a UK-based company.
Chrome OS
An OS developed by Google which is designed to work only with web applications.
Based on Linux and launched in 2010, it runs only on specialized hardware.
Open Source
Open source is a concept often associated with Linux and free software.
Linux is an open source project, which means that its source code is available for anyone to see.
That’s different from, say, Microsoft’s development model, which is closed source. Microsoft’s source
code is not widely available, and if you’re granted access to it (if you are, for example, a partner), you
have to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Linux is also free and licensed under the GPL.
Open source as a development practice has a lot of advantages over closed source. One of them is
what is known as Linus’ Law: “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” If source code is open,
everybody can see it, and thus errors have more chances of being detected and corrected in a
timely fashion.
There are currently many open source projects that, although they run on top of other operating
systems besides Linux, are mostly associated with it. Some examples can be found in Table 2-2.
Table 2-2. Free and Open Source Software
Brief Description
A free and open source web server maintained by the Apache Software
Foundation, it serves the majority of web sites on the Internet today.
A free and open source relational database now owned by Oracle (after the
purchase of Sun Microsystems, its former owner). MySQL is used in conjunction
with Apache and programming languages such as Python, PHP, and Perl to create
powerful web sites. This bundle is commonly called LAMP (Linux, Apache,
MySQL, and the programming language, which all start with P).
A free and open source office productivity suite, with a word processor (Write), a
spreadsheet (Calc), a database (Base), a presentation software (Impress), a vector
graphic editor (Draw), and a tool for creating and editing mathematical formulas.
It is sponsored by Sun Microsystems (now owned by Oracle), which also also sells
a “pro” version called StarOffice, with more functionality.
Some years ago, the open source concept became more institutional and often collides with that
of free software, at least in the heads of their leaders. In 1998, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) was
founded with the aim of making this family of software more appealing to commercial organizations,
which may be scared by the concept of software being free. The open source model of development, the
founders thought, had its own merits, whether the software produced was free or not. OSI tries to sell the
business case for open source as a pragmatic solution, without the moral philosophy entanglement of
free software.
But the two concepts are often linked, giving rise to the acronyms FOSS (“Free and Open Source
Software”) and FLOSS (the “L” from libre, Spanish for “free”).
The South African Factor
At the time of this writing, recent events have put the Republic of South Africa in the spotlight. In 2010,
the World Cup, one of the most prestigious and popular sports championships in the world, is taking
place in South Africa. Clint Eastwood’s 2010 movie Invictus depicts some turning points in recent South
African history. District 9, another motion picture, directed by South African director Neill Blomkamp,
takes place in an alternate reality of a Johannesburg hosting a race of extraterrestrial refugees.
And then there is Mark Shuttleworth. After earning half a billion dollars in the late 1990s and
traveling to space, Mark Shuttleworth, a young South African entrepreneur, found himself with a lot of
money in his pockets and in search of a cause.
He found it in Linux and the free software promise. Mark had been a Debian programmer in the
1990s, but this time his mission was somewhat different and more ambitious: he envisioned a world in
which the PC market was upside down. Instead of users having to pay for the OS, as people do with
Windows, he wanted it to be possible and sustainable to give the OS away for free and profit from
services such as consulting, customization, and support. He thought that Linux was an already mature
platform and a perfect fit for this business model. And he aimed at the heart of Microsoft: the desktop
computer. But, unlike many others, he understood that for users to massively embrace his product, it
would not only have to be free, but also exciting, easy to use, and complete. There had to be a “wow”
factor in place for his plan to succeed.
The name Ubuntu was a perfect choice to reflect both free software principles and South Africa’s
cultural heritage. Ubuntu (pronounced “oo-BOON-too”) is a Bantu word with synonyms in many
other African languages. Although it has been described as too beautiful to be translated into English,
the word reflects the idea that you only became truly human through other human beings. There is a
Zulu saying that goes: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (“a person is a person through (other) persons”). It
has also been defined as “humanity through others.” By emphasizing fraternal bonds between human
beings, the name Ubuntu takes free software principles one step further, connecting it to a broader
humanistic view of the world. It is not just that open source software is better programmed, or that an
individual has the right to use the software as he likes: it sees humanity as a collective endeavor that will
only attain its goal if we treat our fellow humans as companions on a trip instead of just customers or
providers. Ubuntu the OS attempts to be a means by which ubuntu the philosophy can thrive. Mark
Shuttleworth believes that if Ubuntu succeeds, he really will be changing the world. It’s not a small goal
he set for himself!
Mark then founded Canonical Ltd., the UK-based company behind Ubuntu, in 2004, with initial
funding of $10 million. He believes Ubuntu will grow to be a sustainable business over the years, and not
just the whim of a billionaire. Its revenue, Shuttleworth disclosed in an interview a couple of years ago,
was $30 million a year. Still far from the billions Microsoft earns by selling Windows, but pretty good for
a company that gives away its main product!
The Year of the Linux Desktop
There is an old, so-far-unfulfilled prophecy about “the Year of the Linux Desktop.” Many have predicted
that Linux would eventually replace Windows as the de-facto desktop OS, but so far it hasn’t happened.
Might things be changing? Could the long-awaited “Year” finally be here?
We’re not about to do any prophecy. We don’t know. But then again, Linux is not about market
share, but just plain sharing. To share, say, an apple with you means giving it to you. You can eat it, give
it away, or store it for later use. That’s what sharing means; otherwise something is expected in return.
Proprietary software makers want you to take the apple, pay for it in advance, feel that you need to eat
the apple right away, and then sell you a knife to peel it (and it’s even better if only their knife works with
that particular apple). They polish the apple and put a sticker over the worm hole so you don’t see it
until it’s too late. Their revenues derive from this method.
The aim of this book is not to follow the “Year of the Linux Desktop” hype, but to tell you that you
can make the personal choice of opting for Ubuntu Linux and its application stack without fear, and
even with some hope.
Having said that, there are a few signs that this might be, really, the “Year of the Linux Desktop”! We
mention in Chapter 1 that trends in the desktop computing market can lead one to think that the very
foundation on which the Microsoft Windows success story is based might be shaking right now, among
them the emergence of web-based applications and the “good enough” revolution in hardware.
Microsoft’s mission of battling piracy can also be a force driving Ubuntu Linux adoption. Believe it
or not, on desktops, the second most installed OS behind legitimate copies of Microsoft Windows is...
illegal copies of Microsoft Windows. But if Microsoft increases its pressure on pirates (as it’s already
doing), people might turn to free alternatives rather than keep paying for Windows. And if more users
turn to Linux, anything could happen. With only 1% of the market share for desktop computers, the
Linux community produced something as good as Ubuntu; it’s difficult to imagine where the limit will
be if that figure increases.
Ubuntu is now a mature desktop OS in its 12th release, and it is reportedly being used by more than
12 million users worldwide.3 That makes it the most popular Linux distribution for desktops; in fact, it
has been chosen as distribution of the year many times. Red Hat and Novell, with Red Hat Enterprise
Linux Desktop and SUSE Linux respectively, are aiming at the corporate market and have made some
advances there that push forward the overall Linux community.
There might never be a “Year of the Linux Desktop.” There might be, after Microsoft Windows,
another “big thing” that changes the landscape and poses a new challenge to Linux. But Ubuntu and
Linux have already been successful in raising the bar when it comes to what we expect to receive for
each dollar we spend in software.
This chapter closes the introductory part of the book. We’ve discussed the history of Ubuntu, starting
from the creation of UNIX in the 1970s, to the rise of IBM PC and Microsoft’s DOS in the 1980s, and gone
from the initial call for collaboration from Linus Torvalds to the reality of free and open source software
that is Ubuntu.
Along the way we met characters such as Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds, the founding fathers
of the GNU/Linux OS. We also reviewed the concepts of copyleft, free software, and open source, which
are part of understanding the world of Linux and Ubuntu.
Installing Ubuntu
Pre-installation Steps
Now that you know a bit about where Ubuntu Linux came from, how it’s different, and why you might
want to use it, it’s time to get Ubuntu running on your own desktop or laptop, using the DVD that’s
included with this book. Most computers in the world run Windows, but very few people install
Windows themselves. They have no need to, because almost every computer you can buy comes with
Windows pre-installed. By contrast, it’s rare to find companies selling new computers with Ubuntu or
any other flavor of Linux on them. There are exceptions—for example, a company called System 76
supplies excellent hardware to customers in the United States and Canada with Ubuntu pre-installed.
And even Dell has been known to offer Ubuntu on a limited range of its computers, notably the
inexpensive Inspiron Mini 10 netbook.
But for most of us, getting Ubuntu means installing it for ourselves. This can seem a daunting
prospect if you haven’t done it before. However, Ubuntu makes this job as easy as it’s possible to be. Its
installation routines are very advanced compared to previous versions of Linux and even compared to
other current distributions.
What does saying that you’re going to install Ubuntu actually mean? It involves three things:
Somehow, all the files necessary to run Ubuntu are going to be put onto your hard
The PC will be configured so that it knows where to find these files when it first
boots up.
The Ubuntu operating system will be set up so that you can use it.
However, in order to do all this and get Ubuntu onto your PC, you must undertake some
preparatory work, which is the focus of this chapter.
Understanding Partitioning
Chances are your PC already has Windows installed on it. This won’t present a problem. In most cases,
Ubuntu can live happily alongside Windows in what’s called a dual-boot setup, which enables you to
choose which operating system to run at your computer’s startup. However, installing Ubuntu means
that Windows must make certain compromises. Windows is forced to cohabit on your hard disk with
another OS—something it isn’t designed to do.
■ Note Even if you intend to install Ubuntu on a completely blank hard disk, it’s still important that you
understand partitioning.
The main issue with such a situation is that Windows needs to shrink and make some space
available for Ubuntu (unless you install a second hard disk, which is discussed later in this chapter). In
an ideal world, Ubuntu needs its own separately defined part of the disk, which is referred to as a
partition. All of this can be handled automatically by the Ubuntu installation routine, but it’s important
that you know what happens so that you know what to do in the unlikely event of anything going wrong.
■ Note It’s possible to install Ubuntu within the Windows file system too, as an alternative to dual-booting. That’s
explained in Chapter 4.
All hard disks are split into partitions, which are large chunks of the disk created to hold operating
systems and data (just as a large farm is partitioned into separate fields). A partition is usually multiple
gigabytes in size, although it can be smaller.
■ Note If you use a Macintosh, don’t feel left out! The next chapter includes a sidebar explaining the options for
installing Ubuntu on your Mac.
You can view your disk’s partitions by using the Disk Management tool in Windows XP, 2000, Vista,
and 7, as shown in Figure 3-1. You can access this tool by right-clicking Computer in the Windows Start
menu and selecting Manage. This brings up the Computer Management window, where you will find
Disk Management under Storage.
Most desktop PC systems have just one partition, unless the user has specifically created additional
partitions. As mentioned, Ubuntu needs a partition of its own. During installation, Ubuntu needs to
shrink the main Windows partition and create two new partitions: one for the operating system itself,
and an extra one to hold the swap file.
In addition, the Ubuntu installation routine writes a new boot sector (also known as a boot loader).
The boot sector is located at the very beginning of the disk and contains a small program that then runs
another program that lets you choose between operating systems (and therefore partitions) when you
first boot up.
Figure 3-1. You can view your disk’s partitions by using Windows’ Disk Management tool.
■ Note Partitioning a laptop for dual-booting can present some tricky decisions. Manufacturers often create multipartition setups including a recovery partition to make it very easy to reset Windows to factory defaults. It’s
tempting to delete this recovery partition and devote the space to Linux. If you decide to do this, make sure you
have a full set of Windows recovery disks before you start!
Of course, Ubuntu cannot shrink a Windows partition that is packed full of data, because no space
is available for it to reclaim. Therefore, one of the first preparatory steps is to ensure that enough space
is free.
Freeing Up Space
The first step before installing Ubuntu alongside Windows is to check how much free space you have in
your Windows partition. To see the amount of free space you have under Windows Vista or 7, click the
Start button, click Computer, and look at the bar graph next to your hard disk drive, as shown in Figure
3-2. With older versions of Windows, you should double-click My Computer, right-click your boot drive,
and select Properties. The free space is usually indicated in purple on a pie chart.
In both cases, look for how much free space you have. In Windows Vista and 7, this is the first figure
underneath the bar graph.
You need to have at least 3GB of free space in your Windows partition for Ubuntu to use, but 3GB is
a bare minimum and should be considered only if you have no other choice (that is, your computer lacks
free disk space). You’ll need more space than that if you wish to install a lot of programs. If you don’t
have enough free space, you have several options: reclaim space, remove Windows, or use a second
hard disk.
Figure 3-2. Ubuntu needs free disk space in which to install, so you might need to clean up your
Windows partition.
Reclaiming Space
In Windows 7, Vista, and XP, you can run the Disk Cleanup tool to free some space on your hard disk.
Under Windows 7 and Vista, click Start Computer and right-click the icon representing your hard disk.
Select Properties from the menu that appears and then click the Disk Cleanup button. On Windows XP,
click the Disk Cleanup button beneath the pie chart showing the free disk space. Disk Cleanup is also
accessible by clicking Start All Programs Accessories System Tools Disk Cleanup.
You might also consider turning off System Restore. This consumes a lot of disk space, which you
can reclaim. However, deactivating System Restore means you lose the possibility of returning your
system to a previous state should anything go wrong (although you can always manually back up your
data, of course). To access System Restore under Windows 7 and Vista, click the Start button and then
right-click Computer in the menu. Select Properties and click the System Protection link on the left of
the window that appears. In Windows 7, select the drive (usually C:) for which you want to deactivate
System Restore and click Configure. Select Turn Off System Protection in the window which appears,
and confirm your change by clicking OK here and in the underlying System Protection window. In
Windows Vista, remove the check alongside the drives under the Available Disk list, confirm that you
want to turn off System Restore, and click the OK button on the System Properties dialog box. Under
Windows XP, right-click My Computer, click Properties, and then click the System Restore tab. Next, put
a check alongside Turn Off System Restore on All Drives, and click OK.
If you still cannot free up enough disk space, consider uninstalling unused software via the
Add/Remove Programs applet within Control Panel. If you have any large games installed, consider
removing them first, because they usually take up substantial amounts of hard disk space. You might
also consider deleting movie and MP3 music files, which are renowned for eating up hard disk space.
The average MP3 is around 4MB, for example, and one minute of video typically takes up 10MB of
disk space!
Removing Windows
Some users might prefer a second, more radical option: getting rid of Windows completely and letting
Ubuntu take over the entire hard disk. If you feel confident that Ubuntu will fulfill your needs, this is
undoubtedly the most straightforward solution. You’ll be able to do this during installation. However,
this will also mean that any personal data you have will be lost, so you should first back up your data (as
described shortly).
■ Caution You should be aware that installing Windows back onto a hard disk that has Ubuntu on it is
troublesome. Windows has a Darwinian desire to wipe out the competition. If you attempt to install Windows on an
Ubuntu hard disk, it will overwrite Linux.
Using Another Hard Disk
A third option for making room for Ubuntu is attractive and somewhat safer in terms of avoiding the
potential for data loss: fitting a second hard disk to your PC. You can then install Ubuntu on this other
hard disk, letting it take up the entire disk. Unlike some versions of Windows, Ubuntu doesn’t need to be
installed on the primary hard disk and is happy on a secondary drive.
A second hard disk is perhaps the best solution if you’re low on disk space and want to retain
Windows on your system. However, you’ll need to know how to install the new drive or find someone to
do it for you (although step-by-step guides can be found on the Web—just search using Google or
another search engine). In addition, if your PC is less than 12 months old, you could invalidate your
warranty by opening up your PC.
If you have an old PC lying around, you might also consider installing Ubuntu on it, at least until
you’re sure that you want to run it on your main PC.
If you don’t want to repartition your disk or add another disk drive, there’s another way you can run Ubuntu
under Windows: using virtualization software.
Put simply, virtualization software lets you run a “computer within a computer” (or, in fact, several
computers within a computer!). It does this by cleverly sharing system resources between the real
computer and the one that’s being virtualized in software.
When the virtualization software is run, the virtual computer appears in a program window. A BIOS-like
startup screen appears, just as on a real computer, and then the virtual hard disk (usually a file on the
main hard disk) is booted. An operating system may then be installed onto the virtual hard disk or,
alternatively, it’s possible to download entire virtual machines from various sites, for which the hard work
of installing the operating system has been done for you!
There are a wide variety of virtualization software packages available, both proprietary and freely available
open source. Undoubtedly the best open source rendition is VirtualBox (, which is
sponsored by database giant Oracle. Perhaps the best proprietary packages are those offered by VMware,
including VMware Server and VMware Player. Both products are entirely free of charge and can be
downloaded from Another version of VMware, called Workstation, which is available for
a charge, is also highly praised by many.
Also popular with many is QEMU (, although it doesn’t quite offer the performance
of the software already mentioned. However, should you decide to give it a try, also worth downloading is
QEMU Manager, which provides a GUI-based configuration front end for QEMU: see
If you have an Apple computer, you’ll also be able to run Ubuntu virtually, using the open source choices of
VirtualBox and QEMU, or the paid-for proprietary options of VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop.
Software developers who need to test their work on all three major operating systems often run Linux and
Windows virtualized on OS X, partly because Apple hardware is very powerful and therefore capable of
running virtual machines with ease, and partly because Apple makes it technically and legally difficult to
virtualize Mac OS X on non-Apple hardware.
Using a virtualized computer is a great way to try out Ubuntu before you commit yourself to anything more
drastic, but you have to be aware of the drawbacks as well. Operating systems running within virtual
computers tend to operate more slowly compared to running natively on a computer, and the virtualized
hardware is often very simple (virtual machines have only recently gained the ability to access your
computer’s 3D graphics hardware, for example). Setting up a virtual computer can be difficult for those
who are new to it, and you’ll require a powerful PC with at least 2GB of memory (and more like 3–4GB for
optimum results).
One final note: virtualization software is also available for Ubuntu, which means you could install and run
Windows within a virtual machine running on Ubuntu. This is an excellent way to go if you still need access
to a few legacy Windows programs. QEMU, mentioned previously, runs on Ubuntu, as does VirtualBox and
the various VMware products.
Backing Up Your Data
Whichever route you decide to take when installing Ubuntu, you should back up the data currently on
your computer beforehand. Possibly the easiest way of doing this is to burn the data to recordable CD or
DVD discs by using a program such as Nero or Infrarecorder and a CD-R/RW or DVD-R/RW drive.
If you take the coexistence route, installing Ubuntu alongside Windows, you should back up your
data anyway for insurance purposes. Although the people behind Ubuntu test all their software
thoroughly and rely on community reporting of bugs, there’s always the chance that something out of
your control will go wrong. Repartitioning a hard disk is a major operation and carries with it the
potential for data loss.
If you intend to erase the hard disk when installing Ubuntu (thereby removing Windows), you can
back up your data and then import it into Ubuntu.
Table 3-1 shows a list of common personal data file types, their file extensions, where they can be
typically found on a Windows system, and notes on importing the data into Ubuntu. Note that earlier
versions of Windows (95, 98, and Me) may differ when it comes to data storage locations.
Table 3-1. Data That Should Be Backed Up
Typical Location
(Windows 7)
Typical Location
Office files
.xlsx, .ppt,
.pdf, etc.
\Documents and
<username>\ My
Microsoft Office files can be
opened, edited, and saved
under Ubuntu using the suite. PDF
documents can be viewed with
the Evince program.
E-mail files
The Evolution mail client used
by Ubuntu cannot import data
directly from Microsoft
Outlook or Outlook Express.
However, there is a convoluted
but effective workaround,
described in the next section.
Digital images
.jpg, .bmp,
.tif, .png,
.gif, etc.
\Documents and
<username>\ My
Ubuntu includes a variety of
programs to catalog, view, and
edit image files.
.mp3 , .mpg ,
.avi , .wma ,
Various within
Various within \
My Documents
With some additional
downloads, programs under
Ubuntu can play most audio
and movie file formats.
Type of File
Typical Location
(Windows 7)
Typical Location
\Documents and
Your Favorites list cannot be
imported into Ubuntu, but the
individual files can be opened
in a text editor in order to view
their URLs, which can then be
opened in the Ubuntu web
browser. Better still, install
Firefox, have it import your
favorites, and then follow the
instructions in the next table
Mozilla Firefox
If you use Mozilla Firefox under
Windows, you can manually
export your bookmarks for
import under Firefox when
Ubuntu is installed. Click
Bookmarks Organize
Bookmarks, click the Import
and Backup button on the
toolbar of the window that
appears, and then select the
Backup option from the menu
that appears. To import the
bookmarks into Ubuntu’s
version of Firefox, repeat the
steps, but click the Restore Choose File option on the
menu instead and then locate
the .html file you saved.
Type of File
Alternatively, take advantage of
Firefox’s new syncing
capability by setting up a
Mozilla Weave account in
Preferences. This can be used
to securely share your
bookmarks, passwords, and
more between copies of Firefox
running on any system
Internet files
You might also want to back up
web site archives or instant
messenger chat logs, although
hidden data such as cookies
cannot be imported.
Backing Up E-Mail Files
Microsoft e-mail cannot be easily imported into Ubuntu. Most e-mail programs use the MBOX format,
and this is true of Ubuntu as well as programs created by the Mozilla Foundation (the organization
behind the Firefox web browser). However, Microsoft uses its own DBX file format for Outlook Express
and PST format for Outlook.
As a workaround, you can download and install the free Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail client
(available from on your Windows system. In Thunderbird, choose Tools Import to import your messages and contacts from Outlook, Outlook Express, or even the popular
Eudora mail client. You will then be able to back up Thunderbird’s mail files and import them into
Evolution under Ubuntu, as described in Chapter 14.
To find where the mail files are stored, in Thunderbird choose Tools Account Settings, and then
look in the Local Directory box. Back up each file that corresponds to a folder within your mail program
(for example, Inbox, Sent, and so on). Note that you need to back up only the files without file
extensions. You can ignore the .sdb folders as well as the .msf files.
■ Tip To quickly go to the location of the Thunderbird e-mail files under Windows, copy the address in the Local
Directory text box. Then, under Windows XP, click Start Run, paste the address straight into the Open box, and
click OK. Under Windows Vista or 7, paste the address into the Start Search text box and press Enter. Bear in mind
that some of the folders are classified as system folders and are therefore hidden. You will need to activate the
View Hidden Files option within My Computer.
Making Notes
When you’re backing up data, a pencil and paper come in handy too. You should write down any
important usernames and passwords, such as those for your e-mail account and other online services.
In addition, don’t forget to jot down essential technical details, such as your IP address if you are
part of a network of computers using static addresses (this will usually be relevant only if you work in an
office environment).
■ Tip If you’ve forgotten any passwords, several freeware/shareware applications are able to “decode” the
asterisks that obscure Windows passwords and show what’s beneath them. A good example is Asterisk Password
Reveal, which you can download from Shareware sites like offer similar applications.
Note that you don’t need to write down information such as hardware interrupt (IRQ) or memory
addresses, because hardware is configured automatically by Ubuntu. However, it might be worth
making a note of the make and model of some items of internal hardware, such as your graphics card
and sound card. This will help if Ubuntu is unable to automatically detect your hardware, although such
a situation is fairly unlikely to arise. Under Windows Vista and 7, you can find out this information by
clicking the Start button and right-clicking Computer. Click Properties in the menu that appears, and
click the Device Manager link on the left of the window that appears. Under Windows XP, right-click My
Computer on the Desktop (or on your Start menu), select Properties, and click the Hardware tab. Then
click the Device Manager button.
Instead of writing everything down, you might consider taking a screenshot by pressing the Print
Screen key and using your favorite image editor to print it.
■ Tip Ubuntu works with a wide variety of hardware, and in most cases, it will automatically detect your system
components. If you’re in any doubt, you can consult the forums at—in particular, the
Hardware Help forums under the Main Support Categories heading. You might also consider subscribing to one or
more of the Ubuntu mailing lists at Remember that an important element of Ubuntu
is its community of users, many of whom will be very willing to answer any questions you might have!
When you’re certain that all your data is backed up, you can move on to the next chapter, which
provides a step-by-step guide to installing the operating system.
The aim of this chapter has been to prepare both you and your computer for the installation of Ubuntu.
You’ve looked at how your hard disk will be partitioned prior to installation and the preparations you
should make to ensure that your hard disk has sufficient free space. You also learned about the types of
files you might choose to back up, in addition to vital details you should record, such as usernames and
passwords for your online accounts.
In the next chapter, we move on to a full description of the Ubuntu installation procedure. The
chapter guides you through getting Ubuntu onto your computer.
Installing Ubuntu
It’s now time to install Ubuntu. In the dim and distant past, installation was sometimes difficult, but the
developers now have it down to a fine art, so it should take only 30 minutes or so on a modern PC. It’s
also relatively simple, with very few decisions to make throughout, and lots of hand-holding.
However, you should examine all the options you’re offered to make sure they’re correct. Installing
an operating system involves a couple of serious processes that have the potential for data loss. Read
and consider every warning message you see, and be sure to keep your wits about you. Above all, make a
backup of your data beforehand, as described in the previous chapter.
An Overview of the Installation Process
The DVD-ROM disc supplied with this book is double-sided. This means it’s like a vinyl LP record. To
play Side A, simply insert the disc with the Side A label topmost. To play Side B, insert the disc with the
Side B label topmost.
Side A contains the current Long term support (LTS) release version of Ubuntu, 10.04,
code-named Lucid Lynx. This is the most recent version of Ubuntu at the time of writing. Side B contains
the following:
ISO image files of the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Ubuntu 10.04, which you can
burn to a blank CD-R/RW disc by following the instructions in Appendix D. This is
included in case you want to give copies of Ubuntu to your friends, or if you want
to try the Wubi Windows installer (see the “Installing Ubuntu Inside Windows”
sidebar), which isn’t included with the DVD version of Ubuntu 10.04 for technical
■ Note You can also freely duplicate the DVD supplied with this book and give copies to friends if you want. In
fact, this is encouraged.
The 32-bit “Alternate Install” version of Ubuntu 10.04, which can be useful for
setting up automated deployments, upgrading from older installations without
network access, LVM and/or RAID partitioning, and installing on systems with less
than about 256MB of RAM.
The 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) releases of Kubuntu and Xubuntu, which provide
alternative Desktop environments if Ubuntu’s default Desktop environment,
GNOME, does not suit your taste, and Edubuntu, which provides a layer of
educational content on top of the standard Ubuntu installation. For more details
on these versions of Ubuntu, see Appendix D.
An image of the Ubuntu Netbook Edition, which presents a simplified interface
which its developers feel is more suited to the smaller screens found on Netbooks.
If you want to try one of the installers on Side B of the DVD, you will first need to burn it onto a CD
(or DVD, in the case of the Edubuntu image). This procedure is discussed in Appendix D.
However, most readers will want to install the default version of Ubuntu. So to start things rolling,
insert Side A into the DVD-ROM drive and boot your computer. You might have to set your BIOS to boot
from DVD, as explained in stage 2 of the installation guide in this chapter.
If you’ve ever installed Windows from scratch on a computer, you might be used to working with the
Windows installation program. This appears when you boot from a Windows CD or DVD or run the
setup.exe program from the Desktop, and it guides you through installing Windows onto your hard disk.
Ubuntu is a little different. After you’ve booted from the DVD-ROM, a menu will appear. You can
choose the Install Ubuntu option, and the DVD will continue booting to a graphical installer.
Alternatively, you can choose the Try Ubuntu option. This allows you to run Ubuntu from the DVDROM, effectively trying it out without making any changes to your computer.
Using Ubuntu without installing it to the hard disk is referred to as running in live distro mode.
Although this is a great way to take a sneak peak at what Ubuntu offers, there are a few things to be
aware of, as discussed in the sidebar titled “Running in Live Distro Mode.”
To install Ubuntu on your computer, simply select the Install Ubuntu option from the Welcome
window. This will run the dedicated installation program, which will work through a few stages to get
Linux on your computer’s hard disk. During the installation stages, you’ll be asked a handful of essential
questions and will be taken through the process of creating space on your computer for the new OS.
After this, Ubuntu is installed onto your hard disk.
At the end of the procedure, your PC will boot straight into the Ubuntu login screen, and you’re set
to go. There’s no need to mess around configuring hardware, because for almost everything, that’s done
automatically. Neat, eh?
In most cases, the installation process will run smoothly without a hitch. But if you do run into
problems, head over to Chapter 5, which addresses many of the most common issues and provides
If you don’t want to install Ubuntu just yet, you can try it out by booting the operating system straight from
the DVD supplied with this book. You might want to do this, for instance, to highlight any potential
hardware issues or if you’re visiting friends and want to boot up into a familiar Desktop on their PC. To do
this, simply insert the DVD-ROM and then reboot your computer. Make sure the computer is set to boot
from DVD (see stage 2 of the installation guide in this chapter to learn how), and select the Try Ubuntu
10.04 option. After a few moments, the Ubuntu Desktop will appear. Depending on the speed and memory
capacity of your computer, this process can take some time, so be patient. You can follow most of the
chapters in this book when running in live distro mode, and you can even save data (documents,
downloads, and so forth) to a USB drive. However, you should be aware of the following issues:
Settings: Any changes you make to the system will be forgotten as soon as you
shut down your PC or reboot. In other words, each time you run in live distro
mode, it will be as if Ubuntu has been freshly installed. For example, if you’ve
configured a network card or rearranged the Desktop, those changes will be lost.
There are ways around losing settings on each reboot, but they require partitioning
your hard disk, which, frankly, is as much effort as installing Ubuntu from scratch.
So there’s little to be gained by doing so.
Performance: Because the data must be read from DVD-ROM, running Ubuntu in
live distro mode is a slow and, therefore, frustrating experience. It can also be
noisy if your DVD-ROM is a model that makes a whirring noise as it spins.
System: As strange as it sounds, Ubuntu is largely unaware of when it’s running in
live distro mode. For example, if you were to follow the instructions in Chapter 8,
which discuss how to update your system, Ubuntu will attempt to update, even
though it’s running in live distro mode! Of course, it can’t do this, because, as far
as it is concerned, the DVD-ROM is the hard disk, and it’s therefore impossible to
write data to it. This can create confusing error messages.
Risk to data: When running in live distro mode, you’re given practically unlimited
power over the system. This means that you could potentially repartition the hard
disk, for example, or even wipe the hard disk entirely, all without any password
prompt or warning. This can be useful in certain circumstances—you can attempt
to “rescue” a hard disk that’s having problems using the live distro mode of the
Ubuntu disc. But using it for everyday tasks is a huge risk, and the potential for
accidental damage is high.
In short, we recommend that you use live distro mode sparingly and only to get a taste of what Ubuntu
is like. If you intend to use Ubuntu for any significant period of time, take the plunge and install it to your
hard disk.
A Stage-by-Stage Installation Guide
As outlined in Chapter 3, you shouldn’t start the installation process until you’ve made sure there is
enough space for Ubuntu on your hard disk and you have backed up all your data. With those
preparations complete, you’re ready to install Ubuntu. The remainder of this chapter guides you
through the process.
Stage 1: Prepare the Windows Partition for Resizing
If you’re installing Ubuntu on a computer that already contains Windows, it’s a good idea to perform
three additional steps before actually installing Ubuntu. These steps will ensure that Ubuntu will be able
to resize the Windows partition successfully.
If your computer doesn’t contain Windows, or if you’re installing Ubuntu onto a second hard disk,
you can skip straight to stage 2.
The following are the steps for preparing the Windows partition for resizing:
Scan the disk for errors.
Defragment the hard disk.
Ensure that Windows is shut down correctly.
To scan the disk, open My Computer (or Computer if you’re running Windows Vista or 7), right-click
your Windows drive (usually C:\) and select Properties. In the window that appears, click the Tools tab
and then click the Check Now button under the Error Checking heading. Ensure that there’s a check
alongside Automatically Fix File System Errors, and click the Start button. You will then be prompted to
schedule the disk check the next time your computer restarts. Select to do so and reboot your computer,
so the disk check can take place.
When the computer has rebooted, it’s time to defragment your disk. Windows can be untidy with
how it stores data on the disk. Over time files get broken into pieces and scattered all over your Windows
partition. Defragmenting the partition will not only make Windows run more quickly, but will also
consolidate your files at the beginning of the partition, enabling you to shrink it further and create a
larger partition for Ubuntu in the freed space. Repeat the previous steps to view the Tools tab of the
drive’s Properties dialog box, and click the Defragment Now button. Then work through the
defragmentation program’s options in order to defragment the Windows disk (shown in Figure 4-1);
usually this involves simply clicking the Defragment button (labeled Defragment Now under Windows
Vista or Defragment Disk under Windows 7).
After that has completed—it may take several hours if your computer has not been defragmented
before—shut down the computer as usual and proceed to stage 2 of the installation process.
It’s vital that the computer shuts itself down properly. If the computer doesn’t cleanly shut
down, Ubuntu’s installation program might stop with an error message about not being able to resize
the partition.
Figure 4-1. Before installing Ubuntu, it’s essential to scan the Windows partition for errors and to
defragment it.
Ubuntu includes a clever piece of software called Wubi that lets you install Ubuntu within the Windows file
system. In other words, there is no need to repartition your hard disk. Aside from this, there is no major
difference between a partitioned installation and a Wubi installation.
Wubi works by creating a loopback file system—that is, it creates a single large file within the Windows
file system, and that file is then used as the Ubuntu file system.
Wubi is a nice way to try out Ubuntu on a more permanent basis than using the live distro mode. The
biggest issue is that Wubi requires at least 256MB of memory and 5GB of hard disk space, although this
shouldn’t present any problems for relatively modern computers. However, users have reported
performance degradation compared to a dedicated Ubuntu installation in its own partition, and you’ll also
find that Ubuntu’s useful Hibernate power-saving mode (what Windows refers to as Suspend to Disk)
isn’t supported.
Unfortunately, for technical reasons Wubi isn’t included on the DVD release of Ubuntu, as supplied on Side
A of the DVD-ROM disc that comes with this book. To use it, you’ll need to burn your own CD-R/RW disc
from the installation ISO image of Ubuntu provided on Side B of the disc. To learn how to do this, follow the
instructions in Appendix D.
To use Wubi, insert the CD while Windows is up and running. In the dialog box that appears, click the
Install Inside Windows button. If the dialog box doesn’t appear, navigate to the contents of the CD and
double-click wubi.exe. In the next dialog box, you are presented with a series of drop-down lists. Using
these, you can choose which drive to create the Ubuntu file system on, if you have more than one hard
disk or partition, and you can choose the size of the loopback file system you want to create. In most
cases, the default options are fine. You will need to enter a username and password in the boxes provided.
These will form your Ubuntu login details. When you’re finished, click the Next button.
Wubi will then create the loopback file system. When it has finished, you’ll be invited to reboot your
computer. After the computer is up and running again, you’ll be presented with a boot menu from which
you can choose either Windows or Ubuntu. Choosing Ubuntu will then start the installation routine, which
will complete automatically. Following this, you’ll be prompted to reboot. From then on, selecting the
Ubuntu option from the boot menu will start Ubuntu. To start Windows, simply choose the Windows option
from the menu.
To remove the Ubuntu file system from your Windows hard disk, navigate to C:\ubuntu from within
Windows and double-click Uninstall-Ubuntu.exe. Don’t be tempted to just delete the Ubuntu folder,
because doing so will not remove the boot menu component.
Stage 2: Boot from the DVD-ROM
With your computer booted up, insert the Ubuntu disc into the DVD-ROM drive, with Side A topmost.
Close the tray and reboot your computer. The disc might automatically run under Windows, opening a
menu where you can click to find out more about Ubuntu, but you can ignore this.
Because you need to boot from the DVD-ROM disc in order to run the Ubuntu installer, the first step
is to make sure your computer’s BIOS is set correctly.
Many modern computers let you press a particular key during the initial boot phase of your
computer, during the memory testing and drive identification period, to make a boot menu appear.
Often this is F8, Delete, or Esc, but you should keep an eye on the boot messages to identify the correct
key. On the boot menu, you can choose to boot from the CD or DVD drive from the list.
If you do not have an option to boot from the CD/DVD drive, you’ll need to enter the BIOS setup
program and change the boot priority of your computer. To do this, press the Delete key just after the
computer is first activated. Again, some computers use another key or key combination, and your boot
screen should indicate which key to press.
When the BIOS menu appears, look for a menu option such as Boot and select it (you can usually
navigate around the screen of the BIOS menu using the cursor keys, and select options by pressing
Enter). On the new menu, look for a separate entry such as Boot Device Priority or perhaps Boot
Sequence. Make sure that the entry for the CD/DVD-ROM is at the top of the list. Arrange the list so that
CD/ DVD-ROM is followed by the floppy drive and then your main hard disk. You can usually press the
F1 key for help on how the menu selection system works.
After you’ve made the changes, be sure to select the Save and Exit option. Your PC will then reset
and boot from the Ubuntu DVD-ROM, and you’ll be greeted by the Ubuntu DVD boot menu.
■ Note After Ubuntu has been installed on your computer, you might choose to repeat this step and rearrange the
boot order once more to make the hard disk appear at the top of the list. Then your computer won’t waste time
checking the DVD-ROM drive for a boot disc every time it starts.
Stage 3: Try or Install
When the DVD-ROM boots, for a few seconds you’ll see a purple background with two small icons—a
keyboard and an accessibility symbol—at the bottom of the screen, hinting that accessibility features
such as a screen reader can be reached by pressing any key on the keyboard. Most people can just leave
the boot sequence to continue.
You will then be entertained by a progress indicator for a minute or so, depending on the speed of
your machine, after which the installer window will appear (Figure 4-2).
Figure 4-2. The Welcome screen of the installer: choose to test the system out, or install it.
English is the default language for the installer, but a selection list on the left of the window offers
the choice of more than 60 other languages, reminding us what an amazingly international project
Ubuntu is.
The two main options offered by the Welcome window are as follows:
Try Ubuntu 10.04: This option lets you run Ubuntu “live” from the DVD-ROM disc, so you can try
out its features, albeit in a slightly limited state (see the “Running in Live Distro Mode” sidebar). If
you’ve never seen Ubuntu up and running, choose this option and play around. You can always
click the install icon on the Desktop when you’re ready to take the plunge.
Install Ubuntu 10.04: This will start Ubuntu’s installation routine. Choose this if you want to get
straight on with installing Ubuntu on your PC now.
Text links on this window also offer you the opportunity to read the release notes for Ubuntu 10.04
and to update the installer itself. It’s not essential to do either of these.
■ Note Pressing a key when the purple background first appears on booting the DVD-ROM will bring up an
alternative boot menu. This allows you to activate accessibility features, test your computer’s memory, or start a
text-mode installer, in case the standard graphical installer has problems displaying on your hardware. Chances
are you won’t need any of these options.
Stage 4: Select Your Location and Time Zone
Ubuntu will next ask you to choose your time zone. If your PC is already connected to the Internet,
Ubuntu may already have detected your location correctly. You can select your time zone manually by
clicking your location on the world map that’s displayed or by selecting the nearest city from the dropdown lists at the base of the page.
When you click the map, you’ll see that the time zone is highlighted in green, and you can click
near your location within this band. You’ll also see a live clock showing the time in that location. See
Figure 4-3 for an example.
Figure 4-3. Select the time zone from the map and then you can refine your options by using the dropdown lists at the bottom of the page.
The city you choose doesn’t matter a great deal—the purpose of this step is to ensure that Ubuntu
selects the correct time zone for your location, which it does by looking up the city in a database of
time zones.
After you’ve made your selection, click the Forward button.
Stage 5: Confirm Your Keyboard Layout
Next you’ll be asked to confirm the keyboard layout you’ll be using, as shown in Figure 4-4. This should
correspond to your language and locale settings, and will be automatically selected, so you can just click
the Forward button. If you’re unsure whether Ubuntu has guessed the correct keyboard layout, you can
click the test text field and type in some characters before continuing. You can also manually set your
preferred keyboard layout by clicking the Choose Your Own radio button and selecting as appropriate
from the country and layout lists.
■ Note Keyboard layouts can differ from country to country even if they speak the same language. This is to allow
for local necessities. The UK keyboard layout has the pound sterling symbol (£) above the number 3, for example,
and swaps around the locations of a handful of other symbols, too.
Figure 4-4. Ubuntu will guess your keyboard layout, but you can test it to make sure by typing in the test
text field at the bottom of the dialog box.
Stage 6: Repartition Your Hard Disk
Partitioning the disk is one of the most important steps during installation, but, unfortunately, it’s one
that can be couched in difficult terminology. Partitioning is the process of dividing up a hard disk into
sections so that different operating systems or one operating system and some data can exist on the
same computer and convince the computer that more than one disk exists. Though it’s a complex
subject, Ubuntu does its best to make partitioning easy.
The Ubuntu installation routine offers several options for disk partitioning:
Resize the existing partition on the hard disk and install Ubuntu alongside it in the
newly created free space. (This option is not offered if the disk has no existing
Use the entire disk, whether it already has some contents or not (that is, if the
computer or hard disk is new or if you want to overwrite your Windows
Use the largest free space that might already exist on the hard disk, for example if
you’ve already manually repartitioned the disk. (This option is not offered if the
disk has no existing partitions.)
Manually edit the partition table—that is, resize/delete any existing partitions by
hand and create the Ubuntu partitions. This is suitable only for expert users.
Most people who are installing Ubuntu on a computer that already has Windows on it will want to
resize the main partition, as described next.
If you’re installing Ubuntu on a computer that has no operating system installed or one that you
would like to completely erase from the computer, follow the instructions under the upcoming “Use
Entire Disk” section. However, be aware that this will completely wipe any data from that disk.
Resize the Main Partition
This is the default partitioning option if your computer already has Windows installed on it. Ubuntu will
detect the main Windows partition and suggest the amount of resizing.
■ Caution If there’s not enough free space within the Windows partition, you won’t be able to resize it to make
space for Ubuntu. If this is the case, the Ubuntu installer will tell you. See Chapter 3 for suggestions for freeing
up space.
By default, Ubuntu attempts to grab as much space for itself as possible, without shrinking the
existing partition too much. In our example in Figure 4-5, the installation program has decided to
split the disk roughly 50/50, giving both operating systems a decent amount of space. This is shown in
the bar display: the right part of the bar represents Windows, and the left part represents the new
Ubuntu partition.
Ubuntu’s default choice is normally fine, but you can also click and drag the grab bar in the middle
of the partitioning display bar to increase or decrease the sizes of the Windows and Ubuntu partitions.
You may want to give Windows a little more space if you plan to divide your time between Windows and
Ubuntu. Bear in mind that, while Ubuntu can read files on the Windows partition, Windows refuses to
do vice versa, so if you want to access your files locally from both operating systems, those files should
be stored in the Windows (NTFS or FAT) partition.
The Ubuntu installer is intelligent enough not to let you set an impossible value for shrinking the
existing partition. The Ubuntu installer is also clever enough to know that Windows needs some free
space within its partition to operate effectively—to write temporary and system files and user-created
files such as Word documents, for example. So you shouldn’t be able to make changes that are too
extreme. On a test system, we couldn’t set a size for the existing partition lower than 10 percent of the
entire disk, because the existing data on the partition occupied about 10 percent of the space. You can
override this protection by manually partitioning, as described in the “Manually Edit the Partition Table”
section of this chapter. Similarly, the installer shouldn’t let you create an inadequate amount of free
space for Ubuntu when dragging the slider to the right.
The next time you start Windows, having resized your Windows partition, it’s very likely that
Microsoft’s disk checking program will run. This is quite normal. Typically it will complete without
finding any errors.
Figure 4-5. The installer will take as much space as Ubuntu needs, without shrinking the existing
partition too much.
After you’ve made your selection, click the Forward button. After a warning message asks whether
you really want to take this irreversible step, the installer will resize the partition. This might take a
few moments.
■ Caution If you’re resizing a partition on a laptop or notebook computer, ensure that you have the main power
connected. If the power goes off during the resizing procedure because of a failing battery, there’s a very good
chance your Windows partition will be destroyed.
Use Entire Disk
If the hard disk is empty, or if you’ve decided to eradicate Windows and use only Ubuntu on your
computer, you can choose the “Erase and use the entire disk” option, as shown in Figure 4-6.
If the disk does have contents, this option will remove them and then use the entire disk to install
Ubuntu. As mentioned in Chapter 3, before undertaking this move, you should back up essential data
from the Windows partition (or any others on the hard disk). There is no easy way of undoing the
partition erasure, so you should proceed with caution.
After you’ve made the choice, click the Forward button. The deletion should take place quickly, after
which you can proceed straight to the next stage in this guide.
Figure 4-6. If you have an unused disk or are getting rid of Windows entirely, choose the “Erase and use the
entire disk” option.
Use the Largest Continuous Free Space
If you’ve already repartitioned your hard disk by using a third-party utility, or if you deliberately created
a smaller Windows partition in order to leave free space for another operating system, you can select the
“Use the largest continuous free space” option (note that this option won’t appear unless there is free
space on the hard disk). Then the Ubuntu installation program will use the largest amount of free space
for the Ubuntu partitions. This is an important point: if you have more than one area of free space, the
largest will be used.
If you do have more than one amount of free space, the Ubuntu installation routine is unable to
automatically use any smaller amounts of free space. If you want this to be the case, the only option is to
manually partition, as described in the section “Manually Edit the Partition Table.” However, only
advanced users will need to do this.
After you’ve made your choice, click the Forward button and proceed to the next stage in this guide.
Use a Second Hard Disk
If your computer has more than one hard disk—a new hard disk you’ve added for Ubuntu, as described
in Chapter 3, or a second hard disk already installed in your computer—you should select it under the
Use the Entire Disk option. The way Ubuntu identifies your hard disks might seem a little complicated at
first, but is actually straightforward.
If your computer is relatively new, chances are it has a SATA-based hard disk. If so, the first hard
disk will be identified as sda, the second as sdb, the third as sdc. All that changes in each case is the last
letter: a, b, c, and so on.
If your computer uses IDE-based hard disks, the drives will also be identified as sda, sdb, and so on.
The primary master drive in the system is identified as hda, the primary slave as hdb, the secondary
master as hdc, and so on. The drive will also be identified by make and model, which may help you
identify it.
Assuming the second IDE hard disk is installed as a slave on the primary channel, as is the standard
configuration for an additional hard disk, it will be identified as hdb, so make that selection. If the disk is
installed as the slave on the secondary channel (that is, the same channel as the DVD-ROM drive), it will
be identified as hdd.
After you’ve selected the disk, click the Forward button.
Manually Edit the Partition Table
If, for any reason, you find that Ubuntu’s default partitioning choices are not for you, you can opt to
manually edit the partition table. For example, you may want to separate the operating system
installation from your /home folder. This separation makes doing a fresh installation of Ubuntu or
another Linux easy, because the data is left untouched. There are essentially two stages to work through
if you choose this option:
You’re given the chance to repartition the disk manually. You can resize or delete
any existing partitions and create the partitions Ubuntu needs.
While creating/editing the partitions, you’ll be asked to assign mount points.
You’ll be prompted to tell Ubuntu which of the partitions on the disk it should use
for the root file system (that is, the main partition for Ubuntu’s use) and which
should be used for the swap partition.
Manually partitioning offers ultimate flexibility but requires a relatively high level of knowledge of
how Ubuntu works. Therefore, we recommend that only experts undertake this step, unless you have no
other choice because the default Ubuntu partitioning choices do not offer what you need or do not work
properly for you.
In the following steps, we explain how to resize an existing partition, create the new partitions that
Ubuntu needs, and assign mount points so that Ubuntu is able to use them.
■ Tip GParted is a graphical partition tool that you can use to add, edit, and delete partitions easily. GParted
looks similar to the third-party commercial partition tools you may have already used. You can run this utility by
starting Ubuntu in live distro mode and choosing System Administration GParted from the menu. After you
have made the desired changes with this partition editor, you can reboot and start the Ubuntu installer again. Then
when you manually edit the partitions in the installer, you need to set mount points only on the partitions that you
created in GParted.
Prepare Partitions
When the disk partitioning choices appear, click the “Specify partitions manually (advanced)” radio
button and click Forward. The Prepare Partitions window will appear, as shown in Figure 4-7. This
window lists the hard disks detected by Ubuntu and their corresponding partitions. Each item has the
following properties:
Device: This is the logical representation of the hardware device in Ubuntu. See
the previous section for an explanation of the drive identification, but note that
here the drive references are preceded with /dev. You can ignore this. The
numbers at the end refer to the order of partitions. For example, sda1 refers to the
first partition of the first hard disk, and sda2 refers to the second partition of the
first hard disk.
Type: This specifies the file system type of the partition. For example, NTFS and
VFAT are Windows file systems, ext4 indicates the Ubuntu partition, and swap
indicates a swap file partition.
Mount Point: A mount point is a location within Ubuntu’s file system where
Ubuntu will “see” a partition. At least one partition needs to be mounted as root,
denoted with a single /. Mounting is discussed further in Chapter 10.
Format?: This indicates whether the partition will be formatted during installation.
Formatting will destroy any data on a partition, so ensure that you have backups
of important data and that you really do want to format.
Size: This determines the disk space of the partition, in megabytes. Note that the
strict definition of the word megabyte is used, meaning 1,000,000 bytes, rather
than the more widely used 1,024,000 bytes (1,024KB). To confuse matters, the
1,024KB definition is used in the rest of the installation program. (From its next
release, Ubuntu is due to switch entirely to the SI standard, that is, 1MB
(megabyte) = 1,000 KB).
Used: This determines how much disk space has been consumed, in megabytes.
At the bottom of the window are buttons to manipulate the hard disk as a whole or each individual
partition. For the hard disk, you can opt to create a new partition table. This effectively returns the disk
to as-new status, with no partition information, so creating a new partition table is tantamount to
erasing the whole hard disk. Be sure you know what you’re doing! For unallocated free space, you have
an option to add a new partition. For an existing partition, you have an option to change its properties
(this option lets you resize the disk and assign a mount point) or delete the partition to accumulate free
disk space. You also have a revert option to undo all hard disk changes, which applies to all desired
changes except resizing a partition, because resizing is carried out as soon as you select to do so, unlike
the other changes, which are carried out after working through all the installation stages.
Figure 4-7. Creating a new partition table has the same effect as completely wiping the contents of a disk.
Use with extreme care.
So you want to resize the main NTFS (Windows) partition. Search for that partition in the partition
type list; it will be shown as ntfs.
Determine Windows Partition Size
After you have found the NTFS partition, you should determine how much space should be retained in
your Windows partition so that Windows will still function properly while providing a sufficient amount
of space for Ubuntu. The bare minimum disk space required for a Windows partition varies between
2GB for Windows XP and 16GB for Windows 7, though these minimums will give you very little space for
documents or other data.
You should free up as much space as possible for Ubuntu. But if disk space is a concern, you will
need to determine the minimum of disk space that should be put aside for the main and swap partitions
of Ubuntu.
The main partition will contain the Ubuntu operating system itself. This partition should have at the
very least 3GB of disk space (2GB for the base installation, and the rest for new applications, software
upgrades, and your data).
The swap partition is similar to the swap file under Windows (sometimes referred to as virtual
memory or the paging file), except that it resides on its own partition. The traditional purpose of a swap
partition is to act as additional memory should the main memory become full. Accessing the hard disk
takes longer than accessing the RAM, so using the swap partition for this purpose is a last resort. The
swap file is also used by Linux for storing “anonymous pages,” that is, data that exists in memory only
and not on disk. Without swap, there would be nowhere for anonymous pages to go when Linux wants
to use the memory space they’re taking up. Additionally, the swap file is used to store the contents of the
physical memory when the computer enters Hibernate (Suspend to Disk) power-saving mode.
The ideal size for the swap partition is a subject of endless debate. Recommendations usually
depend on the size of your physical RAM. If you want to use the Hibernate feature on your computer,
your swap partition size must be at least equal to the size of the physical RAM, or hibernation will fail.
See Table 4-1 for some suggestions.
Table 4-1. Suggested Swap Partition Sizes for a Desktop Ubuntu System
Physical RAM Size
Swap Partition Sizea
1,024MB (1GB)
2,048MB (2GB)
3,072MB (3GB)
4,096MB (4GB)
Swap partition sizes have been adjusted to take into account the strict definition that 1 megabyte = 1,000,000 bytes, as
stated in the Create Partition dialog box.
After you have determined the size of your main and swap partitions, total their sizes. This is how
much free space you need to allocate for Ubuntu.
Edit Partition Properties
In the Prepare Partitions window, select the NTFS partition and click Change to edit its properties.
Figure 4-8 shows how to edit a partition. In the Edit Partition dialog box, you can edit three
partition properties:
New Partition Size in Megabytes: This allows you to adjust the size of the selected
partition. If you reduce the size of the selected partition, the remaining space will
be allocated for free space. For example, if you have an NTFS partition with a size
of 104,847MB and you would like to allocate 8,192MB for Ubuntu, you would need
to reduce the size of the NTFS partition to 96,655MB. Adjust the size of the NTFS
partition as you determined in the previous step.
Use As: This either changes or displays the file system of the selected partition. The
current file system is NTFS, because you are editing a Windows partition, so select
ntfs from the list if it isn’t already displayed. Be careful not to select any of the
other entries from the list, because this could damage your Windows setup
Mount Point: Ubuntu makes non-Linux file systems (such as Windows) available
by mounting them. You can either select one of the default suggestions (on our
test system, these were /dos and /windows) or type your own path (but only if you
know what you’re doing).
Figure 4-8. With manual partition editing you can shrink a Windows (NTFS) partition and choose a
mount point where it can be accessed from your new Ubuntu system.
After you’re satisfied with your choices, click the OK button. At this point, you are prompted to
confirm that your desired changes will be made to the disk. It’s a good idea to read through the summary
carefully, because after you click Continue, there’s no going back. Any data on the disk will be lost. Click
Continue when you’re ready to start the resizing process. After the process is finished, you will have free
space to allocate for Ubuntu.
If you see an error message while trying to resize the partition, it’s likely that Windows was not shut
down correctly. To fix this situation, exit the Ubuntu installer, reboot Windows, and opt to check the
disk. Then reboot so the check can take place. After that, reboot again, ensuring that Windows is
properly shut down. Then you can return to the Ubuntu installer.
Create Main and Swap Partitions
The next step is to create partitions with the free space. Select the new free space you have created and
click the Add... button. The Create Partition dialog box will appear, as shown in Figure 4-9. This dialog
box has five options:
Type for the New Partition: This option allows you to set the partition as primary
or logical. Unless the hard disk has more than one operating system installed, you
should select the Primary option. With primary partitions, you can divide your
hard disk up to only four partitions. If you need more than four partitions, or if
there are already three partitions on the disk, select the Logical option, and create
the further partitions you need within the new logical partition.
New Partition Size in Megabytes: This option sets the number of megabytes that
will be allocated to the new partition. The default value takes all of the free space,
but since you are going to make both a main partition and a swap partition, you
should adjust the size accordingly.
Location for the New Partition: This option specifies whether the new partition will
be created on the beginning or end area of the free space. It’s recommended that
you use the beginning. This way, the free space can be seen easily, because it
always appears just below all of the partitions.
Use As: This option specifies the file system of the new partition. The default
option of Ext4 Journaling File System is fine when you are creating the main
Mount Point: The mount point is a directory that will act as a location where you
can make a disk accessible. The main partition you create for Ubuntu must be
mounted as root. This is always represented as a single forward slash (/).
Figure 4-9. You can create a new partition as long as there is free/unallocated space available.
To create the main partition, where the operating system and data will all be stored, reduce the new
partition size to leave enough space for swap, choose Ext4 as the format from the Use As drop-down
menu, and then set the Mount Point to the forward slash (/) to specify that this partition is the main
partition or root file system. Your dialog box should look similar to the one shown in Figure 4-9. Click the
OK button to continue.
Next we’ll create the swap partition. If you calculated the main partition size correctly, you can just
accept the remaining space for use as swap. Change the Use As option to Swap Area. Leave the rest of the
options untouched (note that the swap partition doesn’t need a mount point). For example, if the size of
the physical RAM is 1GB, the partition size for the swap partition should be set to 1,024MB, as shown in
Figure 4-10. Click OK to continue.
You should now have partitions ready to go, as shown in Figure 4-11. Note that you may also have
an NTFS partition visible if you’re dual-booting with Windows. Click Forward to continue.
Figure 4-10. If you’ve done your sums right, the remaining space on the disk should be what you
calculated that you wanted for swap.
Figure 4-11. With your partitions configured, you’re ready to move on.
Stage 7: Set Up a User
Next you’ll be prompted to say who you are and choose the name you want to use to log in. In answer
to the question What Is Your Name? you can enter the name by which you’ll be formally identified on
the system to anyone who uses it. The standard practice is to use your first and last names, separated by
a space.
Next, you’ll be asked for the name you want to use to log in. This username needs to be unique; two
users on the same computer cannot have the same username. Also, it must follow these rules:
The username should be one word without any spaces in it.
You can choose any username consisting of uppercase and lowercase letters and
numbers, but not symbols or punctuation.
The username cannot begin with an uppercase letter, although you can use
uppercase in the rest of the name.
The simplest procedure for choosing a username is to use your own first name, typed entirely
in lowercase letters. For example, in Figure 4-12, we’ve set the full name to Trevor Parsons and
the login name to trevor. Helpfully, Ubuntu will add the first part of the full name to the username
space automatically.
Figure 4-12. You should enter an ordinary name, a login name, a password, and, if you want, a name to
give your computer.
Following the username, enter a password. Here, the rules are the inverse of those for your
username. A good password contains numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters, punctuation marks,
and anything else you can get in there! This helps make your password almost impossible for someone
else to guess, and thus makes your system more secure. (If you want to be really secure, create a
password that’s ten or more characters long.) You’ll need to enter the password twice; the second time
confirms that you didn’t make a typo the first time around.
The What Is the Name of This Computer? text box contains the hostname for the computer.
This is how the computer is identified on certain types of networks, if you choose to share files or
resources with other computers. Ubuntu will fill in this field automatically based on your username, but
you can replace that with something else more personal. The rules for the hostname are broadly similar
to those for the username; it cannot contain spaces or symbols. For example, if your computer is a Dell
PC, you might type Office_Dell (note that you can use an underscore character in place of a space
After you’re finished, click the Forward button.
Stage 8: Import Documents and Settings
The next step is to migrate accounts by importing documents and settings of existing user accounts from
your Windows partition to Ubuntu. (You won’t be prompted to do this if you’re installing Ubuntu on a
fresh hard disk or have chosen to overwrite your Windows partition.) Just select the items you would like
to import to your account, as shown in Figure 4-13. Then click the Forward button to continue.
This is certainly a handy feature to be offered by the installer, but think twice about whether to use
it. If you have a large amount of data, such as music and video, stored on your Windows partition, there
is little point in using the migration tool to copy it over onto your new Ubuntu partition. You would be
merely duplicating large amounts of data on the same disk, which makes little sense given that your
Windows partition will in any case be accessible from your new Ubuntu system.
Figure 4-13. Select the items you would like to migrate from Windows to your account.
Stage 9: Confirm Installation Choices
At this point, you’ll see the Ready to Install window, which lists the choices you’ve made, as shown in
Figure 4-14. It’s a good idea to check to make sure everything is correct before clicking the Install button.
When you’re ready to install Ubuntu, click the Install button. This will start the installation
procedure. The new partitions you created will be formatted, and the Ubuntu files will be copied.
Figure 4-14. Confirm the installation choices, and click the Install button to format the new partitions and
copy the Ubuntu files.
If you click the Advanced button (which isn’t required), you will be prompted to customize the boot
loader and set a network proxy if you have one. For the boot loader settings, you have the option not to
write the boot loader to the disk. The option makes sense if you already have an existing boot loader,
perhaps from another Linux installation, and you would prefer to use it as the primary boot loader for all
the operating systems installed on your computer.
Stage 10: Perform Installation
Now all you have to do is wait! The Ubuntu installation routine will copy the necessary files and install
Ubuntu, as shown in Figure 4-15. It won’t require any further input from you, unless something goes
wrong. For example, if you’ve created partitions that are too small in the previous section, this is the
point at which you’ll be told. If you do encounter an error, the installation program will quit, and you
will need to start it again by clicking the icon on the Desktop, this time altering your choices accordingly.
Installation should take no more than 30 minutes. It completed in half that time on most of our
test systems.
Figure 4-15. While the Ubuntu files are copied, you can read about its nifty features and applications.
Stage 11: Reboot and Enjoy Ubuntu!
When installation has finished, a dialog box will appear telling you to restart the computer (see Figure
4-16). After you click the Restart Now button, the DVD will be ejected automatically. It’s important that
you remove it so that you don’t accidentally boot Ubuntu’s installer again when the machine restarts. In
fact, Ubuntu will prompt you to remove the disk and press Enter to confirm the removal.
Following this, the system will restart. If you’ve installed Ubuntu on a computer that contains
Windows, you’ll first see the Grub boot menu. This offers a number of choices, including the chance to
boot Ubuntu into recovery mode, which can help fix your computer (discussed in Chapter 5). You can
also choose to boot into Windows. You can switch between the menu choices by using the arrow keys;
press Enter to make your selection.
Figure 4-16. You’re almost ready to get started with Ubuntu.
You can also run Memtest86 to test your system’s memory. However, most users can simply press
Enter when the menu appears, which will select the topmost entry, thereby booting Ubuntu in normal
mode. Alternatively, after 10 seconds, the default choice will be automatically selected.
If you installed Ubuntu onto a computer or hard disk without any other OS, the system will start up
directly, without displaying a boot menu (although this can be accessed if desired by holding down Shift
during startup).
After a few seconds have passed while Ubuntu loads, you’ll see the Ubuntu login screen, as shown
in Figure 4-17 (unless you set up Ubuntu to log you in automatically). From here, you can progress to
Chapter 6 to learn how to get started. Alternatively, if you’ve run into any problems, see Chapter 5.
Figure 4-17. When the computer has rebooted after installation, the standard Ubuntu login screen
will appear.
Ubuntu can also run on Apple Macintosh computers, as well as PCs. However, the instructions vary
depending on the processor installed in your Macintosh. To find out which type of processor your Mac
uses, click the Apple menu and select About This Mac. In the summary dialog box, look for the
Processor heading. If your computer is more than four years old, the line will probably read “PowerPC,”
and you should refer to the instructions under that heading. If yours is a more recent Mac, and the
line contains “Intel” in combination with any other words, such as “Intel Core i5,” continue with the
following instructions.
If your Mac contains an Intel processor, you might be able to boot from the DVD-ROM supplied with this
book and use it to install Ubuntu. However, some extra steps are necessary. If you’re using Mac OS X 10.5
“Leopard” or 10.6 “Snow Leopard,” you can use Apple’s Boot Camp utility (located in Applications Utilities) to resize the existing Mac OS X partition. Boot Camp is also used to provide a boot menu to let you
switch between Mac OS X and Ubuntu. However, Boot Camp is designed to allow Windows to be installed
alongside Mac OS X, so some additional steps are necessary to make it work with Ubuntu. A full guide is
provided at the official Ubuntu wiki:
If you’re running Mac OS X Tiger (10.4), you may want to look into using third-party boot menu software
called rEFlt ( This utility can also be used in Leopard and Snow Leopard
in place of Boot Camp.
After the computer has been correctly configured by following the guide, you can boot from the DVD-ROM
and follow the instructions in the rest of this chapter. Hold down the C key (or Cmd+Shift+Option+Delete
on older systems) when the Apple symbol appears during booting to boot from the DVD-ROM disc.
Ubuntu also works on a Mac based on a PowerPC processor, although a special version must be used.
Note that Canonical, the company that sponsors Ubuntu, no longer provides official releases of Ubuntu on
this architecture. Current versions are supported solely by the community. The PowerPC version of Ubuntu
10.04 can be downloaded from
Choose the link entitled Mac (PowerPC) and IBM-PPC (POWER5) desktop CD. Once you’ve saved this
ISO image to disk, you’ll need to manually burn it to a blank CD-R or CD-RW, and then boot from it to
install Ubuntu. However, first you must create some free space on the hard disk, so you can install Ubuntu
alongside your existing OS (assuming you want to dual-boot Mac OS X and Ubuntu; if you want to let
Ubuntu use the entire hard disk, the Ubuntu installer will be able to wipe the existing partitions, and no
further action is necessary). Boot from the Mac OS X installation DVD-ROM and quit the installer. Then use
Disk Utility from the menus to resize the hard disk in order to make space.
To create the Ubuntu installation CD in Mac OS X, insert a blank CD-R or CD-RW, and then start Disk
Utility. Choose Images Burn, navigate to the ubuntu-10.04-desktop-powerpc.iso file you downloaded
and then click the Burn button. When the burn has finished, use the disc to boot from and install Ubuntu,
following the instructions provided in this chapter. Hold down the C key (or Cmd+Shift+Option+Delete on
older systems) when the Apple symbol appears during booting to boot from the CD.
The Virtual Option
Many owners of Apple computers choose to run Ubuntu in a virtual machine running on OS X, rather than
install and run it natively. As discussed in the “Virtualization” sidebar in Chapter 3 (where we list the main
virtualization software options for Mac OS X), this can be a convenient and risk-free choice, whether you’re
an ordinary user who wants to experiment with Ubuntu or a software developer who wants access to OS X,
Linux, and Windows on a single machine. Virtualizing is a compromise, though, both in performance—
because Ubuntu has to compete for hardware resources with the host operating system—and in the heavy
dependence you will still have on proprietary software. The choice is very much yours!
By following the steps outlined in this chapter, you should now have Ubuntu installed on your
computer. We’ve tried to provide you with enough information to get around certain problems, and
explain each step of the installation.
Alas, it’s still possible that you encountered hurdles that weren’t addressed here. In the next
chapter, you’ll find solutions to common problems associated with Ubuntu installation.
Solving Installation Problems
There’s a very good chance that your Ubuntu installation will go smoothly, and you’ll find yourself with
a first-rate operating system up and running within just a few minutes. However, issues do sometimes
arise, so we’ve drawn together a list of common problems alongside their solutions, which should get
you out of any tight spot. These problems are organized by when they occur: (A) before you start
Ubuntu’s live distro mode; (B) while running the installation program; and (C) after the installation,
when you boot for the first time. The final section of the chapter describes how to configure the
graphical subsystem with the configuration utility, which can be useful if graphical glitches arise.
The latest version of Ubuntu has an all-encompassing recovery mode, which should assist in solving
many problems.
A. Preinstallation Problems
Some problems might arise before you even boot Ubuntu’s live distro mode in order to run the
installation program. This section addresses such issues.
The Disc Doesn’t Boot
When I boot from the Ubuntu DVD-ROM, the drive spins up as if something is happening, but I see either
nothing or strange graphics on the screen.
The DVD-ROM disc might be either dirty or faulty. Examine its surface for scratches or try removing dust
from it with a soft, lint-free cloth. A typical indicator of a dirty or damaged disc is that the drive spins up
and then instantly spins down several times in succession—listen to the whir of the drive’s motor to tell
whether this is the case.
If the disc seems okay, it might be that your computer is not set to boot from the DVD or is unable to
display the Ubuntu boot menu. In the former case, you’ll need to redefine the boot order in the
computer’s BIOS, as covered in Chapter 4. To get around the latter problem, when you see the blank
screen or graphical corruption, press the Escape key twice. Then press Enter. You’ll see the word
boot: at the top left of the screen, along with a prompt where you can enter commands. Type live and
press Enter.
The Computer Is Having a Kernel Panic
The DVD starts to boot, but then the computer freezes and eventually displays a message along the lines of
“Kernel Panic.”
Kernel Panic errors occur when Ubuntu cannot continue to load for various reasons. In this context, it’s
likely that either the DVD is faulty (or dirty) or that the PC has a hardware problem.
First, check to make sure that the DVD is clean and not scratched. If possible, try it on a different
computer. If it works, then it’s clearly not at fault, and your computer most likely has a hardware issue.
In particular, bad memory can cause problems. Does the computer already have an operating system
installed? Does it run without problems? If not, consider replacing your memory modules.
To thoroughly test your computer’s memory, boot from the Ubuntu DVD, press any key when you
first see an Ubuntu logo, and select the Test Memory option on the menu (use the arrow keys to move
up or down in the list, and press Enter to make a selection). This will run the Memtest86 program, and
any problems with your memory will be reported in the Errors column on the right side of the program
screen. For more details about how to use Memtest86, see
The DVD Starts to Boot, but the Screen Goes Blank or Corrupted
Soon after the DVD starts to boot, the computer looks like it has crashed—the screen goes blank or the
display looks scrambled!
Your graphics card may be incompatible with either the framebuffer graphical mode used by Ubuntu’s
boot routine, or the new kernel-mode-setting technology which is now enabled by default on most
common video chipsets. You can overcome these problems by following these steps:
Reboot the computer. As soon as you see the purple background, with two
small icons at the bottom of the screen —a keyboard and an accessibility
symbol—press any key to access the boot menu. Choose your language and
then press F6. This will bring up a list of kernel boot options. Press Escape to
dismiss this menu.
You should then see a cursor at the end of a line of text which starts with the
words Boot Options. Using the Backspace key to delete quiet splash from the
end of the line, as shown in Figure 5-1. Then press Enter.
If the problem persists, reboot, press a key to access the boot menu, choose your language, and
press F6 again to bring up the boot options. This time use the arrow and spacebar/Enter keys to select
nomodeset from the list. Press Escape, and then Enter.
Additional boot options which you can try adding manually include:
i915.modeset=0 (for older Intel graphics adapters)
Figure 5-1. Pressing F6 in the boot menu gives you the chance to choose from a menu of kernel options or
edit the options manually.
The Computer Freezes During Installation
After I’ve selected the Install Ubuntu option on the menu, the status bar appears, but then the
computer freezes.
It’s possible that the power-saving feature or the advanced programmable interrupt controller (APIC) in
your computer is causing problems. Boot the DVD again, and as soon as you see the purple background,
with two small icons at the bottom of the screen—a keyboard and an accessibility symbol—press any
key. Choose your language and then press F6 to bring up a list of kernel boot options. Using the arrow
keys to navigate, and spacebar/Enter to select or deselect options, make sure that the following three
options are selected:
Then press Escape to dismiss the boot options menu, and Enter to boot Ubuntu.
Installer “Unrecoverable Error” Message
Booting the DVD fails with the message “The installer encountered an unrecoverable error. A desktop
session will now be run so that you may investigate the problem or try installing again.”
Two solutions which can fix this problem are:
Ubuntu’s release notes suggest that you reboot the DVD, access the boot menu by
pressing any key at the splash screen (when you see the two small icons at the foot
of the screen), select “Try Ubuntu without installing,” and then use the “Install
Ubuntu 10.04” icon when the live Desktop appears.
Go into your computer’s BIOS settings and disable the floppy disk. Alternatively, if
your computer has a floppy disk controller but no floppy disk drive connected,
and you may want to use that ancient technology occasionally, install a floppy
disk drive and reboot.
My Notebook Display Looks Corrupted During Installation
I’m attempting to install Ubuntu on a notebook computer. After I select the Install Ubuntu option and
press Enter, the screen is filled with graphical corruption, and it looks like Ubuntu has crashed.
(Alternatively, the screen looks squashed, or some elements are off-center or off the edge of the screen.)
When the Ubuntu boot menu appears, press the Escape key twice and then press Enter. At the boot:
prompt, type live vga=771. Then press Enter. This starts the live mode in a safe, VGA resolution. You
should be able to change the resolution after the system has loaded.
I’m Using a KVM, and the Screen Looks Wrong
I’m using the same keyboard, mouse, and monitor across several computers, courtesy of a keyboard, video,
and mouse (KVM) switch. When Ubuntu boots, the resolution is wrong and the graphics are corrupted.
(Also, my keyboard or mouse doesn’t work correctly.)
A KVM switch may not allow Ubuntu to correctly probe the attached hardware. Consider attaching the
keyboard, monitor, and mouse directly to the computer for the duration of the installation. After
installation is accomplished, you can reintroduce the KVM, and things should be fine.
If you run into installation problems for which you can’t find a solution here, you can try using the
Alternative Installer. This will need to be burned to a CD as an image and booted as before.
We’ve provided an ISO image of a CD version of Ubuntu that uses the Alternative Installer. This can be
found on Side B of the DVD-ROM. You can learn more about it in Appendix D.
Unfortunately, there isn’t space to provide a full installation guide here, although most installation options
should correspond loosely to those discussed in Chapter 4.
During the three-year support lifetime of Ubuntu 10.04 Desktop Edition, updated versions known as “point
releases” will be made available every six months—labelled 10.04.1, 10.04.2, 10.04.3 and so on—
incorporating bug fixes and updates. If you’re having trouble installing the version supplied in our DVD, or
you are preparing to install Ubuntu 10.04 some time after this book was published, check for the latest point release. The bug that is causing you
installation problems may have been fixed, and you will also avoid having to download and apply hundreds
of megabytes of updates after installation.
B. Installation Problems
After the DVD-ROM has booted in live distro mode, and you’ve run the installation program, you may
get error messages or experience other difficulties. This section offers some solutions to common
installation problems.
I’m Offered Only a Text Login
I’ve partitioned my disk and clicked to start the installation, after which the Installing System progress bar
appears. However, it stops at a certain percentage with an error message. If I click the Continue button,
everything continues, and at the end I’m offered the chance to reboot into the new installation. However,
when I reboot, the Ubuntu Desktop doesn’t appear. Instead, all I see is a black screen with a text-mode
login prompt.
For some reason, vital Ubuntu software hasn’t been correctly copied to the machine. Make sure the DVD
is in your computer’s drive and, at the aforementioned text-mode login prompt, type your username
and press Enter. Type your password when it’s requested and press Enter. Note that you will not see any
characters, masked or otherwise, as you type your password. Then, at the command prompt, type the
following, pressing Enter or Return after each line:
sudo apt-get
[At this
sudo apt-get
sudo apt-get
point you'll need to type your password; do so]
–f install
install ubuntu-desktop
If this doesn’t work, follow the instructions in the “None of These Solutions Work!” sidebar, and
install Ubuntu using the Alternate Installer.
The Computer Can’t Find My Hard Disk
When the Ubuntu installation program gets to the Prepare Disk Space stage, it reports that it can’t find
any hard disk in my computer.
There are many possible reasons for this, but here are three potential solutions that you might try
in sequence:
Select “Specify partitions manually” and click the Forward button. You should
see a list of hard disks with each of its partitions displayed, and you should
then be able to follow the instructions under the “Manually Edit the Partition
Table” heading in Chapter 4.
Ensure that the jumpers are set correctly on the hard disk (consult the hard
disk’s documentation if necessary). This is particularly worth checking if you
have more than one hard disk installed in your computer. If this doesn’t solve
the problem, and your second hard disk is nonbootable (that is, it’s used only
for data storage), try temporarily removing it and then installing Ubuntu.
Reconnect it after installation has completed.
See the “None of These Solutions Work!” sidebar to learn how to use the
Alternate Installer. This contains an older installation program that many
consider more reliable on some problematic computers.
I See Lots of Hard Disks in the Partitioner
When I try to install Ubuntu, the Prepare Partitions screen shows one (or several) additional small hard
disks, usually identified as /dev/sda or similar, followed by a number.
If you have a USB memory stick inserted, or a memory card reader with a card in it, it will be identified
by the Ubuntu installer in this way. You can ignore this or, if you want to avoid confusion, quit the
installer, remove the memory stick or card reader, and restart the installer program. Note that many
computers that ship with Windows Vista or Windows 7 may have a System Restore partition on the main
hard disk, which will also show up here.
I Have Too Many Partitions
When manually partitioning, I see an error message to the effect that I can’t have more than four
primary partitions.
This is a limitation in how hard disks work, not an issue with Ubuntu. A hard disk can contain only four
primary partitions, but this can be extended by subdividing these further into logical partitions, as
covered in Chapter 4. To resolve the problem, when creating a new partition, select Logical as the type
of partition.
For more details about primary and extended hard disk partitioning, see http://
C. Postinstallation Problems
Problems might also occur after you install Ubuntu. This section addresses several possible
postinstallation problems. This section covers only problems that appear immediately after
installation—those that prevent Ubuntu from working correctly immediately after its first boot. Issues
surrounding the configuration of hardware or software are dealt with in Chapter 7.
My Monitor Resolution Is Not Recognized
I use a widescreen monitor (or a widescreen notebook). When I boot to the desktop, the resolution is set too
low. When I try to switch resolutions (by clicking System Preferences Monitors), the resolution my
monitor usually runs at isn’t available in the list.
In a minority of cases, the open source drivers for ATI and Nvidia cards can’t support certain resolutions
on particular monitors, especially widescreen ones. One solution is to install proprietary graphics
drivers, as discussed in Chapter 7, although you should also update your system online as soon as
possible (see Chapter 8) to see if the open source graphics drivers have been updated and improved. In
both cases, you’ll need to configure your computer to go online, which is also explained in Chapter 7.
My Keyboard or Mouse Isn’t Working
After booting up, my USB mouse and/or USB keyboard are not recognized.
Try unplugging the keyboard and/or mouse, and then reattaching them. You might also try cleaning the
connections with a dry cloth or compressed air. If you find they now work, log in to Ubuntu and perform
an online system upgrade. See Chapter 8 for more information about this task.
If that fails to solve the problem, you can configure your BIOS to pretend your mouse and keyboard
are traditional PS/2-style devices, as follows:
Enter the BIOS setup program by pressing Delete during the initial stages of
your computer boot routine (while memory testing and drive identification are
still taking place). Some computers might use a different key combination to
enter BIOS setup, such as Ctrl+Insert, but that information will be displayed on
your screen.
Use the arrow keys to navigate to the Integrated Peripherals section and then
look for an entry along the lines of USB Legacy Support. Set it to Enabled.
Press Escape to return to the main menu, and opt to save the changes.
Reboot the computer.
The Computer No Longer Boots
When I boot for the first time, I see an error message along the lines of “No operating system could be found
on the hard disk.”
It seems that, for whatever reason, the Grub boot loader wasn’t installed correctly. Boot from the DVDROM and select Try Ubuntu Without Any Change to Your Computer when prompted. When the Ubuntu
desktop appears, click Applications Accessories Terminal. This opens a command-prompt window.
Type the following command:
sudo grub-install sda
You will be prompted for your password. Type it and press Enter. Almost immediately you will be
returned to the command prompt. You can then close the Terminal window and restart Ubuntu (click
the power button icon in the top right corner of the screen and choose Shut Down). Ensure that you
remove the DVD-ROM when prompted. You should find that the Ubuntu boot menu now appears when
you boot.
Ubuntu Is Working, but Windows Won’t Boot
After I’ve installed Ubuntu, Windows will no longer boot, although Ubuntu works fine. After I select
Windows from the boot menu, the Windows boot procedure either freezes when “Starting Windows . . .”
appears or the boot status bar is shown, but the Desktop never appears.
Try repairing your Windows disk by using the Windows command-line tool chkdsk. This can be done
from the recovery mode of the Windows installation CD/DVD, but the instructions for how to do this
vary depending on whether you’re running Windows Vista or XP.
Windows Vista and Windows 7
If you’re running Windows Vista or 7, follow these steps to run chkdsk:
Insert the Windows Vista or 7 installation DVD and select to boot from it. For
details on how to configure your computer to boot from the DVD, see stage 2
of the Ubuntu installation guide in Chapter 4.
You’ll see the message “Windows is Loading Files,” along with a progress bar.
After this has cleared, select your language/locale settings from the Install
Windows dialog box, and then click Next.
On the next screen, don’t click the Install Now button. Instead, click the Repair
Your Computer link at the bottom-left corner of the window.
In the System Recovery Options dialog box, select your Windows Vista or
Windows 7 partition and then click Next.
On the next screen, select Command Prompt.
In the command-prompt window that appears, type the following (this
assumes Vista or 7 is installed on drive C:):
chkdsk c: /R
Wait until the check has completed, and then type exit at the prompt.
Back in the System Recovery Options dialog box, click Restart. This will reboot
your computer. Be sure to eject the Windows Vista DVD before doing so.
Windows XP
If you’re running Windows XP, follow these steps to run chkdsk:
Insert the Windows XP installation CD and select to boot from it. For details of
how to configure your computer to boot from the CD, see stage 2 of the
Ubuntu installation guide in Chapter 4.
You’ll see status messages that Windows is loading driver files. Eventually, the
Windows Setup menu will appear. Press R to start the Recovery Console.
You’ll be asked to confirm which Windows installation you would like to boot
into; do so.
You’re then prompted for the administrator’s password. If you don’t have one,
simply press Enter.
At the command prompt, type the following:
chkdsk c: /R
Wait until the check has completed, and then type exit at the prompt. This will
reboot your computer. Be sure to eject the Windows XP CD before rebooting.
You can also use Super Grub Disk ( to boot the computer and examine the
boot process to find and fix the problem.
I Can See Only a Text Login Prompt
When I boot for the first time, all I see is a black screen with some text at the top reading, “Ubuntu 10.04
LTS [hostname] tty1” and beneath that, “[hostname] login:.”
For some reason, the automatic configuration of your graphics card failed during installation. See the
following section for instructions on configuring your GUI manually.
Graphical Problems
Although Ubuntu is extremely adept at automatically detecting and configuring your PC’s graphics
hardware, it sometimes gets things wrong. Such problems are characterized by one of the following:
Ubuntu freezes when the Desktop would usually appear.
You see onscreen graphical corruption of either text or graphics.
The resolution is set too low or too high, and you can’t change it to the correct
resolution because it isn’t offered.
You see a black screen with only a text login prompt.
■ Tip If the Desktop is off-center, and the menus can’t be accessed to change the resolution, right-click
somewhere on the panel and temporarily add a new main menu applet. You’ll then be able to access the
Preferences section from this.
Troubleshooting graphical problems has never been as easy as in the latest versions of Ubuntu.
Ubuntu has added a system component which ensures that (Ubuntu’s graphical subsystem, often
referred to simply as X) will run in low-graphics mode should fail to start with the current display
settings. In other words, it’s a lot like Safe Mode that you might be used to with Microsoft Windows.
Low-graphics mode uses 640×480 or 800×600 resolution, 16 or 256 colors, and a VESA driver to
operate the graphics card. Obviously, these are not optimal settings for using the Desktop, but they’re
chosen for their wide compatibility with most graphics hardware.
Ubuntu also features a recovery mode that will attempt to fix common problems such as poor
graphics performance and broken packages. Normally when Ubuntu boots on a computer with only one
operating system installed, the Grub boot loader menu is hidden from you. To use recovery mode, you
will have to access the boot menu, which you do by holding down the Shift key as soon as your
computer’s BIOS screen has finished displaying. From the boot menu, use the arrow keys to select the
second Ubuntu option, labeled Recovery Mode, and press Enter. The Linux kernel will start up in text
mode, after which a Recovery Menu will appear, on a blue background. For graphics issues, choose the
fourth option on the list, failsafeX. This will present you with options to run Ubuntu in low-graphics
mode temporarily, reconfigure your graphics settings, and troubleshoot the error.
■ Note On a technical level, Lucid uses the latest version of, 7.5. This version of is able to autodetect
and autoconfigure monitors, graphic cards, and mice, which means manual customization of display settings—
long the bane of Linux users around the world—is rarely necessary.
Additionally, if your computer utilizes a recent Nvidia or ATI 3D graphics card, you can try installing
the proprietary drivers. This is best done when the system is up and running, so follow the instructions
here to get a workable graphical system and then follow the instructions in the “Installing 3D Drivers
and Activating Desktop Visual Effects” section of Chapter 7. Installing a proprietary driver might be the
only way to get visual desktop effects working and utilize the full resolution of a widescreen monitor.
In Ubuntu’s Monitors settings (System Preferences Monitors), you can experiment with
different resolutions for your monitor, as shown in Figure 5-2. Table 5-1 shows the most common
monitor resolutions. Note that flat (LCD) screens generally have only one “native” resolution at which
the display is sharp, in contrast to the old CRT monitors, which can support a variety of resolutions.
Figure 5-2. You can experiment with different resolutions in the Monitor Preferences section.
Table 5-1. Typical Monitor Resolutions
LCD Screens
15 inches
17 inches
19 inches
1280×1024, 1366×768 (widescreen), 1440×900 (widescreen)
20 inches
1600×900 (widescreen), 1680×1050 (widescreen)
21 inches
22 inches
1680×1050 (widescreen), 1920x1080 (widescreen)
23 inches
1920×1080 (widescreen)
23 inches
1920×1200 (widescreen)
24 inches
1920×1200 (widescreen), 1920×1080 (widescreen)
26 inches
1366×768 (widescreen), 1920×1200 (widescreen)
27 inches
1920×1080 (widescreen), 1920×1200 (widescreen)
28 inches
1920×1200 (widescreen)
30 inches
2560×1600 (widescreen)
40 inches
1366×768 (widescreen)
CRT Monitors
14 inches
800×600, 640×480
15 inches
800×600, 640×480
17 inches
1024×768, 800×600, 640×480
19 inches
1280×1024, 1024×768, 800×600, 640×480
20 inches
1600×1200, 1280×1024, 1024×768, 800×600, 640×480
Note that if you’ve installed proprietary drivers for an Nvidia or ATI graphics card, you’ll see a
different display configuration screen. The Nvidia options are shown in Figure 5-3.
Figure 5-3. Nvidia users see a different set of options for configuring displays.
This chapter’s goal was to address problems that might occur during the installation of Ubuntu. It
discussed preinstallation, installation, and postinstallation issues. It also covered some of the graphical
problems you may encounter.
You should now have Ubuntu installed. The next part of this book focuses on helping you get
everything up and running. You’ll learn essential skills and become a confident Linux user.
The No-Nonsense Getting
Started Guide
Booting Ubuntu for the First Time
Now that Ubuntu is installed, you’ll no doubt want to get started immediately, and that’s what Part 3 of
this book is all about. In later chapters, we’ll present specific details of using Ubuntu and getting
essential hardware up and running. We’ll also show you how to personalize the desktop so it works in a
way that’s best for you on a day-to-day basis. But right now, the goal of this chapter is to get you doing
the same things you did under Windows as quickly as possible.
This chapter explains how to start up Ubuntu for the first time and work with the desktop. It also
shows how some familiar aspects of your computer, such as using the mouse, are slightly enhanced
under Ubuntu.
Starting Up
If you’ve chosen to dual-boot with Windows, the first Ubuntu screen you’ll see is the boot loader menu,
which appears shortly after you switch on your PC. If Ubuntu is the only operating system on your hard
disk, you need to hold the Shift key during system startup to access this boot menu, but you won’t need
to do so unless you want to access the recovery mode boot settings. In fact, if Ubuntu is the only
operating system on your computer, you can skip to the next section of this chapter.
■ Note The boot loader is actually a separate program called Grub, which has been updated to version 2 since
Ubuntu 9.10. This program kicks off everything and starts Ubuntu.
The boot loader menu you see when your PC is set to dual-boot has three or four choices, as shown
in Figure 6-1. The top one is what you need to boot Ubuntu. The Ubuntu option will be selected
automatically within 10 seconds, but you can press Enter to start immediately.
Figure 6-1. The default choice is fine on the boot menu, so press Enter to start Ubuntu.
You should find that you also have an entry for Windows, located at the bottom of the list and
labeled with whichever version of the OS you have installed. To boot into Windows, simply use the
cursor keys to move the selection to the appropriate option and then press Enter.
You should also see an entry ending in “(recovery mode).” This is a little like Safe Mode within
Windows. If you select recovery mode, Ubuntu will boot to a text mode menu with six options:
resume—Resume normal boot: This option allows you to boot normally, as if you didn’t need to fix
anything at all. However, the big difference with this option compared to a graphical boot is that
Ubuntu boots in text mode, in which system messages scroll past as Ubuntu is starting up. If you
have problems with booting Ubuntu, you can run in recovery mode and choose this option to find
error messages in the boot process.
clean—Try to make free space: This option forces the boot loader to try to make free space on the
dpkg—Repair broken packages: This option tries to repair the software installed on your computer.
Grub—Update Grub loader: Forces Grub (the program that presents you this boot menu) to query
the operating systems installed in your hard disks and to recreate the list it presents at startup.
netroot—Drop to shell prompt with networking: Like the option “root” but with the networking
features fully functional.
root—Drop to root shell prompt: This option boots with conservative system settings and then
presents you with a command-line prompt in administrator mode (you run as the root user—a
special user account that has absolute power over the entire system, so try to avoid booting to this
option if you can do so, and be very careful when you don’t have any other option but to use the
root shell prompt). The typical usage for this prompt is to change the passwords of users if they
forget their passwords, to free up disk space to run normally, and to uninstall buggy software to
bring back system stability. The system commands that can be used for recovery are passwd (to
change passwords), mv (to move files and folders), rm (to delete files and folders), cp (to copy files and
folders), mkdir (to create a new folder), and dpkg (to install or remove software). These and other
commands are discussed further in Appendix A.
When you update your system software, you might find that new entries are added to the boot menu
list. This is because the kernel has been updated. The kernel is the central system file that Ubuntu relies
on, and essentially, the boot menu exists to let you choose between different kernels. Almost without
exception, the first (topmost) entry is the one you’ll want each time to boot Ubuntu, because this will
always use the most recent version of the kernel, along with the latest versions of other system software.
The other entries will start the system with older versions of the kernel and are provided in the unlikely
situation that the latest kernel causes problems.
■ Note All operating systems need a boot loader, even Windows. However, the Windows boot loader is hidden
and simply starts the OS. Under Ubuntu, the boot loader usually has a menu so you can select Linux or perhaps an
option that lets you access your PC for troubleshooting problems. When you gain some experience with Ubuntu,
you might choose to install two or more versions of Linux on the same hard disk, and you’ll be able to select
among them by using the boot menu.
Logging In
After Ubuntu has booted (and much effort has been put into reducing the time Lucid Lynx takes to do it),
you should see the login screen, as shown in Figure 6-2. Here you enter the username and the password
you created during the installation process. If during installation you selected to be automatically logged
in at startup, then you will not see this screen and will be presented with the desktop right away.
Clicking the Shutdown Options button in the bottom-right corner of the screen brings up a menu
from which you can opt to reboot the system or shut it down. Next to this button are the clock and the
Universal Access Preferences button, which allows you to enable accessibility features such as the onscreen keyboard and the magnifier.
The user account you created during installation is similar to what Windows refers to as an
administrator account. This means that the within the account you use on a day-to-day basis you can
also change important system settings and reconfigure the system. However, the main difference
between Ubuntu and Windows is that you’ll need to enter your password to make any serious changes,
rather than clicking in a confirmation dialog box, as with Windows Vista or Windows 7 (of course,
Windows XP doesn’t have any kind of confirmation requirement at all!).
Don’t worry about damaging anything accidentally; trying to reconfigure the system or access a
serious system setting will invariably bring up a password prompt. You can simply click the Cancel
button if you don’t want to continue.
■ Note Unlike some versions of Linux, Ubuntu doesn’t encourage the user to use an actual root (administrator)
account. This is even disabled by default. Instead, it operates on the principle of certain ordinary users adopting
superuser privileges that allow them to administer the system when they need to. Those are called sudoers. In
UNIX terms, sudo is short for superuser do, meaning to perform a task as the superuser. A sudoer is a user
account enabled to execute sudo for certain tasks, as defined in the sudoers file. The user account you create
during setup has these privileges.
Figure 6-2. Select or type your username, enter your password, and then press Enter to log in.
Exploring the Desktop
After you’ve logged in, you’ll see the welcoming theme of the Ubuntu desktop, as shown in Figure 6-3.
Feel free to click around and see what you can discover. There’s little chance of your doing serious
damage, so let yourself go wild and play around with your new OS! However, be careful if any dialog
boxes ask you to type your password—this indicates that you’ve clicked an action that has the potential
to change the system in a fundamental way.
Figure 6-3. A clean Ubuntu desktop—this is your first view of the new OS.
First Impressions
The first thing you’ll notice is that the desktop is clean compared to Windows. You don’t have a lot of
icons littering the screen.
Of course, you can fill the desktop with all the icons you want. As with Windows, you can save files
to the desktop for easy access. In addition, you can click and drag icons from any of the menus onto the
desktop in order to create shortcuts.
Although we refer to the Ubuntu desktop, the fundamental software behind it is created by GNOME: the
Free Software Desktop Project. This is one of the most well-established organizations currently producing
desktop interfaces for Linux, as well as for other versions of UNIX. Its home page is
Although it’s based on GNOME, Ubuntu’s desktop has its own set of individual features and programs, as
well as a unique look and feel. That said, it works in an almost identical way to versions of GNOME that are
used in other Linux distributions, such as Fedora.
The nature of open-source software—whereby anyone can take the source code and create a new version
of a program—makes Ubuntu’s remodeling of the GNOME desktop possible. Unlike with Windows
software, more than one current version of a particular program or software suite can exist, each usually
tailored to the particular needs of one of the various Linux distributions.
There are also versions of Ubuntu built around KDE ( and Xfce
(, two similar desktop environments. They’re called Kubuntu and Xubuntu,
respectively, and they’re supplied on the DVD-ROM that comes with this book. For more details, including
installation instructions, see Appendix D.
■ Note If you’re dual-booting with Windows, you might see an icon at the top left of the Ubuntu desktop that will
let you access your Windows files. On one system, it was identified as sda1. Double-click the icon to view the
Windows file system. Similarly, if you have a memory card reader or digital camera plugged in your PC, you might
see desktop icons for them too, and any inserted CD/DVD discs will also be represented by desktop icons.
Along the top of the desktop, you see three menus:
Applications: This menu is the equivalent of the Windows Start All Programs menu. Here you’ll
find access to all the software available under Ubuntu, categorized for easy finding.
Places: This menu is somewhat like My Computer in Windows, in that it gives quick access to
locations within the file system. The Places menu also provides access to network locations, such as
file servers (this is probably be important only if you use Ubuntu in a business context). You can add
and remove folders and files here for quick access to your favorite places, and also search for files.
System: This menu is a little like the Windows Control Panel, in that it allows you to change various
system settings. The Preferences submenu lets you change trivial system settings, such as the screen
saver, or start new system services, such as the remote desktop service that lets you view your
desktop across a network connection. The Administration submenu lets you change underlying
system settings, such as configuring new hardware (like printers) and installing software.
The mouse works mostly as it does in Windows, in that you can move it around and click on things.
For the most part, single- and double-clicking work exactly as they do in Windows. You can also rightclick virtually everything and everywhere to bring up context menus, which usually let you alter settings.
And you should find that the scroll wheel in between the mouse buttons lets you scroll windows.
Something that might catch your attention the first time you open a window in Lucid Lynx is the
placement of the familiar Maximize, Minimize, and Close buttons. They are placed to the left of the top
bar, instead of to the right as is customary in Windows and OS X. Clicking the Close button ends each
program, as in Windows.
Whenever Ubuntu is busy, an animated, circular icon appears that is similar in principle to the
hourglass icon used in Windows. It also appears when programs are being launched.
■ Caution Bear in mind that Ubuntu isn’t a clone of Windows and doesn’t try to be. Although it works in a similar
way—by providing menus and icons and containing programs within windows—there are differences and
refinements that may trip you up as you explore.
You might find when you boot up that Ubuntu has defaulted to the wrong resolution—in other words,
everything might be a little too large or too small. You might have trouble reading text, for example, or
you might find that program windows fill the screen to the extent that their contents partially disappear off
the edges.
Changing the resolution is simple. Choose System Preferences Monitors from the menu (at the top of
the screen). In the Resolution drop-down list, select the appropriate setting for your monitor. For a 17-inch
CRT monitor, the standard resolution is 1024×768. Most 17-inch TFT screens run at 1280×1024
resolution. A 15-inch TFT screen will usually run at 1024×768 resolution. For laptops, 13-inch to 15-inch
LCD panels typically run at 1280×800 resolution. If you have a 15-inch CRT monitor (common on PCs
made before 2000), you’ll probably find 800×600 a maximum setting; others prefer 640×480. More recent
wide-screen monitors can be pushed up to 1920×1080 resolution, but this is likely to demand a higherend graphics card to work well. If you’re in doubt about your monitor’s resolution, consult its manual for
more information.
If the resolution you want isn’t available, Ubuntu might have incorrectly set up your graphics card
and monitor. See the “Graphical Problems” section in Chapter 5 to learn how to reconfigure the
graphical subsystem.
Exploring the Panels
Central pieces of the Ubuntu desktop are the panels. Those are the strips that you find at the top and at
the bottom of your desktop. They are extremely useful and highly customizable. Most of the operations
you will ever need to access on Ubuntu are available through those panels, so mastering them early on is
of great help (to read more about personalizing panels, refer to Chapter 9). You will encounter the
following default elements in the panels:
Main menus: The three menus at the top left of the screen provide access to most of Ubuntu’s
functionality. As noted earlier, the Applications menu provides access to programs; the Places menu
provides access to the file system; and the System menu provides access to configuration settings.
You can click and drag practically every menu entry onto the desktop in order to create a shortcut.
Application launchers: Beside the main menus you’ll find icons that represent applications. By
default the Firefox web browser and the Ubuntu help find their home here. Some applications add a
launcher here when you install them, or you can create your own launchers for existing
applications. When you click one of those icons, the corresponding application starts.
Off button: The right-most item in the top panel is the Off button, about which more details are
given later in this chapter. You will notice sometimes that the Off button changes its color to red.
This is an indication that a change has been made to the system that requires you to reboot the
computer. This can happen, for example, when you install the latest updates to Ubuntu.
Me menu: A new element introduced with Lucid Lynx—the Me Menu, indicated by your username
on the panel and located to the left of the Off button—allows you to easily set your status for various
IM clients and post to social network sites like Facebook or Twitter without having to log in to them.
Its functionality is explained in depth in Chapter 15.
Clock: The clock is located at the top right of the screen. Clicking it brings up a handy monthly
calendar and a drop-down panel that contains a miniature world map, regional time, and weather
for several locations. Click it again to hide this display. Right-clicking the clock brings up a context
menu. On this menu, the Preferences option lets you alter the way the date and time are displayed
and enables you to define a default location for weather information (displayed in the system tray
to the left of the clock). The Adjust Date & Time option lets you change the time and/or date if
they’re incorrect.
Indicator applet: The Indicator applet, represented by an envelope icon next to the clock, allows you
to configure instant message (IM) and mail accounts, and is used by those same accounts to inform
you when a change has occurred, such as new incoming mail or an IM from one of your contacts.
Notification area: This is similar to the Windows system tray. Programs that like to hang around in
memory, such as the Rhythmbox media player or Skype, add icons in this top-right area to allow
quick access to their functions. The Software Update Notifier appears in this area to let you know
that software updates are available (similar to Windows Update). Network Manager displays an icon
here when you are connected to the network. The Volume Control applet is here too. Usually, you
simply need to click (or right-click) their icons to access the program features.
■ Tip The small bar marks the leftmost boundary of the notification area. To resize the notification area, rightclick this bar and remove the check from the Lock to Panel menu entry. Then you can click and drag the bar to a
different size. This might be handy if the notification area starts to fill up with icons!
Notifications: In addition to the notification area, Ubuntu also has a pop-up, short-term notification
system that is used to keep you informed of changes to your system’s volume, screen brightness,
network availability, IM friend status, and other useful things. You might want to disable some
notifications if they start to annoy you.
Hide Windows button: At the bottom left is the Hide Windows button that instantly minimizes all
open windows to give access to the desktop underneath.
Window List: The largest portion of the panel at the bottom of the screen is occupied by the Window
List, which shows the programs that are currently running (if any). As with Windows, you can simply
click the button for any program to bring that window “to the top.” Alternatively, you can right-click
each entry to instantly minimize or maximize that particular window. It’s also possible to switch
between running applications on the Window List by pressing Alt+Tab.
Trash: To the extreme right of the bottom panel is the Trash icon. Dragging files or folders into
this icon causes them to be moved to the trash. From here you can also empty the trash or view
its contents.
■ Note There’s one important difference between the Recycle Bin in Windows and Ubuntu’s Trash. By default, the
Recycle Bin uses only 10 percent of the remaining space on a hard disk. After this, the oldest items are
automatically deleted. With Ubuntu’s version, the only limit on the contents is the remaining free space on the
disk. Nothing will ever be removed from the Trash unless you specifically choose to remove it.
Workspace switcher: Beside the Trash icon is the Workspace switcher, used to move between virtual
desktops, described later in this chapter.
Shutting Down or Restarting Ubuntu
You can shut down or reboot your PC by clicking the Off button in the top-right corner of the screen. On
many laptops and desktops, you can also briefly press the on/off button on the computer. The former
method presents you with a selection of options in a drop-down list, while the latter launches a dialog
box showing icons for various options, as shown in Figure 6-4.
Figure 6-4. A variety of shutdown operations are available, some allowing for a quick resumption later on.
Note that not all the options appear if you use the hardware method to close down. The options in the
drop-down list are as follows:
Lock Screen: This enables the screen saver and password-protects the system. The only way to leave
Lock Screen mode is to enter the user’s password into the dialog box that appears whenever you
move the mouse or press a key.
Guest Session: This launches a new guest session of the desktop. It is ideal for employees who are
temporarily using a company’s PC, for example, or for friends who visit and want to check their email or Facebook without leaving any trace on your PC. Any files downloaded on a guest account are
deleted when the user logs out.
Switch User…: If multiple users are defined on the system (Chapter 21 discusses how to add user
accounts), this option allows others to log in without closing down the original user’s account. To
switch back to the original user, choose Switch User again or log out the second user. The original
user will need to enter their password to regain access.
Log Out: This option logs you out of the current user account and returns you to the Ubuntu login
screen. Any open programs will be shut down automatically.
■ Caution During shutdown or logout operations, Ubuntu sometimes automatically shuts down applications
that contain unsaved data without prompting you, so you should always save files prior to selecting any of the
options here.
Sleep: This uses your computer’s suspend mode, in which most of the PC’s systems are powered
down except for the computer’s memory. Suspend mode is designed to save power and allow a
quick reactivation of the PC. Not all computers support suspend mode, however, so you should
experiment to see if your computer works correctly. Ensure that you save any open files before
doing so. If your PC goes into suspend mode but fails to wake up when you shake the mouse or push
keys, you may need to reboot. This can often be done by holding down the power button for about
five seconds.
Hibernate: This saves the contents of the computer’s memory to the hard disk and then completely
powers down the computer. When the computer is reactivated, the user chooses to start Ubuntu as
normal, and the memory contents are read in from disk. This allows a faster startup and allows users
to resume from where they were last working. For the hibernate feature to work, the swap file needs
to be as large as or larger than the main memory. Ubuntu’s installation program should have
automatically done that, but if you didn’t dedicate enough disk space to Ubuntu when
repartitioning, it might not have been able to do so. The only way to find out is to attempt to
hibernate your system and see whether it works.
■ Caution Some users have reported that their computer is sometimes unable to “wake” from hibernation, so
you should save any open files before hibernating as insurance against the unlikely prospect that this happens.
We’ve seen this happen a few times, although hundreds of other times it’s worked fine.
Restart: This option shuts down Ubuntu and then restarts the computer.
Shut Down: This shuts down Ubuntu and then powers off your computer, provided its BIOS is
compatible with the standard shutdown commands. (All computers bought within the past five
years or so are compatible; if you find that the computer hangs at the end of the Ubuntu shutdown
procedure, simply turn it off manually via the power switch.)
Only the last four of these options are available in the Shut Down the Computer dialog box, opened
via the hardware shutdown button or by pressing the Ctrl+Alt+Del combination of keys. If you leave the
computer after pushing this button, it will pause for 60 seconds and then shut down.
Quick Desktop Guides
Refer to Figure 6-5 for an annotated diagram of the desktop. The figure includes an open menu, browser
window, and program window, so you can get a sense of what it’s like working from the desktop.
As another handy reference, Table 6-1 compares standard Windows desktop features to similar
functionality on the Ubuntu desktop.
Figure 6-5. The Ubuntu desktop is broadly similar to the Windows desktop, with a few minor differences.
Table 6-1. Ubuntu Equivalents of Windows Desktop Features
Windows Function
Ubuntu Equivalent
My Computer/
Double-clicking the My
Computer/Computer icon gives
you access to the PC system. In
particular, it lets you browse the
file system.
Click Places Computer to see all the drives
attached to the computer in the file browser
window. If you want to browse the file
system. double-click File System in the list
on the left side of the file browser window.
Recycle Bin
The Recycle Bin is the repository
of all deleted files.
Click the small Trash icon located the
bottom-right corner of the Ubuntu desktop.
Start menu
The Start menu provides access
to the many computer functions,
as well as a list of the programs
installed on the system.
This function is split between the
Applications and System menus. The
Applications menu provides access to
software installed under Ubuntu. The
System menu lets you configure and
administer the system, similar to the
Windows Control Panel.
Quick Launch
Located just to the right of the
Start button, these small icons let
you launch popular programs
with a single click.
Similar icons are located to the right of the
main menus at the top of the Ubuntu
desktop. You can add your own entries here
by clicking and dragging program icons
from the Applications menu or by rightclicking, selecting Add to Panel, and
choosing an Application launcher.
Windows Function
Ubuntu Equivalent
My Network
Places/ Network
This icon is used to access
network services, usually within a
business environment (on newer
versions of Windows, this icon is
often hidden by default).
To browse the local network, click Places Network .
My Documents/
The My Documents/Documents
folder, accessed via its icon on
the Windows desktop, is a
storage space set aside for a
user’s documents.
The user’s Home folder serves this purpose
and can be accessed clicking Places Home
Control Panel
The Windows Control Panel,
located off the Start menu,
enables the user to change
system settings and preferences.
Similar functionality can be found under the
System Administration and System Preferences menu options. If you’d like a
more Windows-esque control panel, press
Alt+F2 and type gnome-control-center. This
presents a familiar-looking grid of icons
from which you can select all of the
configuration options for the OS.
Find Files/Start
Located on the Start menu, the
Find Files/Start Search function
lets a user search the file system
for missing items.
To find files, click Places Search for Files.
You can also add the Deskbar applet to any
of your panels (right-click the panel, select
Add to Panel, and choose Deskbar from the
At the bottom of the Start menu
within Windows is the
Shutdown/ Restart button.
Clicking System Quit brings up a dialog
box that is almost identical to the one
displayed in Windows XP and offers the
same options as the Windows Vista
shutdown submenu.
Windows Update
Located in the system tray, the
Windows Update program
checks for and downloads
software updates, and then
notifies you that the updates are
ready to be installed at your
The Software Update Notifier checks for
software updates and then notifies you
when updates are available. Clicking the
Update Manager icon pops up a window
from which you can download and install
updates. In contrast to the Windows system,
Ubuntu keeps track of the majority of
software installed on your PC and can
upgrade almost any application or system
file when new versions become available.
Switch User
This option is available when you
choose to log off from Windows.
You can keep the login session of
the current user alive, while
allowing another user to log in to
The User Switcher is located on the left side
of the notification area. Click the username
or real name, select another user to log in to
the system, and supply the correct
password. The current user’s session is
locked, and a new session is activated for the
new logged-in user.
It takes some time to get used to the look and feel of Ubuntu; everything may initially seem a little
unusual. You’ll find that the onscreen fonts look a little different from those in Windows, for example.
The icons also aren’t the same as you’re used to in Windows. This can be a little disconcerting, but that
feeling will quickly pass, and everything will become second nature. You’ll look at how to personalize the
desktop in Chapter 9.
Migrating to Ubuntu from Mac OS X shouldn’t present too many surprises. In some ways, Ubuntu has more
in common with OS X than it does with Windows. After all, both Linux and OS X are versions of UNIX. Here
is a list of OS X functions alongside details of where they can be found within Ubuntu:
Finder (file browsing): Finder under OS X offers access to files, applications, and
much more and is represented on the Dock by the Mac smiley face icon. In terms
of file browsing functionality, clicking Places Home in Ubuntu is all that’s
needed for similar behavior.
Finder (applications): The Applications option within Finder shows a list of all
installed programs. Exactly the same thing can be found by clicking the
Applications button in Ubuntu, although the programs are arranged into submenus
to make finding what you’re looking for easier.
Finder (network locations): Clicking the Network button in Finder enables the user
to browse the local area network or access remote file servers. This functionality
can be found on the Places menu: click Places Network Servers to browse the
local network and Places Connect to Server to access a remote server, such as
FTP (this function also allows the user to connect to local servers by specifying
their addresses).
Macintosh HD: Double-clicking this icon on the desktop allows the user to access
the root of the Macintosh file system. To access the root file system under Ubuntu,
click Places Computer, and then click the File System link in the left pane of the
file browsing window.
Dock: There is no direct analogy to the Mac OS X Dock under Ubuntu, but the
Quick Launch icons to the right of the Applications/Places/System menus offer
quick access to the web browser, e-mail client, and help system. You can add
more programs to the Quick Launch toolbar by clicking and dragging them from
the Applications menu. The Window List controls the active window. Additional
software can be used to mimic the look and feel of the Dock if you’re a big fan.
Trash: Located on the Dock, the Trash icon lets OS X users salvage deleted files.
The same functionality is offered by the Ubuntu Trash folder icon, which is located
at the bottom-right corner of the screen.
System Preferences: Located on the Dock and in the Applications menu, the
System Preferences icon offers access to all of OS X’s configuration utilities.
Similar functionality can be found on the System Preferences and System Administration menus.
Spaces (version 10.5 and above): Spaces allow you to unclutter your desktop by
arranging your applications into separate workspaces. Similar functionality is
available by using virtual desktops, which are located at the right side of the
Window List.
Spotlight (version 10.4 and above): Spotlight allows users to search their hard disk
for files. To access Ubuntu’s search function, click Places Search for Files. You
can also click the Deskbar applet, located to the left of the notification area, or the
Tracker search tool icon, located in the notification area, to search for files.
Running Programs
Starting a new program is easy. Just click the Applications menu and then choose a program from the
list, just as you would in Windows using the Start Programs menu. The Applications menu, shown in
Figure 6-6, is split into various subcategories of programs, such as office tools, graphics programs, and
even games!
If you want to start the web browser or e-mail client (arguably two of the most popular programs
offered by Ubuntu), you can click their icons on the top panel bar, just to the right of the menus at the
top of the screen (see Figure 6-6).
Figure 6-6. The programs on the Applications menu are split into various categories.
Working with Virtual Desktops
Windows works on the premise of everything taking place on top of a single desktop. When you start a
new program, it runs on top of the desktop, effectively covering up the desktop. In fact, all programs
are run on this desktop, so it can get a bit confusing when you have more than a couple of programs
running at the same time. Which Microsoft Word window contains the document you’re working on,
rather than the one you’ve opened to take notes from? Where is that My Computer window you were
using to copy files?
Ubuntu overcomes this problem by having more than one desktop area. By using the Workspace
Switcher tool, located at the bottom right of the desktop, you can switch between two or more virtual
desktops. This is best explained by a demonstration:
Make sure you’re currently on the first virtual desktop (click the leftmost
square on the Workspace Switcher), and start up the web browser by clicking
its icon at the top of the screen (the globe icon located to the right of the
Click the second square on the Workspace Switcher. This switches you to a
clean desktop, where no programs are visible—desktop number two.
Start up the file browser by selecting the Places Home menu option. A file
browser window appears.
Click the first square in the Workspace Switcher again. You should switch back
to the desktop that is running the web browser.
Click the second square, and you switch back to the other desktop, which is
running the file browser.
■ Tip Right-clicking any of the program entries in the Window List brings up a menu where you can move a
program from one virtual desktop to another. Just select Move to Another Workspace.
See how it works? You can create up to 36 virtual desktops, in fact! To set the number of workspaces,
right-click the Workspace Switcher and select Preferences. In the window that appears, select the
number of workspaces and the number of rows in which they will be arranged (see Figure 6-7). You can
even label the different workspaces and make Ubuntu show the name in the Workspace Switcher to
better identification. The default is four workspaces arranged in a single row, but you can increase the
number of workspaces and the number of rows.
Figure 6-7. Four virtual desktops are set up by default, but you can have as many as 36.
■ Tip Putting your mouse over the Workspace Switcher and scrolling the mouse wheel switches among the
various virtual desktops instantly. Or you can hold down Ctrl+Alt and press the left and right cursor keys to switch
between virtual desktops.
If you want to keep one application—for example, a web browser—instantly available regardless of
the workspace you happen to be on, you can right-click it in the Window List and click the Always on
Visible Workspace button. Now as you navigate your various workspaces, that particular button will
follow you.
You can also click and drag the small representations of an application window from one workspace
to another in the Switcher itself, though this is quite fiddly. The Workspace Switcher provides a way of
organizing your programs and also reducing the clutter. You can experiment with virtual desktops to see
whether you want to organize your work this way. Some people swear by them. Experienced Ubuntu
users may have more than ten virtual desktops, although clearly this will appeal only to organizational
geniuses! Other users think multiple desktops are a waste of time. We thnk they’re certainly worth trying
out to see whether they suit the way you work.
Using the Mouse
As noted earlier, the mouse works mostly the same under Ubuntu as it does under Windows: a left-click
selects things, and a right-click usually brings up a context menu. Try right-clicking various items, such
as icons on the desktop or even the desktop itself.
■ Tip Right-clicking a blank spot on the desktop and selecting Create Launcher lets you create shortcuts to
applications. Clicking Create Folder lets you create new empty folders.
You can use the mouse to drag icons on top of other icons. For example, you can drag a file onto a
program icon in order to run it. You can also click and drag in certain areas to create an “elastic band”
and, as in Windows, this lets you select more than one icon at once.
You can resize windows by using the mouse in much the same way as in Windows. Just click and
drag the edges and corners of the windows. In addition, you can double-click the title bar to maximize
and subsequently restore windows.
Ubuntu also makes use of the third mouse button for middle-clicking. You might not think your
mouse has one of these but, actually, if it’s relatively modern, it probably does. Such mice have a scroll
wheel between the buttons, and this can act as a third button when pressed.
In Ubuntu, the main use of the middle mouse button is in copying and pasting, as described in the
next section. Middle-clicking also has a handful of other functions; for example, middle-clicking the title
bar of any open window will switch to the window underneath.
■ Tip If your mouse doesn’t have a scroll wheel, or if it has one that doesn’t click, you can still middle-click.
Simply press the left and right mouse buttons at the same time. This emulates a middle-click, although it takes a
little skill to get right. Generally speaking, you need to press one button a fraction of a second before you press the
other button.
Cutting and Pasting Text
Ubuntu offers two separate methods of cutting and pasting text. The first is identical to Windows. In a
word processor or another application that deals with text, you can click and drag (or double-click) the
mouse to highlight text, right-click anywhere on it, and then choose to copy or cut the text. In many
programs, you can also use the keyboard shortcuts of Ctrl+X to cut, Ctrl+C to copy, and Ctrl+V to paste.
However, there’s a quicker method of copying and pasting. Simply click and drag to highlight some
text and then immediately click the middle mouse button where you want the text to appear. This copies
and pastes the highlighted text automatically, as shown in Figure 6-8.
This special method of cutting and pasting bypasses the usual clipboard, so you should find that any
text you’ve copied or cut previously should still be there. The downside is that it doesn’t work across all
applications within Ubuntu, although it does work with the majority of them.
Figure 6-8. Highlight the text and then middle-click to paste it instantly.
This chapter covered booting into Ubuntu for the first time and discovering the desktop. We looked at
starting programs, working with virtual desktops, using the mouse on the Ubuntu desktop, and much
more. You should be confident in some basic Ubuntu skills and ready to learn more!
In the next chapter, you’ll look at getting your system up and running, focusing on items of
hardware that you may encounter in day-to-day use.
Getting Everything Up and Running
This chapter guides you through setting up all the essential components of your Ubuntu installation.
This includes hardware configuration, as well as setting up e-mail. It covers the post-installation steps
necessary to get your system up and running efficiently.
Like all modern Linux distributions, Ubuntu is practically automated when it comes to setting up
key hardware and software components. Key software will work from the start, and most hardware will
be automatically configured. However, you might need to tweak a few settings to make everything work
correctly. Read on to learn more.
Will Ubuntu Support My Hardware?
The age-old criticism that the Linux OS lags way behind Windows in terms of hardware support is long
dead. The majority of connectable devices, such as digital cameras and printers, will work with Ubuntu
immediately, with little, if any, configuration.
Most underlying PC hardware is pre-configured during installation without your knowledge and
without requiring further work, so with luck there will be less hunting around for drivers than you might
be used to with Windows. Your graphics and sound cards should work without a hitch, for example. In
addition, nearly all USB and FireWire devices you plug in after installation will be supported. (Table 7-1
lists some online sources of information about hardware support for Ubuntu). You’ll be surprised at how
many user manuals now have a section for Linux—often given equal weight to Mac OS. Documentation
for Netgear routers is one example.
However, it’s still the case that a substantial number of devices are not supported by Ubuntu.
Generally, it’s a black or white situation: Ubuntu either works with a piece of hardware or it doesn’t.
The types of hardware that Ubuntu doesn’t support are often esoteric devices that rely on custom
software provided by the hardware manufacturer, but even in mass-market areas such as printers,
scanners, and wireless adapters, some manufacturers are still frustratingly uninterested in publishing
their own Linux drivers, and even refuse to provide details about the hardware to volunteer
programmers who offer to write free and open source drivers at no expense to the company. It’s also
sometimes the case that brand-new models of hardware won’t work with Ubuntu when they first hit the
market. Companies prioritize developer resources, so Windows drivers generally get written before
Linux drivers. However, as soon as a new piece of hardware comes out, work is usually undertaken to
ensure that Linux is made compatible with it, by the company, the community, or a combination of the
two. This is especially true of hardware such as printers and scanners, and it’s one more reason why you
should regularly update your system online.
■ Tip Before you hit the stores to buy a new piece of hardware, it’s a good idea to do a little research.
Compatibility with Linux is sometimes listed on the hardware box or at the manufacturer’s web site (even if you
sometimes need to search through the FAQ section to find out about it). And, of course, others may have tried
your particular small object of desire, so searching <hardware name> + Linux compatibility in Google may
provide enlightenment.
Table 7-1. Hardware Information Sources
Web Sources
Graphics cards
Sound cards
Wi-fi cards
Unfortunately, unlike with Windows, it’s not very common to find Linux drivers on the CD that
comes with the hardware. Even if you do find a Linux driver supplied, chances are that it will work with
only certain enterprise-oriented versions of Linux, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SUSE Linux
Enterprise Desktop. Some drivers are usable but imperfect or lack features that are available in their
Windows counterparts. At the time of this writing, Ubuntu has yet to gain the kind of momentum that
leads manufacturers to specifically produce drivers for it, but this may change in the future, especially as
more users encounter the system via Netbooks and mobile devices. Various OEMs have dipped their
toes in the open source water. Dell and Shuttle are the biggest names currently bundling Linux with
some of their desktop offerings, with smaller specialist companies like System 76 competing with
excellent pre-installed offerings.
■ Note It’s possible to use a program called alien to convert software installation packages designed for other
distributions into Ubuntu installation files. Doing so isn’t complicated but may not work well with driver files
because of the subtle differences in where system files are stored across different Linux distributions. You can find
more information about alien at It’s contained within the Ubuntu
software repositories and can be downloaded using the Ubuntu Software Center or Synaptic Package Manager. A
graphical front end to alien is available at
Using Proprietary vs. Open Source Drivers
As discussed earlier in this book, Linux is an open source OS. This means that the source code
underlying Linux programs is available for study and even reuse. This is a good thing when it comes to
hardware drivers, because bugs in the code can be spotted and repaired by anyone with an interest in
doing so. If you consider that a bug in a graphics driver could mean your PC crashes every 5 minutes, the
value of such an approach is abundantly clear.
Unfortunately, some hardware manufacturers don’t like to disclose how their hardware works,
because they want to protect their trade secrets. This makes it impossible for them to release open
source drivers, because such drivers would expose exactly how the hardware operates. Because such
companies are aware that growing numbers of people use Linux, they release proprietary drivers,
whose source code is not made publicly available (in the same way that Windows code is not released to
the public).
Aside from ethical issues surrounding not being able to study the source code, the biggest issue with
proprietary drivers relates to bug fixing. To use a proprietary driver is to be at the mercy of the hardware
manufacturer’s own development and release schedule. If the driver has a serious bug, you’ll either have
to work around it or put up with troubling issues until the manufacturer offers an update. A few years
ago, a proprietary driver for a 3D graphics card stopped any computer it was installed on from going into
hibernation mode (that is, suspending to disk). Those using the drivers had to wait months until the fix
was released.
Despite this, and although the folks behind Ubuntu strongly support free and open source software,
they realize proprietary drivers need to be used in certain situations. For example, it’s impossible to use
the 3D graphics elements of some graphics cards unless you have a proprietary driver, and this means
that visual effects will be unavailable to users who happen to have hardware that isn’t currently fully
supported by open source drivers.
Because of this, Ubuntu automatically installs wi-fi proprietary drivers by default if no open source
alternative exists (or if the open source version is not yet good enough). It also offers the opportunity to
easily install some proprietary graphics card drivers if they provide more functionality than the open
source versions.
■ Note Linux sees hardware in a technical way, rather than in the way humans do. If you attach something such
as a USB CD-R/RW drive, Linux will recognize the drive hardware and attempt to make it work. It won’t try to find a
driver for that specific make and model of CD-R/RW drive. Thus, Linux is able to work with a wide range of
hardware, because a lot of hardware is similar on a technical level, despite the differences in case design, model
names, and even prices!
The question of what hardware works under Ubuntu is one that’s not easily answered. However, you can
take a look at to see if your hardware is listed. This is an
informal list created by the Ubuntu community, and it’s not comprehensive (which is to say that there may
be hardware that works fine that isn’t mentioned). Nor is the list guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate.
But it’s certainly worth a look.
A search engine such as Google is your best friend if the Ubuntu hardware list doesn’t help. Simply search
for the brand and model of your hardware and add Ubuntu to the search string. This should return results,
usually from the Ubuntu forums ( or blogs, written by those who have found a
way to make that type of hardware work.
Installing Device Manager
When using Windows, you might have come across Device Manager, the handy tool that lists your PC’s
hardware and provides access to various properties. Ubuntu offers a similar piece of software, as shown
in Figure 7-1, but it isn’t installed by default.
After you can connect to the Internet (following the instructions in the “Getting Online” section of
this chapter), you can install Device Manager by using the Synaptic Package Manager (see the “Installing
Software” section of this chapter), as follows:
Choose Applications Ubuntu Software Center.
Your cursor is automatically in the search field, so go ahead and type device
A list of programs will appear. Click Device Manager and then click the Install
button that appears. Enter your password when asked.
A progress bar will show that the software is installing. When it’s done, a green
tick will appear by the program’s icon. You can now close the Ubuntu Software
Center window.
Figure 7-1. Ubuntu’s Device Manager program can display just about everything you need to know about
attached hardware.
If your computer is not yet online, you’ll need to use a computer that is online (perhaps another
computer, or Windows if you dual-boot) to download the software, and then copy it across to your
Ubuntu computer for installation. To download the software, visit the following two addresses in your
browser. You will be prompted to download a file after typing each address:
After the files are downloaded, copy them to the Desktop on your Ubuntu machine, using a USB
memory stick or similar storage device. Right-click the icon for libgnome-device-manager0_0.23_i386.deb and select the first choice in the context menu, Open With Gdebi Package Manager. A
Package Installer window will appear. Click the Install Package button and supply your password when
asked. Close the window when the package has finished installing. Next, right-click the other icon, for
gnome-device-manager itself and repeat the same procedure.
After you’ve installed Device Manager, you can open it by choosing Applications System Tools Device Manager. You’ll need to click View Device Properties to ensure that Device Manager adds the
useful (but occasionally overwhelming) Properties tab.
You should be aware of a few important differences between the Windows and Ubuntu versions of
Device Manager. Though the aim of Ubuntu’s Device Manager is to manage hardware devices, the
project is still in its infancy and can provide only hardware information at the time of this writing. On the
other hand, Ubuntu’s list is far more comprehensive than that in Windows. In Ubuntu, Device Manager
thoroughly probes the hardware to discover its capabilities.
Perhaps the biggest difference, however, is that just because a piece of hardware is listed within
Ubuntu’s Device Manager doesn’t mean that the hardware is configured to work with Ubuntu. In fact, it
doesn’t even imply that the hardware will ever work under Ubuntu. Device Manager’s list is simply the
result of probing devices attached to the various system buses (PCI, AGP, USB, and so on) and reporting
the data.
Nonetheless, Device Manager is the best starting place if you find that a certain piece of hardware
isn’t working. If a piece of hardware is listed, then it proves, if nothing else, that the system recognizes
that the hardware is attached. For example, later in this chapter, we describe how you can use Device
Manager to discover crucial details about wireless network devices, which you can then use to
install drivers.
Configuring Ubuntu
Unlike some versions of Linux, Ubuntu doesn’t rely on a centralized configuration software package.
Instead, it uses smaller programs to configure hardware. For example, to configure the network, you’ll
use the NetworkManager program, and printers are configured using a separate printer configuration
program. Because using some of the configuration software involves reconfiguring your entire system,
doing so requires administrator privileges. Therefore, you’ll be prompted for your login password each
time you use some of the programs. In some cases, after you’ve made changes, you’ll need to click the
Apply button to put the changes into effect. When you’ve finished configuration, simply close the
program window by clicking the Close button.
■ Note Ubuntu remembers your password for 5 minutes after you enter it. Therefore, if you open the same
application or another that requires administrator privileges within that amount of time, you won’t be prompted to
enter your password again.
Configuring hardware is one area where the value of the Ubuntu community becomes very apparent. If you
run into a problem, it’s unlikely your situation will be unique. Others will probably have encountered the
same problem and may have figured out a solution. If so, they may have posted it online. If nothing else,
you might find sufficient clues to be able to solve the problem by yourself. Sharing information in this way
is part of the spirit of Ubuntu and also Linux.
We’ve tried to provide complete guides to most hardware configuration in this chapter, but if you run into
problems, your first port of call should be the Ubuntu forums, at This is the
central meeting place for the Ubuntu community. You can search through existing forum postings or start
your own thread asking for help. We explain a little more about the protocols of asking for help in Appendix
C. The key advice is to try to spend time solving a problem yourself before you ask other people for help.
Also worth visiting in times of trouble is the community-written wiki, which can be found at Here you’ll find a range of guides to help configure various
aspects of Ubuntu. A wiki is a kind of community web site that anyone can edit or contribute to. The idea is
that it’s constructed and maintained by its readers.
We also recommend taking a look at the Ubuntu Guide, at, which is also
community written. The Ubuntu Guide can be concise and often expects a relatively high degree of
technical knowledge, but it is also comprehensive.
Finally, don’t forget that you’re a member of the community too. If you encounter and subsequently solve a
configuration problem, share the solution with others. You can do this by editing the Ubuntu wiki or posting
to the forums.
Configuring Input Devices
Mouse and key repeat speeds are personal to each user, and you may find the default Ubuntu settings
not to your taste, particularly if you have a high-resolution mouse such as a gaming model. Fortunately,
changing each setting is easy. You’ll find the relevant options under the System Preferences menu.
Configuring Mouse Options
Choose System Preferences Mouse to open the Mouse Preferences dialog box, which has General
and Accessibility tabs. On a laptop, you might also see the Touchpad tab.
General Mouse Settings
On the General tab of the Mouse Preferences dialog box, shown in Figure 7-2, you can configure several
Figure 7-2. The Mouse Preferences dialog box lets you tame that mouse.
These options are as follows:
Mouse Orientation: This option lets you set whether the mouse is to be used by
a left-handed or right-handed person. Effectively, it swaps the functions of the
right and left buttons.
Locate Pointer: This option allows you to show where the mouse is by
displaying a ripple surrounding the mouse pointer when you press the Ctrl key.
This can be useful for partially sighted people who may not be able to locate the
cursor on a busy Desktop.
Acceleration: This setting controls how fast the mouse pointer moves.
Whenever you move the mouse, the pointer on the screen moves a
corresponding amount. However, the cursor actually increases in speed the
more you move your hand (otherwise, you would need to drag your hand
across the desk to get from one side of the screen to the other). This is referred
to as acceleration. If you set the acceleration too high, the pointer will fly
around the screen, seemingly unable to stop. If you set it too slow, you’ll need
to swipe the mouse several times to make it go anywhere.
Sensitivity: This setting controls how quickly the acceleration kicks in when you
first move the mouse. Choosing a higher setting means that you can move the
mouse relatively quickly before it starts to accelerate and cover more screen
space. A low setting means that acceleration will begin almost as soon as you
move the mouse. Higher sensitivity settings give you more control over the
mouse, which can be useful if you use image-editing programs, for example.
Drag and Drop: This setting determines the amount of mouse movement
allowed in a dragging maneuver before the item under the cursor is moved. It is
designed for people who have limited dexterity and who might be unable to
keep the mouse perfectly still when selecting an item. In such cases, a large
threshold value may be preferred.
Double-Click Timeout: This is ideal for those who are less physically dexterous,
because the double-click speed can be slowed down. On the other hand, if you
find yourself accidentally double-clicking items, you can speed it up. Test your
settings by double-clicking the lightbulb image.
Changes are made as each setting is adjusted, so to test the new settings, simply move your mouse.
Accessibility Settings
The settings on the Accessibility tab can help people with physical disabilities use the mouse. However,
to enable these features, you need to enable Assistive Technologies in Ubuntu first, as follows:
Open the Assistive Technologies Preferences dialog box (System Preferences Assistive Technologies).
Select the Enable Assistive Technologies check box and then click the Close
and Log Out button (this is necessary to start the background services).
Select Log Out in the Shutdown dialog box, and then log back in again when
After logging in, return to the Accessibility tab of the Mouse Preferences dialog
box (System Preferences Mouse).
From the Accessibility tab, you can enable Simulated Secondary Click and dwell click options.
Selecting the “Trigger secondary click by holding down the primary button” check box simulates a rightclick after you hold the left-click for a certain amount of time (useful for those having trouble rightclicking). The right-click actually occurs when you release the mouse button, for instance bringing up a
context menu if you’re clicking on a file icon. The amount of time you have to hold down the mouse
button can be configured by moving the Delay slider to the left for a faster response or to the right for a
longer delay.
A dwell click allows you to simulate a mouse-click action after the mouse pointer has been left idle
for a certain amount of the time so, for instance, hovering over an icon for a few seconds could doubleclick it to launch an application. To enable this feature, select “Initiate click when stopping pointer
movement.” You can set the length of the idle time by moving the Delay slider to the left for less idle time
or to the right for a longer delay. The Motion Threshold setting determines the amount of pointer
movement allowed while the mouse is still considered idle (useful for those who might be unable to
control small movements of their hands). Moving the Motion Threshold slider to the left makes the
mouse pointer sensitive; moving it to the right makes the pointer less sensitive. You can choose two
types of dwell click:
Choose type of click beforehand: This option automatically clicks the mouse
when the mouse pointer is idle. If you want to choose the type of mouse click
each time, put a check in the box beside Show Click Type Window. This will
show a floating window, from which you can select various types of clicks, such
as single-click, double-click, and so on. Alternatively, you can choose the
mouse click from the Dwell Click applet instead. (Applets are discussed in the
“Working with Applets” section later in this chapter.)
Choose type of click with mouse gestures: This option allows you to choose the
type of mouse click to execute when the mouse movement is idle by moving the
mouse in a certain direction, usually up, down, left, or right. Just wait until the
mouse turns into a cross and then move the mouse. After you’ve performed the
movement, the mouse will return to its original location before it was moved.
All the mouse movements can be customized by changing the gestures in the
drop-down lists for Single Click, Double Click, Drag Click, and Secondary Click.
■ Note Orca, GNOME’s screen reader software, also includes a tool that magnifies the area under the mouse
pointer. It is available under System Preferences Assistive Technologies. Select the Preferred Applications
option and set Orca to “run at start.” The software can be used to both magnify an area of the screen under the
mouse and, using a speech synthesizer, read onscreen elements out loud.
Touchpad Settings
The Touchpad tab appears on laptops only. You can set the following options:
Disable touchpad while typing: It’s easy to brush against the touchpad
accidentally with the ball of your thumb while you’re typing. This option, which
is enabled by default, eliminates the problem by disabling the touchpad
momentarily after each keypress.
Enable mouse clicks with touchpad: This allows you to simulate a mouse click
by tapping the touchpad. Depending on the sensitivity of your touchpad, this is
either great or the most annoying thing in the world.
Scrolling options: Like a scroll wheel on a mouse, your laptop’s touchpad can be
used to scroll pages and images up and down, or even left and right. By default,
vertical edge scrolling is enabled, so that running your finger up and down the
right edge of the touchpad will scroll web pages up and down. If you enable
horizontal scrolling, you will additionally be able to scroll left and right by
running your finger along the bottom edge of the touchpad. The two-finger
scrolling option disables edge scrolling, and instead makes the touchpad scroll
if you have two fingers moving on it at the same time. If you don’t like any of
these features, you can choose to disable scrolling completely.
Changing Keyboard Settings
Choose System Preferences Keyboard to open the Keyboard Preferences dialog box. This dialog box
has five tabs: General, Layouts, Accessibility, Mouse Keys, and Typing Break.
General Settings
The General tab offers Repeat Keys settings and a Cursor Blinking slider. You can alter the rate of key
repeat, which can be useful if you often find yourself holding down the Backspace key to delete a
sentence; a shorter setting on the Delay slider and a faster setting on the Speed slider can help. However,
if you make the delay too short for your typing style, you may find double characters creeping into your
documents; typing an f may result in ff, for example.
Modifying the Cursor Blinking slider setting may help if you sometimes lose the cursor in a
document. A faster speed will mean that the cursor spends less time being invisible between flashes.
Layouts Settings
On the Layouts tab, you can choose your keyboard model, add an alternative keyboard layout, and
configure layout options, as shown in Figure 7-3. Typically, the generic keyboard works fine for most
setups. However, if you want to make full use of the extra keys on your keyboard, such as Mail, Web,
Power, Sleep, Suspend, and so on, you should select your keyboard model.
If you write in two different languages on your keyboard, it may be helpful to be able to switch
between them. Click the Add button, and select the second language from the list. To switch from one
language to another, you can add the Keyboard Indicator applet in a panel and toggle from one language
to another by clicking the applet.
The Keyboard Layout Options dialog box, accessed by clicking the Options button, lets you select
from a multitude of handy tweaks that affect how the keyboard works. For example, you can configure
the Caps Lock key to act like a simple Shift key, or you can turn it off altogether. You can configure the
Windows key so that it performs a different function too. Put a check alongside the options you want
after reading through the extensive list.
Figure 7-3. You can have more than one language setting in place for a keyboard, which is handy if you
need to type in a foreign language.
Accessibility Settings
As with the mouse, there are also accessibility options for keyboard users to help people with physical
disabilities. On the Accessibility tab, you can configure the following settings:
General: You have an option to enable/disable (“toggle”) accessibility features
with keyboard shortcuts. This is disabled by default.
■ Caution Do not check the box labeled “Accessibility features can be toggled with keyboard shortcuts” unless
you are sure you need it. Once enabled, if you happen to hold down the Shift key for eight seconds, or tap the Shift
key five times, a dialog window will appear asking whether you want to enable the Sticky or Slow Keys features.
This can be a source of confusion!
Sticky keys: Some people are unable to hold down more than one key at a time,
which is a problem if you want to type a keyboard shortcut such as Ctrl+S to
save your work. As its name suggests, the sticky keys feature “holds down” keys
such as Shift, Ctrl, and Alt while you press another key on the keyboard. To
enable sticky keys, select the Simulate Simultaneous Keypresses check box. You
can test sticky keys by running the File Browser (Places Home Folder). Try
pressing Alt and F sequentially; Nautilus will open the File menu as if you
pressed those keys simultaneously. If you would like to disable sticky keys on
the fly, without having to use this dialog box, select “Disable sticky keys if two
keys are pressed together.” You can test this by pressing Ctrl+Alt. A Sticky Keys
Alert dialog box will appear to prompt you to disable sticky keys.
Slow keys: This feature controls the reaction rate of keys. By moving the Delay
slider to the left, the reaction rate of the keys becomes faster. By moving the
slider to the right, the reaction rate of the keys becomes slower, to the point that
you would need to hold the key for a certain amount of time for it to be
considered as a key press. This has obvious uses for people with limited
dexterity in their fingers, but most people will not want this enabled.
Bounce keys: This feature controls the repetition of letters on the screen when
the same key is accidentally pressed. By moving the slider to the left, the repeat
rate will be quicker; moving it to the right adds time for the key to be repeated.
At the bottom of the dialog box is a text box for typing to test the settings you’ve just configured. You
can also enable sound notifications by clicking the Notifications button. These notifications will let you
know when the keyboard accessibility features have been enabled or disabled. You can set sound alerts
for accessibility in general, sticky keys, slow keys, and bounce keys.
Mouse Keys Settings
The mouse keys feature lets you use your numeric keypad to control the mouse pointer. By selecting the
“Pointer can be controlled using the keypad” check box and pressing the Num Lock key, you can move
the mouse pointer by typing from the numeric keypad.
With mouse keys enabled, the 5 key both simulates a mouse click and acts as the center of a
directional wheel surrounding it. The 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9 keys simulate mouse direction. Some
numeric keypads have arrows on them to indicate this.
You can move the Acceleration slider to adjust the time it takes while pressing the mouse keys for
the mouse movement to reach full speed.
The Speed slider sets the distance offset of the mouse pointer when you press a mouse key. By
moving the Speed slider left, the mouse pointer covers a smaller distance when you press a mouse key,
giving you the illusion that the mouse movement is slower. By moving the Speed slider right, the mouse
pointer covers a larger distance when you press a mouse key, giving you the illusion that the mouse
movement is faster.
The Delay slider determines the amount of time to press the mouse keys before the mouse pointer
starts to move. You can set the delay by moving the Delay slider to the left for a quicker response time
and to the right for a longer delay.
Typing Break Settings
The Typing Break tab features a function that can force you to stop typing after a predetermined number
of minutes, to give your fingers and wrists a rest. It does this by blanking the screen and displaying a
“Take a break!” message. Note that a notification area icon will appear before the break time to give you
advanced warning of the lockout.
Creating Keyboard Shortcuts
Ubuntu lets you define your own keyboard shortcuts for just about any action on the system. To create a
shortcut, choose System Preferences Keyboard Shortcuts. In the dialog box, search through the list
for the action you want to create a shortcut for, click it, and then press the key combination you want to
use. For example, you might locate the Volume Up and Volume Down entries in the list, click each, and
press Ctrl+left arrow and Ctrl+right arrow. Then you will be able to turn the volume of your sound card
up or down by holding down Ctrl and tapping the left or right arrow key, respectively.
■ Caution Be careful not to assign a shortcut to a popular key. It might be nice to make Totem media player
appear when you hit the spacebar, for example, but that will mean that it will start up several times whenever you
type a sentence in a word processor! Also be aware that some key combinations are used by applications. Within’s Writer, for example, the Ctrl+left/right arrow key combination moves you from word to word in a
paragraph. If you define those combinations as shortcuts, you will no longer have this functionality.
An example of a handy shortcut is to configure your Home folder to appear whenever you press
Ctrl+Home. This can be done by locating the Home Folder option under the Desktop heading.
Getting Online
Getting online is vital in our modern Internet age, and Ubuntu caters to all the standard ways of doing
so. Linux was built from the ground up to be an online operating system and is of course based on UNIX,
which pioneered the concept of networking computers together to share data back in the 1970s.
However, none of this is to say that getting online with Ubuntu is difficult! In fact, it’s easy.
Regardless of whether you use a mobile broadband connection, a standard wired Ethernet network
device or a wireless network device, the same program, NetworkManager, is used to configure your
network settings under Ubuntu. Support for many makes and models of equipment is built in, so in
most cases, all you need to do is enter a few configuration details.
■ Note Linux runs about 60 percent of the computers that make the Internet work! If you use Google, Facebook,
or Wikipedia, you’re using Linux. As your Linux skills increase, you’ll eventually get to a stage where you, too, can
run your own Internet servers. It sounds difficult but can be quite easy.
Using NetworkManager
NetworkManager lets users easily manage wireless (also known as wi-fi) and wired connections, as well
as mobile broadband connections. An icon for this utility sits in the notification area at the top right of
the Desktop and changes according to the type of connection currently active (up/down arrows for
wired network, radio waves for wireless network, and so on). NetworkManager automatically detects any
wireless networks that are in range, as well as if you’re currently plugged in to a wired network. If you
automatically connect to a network, a black notification box will appear on the top right of your screen
for a few seconds and then fade away.
Clicking the NetworkManager icon will show a list of networks detected. By selecting an entry in
the list, you can then connect to the network, and you’ll be prompted to configure WEP/WPA protection,
if applicable.
■ Caution At times we have been prompted for the wrong kind of wireless protection—for example, we were
asked for a 128-bit WEP key rather than a 64-bit key when trying to connect to a network. In other words, it pays
to check that you’re being prompted for the right thing, and to select the correct option if you’re not. Failure to do
so might result in frustration! If you are really stuck, make sure to read your wireless router documentation.
Following this, the NetworkManager icon will display the signal strength of the connection for as
long as you’re connected. By clicking it, you’ll be able to see at a glance what network you’re connected
to and any others within range. If you want to switch networks, just click the NetworkManager icon and
select a different network in the list. If it’s a secure network, you’ll be prompted for a password before
you’re granted access.
■ Tip By right-clicking the NetworkManager icon, you can opt to completely disable your network hardware if you
wish. This is quite useful if you don’t need a network and would like to conserve your laptop battery.
NetworkManager settings persist across reboots, provided the network that was last configured is in
range. This means that NetworkManager is ideal for all kinds of wireless network users, from those who
frequently switch between different networks (that is, mobile workers) to those who just use a single
wireless network connection, such as that provided by a wireless network broadband router in a
home/small office environment. NetworkManager will also let you switch to a wired (Ethernet)
connection, if and when you attach one to your computer.
NetworkManager will automatically detect networks and the type of connection. If you want to
manually supply details, such as the IP address and gateway, or the name of the wireless base station—
which might be necessary if your base station doesn’t broadcast its name or if you need to connect to a
specialized setup—you can do so by editing the connection.
Configuring Wired Networking
Every conventional desktop or laptop computer comes with an Ethernet port which is used to make a
wired network connection to a router, hub, or switch.
Wireless networking as an alternative is extremely popular, particularly of course for portable
devices such as laptops, but connecting via a cable offers advantages in speed, reliability and security.
For these reasons wired Ethernet connections are still the standard in office environments. Even at
home, if you have a desktop computer located close to your router, you may as well connect them using
the Ethernet cable that came with your router.
In most cases, NetworkManager will sense a wired Ethernet connection and automatically connect
using the Dynamic Host Control Protocol (DHCP). This means that your computer receives its IP
address, gateway, subnet mask, and Domain Name System (DNS) addresses automatically. All routers
manufactured today are set up to automatically use DHCP out of the box.
■ Tip If a DHCP server is not available, Ubuntu will attempt to set up a network automatically using the Zeroconf
(or Zero Configuration Networking) system, just like Microsoft Windows systems. (Microsoft refers to this as
Automatic Private IP Addressing, but it’s also known as link-local.) In other words, if a bunch of computers plug
into a hub or router on an ad hoc basis, without being configured and without a DHCP server operating, they will
be able to network with each other. To make this work, each computer randomly assigns itself a unique IP address
that starts with 169.254 with a subnet mask of
If you need to manually specify network details such as IP and router addresses, perhaps because
you work in an office environment with nonstandard systems, start by speaking to your system
administrator or technical support person to determine the settings you need. Ask the administrator for
your IP address, DNS server addresses (there are usually two or three of these), your subnet mask, and
the router address (sometimes called the gateway address). The settings you will get from your system
administrator will usually be in the form of a series of four numbers separated by dots, something like After you have this information, follow these steps:
Right-click the NetworkManager icon in the notification area and select Edit
Connections from the menu.
Select the Wired tab from the tab bar and click the Add button. This launches
the new network configuration screen, where you can create a profile for the
wired network.
Provide a name for the new connection. Then select the IPv4 Settings tab and
change the Method drop-down from DHCP to Manual.
Click Add and supply the IP address, subnet mask, and gateway address for the
device. You should also fill in the areas for DNS Servers and Search Domains.
You can add more than one address to these sections by separating each one
with a comma. Figure 7-4 shows an example of these settings. Click Apply after
filling in the information. The network will be added to the list.
Figure 7-4. Ubuntu will automatically work with DHCP networks, or you can define a static IP address.
■ Tip If you’re using a static IP address with a router, such as that provided by a DSL modem, the DNS address is
often the same as the router/gateway address.
Your network connection should now work. If you now have more than one wired network
connection set up, you can switch between them by clicking on the NetworkManager icon and selecting
the appropriately named connection under Wired Networks. If your newly set up connection isn’t
working, try rebooting. However, if your system administrator mentioned that a proxy must also be
configured, you’ll need to follow the instructions in the “Working with a Proxy Server” section later in
this chapter.
Connecting to a Wireless Network
A wireless (wi-fi) network is, as its name suggests, a network that does away with cabling and uses radio
frequencies to communicate. It’s more common for notebooks and handheld computers to use wireless
connections, but some desktop computers also do. Indeed, it’s increasingly the case that many
workplaces are switching to wireless networking, eschewing old-fashioned, cable-based networking.
■ Note Slowly but surely, wi-fi is replacing wired Ethernet networks. However, sometimes wi-fi networks are
impractical or simply undesirable. For example, the metal infrastructure in some buildings means the signal
becomes unreliable. Wi-fi is also considered too insecure for some companies, as the wi-fi signal often
spreads to the street outside the building. Although such transmissions are nearly always secured and WPA2 is
considered secure, wi-fi security implementations have been broken. Ethernet might be considered old
technology, but trying to steal data from physical cables is an order of magnitude more difficult, to the point of
being practically impossible.
Notebooks and PDAs typically use built-in wireless network devices, with an invisible antenna built
into the case. However, some older notebooks might use PCMCIA cards, which have an external square
antenna, and some desktop computers might use PCI-based wireless cards or USB dongles, which have
external rubber/plastic antennas, in the style of old cell phones.
Ubuntu includes support for most wireless network devices. However, it’s possible to use Windows
wireless network device drivers for unsupported hardware. Also, sometimes Ubuntu appears to support
a wireless network device, in that it identifies it and lets you configure it, but you might find that it
simply doesn’t work (or works very badly, perhaps with an intermittent connection). In this situation,
you can also try installing Windows drivers. See the “Installing Windows Wireless Network Device
Drivers” section later in this chapter for details.
■ Note Ubuntu is rare in the Linux world in that it uses some proprietary (closed source) wireless device drivers by
default. Ubuntu is, after all, an open source OS and is committed to the goals of free and open source software.
The use of proprietary drivers is considered a necessary evil because not all devices have open source drivers
right now, and not all open source drivers support all the functions you might be used to (typically, they might not
support the WPA functionality of your wi-fi device, for example). The use of proprietary drivers is regarded as a
stopgap measure, and it’s hoped that manufacturers will realize that it is in their interests to support open source
driver development, making proprietary drivers redundant.
Connecting to a wireless network device is easy with NetworkManager. Just click the
NetworkManager icon, and you will see the available wi-fi networks in the Wireless Network list.
Networks protected with WEP/WPA have a padlock in the wireless icon to the right of the name, as
shown in Figure 7-5. Those that are “open” don’t have this padlock.
Figure 7-5. Clicking the network icon displays a list of available wireless networks.
You might see many wi-fi networks listed, depending on your location. The wireless base stations
are identified by their Service Set Identifier (SSID) or sometimes ESSID, with E standing for Extended.
If the SSID you would like to connect to is not listed by NetworkManager, it could mean that your
wireless base station isn’t set to broadcast its SSID or, worse, Ubuntu’s wi-fi drivers aren’t functioning
correctly. If it’s the former, all you need to do is right-click the NetworkManager icon and select Connect
to Other Wireless Network. Then, in the new dialog box, type the SSID under Network Name, set
Wireless Security to None or the appropriate security type, fill in the other information depending on the
type of wireless security you selected, and click Connect. If it’s the latter, you may need to use a Windows
driver, as described in the next section.
■ Tip If you are not offered any wireless networks at all, ensure that the wireless hardware is switched on. Some
notebooks have a keyboard combination to turn it off to save battery power. Others have a little switch located on
one of the edges of the notebook. Right-click the NetworkManager icon and ensure that Enable Networking and
Enable Wireless are both selected.
To connect to a wi-fi network, select the wireless base station you want to connect to in the list. If it
isn’t protected by WEP/WPA, you will be connected to it automatically.
If the wi-fi network you wish to connect to is protected with WEP or WPA, a dialog box will appear,
prompting you for the password/passphrase, as shown in Figure 7-6. In the Wireless Security field,
make sure the correct type of security for the wireless network is selected—it’s usually right, but don’t
assume it’s automatically correct! By default, the password/passphrase is obfuscated by circle characters
so that anyone looking over your shoulder can’t see what you’re typing. If it helps (and if your shoulder
is clear), check the Show Password box. This can be really handy when you’re typing a particularly
long passphrase.
■ Note WEP keys come in either hexadecimal (hex) or plain text (passphrase) varieties. Hex keys look similar to
this in their 128-bit form: CB4C4189B1861E19BC9A9BDA59. In their 64-bit form, they will be shorter and may look
similar to 4D9ED51E23. A passphrase will take the form of a single short sentence. In home and office
environments, WPA networks are usually protected with passphrases. In larger corporate or academic
environments, you might find that the network is protected with a WPA certificate.
Figure 7-6. Ubuntu is able to join WPA-protected wireless networks.
When you’re finished, click the Connect button. You should see the NetworkManager icon start to
animate as the program attempts to connect and find an IP address. After a few seconds, when the
animation finishes and the icon switches to display signal strength, you should find yourself online.
If your computer doesn’t seem to connect, try rebooting. If the hardware doesn’t work after this, it
might be that the drivers Ubuntu installed by default are incompatible with your network device. In this
case, you can try using a Windows wireless network device driver, as described in the next section.
Should you find yourself in the unusual situation of needing to specify the IP address, subnet mask,
and gateway for a wireless connection, you can do so using the manual configuration mode of
NetworkManager, as outlined in the “Configuring an Ethernet Network Device” section earlier in this
chapter. Simply follow the instructions in that section, but select the Wireless Connection entry in the
list rather than Wired Connection. In the dialog box that appears, you’ll see additional areas for entering
your SSID and WEP/WPA protection details.
Most wireless networks are protected using either the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) or Wi-Fi Protected
Access (WPA) systems. WPA is effectively an updated version of WEP and offers much stronger protection.
There are two versions of WPA: WPA and WPA2. WPA2 is newer and corrected several security flaws in
WPA. Both work in roughly the same way.
WEP and WPA encrypt the data being transmitted on the network, the idea being that it cannot be stolen by
crackers with special equipment. Also, people can’t join the wireless network unless they know the
encryption key, which is basically an access code or password that prevents unauthorized people from
accessing the network. As with other situations where security is important, you should choose a strong
password containing letters of both cases, punctuation, and numbers.
Of the two, you should ideally configure your wi-fi base station to use WPA, because, sadly, WEP can be
compromised within 5 minutes by using easily available software. However, the situation isn’t quite so
clear-cut for some Ubuntu users. Not all of Ubuntu’s built-in wi-fi drivers support WPA. Some might claim
to support it, but you might find they don’t work reliably. Unfortunately, the only way you will be able to
find out whether this is the case for you is to try to configure your network device and see what happens.
If you fall into the camp of not having good WPA support on your Ubuntu PC (and only a small percentage
of users will), you might find WEP is your only reliable option, and you might therefore need to reconfigure
your base station to use it. Our experience has shown that WEP has a very high success rate under
Ubuntu. However, sometimes 128-bit WEP won’t work on some troublesome wi-fi devices, and you might
need to switch your network to 64-bit WEP instead.
WEP is a compromise in security terms, but try to remain realistic when considering your immediate
environment. If your wireless network is within your home, is it likely that the couple living next door will
have the know-how to crack a wireless network connection? Are they likely to want to do so?
On the other hand, if you live in an apartment block with several other computer-literate people, or if you
work in an office, the risk might be considerably higher. Some people suggest that breaking into wireless
networks is almost a sport for certain individuals. If this is the case, and you feel you simply can’t use
WEP, consider installing Windows drivers using NdisWrapper, as explained later in this chapter.
But whatever the case, bear in mind that confidential Internet connections, such as those for banking and
shopping sites, are independently protected using a separate technology. See the sidebar titled “Secure
Connections on the Net” later in this chapter for details.
Installing Windows Wireless Network Device Drivers
NdisWrapper is effectively an open source driver (technically described as a kernel module) that allows
Linux to use standard Windows XP drivers for wireless network devices. You might describe
NdisWrapper as being a translation layer between the Linux kernel and the Windows drivers, which can
be installed by using NdisWrapper’s configuration tools.
You should use NdisWrapper in only one of two situations:
Your wireless network hardware simply isn’t recognized by Ubuntu: All you see
when you click the NetworkManager icon is a Manual Configuration option;
you don’t see any wireless networks listed. Of course, you should first ensure
that the wireless hardware in your computer is switched on—some notebooks
offer the facility to deactivate it to save battery life.
Your network hardware is recognized by Ubuntu but fails to work correctly or
adequately when you configure it: Perhaps it is unable to associate with wireless
base stations, or maybe you can’t connect to WPA-enabled base stations and
consider WEP too insecure for your surroundings. If this is the case, in addition
to installing NdisWrapper, you’ll need to undertake an additional step in order
to blacklist the existing Ubuntu driver.
Using NdisWrapper is relatively simple, and just a handful of commands are required. However,
getting hold of the necessary Windows driver files is harder work because, unfortunately, NdisWrapper
isn’t designed to work with the usual method of driver distribution: .exe files. Instead, NdisWrapper
needs the specific .inf and .sys files that constitute the driver—effectively, the Windows system files.
These are contained within the .exe file and must be manually extracted.
■ Note Sometimes drivers are distributed as .zip files, in which case the relevant files are easy to get at. Keep
your fingers crossed that this will be the case for your particular hardware!
NdisWrapper is far from perfect. Not all wireless devices have been proven to work with it, and it’s
not necessarily the case that a driver available for Windows will work under Linux. Sometimes trial and
error is required. Annoyingly, Windows drivers sometimes appear to work but then prove unreliable.
Some might stop working. Some might even crash your system. The best plan is simply to give it a try.
■ Tip NdisWrapper gets better and better with every new release. This is why it’s a good idea to update your
system on a regular basis.
In the instructions in this section, we explain how to make an Atheros AR5008 wireless network
device that’s built into an Apple MacBook work under Ubuntu using NdisWrapper. The instructions
remain essentially the same for all types of wireless network hardware. However, some specific details,
such as download addresses, will obviously differ.
First, you’ll need to install the NdisWrapper software and then you can install the necessary
Windows drivers. These steps will make your wireless network device available under Ubuntu. Then you
can follow the instructions in the previous section to connect to that wireless network.
Installing the NdisWrapper Configuration Tools
NdisWrapper consists of two components: a kernel module and configuration tools. The kernel module
comes as part of the default kernel package, so is installed by default, but you will need to install the
configuration tools manually.
To do so, ensure you are online using a wired connection to your router have an active wired
network connection, following the previous “Configuring an Ethernet Network Device” section. Then
start up the Ubuntu Software Center, which you’ll find under Applications. Do a search for windows
wireless and install the Windows Wireless Drivers package which will come up in the search results. You
will need to enter your password when prompted. Installing this package automatically installs not only
the graphical Windows wireless driver installation tool, but also the underlying packages ndiswrapperutils and ndiswrapper-common.
Installing the Windows XP Drivers
After the NdisWrapper configuration software is installed, you can install the Windows XP wireless
network device drivers. There are several parts to the procedure:
Identify the wireless network hardware and then source the appropriate Windows
driver. If you’re dual-booting with Windows, the drivers may already be available
on your Windows partition.
Extract the necessary .sys and .inf files from the driver archive (and possibly .bin
files, although this is rare).
You may need to “blacklist” (that is, tell the system to ignore) the built-in Ubuntu
driver, so that NdisWrapper can associate with the hardware.
Use the NdisWrapper configuration tool to install the Windows driver.
These steps are covered in the following sections. You will need another computer that’s already
online to download some files and check the NdisWrapper web site for information. If your computer
dual-boots, you can use your Windows setup to do this, or if you have an Ethernet port on your
computer, you could plug into a wired network.
Identifying Your Wireless Network Hardware and Sourcing Drivers
To identify the wireless network hardware for use with NdisWrapper, you need two pieces of
information: the make and model of the hardware and the PCI ID number. The former is the make and
model of the hardware as identified by Ubuntu as a result of system probing, rather than what’s quoted
on the packaging for the wireless network device or in its documentation. These details discovered by
Ubuntu will usually relate to the manufacturer of the underlying components, rather than the company
that assembled and marketed the computer. The PCI ID is two four-digit hexadecimal numbers used by
your computer to identify the device internally (such as 168c:001c). The same PCI ID numbering system
is used by both Windows and Ubuntu, which is why it’s so useful in this instance.
You can find both the PCI ID and the make/model information by using the Device Manager tool.
Follow the instructions in the “Installing Device Manager” section earlier in this chapter if you haven’t
already installed this program. Then follow these steps:
Choose Applications System Tools Device Manager. In the left column,
find the entry that reads Network Controller, Networking Wireless Control
Interface, or WLAN Interface. You might also look for USB Interface, PCI
Bridge, or 802.11 to exhaust your search. Then look at the corresponding
summary in the right column, where you’ll find the make and model of the
hardware listed under the Vendor and Model headings. If no useful details are
listed, you might need to click the parent entry in the list. On one test system,
we found the WLAN Interface entry, but saw the make and model details only
after we clicked the Ethernet Controller parent entry in the list on the left.
Write down the make and model shown in Device Manager. For example, on a
test notebook containing an Atheros wireless network device, the make and
model read AR5001 Wireless Network Adapter. Remember that these details
don’t relate to those listed in the instruction manual or computer packaging
(our notebook’s specification lists the hardware simply as Built-in AirPort
Extreme Wi-Fi). This is because Ubuntu is identifying the hardware
generically, reading information from its component hardware.
Click the Properties tab of Device Manager (if this isn’t visible, click View Device Properties) and look through the information there for a line that
begins info.udi. Look at the end of the line and make a note of the two sets of
characters that are separated by an underscore and preceded by pci_. Look at
Figure 7-7 for an example taken from our test machine. Yours may differ, but
the line should always end with pci_ and then the digits. If it doesn’t, you have
selected the wrong entry in the list of devices on the left. Try examining a
different entry, such as the parent of the entry in the list.
Write down the characters following pci_ at the end of the info.udi line.
Written alongside each other, the two sets of digits that are separated by an
underscore form the all-important PCI ID number. In written form, they’re
usually separated by a colon. If either of the sets of letters or numbers is fewer
than four characters long, simply add zeros before them in order to make four
characters. In our test machine, the end of the info.udi line reads 168c_1c. We
add two zeros before 1c, making a complete PCI ID of 168c:001c. On another
PC, the end of the line reads 168c_13. Adding two zeros before 13 gives a PCI ID
of 168c:0013.
Using another computer that’s able to go online, visit Under the
Documentation heading, click the “List of known working devices” link. This is
a community-generated listing of the wireless network devices that have been
proven to work with NdisWrapper.
Figure 7-7. Find the PCI ID of your wireless network hardware by looking at the end of the info.udi line.
■ Tip The URL in step 5 was correct as this book went to press. If you find it no longer accurate, search Google,
using NdisWrapper list as a search term.
The “known to work” cards are grouped in alphabetical order. Select the
appropriate list based on the card manufacturer’s name. (Remember to use
the name you discovered using Device Manager in steps 1 and 2, and not the
official name in the computer’s manual or packaging.)
Using the search function of your browser (Ctrl+F within Firefox), look for the
PCI ID number you noted earlier, in the format described in step 4. For the
example in Figure 7-7, we would search for 168c:001c. In the list, look to match
the following things, presented in order of importance:
The model name of the wireless hardware, as reported by Device Manager
(listed on the Summary tab)
The manufacturer and model of the notebook, as mentioned on its case or
within its documentation
It’s likely many entries in the list may match your PCI ID, so search until you
find the one that best matches the model of the hardware. If there are still
many matches, search until you find an entry that matches the manufacturer
and model of the notebook. You might not be lucky enough to find an exact
match for the notebook manufacturer and model, however, and you might
need to select the most likely choice. Use your common sense and judgment. If
your notebook is manufactured by ASUS, for example, but you can’t find the
drivers for the exact model, then choose drivers for another ASUS model.
■ Caution Watch out for any mention of x86_64 in the description of the driver file. This indicates that the entry in
the list relates to 64-bit Linux. The version of Ubuntu supplied with this book is 32-bit. If you encounter an entry
relating to x86_64, keep searching.
Look within the entry in the list for a direct link to the driver file. Sometimes
this isn’t given, and a manufacturer web site address is mentioned, which you
can visit and navigate through to the driver download section (usually under
the Support section on the web site). Download the Windows XP driver
Extracting the Driver Components
After downloading the drivers, you’ll need to extract the .sys and .inf files relevant to your wireless
network hardware. These are all that NdisWrapper needs, and the rest of the driver files can be
discarded. However, extracting the files can be hard to do, because often they’re contained within an
.exe file. (Most driver .exe files are actually self-extracting archive files.) Additionally, the driver file
might contain drivers for several different models of hardware, and it’s necessary to identify the
particular driver .inf file relevant to your wireless network device.
If the driver you’ve downloaded is a .zip file, your task will probably be much easier. Simply doubleclick the downloaded .zip file to look within it for the directory containing the actual driver files.
If the driver is an .exe file, it’s necessary to extract the files within it. With any luck, you might be
able to do this by using an archive tool like WinZip (, assuming that you’ve downloaded
the file using Windows. Simply open the archive by using the File Open menu option within WinZip.
You may have to select All Files from the File Type drop-down list in order for the .exe file to show up in
the file list. However, if you’re using Windows, we recommend an open source and free-of-charge
program called Universal Extractor, which can be downloaded from This program can extract files from virtually every kind of
archive, including most driver installation files. After it is installed, simply right-click the installation
.exe file, and select UniExtract to Subdir. This will then create a new folder in the same directory as the
downloaded file, containing the contents of the installer file.
After you’ve extracted the files within your downloaded driver file, look for the files you need. The
driver files will likely be contained in a folder called something like Driver or named after the operating
system, like Win_XP. After you’ve found the relevant directory, look for .inf, .sys, and .bin files (although
you may not find any .bin files; they’re used in only a handful of drivers). You can ignore any other files,
such as .cab and .cat files. Click and drag the .inf, .sys, and .bin files to a separate folder.
The task now is to find the .inf file for your hardware. If there’s more than one, you’ll need to search
each until you find the one you need. You need to look for text that corresponds to the PCI ID you noted
earlier. Open the first .inf file in a text editor (double-clicking will do this in Windows) and, using the
search tool, search for the first part of the PCI ID, as discovered earlier. For the example in Figure 7-7, we
would search for 168c. If you don’t find it within the file, move on to the next .inf file and search again.
When you get a search match, it will probably be in a long line of text and to the right of the text VEN_.
Then look farther along that line to see if the second part of the PCI ID is mentioned, probably to the
right of the text that reads DEV_. In the case of the driver file we downloaded for the example, the entire
line within the .inf file read as follows (the two component PCI ID parts are shown in bold):
%ATHER.DeviceDesc.001B% = ATHER_DEV_001B.ndi, PCI\VEN_168C&DEV_001C
If you find both component parts of the PCI ID in the line, as in this example, then you’ve found the
.inf file you need. (In fact, you’ll probably find many lines matching what you need, which is fine.)
You must now transfer the .inf file, along with the .sys and .bin files (if any .bin files were included
with the driver), to the computer on which you want to install the drivers. This can be done by putting
them onto a floppy disk, CD, or USB memory stick. Create a new directory called driver on the Desktop
and save them there.
Your procedure from this point depends on whether Ubuntu recognized your wireless networking
device when you first booted but was unable to make it work correctly. If it did, you will need to blacklist
the built-in driver so that NdisWrapper can associate with the hardware. If the device wasn’t recognized,
you can skip straight to the “Using NdisWrapper to Install the Drivers” section.
Blacklisting Existing Drivers
To blacklist the existing built-in driver that didn’t work with your wireless device, you need to find out
the name of the kernel module and then add it to the /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist file. Here are the steps:
Open Device Manager (System Administration Device Manager) and then
select the entry in the list for your wireless network device. This is the one you
discovered in steps 1 and 2 earlier, in the “Identifying Your Wireless Network
Hardware and Sourcing Drivers” section.
Click the Properties tab (if this isn’t visible, click View Device Properties) and
look for the line that begins info.linux.driver. Then look in the Value column
and make a note of what’s there. For example, on one of our test notebooks,
the Value column read ath5k. Close Device Manager.
Hold down the Alt key on your keyboard and press F2. This will bring up the
Run Application dialog. Type the following to open the blacklist
configuration file in the Gedit text editor:
gksu gedit /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf
Click Run and enter your password when prompted.
At the bottom of the file, type the following on a new line:
blacklist modulename
Replace modulename with the name of the module you discovered earlier. For
example, on our test system, we typed the following (as shown in Figure 7-8):
blacklist ath5k
Save the file and then reboot your computer.
You should now find that the wireless network device is no longer visible when you click the
NetworkManager icon, and all you see is a Manual Configuration option. This is good, because it means
the hardware no longer has a driver attached, and you can now tell NdisWrapper to use the hardware.
Figure 7-8. To stop Ubuntu from loading its own drivers, you may need to blacklist the module.
Using NdisWrapper to Install the Drivers
On the Ubuntu computer on which you want to install the drivers, you should now have the .inf file
from the previous steps, plus the .sys and possibly .bin files that constitute the driver. You should have
copied these files from the removable storage device into a new folder on your Desktop named driver.
■ Note If you’ve used a USB memory stick to transfer the files, its icon should appear automatically on the
Desktop as soon as it’s inserted. When you’ve finished with it, right-click it and select Unmount. You must do this
before physically removing any kind of USB memory device, as explained later in this chapter.
To install the driver by using NdisWrapper, follow these instructions:
Click System Administration Windows Wireless Drivers. Enter your
password when prompted.
Click the Install New Driver button.
The Install Driver dialog box appears, prompting you to select the .inf file for
your wireless device. Click the Location drop-down list to open a file-browsing
dialog box.
Navigate to the .inf file you copied to your system, which you have placed in
the driver folder on your Desktop. Double-click the Desktop folder and then
double- click the driver folder listed in the right column. Select the .inf file
you copied in the driver folder and then click the Open button.
Back in the Install Driver dialog box, click the Install button.
At this point, you should see the driver listed at the left column of the Wireless
Network Drivers dialog box. It specifies the name of the driver installed and
whether the hardware is installed. If it says the hardware isn’t installed, you’ve
probably selected the wrong .inf file, or might be using the wrong driver file.
Return to the previous sections and try to get an alternative Windows driver.
No reboot is necessary, and your wireless network card should work
immediately. To test whether the driver works, click the NetworkManager icon
and see if there are wireless networks listed. If it works, click Close to exit the
Wireless Network Drivers dialog box.
Following this, you should find that the network device is available for configuration. Follow the
earlier instructions for connecting to a wireless network.
Removing NdisWrapper Drivers
As mentioned earlier, although NdisWrapper can solve a lot of headaches with nonworking wireless
hardware, it isn’t perfect. You might find that the Windows driver you install simply doesn’t work. In
such a case, you can download a different version of the driver and try again. But first you’ll need to
remove the existing driver.
Choose System Administration Windows Wireless Drivers and enter your password when
prompted. In the Windows Network Drivers dialog box, select the driver you want to remove in the left
column and click Remove Driver. Click Yes when prompted to confirm the removal. Click Close to exit
the tool.
For home users, the use of online banking services requires the transfer of confidential data. So is this a
good reason to use the strongest form of wireless network encryption with your broadband router? No, it
isn’t. In fact, it makes no difference.
This is because the transfer of confidential or financial data across the Web—to and from online banking
sites, for example—is nearly always protected by Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) HTTP. This works across
any type of network connection, including wireless and Ethernet, regardless of whether the connection has
its own protection.
You can tell you’re browsing a site that’s using SSL because the address will begin with https.
Additionally, most browsers display a padlock symbol at the bottom of the screen (the Firefox browser will
also turn the background of the address bar yellow). Accessing such sites should be safe, even if your
wireless network connection is “open,” which is to say it isn’t protected with either WEP or WPA.
Similarly, although online shopping sites might not use SSL while you’re browsing, when it’s time to pay,
they always use SSL. This ensures that your credit card details are encrypted. If the store doesn’t adopt an
https:// address when you click to visit the virtual checkout, you shouldn’t shop there!
So do you even need WEP or WPA protection if you simply use your wireless connection to browse the
Internet? Yes. In addition to the risk of unauthorized users hopping onto your connection if it isn’t
protected, some web mail services transfer your username and password “in the clear,” which is to say
without using SSL. This means your information could be picked up by an eavesdropper. In the case of
Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail, you can select secure login, but it isn’t activated by default. Google Mail appears
to use SSL all the time for login, but after this, your e-mail messages are transmitted across the Internet in
the clear and, in theory, anyone can eavesdrop on them.
Connecting to a Mobile Broadband Network
Many countries now have widespread 3G cellular networks capable of delivering data at broadband
speeds to mobile devices. Smartphones now come with 3G capability by default, with 3G USB adapters
(“dongles”) to plug into your notebook now commonplace on pay-as-you-go or contract arrangements.
Higher-end notebooks and Netbooks now come with mobile broadband adapters built as standard.
Ubuntu offers excellent support for mobile broadband devices, whether you want to connect via a
3G USB adapter plugged into your notebook, an inbuilt 3G adapter, or your 3G-enabled cellphone
connected (“tethered”) via USB cable.
You can set up your mobile broadband device as follows:
Connect your 3G device (dongle or cellphone) to your notebook:
A dongle connected via USB cable should be instantly recognized.
Cellphones will generally need to be switched into modem mode, and you
will need to consult your manufacturer’s documentation for details. For
example, when you plug a Nokia smartphone into a notebook, a dialog will
appear on the phone giving you the option of switching to Mass Storage
Mode or PC Suite Mode. Select the latter to make it act as a modem.
If your notebook has a built-in 3G device, make sure it’s switched on.
Click the NetworkManager icon in the top panel of your Ubuntu Desktop. If
your 3G device has been recognized, you should see a extra heading of Mobile
Broadband, and under it ”New Mobile Broadband (GSM) connection,” which
you should click on to start the New Mobile Broadband Connection setup
The three simple steps in this wizard are:
Choose Your Provider’s Country: This will probably be correctly set already,
based on the regional and language choices you made when you installed
Ubuntu, but check it anyway before you click Forward.
Choose Your Provider: You should see a list of all the 3G providers operating
in your country. Choose yours. In the unlikely event of your provider not
being listed, you can enter the name manually. Click Forward.
Figure 7-9. Ubuntu’s mobile broadband connection wizard makes it straightforward to set up a 3G link.
Choose Your Billing Plan: Several pre-set options will be shown in the
“Select your plan” drop-down. For Vodafone UK, for example, the options
are Contract, Prepaid, TopUp, and Go. The correct plan name for your 3G
device should be there, but if it’s not, there is an additional option of “My
plan is not listed,” which will let you set the APN (Access Point Name)
manually. (You will have to ask your provider for this information). Click
Forward, check the settings, and click Apply.
If you’re within a 3G coverage area, your mobile broadband device should now make a connection,
and all necessary settings such as IP address, gateway, and domain name servers should be
automatically configured.
Figure 7-10. Uh-oh. Now that you’re set up with a high-speed mobile broadband connection, your boss
will expect you to be hard at work wherever you are!
Working with a Proxy Server
Some networks in offices, schools, and universities require that you use a web proxy (often referred to as
an HTTP proxy). A proxy is a server computer that provides additional security by providing a single
portal to all web pages. It also helps speed up Internet access by storing frequently accessed pages. This
means that if ten people request the same web page, there’s no need to get the same ten pieces of data
from the Internet. The proxy computer can send them its own copies.
You’ll need to speak to your system administrator to see whether your location uses a proxy. If it
does, your administrator will most likely give you an address, which may take the form of a web address
(a URL) or an IP address. When you have this information, follow these steps to configure the proxy:
Open Network Proxy Preferences (System Preferences Network Proxy).
On the Proxy Configuration tab, choose one of the three types of proxy
By default, the Direct Internet Connection option is selected, meaning that
network traffic is routed directly, without using a proxy.
Manual Proxy Configuration enables you to set the proxy servers and
respective ports for HTTP Proxy, Secure HTTP Proxy, FTP Proxy, and Socks
Host. You can fill in this information based on the settings you received
from your system administrator. If you were provided with one proxy for
Internet access, select the Use the Same Proxy for All Protocols check box
and fill in the details for the HTTP proxy and port, as shown in Figure 7-11.
If your proxy uses authentication, click the Details button. In the HTTP
Proxy Details dialog box, select the Use Authentication check box and then
supply the username and password. Click the Close button.
Automatic Proxy Configuration allows you to enter the link (URL) to
discover the proxy settings at your location.
On the Ignored Hosts tab, you can set the list of sites that will bypass the proxy.
By default, any site hosted on your own computer is bypassed. You can add
and remove sites as well. You normally add intranet (internal) web sites to
this list.
Click the Close button after you’re finished making changes to the
proxy settings.
Figure 7-11. Proxy settings can be configured for a variety of locations.
If you have a laptop that is used in various locations, you can set up a series of proxy configurations
that can then be selected whenever you move around. To create a new one, select New Location from
the Location drop-down at the top of the window, input a name, and then set the appropriate values.
After it is saved, each configuration remains available under the Location drop-down.
■ Tip Some ISPs run proxy servers too. However, unlike proxies in offices, it’s typically up to you whether you
choose to use them. You might find that using a proxy speeds up your connection, especially when you access
popular sites, so it’s worth trying out. To find out whether your ISP offers a proxy, visit its technical support web
pages or phone its technical support line.
Adding a Printer
Ubuntu supports a wide variety of printer models— everything from laser printers to color ink-jet
models, and even some of the very old dot-matrix printers.
If you work in an office environment, you might be expected to access a shared printer. Sharing a
printer is usually achieved by connecting the device directly to the network. The printer itself typically
has special built-in hardware to allow this to happen. Alternatively, the printer might be plugged into a
Windows computer, such as a Windows server (or even simply someone’s desktop PC), shared so that
other users can access it—a setup known as Windows printer sharing. Ubuntu will work with network
printers of both types.
■ Caution The vast majority of printers are now supported by Linux and work brilliantly. However, several
manufacturers are still reluctant to release information about how their printers work, making Linux support
difficult or impossible. If you’re in the market for a new printer, and you want it to work with your Ubuntu system,
be sure to check the OpenPrinting printer listings at so as to avoid buying an
expensive paperweight.
Configuring a Local Printer
A local printer is one that’s directly connected to your computer, typically via USB. Any printer you
attach to your computer will be configured by Ubuntu automatically and ready to use immediately, as
shown in Figure 7-12.
Figure 7-12. Any local printers are automatically configured when you connect them to the computer and
then turn them on.
However, if the printer malfunctions when printing, such as churning out paper when a print job is
sent to it, printing garbage, or not working at all, you can attempt to configure it yourself. To set up a
local printer, follow these instructions:
Click System Administration Printing. In the Printer configuration
window, click the Add button. You’ll see the message “Searching for Printers.”
This might take a few moments to work through.
In the New Printer dialog box, you need to select which printer to configure.
The printers that Ubuntu detected are listed under Devices. Click the printer
you want to use and then click the Forward button to continue. You’ll see the
message “Searching for Drivers.”
Select the printer manufacturer. By default, Ubuntu selects the manufacturer
that best fits your printer, but you can select another manufacturer from the
list. Alternatively, you can provide the PostScript Printer Description (PPD)
file if the built-in drivers cannot operate your printer. When you’ve finished,
click Forward.
■ Tip You can find PPD files on the CD that came with your printer or download them. OpenPrinting
( and Adobe ( offer many
printer drivers for download.
Ubuntu again selects the detected model and corresponding driver for your
printer, but you can change these selections. If the default driver simply
doesn’t work correctly, try a similar but different model. Select the appropriate
model in the Model list in the left column and then select the appropriate
driver for your printer from the Drivers list in the right column. Click the
Forward button to continue.
You’ll be invited to give the printer a name. The default should be OK. You can
fill in the Description and Location fields if you want, but these are necessary
only if you intend to share the printer across a network. Click Apply when
you’ve finished.
■ Tip Sharing your printer on the network so that other computers can use it is simple: open the Printer
configuration window (System Administration Printing), select Settings from the Server menu, and put a
check in the Publish Shared Printers Connected to This System box. Then click the OK button.
After installation has finished, the printer will then appear in the Printer Configuration window. To
see whether it’s working correctly, double-click to see the printer properties, as seen in Figure 7-13, and
then click the Print Test Page button at the base of the window.
Figure 7-13. After the printer is configured, you can see its properties and test it by printing a test page.
If the printer is installed correctly, you should find yourself with a test page showing
color gradations.
If the printer hasn’t been installed correctly, it either won’t work at all or will start spewing out page
after page of junk text. If this is the case, click Cancel Tests (where the Print Test Page button used to be)
and then turn off the printer. Delete the printer driver by selecting the printer in the list on the left and
clicking the Delete button at the top of the Printer configuration window. Then repeat the installation
steps, this time trying different settings.
Configuring a Network Printer
A network printer is one that is not directly connected to your computer. Instead, it connects to the
network via an Ethernet cable, or sometimes via a wi-fi adapter. In this way, all computers in the office
will be able to use it. It’s also possible to share a printer that’s attached to your computer to other
computers on the network. The sharing is typically done using the Windows networking protocol (SMB).
In this case, follow the instructions in the next section.
Some printers have the required server hardware built in, but others might use a special print
server module that attaches to the printer’s USB or parallel printer port. Ubuntu can work with both
types of hardware.
Ubuntu is compatible with UNIX (LPD), HP JetDirect, and Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) server
types. These are the most ubiquitous types currently in use for stand-alone printer servers.
Before beginning, you’ll need to find out the printer’s network (IP) address and, if relevant, the
queue name or the port number. You should be able to find out these details by speaking to your
network administrator or the person who configured the printer. If it’s up to you to configure the
network printer, consult its manual to find out how to set a static IP address.
Follow these steps to configure a network printer:
Click System Administration Printing. In the Printer configuration
window, click the Add button.
■ Tip You can add as many printers as you want. You could configure a local printer (that is, one attached to your
computer) and then configure a network printer.
Recent models of network printer will be detected automatically and shown in
the Devices list. If so, select the printer name and click Forward and proceed to
step 5.
If your printer isn’t automatically detected, you can use the Find Network
Printer facility to query the printer across the network and discover which
printing protocol it prefers. To do this, click Find Network Printer, enter the
network address of the printer in the Host field, and click Find. If all is well, a
new entry will be made in the Devices listed, and you can click Forward and
proceed to step 5.
Older printers often aren’t discoverable by the preceding methods, in which
case you can set the printing protocol manually in the Devices list. If you’re
unsure of which to choose, try Internet Printing Protocol (IPP). If you wish to
connect to a Hewlett Packard (HP) printer with an HP print server attached,
select AppSocket/HP JetDirect. (You could also choose LPD/LPR Host or
Printer, but this has long been replaced by IPP.) In the Host field, enter the
network address of the printer. In the case of HP JetDirect, the default port
number should work, unless you have been specifically told to enter a different
number. Depending on which server option you chose, you may also need to
enter the queue name. If it’s IPP, you need to provide the host and printer
queue, but Ubuntu makes it easy to set this up. Just type the network address
in the Host field, and then click Find Queue. The IPP Browser dialog box will
pop up and display a list of printer queues. Select a printer queue and then
click OK. Ubuntu will update the entries in the Host and Queue fields
automatically. Click the Verify button to check whether you can access the
printer with the updated settings. If it fails, try changing the Host field to the
printer’s network address. After you have the correct settings, click Forward.
As prompted, choose the printer manufacturer, printer model and driver, and
printer name, just as if you were configuring a local printer. See steps 3, 4, and
5 in the previous section for guidance. Click the Apply button after you’ve
made your selections.
When the printer is installed, select the printer from the list in the Printer
configuration window and then click Print Test Page.
If the printer doesn’t work, it’s likely that you set the wrong server type. Try an alternative type; if
you chose IPP the first time, try App Socket/HP JetDirect the second time. Many print servers can
emulate a variety of modes, so trying a different setting may work.
If the printer starts spewing out page after page of text, you likely selected an incorrect printer
driver. Cancel the job at the printer by clicking Cancel Tests. Next, select the printer in the list on the left
and click the Delete button at the top of the window to remove the printer. Then repeat the installation
steps, this time trying an alternative driver.
Configuring a Windows/SMB Shared Printer
A Windows (or SMB) printer is one that’s directly connected to a computer and then made available
across the network via the network sharing function of the OS. Effectively, the computer acts as the
printer server. Often, in corporate environments, such printers are attached to server computers, but an
individual may share the printer attached to a workstation.
In a home situation, a Windows/SMB share is an excellent and inexpensive way of sharing a printer
among many computers. The printer is attached to one PC, and, as long as that computer is switched on,
the printer will be available to the other computers in the household.
Assuming that the printer has been correctly set up to be shared on the host computer, connecting
to a Windows/SMB printer share is easy. In fact, you may find that Ubuntu finds the printer in the
background and sets it up automatically! If you find the printer is available when you choose to print
from an application, try it out and see if it works.
However, more likely, you’ll need to add it manually. Follow these steps to set up a Windows/SMB
shared printer:
Click System Administration Printing. In the Printer configuration
window, click the New Printer button.
In the Devices list, select Windows Printer via SAMBA.
Click the Browse button to probe the network to see whether any printer
shares are available. More than one might appear, so navigate through the
printer shares until you find the desired printer. Select the printer and click the
OK button. If you cannot find the printer share listed in the SMB Browser
dialog box, you may need to enter the details in the smb:// field manually, as
shown in Figure 7-14. This entry will probably take the form of the address
followed by the printer name (for example, officepc/epson). Speak to your
system administrator or the individual in charge of the shared printer to find
out what these are.
Click the Verify button to check whether the printer is accessible. If it succeeds,
skip to step 6. If it fails, you may need to supply the username and password to
access the shared printer, as described next.
Select the Authentication Required check box. In the Username and Password
fields, type the username and password required to access the shared printer.
These can be the login details of any user of the computer or, if the shared
computer and printer are configured for Guest access, you can try typing Guest
for the username and leaving the Password field blank. After the details have
been filled in, click Forward.
As prompted, choose the printer manufacturer, model, driver, and name, just
as if you were configuring a local printer. See steps 3, 4, and 5 in the
“Configuring a Local Printer” section for guidance. Click the Apply button after
you’ve made your selections.
When the printer is installed, select the printer from the list in the Printer
configuration window and then click Print Test Page.
Figure 7-14. Ubuntu should be able to automatically detect any Windows or SMB shared printers on
your network.
If the printer makes a noise as if to start printing but then decides not to, you might need to
change a setting on the Windows machine. Click Start Printers and Faxes and then right-click the
shared printer’s icon. Select Properties and click the Ports tab in the Properties window. Remove the
check in the Enable Bidirectional Support box and then click OK. Then restart both the Windows and
Ubuntu computers.
If the printer starts spewing out page after page of text instead of the test page, it’s likely that you
selected the wrong printer driver. Cancel the job at the printer by clicking Cancel Tests. Next, select the
printer in the list and click the Delete button at the top of the Printer configuration window to remove
the printer. Then repeat the installation steps, this time using an alternative driver.
Administering a Printer
Like Windows, Ubuntu uses the concepts of print queues to handle printing. When you print from an
application, the print job is held in the print queue. If the queue is empty, the job is printed immediately.
If there are already jobs waiting to be printed, or if a print job is already in progress, the new job is added
to the queue.
■ Tip If you have more than one printer installed (maybe you have a printer attached to your PC but also print to a
network printer), you can set one as a default, which will automatically be chosen whenever you choose to print.
Click System Administration Printing. Your current default printer is indicated by a tick in a green circle. If
you’d like to make another printer your default, right-click its icon and select Set As Default.
When you print a document, the Document Print Status icon appears in the notification area (it
looks like a printer). Single-click the icon to view the jobs waiting to be printed, if any. Right-clicking a
job displays a context menu that lets you cancel, delete, hold, and release the job, and even move it to a
different printer.
When you print from applications, Ubuntu will display a unified printer interface, as you might be
used to in Windows. You will find similarities when you print in Gedit, GIMP, and Firefox. The only
exception is, which offers its own simplified print dialog box.
Most applications that use the unified print dialog box will provide additional unique options
related to that particular application. For example, the F-Spot photo manager offers settings useful for
photographs, such as laying up multiple images on a single page, whereas Gedit offers functions related
to basic text printing.
Ensure that you select your printer in the list on the left of the print dialog box (on the General tab)
in order to see all the available options.
Using Digital Cameras, MP3 Players, and USB Memory Sticks
Removable storage is the term applied to peripherals that you might attach to your computer and that
contain their own storage. Examples include USB memory sticks, external hard drives, MP3 players,
digital cameras, and photographic memory card readers. You might also find that devices such as mobile
phones are treated as removable storage devices when you attach them directly to your computer.
When you attach any removable storage device, Ubuntu does the following:
Displays an icon on the Desktop, which you can double-click to view the
removable storage device contents.
Automatically opens a File Browser window showing the contents of the device.
Adds an icon for the device to the File Browser’s Places list, which is also
accessible via Places on the top panel.
If the removable storage device contains digital images (if it’s a digital camera, for
example), a bar will appear towards the top of the File Browser window with a
button which will enable you to import the images to the F-Spot photo library
program. You’ll learn more about this in Chapter 18, which provides a concise
guide to cataloging and manipulating your digital images. Similarly, if your device
contains audio files, Ubuntu will detect this and a button will be added enabling
you to open these files in the Rhythmbox audio player.
The contents of the removable storage device will be accessible in exactly the same way as any other
files on your system. You should be able to copy, delete, and create files on the device, provided the
device isn’t read-only (if the read-only switch isn’t set on a USB memory stick, for example). If the device
contains MP3 tunes, you should be able to double-click them to play them, provided the playback
codecs are installed (see Chapter 14).
However, a very important rule must be followed when you’ve finished with removable storage
devices under Ubuntu (or indeed any operating system): the device must be safely removed (or in
technical terms unmounted) before you physically remove it. This applies also to memory cards that are
inserted into a card reader—before removing any card from the card reader, it must be safely removed.
Safely removing is quite simple to do. Just right-click the icon on the Desktop or within the
Computer window and select Safely Remove Drive, as shown in Figure 7-15. Make sure you save and
close any files that you may have been working on before you do so, or you may see an error. You’ll need
to close any File Browser windows that might have been browsing the storage device too.
Following this, you can safely physically remove the card or unattach the device. Reinserting it will
make it available once again.
Figure 7-15. You may be tempted to whip out a USB drive as soon as you’ve copied files to it, but it should
be unmounted properly in order to protect your data.
■ Caution Be very careful not to remove a memory card from a card reader while you’re writing to or reading
from it on your PC. This will most likely damage the card irreparably. At the very least, it will wipe the contents of
the card.
Configuring a Scanner
Scanners may seem like archaic machines that have been superseded by digital cameras or absorbed
into multifunction devices, but they’re still the best method of transcoding nondigital images and textual
documents into a digital format.
A lot of flatbed scanners can be made to work under Ubuntu, but not all types are supported. You
can check the list of currently supported scanners by visiting Additional models
are added to the list all the time, and this is another reason to make sure your system is completely upto-date (see Chapter 8, which explains how to update your system software).
The best test of whether your scanner is supported under Ubuntu is simply to see whether it will
work. Scanning within Ubuntu is handled by the Simple Scan utility. This is a stand-alone program that
operates like the TWAIN drivers that you might have used under Windows.
To configure a scanner and scan images, follow these steps:
Choose Applications Graphics Simple Scan. On startup, the program
attempts to detect your scanner. If it finds a compatible model, Simple Scan
will start. If the scanner isn’t recognized, a dialog box will appear telling you so.
Using Simple Scan is as simple as its name suggests. Just lay your original on
the scanner and click the Scan button. There’s no preview. Simple Scan will go
ahead and scan your original at full resolution and display the resulting image.
You can then crop, rotate and save the image to disk using the controls in the
toolbar. The file types which Simple Scan supports are PNG (lossless), JPEG
(compressed), and PDF.
Under Document Preferences, you can alter the scan resolution for text
and photos, according to your scanner’s capabilities, and also set the default
page size.
Simple Scan should be good enough for most purposes, but if you’d like a little more control over
your scanning, with capabilities such as adjusting gamma, contrast and brightness, you might consider
installing Xsane, which is available in the Ubuntu Software Center.
Figure 7-16. The Simple Scan program makes scanning really easy.
Installing 3D Drivers and Activating Desktop Visual Effects
The modern trend is for operating systems to incorporate flashy graphical effects into ordinary Desktop
functions. For example, when windows are minimized in Windows Vista, they physically shrink and
fade down to the Taskbar. Under Mac OS X, program windows appear to be “poured” into the Dock
when minimized. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, when you press Alt+Tab to switch through open
programs, the program windows are previewed vertically in a graphical arrangement, and you can
flick through them, rather like searching through a card index. These effects are achieved using the
3D processing power of the computer’s graphics card, even though the effects aren’t necessarily 3D
in nature.
■ Note On a technical level, the technique is known as compositing. What you see on the screen is first drawn in
the graphics card memory and then transferred to the screen, rather than everything simply being drawn directly
onto the screen.
Ubuntu includes similar Desktop visual effects, courtesy of a system called Compiz
( However, all Desktop visual effect systems have a couple requirements, and these
apply to Ubuntu as well:
For Desktop effects to work, your graphics card (or motherboard graphics chipset)
must be comparatively recent. Examples include the ATI Radeon, Nvidia GeForce,
and Intel GMA product lines. Most graphics cards manufactured within the last
five years with a graphics processing unit (GPU) should be adequate, and very
recent models definitely will work.
The correct graphics drivers must be installed. Currently, Intel GMA and some ATI
Radeon graphics cards are supported by default because Intel and ATI provide
open source 3D-capable drivers. For other hardware, including Nvidia cards, the
manufacturer has not assisted development of open source drivers, and you may
need to manually install a proprietary driver. Even for Nvidia cards, the picture is
improving, with the open source Nouveau drivers now considered good enough
for Ubuntu to install by default.
■ Note For most graphics cards, the open source graphics drivers will now support 3D Desktop effects. You will
probably only need to install the proprietary driver if you want high performance from intensive 3D applications
such as Google Earth and first-person shooter games.
Some proprietary 3D graphics drivers are provided under Ubuntu, but only if open source
equivalents are missing. It is hoped that open source drivers will one day replace the need for
proprietary drivers.
So do you actually need to install new drivers? If you find that Desktop effects are working, the
correct drivers are already installed. A good way to test this is to hold down Ctrl+Alt and then tap the left
or right arrow key. This will switch to the next virtual Desktop. If the entire desktop physically slides out
of the way, Desktop effects are activated. If the Desktop remains static, and a small dialog box appears in
the center of the screen to let you choose a virtual Desktop, then Desktop effects are not activated.
A utility called Hardware Drivers lets you manage proprietary drivers for your graphics card. This
should appear automatically in the notification area immediately after installation if your hardware
requires proprietary drivers.
Follow these instructions to activate the proprietary graphics driver:
Click the Hardware Drivers icon to run the Hardware Drivers program. If it’s
not visible, click System Administration Hardware Drivers.
Supply your password in the authorization dialog box and click OK.
In the Hardware Drivers window, select the Enabled check box beside your
graphics card device driver.
A dialog box appears, asking you to confirm that you want to enable the driver.
It explains that enabling the driver enables visual effects on your Desktop.
Click the Enable button.
The Summary dialog box appears to tell you what new software will be
installed. Click the Apply button.
The driver is downloaded and installed. Then the Changes Applied dialog box
appears to tell you that the changes are completed. Click the Close button.
In the Hardware Drivers window, click the Close button.
You need to restart the computer so that Ubuntu will use the new driver. Click
the session menu (the Power button at the top right of the screen), select
Restart, and confirm.
After the new graphics driver is installed, Desktop visual effects should start working immediately,
as shown in Figure 7-17. If you experience seemingly random systemwide crashes or freezing after
installing a 3D graphics driver, consider reverting to your old setup by using the Hardware Drivers
program (System Administration Hardware Drivers) to disable the new driver. Unfortunately, in a
small minority of cases, the proprietary driver can prove buggy.
Figure 7-17. Using the correct graphics drivers can add sophisticated effects to your desktop.
Two modes of operation are available for Desktop visual effects: Normal and Extra. Normal is the
default and provides a good subset of the available effects: menus fade into view, program windows
shrink when minimized, and so on. Extra provides a lot more effects, some of them rather extreme, such
as wobbling when you click and move a window, and windows appearing to explode to the corners of
the screen when maximized. To switch between the two settings, right-click the Desktop, select Change
Desktop Background, and then click the Visual Effects tab in the dialog box that appears. If you would
like play with individual effects, install Simple CompizConfig Settings Manager in the Ubuntu Software
Center, and then run System Preferences CompizConfig Settings Manager. The effects are divided
into logical sections and can be easily activated and assigned keyboard shortcuts to your taste.
Configuring Bluetooth
Bluetooth is the short-range networking facility that allows various items of hardware to work with each
other wirelessly. You can use Bluetooth for everything from file transfers between a mobile phone and
computer to employing a wireless keyboard or mouse with your desktop computer.
For Bluetooth to work, both devices need to have Bluetooth support. Many mobile phones come
with Bluetooth nowadays, as do an increasing number of notebook computers. It’s also possible to buy
very inexpensive Bluetooth USB adapters.
Bluetooth support is built into Ubuntu and should activate automatically if Bluetooth hardware is
present on your PC. You will know if this is the case because a Bluetooth icon will appear in the
notification area. This is used to administer all Bluetooth devices that you might want to connect to
your computer.
Pairing Bluetooth Devices
When two pieces of Bluetooth-compatible hardware need to communicate on a regular basis, they can
get together, a process also known as pairing or bonding. This means that they trust each other, so you
don’t need to authorize every attempt at communication between the devices. Indeed, some devices
won’t communicate unless they’re paired in this way.
Pairing is simple in practice and works on the principle of a shared personal ID number (PIN). The
first Bluetooth device generates the PIN and then asks the second Bluetooth device to confirm it. After
the user has typed in the PIN, the devices are paired. Pairing is easily accomplished under Ubuntu and
doesn’t require any additional software.
As an example, the following are the steps for bonding a mobile phone to an Ubuntu PC. Bonding
for devices without a user interface, such as keyboards, is handled differently, as explained in the “Using
a Bluetooth Keyboard or Mouse” section a little later in the chapter.
Ensure that the Ubuntu PC is visible, which is to say that other Bluetooth
devices can detect it. Click the Bluetooth icon in the notification area, select
Preferences, and make sure that the Always Visible radio button is selected.
Click Close.
You can pair up two devices from either end, but we’re going to begin using
Ubuntu. To do this, click the Bluetooth icon in the notification area and select
“Set up new device.” This launches the Bluetooth New Device Setup. Click the
Forward button.
The device setup probes the ether and finds any connectable devices. These
will appear first as a series of numbers and then using their friendly names, as
shown in Figure 7-18.
Figure 7-18. A pairing request is easily accomplished through the Bluetooth applet.
Select the device you want to connect to and click Forward. By default a
random five-digit PIN code is created and transmitted, although if you want
you can create a custom one by clicking PIN options. The setup window will
display this number, and you should receive a prompt on the phone showing
the same number and asking if you want to pair with this as a trusted device.
Confirm that on your phone and click the Matches button in the Ubuntu setup
(fairly soon or it will time out!). The two devices will now be paired.
If you subsequently want to remove the pairing, click the Bluetooth icon and select Preferences. In
the list of Devices at the bottom of the dialog box, select the entry for your Bluetooth device and click the
Delete button. Don’t forget to remove the pairing on the Bluetooth device too.
Transferring Files Between Bluetooth Devices
If you own a Bluetooth-equipped camera phone, you might be used to transferring pictures to your
computer using Bluetooth. It’s by far the easiest way of getting pictures off the phone and avoids the
need for USB cables or card readers. To transfer files via Bluetooth, you can use the Bluetooth applet.
■ Note Some phones refuse to transfer files unless the phone and computer are paired, so follow the instructions
in the previous section first. Phones such as like the Nokia 6680 don’t need pairing for file transfer, although each
transfer must be confirmed manually.
Browsing Files on a Remote Device
The easiest way to get files to or from a device is to use Nautilus:
Click the Bluetooth icon in the notification area and select Browse Files on
Choose your phone (or other device) from the list and click Browse. You may
need to confirm the action on your phone by selecting Yes.
The File Browser opens up with the folders available on the device (see Figure
7-19). You can then navigate through these and copy files to your Desktop in
the usual drag-and-drop fashion. You can also add files to the phone in the
same way.
Figure 7-19. You can use the File Browser to access a Bluetooth device.
Sending Files from an Ubuntu PC to Another Device
There are two ways to send files to another Bluetooth device from your Ubuntu PC. The first is to use the
Bluetooth applet. The second is to right-click the file in question and select Send To. The second method
is useful if you want to send many files at once, and you will have the option of automatically zipping the
files into a single archive (but bear in mind that the Bluetooth device receiving the file will need to be
able to subsequently unarchive the file).
Using the Bluetooth Applet
Follow these steps to use the Bluetooth applet to send files:
Click the Bluetooth icon in the navigation area and click Send files to device.
In the Choose Files to Send dialog box, navigate to the file you want to send
and click Open.
In the Select Device to Send To dialog box, select the target Bluetooth device
and click the Send To button.
The target Bluetooth device might prompt you to accept or deny a file transfer
request from Ubuntu. Choose to accept it.
After the file has been received by the Bluetooth device, click Close.
Using the Send To Option
To send one or more files using the Send To option on the context menu in the File Browser or on the
Desktop, follow these steps:
Either right-click an individual file or folder, or select several files and click one
of them. Right-click and select Send To.
In the Send As drop-down list in the dialog box that appears, select Bluetooth
(OBEX Push). In the Send To drop-down list, ensure that your Bluetooth device
is selected.
If you’re sending several files, you can put a check in the Send Packed In check
box. This will create a new single .zip archive and add the files to it
automatically. Otherwise, each file will simply be sent one after the other. If
you are sending a folder, the Send Packed option is already checked and
cannot be unchecked.
Click the Send button. You may be prompted to authorize receipt of the files
on the Bluetooth device, so do so. Bear in mind that transfer of many files
may take some time because Bluetooth is not a particularly speedy form of
data transfer.
After the file transfer is complete, click the Close button.
Using a Bluetooth Keyboard or Mouse
Your Bluetooth-equipped keyboard or mouse may work automatically under Ubuntu. However, if not,
you may need to pair it to your PC, as follows:
Ensure that the Ubuntu PC is set to be discoverable. Click the Bluetooth icon
in the notification area, click Preferences, and make sure that the “Make
computer visible” check box is selected. Click Close.
Switch your keyboard or mouse to discoverable mode. Read the instructions
for your device to find out how this is done. On an iGo Stowaway keyboard we
used during testing, this required pressing the Ctrl+blue Fn+green Fn keys
While you’re reading the manual, find out whether the device has a default
passkey. Mice almost certainly will (and it’s nearly always 0000), but keyboards
might require you to type one manually when it comes to the pairing request.
Click the Bluetooth icon and select Preferences. Click the Set up new device
button. Ubuntu will search for your input device. In you’re surrounded by
multiple Bluetooth devices, you might find it useful to narrow down the search
to input devices using the Device Type drop-down.
You should find that your keyboard or mouse is detected automatically and
appears in the list below the Select Device heading (if not, ensure that it is still
in discoverable mode and hasn’t switched itself off). Click the entry for the
keyboard or mouse, and then click the Forward button.
A comment box should pop up on the Ubuntu computer, notifying you of a
pairing request between Ubuntu and the keyboard or mouse. Click the Enter
Passkey button.
What happens next depends on whether you’re trying to connect a keyboard
or mouse. Bear in mind that the process of pairing quickly times out on the
Ubuntu computer, so you need to complete the following steps without
In the case of a mouse, enter the passkey that you read earlier in the manual
for the mouse. As mentioned, this is usually 0000. After you click OK, the
mouse should be paired and should start working.
Some keyboards also use a default passkey of 0000, and, if so, you can enter
that, and the keyboard should be paired. However, some Bluetooth
keyboards might require you to enter a passkey created on the computer. In
the Authentication Request dialog box on the Ubuntu PC, type a random
four-digit passkey—something like 1234 (although for security reasons, you
might want to choose something that’s slightly less easy to guess). Click OK.
On the Bluetooth keyboard, type the same number and press Enter.
Following this, you should find that the keyboard is paired with the
computer and will work.
Click Close in the Bluetooth Preferences dialog box.
If the keyboard or mouse does not work after a reboot, try turning it on and off again. If that doesn’t
work, deactivate the Bluetooth functionality on the PC, perhaps by momentarily unplugging the
Bluetooth dongle or, on a notebook, using the relevant keyboard combination to turn off and on again
the Bluetooth system.
Configuring Sound Cards
Generally speaking, your sound card shouldn’t require any additional configuration and should work
immediately after you install Ubuntu. The icon for the volume control applet is located at the top right of
the Ubuntu Desktop, and it offers a quick way to control the master volume.
However, if you want to change your balance or microphone level, or if your sound card offers more
than stereo output, such as multiple-speaker surround sound, then it might be necessary to take some
simple steps to allow full control of the hardware:
Click the volume control icon (the one that looks like a speaker). A simple
volume control will open underneath.
Click Sound Preferences below the volume slider.
The Sound Preferences dialog box appears. On most computers, you will have
just one simple stereo sound card shown in the Hardware tab, and there won’t
be much to configure. In the Output tab, you will be able to adjust the balance,
should you ever need to, while in the Input tab you can unmute your
microphone and adjust the input volume. If your computer has more than one
sound card—for example, onboard sound and an external USB 5.1 sound
card—you can set which card is active in the Hardware tab and then switch to
the Output tab to adjust volume sliders for balance, fade, and subwoofer, as
shown in Figure 7-20. On a notebook that has a sound card featuring pseudosurround sound, we could add a control to alter the intensity of the effect.
When you’ve finished, click the Close button.
Figure 7-20. In Sound Preferences you can control all aspects of your sound card’s output.
Using Power-Management Preferences
Depending on the degree to which your computer supports power-saving functionality, Ubuntu will let
you configure your display to go into standby mode after a certain amount of time and will also allow
you to configure your notebook to enter sleep (standby) mode. In addition, if you use a notebook
computer, Ubuntu might let you configure additional aspects, such as the display brightness. These
functions are controlled by using the Power Management Preferences. To start this, click System Preferences Power Management. If Ubuntu is installed on a notebook computer, you’ll see three tabs
in the program window: On Mains Power, On Battery Power, and General. If Ubuntu is installed on a
desktop computer, you’ll see just the On Mains Power and General tabs.
■ Note Not all PCs are created equal when it comes to power-saving features. Some support more functionality
than others. In addition, Ubuntu is compatible with most but not all power-management systems, and it might not
be able to support certain power-management functionality on your system, even if such functionality works
under Windows.
Notebooks have the additional tab because it’s possible to define two separate power management
profiles: one for when the computer is plugged in and one for running on battery power. This makes
sense, because you might never want your display to switch off when connected to an outlet, but it’s
advisable that it should deactivate within, say, 15 minutes of inactivity if the computer is running on
battery power (to extend the life of the battery).
The three tabs of the Power Management applet are explained in the following sections.
On Mains Power
If your computer is a desktop PC without a battery, you’ll see two options under the On Mains Power
tab: Put Computer to Sleep When Inactive For and Put Display to Sleep When Inactive For. The
dropdowns next to each of these options allow you to define one of a number of preset time limits before
each feature kicks in, including the option of Never. There is also a check box which enables you to spin
down the hard disks when possible, at the same time as the computer is put to sleep.
■ Note The sleep mode can be to either suspend to RAM (that is, standby) or hibernate. You can set this under the
General tab.
If your computer is a notebook computer, you’ll see some extra options. Depending on the
technology used in your computer, you might see a Set Display Brightness To slider, which you can use
to set the brightness of the screen when the power is connected. Whenever mains power is connected,
the display brightness will be changed to match this setting.
You may see a When Laptop Lid Is Closed option, with a drop-down list. As it suggests, this will
control what happens when the notebook is closed. Depending on the hardware contained in your
computer, you might have the choice of doing nothing, blanking the screen, suspending the computer
(shutting down all systems but RAM), hibernating (suspending RAM to disk and turning off the
notebook), and shutting down the computer. However, not all computers support each of these modes,
so the choices you see might vary.
Additionally, you may see a Dim Display When Idle check box, which you can select to conserve
power by dimming the screen when your system is idle.
On Battery Power
The options under the On Battery Power tab, present only on a notebook computer, are largely the same
as those under the On Mains Power tab, as you can see in Figure 7-21. These settings come into
operation the instant the mains power is disconnected from your notebook and the battery kicks in.
Figure 7-21. Notebook users can define an additional power profile that will kick in when the battery is
in use.
An extra option appears as the last item in the Actions section: When Battery Power Is Critically Low.
Here you can opt to automatically suspend, hibernate, or shut down the notebook when the battery
power is nearly gone.
The check boxes at the bottom of the Display section could help save battery power considerably.
You may select the Reduce Backlight Brightness option, which as it suggests, sets backlight brightness to
a lower setting when you run on battery power. As with On Mains Power, the Dim Display When Idle
option may also be available for battery power.
■ Caution Be aware that sleep mode requires a little battery power to work and will eventually drain your battery,
especially if it’s already on its last legs.
Under the General tab, you have options to customize button actions and notifications. These settings
persist whether the computer is on mains or battery power.
In the Actions section, you can set what happens when the power button is pressed and the
computer is active. Effectively, this controls whether pressing the button when Ubuntu is running
should shut down the computer, suspend it, or hibernate it. You can select Ask Me, which will cause the
standard Quit dialog box to appear (that is, the same dialog that appears if you click the Session Menu
icon in the top-right corner of the screen). You can also customize the action for the suspend button.
The available actions are to do nothing, suspend, or hibernate. Hibernate writes the contents of RAM to
the hard disk and then shuts down the computer. Suspend shuts down most systems of the computer
except for the RAM, which is kept active. Then, when you press a key or move the mouse, the computer
wakes up almost instantly as the subsystems are reactivated.
■ Caution Hibernate doesn’t work on all systems. The best plan is to test it by bringing up the Session Menu (topright corner of the screen) and selecting Hibernate. Even if Hibernate appears to work, there are reports of it being
unreliable. Some users report that their computer occasionally fails to wake up, causing a loss of data. Therefore,
you should always save any open files before using the hibernate function or before leaving your computer
unattended for any period in which hibernate mode might kick in automatically. Hibernate will definitely not work
unless your swap partition is at least as large as your RAM.
The General tab also lets you select whether the power icon is visible in the notification area. If
you’re using a notebook, you can choose to display the icon only when the battery is nearly drained,
when your battery is charging or discharging, or regardless of the battery state. Desktop PC users will
probably opt not to display the power icon at all. The most fuss-free option is perhaps Only Display an
Icon When Charging or Discharging, which is selected by default.
Finally, there’s also an extra option you can select to play sounds when error events occur.
■ Tip The power icon in the notification area will give you an indication of the charge status of your battery if
you’re using a laptop. If you click it and select Laptop Battery Discharging, a Power Statistics window will be
displayed, giving you masses of information about your mains adapter, battery, and processor.
The amount of power drawn by our computers varies tremendously, from 25 watts or so for a netbook
to 250 watts or more for a desktop computer and monitor. Even 250 watts may not sound much, but most
of us are running our machines for hours at a time, and energy isn’t getting cheaper. So it’s worth
considering employing power-saving techniques, even if only to save yourself money, let alone the
global considerations of how fast the power stations are gobbling up non-renewable resources and
pumping out CO2.
Try to avoid leaving your computer turned on overnight or when you’re away from it for long periods.
At a minimum, get used to suspending your system. It only takes half a minute to wake up fully. As well
as saving power, switching off your computer avoids wear and tear on its components, extending its life.
Although the CPU can work 24×7 without trouble, it’s cooled by a fan that’s a simple mechanical device.
There are other fans in your computer too, such as the graphics card fan and case fan. Each of these
will eventually wear out. If your graphics card fan stops working, the card itself will overheat and might
burn out. The same is true of the CPU fan. However, by shutting down your computer overnight, you can
effectively double the life of the fans and radically reduce the risk of catastrophic failure. Isn’t that
worth considering?
In this chapter, you learned how to set up the common types of hardware you might have attached to
your computer. Additionally, you looked at configuring various software components that are vital for
Ubuntu’s correct functioning.
You stepped through getting online with Ubuntu (including joining a wireless network), adding a
printer, connecting to a digital camera, configuring a 3D graphics card, and much more.
In Chapter 8, we move on to look at how you can ensure that your system is secure and protected.
How to Secure Your Computer
Linux is widely considered one of the most secure operating systems available. On a basic level, Linux is
built from the ground up to be fundamentally sound, and it allows users to work securely without their
even noticing it. For instance, it enforces the system of ordinary users who are limited in what they can
do, thus making it harder for security breaches such as virus infections to occur.
In addition, Linux contains a firewall that is hardwired into the kernel, called iptables
( The firewall is considered among the best solutions by practically all
computer security experts. Not only that, but it can protect your home PC just as well as it can protect
the most powerful supercomputer.
Like many Linux components, iptables can be managed the hard way or the easy way. The hard
way requires in-depth knowledge of how networks operate and an ability to hack configuration files,
both of which are beyond the skills of many ordinary computer users. Fortunately, several programs act
as interfaces to iptables and make it simple to operate (or at least as simple as any equivalent Windowsbased software firewall, such as ZoneAlarm from Check Point Software Technologies).
In Ubuntu, this built-in firewall is turned off by default. This is because the developers don’t think
that Ubuntu requires a firewall, and on a technical level, they’re correct. Unlike Windows, Ubuntu has
no Internet-facing services (programs that wait for connections from the Internet or local area network).
It was just such a service on Windows XP that allowed the Blaster worm to bring the Internet to its knees
in 2003 (see Expressed metaphorically, the theory is that
without any windows or doors, Ubuntu is difficult, if not impossible, for hackers to break into (or for
viruses or worms to infect). However, configuring the firewall with a program like Firestarter, which we
examine later in this chapter, can be done so quickly and with such little effort that, in our opinion,
there’s no reason not to use the Linux firewall.
In addition, as with most versions of Linux, Ubuntu doesn’t come with antivirus protection out of
the box. This is because there are practically no viruses affecting Linux, and it is reasoned that there
simply isn’t a need for virus protection. However, as with a firewall configuration program, installing an
antivirus program is easily done, and we explain how in this chapter. But first, we spend some time
examining more-basic security concepts. Following that, we look at how to set up encryption for files
and e-mail so they can be opened only by the intended recipients. Then we cover some elementary steps
that you can take to protect your system.
Windows Security vs. Linux Security
If you’ve switched to Ubuntu from Windows, there’s a very good chance that the security failings of
Windows featured in your decision. Windows 7 contains many improvements, but Microsoft’s record on
security over the past few years has not been great. New and serious security warnings have appeared on
an ongoing basis, and even now, new and devastating viruses and Trojans make news headlines with
worrying frequency (usually described as a PC virus rather than what it actually is—a Windows virus).
One argument is that Windows is the target of so many viruses merely because it’s so popular.
Although it’s true that some of those who write viruses do so because they dislike Microsoft, there’s also
little doubt that Windows has more than its fair share of security issues.
Many people are still critical of Microsoft’s approach to security. For example, from Vista onwards,
Windows includes User Account Control (UAC) dialog boxes that appear whenever a system-affecting
action is required. However, they are so common that many people stop reading what they warn
about and simply click OK by reflex. Many even switch them off. Compare that to Ubuntu: Similar
dialog boxes appear whenever a system-affecting action is required, but the Ubuntu password dialog
boxes have more of an impact because they appear far less frequently than UAC dialog boxes. Also, here
the user’s password must be entered. This forces the user to stop and think rather than simply click a
mouse button.
Although Windows 7 offers reasonable security, Windows XP, Microsoft’s most popular operating
system (OS) to date, is considered an easy target for hackers and virus writers. Upon installation, the
default user is given administrative privileges. True, a handful of tasks can be performed only by the
genuine administrator, but the default user can configure hardware, remove system software, and even
wipe every file from the hard disk. Although you would never intentionally damage your own system,
computer attackers use various techniques to get you to run malicious software (by pretending it’s a
different file, for example) or they simply infect your computer across the Internet without your
knowledge, which is how most worms work.
Viruses and worms also usually take advantage of security holes within Windows software. As just
one example, an infamous security hole within Outlook Express a couple of years ago allowed a program
attached to an e-mail message to run when the user simply clicked a particular message to view it. In
other words, infecting a Windows machine was as easy as sending someone an e-mail message!
It’s a different story with Linux. Viruses and worms are far rarer than they are on Windows. In fact,
the total number of viruses and worms that have been found in the wild infecting Linux systems is
likely less than 1,000 (one report published in 2005 put the number at 863, and the number is unlikely to
have grown much since then). As strange as this may sound to a Windows user, you can have a PC
without viruses.
■ Caution Linux fans constantly note that viruses can’t cause a problem on their system because the core of the
OS is well protected. However, you should remember that the most important part of any computer system is,
arguably, the data on it, so it’s worth devoting time and effort to protecting this too. (See the upcoming
“Encryption” section for more information.)
But although we would love to say that security holes are not found on Linux, the sad truth is that
they’re a fact of life for users of every OS. Many so-called rootkits—specialized software toolkits that aim
to exploit holes within the Linux OS and its software—are available.
The bottom line is that although writing a virus or worm for Linux is much harder than doing the
same thing on Windows, all Linux users should spend time securing their system and never assume that
they’re safe.
Root and Ordinary Users
Although users are the subject of another chapter, allow us to introduce the distinction between the root
user account and ordinary users, because this distinction is the foundation on which much of the
security model is based. For a more in-depth discussion on the matter, refer to Chapter 21. Linux makes
use of something called the root user account. This is sometimes referred to as the superuser account,
and that gives you an idea of its purpose in life: the root user has unrestricted access to all aspects of the
system. The root user can delete, modify, or view any file, as well as alter hardware settings. Because
everything on a Linux system is a file, this gives the root user immense power.
Linux systems also have ordinary user accounts, which are limited in what they can do. Such users
are limited to saving files in their own directory within the /home directory (although the system is
usually configured so that an ordinary user can read files outside the /home directory too). But an
ordinary Ubuntu user cannot delete or modify files outside of their /home directory unless explicitly given
this permission by the root user.
The user account you created during the installation of Ubuntu is a limited account, but on some
Linux systems, it’s possible to type root at the login prompt and, after providing the correct password,
actually log in as root and perform system maintenance tasks. Ubuntu is slightly different in that the root
account is disabled by default, and users are instead able to borrow superuser powers whenever they’re
required, in a similar way to Mac OS X. For this to happen, they simply need to provide their own login
password. With desktop programs, a password prompt dialog box appears automatically.
Although the root account is disabled, most key operating system files “belong” to the root user,
which is to say that only someone with superuser powers can alter them. Ordinary users are simply
unable to modify or delete these system files. This is a powerful method of protecting the OS
configuration from accidental or even deliberate damage.
■ Note Along with the root and ordinary user accounts, there is a third type of Linux account, which is similar to a
limited user account, except that it’s used by the system for various tasks. These user accounts are usually
invisible to ordinary users and work in the background. For example, the CD/DVD-ROM subsystem has its own
user account that Ubuntu uses to access the CD/DVD-ROM hardware. The concepts of users and file permissions
are discussed in more depth in Chapter 21.
Linux users are often described as hackers. This doesn’t mean they maliciously break into computers or
write viruses. It’s simply using the word hacker in its original sense from the 1970s, when it described a
computer enthusiast who was interested in exploring the capabilities of computers. Many of the people
behind multinational computing corporations started out as hackers. Examples are Steve Wozniak,
cofounder of Apple Computer, and Bill Joy, cofounder of Sun Microsystems.
The word hacker is believed to derive from model train enthusiasts who “hacked” train tracks together as
part of their hobby. When computing became popular in the early 1970s, several of these enthusiasts also
became interested in computing, and the term was carried across with them.
However, in recent years, the media has subverted the term hacker to apply to an individual who breaks
into computer systems. This was based on ignorance, and many true hackers find the comparison
extremely offensive. Because of this, the term cracker was coined to clearly define an individual who
maliciously attacks computers.
So, don’t worry if an acquaintance describes herself as a Linux hacker or tells you that she has spent the
night hacking some PHP code. Many Linux types use the term as a badge of honor.
Encryption is a means of protecting data by encoding it in such a way that the casual observer can’t view
it without a password/passphrase or a special file known as a cryptographic key (normally abbreviated to
key). Encryption is used for privacy purposes and also to verify the identity of the person who originated
a file or an e-mail message.
Two types of encryption are normally utilized on home computers and offered by Ubuntu:
File encryption: Files can be encrypted so that they require a secret passphrase to be decrypted.
Alternatively, you can encrypt files so that they can be decrypted only by a particular individual.
E-mail encryption: E-mail messages can either be encrypted, so that only the recipient will be able
to read them, or signed, so that the recipient can be sure the e-mail genuinely originated from you
and not a third party.
Ubuntu’s e-mail program, Evolution, supports the digital signing of e-mail as well as full encryption
of e-mail sent to others or decryption of e-mail sent to you. The Nautilus file manager can also be used to
encrypt files for personal use or so that only a particular individual will be able to decrypt them.
Password encryption is also available in applications such as, which may be used to
write or organize sensitive data such as accounts or confidential correspondence.
■ Note Although Evolution supports encryption, you don’t have to use it. Indeed, many Ubuntu users don’t
utilize public key encryption, although power users often go this route. And, in general, relatively few people use
e-mail encryption.
Underpinning Ubuntu’s encryption system is a public key encryption system. Two keys are
generated by an individual: the private key and the public key. The private key is kept private by the
individual who generated it, while the public key is passed around to anyone who wants it (or even
published on Internet databases). The two keys are related in that one key can encrypt data so that only
the corresponding key can decrypt it.
For example, you could encrypt a file or e-mail message intended for Jane by using her public key,
and only Jane would be able to decrypt it, by using her private key. However, and crucially, you would
not be able to subsequently decrypt the file, even though you had encrypted it in the first place—data
encrypted with a public key cannot then be decrypted with that same public key. Only the private key
can decrypt it. If Jane wanted to encrypt a file so that only you could decrypt it, she would need to use
your public key. You would then use your private key to decrypt it. No one else would be able to decrypt
it after it was encrypted.
When utilized in an e-mail program, public key encryption works in two ways. Someone sending
you a message can encrypt it and any attached files with your public key so that only you can read it.
This ensures confidentiality. In the same way, you can encrypt a message sent to others by using their
public key, so that only they can read it. Alternatively, and more commonly, a digital signature can be
added to an e-mail file, even though the e-mail itself is sent unencrypted. This signature is generated
from your private key along with the body of the message, and it is decrypted at the other end by using
your public key, therefore proving the e-mail could have come only from you. This is known as signing
an e-mail message, because it is as if you personally signed it in your own handwriting, thereby
vouching for its authenticity. The e-mail is sent in plain text in case the recipient doesn’t use public
key encryption.
Setting Up for Encryption
To manage your encryption keys, you use the Seahorse application, which comes with Ubuntu. You first
generate a key pair (your private key and the public key), and then you can export or publish the public
key so others can use it.
Generating a Key Pair
Regardless of whether you want to use Evolution’s encryption/signing feature or Nautilus’s fileencryption abilities, you must first create a key pair. Here are the steps for doing so:
Click Applications Accessories Passwords and Encryption Keys. This will
run the Seahorse application, as shown in Figure 8-1.
Figure 8-1. Seahorse is an easy-to-use management tool for passwords and encryption keys.
Click File New and select PGP Key from the available options, as shown in
Figure 8-2. PGP, which stands for Pretty Good Privacy, is an industry-standard
public key encryption system and is typically used to secure e-mails or files.
The Secure Shell key is used as an extra security measure when connecting to
remote machines, as discussed in Chapter 25. The Password Keyring can act as
a kind of wallet for securely storing a collection of passwords that would then
be accessible with a single password. Use the Stored Password option to store
a text password in a keyring.
Figure 8-2. Choose PGP Key to create a key pair for e-mail or file encryption.
The New PGP Key dialog box appears. Fill in a full name, e-mail address, and,
optionally, a comment, as shown in Figure 8-3. The e-mail address you use for
your PGP key should be the one you will be using for sending e-mails with
Evolution (see Chapter 14 for instructions on creating an e-mail account in
Evolution). You may also set three advanced options, available in the
Advanced Key Options drop-down list:
Figure 8-3. Fill in the fields in the New PGP Key dialog box and optionally set advanced options for
your keys.
Encryption Type lets you choose the type of cipher for your new keys. The default
is RSA—RSA along with DSA Elgamal are the best choices because they enable you
to encrypt, decrypt, sign, and authenticate files and e-mail. DSA (sign only) and
RSA (sign only), on the other hand, can only sign files and e-mail.
The Key Strength option specifies the strength of your key, set in bits. The lower
the key strength, the faster it is to encrypt and decrypt, but choosing a lower
strength will make it easier for others to crack the encryption. Increasing the key
strength means slower encryption, but this should be weighed against the fact that
it reduces the chance of your messages being intercepted—to the point where
larger keys of 2,048+ bits are currently considered unbreakable. This is why the
default is set as 2,048 bits, which is a sensible compromise.
The Expiration Date option sets an expiration date on your keys. The default is
that the keys are set to never expire. An expiration date is useful if you suspect
your private key might fall into the wrong hands (for example, if you use a laptop
that could get stolen), as the key will be useful only until the expiration date. If you
decide to assign an expiration date, you must create a new key before the old one
expires and use the old key to sign your new one, in order to maintain
■ Note The Key Strength option aids in strengthening your key, because the key strength is based on the type of
cipher used together with the size of the key. Sometimes a key based on a weak cipher can still be made into a
strong key by increasing the key length.
Click the Create button to create the keys.
The Passphrase for New PGP Key dialog box appears. You need to create a
passphrase for your new PGP key. This is a block of text (perhaps a sentence or
simply a long stream of characters) that will have to be entered when
decrypting files you have encrypted while using Nautilus, and encrypted emails you receive via Evolution. The best passphrase is easy for you to
remember but hard for others to guess; ideally, it should include uppercase
and lowercase letters, punctuation, and numbers to make it harder for a brute
force dictionary attack (that is, a machine systematically entering real words)
to break. Enter your passphrase twice: once in the Password box and again in
the Confirm box. As shown in Figure 8-4, the characters won’t appear on the
screen. Click OK to continue.
Figure 8-4. After the PGP key has been generated, it will be listed on the My Personal Keys tab.
Wait while the PGP key is being created. Depending on the key length you’ve
chosen, this may take some time. After the process is finished, your new PGP
key will be listed in the My Personal Keys tab of the main Seahorse window, as
shown in Figure 8-4.
It’s possible to redefine your passphrase at a later date without affecting the
actual encrypted files. Right-click the PGP key in the My Personal Keys tab and
select Properties. Click the Change Passphrase button and, after you’ve
entered the existing passphrase, you’ll be able to add another one. The small +
icon shown on the left edge of Figure 8-5 allows you to tag a key with a photo
or icon from your system.
Figure 8-5. You can change your passphrase anytime by using the Properties box. You’ll need your original
passphrase to do it, though.
Exporting Your Public Key
As mentioned earlier, your public key must be shared with others if you want them to be able to encrypt
messages or files so that only you can access them, or if you want them to authenticate any signed
e-mail messages you send them. To do this, you use Seahorse to export your public key—effectively, to
make it available as a file that can be e-mailed to others, or perhaps stored in a flash disk that is given to
other people.
■ Note If recipients of signed e-mail don’t have your public key, they won’t be able to authenticate your e-mail
signature, but they will still be able to read the message and access any attached files. The signature will probably
show up as a .pgp file attached to the e-mail. Have you ever received an e-mail message with a file called
something like signature.pgp attached? Now you know what it is!
Exporting the key is as simple as running Seahorse (Applications Accessories Passwords and
Encryption Keys), selecting your key in the My Personal Keys tab, and then clicking the Export button.
You’ll be prompted to save the file to your preferred location, as shown in Figure 8-6. After the file is
saved in your /home directory, you can distribute it in any way you like.
Figure 8-6. Using Seahorse, you can export your public key for distribution.
Publishing Your Public Key
For wider distribution of your public key, you can publish it in a public key server. This makes it easily
available to anyone with Internet access, and it is the preferred method of sharing public keys. The steps
to publish your key are as follows:
Run Seahorse (Applications Accessories Passwords and Encryption Keys)
and click Remote Sync and Publish Keys.
The Sync Keys dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 8-7. To be able to sync
your key, you first need to click the Key Servers button and specify where your
key will be published.
Figure 8-7. You need to edit your key server settings to be able to sync your public key to your preferred
key server.
You will be taken to the Key Servers tab of the Preferences dialog box to
customize key server settings. Here you can specify where to look for keys and
where to publish your key. The most popular key server to use is,
which you can select from the Publish Keys To drop-down list, as shown in
Figure 8-8. Choose your server and then click the Close button.
Back in the Sync Keys dialog box, click the Sync button to publish your key.
Figure 8-8. Click the Publish Keys To combo box to select where your key will be published.
Importing and Signing Public Keys
To be able to encrypt e-mail or files for others, and also verify their signatures, you need to import and
then trust their public keys. You can obtain a public key from the person who created it or from other
people who have that person’s public key, or look it up from a key server.
If you’ve obtained the public key file personally (maybe on a floppy disk or via a USB flash drive)
and it is accessible on your computer, you can import the key by running Seahorse (Applications Accessories Passwords and Encryption Keys) and choosing File Import. In the file dialog box that
appears, browse your folders for the public key file that you would like to import, select that file, and
click the Open button. To verify that the key was imported, in the Passwords and Encryption Keys dialog
box click Other Keys and make sure that the key you just imported appears in the list.
You can also look for the key from the key server, which is perhaps easier and preferred by most
people. To do so, click the Find Remote Keys… button in the Passwords and Encryption Keys dialog box.
The Find Remote Keys dialog box appears. In the Search for Keys Containing text box, type the name of
the person you are looking for and click the Search button. In the search results area, select the key you
want to import and then click the Import button.
■ Caution When importing keys from a public key server, you cannot be so sure that these keys are actually
owned by persons you want to communicate with in a secure manner. However, one solution for this is the socalled web of trust, whereby people can vouch for the authenticity of a key by signing it. See for more information.
After the imported key is in the Other Keys tab, you need to sign the key to be able to send encrypted
e-mail messages to the person who owns the key. In this way you are telling the system that you trust
that the key is valid. You can also use the imported key to verify the authenticity of the e-mail messages
you have received from that person. To do so, follow these steps:
Select the key to sign in the Other Keys tab. So far the key is marked with a
Validity value of Unknown. This means that Seahorse has information about
the key, but it doesn’t know if it is valid or not. Click the Sign public Key button
and the Sign Key dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 8-9.
You can answer the question “How carefully have you checked this key?”
based on how you verified the key: Not At All, Casually, or Very Carefully.
Your choice for “Others may not see this signature” affects the credibility of the
key when you subscribe and sync your relationships to the key server. If you
don’t select this check box, your trust relationship will be manifested on the
key server for the public to see, which is basically saying that you are vouching
for the authenticity of this person’s key to the public. This is helpful and
convenient in reducing the number of keys to sign by others, by trusting the
keys signed by you.
The “I can revoke this signature at a later date” option allows you to revoke
the key. This lets you invalidate your trust with the key for reasons such as:
the key has been compromised and misused, or if you discover the key is
actually a fake.
Figure 8-9. Signing a key is a way of vouching for the key’s authenticity.
After making your selections in the Sign Key dialog box, click the Sign button
to continue.
The Enter Passphrase dialog box appears. You need to provide the password
you have entered when you created your PGP key. Supply that password and
click OK. At this point, the key has been signed and is now listed with a Validity
value of Full in the Other Keys tab.
■ Tip To reduce the number of keys to sign, you can trust the keys signed by the key that you trust. Click the
Other Keys tab in Seahorse and then double-click the key to view the key’s properties. When the key’s properties
appear, click the Trust tab and select the option “I have checked that this key belongs to <name> and I trust
signatures from <name> on other keys.” Click Close. The key will have a value of Full in the column Trust in the
Other Keys tab. When you import new keys that are trusted by this key, those keys will automatically be part of the
trusted list in the Trusted Keys tab.
Encrypting and Decrypting Files
After you’ve set up your encryption keys, you start encrypting files, either to store them in encrypted
form within your own system or to pass them on to others. You can also decrypt your own encrypted
files or files encrypted by others that are intended for you. These features are integrated into Nautilus,
which makes encryption and decryption easy to accomplish.
■ Tip In order to be able to encrypt and decrypt files, you need to install the package seahorse-plugins. This will
expand the capabilities of Nautilus, the file manager, by adding the encryption options to the context menus when
you right-click a file or folder. To install the plug-in, go to Ubuntu Software Center and search “seahorse plugins.”
An application named Decrypt File will show up. If it is not yet installed, click Install. Refer to Chapter 20 for more
information about installing software.
Encrypting a File
To encrypt a file, follow these steps:
Open your /home directory by clicking Places Home Folder.
Select a file or folder that you want to encrypt. Right-click the selected item
and select Encrypt…, as shown in Figure 8-10.
Figure 8-10. Encrypting a file or folder is a context menu option in Nautilus.
Select the recipients of the encrypted file, as shown in Figure 8-11. To encrypt
a file for yourself, put a check alongside your own key. To encrypt for others,
put a check alongside their names. Remember that file encryption is
performed with the recipient’s public key, so you will need to have imported it
beforehand. Click OK to continue.
■ Caution Remember that the persons you select will be the only ones able to decrypt the file. After the file is
encrypted for someone else, you won’t be able to decrypt it!
If you selected to encrypt more than one file, the Encrypt Multiple Files dialog
box will appear, as shown in Figure 8-12. You can opt to encrypt each file
separately or have the multiple files packed together in an encrypted
compressed file, with the compression type of your choice. Select your
preferred settings and then click OK to continue.
Figure 8-11. Select recipients of the files or folders you would like to encrypt from your created and
imported keys.
Figure 8-12. If you are encrypting multiple files, you can opt to encrypt each file or store all files in a
compressed file and have that compressed file encrypted.
After a file or folder has been encrypted, it will appear on your file system as a
new file with a .pgp extension, as shown in Figure 8-13. This can then be
passed on to your contact, if the file was encrypted with her public key, or filed
away for storage if it was encrypted using your private key. For instructions on
how to decrypt the file, see the following section.
Figure 8-13. The encrypted file has the extension of .pgp.
Decrypting a File
To decrypt a file, do the following:
Open your /home directory by clicking Places Home Folder.
Select the file that you want to decrypt. The file extension is typically .pgp.
Double-click the file.
Type the passphrase that you entered when creating your key earlier.
The file will then be decrypted in the folder where the encrypted file is stored.
It will have its original filename.
Signing and Encrypting E-Mail
After you’ve set up your encryption keys, you can send e-mail with your digital signature to signify the
authenticity of your e-mail, as well as encrypt e-mail so that the intended recipient is the only one
capable of reading your mail, and vice versa. As long as you’ve configured your PGP key, imported keys
to trust, and configured your Evolution account, integrating this kind of security is seamless.
To sign and/or encrypt an e-mail message in Evolution, do the following:
In Evolution, choose File New Mail Message to compose a new e-mail
The Compose Message dialog box appears. Fill in the To field, Subject field,
and the message.
Click Security. To mark the e-mail for signing, select the PGP Sign check box.
To mark the e-mail for encryption, select the PGP Encrypt check box.
Click the Send button to send the e-mail.
If you chose to sign the message, the Enter Passphrase dialog box appears.
Enter the password you assigned when you created your PGP key and then
click OK.
Your e-mail will be sent, signed, and encrypted as you specified.
Validating E-Mail
To be able to validate signed e-mail messages you have received from other people, you need to import
their public keys and then trust them using Seahorse. When you receive signed e-mail messages, a note
indicating the authenticity of the e-mail signature is placed at the very bottom of the message.
Decrypting E-Mail
To decrypt e-mail received from other people, your PGP key needs to be configured in Seahorse. You will
need to use your key to decrypt the e-mail.
Just select the e-mail message you want to decrypt, and you will see the Enter Passphrase dialog
box. Enter the password to your PGP key and click OK. You will now be able to view the e-mail in plain
text form.
Commonsense Security
As you start to understand how Ubuntu works, you’ll become more and more aware of commonsense
methods that will protect your system. However, we’ll outline a few of these now to get you started:
Entering your password: Be very wary if you’re asked to enter your password (outside of initial login,
of course). You’ll be asked to provide your password when following many of the configuration
steps within this book, for example, and this is acceptable and safe. But if you’re asked to do so out
of the blue, you should be suspicious. If the root password prompt dialog box (shown in Figure 8-14)
appears when you run a file that shouldn’t really need root permissions, such as an MP3 or file, you should treat the situation with caution.
Creating perfect passwords: Setting up good security inevitably involves having a good, strong
password. The challenge is to create something easy to remember but hard to crack, so it should
involve punctuation, numbers, and an assortment of uppercase and lowercase letters. Perhaps you
could base a password on a favorite song. For instance, [email protected]:02 is a great password.
To remember it, I just need to know that “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” was a track on The
Queen is Dead released by The Smiths in 1986, and it was 4 minutes and 2 seconds long. In contrast,
password, password4, and andy1302 are poor because they are open to dictionary attacks, in the case
of the first two, or personal information attack in the third case.
Installing new software: Be careful in choosing programs to download and install. Because Linux
works on the basis of open source code, theoretically, anyone can tamper with a program and then
offer it for download by the unwary. This rarely happens in real life. Even so, it’s wise to avoid
downloading programs from unofficial sources, such as web sites you find online via a search
engine and whose authenticity you cannot totally trust. Instead, get software from the web site of
the people who made it in the first place or, ideally, from the official Ubuntu software repositories
(discussed in Chapter 20).
Figure 8-14. Beware if you’re asked to type your password out of the blue and for no apparent reason.
Updating your system: Always ensure that your system software is completely up-to-date. As with
Windows, many Ubuntu programs have bugs that lead to security holes. Crackers target such
vulnerabilities. Downloading the latest versions of Ubuntu software ensures that you not only get
the latest features, but also any patches for critical security holes. As with most versions of Linux,
updating Ubuntu is easy, and, of course, it’s also free of charge. You’ll learn how to get online
updates in the next section.
Locking up your PC: Attacks can be either remote or local, so in addition to online security, you
should limit who has physical access to your computer. Any Ubuntu system can be compromised by
a simple floppy boot disk, or even by just selecting the rescue mode entry on the boot menu, which
provides the user with root access to the computer. This is for obvious reasons; the idea of a boot
disk or the rescue mode is to let you fix your PC should something go wrong, and you cannot do this
if you’re blocked from accessing certain files. When Linux is used on servers that hold confidential
data, it’s not uncommon for the floppy and CD-ROM drives to be removed, thus avoiding booting
via a boot disk. Such computers are also usually locked away in a room or even in a cupboard,
denying physical access to the machine. Another option might be to add a BIOS password to the
computer, meaning you’ll be prompted for it during the boot process. The method for setting this
up depends on your computer type, but generally, look for the BIOS Setup option when the
computer is booting. Obviously, make sure you never forget a BIOS password, because a computer
that doesn’t boot is not very useful.
Online Updates
The Ubuntu notification area (the equivalent of the Windows system tray) at the top right of the screen
contains a program that automatically monitors the package repositories and tells you when updates are
available. This is the Update Manager. If you haven’t yet updated your system, this icon will have
probably turned into a white arrow pointing down, enclosed in an orange star, informing you that
updates are available. In addition, each time you boot, you will see a speech bubble telling you that
updates are available. When your system is completely up-to-date, the icon is not visible.
Clicking the Update Manager icon opens the Update Manager window, as shown in Figure 8-15.
To go online and grab the updated files, simply click the Install Updates button at the bottom-right side
of the window. You will probably be asked to enter your root password, because system files will need to
be altered.
Figure 8-15. You’ll be informed if your system is in need of updates, and the Update Manager program can
take care of everything for you.
Be aware that some updates are large and may take some time to download, particularly if you’re
doing it for the first time after installing Ubuntu.
After the downloads have finished, you probably won’t need to reboot unless the kernel file has
been updated. If you do need to reboot, or if the update requires you to take any other action (such as
logging out and then back in again), the Update Manager icon in the notification area will turn into an
information icon, or into two encircled arrows. You should then click the icon to see what action you’re
advised to take.
A sad fact of computing life is that all software applications have bugs of some kind. Some of these are not
serious (in fact, they may remain invisible), but some might lead to abnormal program termination, data
corruption, or even system failure. The worst bugs provide “back doors” into your system that can be used
by crackers to wreak havoc.
Software developers fix reported bugs as quickly as possible (and one benefit of the open source approach
is that solutions can come from third parties, speeding up the process), but the gap between discovering
the bugs and providing a fix is a time when systems are vulnerable to attack. Taking advantage of such a
vulnerability is called a zero-day exploit.
Fortunately, Ubuntu and several other types of Linux distributions have a clever built-in security
mechanism called AppArmor, which oversees software applications and ensures that they don’t do things
that they shouldn’t. Effectively, AppArmor “sandboxes” applications so they go only where they should
within the system.
AppArmor was included in Ubuntu for the first time with version 7.04 (Feisty Fawn), three years ago.
Although it’s integrated into the underlying systems, AppArmor has yet to be made easily available to the
user for configuration. Currently, the only way to configure AppArmor under Ubuntu is by using the
command line. This will probably change in the future.
AppArmor is primarily intended to protect server systems—large computers that store and distribute data
to others. As such, AppArmor is not particularly aimed at desktop users, although there is no reason why
the intrepid desktop user can’t make use of it.
The software works on the principle of least privilege, which means that each application is granted only
the bare minimum of system resources it requires to run properly. Should the application prove to have a
flaw that allows it to be compromised, the damage would therefore be limited in scope.
AppArmor implements this scope by way of profiling each application. A profile is a configuration file that
contains details about what the application may do. AppArmor profiles are stored in /etc/apparmor.d.
Profiles can be added by using the Synaptic Package Manager to install the package apparmor-profiles.
Additionally, new applications you install may come with their own AppArmor profiles. After additional
profiles are installed, they are automatically utilized.
Each application can run in one of two modes:
Enforce mode: In this mode, AppArmor implements the permissions and capabilities
listed in the profile. If the application tries to access a file or use a capability that is not
listed in the profile, the operation will not be permitted.
Complain mode: In this mode, AppArmor records the violations incurred by an application
when it violates the rules imposed in the profile and stores them in the system log. These
logs can be used later for creating or updating a profile of an application.
To determine which profiles and programs are running in enforce or complain mode, open a terminal
window (Applications Accessories Terminal) and issue the command sudo apparmor_status.
To learn more about how to use AppArmor with Ubuntu, including how to create your own application
profiles, see
Configuring the Ubuntu Firewall
A firewall is a set of programs that protects your PC when it’s online. It does this by watching incoming
and outgoing connections between your PC and the Internet and allowing through only what it is sure is
secure (which usually is what you’ve asked for). It also attempts to close off various aspects of your
Internet connection, so that crackers don’t have a way in should they target your system.
The benefit of configuring the firewall is that even if your system has security vulnerabilities because
of buggy software, crackers will find it a lot harder to exploit them across the Internet. When someone
attempts to probe your system, it will appear to be virtually invisible.
■ Caution Although software firewalls such as the one built into Linux offer a high level of protection, it’s best to
use them in concert with a hardware firewall, such as that provided by most DSL/cable broadband routers
(curiously, some of these routers actually use Linux’s iptables software as well). Many security experts agree
that relying solely on a software firewall to protect a PC affords less than the optimal level of protection.
Although Ubuntu includes a powerful firewall in the form of iptables, you’ll also need a program
that can manage it. Here we show you how to use Firestarter, available from the Ubuntu software
repository, for this purpose. The configured built-in firewall really does provide very strong protection.
■ Note Power users might choose to configure Ubuntu’s firewall without installing Firestarter. The command-line
tools iptables and ufw are installed by default and are preferred by some system administrators. Iptables is a
configuration tool used to manage Netfilter, the feature in the kernel that handles the firewall. Unfortunately, with
iptables, you need to understand how TCP/IP works and learn cryptic commands to be able to make full use
of it. But armed with that knowledge, you can turn your PC into a full-fledged, budget software router with features
that rival or surpass hardware routers. Ufw (for uncomplicated firewall) is a configuration tool that also manages
the Netfilter firewall. It’s easier to use than iptables because a firewall rule in ufw is usually terse and readable
by humans.
Installing Firestarter
Let’s get started by downloading and installing Firestarter. Follow these steps:
Choose System Administration Ubuntu Software Center. In the Search
box type firestarter as a search term. In the list of results, locate the program
and click Install. Enter your password when prompted.
After the desktop is back up and running, choose System Administration Firestarter, or Application Internet Firestarter. When you run Firestarter
for the first time, you’ll be prompted for your password. Then a wizard will
start to take you through the setup.
Click the Forward button to continue the wizard beyond the introductory
The first step asks which network interface Firestarter should configure, as
shown in Figure 8-16. If you use an Ethernet card, have a wireless card, or
attach a broadband modem directly to your computer, the answer will
probably be eth0 or wlan0. However, if you use a modem, the answer is ppp0.
Figure 8-16. Firestarter includes a wizard to walk you through the basics of firewall configuration.
Put a check in the “IP address is assigned via DHCP” box, unless you’re using a
dial-up modem. If you are using a dial-up modem, select “Start the firewall on
dial-out” check box. After making your choices, click the Forward button.
You’re asked whether you want to enable Internet connection sharing. This
allows you to turn your computer into an Internet router and can be very
useful in certain circumstances. You can activate this later on by running the
wizard again. Click Forward to continue.
■ Note To rerun the wizard, simply click Firewall in Firestarter’s main window and then click Run Wizard.
The wizard will finish. Click the Save button to save your settings to disk. In
addition, ensure that the Start Firewall Now check box is selected. After this,
the Firestarter main window opens, and the software is active. You’ll also see a
new icon appear in the notification area of the desktop. This tells you that the
firewall is running and will react to different types of threats or connections.
Configuring Firestarter
Firestarter works by controlling the data that goes into and out of your computer via your Internet or
network connection. By default, it blocks every type of uninvited inbound connection but allows every
type of outbound connection.
Whenever you click a link on a web page, your computer sends a request for data to the web server
hosting the web page. Within a few milliseconds, that data is sent to your computer. This is an inbound
data connection. The Linux firewall is clever enough to realize that the data was requested by you, so it is
allowed through. However, any uninvited connections are turned away. If, out of the blue, someone
attempts to connect to your computer via the popular Secure Shell (SSH) tool, as just one example, he
won’t be allowed to make that connection. This is a good thing, because it makes your computer secure.
Crackers are turned away whenever they try to connect, no matter how they try to connect.
But in some circumstances, allowing uninvited connections is useful. For example, if you create a
shared folder for other computers in your office to connect to, they will frequently make uninvited
inbound connections to your computer whenever they want to grab a file. Protocols such as BitTorrent,
too, rely on many incoming connections. Also, if you want to make use of SSH to connect to your
computer remotely, you will need to allow such incoming connections. Therefore, Firestarter lets you
allow certain types of inbound connections through.
In the terminology of Firestarter (and many firewall programs), outbound traffic is any kind of data
originating on your computer that is sent out on the network and/or Internet. By default, Firestarter
allows out all data, no matter what it is. This is described as a permissive policy. But Firestarter can be
configured to block all outgoing connections apart from those you configure Firestarter to allow. This is
a restrictive policy and can be useful in blocking certain types of programs that “phone home” with
personal data about you, such as spyware.
■ Note Unlike with Windows, we’ve never heard of a Linux program that contains spyware that “phones home” in
this way. Nevertheless, a cautious attitude often pays dividends.
A restrictive policy can also prevent certain types of viruses and worms from spreading. The
downside of a restrictive policy is that you must configure Firestarter to take into account every type of
outgoing data connection that you do want to allow through, such as those for web browsers, instant
messaging programs, and so on.
You can configure Firestarter by clicking the Policy tab in the main program window. Click the
Editing drop-down list and choose to configure either the inbound traffic policy or the outbound
traffic policy.
■ Note Firestarter is used only to configure the built-in firewall and doesn’t need to be running for the firewall to
work. After you’ve finished configuration, you can quit the program. You’ll need to use it again only if you want to
reconfigure the firewall.
Setting Inbound Rules
For most users, Firestarter’s default inbound traffic policy is perfectly acceptable. It configures the
firewall to disallow all uninvited incoming data connections, apart from certain diagnostic tools, such as
ping, traceroute, and so on. You can choose to disallow those as well, as described shortly in the
“Turning Off Diagnostic Services” section.
You may want to allow an incoming connection if you intend to connect to your computer via SSH
from a remote location or if you have a shared folder created for other computers in your office. It’s a
must if you’re running the BitTorrent file-sharing application. Additionally, if you run a web server, email server, or other type of server on your computer, you will need to allow the correct type of incoming
connection here.
Here’s how to set inbound connection rules:
In the Firestarter main window, click the Policy tab. Select Inbound Traffic
Policy in the Editing drop-down list.
Right-click in the second box on the Policy tab (with the headings Allow
Service/ Port/For) and then select Add Rule.
The Add New Inbound Rule dialog box appears. In the Name drop-down list,
select the type of outgoing connection you want to allow, as shown in Figure 817. To allow others to access shared folders on your computer, select Samba
(SMB). To allow SSH or BitTorrent connections to your computer, select the
relevant entry from the list. Selecting the service will automatically fill in the
Port box, which you shouldn’t alter unless you know exactly what you’re doing.
If you know the IP address of the computer that’s going to make the incoming
connection, you can click the IP, Host, or Network radio button, and then type
in that address. However, the default of Anyone will allow anyone using any IP
address to connect to your computer.
Click Add. Back in the main Firestarter window, click the Apply Policy button
on the toolbar.
Figure 8-17. Creating an inbound rule enables computers to connect to your PC uninvited, but only if they
meet the conditions of the rule.
■ Note You’ll need to return to Firestarter whenever you activate new services on your computer. For example, in
Chapter 10, you will look at accessing Windows shares across a network, and you’ll need to enable SMB incoming
and outgoing access for this to work. In Chapter 25, you will look at using the SSH service, which will have to be
allowed through the firewall. In other words, securing your computer isn’t something you can do once and then
forget about. It’s a continual process.
Setting Outbound Rules
By default, Firestarter allows all types of outgoing connections and, as with its incoming connections
policy, this is by no means a bad choice for the average user. It’s certainly the option that involves the
least fuss. However, by opting to go with a restrictive traffic policy, you can completely control what kind
of data leaves your computer. Any type of data connection that isn’t authorized will be refused; as far as
the program sending the data is concerned, it will be as if your computer did not have a network or
Internet connection.
Here’s how to set outbound connection rules:
In the Firestarter main window, click the Policy tab. Select Outbound Traffic
Policy in the Editing drop-down list.
Click the “Restrictive by default, whitelist traffic” radio button. This option
means that by default all outbound traffic will be blocked. You need to add to a
“whitelist” the traffic that you want to allow.
In the second empty box at the bottom of the Policy tab (which has the Allow
Service/ Port/For headings), right-click and select Add Rule.
The “Add new outbound rule” dialog box appears. In the Name drop-down
list, select the type of data connection you want to allow. At the very least, you
should select HTTP. This will allow your web browser to operate correctly (it’s
also needed to allow the Ubuntu Software Center and Update Manager
programs to work). HTTPS should also be allowed—this is the secure version
of HTTP used to access the likes of online banking sites, online shopping
services, and some online e-mail services. You should also add a rule for POP3
and another for SMTP, without which your e-mail program won’t work.
Selecting the type of service will fill in the Port box automatically. You
shouldn’t alter this unless you know what you’re doing.
■ Note You can add only one rule at a time. You’ll have to repeat steps 3 and 4 several times to add rules for
each service you want to allow.
Click the Add button to add the rule. Back in the Firestarter main window, click
Apply Policy.
Test your settings with a program that uses the services you’ve just authorized.
■ Caution If you created an inbound rule, you’ll need to create a matching outbound rule. If you created an
incoming rule for BitTorrent, for example, you’ll need to create an outgoing rule for BitTorrent too.
You can delete both incoming and outgoing rules by right-clicking their entries in the list and
selecting Remove Rule.
Turning Off Diagnostic Services
Certain network tools can be misused by crackers to break into a computer or just cause it problems. In
the past, the traceroute and ping tools, among others, have been used to launch denial-of-service (DoS)
attacks against computers.
Ubuntu is set to allow these tools to operate by default. If you want to adopt a belts-and-suspenders
approach to your computer’s security, you can opt to disable them. If you don’t know what ping and
traceroute are, you’re clearly not going to miss them, so there will be no harm in disallowing them.
Here’s how:
In the Firestarter main window, click Edit Preferences.
On the left side of the Preferences window, click ICMP Filtering. Then click the
Enable ICMP Filtering check box, as shown in Figure 8-18. Don’t put a check in
any of the boxes underneath, unless you specifically want to permit one of the
Figure 8-18. By deactivating traceroute, ping, and other services, you can add extra protection to your PC.
Click the Accept button to finish.
There’s a fine line between security and paranoia. Using Firestarter gives you the opportunity to ensure
that your system is secure, without needing to constantly reassess your system for threats and live in fear.
When considering your system security, remember that most burglars don’t enter a house through the
front door. Most take advantage of an open window or poor security elsewhere in the house. In other
words, when configuring your system’s security, you should always select every option and extra layer of
security, even if it might not appear to be useful. You should lock every door and close every window, even
if you don’t think an attacker would ever use them.
If a security setting doesn’t impact your ordinary use of the computer, you should select it. For example,
deactivating the ping response of your computer might sound like a paranoid action, but it’s useful on
several levels. First, it means your computer is less easy to detect when it’s online. Second, and equally
important, it means that if there’s ever a security flaw in the ping tool (or any software connected with it),
you’ll be automatically protected.
This illustrates how you must think when configuring your system’s security. Try to imagine every situation
that might arise. Remember that you can never take too many precautions!
Adding Virus Scanning to Ubuntu
As mentioned in the chapter introduction, Linux (and therefore Ubuntu) is not currently affected by
many viruses. Nobody knows the true number of viruses affecting Linux, but it is probably less than
1,000, and that’s the total since Linux was created back in the early 1990s! At the time of this writing,
there are relatively few Linux viruses in the wild, which is to say, actively infecting computers.
However, there can be no room for complacency. It’s probable that virus writers will turn their
attention to Linux in the coming years as it becomes a popular desktop solution. It’s also important to be
vigilant because your Ubuntu system may be interacting with Windows computers and may act as a
carrier of Windows viruses.
This section describes how to use ClamTk, which is a graphical front end for the Clam AntiVirus
(ClamAV) program ( ClamAV is an open source, industrial-strength antivirus
scanner designed to work on all kinds of computers and operating systems. It detects Windows and even
Macintosh viruses, as well as Linux and UNIX viruses. This has obvious benefits if you share files with
Windows users—you can inform your friends and colleagues if any files they give you are infected (and
bask in the warm feeling that arises when you realize the viruses can’t affect your system!).
ClamAV’s only drawback is that it is limited to virus scanning. It isn’t able to disinfect files, like the
more sophisticated virus scanners available for Windows. However, it should be noted that disinfection
rarely works very well, as discussed in the ClamAV FAQ (
Installing ClamTk
You can install ClamAV and ClamTk through the Ubuntu Software Center, as follows:
Choose System Administration Ubuntu Software Center.
In the Search text box enter clamtk as a search term.
In the list of results, locate the program Virus Scanner and click the Install
button. Enter your password when prompted.
The whole antivirus system involves a 26MB download.
Close the Ubuntu Software Center.
Updating the ClamAV Database
Before you scan for viruses, you should update the virus database. You should do this every time you
scan, using the ClamTk program.
■ Note When you installed ClamAV, it added a background service called freshclam, which periodically
downloads updates for ClamAV’s database. However, manually updating before scanning is also a good idea, to
ensure that you’re always using the very latest version of the database at the time of scanning.
In order to update the database, ClamTk needs to access system files, so it needs to be run with root
powers. To do this, open a terminal window (click Accessories Terminal), type gksu clamtk and press
Enter. Enter your password when prompted. (gksu is like sudo, in that it gives the program you specify
administrator powers, except it’s used for GUI applications.) Click Help Check for updates. A new
window will open, in which you should click “Check for updates” again. It will check for updates to both
the virus definition database and the GUI. You might see a warning that your GUI version is out-of-date.
This is because the Ubuntu packages are sometimes a version or two behind the main release. However,
this isn’t a significant issue, and ClamAV can still scan for viruses, and virus definitions will stay up-todate. When ClamAV is first installed, it automatically grabs the latest database file, so ClamTk will
probably report it’s already up-to-date the first time an update is run.
If you want to update the GUI to the latest version anyway, you could go to ClamTk’s webpage at ( and download the .deb file. For more information on how to
install programs directly from .deb packages, refer to chapter 20. In brief, when the file finishes
downloading, you will be asked if you want to open it with GDebi package manager. Yes, that’s what you
want to do. It will let you know that there is an older, more supported version of the same application in
Ubuntu’s own repositories. Click the Install button... at your own risk!
To run ClamTk as a normal user, you can just go to Applications Accessories Virus Scanner and
perform the operation to update the signatures.
Scanning for Viruses
With Windows virus scanners, you might be used to performing whole system scans. This isn’t advisable
with ClamAV, because it simply isn’t designed for that task. Instead, ClamAV is designed to scan user
files, such as documents.
■ Note ClamAV is actually primarily designed to be used in concert with a mail server and to scan incoming or
outgoing mail attachments. See the About page at the ClamAV web site (
You can try performing a full system scan, but in our tests, several false positives were identified,
meaning that ClamAV identified innocent files as containing viruses. Because of this, it’s best to use
ClamAV to scan just your personal files for viruses, which is to say, those within your /home directory.
Bear in mind that this is where all files you import to your computer will likely be installed, so this is
where an infection is most likely to be found.
To scan your personal files, follow these instructions:
Start ClamTk by clicking Applications System Tools Virus Scanner. On the
initial launch, you can define whether antivirus signatures are updated for a
single user or for all users. If you have a multiuser system, you should choose
the latter.
Before starting the scan, it’s useful to ensure that hidden files are scanned.
After all, a virus is likely to try to hide, rather than make its presence obvious!
This can be done by clicking Advanced Preferences and checking the Scan
files beginning with a dot (.*) box.
Although there’s a button on the toolbar that lets you scan your /home directory
with a single click, it won’t scan recursively. That means it won’t scan any
folders (or folders of folders) within your /home directory, so it isn’t of much
use. To perform a recursive scan of your /home directory, click File Recursive
Scan. Then click the OK button in the Select a Directory (Recursive) dialog box.
This will select your /home directory. Of course, you can also select any other
folders to scan at this stage.
The scan will start. Depending on the quantity of files in your /home directory
and their sizes, it may take some time. You’ll see a live status report beneath
the toolbar, showing which file is currently being scanned. When the status
line reads “Scanning Complete,” the scan has finished. Running along the
bottom of the window will be a complete status report, showing the number of
files scanned and the number of viruses found, if any. See Figure 8-19 for an
example. If any viruses are found, move on to the next section.
Figure 8-19. You’ll see a live status report detailing which files are being scanned below the toolbar in the
ClamTk program window.
Dealing with Infections
If any viruses are found, they will be listed in the ClamTk program window. The type of virus that’s
allegedly infecting the file will be listed in the Status column.
Be aware that ClamTk sometimes reports a virus when it simply can’t access a particular file,
perhaps because of file permission problems. If this is the case, you’ll see Access Denied or Can’t Open
Directory in the Status column. You can ignore these files.
■ Tip If you really want to scan files that require superuser permissions, you can run ScanTk with superuser
powers. Open a terminal window (Applications Accessories Terminal) and type gksu clamtk.
Entries in the list can be right-clicked and quarantined or deleted. Quarantining moves the file to a
special directory for inspection or deletion later on. You can manage quarantined files by using the
Quarantine Maintenance menu.
Although your impulse might be to simply delete the file, you should be cautious. Be aware that
ClamTk might be reporting a false positive—a file that it thinks is infected with a virus, but which isn’t.
This is rare but can happen. If you do find a file you know is a false positive, right-click it and select
Quarantine. Then click Quarantine Maintenance. In the list, select the file and click False Positive. This
will ensure it’s ignored next time you scan.
So what should you do if you find that a file is infected? First, don’t panic. Remember that practically
all viruses that ClamAV is likely to find are targeted at Windows systems and don’t affect Linux.
■ Note If we assume there are 140,000 viruses for Windows and fewer than 1,000 for Linux, then in theory,
there’s a better than 99% chance that any virus ClamAV finds will be a Windows virus!
Next, find the name of the virus in the Status column and look it up online to learn more about
it. This is the point at which you’ll learn whether it’s a Linux virus and, if so, its potential impact on
your system.
You can hover your mouse over the filename in the scanner window to see its path. If the file is
located in your Firefox cache, there’s nothing to worry about, and the file can be deleted with
impunity—just right-click and select Delete from the menu. In fact, the Firefox cache is where you’re
most likely to find virus infections, because this is where all the files are temporarily downloaded when
you’re browsing the web (including HTML files, images, and so on). But, once again, you should
remember that most nefarious web sites that attempt to spread virus infections are targeted at Windows
users, usually via security holes within Internet Explorer. As a Linux user using the Firefox web browser,
you have far less to worry about.
It’s not enough to rely on antivirus software for safe web browsing. In Firefox, you can tweak settings to
enhance the security of browsing. However, note that improved security sometimes equates to reduced
features, which can be quite frustrating.
To set security options in Firefox, choose Edit Preferences. Settings on the following tabs affect browser
security (see Figure 8-20):
Content: You can disable pop-up windows and disable JavaScript. Note that it’s quite
unlikely that you would want to completely disable JavaScript, because many modern web
sites make heavy use of it (including online shopping sites and web-based e-mail, such as
Google’s Gmail). You could use a third-party plug-in called NoScript
( This tool allows you to disable JavaScript, Java, Flash, and other
plug-ins that could potentially be harmful to Firefox on all web sites by default. You can
easily re-enable these scripts on each web site that you trust through the NoScript applet,
located in the lower-right corner of the browser window.
Privacy: You can customize retention of browser history, cookies, and private data. If privacy
is of utmost importance, you can select the option “Use custom settings for history” and
check the “Clear history when Firefox closes” check box.
Security: You can customize attack site and forgery detection, passwords, and warning
messages. You should customize these settings based on how you use the Web. For
example, it’s obvious that the “Warn me when sites try to install add-ons” check box should
be selected, since malware is distributed this way. And if you transact business on the Web,
the “Block reported web forgeries” option offers added protection from getting duped.
Figure 8-20. Customizing Firefox Privacy settings.
In this chapter, you’ve looked at what threats your system faces and how security holes can be exploited
by malicious interests. You learned about measures you can take to protect your system, such as
updating it online, using AppArmor to guard against errant applications, configuring the system’s
firewall, using encryption for e-mail and file privacy and authentication, installing an antivirus program,
and customizing web browser security. We also discussed some commonsense rules you can follow to
keep your system safe.
In the next chapter, we move on to looking at how your Ubuntu system can be personalized and
how to set up everything to suit your own preferences.
Personalizing Ubuntu: Getting
Everything Just Right
If you’ve read this book from Chapter 1, by this stage you no doubt have become comfortable with
Ubuntu. You’ve started to realize its advantages and are on the way to making it your OS of choice.
But things might still not be quite right. For instance, you might find the color scheme is not to your
taste. Or maybe your login picture is not entirely satisfactory. Maybe you simply want to get away from
the default theme and stamp your own identity on the desktop. That’s what this chapter is all about:
personalizing Ubuntu so you’re completely happy with your user experience. To do this, you will
thoroughly examine the GNOME desktop and explore its potential. You’ll also add some panache to that
most important application, the web browser, so it fits perfectly into your desktop.
Changing the Look and Feel
Ubuntu is similar to Windows in many ways, but the developers behind it introduced improvements and
tweaks that many claim make the software easier to use. For example, Ubuntu offers multiple virtual
desktops (also called workspaces)—long considered a very useful user interface feature that hasn’t found
favor in Microsoft’s designs.1
■ Note The virtual desktop feature also passed by Apple for a long time. However, it was included in OS X
Leopard three years ago, in the form of Spaces.
The Ubuntu desktop also moves the Programs menu (known in Ubuntu as the Applications menu)
to the top of the screen, leaving the whole width of the screen at the bottom to display taskbar buttons.
This is very sensible, because the buttons don’t look cramped when more than a handful of applications
are open. However, if you’re not satisfied with Ubuntu’s out-of-the-box look and feel, almost every
aspect of the desktop experience is available for tweaking.
The Desktops tool from Sysinternals can add similar but limited functionality to Windows; see
You might be used to changing the desktop colors or wallpaper under Windows, but Ubuntu goes to
extremes and lets you alter the look and feel of the entire desktop. Everything from the styling of the
program windows to the desktop icons can be altered quickly and easily.
Altering the Theme
Ubuntu refers to the look of the desktop as a theme. Whether you opt to use GNOME or KDE as your
main desktop, Ubuntu allows you to radically personalize the whole visual experience. Several themes
come with the distribution, and you can download many more. Each lets you change the way the
windows look, including the buttons, scrollbars, window decoration, and icon set (although some
themes come without additional icons). There is also a small selection of assistive themes designed to
improve the desktop experience for partially sighted users.
However, unlike Windows themes, GNOME themes don’t usually change the fonts used on the
desktop, and the background will probably remain broadly the same. You can change these manually, as
described in the “Setting Font Preferences” and “Changing the Desktop Background” sections a bit later
in this chapter. The other difference is that GNOME has these facilities built in—you won’t need to buy
or install extra software just to change the desktop appearance.
To alter the theme, choose System Preferences Appearance. Then it’s simply a matter of
choosing a theme from the list on the Theme tab in the Appearance Preferences dialog box, as shown in
Figure 9-1. Each selection has a small thumbnail to show you what the theme looks like. When you select
one, it will be applied immediately to the desktop, including any open applications and windows. To get
a really good idea of how the theme looks, you can open a Nautilus window by choosing Place Home
Folder. This will give you a feel for how the icons, window decorations, and widgets such as scrollbars
and menu bars look in a real-world context.
Figure 9-1. Ubuntu comes with several theme choices.
■ Note The default Ubuntu themes until Lucid Lynx were branded as Human and were designed to represent the
skin tones of the world’s population. This brand was based on the tagline “Linux for Human Beings.” With Lucid, a
new brand called Light was developed. Among other reasons, this name was chosen because Ubuntu is light and
represents “a break with the bloatware of proprietary operating systems.”2
The default theme in Ubuntu is called Ambiance. Radiance is a similar theme, but with a different
color palette. Remember that you’ll be working with the theme on a daily basis, so it should be practical
and not too distracting. Those miniature Close, Minimize, and Maximize buttons might look stylish, but
they’re useless if they’re so small that you can’t reliably click them with your mouse; and if your eyes are
constantly wandering to a beautiful but overpowering title bar, you won’t be concentrating on your work
or play. Depending on the theme you select, the Close, Minimize, and Maximize buttons can be in
different places in the top bar of each window. Ambiance in particular sets them to the left in the
following order (from left to right): Close, Minimize, and Maximize, whereas Clearlooks uses a more
traditional, Windows-like positioning and order.
In addition to changing the overall theme, you can also modify individual theme components and
even download more theme components.
Changing Individual Theme Components
You can alter the five aspects that constitute a GNOME theme: the controls (sometimes known as
widgets), color scheme, window borders, icons, and mouse pointer. To make changes to a theme, select
it on the Theme tab of the Appearance Preferences dialog box and then click the Customize button. You
will see the Customize Theme dialog box, as shown in Figure 9-2.
You can read the details about the change of brand here:
Figure 9-2. You can customize a theme by choosing your own controls, colors, window border, icons, and
mouse pointer.
Click each tab to see your choices:
Controls: These are the elements you click within dialog boxes and windows: buttons, scrollbars,
check boxes, radio buttons, and so on. The chief difference between one set of controls and another
relates to their 3D effect—some are inset against the background, and some appear to be
prominent. Some controls are shiny, and some appear flat. Additionally, some are rounded and
some are square. Rounded controls feel more friendly, maybe even playful, while square controls
tend to feel more businesslike.
Colors: You can set the background and text color of windows, input boxes, selected items, and
tooltips. However, note that controls nearly always come with their own color schemes, which
override any changes you make to color settings. A few controls not only override color settings, but
also do not support tweakable color schemes. Examples include the HighContrastInverse and
HighContrastLargePrintInverse controls. If you adjust these, ensure that you have enough contrast
between the various elements; otherwise, you may end up with eye strain or a headache!
Window Border: The options on this tab control the borders of program windows and dialog boxes.
Particular attention is paid to the top of the window, where the program name appears along with
the Close, Minimize, and Maximize buttons.
Icons: This tab lets you control which icon set is in use. An icon set includes icons for everything you
see on the screen or in menus, including folders, the Trash, programs, hard disks, network servers,
and so on. Selecting a new icon set will change all icons.
■ Note The Icons tab of the Customize Theme dialog box doesn’t let you change the icons for specific desktop
items. You can do this by right-clicking the icon, selecting Properties from the menu that appears, and then
clicking the icon preview button at the top left of the dialog box. Note that most stock icons are stored in
/usr/share/icons, but if you’ve downloaded a particularly fine icon into your Home folder, click the Browse
button and locate that. Any icons you change individually in this way won’t be affected by changes made to the
icon set.
Pointer: On this tab, you can set the appearance of the mouse pointer. Aside from the pointer’s
design, you can change its size (although this is not supported on all mouse pointers) by adjusting
the Size slider. A larger mouse pointer might help the visually impaired. A small mouse pointer
would be appropriate for low-resolution or small screens like those on ultraportable laptops.
If you change any of these options, the Theme thumbnail will change to the first one in the
Appearance Preferences window, labeled Custom. To preview the effects fully, the best policy is to keep
a Nautilus window open (Places Home Folder).
When you’ve made your choices, you can save the theme for further use. Click Close in the
Customize Theme dialog box, and then click the Save As button on the Theme tab of the Appearance
Preferences dialog box. You’ll need to give the theme a name and, if you wish, a short description for
future reference. By putting a check in the Save Background Image check box, the theme will also
remember the background that’s in use. Once saved, the theme will be available for selection from the
Theme tab, where the themes are listed in alphabetical order. If you selected the Save Background Image
check box, when you select the theme in the future, the background will be suggested at the bottom of
the Theme tab. To select it, just click the Apply Background button.
If you don’t save the theme, as soon as you select another one, the changes you made will be lost.
Installing Additional Components
If you get tired of the built-in possibilities, you can download additional theme components, such as
window borders and controls, to enhance your desktop experience. Two popular web sites (among
others) that you can visit are GNOME Art ( and GNOME-Look ( The GNOME Art web site is officially supported and is opened when you click the “Get more
themes online” link on the Theme tab of the Appearance Preferences dialog box. GNOME-Look tends to
be driven more by enthusiasts. Both offer a massive choice of theme components.
■ Caution Be warned that some of the backgrounds available from GNOME-Look display artistic nudity.
The GNOME Art site, shown in Figure 9-3, gives you access to just about every theme ever created
for GNOME. In fact, the site also contains background selections, icons, and much more. All of the
offerings are free to use.
Figure 9-3. The GNOME Art site contains the latest themes, and you can use all of them with Ubuntu.
Installing new theme components is easy, and the instructions here work just as well for the
GNOME-Look site. If you wish to install a new window border, for example, click the link to browse the
examples, and when you find one you like, click to download it. It will be contained in a .tar.gz or
.tar.bz2 archive, but you don’t need to unpack it (be sure to select the Save File option from the Firefox
dialog box). Simply choose System Preferences Appearance, and click the Install button on the
Theme tab. Then browse to the downloaded theme and click Open. You can also just drag the .tar.gz or
.tar.bz2 file onto the Theme tab of the Appearance Preferences dialog box for an instant installation.
Either way, you’ll be asked whether you want to use the new theme component immediately. You can
say yes, or choose it later from the Customize Theme dialog box (opened by clicking the Customize
button in the Appearance Preferences dialog box), where it will be available on the relevant tab.
You can delete the downloaded file when you’re finished, because the information will be copied
automatically to the correct place.
■ Note The same principle of sharing that underlines the GPL software license is also usually applied to themes.
This means that one person can take a theme created by someone else, tweak it, and then release it as a new
theme. This ensures constant innovation and improvement.
Changing the Desktop Background
It’s easy to switch backgrounds under Ubuntu. You can also add your own images and set background
size, or select a background color if you don’t wish to use an image. These changes can be made from the
Background tab of the Appearance Preferences dialog box (System Preferences Appearance), as
shown in Figure 9-4.
Figure 9-4. Backgrounds can be zoomed or scaled to fill the screen by using the Style drop-down list (this
figure includes backgrounds from the package).
Switching and Adding Background Images
On the Background tab, you can select from a short list of images. You can choose any of the installed
images or, by selecting the thumbnail at the top left, opt for no image at all. In the case of the latter, you
can use the drop-down toward the base of the window to choose the color background style (detailed in
the following options), and the colors to include by using the selector(s). You have the following options:
Solid color: This option fills the desktop with one uniform color. You are provided one color button
to set the color.
Horizontal gradient: This option fills the desktop with one color on the left, blending with another
color from the right. You are provided two color buttons to specify both colors.
Vertical gradient: This option fills the desktop with a color on top, blending with another color at the
bottom. You are provided two color buttons to specify both colors.
To specify the color or colors that will be used, click the color buttons beside the Colors drop-down
list. The Pick a Color dialog box will appear. Select a color by clicking or dragging the color wheel. You
can also use the eyedropper tool to obtain any color displayed on your screen, including anywhere on
the desktop or in open windows. Simply click the tool on the color.
If none of this works for you, you can manually provide the hue, saturation value (HSV); red, green,
blue (RGB) values; or color name by specifying the combination of hexadecimal digits (this will be
familiar to web designers).
A preview of your selection is shown at the bottom left of the dialog box, in the right color preview
bar. The previous color that you selected is shown in the left color preview bar. Click the OK button after
you’ve chosen your preferred color.
■ Tip You can right-click the desktop and choose Change Desktop Background to access the same menu of
background choices.
If you want to use a picture of your own as the desktop background, click the Add button and then
browse to the picture’s location. In contrast to theme element installation, your own images are not
copied to a new location, so if you delete a picture used for a background, the background image will
disappear and be replaced with the normal background color.
Choosing a Background Style
From the Style drop-down list on the Background tab, you can select from the following choices:
Tile: If the picture is smaller than the desktop resolution, this option simply repeats the picture
(starting from the top left) until the screen is filled. This option is primarily designed for
patterned graphics.
Zoom: This option forces the picture to fit the screen, without any borders at the top and bottom. It
avoids altering the aspect ratio. If the wallpaper isn’t the correct aspect ratio, parts of the
top/bottom or left/right of the image may be cropped off.
Center: This option places the picture in the center of the screen. If the image is not big enough to fill
the screen, a border appears around the edge. If it’s bigger than the screen, the edges of the picture
are cropped off.
Scale: This option enlarges the image if it’s too small or shrinks it if it’s too big, but it maintains the
aspect ratio, thus avoiding distortion. However, if the picture is in a different aspect ratio than the
monitor, it may have borders at the edges.
Stretch: This option forces the picture to fit the screen, including squashing or expanding it if
necessary (known as altering its aspect ratio). If the picture isn’t in the same ratio as the screen, it
will look distorted. Most digital camera shots should be OK, because they use the same 4:3 ratio as
most monitors (although if you have a widescreen monitor with a 16:9 ratio, a digital camera picture
will be stretched horizontally).
Span: This option is new in Lucid Lynx. When you have multiple monitors, select this option to have
the wallpaper centered between them.
Setting Font Preferences
Ubuntu lets you change the fonts that are used throughout the desktop and applications (referred to as
system fonts). You can also alter how they’re displayed, which is useful if you want to get the best image
on an LCD monitor.
To change a system font, open the Appearance Preferences dialog box (System Preferences Appearance) and click the Fonts tab, as shown in Figure 9-5. Click the button next to the system font you
want to change, and then choose from the list. You can also set the font point size, perhaps to make the
labels beneath icons easier to read.
By clicking the entries in the Rendering section of the Fonts tab, you can change how fonts look on
your monitor. This will alter the antialiasing and hinting of the font. Antialiasing softens the edges of
each letter to make them appear less jagged. Hinting affects the spacing and shaping of the letters. Used
together, they can make the on-screen text look more pleasant and easier to read. Try each Rendering
setting in sequence to see which looks best to you (the text in the dialog box will update automatically to
show the changes). Nearly everyone with a TFT-based screen, including notebook users, finds the
“Subpixel smoothing” option best.
Figure 9-5. You can alter the way fonts appear on the screen by using the Fonts tab of the Appearance
Preferences dialog box.
Using Desktop Visual Effects
Provided your computer is compatible with enabling these effects and is utilizing the correct graphics
card drivers (see the “Installing 3D Drivers and Activating Desktop Visual Effects” section in Chapter 7),
you can introduce a range of cool, useful—and occasionally, just plain weird—effects to your
computer desktop.
Three basic settings for desktop visual effects are available: None, Normal, and Extra. You can
switch between them by clicking System Preferences Appearance, and then selecting the Visual
Effects tab of the Appearance Preferences dialog box.
As you might expect, the None option turns off the effects. This can be useful if your computer slows
down when the effects are in use or if you’re using older hardware. The Normal setting implements the
standard set of effects, offering subtle but not overly noticeable changes to the interface, and is the
default choice if your computer is capable of effects. The Extra setting adds more effects, largely for fun
but also with some offering productivity benefits. Additionally, you can opt to install some extra software
that gives you even more fine-grained control over what effects are used. The following sections discuss
each of these choices for visual effects.
Using the Standard Visual Effects
The standard visual effects, used when the Normal setting is chosen, add shadows to windows and also
add minimize animations so that programs literally appear to shrink into the panel. You might also
notice that inactive windows and their title bars are translucent. Additionally, when a window is opened
or closed, the window will appear or fade away, respectively.
There are several more subtle visual effects, requiring particular key combinations, as follows:
Tools for the visually impaired: To zoom into any area of the screen, press the Windows key and turn
the mouse wheel to adjust the zoom level. You can also press Windows+1, 2, or 3 to zoom into three
different levels, respectively. Additionally, you can invert the colors (like a photographic negative)
either for the entire desktop or just for the current program window. Press Windows+N to toggle the
current window as a negative, as shown in Figure 9-6. Press Windows+M to toggle the entire screen
as a negative. Use the same combination to restore the original colors. Ubuntu also includes an
advanced Zoom tool, which is activated via the CompizConfig Settings Manager, which provides
facilities comparable to the leading Windows application for the partially sighted.
Figure 9-6. You can filter colors of windows or the entire screen as a visual aid.
Virtual desktops: If you use virtual desktops, as described in Chapter 6, you’ll be pleased to know
that the desktop effects system enhances the experience. Press Windows+E to get a miniature view
of your virtual desktops arranged in a grid, as shown in Figure 9-7. To switch to a virtual desktop,
just point your mouse to the virtual desktop of choice and double-click, or use the cursor keys and
Windows+E once more. You can also switch from one virtual desktop to another from the desktop
by moving the mouse pointer to an empty area of the desktop and then turning the mouse wheel,
which will cause the desktops to slide sideways out of view. Press Ctrl+Alt+arrow key for the same
effect. As you navigate from one virtual desktop to another, a grid in which each cell represents each
virtual desktop will appear in the center of the screen, and a cell will be highlighted for a short
period of time to let you know which virtual desktop you are on.
Figure 9-7. Pressing Windows+E gives you a miniature view of your virtual desktops.
Application Switcher: As well as moving between virtual desktops, you can navigate through
applications with the Application Switcher. Just press Alt+Tab to see the list of running applications
in miniature view, arranged horizontally in the center of the screen, as shown in Figure 9-8. Press
the Tab key repeatedly until you find the desired application at the center of the list. Release the Alt
key to switch to the desired application. Minimized applications are represented by their
application icon, because Ubuntu doesn’t have the option of grabbing a live screen of them.
Releasing the Alt key on a minimized window will open it out.
Figure 9-8. To use the Application Switcher, hold the Alt key and press the Tab key until you find the
desired application at the center of the list.
Using the Extra Visual Effects
By selecting the Extra option from the Visual Effects tab of the Appearance Preferences dialog box, you
can enable a handful more visual effects. These include all the features of the Normal effects and then
some. For starters, you will notice that when you drag or maximize a window, the window becomes
“wobbly”—part of it will linger behind the rest of the window, as if affected by momentum. The
Application Switcher effect is also enhanced and will display previews of open programs in 3D form
when you press Windows+Tab, as shown in Figure 9-9. This obviously requires you to have the graphics
power to render, but if you do have it, the 3D switcher will even play live video in the previews.
Figure 9-9. The 3D Application Switcher is displayed by pressing Windows+Tab.
Personalizing Visual Effects
If you are unsatisfied with the default choices for visual effects, you can install the CompizConfig
Settings Manager tool. This gives you complete control over the Compiz Fusion system, which provides
Ubuntu’s visual effects. Bear in mind that some of these settings are very technical, and little provision is
made for those who are new to the effects subsystems.
You can install the tool by using the Ubuntu Software Center (Applications Ubuntu Software
Center). Then enter compizconfig-settings-manager as a search term in the search box. In the list of
results, locate the program Advanced Desktop Effects Settings and click Install. You’ll need to enter your
password when prompted.
After the tool is installed, choose System Preferences CompizConfig Settings Manager. The
CompizConfig Settings Manager window will appear, as shown in Figure 9-10.
Figure 9-10. The CompizConfig Settings Manager tool offers advanced customization of visual effects
in Ubuntu.
Compiz Fusion works by packaging each effect as a plug-in, and CompizConfig Settings Manager
simply lets you switch these plug-ins on and off, as well as change their settings. One of the most
important settings you can change for most plug-ins is the keyboard combination that activates them.
On the right side of the main window is the list of plug-ins grouped into logical sections. You can
enable them by selecting the check box beside them. You can also change the settings of the plug-in by
clicking the plug-in name and icon. This opens the settings page for the plug-in, with a single or few tabs
containing configuration settings. You’ll also see a brief description of the effect on the left side of the
program window. When you’ve finished, click the Back button.
In the left column, you can use the Filter text box at the top to search for a particular plug-in; the
search results will be displayed on the right side of the window. Beneath the Filter section is the Category
listing, which groups the plug-ins by purpose. Clicking any category will update the list of plug-ins on
the right side of the window. To return to the main program window, click the Back button. The
categories are as follows:
All: All available plug-ins will be displayed in the main window.
General: This section contains just the General Options plug-in, which provides configuration
settings for keyboard shortcuts for some of the effects, virtual desktop size, display settings,
transparency settings for windows, and more. Some of the settings are quite technical and are
perhaps best left alone unless you know what you are doing.
Accessibility: This section contains plug-ins that will help people with physical disabilities use the
desktop more conveniently with visual aids. It contains plug-ins to make the active window more
visible, magnify the screen for visibility issues, change colors, and assist in finding the mouse
pointer. To find out what keyboard combination is required to activate any particular effect, click
the plug-in’s icon to change its settings and look to the button alongside each heading. Note that
when a setting specifies Button 2 or Button 3, these relate to the mouse, and the super key is
commonly known as the Windows key on a standard keyboard.
Desktop: This section contains plug-ins that enhance desktop behavior. If you use virtual desktops,
plug-ins such as Desktop Cube and Rotate Cube can turn these into sides of a 3D cube that rotates
when you switch desktops, as shown in Figure 9-11. Desktop Wall and Desktop Plane render these
workspaces as if they were part of one surface. You might notice that some plug-ins have the same
functionality; CompizConfig Settings Manager will offer to disable any that do when you select a
new option. Plug-ins such as Viewport Switcher and Expo make it easier to preview and navigate
workspaces. Show Desktop and Fade to Desktop add special effects to clear the desktop of clutter.
Like many effects plug-ins, these tie in with the existing features of Ubuntu—in this case, the Show
Desktop feature and button, located at the bottom left of the desktop by default.
Effects: This section contains plug-ins that add special effects to certain aspects of the desktop.
Some you have already seen, such as Wobbly Windows, which is part of the Extras scheme. But
others are more extreme. For example, there are several plug-ins that add eye candy to windows,
such as Blur Windows, Animations, Fading Windows, and Window Decoration Reflection. 3D
Windows, Cube Gears, and Cube Reflection add decorations as you traverse the 3D cube. Other
plug-ins affect the entire screen, such as adding water puddles and wipers with the Water effect or
adding fire on the screen with the Paint Fire on the Screen effect. Some need keyboard
combinations to activate them—to find out what these are, click the plug-in icon.
Figure 9-11. The rotating desktop cube is just about the coolest special effect you’ll see on a computer
Extras: This section includes effects useful for developers, as well as some plug-ins that simply could
not be filed elsewhere. These include displaying the Compiz Fusion splash screen after logging in,
benchmarking the performance of Compiz Fusion, viewing a thumbnail of a window by pointing
the mouse at its entry on the Taskbar, and taking a screenshot. One notable plug-in is Annotate,
which enables you to draw on the screen. This can be useful for demos and presentations when
stressing key points.
Image loading: These plug-ins are technical and are required in the background to load image
formats and text that will be used by other plug-ins for rendering. Do not disable them.
Utility: This section contains mostly plug-ins that work behind the scenes and a few that work
externally. Unless you know what you are doing, you shouldn’t change any of these settings or
disable any of the plug-ins. If you have a fairly powerful machine, enable the Video Playback option,
which puts live previews where application thumbnails are generated.
Window management: These plug-ins enhance window management functionality. For example,
some of the plug-ins project the Taskbar in different ways, such as in 2D, in a ring, and in a 3D ring.
Another example is the Group and Tab Windows plug-in, which you can use to group and tab
windows. Fans of the Vista application switch method should go into Shift Switcher, look under the
Appearance tab, and change Cover (which is very Apple-esque) to Flip (as in Figure 9-12).
Figure 9-12. The Flip Switcher might make Windows Vista converts feel more at home.
Beneath the Categories list is the Preferences option, which is used for adjusting internal settings of
Compiz Fusion, such as the back-end profile, and including and excluding plug-ins. You can leave these
settings untouched.
Finally, the Advanced Search option allows you to search through options within plug-ins. The
search results will first be narrowed down to a list of plug-ins in the main window. After selecting from
the list of plug-ins, a new list will be displayed with narrowed-down results containing a list of grouped
options. After selecting from the list of grouped options, you’ll see a narrowed-down list of options that
you can use to configure the plug-in’s settings.
If you are a fan of Windows Vista’s Sidebar, Macintosh OS X’s Dashboard, or Yahoo’s widgets, you can use
something similar under Ubuntu, called screenlets. To use these, you need to install the Screenlets
package. This requires you to first install CompizConfig Settings Manager, as described in the main text.
Finally, use the Ubuntu Software Center (Applications Ubuntu Software Center) to search for and install
the Screenlets package.
Run Screenlets by clicking Applications Accessories Screenlets. After the Screenlets Manager
window appears, select the screenlet you would like to enable by clicking it and then clicking the
Launch/Add button. Following this, you should be able to click and drag the screenlet. Right-click a
screenlet and select Properties to change its settings.
You have two choices regarding how and when the screenlet appears:
Keep the widget on the screen at all times (the default), perhaps arranging widgets
on the right side of the screen as with Windows Vista or the Google Sidebar (which
can also, by the way, be used on Linux).
Add the widget to the widget layer which is just like OS X’s Dashboard and will
appear only when you press F9 (and will subsequently disappear when the mouse
is clicked). To add the widget to the Widget Layer, right-click it, select Window,
and then click Widget.
Of course, you can have the best of both worlds, keeping some widgets on the screen and putting lesserused items on the Widget Layer.
If you would like to add more screenlets than those available by default, go to
Under the Downloads heading, click the “third-party screenlets” link. After you’ve downloaded the
screenlet, you can install it by clicking Install Screenlet in the Screenlets Manager window and then
navigating to the downloaded screenlet.
Dressing Up Firefox
You’ll likely spend quite a lot of computer time looking at Firefox, the web browser. For this reason,
it’s a nice idea to take as much care over the look of this vital application as your desktop. Firefox has
been themeable since the first version was released, but the Mozilla project, which oversees
development of the application, has since added personas to the application’s features, enabling you to
instantly change the look and feel of the application. To get started, visit the project’s web site
( and click the Get Personas button. This will download a small extension
and ask you to restart your browser. After the browser has relaunched, you’ll be presented with a very
different-looking browser, as in Figure 9-13. You can change the skin by clicking the fox mask icon at the
bottom left of the browser window and selecting a new one. This is a live list, so it is updated constantly.
Changes should be almost instant, meaning you can reskin your browser depending on your mood.
If nothing in the list takes your fancy, create your own skin and share it with the world. See for more.
Figure 9-13. Add some personality to Firefox and make it fit in with your desktop theme.
Firefox also has a large collection of other extensions that can alter the way the browser looks or
works. For instance, Tree Style Tabs arranges your open tabs in a treelike structure on the left edge of
your browser.
Changing Your Login Picture
The login screen will display a picture alongside your name. You can click this and type your password to
log in. You might be familiar with a similar system under Windows or Mac OS X.
Users can choose their own login pictures by clicking System Preferences About Me. The About
Me dialog box, shown in Figure 9-14, is designed for users to enter their personal details, such as their
addresses, but they can also simply use it to choose photographs of themselves or to add pictorial icons.
To do this, click the empty square alongside your name at the top of the dialog box. You’ll be shown a file
list of default icons to choose from, and you can also navigate to your own. Ideally, the image you choose
should be square and 96×96 pixels, although if the picture is too large, it will be automatically scaled
down. Click OK when you’ve finished.
Figure 9-14. The About Me dialog box
Adding and Removing Desktop Items
Virtually the entire Ubuntu desktop can be redesigned and restructured. You can move the Applications
menu from the top of the screen to the bottom to be more like Windows, for example, or you can add
numerous desktop shortcuts to popular applications and/or files.
Adding a Shortcut
Ubuntu’s nearest equivalent to a Windows-style desktop shortcut is a launcher, and you can create a
launcher that points to a program or a file. If a launcher is created for a file, Ubuntu will automatically
launch the correct program to display the file. If you create a launcher to a .jpg file, for example, Ubuntu
will know to launch the Eye of GNOME image viewer when the launcher is double-clicked.
Creating a Launcher
You can create a launcher two ways. One way is to simply click and drag an icon from one of the main
menus to the desktop. This effectively copies the menu’s launcher to the desktop, rather than creating a
new launcher, but the effect is the same.
The other way to create a launcher is to right-click the desktop and select Create Launcher. In the
Create Launcher dialog box, select whether you want to create a launcher to a file or application from
the Type drop-down list (the second option, Application in Terminal, will open a terminal window and
run the program within it; this is only for specialized use). Then fill in the Name and Command fields.
Alternatively, if you don’t know the exact name and path of the file, click the Browse button, use the file
browser dialog box to navigate to the file or program, and click to select it. (If you are creating a launcher
to a program, you’ll probably find it in /usr/bin, which stores most of the Linux programs you use from
day to day.) The Comment field can be left blank. If it’s filled in, it forms the tooltip text that will appear
if you hover the mouse cursor over the launcher icon.
To choose an icon for your launcher, click the icon button on the left side of the Create Launcher
dialog box. You can select from several predefined icons, as shown in Figure 9-15, or choose your own
picture by clicking the Browse button and navigating to the location of a saved icon. As with desktop
backgrounds and themes, there are many icon sets available at Additional icon
sets can be added by choosing System Preferences Appearance and looking under the Theme tab. In
the bottom-right of the window, select Customize. You can drag and drop downloaded icon packs to the
Icon tab, and they will be installed immediately. If you don’t choose an icon, a stock GNOME icon is
Figure 9-15. Creating a launcher is easy. Just fill in the Name and Command fields, and choose an icon.
Using Ubuntu Tweak
If you’ve used Windows extensively, you may have come across an application called Tweak UI, which
lets you perform some useful desktop operations. Well, Ubuntu has its own version, which is perfect for
adding an icon to your /home folder, the computer, or the Deleted Items folder on the desktop. It can do
lots of other things, but desktop icons are what we’re interested in here.
To install the application, go to and select the option Download Now! A
package will be downloaded and opened with GDebi, which is a graphical application installer. Click
Install Package, and after the package is installed, it will be available via Application System Tools Ubuntu Tweak. There are lots of options in here, including another way of finding and installing
applications, but the section you need to look under is labeled Desktop. In here, select the icons you’d
like to see, and they will appear as you click the buttons, as in Figure 9-16. Deselect to remove. You can
also rename the icons without renaming the actual folders, which could be useful.
Figure 9-16. If you’re familiar with the desktop icon scheme in Windows, you can add your favorites by
using Ubuntu Tweak.
Creating a Link
Launchers have one failing: they’re recognized only by GNOME (and other desktop environments, such
as KDE). You can’t create a launcher to an application and use it from the command line or the Alt+F2
run application box, for example. In technical terms, a launcher isn’t recognized by the underlying Linux
file system.
The solution is to create a link to the file or program. This will actually create a symbolic link to the
file. A link is very similar to a launcher, except it works on a file-system level.
■ Note Actually, Linux offers two types of link: a symbolic link, which is the most common type of link used under
Linux, and a hard link, which is a cross between copying a file and creating a shortcut.
To create a link, locate the file you want to create the link to, right-click it, and select Make Link. The
link will be created in the same directory as the original file, and you can then click and drag the new link
to wherever you want it to appear, such as the desktop. You don’t need to choose an icon, because the
link inherits the icon of the original file. For example, if it’s a picture link, it will inherit the thumbnail
preview icon.
■ Note If you find the Make Link option grayed out, it’s likely that you don’t have sufficient permissions to write
the link to the directory in question.
Personalizing the Panels
Panels are the long strips that appear at the top and bottom of the Ubuntu screen and play host to a
choice of menus, applets, and icons. You can add a new panel by right-clicking a blank spot on an
existing panel and selecting New Panel. The new panel will appear on one of the sides of the desktop. If
you add a third one, in addition to the two default panels, it will appear on the right side of the desktop,
vertically. You can also remove a panel by right-clicking it and selecting Delete This Panel.
■ Caution If you delete a panel, the arrangement of items it contains will be lost. Of course, you can always recreate the collection on a different panel.
By right-clicking a panel and selecting Properties, you can change its size and dimensions. For
example, by unchecking the Expand box, you can make the panel shrink to its smallest possible size.
Then, when you add new components (or, in the case of a panel containing the Window List, when a
new program is run), the panel will expand as necessary. This can be a neat effect and also creates more
desktop space. (This effect is a little like the Mac OS X Dock, and might help make OS X users feel more
at home.)
Selecting the Autohide feature will make the panel slide off the screen when there isn’t a mouse
over it. Choosing “Show hide buttons” will make small arrows appear on either side of the panel so that
you can click to slide it off the side of the screen when it’s not in use. Both techniques create more
desktop space.
You can also change the panel’s alignment to top, bottom, left, or right by changing the selection in
the Orientation drop-down list.
Adding and Removing Menus
You can add either just the Applications menu or the entire set of menus (Applications, Places, and
System) to the panel at the bottom of the screen. This can help those who long for the Windows Start
button approach to access programs.
Adding All the Menus to a Panel
To add the Application, Places, and System menus to the panel at the bottom of the Ubuntu desktop,
follow these steps:
Right-click a blank spot on the bottom panel and select Add to Panel.
In the dialog box that appears, click the Menu Bar option to add all three
menus. You’ll find this under the Utilities heading in the list; you’ll need to
scroll down to see it.
Click the Add button at the bottom of the dialog box.
Click the Close button.
Adding a Start-Like Button to a Panel
As an alternative to the Applications, Places, and System menus, you can add a Start-like button that
offers submenus for all three menus. Here’s how to add this button:
Right-click a blank spot on the bottom panel and select Add to Panel.
In the dialog box that appears, click the Main Menu option, as shown in Figure
9-17. You’ll find this under the Utilities heading in the list; you’ll need to scroll
down to see it.
Click the Add button at the bottom of the dialog box.
Click the Close button.
Figure 9-17. Use the Main Menu applet to add a Windows-like Start button to any panel on your screen.
Deleting a Menu
Creating new instances of the menus won’t delete the old ones. If you create a new Applications menu at
the bottom of the screen, for example, the old Applications menu will remain at the top of the screen. In
fact, you can have as many instances of the menus on the desktop as you wish, although this won’t be a
good use of desktop space!
To delete any menu, simply right-click anywhere on that menu and select Remove from Panel.
■ Tip You can personalize the Applications and System menus by right-clicking either and selecting Edit Menus.
This will start the Main Menu program (also accessible from the System Preferences menu). Simply check or
uncheck existing entries to add or remove them from the menus, or click the New Item button to create new
entries. New application entries can be created as with the launchers discussed earlier.
Modifying the Menus
You can modify how your menus are displayed by right-clicking on one of them and selecting the option
Edit Menus. You should be aware that the configuration is the same for all the menus in your desktop, if
you have more than one.
You will be presented with a three-part window. To the left you will see the menu items, or
categories. If you select one of those categories, its contents will be displayed in the Items section, in
which you can check the items you want displayed on the menu, and uncheck those that are of no use to
you. You can hide categories or individual applications. For example, select Applications in the Menus
section, and uncheck the item Games. The next time you expand the Applications menu, the Games
category will not be shown. But if you select the Applications Accessories menu and uncheck the item
Calculator, the Accessories category will be displayed, but the Calculator won’t.
You can create custom direct access for your own categories or applications. Just select in the
Menus section the location of your new element, and click New Menu to create a new category, or New
Item to create an application launcher inside the current category.
Click Close to save the changes, which will be effective immediately.
Moving Panel Items
To move a panel item, right-click it and select Move. Then drag the mouse to the new location and click
the mouse button once to set the item in place. All panel items can be moved, including menus, and
items can be moved between different panels. Any item that’s in the way will be shifted to make space.
If the Move option is grayed out, right-click it and ensure that Lock to Panel doesn’t have a check
alongside it. This is especially relevant if you’re trying to move an item into the space occupied by
something else—if the other item is locked, it won’t automatically shift out of the way!
Working with Applets
Almost everything you see on the desktop is considered by the GNOME desktop to be an applet, with the
exception of application/file icons and the panels. A menu is a form of applet, for example, as is the
Workspace Switcher.
■ Note Applets are completely separate from screenlets, which were discussed earlier in this chapter. Applets are
built into the GNOME desktop to provide essential functionality. Screenlets are provided by the Screenlets
subsystem and “float” on top of the desktop. However, there are often overlaps in terms of the functions offered
by applets and screenlets.
Ubuntu provides many more applets that you can choose to add to the desktop to provide a host of
useful or entertaining functionality. To add an applet, right-click a blank spot on a panel and select Add
to Panel. Some applets require configuration when they’re added, so you may need to right-click them
and select Properties. For example, you’ll need to set your location in the Weather Report applet’s
properties so it can provide accurate forecasting. Table 9-1 describes some of the most useful desktop
applets. To remove an applet, simply right-click it and select Remove from Panel.
Table 9-1. Ubuntu Desktop Applets
Battery Charge
Shows the battery level on notebooks and whether
outlet power is in use.
None needed.
Character Palette
Displays a palette of accented or unusual characters;
click a character to insert it into the text.
None needed.
Clipboard Text
Allows you to decrypt, encrypt, or sign contents of
the clipboard, provided encryption is set up (see
Chapter 8).
Click to encrypt, sign,
decrypt, or verify
clipboard contents.
Displays the time and date (active by default).
None needed.
Connect to Server
Lets you quickly connect to remote servers, such as
FTP (the equivalent of clicking Places Connect to
None needed.
Dictionary Lookup
Displays a text box that will look up words according
to online dictionaries.
None needed.
Disk Mounter
Lets you quickly mount and unmount removable
None needed.
Displays a drawer icon that, when clicked, “slides
out” to reveal yet more applets.
Right-click and select Add
to Drawer to add applets.
Dwell Click
Displays a selection of mouse actions to choose
from for the dwell click feature (see the
“Accessibility Settings for the Mouse” section earlier
in this chapter).
Click the preferred mouse
Displays two eyes whose pupils follow the mouse
None needed.
Adds a couple of fish to the panel that, when clicked,
will spout wisdom.
None needed.
Force Quit
Lets you quit a crashed program.
None needed.
Inhibit Applet
Allows you to temporarily switch off automatic
power saving, such as hard disk spin-down.
Click to forbid/allow
automatic power saving.
Adds a text-based scrolling stock ticker to the panel.
Right-click and select
Preferences to add
individual stock symbols
to the list.
Lock Screen
Adds an icon that, when clicked, blanks the screen
and displays a password prompt.
None needed.
Log Out…
Adds an icon that allows you to log out of the current
session and log in as a different user.
None needed.
Main Menu
Lets you add a single-icon Start-like system menu.
None needed.
Notification Area
Adds a notification area to the panel (active by
None needed.
Run Application
Adds an icon that, when clicked, makes the Run
Application dialog box appear.
None needed.
Search for Files
Provides one-click access to Nautilus’s search mode.
None needed.
Simply inserts a graphical separator—useful for
making several applets alongside each other look
None needed.
Show Desktop
Minimizes all desktop windows (active by default).
None needed.
Shut Down
Shuts down the computer.
None needed.
Sticky Notes
Lets you create virtual sticky notes.
None needed.
Switch Off…
Adds a button to shut down the computer.
None needed.
System Monitor
Adds a small graph that shows system resource
Right-click and select
Preferences to choose
system areas to be
Terminal Server
Client Applet
Provides one-click access to locations set up within
the Terminal Server program (see Chapter 25).
None needed.
Tomboy Notes
Lets you add sticky notes to the desktop.
None needed.
Adds the Trash icon to the panel, where files can be
dropped for removal to the Trash.
None needed.
Weather Report
Adds an icon that shows current weather conditions.
Right-click, and select
Preferences and then the
Location tab to set your
Window List
Adds a list of windows, which you can use to switch
between currently running programs (active by
None needed.
Window Selector
Adds an icon that, when clicked, switches between
currently open windows (alternative to Window
None needed.
Shows the virtual desktop selector.
None needed.
* Nearly all applets have configuration options that can be used to tweak them in various ways. This column indicates
only whether immediate configuration is needed.
In this chapter, you learned how to personalize Ubuntu to your own tastes. You looked at changing the
theme so that the desktop has a new appearance.
In addition, you learned how to add and remove applets from the desktop in order to add
functionality or simply make Ubuntu work the way you would like.
In the next chapter, you will look at what programs are available under Ubuntu to replace those
Windows favorites you might miss.
C H A P T E R 10
Managing Your Data
Files are what make the world of Linux go round. They’re the currency of any kind of operating system,
because every time you use your computer, you generate new files, even if they’re only temporary.
In this chapter, we explain how you can manage your files—that is, pictures, documents, videos,
MP3s, and so forth—under Ubuntu. Linux also manages file and folder security, as does Windows, but
since permissions always have associated user and group accounts, you’ll have to wait until Chapter 21
to learn about the details. However, this chapter provides enough information for you to understand
how the system works, and where and how you should store your data. First, we go through an
introduction to Nautilus, Ubuntu’s flagship file browser. Then you learn some concepts regarding the
file system and how it differs from that of Windows. And last, once you have mastered Nautilus and
begun to understand the file system, you will be able to perform some more advanced tasks, such as
administering your disks and sharing information over a network, among others.
Using Nautilus
Nautilus is the name of the default file browser in Ubuntu. It’s similar to My Computer or Windows
Explorer under Windows, in that in its default view mode it presents a list of files on the right side of the
window and a series of shortcuts to popular locations within the file system on the left side.
Starting Nautilus is simply a matter of clicking the Places menu and choosing a location. The main
components of Nautilus are shown in Figure 10-1.
Figure 10-1. The Nautilus file explorer.
The Nautilus window consists of several elements:
Menu bar: The Nautilus menu bar has File, Edit, View, Go, Bookmarks, and Help menus. The File
menu allows you to open a new tab or a new window, create files or folders, and see the current
item’s properties. The View menu offers options for controlling the way files are displayed in the
Nautilus window, as well as the look and feel of Nautilus itself. The Edit menu lets you manually
cut, copy, and paste files (operations that can also be done with the traditional Ctrt+X, Ctrl+C and
Ctrl+V combinations). The Go menu lets you quickly jump to other locations in the file system
or on a remote server. Using the Bookmarks menu options, you can create web browser–like
shortcuts to certain file system locations or servers, so you can access them instantly. There are also
some ready-made bookmarks for folders in your /home directory: Documents, Music, Pictures,
Videos, and Downloads.
Toolbar: As in a web browser, the toolbar enables you to quickly move backward and forward from
place to place in your browsing history. In addition, you can reload the file listing, in order to reflect
any changes that might have taken place since the Nautilus window opened, quickly navigate to
popular file system locations, such as your /home directory, and change the way files are displayed.
Location bar: This feature, located beneath the toolbar, is unique to Nautilus. It shows individual
directories as buttons on the location bar and lets you see where you are in your file system at a
glance, as well as quickly and easily move through your file-browsing history. For example, if you
start in /home/andy (displayed as the andy button), and then browse to
/home/andy/Pictures/holiday/disneyworld, clicking the Pictures button will return you to
/home/andy/Pictures. The other folders listed on the location bar (holiday and disneyworld in this
example) won’t disappear and will still have buttons, so you can return to those as well. It’s best
demonstrated by example, so give it a try!
Zoom controls: Zoom controls are in the toolbar. These make the icons representing the files bigger
or smaller. When you’re browsing a lot of files at once, shrinking them will fit more in the window.
On the other hand, when you’re viewing photo thumbnails, it can be handy to increase the zoom
setting so you can see more detail in the pictures. This also works for text files, where you’ll see a
portion of the text contained within the file.
View As Icons/List: To the right of the zoom controls is a drop-down list that switches between Icon,
List, and Compact view. List view shows details about the files, such as file size, the type of file, its
permissions, and so on. Icon view presents the files as a series of large icons. In many cases, the
icons give a clue as to the nature of the file; for example, audio files appear with musical note
graphics. If the folder you’re browsing contains image files (or certain document files, such as
PDFs), these will be automatically thumbnailed—the icon will be a small version of the contents of
the file, as shown in Figure 10-2. By default Nautilus displays only previews of local files smaller than
10MB, but you can change this by choosing Edit Preferences and looking under the Preview tab. If
you change any of these settings to Always, it could have an impact on performance when you’re
browsing remote directories. The preview is very handy when browsing pictures for printing or
editing. Compact view lists the files in columns, like List view, but without the details. This means
that several columns of files can usually fit within a single file-browsing window.
Places pane: The Places pane on the left in Figure 10-2 lists the most popular locations within the file
system, as well as any locations that you’ve bookmarked. Clicking each icon takes you to that
location instantly. Clicking the File System entry takes you to the root of the file system (/). There
are also bookmarks for your floppy drive (if you have one), the Trash folder, any attached removable
storage, and any servers available on the local network.
Figure 10-2. Whenever you view a folder full of pictures in Icon view, they are automatically thumbnailed.
■ Tip To bookmark a location, drag a folder to the blank area beneath the currently bookmarked folders in the
Places pane. This new location will then appear with other bookmarks in the main Places menu.
As in Windows, you can right-click each file in the file browser window to see a context menu with
options to rename the file, delete it, open it with particular applications, and so on. The Properties
option on the context menu lets you view information about the file and alter certain aspects of it, such
as its access permissions (we discuss file permissions in Chapter 21). You can even add some text notes
about the file if you want!
■ Caution You should never delete your /home folder. Doing so will most likely destroy your personal Ubuntu
configuration and prevent you from logging in, because many personal system and program settings are also
stored in your /home folder.
Changing the View Mode
Nautilus comes equipped with several different view modes, which alter what appears in the sidebar on
the left of the program window. The default mode—Places—is described in the preceding section, but
several others can be selected by clicking the drop-down list at the top of the side pane. The modes are
as follows:
Information: This displays simple information in the side pane about the currently browsed
directory, including the number of files it contains and its date of creation. This is similar to how
Windows file-browsing windows looked in the Windows 98 and Me releases.
Tree: This option shows a complete list of directories in the file system, along with the complete
contents of directories within the user’s /home directory. Each directory has a chevron alongside it
that, when clicked, unfolds that directory so its contents become visible within the side pane (only
directories are shown in the side pane). This view is very similar to how file-browsing windows
operated back in Windows 95.
History: This view shows a list of the directories that you’ve visited, with the newest at the top and
the oldest at the bottom. To switch to one of the directories, simply double-click its entry in the list.
Notes: This is another informational display mode. However, this time a text entry field appears, in
which you can enter information about the currently browsed directory that will be recorded for
future reference. This can be useful in a very large file system.
Emblems: This shows a list of icons that can be clicked and dragged onto any file or directory as a
method of identifying or organizing the file for future reference. See the upcoming “Working with
File and Folder Icons” section for more information.
Searching for Files
Nautilus includes a simple search tool. Click the Search button (represented by a magnifying glass) on
the toolbar, and you will see a text box below the toolbar. In this text box, type any part of the filename
you want to find. For example, typing festival will return any filenames with festival in them.
By clicking the plus sign icon next to the Reload button after a search, you can specify an exact file
type. To do this, click the drop-down list that appears and ensure that File Type is selected. Then click
the drop-down list alongside this and select the particular file type you want to find. For example,
suppose you’re searching for a picture taken at a festival, and you know the filename contains the word
festival. You also have various documents you created related to attending the festival, and their
filenames also contain the word festival. In this case, to find only photo files, you can select Picture from
the drop-down list. The list, including the Picture type, is shown in Figure 10-3.
You can also restrict the search to a particular location in your file system. Simply click the plus sign
icon next to the Reload button again and select Location in the drop-down list. Click the drop-down list
beside this one and browse for the location in which you think your files might be.
■ Note The simple search tool in Nautilus is not as powerful as the Search for Files option, available from the
Places menu.
Figure 10-3. The Nautilus search function lets you filter by file type and by location.
Working with File and Folder Icons
Files and folders can have emblems assigned to them. These are smaller icons that are “tagged on” to the
larger icons in both List view and Icon view. Emblems are designed to give you quick clues about the
nature of the file. To apply an emblem, right-click the file or folder, select Properties, and then click the
Emblems tab. As shown in Figure 10-4, a range of icons is available; in fact, any file or folder can have
several emblems applied at once. Simply put a check in the box beside the icons you want to apply. Pick
the ones that are meaningful to you. For example, a “cvs-conflict” emblem will probably be of interest
only to programmers.
Nautilus makes use of a handful of emblem icons for its own needs too. For example, a square
with an X in it indicates that you don’t have permissions to access that file or folder at all—not even to
view it. A padlock indicates a file or directory is read-only. In most cases, the file system emblems are
Figure 10-4. A variety of miniature emblems can be applied to an icon to aid recognition of the file.
Special Nautilus Windows
As well as letting you view your files, Nautilus has a number of object modes. This is a complicated way
of saying that Nautilus lets you view things other than files.
The most obvious example of this is the Computer view of your file system, which presents an
eagle’s eye view of your storage devices. To access this view, click Go Computer. If you have a card
reader attached, it will appear here, as will any Windows partitions that may be on your hard disk.
Double-clicking each item opens a standard Nautilus file browser window (for this to work with
Windows partitions, they must be set up correctly, as described in the “Accessing Windows Files” section
later in this chapter).
Object mode comes into its own when viewing network locations. Clicking Go Network brings up
the browsing Network object view, for example, which is a little like Network Neighborhood or My
Network Places under Windows. You can also browse to FTP sites by clicking Go Location in a file
browser window and entering an FTP address (prefacing it with ftp://).
■ Note You might be used to dragging and dropping files onto program windows or taskbar buttons within
Windows in order to open the file. This only works in some programs within Ubuntu. Generally, the best policy is to
try it and see what happens. If the program starts but your file isn’t opened, it obviously didn’t work.
When you view your /home directory via Nautilus, you’re not seeing every file that’s there. Several
hidden files and directories relating to your system configuration also exist. You can take a look at
them by clicking View Show Hidden Files in the Nautilus menu. Clicking this option again hides the files
and directories.
You may notice something curious about the hidden items: they all have a period before their filenames. In
fact, this is all that’s needed to hide any file or directory: simply place a period at the front of the filename.
There’s no magic involved beyond this.
For example, to hide the file partypicture.jpg, you could simply right-click it and rename it
.partypicture.jpg. You’ll need to click the Reload button on the toolbar for the file view to be updated
and for the file to disappear. As you might expect, removing the period unhides the file.
Files are usually hidden for a reason—for instance, they’re not supposed to be editable or are used to
configure application elements—and it’s no coincidence that most of the hidden files are system files. In
addition, every program that you install, or is installed by default, will usually create its own hidden folder
for its system configuration data. Deleting such files by accident usually results in losing your personal
settings for that particular program.
The Nautilus file manager has an additional method of hiding files. Any filename that ends with a ~ symbol
does not appear in Nautilus file-browsing windows or on the desktop. For example, partypicture.jpg~
would be invisible. This method is primarily used to make temporary files created by GNOME applications
invisible, but any user can also use it to hide sensitive files. Be aware that this technique is respected only
by some GNOME applications, and the files will be entirely visible at the command line.
Launching Files and Running Programs
As with Windows or Mac OS X, most of the programs on your Ubuntu system automatically associate
themselves with various file types that they understand. For example, double-clicking a picture will
automatically open the Eye of GNOME image viewer application, and double-clicking a .doc file will
start Writer.
Ubuntu is automatically set up to view common file types. Table 10-1 shows which programs are
required for viewing certain types of documents.
■ Note Whenever you install new software from the installation CD or the official software repositories, it should
add an entry to the Applications menu. If for some reason it doesn’t, you can create a shortcut by using the
techniques explained in Chapter 9.
Table 10-1. Common File Types
File Type
File Extension
Location on Applications Menu
Word processor
.doc, .rtf, .odt
Office Word
.xls, .ods Calc
.ppt, .odp
PDF file
Document Viewer
Not on Applications menua
Compressed file
.zip, .tar, .gz,
.bz2, and others
File Roller
Not on Applications menua
Image file
.jpg, .gif, .bmp,
and others
Eye of GNOME
Not on Applications menua
HTML file
.htm, .html
Internet Firefox Web Browser
Text file
Accessories Text Editor
Audio file
.wav, .mp3, .ogg b
Sound & Video Rhythmbox
Music Player Video file
.mpg, .mpeg, .avi b
Sound & Video Movie Player
Evince, File Roller, and Eye of GNOME are not present on the Applications menu. If you wish, you can add your own
shortcuts for these applications by following the instructions in Chapter 9.
Playback of many media files is possible only after extra software is installed. See Chapters 16 and 17 for more
If you want to temporarily open a file type with a different program, right-click the file. The
context menu will display a set of options; for example, for an image, you will have Image Viewer (or Eye
of the Gnome), Firefox, or F-Spot. Or you can select Open with Other Application and choose other
program. From that point on, every time you right-click, you’ll be offered the choice of that program to
open the file.
To make Nautilus automatically and permanently use the application to open the file type, rightclick it, select Properties, and then click the Open With tab. Click the Add button to locate the
application you want to use if it’s not in the list. Finally, ensure that the radio button alongside the
program you want to use is highlighted (you may need to click twice for this to happen), as shown in
Figure 10-5, and then click the Close button. This will change the program association for all the files
with the same extension.
Figure 10-5. You can change which program opens a file by right-clicking, selecting Properties, and
clicking the Open With tab.
■ Note In Windows, you can use Windows Explorer to launch program executables by just browsing to their
locations within Program Files and double-clicking their .exe files. It’s technically possible to run programs by
using Nautilus to browse to their locations, but this is discouraged. One reason is that Ubuntu doesn’t store all of
its programs in one central folder, as Windows does. However, most programs that are used on a daily basis can
be found in /usr/bin. If the program itself isn’t stored in /usr/bin, the folder will contain a symbolic link
(effectively, a shortcut) to the program’s genuine location on the hard disk, which means it’s usually possible to
launch an application either by typing its name into the terminal or by pressing Alt+F2 and typing the name.
Viewing File Sizes and Other Information
Using Nautilus you can use the List view to check file size and other information. By default, the file
name, size, type, and date modified are shown for each file on the current folder. Nautilus selects which
unit of measure (bytes, KB, MB, or GB) are most appropriate to display each file.
In order to get an idea of which are the largest files and which are the smaller, you can click the
Size column label to sort files by size. Click it again and the order is reversed. You’ll see a little arrow
head next to the column name. When the arrow head is pointing up, the largest file is at the top of the
list; when it is pointing down, the smallest file will be displayed at the top.
You can also display additional information for each of the files. To add a column to the view, simply
select View Visible Columns… inside Nautilus when the List View is selected. Just check the box next
to the name of the column you want to see.
Tips and Tricks for Nautilus
Although ostensibly simple, Nautilus is packed with features, and it can be a rewarding experience
working through the menus to see what you can find. Here are a handful of the more useful Nautilus
features that can help optimize workflow:
Tabbed browsing: You might have used tabbed browsing with the Firefox web browser, enabling you
to visit more than one site simultaneously. The same principle applies to tabbed browsing in
Nautilus: pressing Ctrl+T opens a new tab, which appears at the top of the program window and
enables you to browse to a different location in the file system. Files can be dragged and dropped
between tabs—just click and drag them to a different tab—and tabs can be reordered by clicking
and dragging them. Many tabs can be open at any one time, and the only practical limitation is the
width of the program window. To close a tab, click its X button.
Matched selection: Imagine you’re working on a large project and have generated a great many files.
However, lacking foresight, you failed to create a special project folder and mixed all the files in with
others in your Documents folder. The project files have a unique characteristic: they all have the
name of the project within them. But some filenames contain other text, and there are varying types
of files among the collection (images, documents, and so forth). Nautilus’s matched selection
feature, available on the Edit menu (click Select Items Matching), provides a solution: it lets you
select files based on key text within the filenames. With the example quoted previously, you could
type the project name into the Pattern dialog box that appears, surrounded by the asterisk wildcard
(that is, *projectname*), which indicates that any number of characters can appear before or after
the keyword. After you click OK, any filenames matching the text will be automatically selected, and
you can then click and drag them to a new location or perform any other operation on them.
E-mailing files: By right-clicking a file and selecting the Send To option, you can instantly send a file
by e-mail. Ensure that Evolution is selected in the Send As drop-down list in the dialog box that
appears, and enter the e-mail address within the Send As text field. Under the Compression
heading, you can optionally choose to compress the file first.
Extensions: As with Firefox, it’s possible to add extensions to Nautilus. There are extensions to open
a file as the system administrator (nautilus-gksu), resize a picture (nautilus-image-converter), or
set an image as the desktop background (nautilus-wallpaper), and these can be installed through
Ubuntu Software Center. You’ll find most of them by simply typing nautilus extension in the search
bar, as in Figure 10-6.
Figure 10-6. Searching for Nautilus extensions in Ubuntu Software Center
The Home Folder
Under Windows, you have access to the entire hard disk. You can write, read, or delete files anywhere
(unless the system has specifically been configured otherwise). You can save your personal files in
C:\Windows, for example.
Under Ubuntu, the file system is a harder place for ordinary users. They can browse most of the
hard disk, but they aren’t able to write files to the majority of folders (in some cases, they can’t even
access files). For them, most folders are like somebody else’s land. It is. It is the land of the root.
As an ordinary user, instead of being allowed to prowl the entire disk, you’ve been given your own
private parcel of storage in which you can keep your stuff securely and privately. This is a directory
located within the /home directory, and its name is taken from your username. If your login name is
louisesmith, your place for storing files will be /home/louisesmith. You can find it as the first item in
the Places pane in Nautilus and in the Places menu also. Figure 10-7 shows an example of a user’s
/home directory.
■ Note Linux generally uses the terms directory and subdirectory for the places you put files, whereas Windows
refers to them as folders. It’s merely a matter of semantics. However, within the Nautilus file browser, directories
are pictured as folders and are referred to as such.
Figure 10-7. Your personal area on the hard disk is in the /home directory and is named after your
Your parcel will be decorated from the very start with several default directories created with the
purpose of organizing your information in a logical manner. This is not very different from Windows, as
you can see just by reading the names of most of those default directories or by looking at Table 10-2.
Table 10-2. Default Home Folder Subdirectories
This folder has the content of your desktop. Every document you place in this
folder will appear on your desktop. This is like the Windows’ Desktop folder.
Like Windows’ My Documents folder, this is the default directory for storing
personal documents. saves its documents in this directory.
This is the folder where the files you download with Firefox are stored.
A folder to store music files, like the Windows’ My Music folder. Those files
can be opened with Rythmbox.
A folder to store pictures. Equivalent to the Windows’ folder My Pictures.
A special folder in which you can store content to be shared with your family
or colleagues. It is not shared by default, but you can follow the instructions
given later in this chapter in order to make those files accessible through the
Folder to store templates for’s applications.
Folder to store video files that can be opened with the Movie Player.
This folder is actually a link to /usr/share/example-content, where you can
find’s sample documents, ogg audio files, and more.
Some programs might utilize those subdirectories in your /home directory in order to store and
organize their output. For example, a digital camera program might utilize the Pictures directory within
your /home directory. It’s up to you whether you use these or change those settings in the application.
Other applications may create a hidden folder in your home. If you instruct Nautilus to show hidden
files (you already know how), you will see several folders that were hidden by default, where applications
store their data, For example, the .mozilla folder is where the Firefox information is stored, and the
Evolution files are in .evolution.
Files within Ubuntu remember who owns them. If user johnsmith creates a file, he can make it so
that only he can read or write the file (see Chapter 21 for more details on file permissions). The default
setting is that other users will be able to read the file, but not write any new data to it. Directories, too,
are owned by people, and the owner can set access permissions. By default, all users on a system can
access each other’s /home directories and read files, but they can’t change the files or write new files to
any directory within /home that isn’t theirs.
■ Note Any user with superuser powers has access to all of the system and can create, edit, and delete files in
all directories. This is so the superuser can perform essential system maintenance.
Understanding File System Concepts
Now that you have been playing with Nautilus for a little while and found it to be very much like
Windows Explorer, you might be wondering whether the file system concepts in both operating systems
are exactly the same.
Just like Windows, Ubuntu has a file system that is shared between software components and your
own personal data, which you generate with your applications or download from the Internet. However,
Ubuntu differs from Windows in a couple of important ways.
The File System Explained
You might already have ventured beyond the /home directory and wandered through the file system. You
no doubt found it thoroughly confusing, largely because it’s not like anything you’re used to. The good
news is that it’s not actually very hard to understand. If nothing else, you should be aware that nearly
everything can be ignored during everyday use.
■ Note The Ubuntu file system is referred to as a hierarchical file system. This means that it consists of a lot of
directories that contain files. Windows also uses a hierarchical file system. Ubuntu refers to the very bottom level
of the file system as the root. This has no connection with the root user, or the directory named /root, which is
the personal file storage area for the root user.
You can access the root of the file system by clicking File System in the Places pane in Nautilus.
Only users with administrative powers can write files to the root of the file system. This is to prevent
damage, because most of the directories in the root of the file system are vital to the correct running of
Linux and contain essential programs or data.
Most directories allow all users to browse them and access the files within. You just can’t write new
files there or delete the directories themselves. You might be able to modify or execute programs
contained within the directory, but this will depend on the permissions of each individual file.
Table 10-3 provides a brief description of what each directory and file in the Ubuntu root file system
contains. This is for reference only; there’s no need for you to learn this information. The Ubuntu file
system broadly follows the principles in the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard1, as do most versions of
Linux, but it does have its own subtleties.
The Filesystem Hierarchy Standard, or FHS, is a standard maintained by the Linux Foundation and defines the main
directories and their content for the Linux OS.
Table 10-3. Directories and Files in the Ubuntu Root File System
Vital tools necessary to get the system running or for use when repairing the
system and diagnosing problems.
Boot loader programs and configuration files. (The boot loader is the menu that
appears when you first boot Linux.)
cdrom ->
Symbolic link (shortcut) to the entry for the CD- or DVD-ROM drive in the /dev
folder. (Accessing this file lets you access the CD- or DVD-ROM drive.)
Virtual files representing hardware installed on your system.
Central repository of configuration files for your system.
Shared system files used by Linux as well as the software that runs on it.
Folder where salvaged scraps of files are saved in the event of a problematic
shutdown and subsequent file system check.
Where the directories representing various mounted storage systems are made
available (including Windows partitions on the disk).
Directory in which external file systems can be temporarily mounted.
Software that is theoretically optional and not vital to the running of the system.
(Many software packages you use daily can be found here.)
Virtual directory containing data about your system and its current status.
The root user’s personal directory.
Programs essential to administration of the system.
Commands used in the SELinux security subsystem.
Configuration files for any network servers you might have running on your
Mount point of the sysfs file system, which is used by the kernel to administer your
system’s hardware.
Temporary files stored by the system.
Programs and data that might be shared with other systems (such as in a large
networking setup with many users).a
Used by the system to store data that is constantly updated, such as printer
spooling output.
vmlinuz -> boot/
Symbolic link to the kernel file used during bootup.
The /usr directory contains its own set of directories that are full of programs and data. Many system programs,
such as the X11 GUI software, are located within the /usr directory. Note that the /usr directory is used even if your
system will never act as a server to other systems.
Linux is all about choice, and this extends to the technology that makes the file system work. Unlike with
Windows, where the only real choice these days is NTFS, Linux offers many types of file system. The basic
features of every file system are present in all these types, but each is optimized for a different set of
tasks. Most are scalable, however, which means that they will work just as happily on a desktop PC as on
a massive cluster of computers.
Ubuntu uses the ext4 file system. This is a popular choice among distros, and nearly all home- or
office-oriented distros use it. That said, people are constantly arguing about which file system is best.
The principal measuring stick is performance. Your computer spends a lot of time writing and reading
files, so the faster a file system is, the faster your PC will be overall (although, in reality, the hardware is of
equal importance).
Note that what we’re talking about here is the underlying and invisible technology of the file system. In
day-to-day use, the end user won’t be aware of any difference between ext4, reiserfs, or another file
system technology (although when things go wrong, different tools are used to attempt repairs; their
selection is automated within Ubuntu).
Here are the various types along with notes about what they offer:
ext4: Understandably, and logically, this is an extension of ext3. Among other
things, it features support for much larger hard disks and is also faster.
reiserfs: This is another journaling file system, which claims to be faster than
others and also offers better security features. It has fallen out of favor in recent
jfs: This is a journaling file system created by IBM. It’s used on industrial
implementations of UNIX.
xfs: This is a 64-bit journaling file system created by Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI)
and used on its own version of UNIX as well as Linux.
zfs: Another new file system technology (like ext4), its main benefit is support for
huge storage systems. This is because of its 128-bit approach. It is used in the
Sun Microsystems Solaris and OpenSolaris operating systems.
Drive References
Perhaps the most important differences between Linux and Windows are the following:
The Linux file system doesn’t use drive letters.
The Linux file system uses a forward slash (/) instead of a backslash (\) in filename
In other words, something like /home/john/myfile is typical in Ubuntu, as opposed to C:\Documents
and Settings\John\myfile in Windows. The root of the hard disk partition is usually referred to as C:\ in
Windows. In Ubuntu, it’s referred to simply with a forward slash (/).
If you have more than one drive, the drives are usually combined into one file system under Linux.
This is done by mounting, so that any additional drives appear as virtual folders under the file system.
In other words, you browse the other hard disks by switching to various directories within the main
file system.
■ Note If you’re used to Mac OS X, the Ubuntu file system shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, because both
OS X and Ubuntu are based on UNIX and utilize similar concepts.
Names of Files
Another important difference between Ubuntu and Windows is that filenames in Ubuntu are case
sensitive. This means that MyFile is distinctly different from myfile. Uppercase letters are vitally
important. In Windows, filenames might appear to have uppercase letters in them, but these actually are
ignored when you rename or otherwise manipulate files.
Because of this case sensitivity, you could have two separate files existing in the same place, one
called MyFile and another called myfile. In fact, you could also have myFile, Myfile, MYFILE, and so on, as
shown in Figure 10-8.
As with Windows, filenames can have spaces within them. This means it’s possible to have file or
folder names like Pictures from Disneyland or party at bob's house.jpg.
■ Note You might notice that some Linux old-hands avoid using spaces in filenames and use an underscore
character (_) or a hyphen (-) instead. This is because it’s tricky to manipulate filenames with spaces in them at the
command prompt.
Unlike with Windows, filenames can include virtually any symbol, including an asterisk (*),
backslash (\), question mark (?), less-than/greater-than signs (< and >), and so on. The only symbol
that’s prohibited is the forward slash (/), and that’s because it has a special use in file paths, as described
in the previous section. Be aware, however, that if you want to share files with colleagues running
Windows, you should stick to Windows conventions to avoid incompatibilities and refrain from using
the following symbols: \/:*?"<>|.
We have already stated that folders and files starting with a dot (“.”) are managed as hidden so they
are not displayed in Nautilus or in the terminal window.
Figure 10-8. Ubuntu filenames are case sensitive, so many similar filenames can exist, differing only in
which letters are capitalized.
■ Note If you try to copy a file with illegal symbols in its name to a Windows machine across a network, Ubuntu
simply won’t let you, and will report an Invalid Parameters error. In our experience, it will let you copy a file with
illegal symbols in its name to a Windows partition, however. This results in the file being inaccessible from within
Windows, so be careful!
Real Files and Virtual Files
Linux sees virtually everything as a series of files. This might sound absurd and certainly requires further
Let’s start with the example of plugging in a piece of hardware. Whenever you attach something to a
USB port, the Linux kernel finds it, sees whether it can make the hardware work, and if everything checks
out okay, it usually makes the hardware available as a file under the /dev directory on your hard disk (dev
is short for devices). Figure 10-9 shows an example of a /dev directory.
The file created in the /dev directory is not a real file, of course. It’s a file system shortcut plumbed
through to the input and output components of the hardware you’ve just attached.
■ Note As a user, you’re not expected to delve into the /dev directory and deal with this hardware directly. Most
of the time, you’ll use various software packages that will access the hardware for you or use special BASH
commands or GUI programs to make the hardware available in a more accessible way for day-to-day use.
Figure 10-9. Hardware devices under Linux are accessed as if they were files and can be found in the
/dev folder.
Here’s another example. Say you’re working in an office and want to connect to a central file server.
To do this under Linux, you must mount the files that the server offers, making it a part of the Ubuntu
file system. We discuss how this is done in the “Mounting” section later in this chapter.
■ Note Bear in mind that, in most cases, Ubuntu takes care of mounting automatically, as discussed later in this
chapter. For example, when you try to connect to a shared folder by clicking Places Network Servers, Ubuntu
automatically handles the mounting of the shared folder.
After the network server is mounted, it is treated exactly like a directory on your hard disk. You can
copy files to and from it, just as you would normally, using the same tools as you use for dealing with any
other files. In fact, less-knowledgeable users won’t even be aware that they’re accessing something that
isn’t located on their PC’s hard disk (or, technically speaking, within their Ubuntu partition and file
system). By treating everything as a file, Linux makes system administration easier. To probe and test
your hardware, for example, you can use the same tools you use to manipulate files.
Working with Disks and Volumes
So far you’ve learned how to work with Nautilus and what the file system is. This is what is known as the
logical side of data – but there is a physical side as well, that is composed by the disks and removable
media attached to your computer on which the file system rests. Without disks, there could be no file
system, no directories, and no files. But it is not enough to attach the disk or plug in the removable
media; you need also to make it available to the OS through an operation called mounting.
Mounting Volumes
Described in technical terms, mounting is the practice of making a file system available under Linux.
Whereas Windows uses drive letters to make other file systems available in Windows Explorer, Linux
integrates the new file system within the root file system, usually by making the contents appear
whenever a particular directory is accessed.
The mounted file system could be a partition on your hard disk, a CD-ROM, a network server, or
many other things.
Mounting drives might seem a strange concept, but it makes everything much simpler than it might
be otherwise. For example, after a drive is mounted, you don’t need to use any special commands or
software to access its contents. You can use the same programs and tools that you use to access all of
your other files. Mounting creates a level playing field on which everything is equal and therefore can be
accessed quickly and efficiently.
Most of the time, external storage devices are mounted automatically by the GNOME desktop
software used under Ubuntu; a GNOME background service runs constantly and watches for the user
attaching any storage devices to the PC. If this occurs, the external storage device is automounted by the
GNOME desktop, usually in a folder named after the device’s label within the /media directory (in other
words, a USB memory stick with the label KINGSTON will be mounted at /media/KINGSTON). An entry
appears on the Places menu, and an icon for the device appears on the desktop, pointing to the mount
point (the directory used to mount the device).
In the case of mounting network storage, such as those accessed by clicking Places Network, a
system called gvfs-fuse mounts the devices. Upon being mounted, these also appear on the Places
menu and are given a desktop icon, but you can access them from Nautilus by browsing the hidden
.gvfs directory within your /home directory. Should you access shared storage on Bluetooth hardware
devices, these will also appear within the .gvfs directory.
Note that the contents of the mounted file system are made available in a virtual way. The files are
not literally copied into the directory. The directory is merely a conduit that allows you to read the
mounted file system contents.
There aren’t any special commands used to work with drives that have been mounted. File
managers such as Nautilus have no trouble browsing their contents.
■ Note The root file system is itself mounted automatically during bootup, shortly after the kernel has started and
has all your hardware up and running. If you look within the special file /etc/fstab, used to tell Ubuntu Linux
which partitions to mount, you’ll see that it too has its own entry, as does the swap partition. Every file system that
Linux uses must be mounted at some point.
Viewing Disk and Volume Information
Because Ubuntu organizes all files and folders in a single hierarchy, it is often easy to forget that you
might have more than one disk attached, and that they can be of different types. It is hard to tell the
physical layout of your data just by using Nautilus. You might even forget you have available space in
one of your disks that is just not partitioned, because unpartitioned space is just not shown in Nautilus.
So when the time comes for doing some administration on your disks, you must use a different tool
from Nautilus. Fortunately, and as you might already have guessed, Ubuntu includes such a tool: the
Disk Utility, available at the System Administration menu. You can take a first look at it by examining
Figure 10-10. Don’t be scared!
Figure 10-10. The Disk Utility lets you see disks and volumes and work with them.
By using the Disk Utility, you will be able to view your disks from a different angle. If Nautilus shows
you the logical distribution of files and folders within a hierarchy starting at the root directory (“/”), the
Disk Utility displays the physical disks where your information is actually stored. The file system
hierarchy does not stand by itself; it is stored on disks, on which there are partitions, mounted in a
mount point. You can use this tool to view such disks and create partitions. You will also be able to
perform advanced tasks such as checking file system health.
The left pane of the Disk Utility window is named Storage Devices and is where the disks are listed.
At the top is the Local Storage container, namely your computer. You can also connect to another
computer by using the File Connect to Server… option, in which case the list of disks displayed will
correspond to the remote computer.
The second level of entries corresponds to each of your disk controllers. It tells you how your disks
are connected to your computer. Whether they are IDE or USB drives, they will be grouped under the
controller they are attached to.
The third level corresponds to the drives themselves. If you select a disk, the details of the disk and
its partitions will be displayed in the main pane.
As was shown in Figure 10-10, the main pane is divided into two sections: the Drive section above
and the Volumes sections below. Each of those has information about the selected drive or volume and
actions you can execute on it.
Managing Disks
The top section of the main pane shows information about the selected disk and tasks you can perform
on it.
Table 10-4 gives you a reference of the properties of a drive.
Table 10-4. Drive Properties
Refers to the model of the disk, as specified by the manufacturer.
Firmware Version
The level of the firmware installed. The firmware is a special program that
instructs the hardware itself how to work.
Controller and port to which the drive is attached.
Write Cache
Write cache is a function of disks that improves the drive write performance.
The total capacity of the drive.
The type of partition scheme selected when the drive is formatted. The default is
Master Boot Record.
Serial Number
The serial number of the drive, as set by the manufacturer.
World Wide Name
An unique identifier for some types of drives.
The virtual file that represents the drive in the file system. The first portion will
always be /dev. The second part will depend on the type of drive and the amount
of disks in your system.
Rotation Rate
The speed at which the disk rotates.
The type of connections.
SMART Status
SMART is a diagnostic mechanism (you can view SMART Data by pressing the
button with that name). SMART Status should be healthy if everything is okay.
On a disk, the main operation you can perform is to format it. To do it will ERASE ALL DATA
CONTAINED IN THE DISK (and this cannot be emphasized enough) and make its space available to
create new volumes. Please be very careful when formatting a disk. This operation is IRREVERSIBLE, so
there’s no way to recover the information after it.
If you are sure nonetheless that you want to format a disk, select the disk from the navigation pane
and click the Format Drive button shown in the Drive section of the main pane. Leave the default
selection for now and click Format.
Managing Volumes
A disk is graphically shown as a big block in the Volumes section. When you format a drive, all space is
labeled Free, meaning that it is available to create volumes.
A drive without volumes is of little or no use. You cannot store files directly on the disk, nor create
folders. So you need to create volumes before you do anything else. To create a volume, just select any
space labeled as Free and click the Create Partition button. You will be prompted with a dialog box
asking you the size, the type, and the name of the new volume. For now, you should select the Ext4 type.
Click Create.
Once you have created your volume, you can:
Mount Filesystem: This will make the volume available for use, by default in the /media directory.
Unmount Volume: When you unmount a volume, its data is not actually lost, but it is only made
unavailable. Mount the volume again and see that the files are still there! This command is
especially useful for removable drives which need to be unmounted before physically extracting
them from the PC. If you’re currently browsing the mounted directory, you’ll need to leave it before
you can unmount it. The same is true of all kinds of access to the mounted directory. If you’re
browsing the mounted drive with Nautilus, or if a piece of software is accessing it, you won’t be able
to unmount it until you’ve quit the program and closed the Nautilus window (or browsed to a
different part of the file system).
Format Volume: This operation erases all the information in your volume (not on your entire disk!).
Check Filesystem: Verifies its integrity. The volume must be unmounted.
Edit Filesystem Label: If you haven’t changed the default when creating the volume, it will be called
New Volume, and this is hardly a descriptive name. By default the mount point—that is, the folder
at which the volume will be made available—is /media/LABEL. For example, a volume named
NEWVOLUME will be mounted at /media/NEWVOLUME.
Edit Partition: You can mark the volume as bootable, for example.
Delete Partition: Use when you no longer need the partition. This erases all your data in the volume
but, unlike formatting it, it will mark the space as Free instead of making it available again.
Advanced File Operations
Running Ubuntu on your PC may mark you as more adventurous than the majority of Windows users,
but it’s likely that you’ll need to access Windows files on a regular basis. If you’ve chosen to dual-boot
with Windows, you might want to grab files from the Windows partition on your own hard disk. If your
PC is part of a network, you might want to access files on a Windows-based server or workstation on
which a shared folder has been created. You may simply work with others who send you Windows files
via e-mail.
■ Note Accessing shared printers attached to Windows computers is explained in Chapter 7, in the “Configuring
a Windows/SMB Shared Printer” section.
Working with Files in Windows Partitions
If you’ve chosen to dual-boot Ubuntu with Windows on the same hard disk, Ubuntu allows you to access
your Windows partition. An icon for it should appear on the Places menu, where it will be identified by
its size (for example, if the Windows partition is 100GB in size, the icon will read 100GB Media). Selecting
this should show your Windows partition contents, although you’ll need to type your password when
prompted in order to mount it.
After the partition has been made available, an icon for it will appear on the desktop, and it will be
listed as a shortcut on the left of any file-browsing window.
■ Note You can write to or edit files in an NTFS partition. However, be aware that you could easily destroy your
Windows partition, because on Ubuntu all Windows files (even the system-critical files) can be overwritten without
warning. On the positive side, this feature allows you to easily recover your files from Windows if it has crashed.
Accessing Networked Files
The easiest way to access shared folders on Windows workstations or servers over a network is to
click Places Network. This starts Nautilus, which attempts to search for Windows machines on
your local network, just as with Network Neighborhood and My Network Places on the various versions
of Windows.
If you’ve ever used the network-browsing services under Windows, you might already know how
unreliable they can be—some computers simply don’t appear in the list, others appear eventually after a
wait, and others appear but then prove to be mysteriously inaccessible.
A far quicker and more reliable method of accessing a Windows shared folder is to manually specify
its network name or IP address. The network name is simply the name of the computer that’s used
during networking. The IP address is the computer’s identifying number and usually takes the form of
four octets separated by periods, like this:
You should try using the network name first when connecting to a computer. If that proves
unreliable, try using the IP address instead. You can discover the network name and IP address
as follows:
Network name: You can discover the network name of a Windows 7 computer by clicking Start
and right-clicking Computer on the menu. Click Properties on the menu, and in the window that
appears look at the value of the Computer name field. For example, the name of our test PC is
WINPC. To discover the network name in Windows XP, right-click My Computer, select Properties,
and then click the Computer Name tab in the window that appears. Look under the Full Computer
Name heading.
IP address: To find out the IP address, open an MS-DOS command prompt. To do this in Windows
XP, click Start Run, and type cmd. In Windows Vista or 7, click the Start button and type cmd into
the Start Search text box. Type ipconfig at the prompt. Then, in XP, look for the line that reads IP
Address and note the details. In Windows Vista or 7, look for the line that reads IPv4 Address and
note the number (on our test computer, we had to scroll up the window to see the line). To access a
shared folder, open a Nautilus file browser window (Places Home Folder) and then click Go Location. In the box, type the following:
smb://computer name/
Alternatively, if you want to use the IP address as shown in Figure 10-11, type the following:
smb://IP address/
Obviously, in both cases, you should replace computer name and IP address with the details
you noted earlier. You may also be prompted to enter a username and/or password to access the
shared folder.
To create a permanent desktop shortcut to the Windows folder, right-click a blank spot on the
desktop and create a launcher. In the Command text box, enter nautilus, followed by the full network
path to the share. You can discover this by using Nautilus to browse to the shared directory, as described
previously, and then clicking the icon next to the location bar to switch to the text-mode view of the
path. Then cut and paste the text into the Command box. For example, on our Ubuntu setup, we
created a shortcut to the winshare directory on the computer WINPC by typing the following into the
Command box:
nautilus smb://WINPC/winshare
For more information about creating desktop launchers, see Chapter 9.
When using the launcher after rebooting your Ubuntu system, you might notice that the folder takes
a few seconds to appear. This is normal and merely the result of the time Ubuntu takes to log on to the
computer sharing the files.
Figure 10-11. If the shared folder requires a username and/or password, you’ll be invited to enter these.
Sharing a Folder from Within Ubuntu
In addition to accessing the shared files of other Windows users, you can also set up your own shared
folder under Ubuntu for Windows users to access (or, indeed, other Ubuntu computers). To do this,
follow these steps:
Right-click the folder you want to share and select Sharing Options from
the menu.
In the dialog box that appears, put a check in the Share This Folder check box.
If this is the first time you’ve shared a folder, a dialog box will appear telling
you the sharing service software is not installed. Click the Install Service button
to add it.
You’ll be prompted to type your password because some additional software
needs to be installed. Following this, Ubuntu will automatically download and
install the Samba file-sharing components. You’ll be prompted to restart your
session after it’s finished (that is, log in and out again), so save any open files
and restart.
When the desktop reappears, repeat the first step—right-click the folder you
want to share, and select Sharing Options. Then put a check in Share This
Folder again.
In the Share Name text box, type a name by which the share will be identified
by other computers on the network. At the bottom of the dialog box you might
see some warning messages. However, we found some of these were wrong or
simply didn’t make sense. This is obviously a bug, and our advice is to ignore
them. If you genuinely do something wrong, like type too long a share name,
Ubuntu will tell you later on.
By selecting the Allow Other People to Write in This Folder check box, the
shared folder will be made writeable, rather than read-only.
At this point, you can click the Create Share check box, and the folder will then
be shared. However, anybody who wants to access the folder will need to type
your username and password to do so (they will be prompted automatically
when they attempt to access it). By putting a check in the Guest Access check
box, you can allow anybody on the network to access the shared folder in readonly mode. Then they won’t need a username and password. After the shared
folder is created, Windows users can access the shared folder by using My
Network Places/Network Neighborhood, where it should be “detected”
alongside other Windows computers.
There are caveats, however. When we tried to access a “guest access” shared folder from a Windows
computer, the username and password prompt still appeared, even though none was required. To gain
access, we typed gibberish into the Username field and left the Password field blank. However, we were
then unable to access any other shared folders on that computer for which we needed to log in as
authorized users (that is, enter the Ubuntu username/password) without logging out and then back in to
the Vista computer, which serves all existing network connections.
A separate issue is privacy: by using the preceding method to share a folder within your Ubuntu
login, you must reveal to others on the network your username and password details. If you don’t want
this to happen, you can create a dummy account under Ubuntu that exists solely to share folders across
the network. This is possible because you don’t have to be logged in to a user account for the folders to
be shared—they’re shared so long as the PC is up and running (even if no user is logged in). We discuss
creating new user accounts in Chapter 21; you only need to create a standard nonadministrator user
account. After the dummy account is set up, log in to it and create the shared folders, as described
earlier. Then log out and return to the standard user account, where you can subsequently access the
shared folders by clicking Go Network—your own computer’s shared folders will appear alongside
those on other computers on the network. You will need to provide the username and password details
of the dummy account, just as if you were logging in across the network.
■ Note To access the shared folder from another Ubuntu computer, you might need to specify its IP address. To
find out the IP address, open a GNOME Terminal window (Applications Accessories Terminal) and type
ifconfig. Then look for the numbers alongside the inet addr entry.
Accessing Removable Storage Devices
Ubuntu automatically makes available any CDs or DVDs you insert into your computer, and they’ll
appear instantly as icons on the desktop. The same is true of any card readers or USB memory devices
that you use. Alternatively, you can access the storage devices by clicking their entries on the Places
menu, where entries for them will appear automatically upon attachment, or by clicking Places Computer.
Working in the Computer Window
In the Places Computer window, you’ll find icons for all the storage devices attached to your
computer, including the floppy disk drive if your computer has one, as shown in Figure 10-12. However,
because of the way floppy disk drives work, Ubuntu isn’t able to automatically detect that a floppy has
been inserted. Instead, you’ll need to double-click the icon, as with Windows.
■ Note In days of old, special tools were used to access MS-DOS floppies under Linux, and you might hear
some Linux old-hands talking about them. Nowadays, you can simply use Nautilus without needing to take any
special steps.
Whenever you double-click any entry in the Computer window, it opens a Nautilus file browser
window. You can copy files by clicking and dragging, and right-clicking files offers virtually all the
options you could need.
■ Tip You don’t need to use Places Computer each time to access your floppy, CD, or DVD drive. These drives
are mounted in the /media folder on your hard disk. Just browse to /media/floppy and /media/cdrom.
Figure 10-12. Select Places Computer to access your removable storage drive and network shares.
Ejecting Media
Ubuntu isn’t quite like Windows when it comes to ejecting or unplugging removable storage devices. In
practically all cases, devices must be unmounted, which is to say that you need to tell Ubuntu that
you’re finished with the device in question and that you’re about to unplug it.
In the case of CD or DVD discs, you can simply press the Eject button on the drive itself. Ubuntu is
able to detect that the disc is being ejected and automatically unmounts the drive. If the disc ever refuses
to eject, right-click its icon on the desktop or within Computer and select Eject.
In the case of floppy disks, USB memory sticks, and other USB storage devices, you should
always right-click the icon and select Unmount Volume. When unmounting, you may need to wait
a short while for any file operations to complete on the drive. If this is the case, you’ll receive a
notification in the system tray. Then you can unplug or remove the device. This also applies when
you’re removing a memory card from a card reader—before pulling out the card from the reader, it
needs to be unmounted.
■ Note It’s necessary to close any files that were open on the device before unmounting, and even close any file
browser windows that were accessing the device.
If you fail to unmount the device, Ubuntu will still believe the device is attached. This shouldn’t
cause too many problems, but it could crash any programs that were accessing the device. It might also
mean the card isn’t recognized properly when you reinsert it. In rare instances, data loss can occur.
This chapter has led you on your first steps in exploring the Linux file system. The file system is vitally
important to how Linux works, and we go into it in much depth in upcoming chapters.
Here you were introduced to elementary concepts, such as where personal files are stored and the
basic rules that govern what you can and cannot do with files. You also looked at the principal method of
accessing files via the GUI: the Nautilus file manager. Additionally, you learned how to run programs
manually, as well as how to access any Windows partitions or files that may exist on your hard disk or
across a network.
And finally, you learned how to access files in heterogeneous systems, by opening Windows
partitions and sharing data over the network.
Working and Playing with
C H A P T E R 11
A World of Applications
Ubuntu is a thoroughly modern operating system and, as such, includes a comprehensive selection of
software for just about every day-to-day task. Regardless of whether you want to write letters, edit
images, or listen to music, Ubuntu offers something for you.
This chapter introduces the software under Ubuntu that performs the tasks you might be used to
under Windows. It’s not a detailed guide to each piece of software. Instead, this chapter aims to get you
up and running with the Ubuntu replacement as quickly as possible. The chapter gives the name of each
piece of software, where you can find it on Ubuntu’s menus, and a few basic facts about how to use it. In
many cases, these applications are covered in far more depth later in the book.
Available Software
Table 11-1 lists various popular Windows programs alongside their Ubuntu counterparts. You’ll find
most of the programs listed on the Applications menu. Table 11-1 also includes a number of other
mainstream alternatives, most of which aren’t installed by default under Ubuntu but are available from
the Ubuntu online software repositories. You might want to try these later on. As you might expect,
they’re all free of charge, so you have nothing to lose.
■ Note Table 11-1 lists only a fraction of the programs available under Linux. There are quite literally thousands
of others, including some that have similar facilities as those mentioned. The programs listed here are those that
work like their Windows equivalents and therefore provide an easy transition.
Table 11-1. Ubuntu Alternatives to Windows Software
Type of Program
Alternative Choices
Word processor
Microsoft Word Writer
AbiWord (www.abisource. com)
KOffice Kworda
Microsoft Excel Calc
Gnumeric (
KOffice KSpread
KOffice Kpresenter
(vector art)
Illustrator Draw
Inkscape (
Access Baseb
Knoda (
Web page
FrontPage Writer
KompoZer (
Kontact (
Web browser
Mozilla Firefox
Konqueror (
KOffice Karbon 14 (www. koffice
Amaya (
Mozilla Thunderbird (
KMail (
Chromium (
Midori (
Opera (
K3b (
MP3 player
Aqualung (http://aqualung.factorial
Banshee (
Type of Program
Alternative Choices
Windows Media
Sound Juicer
Grip (
Windows Media
Totem media player
Photo Editor
GIMP, Shotwell
Image editor
KOffice Krita (
Video editor
OpenShot, Kdenlive
Zip files
File Roller
Rar, Unrar, KArchiver
GNOME Terminal
Xterm (
Too many to mention!
Text editor/
Kate (
Desktop games
Too many to mention!
MPlayer (
Some of the applications here are based on KDE. When using the standard Ubuntu GNOME desktop, you will have
to install the core KDE libraries in order to use these. Installing software via Ubuntu Software Center should ensure
that these issues are taken care of.
Base isn’t installed by default but is easily installed via the package. This database tool is tightly
integrated with the rest of the suite.
Opera is a proprietary product, rather than open source; however, it is free of charge.
Xterm is part of the package, so it is installed by default under Ubuntu. To use it, type xterm in a GNOME
Terminal window. See Chapter 9 to learn how to create a permanent desktop launcher for Xterm.
The Ubuntu software archives contain thousands of programs to cover just about every task you might
want to accomplish on your computer. Diversity is vitally important within the Linux world. For example,
rather than just one e-mail program, you’ll find many available. They compete with each other in a gentle
way, and it’s up to you which one you settle down with and use.
Part of the fun of using Linux is exploring what’s available. Of course, the added bonus is that virtually all
this software is free of charge, so you can simply download, install, and play around. If you don’t like a
program, just remove it from your system. However, don’t forget to revisit the program’s home page after
a few months; chances are the program will have been expanded and improved in that short period, and it
might be better at meeting your needs.
A Quick Start with Common Ubuntu Programs
The remainder of this chapter outlines a handful of the programs listed in Table 11-1. Our goal is to give
you a head start in using each program and point out where most of the main functions can be found.
You’ll find more details about some of them later in this book.
Keep in mind that Ubuntu doesn’t aim to be an exact clone of other operating systems. Some of the
programs will work in a similar way to what you’re used to, but that’s not true of all of them. Because of
this, it’s easy to get frustrated early on when programs don’t seem to work quite how you want or
respond in strange ways. Some programs might hide functions in what seem like illogical places
compared with their counterparts on another OS. Some patience is required, but it will eventually pay
off as you get used to Ubuntu.
Word Processing: Writer is an entire office suite for Linux that was built from the ground up to compete with
Microsoft Office. Because of this, you’ll find that much of the functionality of Microsoft Office is
replicated in, and the look and feel are also similar to pre-2007 releases of Office. The
major difference is that is open source and free of charge. Writer (Applications Office Word Processor), shown in Figure
11-1, is the word processor component. As with Microsoft Word, it’s fully WYSIWYG (What You See Is
What You Get), so you can quickly format text and paragraphs. This means the program can be used for
quite sophisticated desktop publishing, and pictures can be easily inserted (via the Insert menu).
Figure 11-1. Writer
Writer’s toolbars provide quick access to the formatting tools, as well as to other common functions.
The vast majority of menu options match those found in Word. Right-clicking the text itself also offers
quick access to text-formatting tools.
A number of higher-level functions are provided, such as mail merge and spell-checking, (found on
the Tools menu). You can perform spell-checking on the fly, with incorrect words appearing underlined
in red as you type.
As with all packages, Writer is mostly compatible with Microsoft Office files, so you
can save and open .doc and .docx files. Just click File Save As, and click the arrow alongside File Type
to choose a document format. The only exception is password-protected Word files, which cannot be
opened. You can also export documents as PDF files (by choosing File Export As PDF), so they can be
read on any computer that has Adobe Acrobat Reader installed.
■ Note is covered in more detail in Chapter 13.
Spreadsheet: Calc
As with most of the packages that form the suite, Calc (Applications Office Spreadsheet) does a good impersonation of its proprietary counterpart, Microsoft Excel,
both in terms of powerful features and the look and feel, as you can see in Figure 11-2. However, it has
only limited support for Excel’s Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macros at present. Instead, Calc and
other programs use their own macro language, called Basic (for more
information, see
Calc has a vast number of mathematical functions. To see a list, choose Insert Function. The list
on the left side of the dialog box includes a brief explanation of each function to help you get started. Just
as with Excel, you can access the functions via the toolbar (by clicking the Function Wizard button) or
you can enter them directly into cells by typing an equal sign and then the formula code. Calc is
intelligent enough to realize when formula cells have been moved and recalculate accordingly. It will
even attempt to calculate formulas automatically and can work out what you mean if you type
something like sales + expenses as a formula.
As you would expect, Calc also provides automated charting and graphing tools (under Insert Chart). In Figure 11-2, you can see an example of a simple chart created automatically by the
charting tool.
You can format cells by using the main toolbar buttons, or automatically apply user-defined styles
(choose Format Styles and Formatting).
■ Tip In all the applications, you can hover the mouse cursor over each button for one second to
see a tooltip showing what it does.
Figure 11-2. Calc
If you’re a business user, you’ll be pleased to hear that you can import databases to perform serious
number crunching. Use Insert Link to External Data to get the data, and then employ the tools on the
Data and Tools menu to manipulate it.
As with all programs, compatibility with its Microsoft counterpart—Excel files in this
case—is pretty good. You can also open other common data file formats, such as comma-separated
values (CSV) and Lotus 1-2-3 files. Calc is covered in more detail in Chapter 13.
Presentations: Impress
Anyone who has used PowerPoint will immediately feel at home with Impress,’s
presentation package (Applications Office Presentation), shown in Figure 11-3.
Impress duplicates most of the common features found in PowerPoint, with a helping of extras.
The program works via templates into which you enter your data. Starting the program causes the
Presentation Wizard to appear. This wizard guides you through selecting a style of presentation fitting
the job you have in mind. At this point, you can even select the type of transition effects you want
between the various slides.
After the wizard has finished, you can choose from the usual Normal and Outline view modes
(available from the View menu, or by clicking the tabs in the main work area). Outline mode lets you
enter your thoughts quickly, and Normal mode lets you type straight onto presentation slides.
You can format text by highlighting it and right-clicking it, by using the Text Formatting toolbar that
appears whenever you click inside a text box, or by selecting an entry on the Format menu. Impress also
features a healthy selection of drawing tools, so you can create quite complex diagrams. These are
available on the Drawing toolbar along the bottom of the screen. You can also easily insert pictures,
other graphics, and sound effects.
Figure 11-3. Impress
You can open and edit existing PowerPoint (.ppt) files and, as with all packages,
save your presentation as a PDF file. Impress also lets you export your presentation as a Macromedia
Flash file (.swf). This means that anyone with a browser and Macromedia’s Flash plug-in can view the
file, either online or via e-mail. Simply click File Export, and then choose Macromedia Flash (SWF)
from the File Format list.
Along with slide presentations, Impress also lets you produce handouts to support your work. Impress is covered in more detail in Chapter 13.
Database: Base
Base, shown in Figure 11-4, allows you to create relational databases by using a built-in database engine,
as well as interface with external databases. Base is not installed by default, so you will need to install the package by using Applications Ubuntu Software Center. Then you can access it
by clicking Applications Office ➤ Database.
Base is very similar to Microsoft Access in look and feel, although it lacks some of Access’s high-end
functions. For most database uses, it should prove perfectly adequate. If you know the fundamentals of
database technology, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting started with Base immediately. This is
made even easier than you might expect, because when the program starts, a wizard guides you through
the creation of a simple database.
As with Access, Base is designed on the principles of tables of data, forms by which the data is input
or accessed, and queries and reports by which the data can be examined and output. Once again,
wizards are available to walk you through the creation of each of these, or you can dive straight in and
edit each by hand by selecting the relevant option.
Each field in the table can be of various types, including several different integer and text types, as
well as binary and Boolean values. Forms can contain a variety of controls, ranging from simple text
boxes to radio buttons and scrolling lists, all of which can make data entry easier. Reports can feature a
variety of text formatting and can also rely on queries to manipulate the data. The queries themselves
can feature many functions and filters in order to sort data down to the finest detail.
You learn more about Base in Chapter 13.
Figure 11-4. Base
E-Mail/Personal Information Manager: Evolution
Evolution is a little like Microsoft Outlook in that, in addition to being an e-mail client, it can also keep
track of your appointments and contacts. You can start Evolution by clicking Applications Office Evolution Mail and Calendar.
Before using the program, you need to set it up with your mail server settings, as detailed in Chapter
14. Evolution is compatible with POP/SMTP, IMAP, Novell GroupWise, Hula, Microsoft Exchange, and a
handful of UNIX mail formats rarely used nowadays.
After the program is up and running, as shown in Figure 11-5, you can create a new message by
clicking the New button on the toolbar. To reply to any e-mail, simply select it in the list and then click
the Reply or Reply To All button, depending on whether you want to reply to the sender or to all the
recipients of the message.
To switch to Contacts view, click the relevant button on the bottom left. If you reply to anyone via email, they’re automatically added to this Contacts list. You can also add entries manually by either rightclicking someone’s address in an open e-mail or right-clicking in a blank space in the Contacts view.
Clicking the Calendars view shows a day-and-month diary. To add an appointment, simply select the
day and then double-click the time you want the appointment to start. You can opt to set an alarm when
creating the appointment, so that you’re reminded of it when it’s scheduled.
Finally, by clicking the Tasks and Memos buttons, you can create a to-do list and jot down quick
notes, respectively. To add a task, click the bar at the top of the list. After an entry has been created, you
can put a check in its box to mark it as completed. Completed tasks are marked with a strikethrough, so
you can see at a glance what you still need to do. To add a memo, click the bar at the top of the memo list
and simply type what you want to remember.
Figure 11-5. Evolution
Web Browser: Firefox
You might already know of Mozilla Firefox under Windows, where it has firmly established itself as the
alternative browser of choice. The good news is that the Linux version of Firefox is nearly identical to its
Windows counterpart. Start it by choosing Applications Internet Firefox Web Browser.
When the program starts, as shown in Figure 11-6, you can type an address into the URL bar to visit
a web site. If you want to add a site to your bookmarks list, click Bookmarks Bookmark This Page.
Alternatively, you can press Ctrl+D.
Searching is easy within Firefox. You use the search bar at the top right of the window. By default,
Firefox uses Google for searches. To choose from other search engines, click the small down arrow on
the left side of the search box. You can even enter your own choice of site if your favorite isn’t already in
the list—click Manage Search Engines and then click the Get More Search Engines link in the dialog box
that appears.
Firefox popularized the principle of tabbed browsing, which means you can have more than one site
open at once. To open a new tab, press Ctrl+T. You can move between the tabs by clicking them.
Figure 11-6. Mozilla Firefox
■ Tip When Firefox starts, tabs aren’t activated. If you would like to keep tabs in view all the time, click Edit Preferences, click the Tabs button, and then put a check alongside Always Show the Tab Bar.
Firefox is compatible with most of the same add-ons (extensions) that you might have used under
the Windows version of the browser. You can download new add-ons from,
or click Tools Add Ons and select the Get Add-ons icon. In addition, Firefox under Ubuntu can work
with Flash animations and multimedia content; the relevant software (including the Flash Player) is
installed on demand the first time it’s needed. See the instructions in Chapter 17 to learn more.
Audio Playback: Rhythmbox
Ubuntu’s multimedia software is uncomplicated and effective. It can play back the majority of audio
files, as long as it’s properly configured, which is to say after additional software has been installed. We
describe how to set up this software in Chapter 16 and if you’re thinking of playing audio files on your
computer, you may want to read that chapter immediately.
Rhythmbox plays audio files on your computer’s hard disk, as well as audio CDs, and it can be
started by clicking Applications Sound & Video Rhythmbox Music Player. Figure 11-7 shows it
in action.
Figure 11-7. Rhythmbox
When you run Rhythmbox for the first time, it’s a good idea to configure it to find and then catalog
your music collection. You might be used to this kind of functionality with other applications like
iTunes, and you can do it by clicking Music Import Folder. After the initial file cataloging has taken
place, whenever Rhythmbox runs you will find your tracks listed by artist or name, providing they have
the relevant tag information embedded in them (such as ID3 tags in MP3 music). Ensure that the Music
link in the list at the left of the program window is selected. If you already have a large established
collection, you can also set Rhythmbox to index that by clicking Edit Preferences and looking under
the Music tab. Next to the Library Location section, click the Browse button and navigate to the folder
containing your music. Click the Watch My Library for New Files option to have the software
automatically index your collection.
■ Note Unlike iTunes, Rhythmbox can’t play Digital Rights Management (DRM)-protected files, including standard
tracks bought through the iTunes Music Store. iTunes,, and others offer music not encumbered with
DRM, and these, as well as music you’ve ripped from CDs, will play perfectly.
To start playing a music track, double-click it in the list. To make the player smaller so that it doesn’t
dominate the screen, click View Small Display.
When an audio CD is inserted, you’re asked whether you want to open it with Rhythmbox.
Assuming you do, you’ll find it listed on the left of the program window under the Devices heading. It is
identified by its name because the name of the CD and the track listing are automatically looked up in
online databases. To rip the tracks to your own personal music collection, just right-click the CD icon
and click Extract to Library. Note that, unless you have specifically added MP3 support, Rhythmbox will
rip tracks to Ogg format. This is similar to MP3 in quality, but otherwise incompatible. Choosing an
audio format is covered in Chapter 16. You can control the volume within Rhythmbox by clicking the
volume icon at the top right of the program window, or you can use the volume control applet, which is
located at the top-right side of the Ubuntu Desktop, near the clock. Simply click and then drag the slider
to adjust the volume.
Movie Playback: Totem Movie Player
Totem movie player, which can be started by clicking Applications Sound & Video Movie Player, is
able to handle the majority of video files you might own, as long as some additional software is installed.
Totem can also play back DVD movies, which, again, requires the installation of software. We cover
setting up this software in Chapters 16 and 17 if you intend to play back video files and DVDs, these
chapters should be your first port of call.
Like Rhythmbox, Totem is an uncomplicated application. As shown in Figure 11-8, the video plays
on the left side of the window. A playlist detailing movies you have queued appears on the right side. You
can remove this, to give the video more room, by clicking the Sidebar button.
You can control video playback by using the play/pause, fast-forward, and rewind buttons at the
bottom left. In addition, provided a compatible video format is being played, you can use the Time bar
to move backward and forward within the video file. You can switch to full-screen playback by clicking
View Fullscreen. To switch back, simply press the Esc key.
Provided the software described in Chapter 17 is installed, DVD playback will start automatically as
soon as a disc is inserted, and you should be able to use the mouse with any onscreen menus. In
addition, you can skip between chapters on the disc by using the Go menu, and also return to the DVD’s
main or submenu systems. To switch between the various languages on a DVD (if applicable), click
Sound Languages and choose from the list.
Figure 11-8. Totem movie player
CD/DVD Burning: Brasero/Nautilus CD/DVD Creator
As soon as you insert a blank writeable disc, whether it’s a CD or DVD, Ubuntu detects it and offers a
handful of choices: Do Nothing, Open Folder, and Open Disc Burner.
The first option should be obvious, whereas the second option starts Nautilus’s CD/DVD burning
mode. This is a simple disc-burning interface where files can be dragged into the window and
subsequently burned to data CD/DVD.
However, the third option—Open Disc Burner—is most useful. This activates Ubuntu’s dedicated
CD/DVD-burning software, Brasero, which is able to create data CD/DVDs, as well as audio and video
CDs. Brasero, shown in Figure 11-9, can also copy some kinds of discs.
If you want to start Brasero manually, you’ll find it on the Applications Sound & Video menu.
When the Brasero interface appears, select from the list whichever kind of project you want to create.
For example, to create an audio CD, click the Audio Project button. Then drag and drop your music
files onto the program window and click the Burn button. Keep an eye on the meter at the bottom
right. This is like a progress bar; when the green portion is full, the disc is full. Note that you can’t write
certain audio files, like MP3s, to CDs unless you have the relevant codecs installed. See Chapter 16 to
learn more.
Using the Nautilus CD/DVD Creator is similar to using Brasero. Just drag and drop files onto the
window to create shortcuts to the files. When it comes time to burn, Nautilus copies the files from their
original locations. When you’ve finished choosing files, click the Write to Disc button. Unfortunately,
you won’t see a warning if the disc’s capacity has been exceeded until you try to write to the disc.
However, by right-clicking an empty space in the Nautilus window and selecting Properties, you can
discover the total size of the files. Remember that most CDs hold 700MB, and most DVD+/-R discs hold
around 4.7GB (some dual-layer discs hold twice this amount; see the DVD disc packaging for details).
■ Tip Most modern CD/DVD recorders utilize burn-proof technology, which helps ensure error-free disc creation.
To activate this for the Nautilus CD/DVD Creator, open a terminal window (Applications Accessories Terminal)
and type gconf-editor. When the program starts, click Edit Find, and then type burnproof. Make sure there’s a
check in Search Also in Key Names. In the search results at the bottom of the window, click the first result
(/apps/nautilus-cd-burner/burnproof) and make sure there’s a check in burnproof at the top right of the
window. Then close the configuration editor.
Figure 11-9. Nautilus CD/DVD Creator and Brasero
Photo Editing: F-Spot and GIMP
Ubuntu offers photo-editing tools on par with professional products like Adobe Photoshop. It’s certainly
more than powerful enough for tweaking digital camera snapshots.
F-Spot is covered in depth in Chapter 18. In this section we give you a brief introduction to GIMP,
which has to be installed with Ubuntu Software Center because it’s no longer a default application.
To start GIMP, choose Applications Graphics GIMP Image Editor. After the program is running,
you’ll notice that its main program component is a large toolbar on the left side of the screen. On the
right are certain floating palettes, while in the middle is the main image-editing program window. This
can be maximized to fill the Desktop, and this is a good idea if you want to make serious use of GIMP.
To open a picture, choose File Open and select your image from the hard disk. After an image file
is opened, you can manipulate it by using the tools on the toolbar (which are similar to those found in
other image editors). On the bottom half of the main program window are the settings for each tool,
which can be altered, usually via click-and-drag sliders.
To apply filters or other corrective changes, right-click anywhere on the image to bring up a context
menu with a variety of options. For example, simple tools to improve brightness and contrast can be
found on the Colors submenu, as shown in Figure 11-10.
Figure 11-10. GIMP
Other Handy Applications
Many additional applications might prove useful on a day-to-day basis. Here we review some of the
more common ones.
The GNOME Calculator (also known as Gcalctool) can be found on the Applications Accessories
menu. In its default mode, shown in Figure 11-11, it shouldn’t present any challenges to anyone who has
ever used a real-life calculator.
Figure 11-11. GNOME Calculator
Calculator also has other modes that you can switch into by using the View menu. Perhaps the three
most useful modes for general use are Advanced, Financial, and Scientific. All offer calculator functions
relevant to their settings. The Advanced mode is simply a more complicated version of the basic
Calculator. It can store numbers in several memory locations, for example, and can also carry out lesscommon calculations, such as square roots and reciprocals.
Archive Manager
Archive Manager (also known as File Roller), shown in Figure 11-12, is Ubuntu’s archive tool. It’s the
default program that opens whenever you double-click .zip files (or .tar, .gz, or .bzip2 files, which are
the native archive file formats under Linux).
To extract files from an archive, select them (hold down the Ctrl key to select more than one file) and
then click the Extract button on the toolbar.
To create an archive on the fly, select files or folders in a Nautilus file browser window, right-click
the selection, and select Create Archive. Give the archive a name, and the archive will be created. To add
new files to an existing archive, double-click an archive file and then drag and drop files into the Archive
Manager window. When you’ve finished, simply close the Archive Manager window.
Figure 11-12. Archive Manager
You can use the Dictionary tool to look up the definitions of words in the Collaborative International
Dictionary of English. This dictionary is based on a 1913 edition of Webster’s Revised Unabridged
Dictionary, but with some additional modern definitions. The Dictionary tool is useful for quick lookups,
although if you want a precise and modern definition of a word, you might consider using a more
contemporary source.
You’ll find the Dictionary program on the Applications Office menu. Type the word in the Look
Up text box at the top of the window, and its definition will appear in the area below, as shown in Figure
11-13. As soon as you start typing, the program will begin to look up the word in the dictionary, and this
can cause a momentary delay before the letters appear on your screen.
Figure 11-13. Dictionary
Empathy Instant Messaging Client
Empathy is the instant messaging software provided with Ubuntu. Unlike most other messaging
programs, Empathy isn’t exclusive to one chat protocol. You can use it to connect to GTalk, Jabber, MSN,
AOL/ICQ, Yahoo!, Facebook Chat, and many other services. The program can be found on the
Applications Internet menu.
Details for setting up Empathy are in Chapter 14. After the program is up and running, you can chat
with any of your buddies by double-clicking their icon, as shown in Figure 11-14.
The rest of the program can be administered by right-clicking the notification area icon that appears
when the program starts. For example, you can change your status or sign off from there. You can also
use the Me menu, explained more thoroughly in Chapter 15, to change the status of all your Chat
accounts at once.
Figure 11-14. Empathy
Ekiga provides Internet telephony (known as Voice over IP, or VoIP) via the SIP and H.323 protocols. It
also provides video conferencing, and is compatible with all major features specified within SIP and
H.323, such as holding, forwarding, and transferring calls. Ekiga can be found on the Applications Internet menu.
To activate the camera mode for a video conference, click the webcam icon on the left side of the
window. To text chat, click the top icon on the left side of the window. When the program starts, it walks
you through setup via a wizard. Simply answer the questions with your details. After the program is up
and running, as shown in Figure 11-15, type the URL of the person you would like to call into the address
bar and click Call.
Note that Ekiga is not compatible with proprietary VoIP software, such as Skype. To learn how to
install Skype under Ubuntu, see Chapter 14.
Figure 11-15. Ekiga
Ubuntu comes with a great selection of simple games, including Mines, shown in Figure 11-16. The
equivalent of the Windows Minesweeper game, Mines can be found on the Applications Games
menu. The rules are identical, too: on each grid are several hidden mines, and it’s your job to locate
them. After you’ve clicked one square at random, you’ll see a series of empty squares and several with
numbers in them. Those with numbers indicate that a bomb is near. Your job is to deduce where the
bombs are and then mark them by right-clicking them. You have to do this as quickly as possible
because you’re being timed.
To change the grid size, click Settings Preferences. Your choices are Small, Medium, Large, and
There are of course a lot of games to play within Ubuntu. We cover the subject in more depth in
Chapter 19.
Figure 11-16. Mines
Windows Applications
Although Ubuntu doesn’t officially support Windows applications, the Wine project is attempting to add
a degree of compatibility and is currently good enough to run many of the most common Windows
applications. Wine can be installed by using Ubuntu Software Center, and then applications can be
installed by using the standard Windows installer.
Although not every application will work, Wine supports quite a lot of software, including Microsoft
Office XP, Spotify (shown in Figure 11-17), Photoshop 7, and even some games. See for
more information.
We discuss how to install Windows applications with Wine in Chapter 20.
Figure 11-17. Wine
In this chapter, you’ve taken a look at some Ubuntu programs that provide vital functions that you might
have used daily under Windows. The aim was to get you started with this software as quickly as possible
by pointing out key features. You’ve seen how some programs mirror the look and feel of their Windows
counterparts almost to the letter, whereas others resolutely strike out on their own path. It takes just a
little time to become familiar with Ubuntu software, and then using these programs will become second
In the next chapter, we move on to more fundamental Ubuntu tasks: manipulating files. However,
once again, this is not too dissimilar from the Windows experience, which makes getting used to the
system very easy.
C H A P T E R 12
Working with Text Files
Windows views text files as just another file type, but to Ubuntu (and to the whole Linux family in fact),
they are the very fabric of which the system is made. Configuration files and program documentation are
stored as plain text. This is clearly different from Windows, where any information you’re supposed to
read will likely be contained in a Windows help file, a rich text format (RTF) file, or even a Microsoft
Word document.
So important are text files to Linux that for a long time you could have been caught in a heated
debate . . . over which text editor was the best! And while traditionally text files were managed with
command-line tools and text editors, the focus of this chapter is on introducing graphical tools such as
gedit. No doubt one day you will get to grips with command-line text editors such as Vim, Emacs, or
even both—but right now the thing is to get you up and running with Lucid Lynx!
It’s worth mentioning that text files under Linux usually don’t have a file extension. Unlike with
Windows or other OSs, the .txt file extension is rarely used. Sometimes a .conf extension is added to
plain text configuration files, but more often text files have no extension at all.
Text: A History Lesson
Given this reliance on text and text files, it has always been very important for Linux administrators and
power users alike to have powerful text-manipulation tools at their fingertips.
■ Tip Most program README files, along with other assorted documentation, can be found in a directory named
after the program in question within the /usr/share/doc directory.
Piping and Redirecting
When you execute a command in a terminal window (which was—and for many people still is—an
everyday task), output is usually produced in the form of a text stream. So the same techniques that
apply to text files can be also used on this output, with a simple operation called piping. Piping is the
process of sending the output of a command as the input for another command, usually a textmanipulation tool. That output is then manipulated as if it were a file. Powerful!
We’ll illustrate this with an example using grep. grep is a tool that takes text as its input, searches
and tries to match a regular expression or piece of text, and prints the lines that contain that regular
expression or text. If you issue the following command in a terminal window (which you can open
through Applications ➤ Accessories ➤ Terminal):
grep Linux operatingsystems.txt
grep will look for the text “Linux” in the file operatingsystems.txt and print only the lines that
contain that text. So grep works with text files to filter lines in a file based on criteria you set.
But what if you want to do the same thing not to a text file, but to the output of a command? You use
piping, which is expressed by the character |. It instructs a command to send its output to another
command (and to the second command to take that as its input). For example, if you want to find a
particular process—say, the process gedit (processes are listed with the ps command)—you’d type the
following at the command line:
ps -d | grep gedit
This command will show you information about the gedit process (if it is running).
Another way of attaining a similar end is by means of redirecting—expressed with the character >.
Redirecting means sending the output of a command to a text file. So the preceding task could be
fulfilled by executing two commands: one for listing process information (and redirecting its output) and
the other to display only the lines that pertain to a certain process:
ps -d > processes.txt
grep gedit processes.txt
If you’ve read any of the Ubuntu man pages, you might have seen references to standard input and
standard output. Like many things in Linux, this sounds complicated, but is merely a long-winded way of
referring to something that is relatively simple (although the terms have specific meanings to
programmers). Standard input is simply the device that programs running under Ubuntu normally take
input from. In other words, on the majority of desktop PCs, when you’re using the command-line shell,
standard input refers to the keyboard. However, it’s important to note that it could also refer to the mouse
or any other device on your system capable of providing input; even some software can take the role of
providing standard input.
Standard output is similar. It refers to the device to which output from a command is usually sent from
software. In the majority of cases at the command line, this refers to the monitor screen, although it could
be any kind of output device, such as your PC’s sound card and speakers.
The man page for the cat command says that it will “concatenate files and print on the standard output.”
In other words, for the majority of desktop Ubuntu installations, it will combine (concatenate) any number
of files together and print the results on the screen. If you specify just one file, it will display that single file
on your screen.
In addition to hardware devices, input can also come from a file containing commands, and output can
also be sent to a file instead of the screen, or even sent directly to another command. This is just one
reason why the command-line shell is so flexible and powerful.
As shown in Table 12-1, there are a number of text-manipulation tools that are not only useful, but
that make you love them once you get to know them. The power behind grep, sed, or AWK is hardly
replaced by graphical interfaces or fancy touchscreens. These tools can be imitated, but never replaced.
Like many other features of Linux, they have been inherited from UNIX. Just as a reference, let’s
introduce you to some of these tools; should you ever become an Ubuntu guru, you’ll learn how to use
them in more depth and you’ll become a huge fan. Guaranteed!
Table 12-1. List of Traditional Text-Manipulation Tools
The grep command searches for regular expressions or text patterns in a text file or
command output, and prints only matching lines. The name is derived from
“global/regular expression/print.” Use grep if you want to filter lines based on the
presence of a word.
Short for “stream editor,” as its name implies, this transforms a text stream based on
specified rules and criteria. Use sed if you want to search and replace a word in a text file or
modify the output of a command.
AWK, whose name derives from the family names of its creators (Alfred Aho, Peter
Weinberger, and Brian Kernighan), is a powerful text-manipulation programming
language. As Alfred Aho puts it, “AWK is a language for processing files of text. A file is
treated as a sequence of records, and by default each line is a record. Each line is broken up
into a sequence of fields, so we can think of the first word in a line as the first field, the
second word as the second field, and so on. An AWK program is of a sequence of patternaction statements. AWK reads the input a line at a time. A line is scanned for each pattern in
the program, and for each pattern that matches, the associated action is executed.” It is
used, for example, to print specified columns of a text file.
This is a UNIX command used to display and concatenate text files. You can, for example,
merge two text files into a third file.
This is used to display just the first lines of a text file.
This is used to display just the last few lines of a text file.
This is a command-line utility used to display the contents of a text file one screen at a
This command lets you move backward in the document.
This tool is used to sort the lines in a text file or stream in forward or reverse order.
This tool is used to compare two text files and print the differences between them. It’s
useful if you are comparing, for example, two versions of the same source code.
■ Note The less and more commands are sometimes known as pagers because of their ability to let you scroll
through pages of text. You might still hear them referred to as such in the wider Linux community, although the
term has fallen out of use.
Bash is an incredibly capable tool when it comes to text manipulation, and some of its tool set offers
modest word processing–like functionality. It’s no wonder that some people live their lives working at
the Bash prompt and have no need of sophisticated GUI tools!
Table 12-2 lists some more text-processing tools that you can use on the command line. Along with
the commands are listed any command options needed to make them work in a useful way. Some
commands rely on redirection and piping, which were explained earlier in this chapter.
■ Note Most text-processing tools under Bash were created for programmers, so some options might seem a little
odd when you read the man pages. However, all the tools are extremely flexible and offer functions for every kind
of user.
Table 12-2. Useful Text-Processing Commands
aspell -c filename
Highlights any questionable words within filename, and
offers a choice of replacements, rather like a standard
word processor’s spell-checker. Press X if you wish to exit
after spell-checking starts.
Single word
look word
Looks up word in the dictionary; if the word is displayed in
the output, the word has been found. If not, the word
hasn’t been found. Note that this command returns loose
matches—searching for test, for example, will return
every word beginning with test (testing, testimony,
testosterone, and so forth).
Word count
wc -w filename
Outputs the number of words in filename. Used without
the -w command switch, wc outputs the number of lines,
followed by the word count, followed by the number of
bytes in the file.
Remove line
fmt filename > newfile
Creates newfile, removing breaks at the ends of lines in
filename. Double line breaks between paragraphs aren’t
affected. Adding the -u command switch removes
instances of double spaces too.
uniq filename > newfile
Creates newfile from filename but removes duplicate
Join two files
paste file1 file2 >
Creates file3 by joining file1 and file2 side by side
(effectively creating two columns of text). Each line is
separated by a tab.
Word wrap
fold -sw20 filename >
Creates newfile from filename, wrapping lines at the
specified 20 characters (increase/decrease this value for
shorter/longer lines). Note that the -s switch ensures that
lines don’t break across words, even if this means
exceeding the specified character count.
Add line
nl filename > newfile
Creates newfile from filename, adding line numbers to
the beginning of each line.
Sort list
sort file1 > file2
Creates file2 from file1, sorting its contents
alphanumerically (technically, it sorts according to ASCII,
so some symbols appear above numbers). For obvious
reasons, this command works best on lists.
If none of this makes sense to you, it doesn’t matter, because you will seldom need to use this
knowledge for everyday tasks. But it is an interesting insight to know that there’s more to Linux than
meets the eye!
The Text Editor Wars
A variety of text editors can be used within the shell, but three stand out as being ubiquitous: ed, Vim,
and Emacs. The first in that list, ed, is by far the simplest. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s simple
to use or lacks powerful features, but it just doesn’t match the astonishing power of both Vim and
Emacs. To call Vim and Emacs simple text editors is to do them a disservice, because both are extremely
powerful interactive environments. In particular, Emacs is considered practically an OS in itself, and
some users of Linux treat it as their shell, executing commands and performing everyday tasks, such as
reading and sending e-mail from within it. There are entire books written solely about Emacs and Vim.
■ Tip A fourth shell-based text editor found on many Linux systems is nano. This offers many word processor–like
features that can be helpful if you’ve come to Linux from a Windows background.
The downside of all the power within Emacs and Vim is that both packages can be difficult to learn
to use. They’re considered idiosyncratic by even their most ardent fans. Both require the user to learn
certain unfamiliar concepts, as well as keyboard shortcuts and commands.
Although there are debates about which text editor is better and which is best, it’s generally agreed
that Vim offers substantial text-editing power but isn’t too all-encompassing. It’s also installed by default
on Ubuntu. On Ubuntu, Emacs must be installed as an optional extra. Both text editors are normally
available on virtually every installation of Linux or UNIX. We’ll concentrate on using Vim here.
It’s important to understand that Vim is an update of a classic piece of software called vi. In fact,
there are many versions and updates of vi. The original program, once supplied with UNIX, is rarely used
nowadays. Vim is the most commonly used clone; Vim stands for vi improved. Another version is elvis
( However, most people still refer to Vim and elvis as vi,
even though they are entirely new pieces of software.
■ Note There used to be a constant flame war between advocates of vi and Emacs, as to which was better. This
could be quite a vicious and desperate debate, and the text editor you used was often taken as a measure of your
character! Nowadays, the battle between the two camps has softened, and the Emacs vs. vi debate is considered
an entertaining cliché of Linux and UNIX use. When users declare online which text editor they prefer, they often
include a smiley symbol to acknowledge the once-fevered emotions.
Working with Text Files
Fortunately, you don’t need to learn how to use those tools if you don’t feel like it, because Ubuntu
comes equipped with a powerful, and yes, graphical, text-editing tool: gedit. gedit is in fact the default
text editor for the GNOME desktop environment, so you can find it in other distributions of Linux such
as Fedora and SUSE.
Introducing gedit
The basic interface of gedit, as you can see in Figure 12-1, is quite similar of that of Notepad, and in
many regards the two applications work very much alike. But gedit has some salient features, such as
plug-in support, that raise it above the crowd of simple text-editing tools like Notepad. You’ll see that
there are a lot of available plug-ins for gedit that will enable you to do things you can only dream of
doing with other text editors. In this respect, it is a tool that honors the history of Linux; it isn’t just a
simple GUI replacement for Vim or Emacs.
Figure 12-1. gedit: A simple yet powerful graphical text editor
One of the neat features is the ability to work with tabs, just like in your favorite web browser. Each
tab is an open text file. So when you are, for example, writing a script or taking notes, you can have Don
Quixote, the classic novel by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, open in another tab to take
short breaks from work!
The gedit window has the following elements:
Menubar: The menubar gives you access to all gedit commands.
Toolbar: Using the toolbar you can perform common tasks such as creating, opening, and saving
text files.
Display area: The display area is where the action is! This is where the text is actually displayed.
Statusbar: The statusbar, shown at the bottom of the window, displays information about current
activity and contextual menus.
Side Pane: The side pane displays a list of open documents, and other information depending on
which plug-ins are enabled. By default, the side pane is not shown. To show it, choose View ➤
Side Pane.
Bottom Pane: The bottom pane is used by some programming-related plug-ins to display its output.
By default, the bottom pane is not shown. To show it, choose View ➤ Bottom Pane.
To start gedit, simply go to Applications ➤ Accessories ➤ gedit Text Editor, or right-click a text file
and select “Open with gedit.” It is also very likely that if you double-click a text file it will automatically
be opened with gedit.
Opening gedit with those methods assumes that you will edit the file with your everyday user
account. But what if you want to edit a configuration file to which only superusers have access? Normal
users will only be able to open it in read-only mode, meaning that they will be unable to save the
changes they make. To edit configuration files, press Alt+F2 to invoke the Run Command dialog box and
type gksu gedit in the text field. After entering your password, gedit will open with root-like privileges.
The basic operations are simply explained. You have the buttons on the toolbar and the options in
the menus. To create a new file, just click File ➤ New, and a new tab will be created with a blank
document (the same happens if you click the New button on the toolbar). To open an existing file, click
File ➤ Open…, and a dialog box will let you browse for the text file to open. Finally, click File ➤ Save to
store the results of your work to the disk.
Once you have the desired file in your display area, you can begin to work as with any text editor.
You can write new text, select chunks of text and copy it to the clipboard, or paste text from other
sources. You cannot apply formatting to parts of the file, since gedit is only a text editor, not a word
processing tool such as’s Writer. What you save are text files, and because of this gedit is
fully interoperable with Notepad.
gedit saves the history of recently opened files, which you can see by expanding the File menu or
clicking the small arrow next to the Open button in the toolbar. If you click a file, it will open once again.
Working with gedit
Working with gedit is just a matter of entering text in the display area and saving the file from time to
time. While simple, it does offer plenty of options that can make your tasks easier and more enjoyable.
The menubar gives you access to all the operations that can be performed with gedit. Table 12-3 lists
all the options available in the menubar. You can open a test file and play a little with those options to
familiarize yourself with them. You can also use the Personalize dialog box to modify the program’s
general behavior.
Table 12-3. The Menubar Options
Creates a new text file from scratch.
Allows you to browse your disk and open an existing text file.
Stores the changes you have made to the file on the disk. You need to
have write permissions on the file to do this.
Save As…
Allows you to save your file with a different name or to an alternate
location. It’s useful if you don’t have write permissions on the file or if
want to save several versions of the same file.
Undoes all changes made to the document since the last time you
saved it.
Print Preview
Displays how the document will be printed. As this is not a word
processor, there wouldn’t be much surprises here, but at least you would
be able to anticipate how many pages the document has.
Actually prints the file.
List of files
Lists the recently opened files. Click a file to open it again.
Closes only the current document. You will be asked whether you want to
save it beforehand.
Quits gedit. All documents can be saved beforehand.
Undoes the last change.
Redoes the last undone change.
Copies the selected text to the clipboard and deletes it from the file.
Copies the selected text to the clipboard without deleting it from the file.
Inserts the contents of the clipboard into the current file.
Deletes the selected text from the file without copying it to the clipboard.
Select All
Selects all text in the file so you can later copy, cut, or delete it.
Gives you access to the Preferences dialog box (explained later in this
Shows or hides the toolbar. It is selected by default.
Shows or hides the statusbar. It is selected by default.
Side Pane
Shows or hides the side pane. It is disabled by default.
Bottom Pane
Shows or hides the bottom pane. It is disabled and grayed out by default.
Some programming functions will allow you to enable it.
Switches to full-screen mode for easier editing. Change back to normal
mode by pressing F11.
Allows you to highlight portions of the text based on the type of file you
are editing. gedit is sometimes used to create or edit scripts and other
types of structured text files. To make it easier, you can tell gedit what
type of file you are creating, and it will automatically recognize special
words and display them with different colors, thus making it easier to
identify them. By default, Plain Text mode is selected.
Allows you to find all occurrences of a specific piece of text. It opens a
dialog box in which you can enter the search term and select from several
options (also available in the Replace dialog box), as follows:
Match case: Only searches for occurrences of the string that match the
text and the case of the search term.
Match entire word only: Only finds occurrences of the string that match
the entire search term.
Search backwards: Searches backward toward the beginning of the
Wrap around: Searches to one end of the document and then
continues the search from the other end of the file.
All occurrences of the search term within the document will be
highlighted, and the cursor will be positioned at the first one found.
Find Next
Moves the cursor to the next occurrence of the search term.
Find Previous
Moves the cursor to the previous occurrence of the search term.
Allows you to search as you type, as most modern browsers. As soon as
you begin entering the search term, it will start creating the list of
occurrences, more specific as more characters are entered. Press Ctrl+G
to move the cursor to the next occurrence, and Ctrl+Shift+G to move to
the previous one.
Allows you to search for a term and replace all or some of its occurrences.
Removes the highlighting from all occurrences of the search term.
Go to Line…
Moves the cursor to a specific line.
Allows you to navigate through your open files or save them at the same
Allows you to get more help.
It is worth noting that sometimes additional options will be available at each menu. It depends on
which plug-ins you have enabled. Plug-ins, which are fully explained later in this chapter, extend the
basic functionality of gedit, allowing you to do more. They can also extend the basic interface—for
example, creating a new menu called Tools. So gedit is very extensible.
The Preferences dialog box, which you can access through the Edit menu, allows you to change how
text is displayed, and to enable or disable plug-ins. There are four different tabs in the dialog box:
View: The View options allow you to configure how text is displayed.
• Text Wrapping: Select the “Enable text wrapping” option to have long lines of
text flow into paragraphs instead of running off the edge of the text window.
This avoids having to scroll horizontally. Select the “Do not split words over
two lines” option to make the Text Wrapping option preserve whole words
when flowing text to the next line. This makes text easier to read.
• Line Numbers: Select the “Display line numbers” option to display line
numbers on the left side of the gedit window.
• Current Line: Select the “Highlight current line” option to highlight the line
where the cursor is placed.
• Right Margin: Select the “Display right margin” option to display a vertical line
that indicates the right margin. Use the “Right margin at column” spin box to
specify the location of the vertical line.
• Bracket Matching: Select the “Highlight matching bracket” option to highlight
the corresponding bracket when the cursor is positioned on a bracket
Editor: The Editor options allow you to configure how text is edited and to automatically backup
• Tab Stops: Use the Tab Width spin box to specify the width of the space that
gedit inserts when you press the Tab key. Select the “Insert spaces instead of
tabs” option to make gedit insert the specified number of spaces instead of a
tab character when you press the Tab key.
• Auto Indentation: Select the “Enable auto indentation” option to make the
next line start at the indentation level of the current line.
• File Saving: Select the “Create a backup copy of files before saving” option to
create a backup copy of a file each time you save the file. The backup copy
of the file contains a ~ at the end of the filename. Select the “Autosave files
every … minutes” option to automatically save the current file at regular
intervals. Use the spin box to specify how often you want to save the file.
Font & Colors Preferences: The options on this tab allow you to specify the font in which text is
displayed, and the color of the text and background.
• Font: Select the “Use default theme font” option to use the default system font
for the text in the gedit text window. The “Editor font” field displays the font
that gedit uses to display text. Click the button to specify the font type, style,
and size to use for text.
• Color Scheme: You can choose a color scheme from the list of color schemes.
Plugins: Plug-ins are very powerful features that enable you to turn on or off certain advanced
features of gedit. They are configured by selecting the check box next to the plug-in name in the
Active Plugins list. The complete list of default plug-ins is given in Table 12-4.
Table 12-4. List of Default Plug-Ins
What It Does
How To Use It
Change Case
Changes the case of the
selected text
When enabled, the option Change Case is added
to the Edit menu. Choose it to change the case of
the selected text.
Devhelp Support
Displays context-sensitive
help from development
When enabled, you can select text and press F2 or
click Tools ➤ Show API Documentation to search
for that text in developer’s manuals and reference
Displays statistics about
the current document and
selected text
Select the option Tools ➤ Document Statistics.
External Tools
Executes external tools and
sends the output to the file
You can use the default external tools available
from the Tools ➤ External Tools option. For
example, if you choose to run a command such as
ls -l, the output of that command will be sent to
the text file. You can also create your own external
File Browser
Adds a file browser to the side
Enable the side pane in the view panel. A folder
icon will be displayed at the bottom showing a
new tab with the places on your hard disk. Browse
to the file you want to open and double-click it.
Insert Date/Time
Inserts the date and time into
the text
Select the place where you want to insert the date
and time, and click the Edit ➤ Insert Date and
Time… option. A format must be selected.
Allows you to set editing
preferences for individual
documents, and supports
Emacs-, Kate-, and Vim-style
Insert the modelines for Emacs, Kate, or Vim at
the start or end of the document. Preferences set
using modelines take precedence over the ones
specified in the Preferences dialog.
Python Console
Transforms the bottom
panel into an interactive
Python console
Enable the bottom panel in the View menu.
Quick Open
Lets you open documents in
your Home directory very
Select the File ➤ Quick Open option.
Allows you to store frequently
used pieces of text, called
snippets, and insert them
quickly into a document
You manage snippets through the Tools ➤
Manage Snippets option. You associate a snippet
with a trigger. Pulling the trigger inserts the text.
What It Does
How To Use It
Sorts selected lines
alphabetically (based on ASCII
Select the lines and click the Edit ➤ Sort… option.
Spell Checker
Allows you to search the
document for spelling errors
and correct them
Go to the Tools menu and either choose to check
the spelling immediately or enable the automatic
spell-checker. You can also set the language.
Provides a method to easily
insert commonly used
tags/strings into a document
without having to type them
Go to View ➤ Side Pane, and select the tab with
the plus (+) sign. You’ll see a list of available
categories for tags (e.g., HTML – Tags). Doubleclicking a tag will insert it in the text.
Text Encryption
Performs encryption
operations on text
Select the text to encrypt and go to Edit ➤
Encrypt… (note that you must have created an
encryption key, as detailed in Chapter 8).
As you can see, gedit includes by default a lot of useful plug-ins. But what would be the use of plugins if they were not extensible? As you might expect, there are a lot more plug-ins available both at the
official Ubuntu repositories and from alternative sources.
Additional plug-ins are available, for example, in the package gedit-plugins, which you can install
by using the Ubuntu Software Center. Third-party plug-ins are available from several sources as well.
You can check the page for information about available plug-ins.
Comparing Multiple Files with Diffuse
Another graphical tool that can come in very handy at times is the Diffuse Merge Tool. It combines many
of the functionalities already seen in command-line tools such as paste of diff. It lets you, for instance,
compare line-by-line two or even three text files, and it spots the differences for you so you can merge
the contents of a file into the other. It’s very useful if, for example, you are comparing two versions of a
program’s source code—or if you’re a teacher, two exams from different students.
Diffuse is not installed by default, but is easy to get. Simply open the Ubuntu Software Center and
search for “Diffuse.” The Diffuse Merge Tool will be the first on the list, so simply click Install and wait
(for more details about software installation, see Chapter 20). The Diffuse application launcher is
available from Applications ➤ Programming.
As you can see in Figure 12-2, Diffuse divides the main pane into two or three windows to enable
side-by-side comparison of text files, and highlights the lines with differences.
Figure 12-2. The Diffuse Merge Tool combines the power of many command-line tools.
The third element in the main pane, at the right of the documents, is the comparison summary. The
summary shows all the documents, and illustrates which lines have differences (in red) and which have
been manually edited (in green). You can move from one section of the documents to another simply by
moving the location bar in the comparison summary.
Once you’ve reviewed the differences, you can choose to modify one of the files in accordance to the
other. Use the buttons on the toolbar to copy text from one document to the other. The name of
modified documents will be appended with an asterisk (*) at the end; this means that the file has been
changed since the last save. Make sure you save your files from time to time to avoid losing your work.
In this chapter, we showed how text files can be manipulated. In many ways, the Bash shell is built
around manipulating text, and we presented various tools created with this goal in mind. We then talked
about how text file editors were once the most important applications for Linux users.
With Ubuntu, the need for everyday use of such tools is greatly reduced. Nonetheless, Ubuntu
includes a powerful and expandable text editor: gedit. It comes out of the box with many features not
found in its Notepad counterpart, and new plug-ins are added to the list all the time. In conjunction with
the Diffuse Merge Tool, it covers most of your needs for text file manipulation.
C H A P T E R 13
Making the Move to
You might be willing to believe that you can get a complete operating system for no cost. You might even
be able to accept that this offers everything Windows does and much more. But one stumbling block
many people have is believing that a Microsoft Office–compatible office suite comes as part of the zerocost bundle. It’s a step too far. Office costs hundreds of dollars—are they expecting us to believe that
there’s a rival product that is free?
Well, there is, and it’s called It is a suite, meaning that it is a bundle of many
applications, most of which come preinstalled with Ubuntu, as well as most other Linux distributions.
This makes it the Linux office suite of choice. It’s compatible with most Microsoft Office files too, and
even looks similar and works in a comparable way to previous “classic” releases of Office (i.e., those prior
to Office 2007), making it easy to learn. What more could you want?
Similarities to Microsoft Office started life as a proprietary product called StarOffice, created by a German company
called StarDivision. Sun Microsystems (now part of Oracle) subsequently bought StarDivision and
released the source code of StarOffice in order to encourage community development. This led to the
creation of the project, a collaboration between open source developers and Sun. This
project has released several new versions of, and at the time of this writing, the current
version is 3.2. This is the version supplied with Ubuntu 10.04.
■ Note Although Sun opened StarOffice’s source code, it continued to sell it, along with some useful extras such
as fonts, templates, and technical support. When Oracle bought Sun, StarOffice was rebranded as Oracle Open
Office. To the naïve onlooker, it will seem that Oracle is beginning to charge for But this is not so,
and it cannot be, because is an open source application and a community project that’s licensed
under the GPL. Oracle can package it and charge for the extra functionality, but the core software will remain free. features a word processor, a spreadsheet program, a presentation a package, a
drawing tool (vector graphics), a web site creation tool, a database program, and several extras. As such,
it matches Microsoft Office almost blow by blow in terms of core functionality. See Table 13-1 for a
comparison of core packages.
Table 13-1. How the Office and Suites Compare
Microsoft Office
Word processor
Technical drawing/charting
Web site creation
Equation Editor
Formula Editor
Draw is a vector graphics creation tool akin to Adobe Illustrator. Creating flowcharts or organizational diagrams is
one of many things it can do. It is found on the Applications ➤ Graphics menu.
Writer is used for word processing and HTML creation; when switched to Web mode, its functionality is altered
Writer and Calc can be coupled to a third-party database application such as MySQL or Firebird; however, also comes with the Base relational database. This must be installed separately—see Chapter 20.
You should find that the functionality within the packages is duplicated too, although some of the
very specific features of Microsoft Office are not in But also has its own
range of such tools not yet found in Microsoft Office!
■ Tip One extremely useful feature provided with, but still missing from Office 2007, is the ability
to output high-quality PDF files. does have a couple of notable omissions. Perhaps the main one is that it doesn’t
offer a directly comparable Outlook replacement. However, as we discuss in Chapter 14, the Evolution
application offers a highly capable reproduction of Outlook, with e-mail, contacts management, and
calendar functions all in one location. In Ubuntu, you’ll find Evolution on the Applications ➤ Office
menu. Evolution isn’t directly linked to (although it’s possible to share some Evolution
contacts data with applications), but it retains the overall Ubuntu look, feel, and way
of operating.
Key features of include the ability to export documents in Portable Document Format
(PDF) across the entire suite of programs. PDF files can then be read on any computer equipped with
PDF display software, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader.
In addition, features powerful accessibility features that can, for example, help those
with vision disabilities use the programs more effectively. For those who are technically minded, can be extended very easily with a variety of plug-ins (see that allow the easy creation of add-ons using many
different programming languages.
Although largely mirrors the look and feel of Microsoft Office releases prior to the
2007 version (i.e., those releases of Office prior to the major interface overhaul that’s found in Office
2007), it adds its own flourishes here and there. This can mean that some functions are located on
different menus, for example. However, none of this poses a challenge for most users, and is generally regarded as easy to learn.
■ Note Studies carried out by Sun Microsystems, the corporate sponsor of, have shown that it’s
easier for people to switch to from an older version of Office than it is for them to move to Office
2007, which introduces radical interface changes. For more information and to learn more about similar studies,
File Compatibility
In addition to providing core feature compatibility, is able to read files from Microsoft
Office. A great effort has been made in version 3.2 to add compatibility for Office 2007 formats and
password-protected files (i.e., .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx files). Nonetheless, you should always test your
files, because sometimes results are less than perfect. However, improvements are being made all the
time, and this is just one more reason why you should update Ubuntu frequently to ensure that you have
the latest versions of the software.
Although file compatibility problems are rare for most simple to moderately complex documents,
two issues occasionally crop up when opening Microsoft Office files in
VBA compatibility: has partial support for Microsoft Office Visual Basic for
Applications (VBA) macros, although work is being undertaken to strengthen this aspect. uses a similar but incompatible internal programming language. Such macros are
typically used in Excel spreadsheets designed to calculate time sheets, for example. Unfortunately,
you won’t know whether your VBA macros will work until you give them a try in,
although the macros will be preserved within the document no matter what (provided you continue
to save in the original Microsoft Office format and don’t, for example, save the document in an file format instead).
■ Note If compatibility with VBA macros is a deal breaker for you, and you’ve yet to install Ubuntu, you might try
your documents containing VBA macros in the Windows version of This will enable you to see how
well they work in advance. You can download the Windows version from
Document formatting: When you create well-polished documents and beautiful presentations, the
last thing you want is to lose all your work when you move the files from one computer to another.
Sadly, this is often the reality when files are shared between Microsoft Office and
Although files can be opened, some formatting may be lost, diminishing the desired visual impact.
Sometimes the problem is due to lack of fonts, and we talk about this issue later in this chapter. On
other occasions, when you want to distribute your own work, you could just export it as a PDF file,
as shown following. Also, you should always test presentations for full compatibility without
assuming they will look exactly the same in the different programs. Opening a file is just half the job!
If you find that isn’t able to open an Office file saved by your colleagues, you can
always suggest that they too make the switch to They don’t need to be running Ubuntu
to do so. Versions are available to run on all Windows platforms, as well as the Mac, and are available
■ Note Two versions of are available for Mac OS X: the standard release, which at the time of this
writing is still rather new and not fully tested, and NeoOffice, which has been adapted to run natively within Mac
OS X. For more details, see
As with the Ubuntu version, versions of available for other operating systems are
entirely free of charge. Indeed, for many people who are running versions of Office they’ve installed from
“borrowed” CDs, offers a way to come clean and avoid pirating software. For more
details and to download, visit
After your colleagues have made the switch, you can exchange files using’s native
format, or opt to save files in the Microsoft Office file formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt, etc.). Figure 13-1 shows
the file type options available in’s word processor component’s Save As dialog box.
■ Note also supports Rich Text Format (RTF) text documents and comma-separated value (CSV)
data files, which are supported by practically every office suite program ever made.
When it comes to sharing files, there’s another option: saving your files in a non-Office format such
as PDF or HTML. is able to export documents in both formats, and most modern PCs
equipped with Adobe Acrobat or a simple web browser will be able to read them. However, although can open and edit HTML files, it can export documents only as PDF files, so this format
is best reserved for files not intended for further editing.
Figure 13-1. All the components are compatible with Microsoft Office file formats.
One of the principles behind all open source software is the idea of open file formats. This means that if
someone creates a new open source word processor, that person also makes sure that the technology
behind the file format is explained, so that other people can adapt their programs to read or save in that
file format.
To meet the goals of open source software, the OASIS OpenDocument Format (ODF) was created, and this
is utilized in This is a completely open and free-to-use office document file format that all
software suites can adopt. The idea is that ODF will make swapping files between all office suites easy.
While earlier versions of relied on ODF 1.1, in October 2008, 3.0 adopted
ODF 1.2 as its default file format. ODF 1.2 is in the process of being standardized, so in this regard is a step ahead.
There have been changes recently regarding Microsoft support for ODF files. Traditionally, Microsoft hasn’t
supported ODF file formats within its productivity suite, so Sun Microsystems developed a plug-in that
enabled you to open ODF files with Microsoft Office. This changed with the release of Microsoft Office
2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2), in which ODF version 1.1 gained support. But since the 3.2
default file format is ODF 1.2, you may still have problems opening documents produced with in Microsoft Office. It is likely that when ODF 1.2 becomes standardized, Microsoft will add
its support to its Office suite.
In the meantime, Oracle has launched a new plug-in for Microsoft Office that allows you to open ODF 1.2
files with Microsoft Office XP, 2000, 2003, and 2007, but this plug-in isn’t free.
The Right Fonts
One key to compatibility with the majority of Microsoft Office files is ensuring that you have the correct
fonts. This is an issue even when using Windows. It’s common to open an Office document and find the
formatting incorrect because you don’t have the fonts used in the construction of the document.
Although most Windows systems have many fonts, most people tend to rely on a handful of core
fonts, which are defaults on most Windows installations: Arial, Tahoma, Verdana, Trebuchet MS, and
Times New Roman. (MS Comic Sans might also be included in that list, although it isn’t often used
within business documents.)
You can obtain these fonts and install them on your Ubuntu system in several ways. Here we cover
two methods: copying your fonts from Windows and installing Microsoft’s TrueType core fonts. The
latter method is by far the easier way of undertaking this task.
■ Tip As an alternative to installing Microsoft fonts, you might install the Liberation fonts. These are open source
fonts designed to be metrically identical to Arial, Times New Roman, and Courier. In other words, in theory at least,
the letter A in one of the aforementioned Microsoft fonts should occupy the same space (and therefore display the
same on the screen and when printed) as the letter A in the matching Liberation font. You can install the Liberation
fonts by installing the ttf-liberation package. To learn about package installation, see Chapter 20.
Copying Windows Fonts
If you dual-boot Ubuntu with Windows, you can delve into your Windows partition’s font folder and
copy every font you have available under Windows. This method is useful if you wish to copy all the
fonts you use under Windows, such as those installed by third-party applications. If you wish to get just
Arial and Times New Roman, you might want to skip ahead to the next section.
■ Caution Installing Windows fonts under Ubuntu is a legal gray area. Technically speaking, there’s no reason
why you shouldn’t be able to use the fonts under Ubuntu. Purchasing Windows as well as any software running on
it should also mean you purchased a license to use the fonts, and there’s no restriction on how or where you use
them. But the situation is far from clear. You’d be well advised to read the Windows End User License Agreement
(EULA) for more guidance. This can usually be found in the packaging for your computer.
To copy your Windows fonts, follow these steps:
Click the entry on the Places menu for your Windows partition, so it is
mounted and its icon appears on the desktop.
Create a folder named .fonts in your Home folder. It will be used to store your
personal selection of fonts.
In the Nautilus window displaying the Windows directories, navigate to your
Windows fonts folder. The location of this varies depending on which version
of Windows you’re using. On our Windows Vista test computer, it was located
in the Windows/Fonts directory, but on our Windows XP Home test machine, it
was located in the WINDOWS/Fonts directory. Remember that case sensitivity is
important under Ubuntu!
Still in the window displaying your Windows font directory, click View ➤ List,
and then click the Type column header in the window so that the list is sorted
according to file extensions. Scroll down to the list of TrueType fonts and
select them all. This can be done by clicking the first, holding down Shift, and
then clicking the last.
Click and drag all the TrueType fonts to the Nautilus window displaying your
personal font directory. The fonts will be copied across and installed
automatically. In some of our tests, this happened instantly, and there was no
indication (such as a dialog box) that copying had happened.
Close any open program windows and start the programs again. You should
find that your Windows fonts are now available.
Installing TrueType Core Fonts
If you don’t want to undertake the font-copying maneuver, you can download and install Microsoft’s
TrueType core fonts. This package contains common Windows fonts, including Arial and Times
New Roman.
■ Note These fonts were made legally available by Microsoft in 1996 for use under any operating system—for
more details, see
Here’s how it’s done (note that these instructions assume that your computer is online):
Click Applications ➤ Ubuntu Software Center. Enter your password to
In the Quick Search text field at the top of the program window, type
msttcorefonts. Select Microsoft Core Fonts and click Install.
Close all program windows, click System ➤ Quit, and opt to log out of the
system. Then log back in again. You should now find that the Windows fonts
are available in all applications, including, as shown in Figure
Figure 13-2. Vital Microsoft fonts are just a download away, courtesy of the Ubuntu Software Center.
OTHER LINUX OFFICE SOFTWARE is widely regarded as one of the best Linux office suites, but it’s not the only one. Its main
competitor is KOffice. KOffice tightly integrates into the KDE desktop and mirrors much of its look and feel.
It includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation package, a flowcharting tool, a database
access tool, graphical tools, and much more. As with, in most cases you can load and save
Microsoft Office files. For more details, see the KOffice home page at It’s available with
Ubuntu too. Just use the Synaptic Package Manager to search for and install it.
In addition, there are several open source office applications that aren’t complete office suites. For
example, AbiWord is considered an excellent word processor, which packs in a lot of features but keeps
the user interface simple. It’s partnered by Gnumeric, a spreadsheet application that is developed
separately (although both aim to be integrated into the GNOME desktop environment). For more details,
see and, respectively. You can also find both of
these programs in the Ubuntu software repositories (use the Ubuntu Software Center to search for them).
Introducing the Interface
If you’ve ever used an office suite such as Microsoft Office, you shouldn’t find it too hard to get around in As with Microsoft Office, relies primarily on toolbars, a main menu, and
separate context-sensitive menus that appear when you right-click. In addition, provides
floating palettes that offer quick access to useful functions, such as paragraph styles within Writer.
Figure 13-3 provides a quick guide to the interface, showing the following
Menu bar: The menus provide access to most of the functions.
Standard toolbar: This toolbar provides quick access to global operations, such as saving, opening,
and printing files, as well as key functions within the program being used. The standard toolbar
appears in all programs and also provides a way to activate the various floating
palettes, such as the Navigator, which lets you easily move around various elements within the
Formatting toolbar: As its name suggests, this toolbar offers quick access to text-formatting
functions, similar to the type of toolbar used in Microsoft Office applications. Clicking the Bold icon
will boldface any selected text, for example. This toolbar appears in Calc, Writer, and Impress.
Ruler: The ruler lets you set tabs and alter margins and indents (within programs that use rulers).
Status bar: The status bar shows various aspects of the configuration, such as whether Insert or
Overtype mode is in use. The information and options offered vary depending on which application
is in use. Within Writer, for example, a slider to the right of the status bar allows the quick changing
of the document’s zoom level. If using Calc, you’ll see a Sum area that shows the numeric total of
any selected cells.
Document area: This is the main editing area.
Most of the programs rely on the standard and formatting toolbars to provide access to their
functions, and some programs have additional toolbars. For example, applications such as Impress
(a presentation program) and Draw (for drawing vector graphics) have a drawing toolbar, which
provides quick access to tools for drawing shapes, adding lines, and creating fills (the blocks of color
within shapes).
Figure 13-3. The interface has several components.
Customizing the Interface
You can select which toolbars are visible on your screen, as well as customize those that are already
there. You can also add new toolbars and customize the menus. The color scheme of can be altered to your tastes, and you can also alter various trivial elements of the
interface, such as the size of the icons.
Adding Functions to Toolbars
The quickest way to add icons and functions to any toolbar is to click the small arrow at the right of a
toolbar and select the Visible Buttons entry on the menu that appears. This will present a list of currently
visible icons and functions, along with those that might prove useful on that toolbar but are currently
hidden. Any option already visible will have a check next to it.
Additionally, you can add practically any function to a toolbar, including the options from the main
menus and many more than those that are ordinarily visible. Here are the steps:
Click the small down arrow to the right of a toolbar and select the Customize
Toolbar option.
In the Customize dialog box, click the Add button in the Toolbar Content
section to open the Add Commands dialog box, as shown in Figure 13-4.
Choose a category from the list on the left to see the available commands in
the list on the right. The categories of functions are extremely comprehensive.
For example, under the Format category, you’ll find entries related to specific
functions, such as increasing font sizes or setting a shadow effect behind text.
Those categories are self explanatory for the most part.
Select the function you want to add on the right side of the Add Commands
dialog box and then click the Add button.
After you’ve finished making your choices, click the Close button. You’ll then
see your new function in the list of icons in the Customize dialog box, under
the Toolbar Content heading. The last new icon you chose will be
automatically selected.
Click and drag up or down in the list to move the new function left or right on
the toolbar itself (you’ll see the toolbar update when you release the mouse
button). Alternatively, you can highlight the icon and click the up and down
arrows next to the list. To temporarily hide the new icon, or any other icon,
remove the check from alongside it.
Figure 13-4. Adding a new function to the toolbar is very easy within
Many functions that can be added are automatically given a relevant toolbar icon, but you can
choose another icon for a function by selecting the icon in the list in the Customize dialog box, clicking
Modify, and then selecting Change Icon. You can also use this method to change an icon that already
appears on a toolbar.
■ Note To delete an icon from a toolbar, click the two small arrows to the right of the toolbar and then select the
Customize Toolbar option. Select the icon you want to remove, click the Modify button, and choose to delete it.
Adding a New Toolbar
If you want to add your own new toolbar to offer particular functions, you’ll find it easy to do. Here are
the steps:
Click the small down arrow to the right of any toolbar and select Customize
Toolbar from the list of options. Don’t worry—you’re not actually going to
customize that particular toolbar!
In the Customize dialog box, click the New button at the top right.
Give the toolbar a name. To make the toolbar permanent, keep the default
entry in the Save In field, which should read “” To have the
toolbar “attach” to the currently open document so that it appears only when
that document is opened, select the document’s name in the Save In field.
Note that this is effective only if documents are saved in native
file formats.
Populate the new toolbar, following the instructions in the previous section.
After you’ve finished, click the OK button.
You should see your new toolbar either beneath or to the right of the main toolbars. If it is located to
the right, you may have to click and drag its move handle at the left of the toolbar to reposition it so that
all its features are visible. To hide the toolbar in the future, click View ➤ Toolbars, and then remove the
check alongside the name of your toolbar.
Customizing Menus
You can also customize the menus. Here are the steps:
Choose Tools ➤ Customize from the menu bar.
In the Customize dialog box, select the Menus tab at the top left.
Choose which menu you wish to customize from the Menu drop-down list.
Submenus are indicated with a pipe symbol (|). File | Send indicates the Send
submenu located in the File menu, for example.
Select the position where you wish the new function to appear on the
menu by selecting an entry in the Menu Content Entries list, and then click the
Add button.
Add commands to the menu, as described earlier in the “Adding Functions to
Toolbars” section.
The up and down arrows in the Customize dialog box enable you to alter the position of entries on
the menu. You could move those items you use frequently to the top of the menu, for example.
You can remove an existing menu item by highlighting it in the Customize dialog box, clicking the
Modify button, and then clicking Delete.
If you make a mistake, simply click the Reset button at the bottom right of the Customize dialog box
to return the menus to their default state.
Personalizing the Look and Feel
You can alter the color scheme used in by clicking Tools ➤ Options, and then clicking
the Appearance entry under the heading on the left of the dialog box that appears.
Each of the programs in the suite has its own heading in the Custom Colors list. To
alter a particular color setting, click the drop-down alongside that particular entry under the Color
Settings heading.
To alter how toolbars appear (i.e., the size of the icons), click the View option under the heading. This preference panel also lets you set the default zoom level under the
Scaling heading when starting new documents. You can also deactivate font antialiasing, which can
help make some fonts look truer to life compared to printed output, although this option is one of
personal preference.
Configuring Options
In addition to the wealth of customization options, offers a range of configuration
options that enable you to make it work exactly how you wish (although it should be pointed out that the
default configuration is fine for most users). Within an program, choose Tools ➤ Options
from the menu to open the Options dialog box, as shown in Figure 13-5.
Figure 13-5. Access’s main configuration options by choosing Tools ➤ Options.
Most of the configuration options offered within each program apply across the suite, but some
settings are specific to each program, in which case you’ll find them listed under their own heading on
the left of the dialog box.
Using Core Functions
Although the various programs within are designed for very specific tasks, they all share
several core functions that work in broadly similar ways. In addition, each program is able to borrow
components from other programs in the suite.
Using Wizards
One of the core functions you’ll find most useful when you’re creating new documents is the wizard
system, which you can access from the File menu. A wizard guides you through creating a new
document by answering questions and following a wizard-based interface. This replaces the templatebased approach within Microsoft Office, although it’s worth noting that is still able to
use templates.
A wizard will usually offer a variety of document styles. Some wizards will even prompt you to fill in
salient details, which they will then insert into your document in the relevant areas.
Note that within some components of, such as Writer, the wizards offered on the
File menu won’t work unless Java Runtime Environment (JRE) software is installed. This can be done
quickly and easily by closing any open applications, opening the Ubuntu Software
Center (Applications ➤ Ubuntu Software Center), and installing the following programs:
Standard Java or Java-compatible runtime (default-jre)
Office productivity suite (arch-independent Java support files [openoffice.orgjava-common])
You will need to type your password when prompted. The software will probably be in the 200MB
range, so it might take a while to download. Installation is automatic; after it has finished, close the
Ubuntu Software Center and log out. When you log in again, open any application to test
the installation by starting a wizard.
■ Note In case you’re wondering why this useful software isn’t included by default, you can blame the fact that
it’s over 200MB. Put simply, it just won’t fit on the Ubuntu installation CD-ROM.
Getting Help employs a comprehensive help system, complete with automatic context-sensitive help,
called the Help Agent, which will appear if the program detects you’re performing a particular task.
Usually, the Help Agent takes the form of a lightbulb graphic, which will appear at the bottom-right
corner of the screen. If you ignore the Help Agent, it will disappear within a few seconds. Clicking it
causes a help window to open. Alternatively, you can access the main searchable help file by clicking the
relevant menu entry.
■ Tip To permanently disable the Help Agent, open any application and click Tools ➤ Options, and
then select the General heading under the heading within the dialog box that appears. Remove the
check from the Help Agent box on the right of the program window.
Additionally, applications have a useful “What’s This?” help option that provides
point-and-click help. To activate it, select the entry on the Help menu, and then hover the cursor over
any interface option that you want to learn about. After a second or two, a detailed help bubble will
appear, providing an explanation. To cancel it, just click anywhere.
Inserting Objects with Object Linking and Embedding
All the programs are able to use Object Linking and Embedding (OLE). This effectively
means that one document can be inserted into another. For example, you might choose
to insert a Calc spreadsheet into a Writer document.
The main benefit of using OLE over simply copying and pasting the data is that the OLE item
(referred to as an object) will be updated whenever the original document is revised. In this way, you can
prepare a report featuring a spreadsheet full of figures, for example, and not need to worry about
updating the report when the figures change. Figure 13-6 shows an example of a spreadsheet from Calc
inserted into a Writer document.
Whenever you click inside the OLE object, the user interface will change so that you can access
functions specific to that object. For example, if you had inserted an Impress object into a Calc
document, clicking within the object would cause the Calc interface to temporarily turn into that of
Impress. Clicking outside the OLE object would restore the interface back to Calc.
You can explore OLE objects by choosing Insert ➤ Object ➤ OLE Object. This option lets you create
and insert a new OLE object, as well as add one based on an existing file. To ensure that the inserted OLE
object is updated when the file is, select the Link to File check box in the Insert OLE Object dialog box.
Figure 13-6. OLE lets you incorporate one document into another.
Creating Macros employs a powerful BASIC-like programming language, which you can use to create
your own functions. Although this language is called BASIC, it is several generations beyond the BASIC
you might have used in the past.’s BASIC is a high-level, object-oriented environment
designed to appeal to programmers who wish to quickly add their own functions to the suite.
However, it’s possible for any user to record a series of actions as a macro, which is then
automatically turned into a simple BASIC program. This can be very useful if you wish to automate a
simple, repetitive task, such as the insertion of a paragraph of text, or even something more complicated,
such as searching and replacing text within a document.
To record a macro, choose Tools ➤ Macros ➤ Record Macro. After you’ve selected this option, any
subsequent actions will be recorded. All keyboard strokes and clicks of the mouse will be captured and
turned automatically into BASIC commands. To stop the recording, simply click the button on the
floating toolbar. After this, you’ll be invited to give the macro a name (look to the top left of the dialog
box). Then click Save. You can then run your macro in the future by choosing Tools ➤ Macros ➤ Run
Macro. Simply expand the My Macros and Standard entries at the top left of the dialog box, click
Module1, select your macro in the list on the right, and click Run.
Saving Files uses the OpenDocument range of file formats. The files end with an .ods, .odt, .odp, or
.odb file extension, depending on whether they’ve been saved by Calc, Writer, Impress, or Base,
respectively. The OpenDocument format is the best choice when you’re saving documents that you are
likely to further edit within However, if you wish to share files with colleagues who
aren’t running Ubuntu, another Linux version, or under Windows or Mac OS X, the
solution is to save the files as Microsoft Office files. To save in this format, just choose that option from
the File Type drop-down list in the Save As dialog box. If your colleague is running an older version of or StarOffice, you can also save in those file formats.
Alternatively, you might wish to save the file in one of the other file formats offered in the File Type
drop-down list. However, saving files in an alternative format might result in the loss of some document
components or formatting. For example, saving a Writer document as a simple text file (.txt) will lead to
the loss of all of the formatting, as well as any of the original file’s embedded objects, such as pictures.
To avoid losing document components or formatting, you might choose to output your files as PDF files, which can be read by the Adobe Acrobat viewer. The benefit of this
approach is that a complete facsimile of your document will be made available, with all the necessary
fonts and on-screen elements included within the PDF file. The drawback is that PDF files cannot be
loaded into for further editing, so you should always save an additional copy of the file in
the native format. To save any file as a PDF throughout the suite, choose File ➤ Export as
PDF. Then choose PDF in the File Type drop-down box, as shown in Figure 13-7.
■ Tip You can obtain a plug-in for that allows the opening and subsequent editing of PDF files. For
more details, see
Figure 13-7. All the programs in the suite can export files in Adobe PDF format.
Beginning Applications
Beyond the common features just explained, each application has its own set of specific
functionality that allows it to perform its tasks more effectively. Although this book isn’t intended to be a
full manual of each of them (there are such books out there; we recommend Beginning OpenOffice 3, by
Andy Channelle [Apress, 2008]), you will find some useful guidance in the following pages that will let
you get started with the most popular applications: the word processor, the spreadsheet application, and
the presentation application.
The word processor is arguably the most popular element within any office suite. That said, you’ll be
happy to know that’s Writer component doesn’t skimp on features. It offers full textediting and formatting functionality, along with powerful higher-level features such as mail merge. Its
most basic function is of course to allow you to write. Having said that, a powerful word processor must
also be able to help you give your documents the right look and feel and to check whether your spelling
and grammar are correct. Luckily for you, Writer is one such application.
Figure 13-8 shows the most salient features of the Writer interface.
Figure 13-8. The Writer interface should look familiar to anyone with Word 2003 or earlier.
Formatting Text
As in Microsoft Word, formatting text can be done either by applying predefined styles or changing
individual aspects of the text, such as font or size. But Writer is much more built around styles than
Microsoft Word—enough to make some tasks much easier when you use this functionality.
There are five levels of styles and formatting:
Character: This applies formatting to the selected portion of the text. You will mainly use the
formatting toolbar (explained later in this section) to apply formatting at this level.
Paragraph: This allows you to apply formatting for the entire paragraph (i.e., a block of text
separated from its neighbors by line breaks).
Frame: Frames are floating boxes into which text or graphics can be inserted. New frames can be
created by clicking the entry on the Insert menu. You can apply styles and formatting to all of the
content in a frame.
Page: This applies formatting for the entire page, or elements in it, such as footnotes. Most usefully,
it allows you to set left- or right-facing pages, which can be useful when creating documents that
will be turned into a printed book.
List: This allows you to choose between different bullet point and numbering styles.
The easiest and more straightforward method of applying formatting is by using the formatting
toolbar, which is just above the ruler and main document area. By using the toolbar buttons, you can
select the type of font you wish to use, its point size, its style (normal, bold, italics, etc.), and more. As
with elsewhere in Ubuntu, a tooltip will appear over each icon when you hover the mouse cursor over it.
Instead of using the formatting toolbar, you can format text by using the context menu. Right-click
the text you want to format, and a context menu will present options for the font, size, style, alignment,
and line spacing. The context menu also enables you to change the case of the highlighted characters—
from uppercase to lowercase and vice versa. You can also select the Character, Paragraph, Page, or
Numbering/Bullets options for a more complete set of formatting options related to each of those levels
(you need to right-click over a frame to make the Frame option appear).
You can also open the Styles and Formatting palette by clicking the button located at the left of the
formatting toolbar. The Styles and Formatting palette offers a variety of predefined formatting styles that
you can apply to selected text or enable before you begin adding text. You can select the level at which
you want to apply the style (Paragraph, Character, Frame, Page, or List), and click the Close button when
you have finished. You can also create new styles by clicking the New Styles from Selection button.
Checking Spelling and Grammar
Writer provides features to help clarify your documents, including a spell-checker and a thesaurus. A
grammar checker, while not installed by default, can be added as an extension.
Writer is able to automatically spell-check as you type. Any words it considers misspelled will be
underlined in red. You can choose from a list of possible corrections by right-clicking the word and
selecting from the context menu. You can also add the word to your personal dictionary.
You can change the language of the spell-checker by selecting Tools ➤ Options, and then selecting
Language Settings. In Default Languages for Documents, select your local variation. This will become
the default for all new documents.
Checking grammar works in a similar way. Any sentences that thinks use bad
grammar will be underlined in green. Bear in mind that checking for perfect grammar requires human
intelligence, and the rules relied on by’s grammar checker are far from perfect.
Inserting Pictures
Inserting any kind of graphic—a graph, digital camera photo, drawing, or any other type of image—is
easy. Simply choose Insert ➤ Picture ➤ From File.
After you’ve inserted a picture, you can place it anywhere on the page. When you select the picture,
a new toolbar appears. This toolbar contains various simple image-tweaking tools, such as those for
altering the brightness, contrast, and color balance of the image. Additionally, by clicking and dragging
the green handles surrounding the image, you can resize it.
Graphics that are imported into Writer must be anchored in some way. In other words, they must be
linked to a page element so that they don’t move unexpectedly. By default, they’re anchored to the
nearest paragraph break, which means that if that paragraph moves, the graphic will move too.
Alternatively, by right-clicking the graphic, you can choose to anchor it to the page, paragraph, or
character it is on or next to.
The context menu also includes a Wrap option, which lets you set the type of text wrap you want to
use. By default, Optimal Page Wrap is selected. This causes the text to wrap down just one side of the
picture—the side on which the picture is farthest from the edge of the page. Alternatives include No
Wrap, which means that the graphic will occupy the entire space on the page; no text is allowed on
either side of it.
Working with Tables
Often it’s useful to present columns of numbers or text within a word processor document. To make it
easy to align the columns, offers the Table tool. This lets you quickly and easily create a
grid in which to enter numbers or other information. You can even turn tables into simple spreadsheets,
and tally rows or columns via simple formulas.
To insert a table, click and hold the Table icon on the standard toolbar (which runs across the top of
the screen beneath the menu). Then simply drag the mouse in the table diagram that appears until you
have the desired number of rows and columns, and release the mouse button to create the table.
Whenever your cursor is inside the table, a new toolbar will appear, offering handy options, like the
ability to add rows and columns, split an existing cell, alter the styling of a cell, and create a sum cell in
which you add the contents of other cells. Once again, simply hover your mouse over each button to find
out what it does via a tooltip.
Adding Headers and Footers
You may want to add headers and footers to long documents to aid navigation. They appear at the top
and bottom of each page, respectively, and can include the document title, page number, and other
information. Headers and footers are created and edited independently of the main document, although
they can utilize the same paragraph styles as the main document.
As you might expect, inserting headers and footers takes just a couple of clicks. Choose Insert ➤
Header ➤ Default or Insert ➤ Footer ➤ Default, depending on which you wish to insert (documents can
have both, of course). Writer will then display an editing area where you can type text to appear in the
header or footer. For more options, right-click in the area, select Page, and then click the Header or
Footer tab. Here you can control the formatting and nature of the header or footer. Clicking the More
button will let you apply borders or background colors.
You might wish to insert page numbers that will be updated automatically as the document
progresses. refers to data that automatically updates as a field. You can insert a wide
variety of fields by choosing from the submenu that appears when clicking Insert ➤ Fields.
To use multiple headers and footers, you need to define them in page styles. In the Styles and
Formatting palette (of which we have already spoken), select the Page element and edit the Left Page or
Right Page element.
Working Collaboratively
If you work in an office environment, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever be the only person to read or edit a
document you create. Most documents tend to get shared between individuals, especially if you’re
working in a group or as part of a project. The people behind are aware of this, and there
are two features in particular that can aid collaborative working: recording changes and notes.
Recording changes: Known as Track Changes in most Microsoft Word products, this feature causes
Writer to remember any edits and highlight them within documents. To record changes within a
document, click Edit ➤ Changes ➤ Record. From that point on, any additions made to the
document will appear in a different color. Any deletions will stay in place but will be crossed out
(note that this will adversely affect the document layout, especially if you opt to reject any deletions
later). Any formatting changes that aren’t accompanied by actual additions or deletions of the text
will be highlighted in bold. The changes made by each individual who edits the document will
appear in a different color within the document. To accept or reject changes, click Edit ➤ Changes ➤
Accept or Reject.
Inserting a note: To insert a note, first either highlight the text or object (such as a picture) that you’d
like the note to be attached to, or simply position the cursor where you want the note to be, and
then click Insert ➤ Note. This will make a “sticky note” appear in the margin at the right of the page
that you can type a comment within. The note will be attached to the point of insertion by a dotted
line. To delete a note, right-click it and select the relevant option from the menu. Spreadsheet: Calc
Calc, shown in Figure 13-9, is the spreadsheet component of Like most modern
spreadsheet programs, it contains hundreds of features, many of which few average users will ever use.
However, it doesn’t abandon its user-friendliness in the process, and remains very simple for those who
want to work on modest calculations, such as home finances or mortgage interest payments. In terms of
features, Calc is in many regards practically a clone of Excel, and anyone who has used Microsoft’s
spreadsheet program will be able to get started with Calc immediately.
Figure 13-9. Calc has a look and feel common to most spreadsheet programs.
Entering and Formatting Data
As with all spreadsheets, entering data into a Calc document is simply a matter of selecting a cell and
starting to type. Although by default cells “expect” to contain numbers, they can be configured to
contain various types of data, such as dates or currency. This means that Calc will automatically attempt
to set the correct formatting for the cell, if necessary, and also display an error if the wrong type of data is
entered (or if the data is entered in the wrong format). Setting the correct cell type is vital with certain
types of formulas that might refer to the cell—a formula that requires dates as input won’t work if the
cells are not set to the Date format, for example.
To change the cell format, ensure that the cell(s) are selected and then click Format ➤ Cells. Ensure
that the Numbers tab is selected in the dialog box, and select the format type from the Category list.
■ Note You might find that Calc is clever enough to automatically detect the nature of the data you’re entering and
set the cell formatting automatically. For example, if you enter a date, Calc will set the format of the cell to Date.
However, the default cell format type is Number. As you might expect, this anticipates numbers
being entered in the cell by the user, although it’s worth noting that text can also be entered without an
error message appearing (but you will almost certainly see an error later if you try to involve that cell in a
formula!). It’s also worth noting that Number-formatted cells into which text is entered aren’t
automatically formatted as Text cells.
A handful of symbols are not allowed in a number cell if you use the cell to enter plain text. For
example, you cannot enter an equal sign (=), because Calc will assume that this is part of a formula.
■ Tip To enter any character into a Number-formatted cell, including an equal sign followed by a digit, precede it
with an apostrophe ('). The apostrophe itself won’t be visible within the spreadsheet, and whatever you type won’t
be interpreted in any special way; it will be seen as plain text.
Entering a sequence of data across a range of cells can be automated. Start typing the sequence of
numbers (or words), highlight them, and then click and drag the small handle to the bottom right of the
last cell. This will continue the sequence. You’ll see a tooltip window, indicating what the content of
each cell will be.
Cells can be formatted in a variety of ways. For trivial formatting changes, such as selecting a
different font or changing the number format, you can use the formatting toolbar. For example, to turn
the cell into one that displays currency, click the Number Format: Currency icon (remember that
hovering the mouse cursor over the icon will reveal a tooltip). You can also increase or decrease the
number of visible decimal places by clicking the relevant formatting toolbar icon.
For more formatting options, right-click the individual cell and select Format Cells from the menu.
This displays the Format Cell dialog box, where you can change the style of the typeface, rotate text,
place text at various angles, and so on. The Borders tab of the Format Cell dialog box includes options for
cell gridlines of varying thicknesses, which will appear when the document is eventually printed out.
Deleting and Inserting Data and Cells
Deleting data is also easy. Just highlight the cell or cells with the data you want to delete and then press
the Delete key. If you want to totally eradicate the cell along with its contents, right-click it and select
Delete. This will cause the data to the sides of the cell to move in. You’ll be given a choice on where you
want the cells to shift from to fill the space: left, right, above, or below.
To insert a new cell, right-click where you would like it to appear and select Insert. Again, you’ll be
prompted about where you want to shift the surrounding cells in order to make space for the new cell.
Working with Functions
Calc includes a large number of formulas. In addition to simple and complex math functions, Calc offers
a range of logical functions, as well as statistical and database tools. Certain formulas can also be used to
manipulate text strings, such as dates.
You can get an idea of the available functions by clicking the Function Wizard button on the
Formula bar. (This reads f(x) and is located just below the formatting toolbar.) This will bring up a
categorized list of formulas, along with brief outlines of what function the formula performs. If you
would like more details, use the help system, which contains comprehensive descriptions of most of the
formulas, complete with examples of the correct syntax. Just click the Help button and then type the
name of the function into the Search text field.
You can reuse formulas simply by cutting and pasting them. Calc is intelligent enough to work out
which cells the transplanted formula should refer to, but it’s always a good idea to check to make sure
the correct cells are referenced.
Sorting Data
Within a spreadsheet, you may want to sort data according to any number of criteria. For example, you
might want to show a list of numbers from highest to lowest, or rearrange a list of names so that they’re
in alphabetical order. This is easy to do within Calc.
Start by highlighting the range of data you wish to sort. Alternatively, you can simply select one cell
within it, because Calc is usually able to figure out the range of cells you want to use. Then select Data ➤
Sort from the main menu. Calc will automatically select a sort key, which will appear in the Sort By dropdown list. However, you can also choose your own sort key from the drop-down menu if you wish, and
you can choose to further refine your selection by choosing up to two more sort subkeys from the other
drop-down menus.
Using Filters
The filter function in Calc lets you selectively hide rows of data. The spreadsheet user can select which
criteria to use to filter the rows, or select Autofilter to choose from a drop-down list that appears in the
cell at the top of the column.
Using filters can be useful when you’re dealing with a very large table of data. It helps isolate figures
so you can compare them side by side in an easy-to-follow format. For example, you could filter a table
of sales figures by year.
To use the filter function, start by highlighting the data you wish to see in the drop-down list. Make
sure the column header for the data is included too. If you’re using the filter feature on a table of data,
this selection can be any row or column within the table, although it obviously makes sense to use a
column that is pertinent to the filtering that will take place. After you’ve selected the data to filter, choose
Data ➤ Filter ➤ Autofilter. Click Yes if asked whether you want the first line to be used as the column
header. You should find that, in place of the column or row header, a drop-down list appears. When a
user selects an entry in the list, Calc will display only the corresponding row of the spreadsheet beneath.
To remove a filter, choose Data ➤ Filter ➤ Remove Filter.
Creating Charts
Charts are useful because they present a quick visual summary of data. Calc produces charts through a
step-by-step wizard, so it becomes very easy indeed. You need to highlight the data you want to graph
and choose the Insert ➤ Chart menu option.
A wizard dialog box appears, and a rough draft of the chart appears behind. You can click and resize
the chart at this point, although this is best done after the chart has been properly created.
Just follow the wizard to create the graph. You can select the chart type, define the range of cells to
be used, and write a title for your chart. After you’ve created a chart, you can alter its size by clicking and
dragging the handles at the corners and edges. Depending on the type of chart, you might also be able to
change various graphical aspects by double-clicking them. However, keep in mind that the graph is
actually a picture, so the properties you can edit are limited (e.g., you can only do simple things like
changing the color and size of various elements).
The chart is linked to your data. Whenever your data changes, so will your chart. This is done
automatically and doesn’t require any user input. Presentation: Impress
Impress, shown in Figure 13-10, is the presentation package within At first glance, it
appears to be the simplest of the key components, and also the one that most borrows
the look and feel of some versions of Microsoft Office. However, delving into its feature set reveals more
than a few surprises, including sophisticated animation effects and drawing tools. Impress can also
export presentations as Adobe Flash–compatible files, which means that many Internet-enabled desktop
computers around the world will be able to display the files, even if they don’t have Impress or even
Microsoft PowerPoint installed.
Creating a Quick Presentation
As soon as Impress starts, it will offer to guide you through the creation of a presentation by using a
wizard. This makes designing your document a matter of following a few steps.
You’ll initially be offered three choices: Empty Presentation, From Template, and Open Existing
Presentation. Templates in Impress consist of two parts: the design elements, such as backgrounds,
and the slide structure, which provides a range of slide styles. After clicking the Create button in the
wizard, which you can do at any point in the wizard, Impress will launch. The first step is to choose a
layout for your initial slide. You can preview these on the right side of the program window. A variety of
design concepts are available, ranging from those that contain mostly text to those that feature pictures
and/or graphs.
Working in Impress
You’ll notice three main elements in the program window, from left to right. The following list describes
these panes and how you work with them:
Slides pane: This pane shows the slides in your presentation in order, one beneath the other. Simply
click to select whichever slide you want to work on, or click and drag to reorder the slides. To create
a new slide, right-click in a blank area on the Slides pane and select the option from the small menu
that appears. Right-clicking any existing slide will present a range of options, including one to delete
the slide. The Slides pane can be torn off the main interface and positioned anywhere on the screen.
To dock it back once again, hold down the Ctrl key and double-click the space next to where it reads
Main work area: This is in the middle of the program window; it lets you edit the various slides, as
well as any other elements attached to the presentation, such as notes or handout documents.
Simply click the relevant tab at the top of the work area. The tabs are as follows:
• Normal: This is a simple full-scale preview of the slide as it will appear within
the presentation, and is entirely editable. Items can be clicked and moved
• Outline: Here you can roughly draft headings for each slide. The intention of
this view is to let you quickly brainstorm ideas, or simply get ideas down as
quickly and efficiently as possible. Pressing Enter after each line within the
outline creates a new slide according to the heading you’ve just typed.
• Notes: This lets you prepare printed notes that you may want to provide with
the printed version of the presentation. Every slide can have a page of notes
attached to it. After the Notes view is selected, a letter-sized page will be
shown. The top half will contain a preview of the slide, while the bottom half
will contain a text area for typing notes.
• Handout: This lets you set the formatting of the handouts (i.e., the printed
version of the presentation designed to be given to the audience). Each sheet
of printed paper can contain between one and nine slides, depending on the
selected design. To alter the layout of the handout, either click and drag the
elements within the preview, or select a different design in the Layouts preview
on the right of the program window.
• Slide Sorter: The Slide Sorter tab shows thumbnail previews of the slides side
by side, effectively in chronological order. You can click and drag each to
reorder, or right-click each slide to change its properties (such as changing the
transition effect).
Tasks pane: Here you can access the elements that will make up your presentation, such as slide
layouts, animations, and transition effects. Select the slide you wish to apply the elements to in the
Slides pane, and then click the effect or template you wish to apply in the Tasks pane. In the case of
animations or transitions, you can change various detailed settings relating to the selected element.
As with the Slides pane, this can be undocked, but it has a View menu for redocking it to the window
(pressing Ctrl while double-clicking also works).
In addition, Impress has a Drawing toolbar, which appears at the bottom of the screen. This lets you
draw various items on the screen, such as lines, circles, and rectangles, and also contains a handful of
special-effects tools, which we’ll discuss later in this chapter, in the “Applying Fontwork” and “Using 3D
Effects” sections.
Figure 13-10. The main sections of the Impress interface
You can hide each on-screen item by clicking the View menu and then removing the check next to
it. Alternatively, by clicking the vertical borders between each pane, you can resize the pane and make it
either more or less prominent on the screen. This is handy if you wish to temporarily gain more work
space but don’t want to lose sight of the previews in the Slides pane, for example.
Animating Slides
All elements within Impress can be animated in a variety of ways. For example, you might choose to
have the contents of a particular text box fly in from the edge of the screen during the presentation. This
can help add variety to your presentation and perhaps even wake up your audience, but be aware that
too many animations can look unprofessional. They should never get in the way of your message.
Setting an animation effect is simply a matter of clicking the border of the object you wish to
animate in the main editing area so that it is selected, selecting Custom Animation in the Tasks pane,
and then clicking the Add button. In the dialog box that appears, select how you want the effect to work.
With each animation, you can select the speed you wish it to play at, ranging from very slow to fast.
Simply make the selection at the bottom of the dialog box.
After the animation has been defined and you’ve clicked OK, it will appear in a list at the bottom of
the Custom Animation pane. You can choose to add more than one animation to an object by clicking
the Add button again (ensuring the object is still selected in the main editing area). The animations will
play in the order they’re listed. You can click the Change Order up and down arrows to alter the order.
To fine-tune an effect you’ve already created, double-click it in the list to open its Effect Options
dialog box (you can even add sound effects here). Under the Timing tab, you can control what cues the
effect, such as a click of a mouse, or whether it will appear in sequence with other effects before or after
in the list.
Applying Fontwork
The Fontwork tool lets you manipulate text in various playful ways, such as making it follow specific
curved paths. You can find this tool on the drawing toolbar, located at the bottom of the program
window. (It’s the icon that’s an A in a frame.)
When you click the icon, the Fontwork Gallery dialog box appears, offering a choice of predefined
font effects. Don’t worry if they’re not quite what you want, because after you make a choice, you’ll be
invited to fine-tune it.
After you’ve made the selection, the dummy text Fontwork will appear on the screen. Editing the
text is simple: just double-click the Fontwork text and type your own words (note that, confusingly, the
text will appear underneath the fontwork itself, rather than in a dialog box). When you’ve finished, click
outside the Fontwork selection.
Using 3D Effects
In addition to Fontwork effects, Impress includes a powerful 3D tool, which can give just about any onscreen element a 3D flourish (this tool is also available in some other applications). To
use it, create a text box or shape by using the Drawing toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Then rightclick the text box or shape and select Convert ➤ To 3D.
■ Note The 3D option is designed simply to give your object depth. If you want to create a genuine 3D object that
you can rotate in 3D space, select 3D Rotation Object.
You can gain much more control over the 3D effect by right-clicking it and selecting 3D Effects.
Exporting a Presentation As a Flash File
If you plan to put your presentation online, or you want to send it to a colleague who doesn’t have
Impress or PowerPoint installed, outputting your presentation as a Flash animation could be a good
idea. The process is simple. Just choose File ➤ Export, and then select Macromedia Flash (SWF) in the
File Type drop-down list (SWF is the Flash file extension, which stands for Shockwave Flash). No further
configuration is necessary.
In order to play the file, it needs to be opened within a web browser that has Flash Player installed.
This can be done by choosing File ➤ Open on most browsers, although you can also drag and drop the
SWF file onto the browser window under Microsoft Windows. There shouldn’t be much of a problem
with compatibility, because Flash Player is ubiquitous these days. If the web browser doesn’t already
have Flash installed, it’s easy to download and install it (see
When the Flash file is opened in a web browser, the presentation starts. You can progress through it
by clicking anywhere on the screen.
This chapter gave a general introduction to, providing an overview of what you can
expect from the programs within the suite. In particular, we focused on the extent of the suite’s
similarities with Microsoft Office and discussed issues surrounding file compatibility with Microsoft
Office. We also looked at how Windows fonts can be brought into Ubuntu, which aids in successfully
importing and creating compatible documents.
We gave you a crash course on the options that can be applied globally and also on the salient
features of the most important applications within the suite: Writer, Calc, and Impress.
C H A P T E R 14
Communicating with Others
Being online is all about staying in touch, and Ubuntu is no slouch in this regard. Ubuntu offers a wide
range of applications, including a full-featured e-mail program, called Evolution, as well as an instant
messaging client called Empathy, which allows you to connect to the most popular instant messaging
sites, such as GTalk and MSN.
You can install a Skype client that allows you to connect to the popular service to make voice and
video calls to other Skype users or to telephones; and you can install an open source alternative to Skype
called Ekiga.
Introducing Evolution
Evolution is considered the “official” GNOME desktop e-mail program, and the Evolution interface
retains the same look and feel as many elements of the Ubuntu desktop.
Evolution is similar to Microsoft Outlook: in addition to being a powerful e-mail client, it
incorporates contact management, a calendar, a to-do list, and a memo function. It is a first-class
business tool. Evolution is even able to connect to Microsoft Exchange (2000 and later) groupware
servers and synchronize with contact and calendar data, in addition to fetching e-mail. Of course, it can
also connect to standard POP3/SMTP e-mail servers, as well as IMAP, Novell GroupMail, and a handful
of other mail server technologies. This means it is compatible with practically every e-mail system in
common use today.
Evolution consists of five components: Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Memos, and Tasks. These are
interconnected but operate as separate modes within the program. Each mode can be selected by using
the switcher located at the bottom-left side of the program window. Simply click the button for the mode
you wish to use. The program window, toolbar, and menu system will change to accommodate
whichever mode is selected. Figure 14-1 shows the program in the default Mail mode.
■ Tip You can shrink the switcher component to small icons or even just text buttons by selecting from the
choices on the View ➤ Switcher Appearance submenu.
Figure 14-1. You can switch between Evolution’s modes by clicking the buttons at the bottom left of the
program window.
The five Evolution modes work as follows:
Mail: The e-mail component is at the heart of Evolution, and all the functions you might be used to
are available here. After the Mail mode is selected, you’ll find the mail folders at the top left of the
program window. These include the Inbox and Sent folders, along with any other mail folders you
create. On the right is the list of e-mail messages, and beneath this is the message preview pane,
where the body of any message you select will be displayed. Above the message list is the search
box, which works like most e-mail search routines: type the relevant word(s) and press Enter.
Notable icons running along the top of the window include the New button, which will let you
compose an e-mail message, and the Send/Receive button, which will download new messages and
also send any messages in the Outbox folder. By default, Evolution checks for new mail when the
application is launched and every 10 minutes thereafter, though this behavior is configurable for
each account under the Edit ➤ Preferences menu.
Contacts: Tied in with the mail function but acting as a separate and powerful entity on its own,
Contacts mode lets you store every pertinent detail about colleagues, friends, and others. After the
mode is selected, you’ll see the various contact folders at the left side of the program window. For
most users, there will be just one, named Personal, but if you specified a groupware server during
setup, you will also be able to connect to this by clicking its entry. You can also create new address
books (e.g., if you have a collection of addresses for work and one for personal information). Simply
right-click beneath the existing address book, select the New Address box, and fill out the form. The
type On This Computer will create a new book on your machine. At the top right is the list of
contacts. Clicking any contact displays that individual’s information at the bottom of the window, in
the contact information area. The search bar at the top of the window, beneath the toolbar, lets you
quickly search for contacts by name. The New button on the toolbar lets you create a new contact,
where you can enter a wealth of data. To edit an existing entry, double-click its entry and fill in the
additional details. This kind of information is useful for a variety of tasks, so it’s particularly useful
that Evolution’s Contacts mode can be used as a data source in
Calendars: Calendars mode is arguably Evolution’s second most useful function (after e-mail). You
can add events in half-hour increments and view your schedule in day, week, work week, and
month views by clicking the relevant button on the toolbar (work week view presents just five days
in the view). After the mode is selected, you’ll find the various calendars you can access at the top
left of the program window. For most users, the Personal calendar will be the principal one, but you
can also access shared calendars, including Google Calendar, here. Assuming the default day view is
in operation, beneath this you’ll see the monthly calendar and, in the middle of the program
window, the appointment list, with half-hour entries covering the working day. By default, the
current day is shown. To select a different day, simply double-click the day in the month view or
click the Go To button on the toolbar and use the widget to find the date. You can switch among
day, week, and month appointment views by clicking the labeled buttons on the toolbar. On the
right of the window, any tasks or memos that have been created are displayed, as described next.
Memos: The best way to think of Evolution’s Memos mode is as a personal notepad. After Memos
mode is selected, the list of memos will appear on the right side of the screen, and the memo
contents will appear at the bottom. Memos can consist of virtually any amount of text, along with
attachments. They’re ideal for jotting down notes during phone calls, for example. Again, you can
use the list on the left pane of the application to create categories for memos (e.g., you can break
things down by client, job, or interest).
Tasks: Effectively, this is a simple to-do list. After the mode is selected, your tasks will be listed on
the right side of the program window. Beneath this will be details of any selected task. If you’re a fan
of the Getting Things Done method of task management, the left-pane Tasks list is the ideal
companion because you can create lots of lists and then populate the main window with tasks
to be accomplished.
Basic E-Mail Tasks
Evolution’s e-mail functionality is arguably the heart of the program. Although it offers many features, it
is quite simple to use. If you’ve ever used any other mainstream e-mail client, such as Microsoft Outlook,
you have a head start.
This section describes how to accomplish several everyday tasks within the e-mail component of
Evolution. When you start Evolution, the e-mail mode is selected automatically. However, if it isn’t, or if
you’ve switched to a different mode within the program, simply click the Mail button at the bottom left
of the program window.
Configuring E-Mail Access
Before starting, you’ll need to find out the addresses of the mail servers you intend to use. In the case of
POP3 and IMAP mail accounts, you’ll need to know the incoming and outgoing server addresses
(outgoing may be referred to as SMTP). In the case of Microsoft Exchange, you’ll need to know the
Outlook Web Access (OWA) URL and, optionally, the Active Directory/Global Address List server. With
Novell GroupWare, you’ll simply need to know the server name. You’ll also need to know your username
and password details for the incoming and possibly outgoing mail servers.
After gathering the necessary information, follow these steps to configure Evolution:
1. Start the Evolution e-mail client by clicking the little envelope beside the date
and time, and selecting the Set Up Mail option. Alternatively, you can choose
Applications ➤ Office ➤ Evolution Mail and Calendar.
When Evolution starts for the first time, you’ll be invited to enter your
configuration details via a wizard. Click the Forward button.
The next screen offers an option to restore Evolution settings from backup.
This is a convenient option for migrating accounts from one Evolution client
to another. Because this is your first time using Evolution, you can simply
ignore this option by clicking the Forward button.
You will be asked for your name and the e-mail address you wish to use within
Evolution. These are what will appear in outgoing messages. Beneath this is a
check box that you should leave selected if you want the account you’re about
to create to be the default account. In nearly all situations, this will be the
correct choice. You can also fill in the Reply-To and Organization information
if you wish, but these fields can be left blank. They’re not usually displayed by
most e-mail clients. Click the Forward button to continue.
The next screen asks for details of the receiving (incoming) mail server that you
want to use, as shown in Figure 14-2. First, select the server type from the
drop-down list. If you don’t know which option to go with, select POP. This is
by far the most common type of incoming mail server currently in use.
Additional configuration fields will appear when you make the selection of
server type. Enter the server address and username in the relevant fields. Click
Check for Supported Types to find out what kind of authentication security, if
any, your mail server uses. Following this, you should find that the details are
filled in automatically. Click Forward to continue.
Figure 14-2. Evolution can work with a variety of mail servers, including POP3, Microsoft Exchange, and
You might need to enter your mail password, depending on which server type
you chose. In some cases, you’ll need to type this later when you download
your mail for the first time. Click Forward to continue.
You’re given the chance to choose between various additional options, such as
how often you want Evolution to check for new mail or whether you want to
delete mail from the server after it has been downloaded. Unless you have
been told otherwise or have special requirements, it should be OK to leave the
default settings as they are. If you use a Microsoft Exchange server, you may
need to enter the Active Directory/Global Address List server details here. Click
Forward to continue.
Depending on the server type you chose, you might now need to fill in the
outgoing (SMTP) server address. Type this into the Server field. If your SMTP
server requires authentication, put a check in the relevant box and then enter
your username. Once again, you can click the Check for Supported Types
button to automatically fill in the authentication details. Click Forward to
You’re invited to enter a name for the account. This is the account name you
will see when you use Evolution. The default is your e-mail address, but you
can type something more memorable if you wish. Click Forward to continue.
Finally, choose your location, which will have the effect of automatically
defining your time zone. This will ensure that e-mail messages are correctly
time-stamped. You can choose your location from the Selection drop-down
list (choose the nearest large city in your time zone), or click your location
on the map. As during initial installation of Ubuntu, the map will zoom in
when you click continents, allowing you to more precisely click the place
where you live. Click Forward to continue, and then click the Apply button to
finish the wizard.
Sending and Receiving E-Mail
After Evolution has been set up correctly to work with your e-mail servers, you can simply click the
Send/Receive button on the toolbar to connect to the server(s) and both send and receive e-mail.
You may need to enter your password if you didn’t enter it during setup. You can select the
Remember Password check box in Account Preferences (Edit ➤ Preferences) to avoid having to type your
password again, but the password will then be stored on your hard disk, posing a security risk if other
people have access to your PC.
■ Note Although e-mail is normally sent as soon as you click the Send button after composing it, if the sending
has been delayed for any reason (such as being offline at the time), it will take place as soon as you click the
Send/Receive button. Until that point, it will be held in the Outbox folder on the left side of the program window.
You may need to choose File ➤ Work Online if you’ve been composing e-mail in offline mode.
Any outstanding mail is sent first, and then the receiving procedure is started. As shown in Figure
14-3, a status dialog box will tell you how many messages there are and the progress of the download.
Clicking the Cancel button will stop the procedure (although some messages may already have been
downloaded). When you get a new e-mail message, an envelope icon will blink in the notification area in
the top right of the desktop, and a small window will appear to tell you that you have mail.
Figure 14-3. You’ll see a progress bar display whenever you click the Send/Receive button.
In Chapter 8, you learned how to use the Seahorse application to set up a public key pair. This allows you
to encrypt e-mail messages destined for other people, so that only they can read the messages (provided
you have their public key). The application also enables you to digitally sign your own e-mail, so recipients
can be sure messages came from you (provided they have your public key). If you’ve followed the
instructions to set up the key pair, and uploaded it to a key server, you now need to configure Evolution to
use it. After doing this, and when you send a new e-mail message, you can select whether you wish to
encrypt the e-mail and/or digitally sign it.
Remember that setting up encryption is not obligatory, and relatively few people in the wider world use email encryption or signing.
Assuming you’ve already set up an account within Evolution, here’s the procedure for configuring Evolution
for encryption and digital signing:
Click Edit ➤ Preferences, ensure that the Mail Accounts icon is selected on the left
side of the window, and select your mail account in the list on the right side of the
window. Then click the Edit button. In the dialog box that appears, click the
Security tab.
You now need to find your PGP key ID by using Seahorse. Click Applications ➤
Accessories ➤ Passwords and Encryption Keys. Locate your key in the list under
the My Personal Keys tab, and look under the Key ID heading. You should see an
eight-character hexadecimal number, like F0C1B52A. Write this down,
remembering that any 0 you see is a zero, not the letter O.
Switch back to the Evolution dialog box and type the PGP key ID you found into the
PGP/GPG Key ID box. If you want every e-mail message you send to be digitally
signed automatically, which is a good idea (the message itself won’t be encrypted,
so even if the recipients are not using encryption, they will still be able to read it),
ensure there’s a check in the Always Sign Outgoing Messages When Using This
Account box. Then click OK and close the parent Preferences dialog box.
Encrypting outgoing messages, or signing them if you haven’t selected to automatically do so, is easy.
When composing a new message, click the Security menu entry and select either PGP Sign or PGP Encrypt
(or both). Remember that you’ll need to have imported the recipient’s public key via Seahorse if you want
to encrypt a message addressed to that person, or you’ll see an error. If you sign a message, upon sending
it, you’ll be prompted to enter the PGP passphrase you entered when you created the key pair back in
Chapter 8.
If, upon sending an e-mail message, you see the error message “Failed to execute GPG: Broken pipe,” it’s
likely you mistyped your key ID when you configured Evolution. Try again.
If you receive a message that has been encrypted using your public key, Evolution will automatically
prompt you to enter your PGP passphrase to decrypt it. This is the passphrase you entered when creating
your key pair back in Chapter 8.
When you receive a message from someone who uses digital signing, and you have that person’s public
key, the message should contain a green bar along the bottom containing the words Valid signature. If you
see words to the effect that the signature is invalid, or if the signature is missing, you should be suspicious
and independently verify the authenticity of the e-mail message.
Reading E-Mail
Simply click an e-mail message to view it in the preview pane at the bottom of the screen. Alternatively,
you can double-click a message to open it in its own program window (selecting a message and pressing
Enter will have the same effect).
As with most e-mail clients, any unread messages in the list appear in bold, and messages that have
been read appear in ordinary type. By default, each message is marked as read after 1.5 seconds, but you
can alter this value. To change it, click Edit ➤ Preferences, click the Mail Preferences icon in the
Preferences dialog box, click the General tab, and then change the value under the Message Display
heading. A value of 0 will cause the mail to switch to “read” status as soon as it’s clicked, which can be
useful if you want to quickly clear a lot of messages.
You can also mark many messages as read by highlighting them all, right-clicking an individual one,
and selecting Mark As Read from the menu that appears. You can select multiple messages in the usual
way: Shift-click to select a consecutive list, or Ctrl-click for nonconsecutive selections. The Show dropdown menu, above the e-mail list, can be used to display only unread mail, which is great if you have a
lot of messages that you’re not going to read and want to mark them as read or delete them.
Deleting Messages
You can delete messages by highlighting them and pressing the Delete key. Alternatively, right-click any
message (or a selection of them) and select Delete. The message will then be moved to the Trash folder.
To empty the Trash folder, right-click the folder and select Empty Trash, as shown in Figure 14-4.
Figure 14-4. To permanently delete messages, right-click the Trash folder and select Empty Trash.
If you move any messages from folder to folder, as described later in the “Sorting and Filtering
Messages” section, a copy of the mail will end up in the Trash folder. This is because Evolution doesn’t
literally move messages. Instead, it copies them from the old to the new location and deletes the original.
This can be a little disconcerting at first, but there’s nothing to worry about. The mail message will
remain wherever you moved it, and it won’t disappear.
Flagging Messages
You can flag messages in a variety of ways to help remind you of their status or purpose. The simplest
form of flagging is to mark a message as important: right-click the message and select Mark As
Important, or click in the space beneath the Important column (this is located to the left of the From
column). This will add an exclamation mark symbol alongside the message.
Alternatively, you can add several different flags by right-clicking a message and selecting Mark for
Follow Up. The choices, which can be selected from the Flag drop-down list in the dialog box that
appears, range from Do Not Forward to No Response Necessary and Review. This heading will then
appear in the message preview at the bottom of the window whenever the message is selected.
If you prefer a simple color-coding scheme, you can mark up a message by right-clicking it and
selecting Label. Then assign a color. As you’ll see, each color relates to a key word or phrase. You can edit
both the colors and the key phrases by clicking Edit ➤ Preferences, clicking Mail Preferences on the left
of the dialog box, and clicking the Labels tab.
Earlier in the book, we discussed a method of exporting e-mail from various Microsoft e-mail programs,
which use proprietary formats, so that it can be imported under Ubuntu. To recap, you can install the
Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail client under Windows, import your e-mail into it from Outlook or Outlook
Express, and then export Thunderbird’s mailbox (.mbox) files for importing within Evolution.
If you followed these instructions and now have the .mbox files ready for use with Evolution, it’s easy to
import them. Click File ➤ Import. In the Import dialog box, click the Forward button and then select Import
a Single File. Click Forward again and click the Filename drop-down list. This will open a file-browsing
dialog box, in which you can locate the .mbox file and click Open. If you have more than one .mbox file,
you’ll need to import each one manually. The Automatic entry in the dialog box refers to the file type and
will select the correct file type by file extension.
Composing a Message
Creating a new e-mail message is as simple as clicking the New button at the top left of Evolution’s
program window. Fill in the To and Subject details as usual, and then type in the main body of
the message.
To add a CC or BCC, click the To button, and select addresses from your contacts list in the dialog
box that appears (selecting the CC or BCC button as appropriate). Alternatively, if you would like to have
the CC and BCC fields visible and available at all times, click their entries under the View menu of the
Compose a Message window.
As with most Microsoft mail programs, new e-mail can be sent either as plain text or as HTML. Plain
text mode is the default. To switch to HTML, click the entry on the Format menu. The advantage of
HTML mail is that you can vary the style, size, and coloring of text, so you can emphasize various words
or paragraphs, as illustrated in Figure 14-5. In addition, if you click Insert ➤ Image, you can insert
pictures from the hard disk. Other options on the Insert menu let you insert tables, dividing lines (click
the Rule menu entry), and web links.
Figure 14-5. New messages can be formatted in HTML, allowing you to format text and even add images to
your messages.
The disadvantage of HTML e-mail is that the person receiving the message will need an HTMLcompatible e-mail program to be able to read it (though most common e-mail programs can handle
HTML e-mail just fine). Your mail is also more likely to be tagged as spam by the recipient’s server,
because of the widespread abuse of HTML and images in mail by spammers.
■ Tip Many people in the Linux community frown on HTML-formatted e-mail and prefer plain text messages.
Words are automatically spell-checked in the new e-mail, and are underlined in red if the spellchecker thinks they are incorrect. To correct the word, right-click it and then select the correct spelling
from the list provided.
By default, if you chose the English language during the installation of Ubuntu, the Evolution spellchecker will offer only an English (American) dictionary. You can switch to other English dialects (e.g.,
British, Canadian, or Australian English) by choosing Edit ➤ Preferences in the main Evolution window,
clicking the Composer Preferences icon, and then clicking the Spell Checking tab. Select an alternative
dictionary or multiple dictionaries by selecting the check boxes to the left of the dictionary names.
While composing an e-mail, you can switch languages by choosing Edit ➤ Current Languages in the
menu of the Compose Message window. If the language you require is not listed, this means that you
need to install an additional Aspell dictionary package with the Ubuntu Software Center. These
dictionary packages usually have a two-letter suffix indicating the language that they support; for
example, aspell-fr is the French dictionary package. You’ll need to quit and restart Evolution before the
new language is visible.
■ Note The aspell-fr package also includes the Swiss French variation of the language.
Creating an E-Mail Signature
E-mail signatures are the blocks of text that appear automatically at the end of new e-mail messages you
compose. They save you the bother of typing your name and contact details each time. To create an email signature, follow these steps:
Click Edit ➤ Preferences. Select Composer Preferences from the left side of the
dialog box and click the Signatures tab.
Click the Add button at the top right of the dialog box.
In the Edit Signature dialog box, type what you want to appear as your
signature. The signature can be in either plain text or HTML (click Format ➤
HTML for the latter). Don’t forget that in HTML mode, you can insert lines
(Insert ➤ Rule), which can act as a natural divider at the top of your signature
to separate it from the body of the e-mail, as shown in Figure 14-6.
Figure 14-6. Creating an e-mail signature saves you from having to type your contact details each time.
Click the Save and Close icon at the top left.
Click Mail Accounts in the Preferences dialog box, and double-click your mail
account in the list on the right side.
In the dialog box that appears, ensure that the Identity tab is selected and click
the Signature drop-down list. Click the signature you just created.
Click OK and then Close in the Preferences dialog box. Your new signature will
then automatically appear in new messages. It’s possible to create multiple
signatures—for instance, one for work and one for personal e-mail—and then
choose the appropriate signature when writing your e-mail.
Advanced E-Mail Tasks
Evolution offers several features that can help you to organize your e-mail. You can create new folders,
as well as filter, sort, and search through your messages.
Creating New Folders
If you want to better organize your e-mail, you can create your own folders, which will then appear in
the list on the left side of the program window.
To create a new top-level folder, which will appear in the list alongside the standard folders (Inbox,
Junk, Outbox, etc.), right-click On This Computer and select New Folder. Then make sure that On This
Computer is selected in the folder view of the dialog box that appears. Type a name and click Create.
You can also create second-level folders, which will effectively be “inside” other folders and will
appear indented below their parent folder within the list. For example, you might want to create a series
of folders within the main Inbox folder to sort your mail from various individuals or organizations. To do
this, right-click Inbox, select New Folder, and give the folder a name in the dialog box that appears, as
shown in Figure 14-7. After the new folder has been created, click the chevron next to Inbox to expand
the display to show your new subfolder.
Figure 14-7. You can create your own folders to better organize your mail.
You can then drag and drop messages into the new folders, or you can simply right-click them,
select Move to Folder, and select the folder from the dialog box that appears. This can be useful if you
wish to select a handful of messages by holding down the Ctrl key. All you need to do then is right-click
one of them and select Move to Folder.
You can also copy messages from one location to another, thus producing two copies of the same
message. Simply right-click the message, select Copy to Folder, and select the folder from the list.
Alternatively, you can hold down the Ctrl key while you drag the message to the new location.
Dealing with Junk E-Mail
Evolution includes intelligent junk mail filtering. Any mail that Evolution thinks is spam or junk mail will
end up in the Junk folder. When you first start using Evolution, you should check the folder regularly,
because there’s a chance Evolution might have made a mistake. However, this is a good thing, because
by right-clicking the message and selecting Mark As Not Junk, the Evolution junk mail filter will be able
to better understand what to consider as junk in your particular Inbox.
In a similar way, if you find that Evolution misses junk e-mail, and it ends up in your Inbox, you can
right-click it and select Mark As Junk. Alternatively, select it and click the Junk icon on the main toolbar.
To empty the Junk folder, select all the messages (Ctrl+A), right-click, and select Delete. Bear in
mind that, as with any folder, after the messages are deleted, they will appear in the Trash, and you can
restore them from there if necessary.
■ Note The junk mail filter used in Evolution is a third-party program called Bogofilter (http:// bogofilter. You can switch Evolution to an alternative spam filter, which some consider more powerful,
called SpamAssassin ( To do so, install the spamassassin package. Restart
Evolution, click Edit ➤ Preferences, click the Mail Preferences icon in the dialog box that appears, and click the
Junk tab. Then select SpamAssassin from the Default Junk Plugin drop-down list. While on that preferences page,
it’s also a good idea to select the Do Not Mark Messages As Junk If Sender Is In My Address Book check box.
When you are finished, click OK and then Close to return to the main Evolution program window.
Sorting and Filtering Messages
You can filter incoming messages according to practically any criteria, including who sent the message,
its subject line, words within the body of the mail, its size, and whether it has attachments. Coupled with
the ability to create folders, this allows you to automatically sort messages as soon as they’re received.
To set up filters, click Edit ➤ Message Filters. Click the Add button and, in the Rule Name box, start
by giving the new rule a descriptive name by which you’ll be able to recognize it in the future. You might
think this isn’t important, but you may create tens, if not hundreds, of filters, so being able to identify
filters will be very helpful.
As shown in Figure 14-8, the Add Rule dialog box is split into two halves: Find Items That Meet the
Following Conditions and Then. As implied by the labels, if the selected conditions are met, then the
selected actions will take place.
The Find Items part is used to identify the mail. You can select to filter based on almost any
criteria, such as who appears in the Sender field of the message, words that appear on the Subject line,
the date sent, and so on. Simply select what you require from the drop-down list directly beneath the
Add Condition button. In most cases, you’ll then need to specify details for the filter. For example,
if you select to filter by the address of the individual sending the e-mail, you’ll need to provide that email address.
■ Tip Several If rules can be created. For example, you could create a rule to filter by the address of the sender,
and then click the Add Condition button to create another rule to filter by text in the Subject line. If you click If All
Conditions Are Met in the Find Items drop-down list, the mail will be filtered only if both conditions are met. If you
click If Any Conditions Are Met from the drop-down list, the mail will be filtered if either condition is met.
Figure 14-8. Creating message filters lets you automatically organize your e-mail as soon as it’s received.
After you’ve set the Find conditions, you need to select from the Then section of the dialog box. This
tells Evolution what to do with the filtered mail. The obvious course of action is to move the e-mail to a
particular folder, which is the default choice, but you can also delete the e-mail, set a particular flag,
beep, or even run a particular program! As with the rules for finding items, you can set more than one
condition here, so you can have Evolution beep and then delete the message, for example. When
designing filters, it’s good practice to finish with a Then option of Stop Processing because one message
may be filtered into a folder and then have other operations performed on it.
Creating Search Folders
Evolution’s search folders feature is a more powerful alternative to message filters. Using search folders,
you can filter mail based on a similar set of criteria, but you can choose to include messages in the
results that might be associated with the filtered messages. For example, if you choose to filter by a
specific individual’s e-mail address, you can choose to have any replies you sent to that person included
in the results, rather than simply messages received from her. In addition, you can apply search folders
to specific e-mail folders on an ongoing basis, rather than all incoming e-mail.
It’s important to note, however, that a search folder isn’t a filter. The messages aren’t moved into
the new folders. They stay where they are in your Inbox (or any other folder they might be contained in).
Despite the name, search folders are actually little more than saved searches. They just act like filters.
However, search folders are dynamically updated—if a message is deleted from the Inbox folder, for
example, it will also stop appearing in any relevant search folder.
You can create a new search folder by clicking Edit ➤ Search Folders and then clicking the Add
button. As with creating message filters, clicking the drop-down box beneath the Add button will let you
select filtering criteria. The choices are broadly similar to those for message filters, in that you can filter
by e-mail address, size of e-mail, message body, and so on. At the bottom of the dialog box, you can
choose to search specific folders (the default), all local folders, or all active remote folders (which
includes any of your mail stored on a server elsewhere).
In the Include Threads drop-down box, you can select what kind of results you would like the search
to return:
None simply returns e-mail messages matching the criteria.
All Related returns every single message that is associated with the criteria.
Replies returns results that include replies to the messages returned via the filter.
Replies and Parents returns results that include replies and also any initial
message that you or others might have sent that inspired the message included in
the filter results.
No Reply or Parent returns results that include only initial messages sent to you.
Search folders results are listed under Search Folders on the left side of the Mail mode window.
The search folders feature is very powerful and worth spending time investigating.
In many ways, Evolution is similar to e-mail programs you might have used in the past, but it also has a
few of its own quirks and idiosyncratic ways of working. Here are a handful of preferences you might want
to set to have Evolution behave in a more familiar way:
Forward e-mail inline: If you attempt to forward a message, Evolution will attach it
to a new message as a file. The person receiving the e-mail will then need to
double-click the file to view the forwarded e-mail, which can be confusing. The
solution is to make Evolution forward the message inline, which is to say that
Evolution will quote it beneath the new mail message, like Microsoft e-mail
programs. To do this, click Edit ➤ Preferences, click Composer Preferences on the
left side of the dialog box, click the Forward Style drop-down list, and select Inline.
Change the plain text font: Any messages sent to you in plain text format, rather
than HTML, will appear in the message preview pane in a Courier-style font. To
have messages display in a more attractive and readable typeface, click Edit ➤
Preferences, select Mail Preferences on the left side of the dialog box, and then
remove the check from Use the Same Fonts As Other Applications. In the Fixed
Width Font drop-down list, select an alternative font. The standard Ubuntu font is
called Sans and is a good choice.
Always create HTML e-mail: Evolution defaults to plain text e-mail for any new
messages you create. If you want to always create HTML messages, click Edit ➤
Preferences, click Composer Preferences on the left side of the dialog box, and
then put a check alongside Format Messages in HTML.
Empty trash on exit: To automatically get rid of deleted messages each time you
quit Evolution, click Edit ➤ Preferences, click Mail Preferences on the left side of
the dialog box, and put a check alongside Empty Wastebasket Folders on Exit.
Then select how often you would like this to happen from the drop-down list:
every time you quit Evolution, once per day, once per week, or once per month.
Vertical message window: As an alternative to positioning the message preview
window beneath your messages, Outlook lets you position the message at the
right of the message list, thus forming three vertical columns (folders, messages,
and preview). To switch to this view under Evolution, click View ➤ Preview ➤
Vertical View.
Evolution includes a powerful contact manager component that can catalog information about
individuals. At its most basic, the contact manager stores e-mail addresses for use within the e-mail
component of Evolution, but you can enter significant additional data about each individual, including
addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers, and even a photograph for easy identification. This should
allow Evolution to become your sole personal information manager.
To switch to the Contacts mode, click the button at the bottom-left side of the program window.
Once in the Contacts mode, you can view information in several ways. Click View ➤ Current View to
choose from the following views:
Address Cards: This is the default view and shows the contacts as virtual index cards arranged
alongside each other at the top of the program window. Click the scrollbar beneath the cards to
move through them.
List View: This shows the contact information as a simple list, arranged vertically, with various
elements of the contact’s personal information listed alongside, such as phone numbers and e-mail
By Company: This organizes the data in a similar way to List view but sorted by the company the
contacts work for (if such data has been entered into the contact entries).
Adding or Editing Contact Information
By far, the best way of initially building up your contacts list is to right-click e-mail addresses at the head
of messages, in Mail mode, and select Add to Address Book. Make sure the address book selected is
Ubuntu One if you want your contact information to be synchronized to your personal space in the
Internet; read the next chapter to learn more about this service. This will add a simple contact record
consisting of the individual’s name and e-mail address.
When using Microsoft mail applications, simply replying to an e-mail from an individual is enough
to add that contact to your address book. Evolution is capable of this behavior too, but the feature isn’t
activated by default. To set this up, click Edit ➤ Preferences, click Mail Preferences on the left side of the
dialog box, and click the Automatic Contacts tab. Next, put a check in the box marked Automatically
Create Entries in the Address Book When Responding to Messages. From the Select Address Book for
Automatic Contacts drop-down list, select Personal. In the same dialog box, you can synchronize
contacts from the Pidgin instant messaging client so that Evolution is brought up to date with your
Pidgin contacts, and vice versa. You can then edit the contact details by double-clicking the entry in
Contacts mode. This will let you enter a variety of information, as shown in Figure 14-9. To import a
photo for this contact, click the top-left icon. You can use any picture here, and you don’t need to worry
about its size, because it will be resized automatically by Evolution (although its aspect ratio will be
preserved). The imported photo will appear in the lower area of the Contacts window when you click the
contact’s name.
If you add a new contact and the details are substantially similar to those of another contact already
on the system, the software will give you the opportunity to merge the two contacts into a single profile.
Figure 14-9. A lot of information can be entered for each contact, and, by clicking the button at the top left,
you can also add a photograph.
Creating a Contact List
Contact lists are simply lists of e-mail addresses. After a list is created, you can right-click its entry in the
contacts list, and then choose to send a message to the list or forward it to someone else as a vCard. The
obvious use of contact lists is for sending e-mail messages to a particular group of people.
■ Note A vCard is a virtual business card. Effectively, it’s a small file that contains personal information. vCards
can also contain pictures and audio clips. They’re understood by practically all business-level e-mail programs,
including Microsoft Outlook and Apple OS X’s Mail program.
To create a contact list, click the small down arrow next to the New button in Contacts mode, and
select the option from the list. Give the list a name in the relevant box, and simply click and drag
contacts from the main program pane onto the bottom of the Contact List Editor pane. This will
automatically add their names and e-mail addresses. Alternatively, you can type their e-mail addresses
manually into the field under the Members heading, and then click the Add button, which can be useful
if the individual isn’t in your contact list.
By selecting the Hide Addresses When Sending Mail to This List check box, you can ensure that the
e-mail addresses are added to the BCC field of a new message, so people on the list don’t see the others
on the list.
The Calendars mode of Evolution allows you to keep an appointments diary. Entries can be added in
half-hour increments to the working day, and you can easily add events to days that are weeks, months,
or even years in advance. Viewing a day’s appointments is as simple as clicking its entry in the month
view at the top right of the program window.
Specifying Appointment Types
You can make the following three types of diary entries:
Appointments: These are events in your diary that apply to you only. You might have a meeting with
a colleague, for example, or you might simply want to add a note to your diary to remind you of a
particular fact.
All-day appointments: A training day or a holiday could be entered as an all-day appointment.
However, all-day events don’t block your diary, and you can still add individual appointments (after
all, just because your day is taken up with an event doesn’t mean you won’t need to make individual
appointments during the event). All-day events appear as a light-blue bar at the top of the day’s
entry in your diary.
Meetings: Meetings are like appointments, but you also have the option of inviting others to attend.
The invitations are sent as iCal attachments to e-mail, so users of Microsoft Outlook should be able
to reply to them (provided Outlook is properly configured; see the program’s documentation for
details, and note that iCal is sometimes referred to by the specification number RFC 2446/2447).
After receiving a meeting invitation, an individual can click to accept or decline. When Evolution
receives this response, the individual’s acceptance or declination will be automatically added to the
diary entry.
Adding or Editing a Diary Entry
These instructions assume that Calendars mode is set to Day view, which shows a full working day
diary alongside a monthly calendar. To ensure Day view is selected, click the Day icon on the main
toolbar running across the top of the screen. Day view is the default calendar view under Evolution.
The other choices are Week, Month, and Work Week (which shows appointments during the week in
daily columns). If you switch to another view, Evolution will always work in that view until you change
back again.
To add a new diary entry, simply select the day in the monthly calendar on the left, and then select
the time the appointment is to start in the day viewer. Then right-click and choose an appointment, an
all-day event (this is called an all-day appointment on the New button on the toolbar), or a meeting. To
edit an existing diary entry, double-click its entry in the list.
■ Note When you right-click in Calendars mode, you’ll also see an option to add a task. Adding a task in
Calendars mode automatically links it to the selected day and time. Task items due on the current day are marked
in dark blue.
At its most basic, all an appointment needs in order to be entered into your diary is some text in the
Summary field, as shown in Figure 14-10. By default, appointments and meetings are assumed to last for
half an hour, but you can adjust this by using the arrows in the Hour and Minutes sections. For longer
appointments, such as a holiday or conference that may last days or weeks, use the drop-down labeled
For, select Until, and then define a finishing date or time.
Figure 14-10. When creating a new appointment, you can add all the details you need, but don’t forget to
set how long it lasts!
By clicking the Recurrence button on the toolbar (note that not all buttons are visible in the default
program width), you can set the appointment to be booked into your diary according to certain
intervals. Start by putting a check in the This Appointment Recurs box, and then select a time interval.
For example, selecting “1 week” will mean that the appointment is booked into your diary automatically
on a weekly basis. After this, select a day of the week for the recurring appointment. Following this, you
must specify the number of recurrences. You can specify an ending date for the appointment or select
Forever. In the calendar view at the bottom of the dialog box, you’ll be able to see how this looks. Days in
bold are those that have appointments.
It’s also possible to set exceptions, as when the meeting might skip a week. This could be useful to
work around holidays, for example. Simply click the Add button, and then type a date or click the down
arrow to select the date from a calendar. Finally, you can also add attachments to an appointment—a
meeting agenda, minutes, and so forth—by clicking the Attach button and locating the appropriate file.
When you’re finished, click the Close button to add the details of the recurring event to the
In the case of meeting appointments, you can click the Add button to invite others to the meeting
via iCal invitations, which will be sent out by e-mail as soon as you’ve finished creating the appointment.
Simply click the Add button, and in the empty field that appears, start typing the contact name of the
individual you want to invite. If the person is already in your contacts list, the name will be automatically
completed, but you can also type individual e-mail addresses. By clicking the entry under the Role
heading, you can alter the role of the individual. The choices are Chair, Required Participant, Optional
Participant, Non-Participant (i.e., somebody you want to inform about the meeting but who doesn’t
need to attend), and Unknown (for all other instances).
Clicking the Free/Busy button will open a new dialog box showing who can and can’t attend,
according to replies to the invitations sent out (obviously, this is a feature you’ll be using after you
initially create an appointment). On the left side of the dialog box, you will see the list of attendees and
also their status: whether they’ve accepted, declined, or sent a busy/tentative reply (in which case you
might choose to reschedule the meeting).
Additional Calendars
For those with complicated lives, Evolution can manage multiple calendars sourced from either your
local machine or from an online service such as Google Calendar. Moreover, each one can be assigned a
different color so you can see how events clash (or not) at a glance. To create a new local calendar, rightclick the Calendars pane (on the left) and select New. Choose On This Computer from the drop-down,
provide a name for the new calendar, and choose a color. When you create a new event, specify the
appropriate calendar, and the event will be highlighted in its color.
You can also add a Google calendar by following the preceding instructions but choosing Google
from the drop-down. Supply your Google credentials and then choose a calendar from those available.
Again, you can define a color to apply to this calendar, as in Figure 14-11. The Google option is limited to
viewing information added to the web service, so you can’t add events by using Evolution, but this is a
great way to access some of the many public calendars (such as national holidays and football match
fixture lists) available on the Internet.
Figure 14-11. Evolution can manage both local calendars and remote calendars from the Internet, making
it ideal for creating and sharing group calendars.
Memos and Tasks
The Memos and Tasks modes are the simplest components within Evolution. Memos mode allows you
to jot down simple notes, and Tasks mode allows you to create a to-do list.
In both modes, which can be selected by clicking their buttons at the bottom left of the screen, the
program window consists simply of an area where you can click to add a new memo/task, a list area, and
a preview area, which will show any details of the currently selected task.
■ Note Memos created in Evolution can also be opened in Tomboy, the default GNOME desktop note-taking
In the case of Tasks mode, after you’ve made an entry, clicking the check box alongside it will mark
it as completed. Completed items appear with a strike-through.
To add a new memo or task, click the bar that reads Click to Add a Memo (or Task), type a
description, and then press Enter. You will be able to enter more tasks or memos in the same field.
Double-clicking a task or memo allows you to fine-tune its details. For example, you can add a due
date for a task, so you’ll know when the task must be completed. You can also add a description for
future reference and attach files by clicking the relevant button on the toolbar. By clicking the Status
Details button in the Task Details dialog box, you can also set a percentage figure for completion of the
task, as well as its priority, ranging from low to high. By adding these details, a quick scan over your tasks
will give you a good idea of which jobs are overdue, which need attention, and which will stand a little
After you’ve added these details, right-click the Summary bar (at the top of the main window) and
select Add a Column. You can now drag and drop elements onto the main window to get a better view of
your tasks, as in Figure 14-12.
Figure 14-12. Tasks mode lets you catalog chores that you want to do during the day.
Configuring Instant Messaging
Instant messaging is a way of chatting with other people in real time. It’s as if you were having a phone
conversation, but you’re typing instead of speaking. You can talk to one other person or a whole group of
people and sometimes share files with them.
The instant messaging program under Ubuntu, Empathy, offers the same functions and works in an
almost identical way to programs that you might have used under Windows. It supports virtually all the
popular chat standards, such as ICQ/AOL, Google Talk, Yahoo, and MSN (Hotmail/Passport). It assumes
that you already have an account with each service, which will likely be the case if you’ve used instant
messaging programs under Windows. You can have as many accounts as you wish and log to all of them
at the same time. You can see the contacts from all your instant messaging accounts in the same list and
can chat with them at the same time. Using the Me menu, you can set your status for all your accounts at
the same time. This is useful, as it provides a single instant messaging application that allows you to chat
with users from different networks.
To configure your accounts (referred in Lucid terminology as chat accounts), click the little envelope
located next to the date and time in the top panel, and select Set Up Chat. The Welcome to Empathy
wizard will appear. If you select the option “Yes, I’ll enter my account details now” and click Forward,
you will be prompted to enter your account details, as shown in Figure 14-13.
Figure 14-13. Empathy can communicate with users across a range of different protocols.
There are a lot of instant messaging services to which you can connect, as listed in Table 14-1.
Table 14-1. Instant Messaging Services That Can Be Used with Empathy
Instant Messaging
Facebook Chat
This is a Facebook feature that allows users to chat with other Facebook users. It
requires a Facebook account.
Google Talk
Google Talk, or GTalk, is a free instant messaging service provided by Google.
Jabber was the first instant messaging service based on the open protocol
XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol). It has been running
This is the well-known AOL Instant Messenger.
This is a Polish instant messaging service—the most popular in its home country.
Instant Messaging
GroupWise is messaging and collaboration software that supports, among other
things, instant messaging.
ICQ was the first Internet-wide instant messaging service, launched in 1996. Its
name is pronounced I seek you.
This is the popular service provided by Microsoft. It is typically used with MSN
Messenger, now rebranded as Windows Live Messenger.
This is a free instant messaging service whose user base is mainly in South Africa.
MySpace is a social networking website (the most popular before Facebook came
along) that includes an instant messaging service.
Tenecent QQ, hosted in, is the most popular free instant messaging
service in mainland China, with more than 800 million users. Originally known as
OICQ, or Open ICQ, its mascot is a penguin.
IBM Lotus Sametime is a unified communications and collaboration product for
the enterprise that includes instant messaging among its capabilities.
This is the Secure Internet Live Conferencing protocol, which provides secure
conferencing services. Its development is coordinated by the SILC Project, which
also maintains the public SILC network.
The Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is widely used for controlling multimedia
communication sessions such as voice and video calls.
This is an instant messaging service provided by Yahoo free of charge and used
with Yahoo accounts.
Yahoo Japan
This is the Japanese affiliate of Yahoo.
Zephyr is an instant messaging protocol created at MIT as part of Project Athena. It
is still in use today by some universities.
If you’re working in a small office without an Internet connection but you want to send instant
messages to your coworkers, you can use the People Nearby feature by selecting the “No, I just want to
see people online nearby for now” option from the Welcome to Empathy wizard. You will need to
provide a full name and an alias and instruct your fellows to do the same. You will then be able to chat
with them without installing a server.
Once you have configured your accounts, you will see all your contacts in Empathy’s main window,
the Contact List. You can change the status of all of your accounts at the same time by using the dropdown list located beneath the menus, or by using the Me menu online status list.
Installing Skype
Skype, shown in Figure 14-14, is used by millions of people around the world to make Internet telephone
calls via Voice over IP (VoIP). This is a complicated way of saying that voice calls are transmitted across
the Internet. Using Skype, it’s possible to call other Skype users for free, or to call various phone
numbers around the world, usually for a small charge.
Installing Skype is easy, and the Skype developers have even created a software repository from
which it can be installed. This means that you’ll be informed via Update Manager whenever a new
version of Skype becomes available.
To add the Skype repository, click System ➤ Administration ➤ Software Sources. Click the Other
Software tab in the window that appears, and then click the Add button. In the APT Line text box, type
the following:
deb stable non-free
Note the spaces between debian/ and stable, and between stable and non-free. Click the Add
Source button. Click Close, and then click the Reload button in the dialog box that appears.
After you have done that, you can use the Ubuntu Software Center for installing Skype. Just search
for Skype and click Install when the application appears in the list.
Figure 14-14. It’s easy to install Skype under Ubuntu, and it works almost exactly as it does under
Windows or Macintosh.
After the software is installed, click Applications ➤ Internet ➤ Skype to start it. Using Skype under
Linux is very similar to using it under Windows or Macintosh. You’ll find excellent documentation at
■ Tip To configure your audio input device (e.g., microphone), right-click the Speaker icon at the top right of the
desktop and select Open Volume Control. Then click and drag the Microphone slider as necessary. You may need
to unmute the input by removing the red cross next to the speaker icon below the Microphone slider.
Ekiga, an open source alternative to Skype, offers a similar feature set. It can be installed using the
Ubuntu Software Center and is available from Applications ➤ Internet ➤ Ekiga Softphone. When the
software is launched for the first time, you’ll be prompted to create an account, which will give
you a SIP address (the VoIP equivalent of an e-mail address) and an option to purchase call-out credit.
After you’ve signed into the service, it works in a similar way to Skype, with a buddy list and, as shown in
Figure 14-15, a standard numerical dial pad for calling land lines or mobile numbers. Ekiga’s integration
with the Ubuntu desktop is very good—for example, you can receive alerts in the notification area if one
of your contacts makes a call to you.
Figure 14-15. Ekiga is an open source alternative to Skype.
This chapter has been a whistle-stop tour of Evolution’s main features. You’ve looked at e-mail creation
and organization, contacts management, working with the appointments calendar, and editing the
task list and memos. Evolution is a powerful program. Be sure to take a look at its help documentation
(Help ➤ Contents) to learn more about it.
This chapter also discussed the instant messaging client and how it integrates with the Me menu.
The next chapter will go into greater detail about this new feature and what can you do with it.
C H A P T E R 15
Social Networks
and Cloud Computing
From the very beginning, computer networks were about more than just connecting devices. They were
about connecting people.
The day two computers first got connected, a communication path between two human beings was
formed. As the number of connections increased, more and more people were sharing information,
experiences, and their lives. Today, of course, we have the web. With its ubiquity, the possibilities are
bounded only by our collective imagination.
Social networks have emerged to harness the commincation power of the web. You want to get back
in touch with your old classmates from high school? Check. You want to create a virtual business card
and relate to colleagues? Check. You want to publish your activities so people know what you are doing
all the time? Check.
However, administering your online persona can be an overwhelming task. Social networking
sites are currently self-centered and poorly, if at all, integrated, so you have to check and update them
one by one.
What we need are applications that do the heavy work for us and let us concentrate on what we
want to publish and where—not on how to do it.
A second web trend has emerged: so-called cloud computing. As the processing power and storage
capacity of the Internet as a whole rises exponentially, so do the benefits of running applications and
saving data online, rather than doing so on your own PC. We are in the middle of a computing revolution
in which the core processing unit is no longer the individual PC, but the “cloud” of connected devices.
Today, more and more sites provide free space to store personal information in the cloud, whether
in order to share with others (for example, a photo in an album you create), or just to have an online
copy of your private data.
In this chapter, we talk about how Ubuntu can leverage those two trends and make our online life a
lot easier and pleasant.
■ Note One of the main applications you will be using with social networks and cloud-based services is your
favorite web browser. Most browsers that you can use with Ubuntu are very well suited for social networking. In
this chapter we talk about other applications that connect directly to the Internet to perform specific tasks, using
its resources as if they were local to your PC.
Social Networking Applications
In the last few years, the use of social networks has experienced staggering growth. Sites like Twitter and
Facebook serve millions of users per day and generate terabytes of data.
Social network sites are part of a greater movement called web 2.0.
The “first” Internet (web 1.0) offered us mainly static content, provided by the site owner. The user
consumed that content typically by using a web browser. Web 1.0 sites included newspapers, magazines,
and corporate or e-commerce sites. The user could read the pages, buy something online, and if the site
allowed she could post a comment to an existing web page. The user was strictly a consumer.
Web 2.0, on the other hand, is a platform to share—to share interests, photos, video, status, and any other
information that we deem interesting. There is no “main publisher,” and when there is a centralized
authority, its role is mainly to set the rules and enforce them, not to produce content. Think YouTube,
Wikipedia, Twitter, and Facebook.
Several types of sites are considered part of the “Web 2.0,” including but not limited to:
Wikis: These are sites that allow users to create content in the form of sets of
interrelated web pages, often with a common subject. It is well suited for
documentation of specific topics and for encyclopedias, the most famous being
Blogs: A blog (short for web log) is a service that allows a user or set of users to
post content, forming a web page of continuous posts sorted in chronological
order (showing the newest post first). Derivations of the original blog concept are
photoblogs and Microblogging sites (which set a size limit for posts).
Social networks: These are sites that allow users to create profiles and connect to
other users to share information and interests. Those connected users are typically
called friends. The content shared is often divided into private and public content,
private content being available only through authorized connections.
Ubuntu 10.04 was designed to be “social from the start,” which means that it integrates with social
networks seamlessly. In the first section of this chapter we look at some of the applications you can use
for this purpose.
Introducing the MeMenu
Lucid Lynx includes a new applet located in the top panel, next to the Date and the Shutdown button, as
is shown in Figure 15-1. It is the MeMenu, and it was so important for the developing team that its
interface was sketched by Mike Shuttleworth himself. The MeMenu is the cornerstone of a strategy to
make you feel like there is no real difference between your local account and your online persona; they
are one and the same. Once you log in to Ubuntu, you are online!
The MeMenu allows you to set status for instant messaging (IM) accounts and to broadcast posts to
all your social networks, including Twitter and Facebook.
Not all sections are shown by default; some only appear after you have configured certain types
of accounts.
Figure 15-1. The MeMenu allows you to set IM status and to broadcast to your social networks.
Title: The Title section includes an icon representing the online status of your IM accounts, and your
short name as specified in About Me (see Chapter 9). It could be that your multiple Chat accounts
will have different statuses; in that case, the icon appears as a thick dash—or as disabled if no Chat
account has been created.
Me: The Me section contains a photo and your full name, as specified in About Me.
Broadcast: The Broadcast section consists of a text box. It is shown only if you have created at least
one Broadcast account. You can enter text in the box, and it’s posted to all checked Broadcast
accounts the moment you press Enter. Be aware that some social networks limit the number of
characters of your posts (Twitter’s tweets are limited to 140 characters; Facebook status updates can
run to 420 characters).
IM Status: The IM Status section lets you set the status for multiple Chat accounts. You have several
options: Available, Away, Busy, Invisible, and Offline. Selecting one option sets all Chat accounts to
that status.
Account Configuration: The Account Configuration section lets you associate your online accounts
with your profile. You can create both Chat accounts and Broadcast accounts. There’s also a pointer
to Ubuntu One, a cloud-based storage service about which we will talk later in this Chapter.
The MeMenu relies on Empathy (already seen in Chapter 14) for Chat accounts and on Gwibber
(more about it later) for Broadcast accounts. Those applications should be installed if you want to create
accounts of each type.
Microblogging with Gwibber
Gwibber is a microblogging client for the GNOME desktop environment that you can use to access
Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites.
Microblogging is a complex cultural phenomenon, but in itself consists of only two basic operations:
to post content, and to read other users’ posts (called following, as on Twitter). It is the aggregation of
millions of such operations a day that renders microblogging so interesting.
As the number of social network sites continues to grow, it is hard for users to keep up the pace.
We want our posts to have the greatest impact, so we need to send it to every single microblogging
site available, just to make sure no one misses it. On the other hand, we want to receive the most
relevant content, no matter where it was originally posted. We can’t stick to a single service, we must use
them all.
Without tools that help us with these tasks, to fulfill that simple objective we would have to update
every site manually, using a web browser, and then check them one by one to see if there is some
interesting stuff. We would rarely have time to do this.
Someone once said: “I will work 24 hours a day, and nights too.” That sentiment also seems to apply
to social networking.
Here’s where Gwibber comes in. It allows you to post to multiple sites at the same time, and follow
content from different sources. Whereas the MeMenu can post short messages to some microblogging
sites, Gwibber lets you also read other people’s threads.
Gwibber is installed by default and can be found at Applications Internet as Gwibber Social
Client. If for some reason you don’t have it, you can install it by going to Applications Ubuntu
Software Center. Click Get Free Software in the left pane and select the category Internet. Browse the list
of available applications and select Gwibber. Click Install to begin installation (refer to Chapter 20 for
further information on how to install or remove software).
The basic interface, as shown in Figure 15-2, is quite simple.
Figure 15-2. Gwibber lets you configure multiple social networking sites.
At the top is a menu that contains only three entries: Gwibber, Edit, and Help.
The main section is divided into two panes: the Streams pane, where you can see your mailboxes,
and the Details pane, where the selected mailbox actual posts are shown.
At the bottom, the Broadcast text box is shown, along with icons representing each of your
microblogging accounts. You can enter your thoughts into this text box, and when you press the Enter
key they will be automatically posted online. You can select which sites to post the message to by
enabling or disabling the icons in the Send with: area. If the microblogging sites have a restriction for
post’s length, the number of remaining characters available will be displayed at the right inside the text
box. Very handy!
Gwibber supports many social networking sites, as listed in Table 15-1, but for Gwibber to work with
them you must first have an account created for that site, and in some cases you must explicitly allow
Gwibber to access your information.
Table 15-1. Services Supported by Gwibber
Very popular microblogging site. Posts have a maximum
length of 140 characters and are known as tweets. You can
read other people’s posts (if they are public), and become a
follower of them. Even Barack Obama has a Twitter
Open source social network and microblogging site.
Similar to Twitter, it also has a 140-character limit per post,
but implements many original features.
FriendFeed is a real-time feed aggregator. You can create
your own feed and configure it to retrieve information from
several sources, and it will synchronize the information
and provide a single point of entry to all your content.
Maybe the best-known social network site, Facebook
allows users to connect to friends, post messages, receive
comments, and engage in multiple forms of shared
Allows users to discover and rank Internet content. When a
user Diggs a web page, it is sent to a ranking system. Other
users can vote up or down the page, and sort it based on
An open source microblogging service formerly known as
Laconica. Similar to Twitter, but aimed at providing
distributed communications by allowing enterprise and
individual installations.
Popular image hosting and sharing site owned by Yahoo!
Microblogging and photo-sharing site with multilingual
support, lets you search content filtered by language.
Once you have created your microblogging accounts, you’re ready to add them to Gwibber. Select
Edit Accounts and click the Add… button. Select the account type from the list and click Add.
Depending on the type of account you add, you will be asked for various information.
For each account you configure, you will have a new group in the Streams pane. You can display all
the posts from all your sites by selecting the Home section, or view more specific streams of posts by
selecting the mailbox of the specific site. You have also the Search sections, in which you can look for
specific text in the social networks to see what other people are saying about a particular topic. From
now on, you can read other people’s posts, create your own messages and post them online, and master
the social network from a single, easy-to-use application.
Cloud-Based Services
In the last few years ever-increasing processing and storage capacity led to reduction of their costs.
It soon became evident how much efficiency could be gained just by outsourcing those resources to
the cloud.
In parallel with the Web 2.0 movement, a second trend is showing its strength in the Internet today: cloud
The term cloud itself refers to the image of a cloud used in network engineering to depict a public network
that is outside the administrative boundaries of an organization and over which it has no control. The
Internet is the biggest of those networks.
In the distributed computing model of the past 20 years or so, the core processing unit was the individual
PC. It was a self-contained unit that stored applications and data. Users could connect to other PCs and
even the Internet, but that was optional.
As more and more bandwidth became available, and storage and processing costs plummeted, it became
apparent that the efficiency that could be gained by centralization was humongous. It wasn’t long before
companies and organizations started to offer cloud-based services, be they storage, applications, or both.
Today, the shift to the cloud is becoming more evident than ever. Even Google has announced a new OS
whose only function is to connect to the Internet and run web-based applications, and Microsoft offers
hosted versions of some of its most popular server software, such as Exchange and SharePoint. In a short
time, the core processing unit won’t be the PC, but the whole of the Internet.
Ubuntu, or Linux for that matter, is not a cloud-centric operating system the way Google Chrome
OS is. It still relies on the local PC for most of its operations. Nonetheless, Lucid Lynx comes equipped
with some functionality that allows you to have the best of both worlds, by making the most of your PC’s
hardware resources, while being able to use cloud-based services transparently.
Storing Your Data Online with Ubuntu One
Ubuntu One is an online storage and synchronization service operated by Canonical Ltd. This means it
provides you with space in the cloud and synchronizes its content with your computers.
It is not the first service of this kind to have hit the market. Dropbox and Live Mesh have similar
functionality. Nonetheless, it has certain characteristics that make it a good choice for Ubuntu users,
namely its capacity for synchronizing notes and contacts between several computers (in addition to just
storing files). Currently, only Ubuntu clients are supported.
Ubuntu One subscriptions come in two flavors. A basic subscription is available for free, and it
enables you to store up to 2GB of personal information on Ubuntu One servers. If you need more space,
you can upgrade your subscription to a 50GB plan, for a monthly fee (at the time of writing, the fee was
$10 a month).
In order to use Ubuntu One, you must first subscribe to the service and then configure your
computers to connect and synchronize files, notes, and contacts.
Subscribing to Ubuntu One
Follow these instructions to create your account and subscribe to the free Ubuntu One service.
Access the site at
Click “Sign in.”
You will need a Launchpad account. Launchpad is a web development
tracking tool maintained by Canonical. Its login services are also used with
Ubuntu One.
If you already have a Launchpad account, just enter your e-mail address.
Enter your password and click Continue.
If you don’t, press the “New account” button. Click Continue to create the
account. A confirmation will be sent to the specified address. Follow the link
in the mail and fill the registration form. You will have to specify a display
name and a password in order to complete the account creation process.
Select the option Subscribe. You will be presented with the available options. If
you choose a free plan, you can finish the subscription process. If the plan has
a monthly fee, you will have to provide a valid credit card.
Confirm that the subscription option is correct and then click Agree &
■ Caution Ubuntu One is a free service and as such is very useful. But you should carefully read its Terms of
Service and its Privacy Policy, available here: and here and make sure they don’t affect the use you will give to the service. Make
sure you understand that Ubuntu One is not a replacement for regular backups, since Canonical Ltd. cannot be
held responsible for lost information.
Configuring your Computer to Synchronize Files
After the subscription is created, you need to configure your computer for synchronization. The Ubuntu
One client software is installed by default in Lucid Lynx.
Access the Ubuntu One client software, available at the bottom of the MeMenu
The Ubuntu One Preferences dialog box opens. If you click “Manage account,”
a web browser will open, asking you to log in to Launchpad if you have not
already done so.
After you are logged in to Launchpad, you will need to confirm access to the
service from your computer. Add the computer name to the list.
Once you have configured your computer for synchronization, you are ready to start using
the service.
You will notice in Nautilus that there is a folder with the name Ubuntu One in your /home directory
(see Figure 15-3). Every file that is copied or moved to that folder will be synchronized to Ubuntu One
and to every other computer that you associate with the same Launchpad account.
Figure 15-3. The Ubuntu One folder inside Nautilus.
A notification will appear when Ubuntu One is synchronizing files, and when it finishes doing so.
You can also share folders with other Ubuntu One users. To do this, right-click a subfolder of
UbuntuOne in Nautilus and select the option Share on Ubuntu One. You will need to provide the e-mail
address of the person you want to share the folder with, and that e-mail account must be associated with
an Ubuntu One subscription.
If other people share their folders with you, you will see them in the subfolder Shared with Me,
inside Ubuntu One in Nautilus.
■ Note It might happen someday that you want to cancel your Ubuntu One subscription. If you do, the information
will be deleted from Ubuntu One, but not from your computer. If you have a free plan it will be deleted
immediately, whereas a paid subscription will remain active until the end of the current billing period.
Synchronizing Notes
Another kind of information that you can synchronize with Ubuntu One is Tomboy Notes. Tomboy is an
application that allows you to take notes, which comes installed by default in Lucid Lynx. Each note
consists of a title and a body.
To configure the application follow these steps:
Access the Tomboy Notes application, available in Applications Accessories.
Once the application opens, click the Edit menu and select Preferences.
Click the Synchronization tab and select the options shown in Figure 15-4.
Click the Connect to Server button.
Figure 15-4. Tomboy Notes Synchronization options.
Notice that a web page opens in your default browser. You will be prompted to
log in to Launchpad and authorize your computer, just as you do when
synchronizing files.
If login and authorization are successful, you will receive a message telling
you so.
Go back to Tomboy and click Save to start synchronizing notes.
From that point onwards, your notes will be synchronized to Ubuntu One, and from there to any
other computers that you configure with the same Launchpad account.
You can force synchronization by expanding the Tools menu and choosing the option
Synchronize Notes.
Synchronizing Evolution Contacts
You can also synchronize Evolution contacts (for an introduction to Evolution, see Chapter 14).
Open Evolution, available in Applications Office. If this is the first time you
open Evolution, you will need to create an account.
Select to Always Allow the application and the synchronization service to
access your default keyring.
Access the Contacts section of Evolution.
Only contacts residing in the CouchDB Ubuntu One Address Book will be
synchronized. If you already have contacts created in other address books,
you can copy them by expanding the Action menu and clicking on the option
Copy All Contacts to… Select CouchDB Ubuntu One as the destination
Address Book.
You can also set the CouchDB Ubuntu One Address Book as the default
by selecting its properties and checking the option “Mark as default
address book.”
Accessing Your Information on the Web
Now that you have configured synchronization, you don’t need your PC to access your information
stored on Ubuntu One. All you need is a web browser.
Go to and log in with your Launchpad account. You will be presented with a
web page where you can view, edit, or delete your files, notes, and contacts as if you were on your PC
(see Figure 15-5). You can also administer the list of PCs associated with this Ubuntu One subscription.
Figure 15-5. The Ubuntu One web page.
Sending Photos to the Cloud with F-Spot
Chapter 18 explains how to use F-Spot to administer your photos.
What’s important to say at this point is that until Lucid Lynx, your photos stayed on your hard
drive. There was no integration with cloud-based services or social network applications like Flickr
or Facebook.
The new version of F-Spot makes it easy to keep our web albums up to date by enabling photo
uploading directly from the application, without even having to use a browser.
Before you can upload your photos, you must create an account in some web album application.
Just click Photo Export to…and select your online photo gallery to upload your content.
The Internet is constantly evolving. Ubuntu evolves with it, allowing the user to unleash its power
without losing control of the PC. Ubuntu is designed so you can think of our online persona as the same
as your local account, and of the cloud as a resource of your PC.
The web browser is no longer the only portal to the Internet. Many more applications are prepared
to connect directly to the Internet and do things like upload photos and post to a blog.
C H A P T E R 16
Digital Audio
Today’s PC is a multimedia powerhouse, and it’s hard to come across a home computer that doesn’t
have at least a pair of speakers attached. Some people take this to extremes and have surround-sound
speakers on their computers, as well as large widescreen monitors for crystal-clear, high-definition video
The stability of Linux makes Ubuntu a rock-solid general-purpose multimedia system, Audio
and video playback software is installed by default, with nearly 300 additional programs for production
and consumption of digital media available for free in the Sound & Video section of the Ubuntu
Software Center.
In this chapter, you’ll learn how to listen to your existing MP3s and CDs on your Ubuntu system,
and how to explore a world of new sounds via streaming audio, podcasts, and music stores. In the next
chapter, you’ll learn how to manage video playback.
Issues Surrounding Multimedia Playback
Since the advent of digital distribution, record companies and content producers have sought ways of
restricting the ability of users to copy music and films. This usually means digital rights management
(DRM), which often has the side effect of restricting playback of various media formats on
noncommercial operating systems, as the DRM required to play back some music and video needs to be
licensed. Audio and video playback technologies such as MP3 and MPEG are patented in countries that
allow software to be patented, such as the United States. A patent protects the implementation of an
idea, as opposed to copyright, which protects the actual software. Patents are designed to restrict
distribution of a particular technology, which implements an idea or concept, unless permission is
granted, usually via a payment to the license holder.
Because Linux is based on the sharing of computing technology and knowledge, organizations like
Ubuntu (and Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu) are fundamentally and philosophically opposed
to software patents. For this reason, as well as to avoid the risk of patent infringement lawsuits, they take
care not to distribute such software, which is why MP3 playback is not supported by default within
Ubuntu, for example. This doesn’t make playback of popular music and video files impossible, but it
means that, out of the box, Ubuntu does not have the facility to play these formats. It is up to the user to
download and install some extra software to do so if he or she wishes, although this is actually pretty
easy as the process is automated.
■ Note It isn’t the job of this book to dictate a position for you on the ethics of using software that has been
patented. That’s something you must do on your own. It’s a complicated issue, but Wikipedia has a good summary
of the arguments:
Much more devastating than patenting is DRM, a technology tied into audio or video playback
software. It’s designed to control how, where, when, and on what device you can play certain media. For
example, until recently Apple’s iTunes DRM scheme meant that you could play back movies and some
audio tracks bought from iTunes only on the iPod range of devices (including the Apple TV and iPhone
range of devices) or using the iTunes software. DVD and Blu-ray disc players include forms of DRM,
called the Content Scrambling System (CSS) and Advanced Access Content System (AACS), respectively,
which prevent users from playing DVDs on computers unless special software is purchased. With
Apple’s move away from DRM, and Amazon’s DRM-free MP3 store, the situation for audio tracks is
getting better, but nearly all movie files remain affected.
As a community that celebrates openness, many Linux users and developers mistrust any
technology that attempts to restrict their rights to use software in particular ways. Moreover, the
relatively small user base and the preference for free rather than proprietary software has meant that no
mainstream vendor has ported its DRM technology to Linux on the desktop. This means, for instance,
that movies purchased via iTunes will not work on a Linux desktop.
■ Note Companies do make their DRM software available on Linux, only it tends to be developed for inclusion in
set-top boxes, DVD players, HD televisions, MP3 players, and Internet-connected media players. One exception—
and it’s one you may want to consider if you’re concerned with the legal issue of DVD playback—is CyberLink’s
$49.95 PowerDVD software, which is available to buy from Canonical’s online store
Linux and other open source projects are very resourceful and are often able to reverse-engineer
technology formats in order to get around DRM or patent issues. But the laws in many countries—the
United States is a particularly strident example—prohibit reverse-engineering in this way. In addition,
the laws in some countries seek to prohibit use of software resulting from this process.
The good news is that programmers have also come up with open and free alternatives to
proprietary formats. Examples include the Ogg Vorbis media format, which is every bit as good as MP3
but is unencumbered by patent issues. We look at using Ogg Vorbis later in this chapter, in the
“Choosing a Format” section; it’s an excellent way of avoiding issues surrounding patenting. On the
video side, no open source video format is yet in widespread use, but with Mozilla, Opera, Adobe,
Google and many other vendors now backing the royalty-free WebM video format, the picture is likely to
change very fast.
As an end user migrating to Ubuntu from Windows or Mac OS X, it’s likely you’ll want to add
support for MP3 and popular video file playback formats, at least until you can switch over to free and
open file formats. In this and the next chapter, we’re recommending that you install additional software
to use in concert with Ubuntu’s built-in media players. Some of that software may have issues
surrounding patenting, and in one case, is designed to break the encryption that protects the content on
DVD movie discs. Although we can’t of course provide you with any legal guarantee for your particular
jurisdiction, you may be reassured to know that, to our knowledge, no end user has ever had any legal
hassle as a result of installing and using this software.
■ Note The United States and Japan both have laws allowing software to be patented. Most other countries,
including those within the European Union, do not currently allow software patents.
Playing Audio Files
Audio playback under Ubuntu is normally handled by the Rhythmbox Music Player. This is a featurepacked piece of software that can play back audio files, podcasts, Internet radio, and even CDs.
However, Totem, the Ubuntu movie player, can also play back digital audio files.
Like many modern music players, Rhythmbox can also manage your music collection, arranging it
into a library so you can locate songs easily and create playlists. This makes it a better choice for
playback if you have many digital audio files, although Totem is good for quick playback of individual
files, such as auditioning those you’ve just downloaded.
Out of the box, Ubuntu supports playback of Ogg Vorbis and FLAC across all its audio playback
applications. These are two open audio file formats, which you learn more about in the “Choosing a
Format” section later in this chapter.
To play back other music file formats, such as the ubiquitous MP3 format, additional software
known as codecs must be installed. A codec handles the decoding of multimedia files, both audio and
video. The word is a shortened version of coder-decoder. For any digital multimedia file type you want to
play on your computer, you need an appropriate codec. In addition, if you want to create your own
multimedia files—for example, to create MP3s from CD audio tracks—you might need to download an
additional codec that allows the encoding of files.
Installation of codec software is largely automated in Ubuntu. However, the issue of patenting
continues to have an impact on the distribution of codecs. Several audio codecs available for Linux,
contained in various gstreamer-plugins software packages, are not licensed with the patent holders.
This is of little issue to you as an end user. It’s a practical concern only for the distributors of the codecs,
because the laws of some countries state that it’s their duty to pay patent licensing fees. It’s just
something you should be aware of. Fully licensed codecs are available for many formats via the
commercial Fluendo plug-in suite, which is available from the Canonical store.
In simple terms, three software components are needed for multimedia playback under Ubuntu:
Player application: This is the software that’s used to listen to music or display
videos. It’s the part of the multimedia system that you interact with. Under Ubuntu,
Totem movie player is used to play back video, and Rhythmbox is used to handle
audio. However, if you install the KDE desktop, Dragon Player is used to play back
movies, and Amarok handles audio playback.
Multimedia framework: This is the behind-the-scenes middleman that puts the
player application in touch with the codec plug-ins. The multimedia framework
preferred by Ubuntu is called GStreamer; KDE is able to use a choice of backends,
including GStreamer and Xine. The multimedia framework is a background
component of your system, and you won’t come into direct contact with it, apart
from when you’re initially configuring your system for media playback. However,
it’s important to note that more than one multimedia framework can be installed,
because this is sometimes necessary to utilize certain codecs. In Chapter 17, you
learn how to install additional software in order to fully support DVD playback
under Ubuntu.
Codec plug-ins: Codecs are the small pieces of software that handle multimedia
file decoding. Codecs do all the hard work—the number crunching. Most
multimedia file formats are compressed, to make for smaller file sizes, and the
codec’s job is to expand the files again so they can be played back on your
computer. Some codecs also work the other way around by shrinking files; if you
rip CD tracks to MP3, or convert DVD videos to movie files on your hard disk, you
will need to shrink them for ease of storage.
Under Ubuntu, the GStreamer multimedia framework is installed by default, along with a handful of codecs.
Installing Codecs in a Single Package
There is an extremely simple way to install support for all of the common multimedia codecs that aren’t
distributed by default in Ubuntu. It’s a package called Ubuntu Restricted Extras.
With a single click, this package will bring in support for MP3 and the common proprietary video
formats, including the Flash plug-in in Firefox, and as a bonus it will install the Microsoft TrueType core
fonts (such as Times New Roman and Arial) and OpenJDK, a free/open source version of Java. (The
proprietary Sun JDK/JRE is available as an alternative from the Canonical Partner Repository).
To get this very convenient bundle of software onto your system, enter the Ubuntu Software Center,
which you’ll find in the Applications menu, and type restricted extras in the search bar. Select Ubuntu
Restricted Extras from the results list, click the Install button, and enter your password when prompted.
Figure 16-1. Installing the Ubuntu Restricted Extras package in the Ubuntu Software Centre is the easiest
way to get support for the most commonly used digital audio and video formats.
Once the Ubuntu Restricted Extras is installed, all of Ubuntu’s playback software will automatically
support MP3 files, including Totem, Rhythmbox, and any other playback software you install that is
designed for the GNOME Desktop.
This is made possible because, behind the scenes, all of Ubuntu’s audio and video playback is
underpinned by the GStreamer multimedia framework. Once the codec-supporting plug-ins have
been installed into GStreamer, as a user you won’t come into direct contact with GStreamer, but the
benefit of having this integrated system in the background is that you install plug-ins only once for the
entire system.
Installing Codecs when Required
Even if you don’t get around to installing Ubuntu Restricted Extras, Ubuntu’s multimedia applications
will automatically suggest which codecs to download and install when you attempt to play a multimedia
file that’s in a restricted format, such as MP3.
Here we walk through what happens when you try to play an MP3 on an Ubuntu system that hasn’t
yet had the required codec installed. The same procedure will apply when you try to play back any
unsupported audio or video file format; all that will differ is the choice of codecs offered to you.
Copy an MP3 file to your computer.
Double-click the MP3 file.
Totem movie player will start up, but because the underlying GStreamer
framework doesn’t yet include support for MP3 files, a dialog box will appear,
asking whether you want to look for a suitable plug-in to play the file. Click the
Search button to do so. The process is automated, but your computer will need
to go online if it isn’t already.
The Install Multimedia Codecs dialog box will eventually appear, offering a
choice of plug-ins to install. You’ll rarely be offered an individual codec to
install. Most are bundled together with similar codecs allowing the playback of
other file formats. As you can see in Figure 16-2, for playback of MP3 files we
were offered the GStreamer Ugly plug-ins bundle, GStreamer FFmpeg, and the
GStreamer Fluendo MP3 plug-in. Although there are three choices, and
therefore obviously some overlap in functionality, all three check boxes are
selected by default, and you can safely accept this and click the Install button.
Ubuntu will handle any overlapping functionality automatically in the
background. It’s always best to install as many codecs as possible when offered
the chance, because that means your computer will be suitably equipped for
playback of virtually any file type.
As soon as you click the Install button, Ubuntu will ask you to confirm the
choice and will explain that use of the software might be restricted in certain
countries, although with certain provisos. Read through the dialog box and
either cancel or confirm your choice, depending on whether you think the
rules explained apply to you.
Figure 16-2. Ubuntu recommends codec packages to install so you can play your multimedia files.
Click the Confirm button in the dialog box. Because you are about to install
software, you’ll need to enter your password when prompted. Note that,
although you appeared to select three packages, you actually selected to install
package bundles, containing many individual packages. On the progress bar,
you will see that quite a few individual packages are being downloaded—about
20 on our test computer!
The files will download and install automatically. After the process has
completed, a dialog box will tell you that everything has been successful.
Playback of the file should start automatically in the player application. Every
piece of playback software within Ubuntu will now automatically support MP3
files, including Totem, Rhythmbox, and any other playback software you
install that relies on the GStreamer framework (this will include any playback
software designed for the GNOME Desktop).
As mentioned, some codecs available for Ubuntu have certain legal issues surrounding the patenting
of software. However, you might be pleased to hear that one audio codec available for Ubuntu is
licensed with the MP3 patent holder and therefore washes cleaner than clean: the Fluendo MP3 codec. In
an act of generosity, the Fluendo company paid the MP3 technology license and made its own decoder
freely available for all Linux users. For more information, see
The Fluendo codec doesn’t avoid the ethical considerations surrounding using patented technology, as
discussed early in this chapter, but it does leave you in the best possible position. However, the Fluendo
codec can be used only to decode MP3 audio. It can’t be used to encode MP3s, so if you want to rip tracks
to MP3 from audio CDs, you will have to use the less legally precise GStreamer plug-in packages (or,
better still, encode your audio files using the open source Ogg Vorbis format, which avoids patenting issues
and doesn’t require installing any additional plug-ins!).
So if you simply want to listen to your existing MP3 tracks, intending to embrace open source audio file
formats from this point onward, the Fluendo codec is all you need. To install it, open the Ubuntu Software
Center (Applications Ubuntu Software Center) and enter gstreamer fluendo mp3 in the search box. One
result will be returned: gstreamer0.10-fluendo-mp3. Click the Install button and enter your password
when prompted. After the software is installed, MP3 files should play in both Totem and Rhythmbox.
Using Rhythmbox Music Player
Both Rhythmbox Music Player and Totem Movie Player can be used for audio file playback under
Ubuntu. Rhythmbox is best if you have a lot of tunes, because it can catalog and manage your collection.
You’ll find it on the Applications Sound & Video menu.
The first step when running Rhythmbox for the first time is to let it index your music files. As soon as
it starts up, Rhythmbox will automatically start indexing any files in the Music folder (in Places), so it’s a
good idea to copy your music collection into that folder if you haven’t done so already. But you can also
make Rhythmbox index any music you have located elsewhere. To do so, click Music Import File or
Music Import Folder. Then navigate to your music tracks on the hard disk. You can select more than
one file or folder by Shift-clicking or Ctrl-clicking, just as in Windows.
Note that, unlike iTunes or some other comparable programs, Rhythmbox doesn’t copy your music
to its own library folders when cataloging your files. Instead, it merely creates an index of the files you
already have.
If you subsequently move or delete any files, Rhythmbox might get confused. This can be resolved
by clicking Music Import Folder and rebuilding the index (for single files, click Music Import File).
■ Tip If disk space is a concern, and your audio files are in a Windows partition, you could simply leave the files
there, rather than copy them across. Rhythmbox will still be able to index them. You just need to navigate to your
Windows partition, which you should have as a shortcut under Places (otherwise, it will be in /media/disk).
Rhythmbox starts in browse mode, which means that your music files are listed at the bottom of the
program window. In roughly the middle-left of the program window, you’ll find a listing of the artists
behind the MP3s in your collection. On the right, you’ll see the album that the music track is taken from
(provided that information is included in the music file itself, such as the MP3 ID3 tags). Figure 16-3
shows an example of a Rhythmbox window.
Figure 16-3. Rhythmbox will organize your music tracks by artist or album.
Clicking the Browse button on the toolbar (whose icon is a compact disc overlaid with some musical
notes) will remove the Artist and Album lists and present simply a list of the tracks in your collection.
You can click on the headings of this list to order it by title, genre, artist and album alphabetically. The
default sort order is by artist.
Playing a track is simply a matter of double-clicking it in the list. After the track is finished,
Rhythmbox will play the next track in the MP3 file list. At the top of the Rhythmbox window are transport
controls that let you pause or play the track, skip tracks, repeat tracks, or switch to shuffle play (that is,
random track selection). The Play button combines the functions of play and pause. So if you want to
pause or stop the track that’s currently playing, you click the Play button. Slightly strange decision by the
Rhythmbox developers there, but easy enough to get used to!
You can toggle displaying visual effects with the Visualization button. The display output is shown
in the main window by default. The controls for customizing the effects are available at the bottom of
the visual effects display and are made visible when you hover your mouse over the visual effects. You
have the option to change the nature of the visualization effect; the quality of the effect; and whether the
effect will be displayed within Rhythmbox, in a different window, or in full-screen mode.
Beneath the transport controls and the artist/track name information is a slider that shows the
progress through the current song and lets you cue forward and backward by clicking and dragging.
To create a new playlist, click Music Playlist New Playlist (or press Ctrl+N). A new icon will
appear under the Playlists heading in the left pane of Rhythmbox, with the words “New Playlist”
highlighted. Type a name for your new playlist and press Enter. To add tracks to the playlist, click Music
under the Library heading in the pane on the far left side of the program window, and then drag and
drop files onto your new playlist entry. To start playing the tracks in the playlist, select it and doubleclick the first track in the list.
Portable audio players are well supported by Rhythmbox. If you plug in an MP3 player or iPod,
Ubuntu will pop up a window asking you what application you would like to launch. Open Rhythmbox is
the default, and you can safety check the Always Perform This Action check box and click OK. An icon
representing your digital audio player will now appear under the Devices heading in the left pane of
Rhythmbox. If you click the icon, the contents of your device should appear, and you should be able to
play songs from it. You can transfer music from your computer to your player by clicking the Music icon
in the left pane, selecting the track or tracks you would like to copy, and dragging them to the icon for
your digital audio player. To transfer from player to computer, click your player icon and drag tracks to
the Library icon under Music in the left panel. When you’ve done your copying and you’d like to unplug
your device, don’t forget to right-click the device icon and select Eject.
■ Note When you double-click an audio file in a File Browser window, Ubuntu will start Totem Movie Player rather
than Rhythmbox Music Player. This is quick if you want to preview tracks, but to have them automatically opened
in Rhythmbox when you double-click them, you need to change the Open With preferences. This is easily done:
Right-click any MP3 file in a File Browser window, select Properties, and click the Open With tab. Click the radio
button alongside Rhythmbox’s entry in the list to select it as the default application and then click the Close button.
Purchasing from Online Music Stores
Rhythmbox allows you to purchase albums from the Jamendo, Magnatune, and Ubuntu One online
music stores. Jamendo works on the principle of Creative Commons (see,
so many tracks are free of charge, although you can donate money if you want.
Under the Stores heading on the leftmost pane of the Rhythmbox window, click Magnatune or
Jamendo. You’ll see a brief introduction to the store while the catalog is downloaded. After the catalog is
downloaded (indicated by the status bar at the bottom right of the program window), you will be able to
browse through the available tracks, as if they were on your own computer. They will be sorted by artist
and track name. Double-clicking each track will download and play a high-quality preview.
■ Note The first time you try to browse music on the Jamendo or Magnatune labels, Rhythmbox will have to
download the full artist catalogs. Jamendo currently has nearly 20,000 artists, so this will take a few minutes even
on a broadband connection. You might want to fix yourself a beverage while you wait!
The main toolbar of Rhythmbox has changed in the latest Ubuntu release. Several new icons
appear, allowing you to purchase and download the album, buy a physical CD, or learn more about
the artist.
The Ubuntu One music store behaves more like a web page embedded within the Rhythmbox
window, and you can start browsing it straight away, as long as you’re connected to the Net.
Using the Jamendo Store
Songs from Jamendo are free to listen to, download, and share. Jamendo allows any artist to upload his
or her music under one of the “some rights reserved” licenses published by Creative Commons. Fans
can join the Jamendo community free of charge, write reviews, and share music with other members,
and if you’d like to support an artist with a donation, Jamendo makes it easy to do that.
■ Tip Not only can you download the tracks from Jamendo, but you can also remix many of them or use snippets
of them in your own music. All of this is because of the artists’ choice to use Creative Commons licenses. Many of
them opt for a license which permits you to do exactly what you want with their music, as long as you credit the
original artist and pass on the same rights to other people if you redistribute your work.
If you want to download an album, select a song in the music list that is included in the album you
would like to download, and then click the Download Album button on the toolbar. Firefox will visit a
URL that includes a BitTorrent tracker file—effectively, a small file that opens the Transmission
BitTorrent client built into Ubuntu. BitTorrent will then attempt to download the entire album.
■ Note BitTorrent is a unique file-sharing system designed to share bandwidth. Depending on your hardware
setup, you might need to alter your router or firewall settings for it to work efficiently. For more information, see
If you want to make a donation to an artist, select a song in the music list that the artist performed,
right-click it, and select Donate to Artist, or click the Donate to Artist button on the toolbar. Firefox will
direct you to a web site where you can fill in a form to complete your donation by Paypal or credit card.
Purchasing from Magnatune
Magnatune operates on a different basis from Jamendo. Like a traditional record label, Magnatune is
picky about its artists, with only a few hundred on its books, but, unlike a regular label, it lets you the
customer try before you buy.
With Magnatune, you can preview any song in its entirety through your Rhythmbox player without
paying a penny. At the end of each song you listen to, you will hear an announcement telling you the
name of the track and artists, and inviting you to become a member of Magnatune.
■ Tip You can learn more about artists by viewing their Magnatune web pages. Click a relevant track and click the
Artist Information button on the toolbar. This will automatically load the relevant page in Firefox.
By signing up as a Magnatune member, for US$15 per month, you can download any of the music
featured on the label, in a choice of different formats, including high-quality variable bitrate MP3, high
quality Ogg Vorbis, and perfect quality WAV or FLAC, which are ideal for burning to CD.
This is not only a great deal for the listener, but also for the artists, who get paid 50 percent, split
evenly from what you listen and download.
To join, right-click on any song in the Magnatune index and select Purchase Album from the context
menu. This will open Magnatune’s web site in Firefox, which will take you through the sign-up process.
Once you’re a member, you will be able to right-click any song in the Magnatune listing and select
Download Album to get your own fully-licensed, legitimate copy of the album in excellent quality.
Purchasing from Ubuntu One
While Jamendo and Magnatune follow very new business models, giving less well-known artists a
chance to get heard and paid, Ubuntu’s sponsor Canonical thinks that Linux users should also be able to
get their hands on mainstream, commercially available music.
To this end, Canonical has started a new music store as part of its Ubuntu One personal cloud
service. Backed by 7digital, a major player in digital media services, the Ubuntu One music store gives
you access to commercially published music from major and independent labels at competitive prices,
in the same way as you would expect from iTunes or the Amazon music store.
Browse the Ubuntu One music store catalog within Rhythmbox to see what’s available from your
favorite artists and preview snippets of songs. When you find a song or album you want to buy, click the
Download button. This will take you to a basket, from which you can check out or carry on browsing for
more songs to buy.
When you click the Checkout button, a page will open in Firefox from which, if you haven’t already
signed up to Ubuntu One, you will be able to create an account and make your purchase. All the music
you buy from the store will be in high-quality 256kbps MP3 format, and will appear in your Rhythmbox
library under the Music heading, as well as in your Music folder of course. You can play it through
Rhythmbox, sync it to your MP3 player, and burn it to CD as many times as you want.
A very cool, perhaps unique feature of the Ubuntu One music store is that any music that you
purchase is automatically copied to your Ubuntu One “personal cloud” (meaning storage on Ubuntu
One’s servers), and is instantly available to any other computer on which you enable your Ubuntu
One account.
Figure 16-4. Ubuntu users can now buy music from major and independent labels via the Ubuntu One
music store that’s integrated into Rhythmbox.
Tuning In to Online Radio Stations
With Rhythmbox, you can listen to a number of predefined Internet radio stations or add your own.
Provided the MP3 codec software is installed, as discussed earlier, Rhythmbox is compatible with
streaming MP3-based playlists, such as those listed at
To view a handful of stations that have been pre-programmed into Rhythmbox for demonstration
purposes, click the Radio heading in the list on the left side of the Rhythmbox window. To listen to a
radio station with Rhythmbox, double-click its entry in the list.
To add a new station, do the following: Visit the web page of the radio station you want to listen to in
Firefox and copy the stream’s link to your clipboard. You can typically do this by right-clicking the Listen
Live or similar link (in Shoutcast it’s the blue play button) and selecting Copy Link Location. In
Rhythmbox, right-click the Radio icon under the Library listing on the left pane and select New Internet
Radio Station. A window will pop up, into which you can paste the station link and click Add. The new
station will now appear in the track listing, and you can double-click to play it. The title will be the link
itself (http:// etc.), so if you would like to change it to the human-readable name of the station, rightclick on it, select Properties, edit the station title and click Close.
■ Tip There’s a great plug-in for Rhythmbox that adds the whole Shoutcast streaming radio catalogue as a
heading in your Library. Go to to download the plug-in and
follow the simple installation instructions you’ll find there. We found we had to restart Rhythmbox a couple of
times for the plug-in to start working, but it’s worth that for having the choice of thousands of stations from all
around the world.
Listening to Podcasts
Podcasts are audio files that are distributed by RSS (Real Simple Syndication). This sounds complicated,
but it’s actually quite simple. When you’re subscribed to a particular podcast, the audio files are
downloaded automatically in the background, so that the latest episodes will always be available. This
makes keeping up with the latest podcasts effortless. Most podcasts take the form of MP3 files, but any
audio file format can be used.
In terms of content, podcasts range from simple spoken blog entries, usually created by individuals,
to podcasts that are more akin to radio shows and involve interviews. Some professional radio stations
even release entire shows as podcasts, with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) leading the
charge (
Rhythmbox is able to handle podcast subscriptions under Ubuntu, and you can add a new
subscription by clicking the Podcasts heading in the leftmost pane of Rhythmbox. Then right-click a
blank spot in the track listing area, select New Podcast Feed, and enter the URL. However, a much easier
way of adding a podcast is to use Firefox to browse to the link.
Conveniently, Rhythmbox is fully compatible with the iTunes podcast format, which is perhaps the
most prevalent podcast format at the present time. On the web page where the link is located, click the
subscribe link for iTunes users. This will open a dialog box inviting you to choose to open the podcast.
Ensure that Rhythmbox is selected, click the Remember My Choice check box, and click OK. Rhythmbox
will then download the podcast feed, showing all the titles of the episodes that are available. To listen to
an episode, double-click it in the track listing or right-click and select Download Episode. A progress bar
in the Status column will show how the download is going. Double-click to listen to the episode.
■ Tip You can start listening to a podcast before it has completely downloaded.
If only an RSS link is provided for the podcast (usually indicated on a web site by the orange RSS
button), after you click it Firefox will offer to subscribe to the link itself, using its Live Bookmarks feature.
To change this behavior so that in future RSS links will open in Rhythmbox, click the drop-down link
alongside Subscribe to This Podcast Using, and click Choose Application. A file browser window will
appear, headed Choose Application. In the top left corner of this window there is an icon of a pencil.
Click this, and a Location text box will appear below, within which you should type /usr/bin/rhythmbox
and click Open, as shown in Figure 16-5. The Choose Application window will disappear. Back in Firefox,
put a check in the box alongside Always Use Rhythmbox to Subscribe to Podcasts and then click
Subscribe Now in the Firefox program window.
Figure 16-5. To make Rhythmbox handle RSS podcast feeds that you click on in Firefox, you have to make
a slightly fiddly one-off change to Firefox’s preferences.
Listening to Audio CDs and Ripping Tracks
Playing back audio CDs is simple. Just insert the CD, and you should see a prompt asking which
application you want to open the CD with. The two key choices are to open the CD in Rhythmbox, which
will enable playback and ripping of the CD tracks to disk, or to open the Brasero software, which lets you
to copy the disc.
For simple playback, selecting Rhythmbox is the best option. You can ensure that Rhythmbox starts
automatically in the future when you insert an audio CD by selecting the Always Perform This Action
check box.
After Rhythmbox has started, click the name of the CD in the leftmost pane (look under the Devices
heading) and then click the Play button on the toolbar. It might take a few seconds for the name of the
CD to be looked up online and, provided you’re online, the track and artist information will be looked up
automatically, so you should find a complete listing, and perhaps even an image of the CD inlay, within
the bottom left of the Rhythmbox program window.
To cue backward and forward in the currently playing track, click and drag the slider beneath the
transport buttons.
To eject the disc, press the button on the front of the drive. If this doesn’t work, either click the
toolbar icon within Rhythmbox or right-click the Audio Disc desktop icon and select Eject Volume.
■ Tip As with all GNOME applications, hover the mouse cursor over each button to display a tooltip that describes
what it does.
If you find that the track listing information is incorrect, as can sometimes happen with online
lookups, you can correct it by right-clicking the track name and selecting Properties. Then type the
correct details in the dialog box that appears.
Converting audio tracks on a CD into digital music files you can store on your hard disk for personal
use is informally known as ripping.
■ Note Because of the way audio CDs work, you can’t simply insert the disc and then drag and drop the tracks
onto your hard disk. They must be converted first.
Before you start to rip CDs, however, you need to decide the format in which you wish to store the
audio files.
Choosing a Format
You have several basic choices for audio file formats, the main ones being Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, and MP3.
Let’s look at what each has to offer:
Ogg Vorbis: This is the free software alternative to MP3. Unless you have a trained ear, you won’t be
able to tell the difference between a Vorbis and an MP3 file. (If you do have a trained ear, you may
find Vorbis better!) The two technologies generate files of around the same size, an average of 4MB
to 5MB per song, though you may get a slightly better compression rate with Vorbis. The advantage
of Vorbis is that it’s completely open source technology, so there isn’t the ethical burden of using
patented MP3 software and, therefore, working against the interests of the open source software
movement. The downside of Vorbis is that not all portable audio players support it (though many
do, including players from SanDisk, Cowon, Bang & Olufsen, LG, and iriver—see the list at Other operating systems like Windows will
need some additional software installed if you want to play Vorbis files on them (see
FLAC: This stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec, and it’s the choice of the audiophile. Vorbis and
MP3 are lossy formats, which means that some of the audio data is lost in order to significantly
shrink the file. FLAC doesn’t lose any audio data but still manages to compress files to a certain
degree (although they’re still much larger than an equivalent MP3 or Ogg file). FLAC scores points
because it’s an open format, like Vorbis, but you’ll face the same issues of support in portable audio
players and other operating systems (unless additional software is installed; see
Speex: Originally designed purely for Voice over IP (VoIP), Speex was created for speech encoding.
As such, it concentrates on audio frequencies generated during ordinary conversation. Aside from
the fact that Speex is an open codec that claims to not employ any patented software methods, there
really isn’t any reason to use it, even if you’re ripping speech tracks from a CD. It is built for
transmission across low-bandwidth connections (or small file sizes). If hard-disk capacity is an
issue, you might consider it, but Ogg and MP3 are better suited in virtually all situations. The Speex
file extension is .spx.
WAV: This is perhaps the oldest audio file format. It uses the .wav file extension, which you may
have seen in use on Microsoft Windows computers. WAV files are usually completely uncompressed
and lossless. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re high quality; as with any kind of audio
encoding, the sampling and bit rate can be set to any value desired. For example, Ubuntu includes a
default .wav encoding profile of low quality that can be used when encoding speech. Although WAV
files tend to be supported on most computing platforms, the downside is file size. Uncompressed
WAV files can be massive, even those with low-quality settings. If uncompressed audio is your aim,
FLAC offers a far better alternative.
MP3: This is by far the most popular music file format, and practically everyone who owns a
computer has at least a handful of MP3 tracks. This means software support for MP3 playback is
strong, and of course, most portable audio players are built around the MP3 standard. The only
problem for you, as a Linux user, is the issue of surrounding patents, as explained at the beginning
of this chapter. Using the MP3 format goes against a lot of what the Linux and open source
movement stands for. But in the end, the choice is yours. If you want to rip to MP3, make sure you
have installed the Ubuntu Restricted Extras package as described in the “Installing Codecs in a
Single Package” section earlier in this chapter.
Ripping Tracks
When you’re ready to rip some music, insert the audio CD and then start Rhythmbox (if it isn’t already
running). Select the disc under the Devices heading, as mentioned earlier in the directions for playing
back audio CDs. The check boxes to the left of each listed track will automatically be checked. Uncheck
any tracks that you don’t want to rip. Now right-click the disc under the devices heading and select
Extract to Library, or alternatively you can click the Extract button on the main toolbar.
It’s possible to play the audio CD while you rip it, but in our opinion that’s best avoided!
■ Tip By default the buttons on the Rhythmbox Music Player’s toolbar aren’t labelled, making it tricky to guess
what they all mean, especially when their layout and functions change depending on what music source is
selected. To make everything clearer, go to Edit Preferences and, in the Toolbar Button Labels drop-down,
choose one of the options with text included.
As the tracks are ripped to your hard disk, you will see a progress display at the bottom right of the
Rhythmbox program window. Audio tracks will be saved in a directory named after the artist and album
title, within your Music folder in Places.
Most PCs come with sound cards that are capable of making music. You can use many open source
programs, designed for both amateurs and professionals alike, to create music or record and edit audio.
Arguably the crown jewel of Linux audio at the moment is Ardour, a professional-quality digital audio
workstation that rivals the functionality of Pro Tools and Logic in the proprietary software world. It is a
complex program, and depends on JACK, a low-latency sound server which lets multiple applications
connect to one audio device and share audio between each other. MusE and Rosegarden are also well
worth investigating. Like all modern MIDI sequencers, these programs let you record audio tracks,
effectively turning your PC into a recording studio.
It’s also possible to run virtual synthesizers on your PC, which turn even the most basic sound card into a
powerful musical instrument. Examples include Bristol and FluidSynth.
If you’re interested in only audio recording and processing, Sweep and Audacity are worth a look. In
addition to audio recording and playback, both feature graphical waveform editing and powerful filters.
All of the packages mentioned here are available on Ubuntu, and you can install them via the Ubuntu
Software Center.
A specialized distribution called Ubuntu Studio has been developed by volunteers, with multimedia creation
specifically in mind. It comes with a “real-time” kernel to reduce audio stutters, and the tricky work of
configuring the JACK sound server configuration is already taken care of.
For an authoritative overview of audio production on Linux, we recommend getting hold of a copy of
Crafting Digital Media by Daniel James, published by Apress.
Creating Your Own CDs
You can create audio CDs using Brasero, which aims to be a complete CD-burning suite, like Nero under
Microsoft Windows. It’s also possible to create audio CDs using only Ubuntu’s File Browser, but Brasero
offers finer control over the process of compiling and burning your disc.
Start by inserting a blank CD. A dialog box will appear, asking what you want to do with the CD. The
default choice of Open CD/DVD Creator isn’t what you want, because it will start the File Browser’s data
CD creator, which is designed to write files to disc. Instead, click Open With Other Application from the
drop-down list and select Brasero Disc Burner from the list of applications that appears. Then, in the
parent dialog box, select Open Brasero Disc Burner from the drop-down list, if it isn’t already selected.
To always have Brasero start automatically when a blank disc is inserted, select the Always Perform This
Action check box before clicking OK.
When Brasero’s main window appears, it will by start with a new Data project by default. To switch
to an audio CD project, click Project New Project New Audio Project.
The program is very simple to use:
Using a File Browser window (Places Music), browse to where the audio files
are located and click and drag them onto the Brasero program window. The
files can be Ogg, FLAC, or MP3 files (if you installed the MP3 playback
software, as described in the “Installing Codecs” section earlier in this
chapter). Note that the Fluendo codec will also work for burning CDs from
MP3 tracks.
You’ll see the track listing build up in the window where you dropped the
selected tracks. In addition, at the bottom of the program window, you’ll see
the estimated size of the project, shown in minutes. You’ll need to check the
size of the CD you’re using on its packaging, but most blank CD-R discs can
hold a maximum of between 70 and 80 minutes of audio.
Click and drag each track to rearrange them, if necessary, to create an ideal
running order, as shown in Figure 16-6. When you’re satisfied with the track
listing and are sure you haven’t exceeded the maximum allowed total time for
the disc, click the Burn button to prepare your disc for burning.
In the Disc Burning Setup dialog box, click the Properties button if you want to
alter any details about the actual burning process, such as the burn speed.
However, the default settings are usually OK. Click the Burn button to start the
write procedure. First, the tracks are converted to pure audio files, and their
volume levels adjusted so no track is louder than any other (something known
as normalization). Then they’re actually burned to disc. This can take some
time. When Brasero finishes with the burning, the CD will be ejected.
■ Note Depending on the quality of the blank CD, you might not be able to write audio CDs at full speed. If this is
the case, Brasero will stop during the writing process with an error message. You’ll need to adjust the burn speed.
To do so, in the Disc Burning Setup dialog box, click the Properties button and choose a more conservative speed
from the Burning Speed drop-down list.
Figure 16-6. Brasero makes it easy to create CDs from digital audio files.
Recording from a Microphone
To enable you to capture live audio, using either your laptop’s built-in microphone or an external
microphone plugged into the appropriate input, Ubuntu includes a simple program called Sound
Recorder. You’ll find it on the Applications Sound & Video menu.
When Sound Recorder starts, you’ll first want to check that you are getting a level from your
microphone. In the File menu, select Open Volume Control. This will open Sound Preferences in a
separate window. (As we saw in the Configuring Sound Cards section in Chapter 7, these controls can
also be accessed by clicking on the volume icon in the top panel and selecting Sound Preferences, or via
System Preferences Sound). Click the Input tab and ensure that Mute is not checked. Speak into the
microphone and adjust the Input Volume slider until an acceptable level registers in the Input Level
meter (see Figure 16-7). When you’re happy with the level, close Sound Preferences.
Next, choose your preferred audio file format from the Record As drop-down menu. By default, “CD
Quality, Lossy (.ogg type)” is selected. This is the free Ogg Vorbis format discussed earlier in the
“Choosing a Format” section. Alternative formats offered are AAC, FLAC, MP2, MP3, WAV, and Speex.
On our test system, Ogg Vorbis worked well, but test recordings made in any other format failed to play
back. Your mileage may vary.
Next, select Save As from the File menu and give your recording a name. When you’re ready to
record, click the red Record icon in the toolbar or press Ctrl+R on your keyboard. To stop the recording,
click the square stop icon or press Ctrl+X. To play back, click the green Play button or press Ctrl+P.
That’s pretty much all there is to Sound Recorder. It’s a very bare-bones . If you’d like a much more
fully-featured audio recording program, with the facility to record multiple tracks, edit your recordings,
and apply hundreds of sophisticated effects, open the Ubuntu Software Center and install Audacity.
Figure 16-7. Before using Sound Recorder, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting a good input level from
your microphone.
This chapter has covered the audio functions built into Ubuntu and shown how, by downloading a few
extra system files, you can play back the majority of audio files in existence. We started by discussing the
moral and legal dilemmas associated with multimedia playback on a computer. Then we moved on to
how to install the necessary codec files on your computer, before discussing how you can listen to music
files, CDs, and online radio stations.
We closed by showing how you can convert CDs into music files, and then the inverse of this: how
you can create CDs from audio files.
In Chapter 17, you’ll look at playing back movies and online animations when using Ubuntu.
C H A P T E R 17
Movies and Multimedia
Watching movies and TV shows on computers is becoming increasingly popular. Most PCs now ship
with hardware capable of playing back DVDs. Web sites such as YouTube and Vimeo provide thousands
of clips for viewing via your web browser, and Netflix On Demand and Hulu deliver high-quality films
and TV shows directly to your PC.
Ubuntu provides support for visual entertainment. As with audio playback (discussed in the
previous chapter), you’ll need to install some additional codecs to access certain types of files. And just
as with audio playback codecs, multimedia applications suggest which movie playback codecs to
download and install when you attempt to play unsupported multimedia files. This chapter explains
how easy it is to set up Ubuntu for watching videos, DVDs, and TV on your computer, as well as playing
web site Flash animations and videos.
Installing Playback Software
Like the other multimedia software provided with Ubuntu, its video playback application, the Totem
movie player, is basic but effective and does the job well. However, because of patenting issues, Totem
doesn’t support all video formats out of the box, although for some of them it’s not hard to add support
by installing the right codecs. In Table 17-1 you find an overview of some of the most common video
formats and their current status in Totem.
Table 17-1. Totem and Popular Movie File Formats
Typical File
Web Site
Media Player
.wmv, .wma,
.asx, .asf
Windows Media Player format is the default for
most Windows users. Although it’s possible to
play Windows Media Player files under Ubuntu
(files in WMP1, WMP2, and WMP3 formats), you
won’t be able to play DRM-restricted files (those
that rely on the download and installation of a
certificate), such as those from the increasing
number of movie rental sites.
.rm, .ram
By downloading the GStreamer plug-in package
when prompted, you can play back RealVideo
files in Totem. However, you can also download
a Linux version of RealPlayer.
Typical File
Web Site
.mov, .qt
QuickTime is Apple’s default media format and
has gained ground on both Windows and
Macintosh computers. As with Windows Media
Player file playback, you won’t be able to play
DRM-restricted files.
.avi, .divx
The DivX format is one of the most popular
formats for those in the Internet community
who like to encode their own movies. It’s
renowned for its ability to shrink movies to very
small sizes.
Video and audio playback within the Firefox web browser are handled via the Totem browser plugin (In Firefox, see Tools Add Ons Plugins for a list of currently installed plug-ins. These plug-ins
work in exactly the same way as the Windows Media Player and QuickTime browser plug-ins work under
Windows. This is set up automatically during initial installation of Ubuntu and is also compatible with
the GStreamer codec plug-ins after they are installed. However, when you try to retrieve streaming
content, many web sites attempt to probe your setup to ensure that you have the required media player
software, and they may balk when they can’t find Windows Media Player or QuickTime. This makes
playback difficult, although more and more sites are switching to video playback via Flash Player.
Additionally, some web sites use Java applets to present content. You can install support for both Flash
and Java through Firefox.
Next we cover how to install codecs for movie file formats, as well as how to install the Linux version
of RealPlayer and support for Flash and Java.
Installing Codecs
The codecs for video playback are created by the open source community and are therefore entirely free
of copyright issues, but it is claimed that some utilize patented technology. As you might expect, this
makes for another legally gray area. It’s unlikely that the patent holders sanction the distribution of the
codecs in countries that allow software to be patented. As with audio playback codecs, you will need to
decide whether the caveats shown by Ubuntu during the installation of the codecs apply to you.
■ Note Most of the movie playback codecs used under Ubuntu are provided by the excellent FFmpeg Project
( This endeavor is part of the MPlayer Project, which aims to create an open
source media player and platform, separate from GStreamer or Xine (used under the GNOME and KDE desktops,
respectively). However, as with all open source projects, it is both possible and encouraged to take and reuse just
the FFmpeg codec software, which is what the Ubuntu developers have done to bring support for a wide range of
movie and audio formats to Ubuntu.
As stated earlier, codec installation for new file formats is automated (so long as you’re online), just
as with audio codecs. In fact, if you followed the instructions to install the MP3 codecs in the previous
chapter, including the GStreamer ffmpeg video plug-in codec, then your system may already have
support for the movie formats. In that case, the video file you’ve chosen to view will just start playing—
you won’t be prompted to download anything extra.
Here is the procedure for adding codecs to play a multimedia file:
From Nautilus, double-click a movie file.
The Totem movie player application will start and prompt you to search for a
suitable codec. (As noted, the movie will just start playing if you already have
the necessary codec.) Click the Search button.
Ubuntu will search for the applicable codec. After it has finished searching, the
Install Multimedia Codecs dialog box will appear, prompting you to select
from the list of codecs.
You can read through the descriptions to know which codec to choose, if more
than one is offered. As with audio playback codecs, it’s usually a good idea to
select all the codecs offered, to get the broadest range of support. Ubuntu will
handle any functionality overlap in the background, so don’t worry about
installing two or more sets of codecs that seemingly do the same job. Check
the options you want and click the Install button.
Ubuntu will ask you to confirm the installation of restricted software. Read
through the conditions and warnings. If you want to continue, click Confirm.
Otherwise, click the Cancel button to choose not to install the codec (meaning
that your system will not be able to play the files).
Back in the Install Multimedia Codecs dialog box, click the Install button
Supply your password in the authorization dialog box and click OK to proceed
with the installation.
Ubuntu will download and install the packages. After you have been notified
that the packages have been installed successfully, click the Close button. At
this point, your multimedia file will play in Totem.
Installing RealPlayer 11
RealPlayer 11 is a media playback application designed for Linux, Windows, and Macintosh OS X,
written by Real Networks. It gives you access to a range of media. Although the software has been
available for Linux and Ubuntu for some years, its installation still occasionally causes confusion. There
are a couple of ways to install the software, but we’re going to use a native .deb package file that
automates much of the process:
Open a browser and go to From the main page click
Download DEB installer and accept the default suggestion to open the file with
the GDebi package installer.
■ Note the RealPlayer application you are downloading in this procedure is available in a 32-bit version only. If
you have installed the 64-bit version of Ubuntu, you cannot use RealPlayer (at the time of this writing).
After the 7MB package has downloaded, it should automatically launch the
.deb installation procedure. Click to install and then read through and
acknowledge the end-user license.
The software will now begin to install. During the process it will download
other pieces of software to sort out dependencies, which can take some time.
However, it will also pause at one point, waiting for you to configure the mail
system for the software. Just click the Terminal disclosure arrow below the
progress bar, click into the black window, and press 1 to select the first option.
After the software has finished installing, it will create icons under the
Applications Sound and Video menu and will also set up the helpers for
Firefox. The first time you run the software, it will do a network speed test and
will install additional packages (see Figure 17-1) and will then be ready to go.
Figure 17-1. After RealPlayer has been installed by a self-installer executable, you must run through its
setup program to install the browser plug-in.
■ Tip To see which plug-ins are installed under Firefox, type about:plugins in the address bar.
Adding Flash Support
Flash is a multimedia plug-in used for animations, games, and video playback on web sites. It is a
standard requirement on modern Internet-equipped computers, and finding commercial sites that
don’t utilize it in some way is becoming difficult. For example, YouTube ( uses Flash for
the playback of video files, as shown in Figure 17-2.
Adobe is the originator of the Flash technology and makes a version of its proprietary Flash Player
web browser plug-in especially for Linux, which can be easily installed under Ubuntu. You can also
choose to install one of two open source Flash players: Swfdec or Gnash. Of the three, Adobe’s own Flash
Player offers the best all-round compatibility with web sites of all kinds—general, video, games, and
animations. Swfdec is perhaps the best open source choice, although it specializes primarily in video
playback, such as that offered by YouTube or the BBC ( Gnash may be the weakest of the
three (at the time of this writing), but may be worth investigating if you prefer to use open source
software and find that Swfdec doesn’t work correctly with your favorite web sites. Be aware, though, that
open source Flash solutions are running behind compared to the possibilities of commercial Flash
players. For the best Flash experience, use Adobe Flash.
Figure 17-2. Flash is increasingly popular on video playback sites such as YouTube.
■ Note Sadly, there isn’t a Linux version of the Shockwave Director browser plug-in. If you really need to have
access to Shockwave sites under Linux, consider using CrossOver Professional (www.codeweavers. com) to
install the Windows version. But be aware that CrossOver Professional is a commercial product, meaning you have
to pay for it.
Installing a Flash Plug-in
As with multimedia codecs, Flash support is installed on demand and is entirely automated. However,
this time, installation takes place from within the Firefox browser, as follows:
The first time you visit a web site that uses Flash, a yellow bar will appear at the
top of the browser window, informing you that you need to install a missing
plug-in. Click the Install Missing Plugins button.
In the Plugin Finder Service dialog box, click your choice of plug-in and then
click the Next button. You’re asked whether you want to install additional
software. Click the Yes button.
The software is downloaded and installed in the background automatically.
After installation has completed, click the Finish button to close the Plugin
Finder Service dialog box. The browser will then display the Flash content.
Some users may find that this method doesn’t work and that the plug-in is not
available. In this case, go to, click the link for Get Adobe Flash
Player, select the appropriate version to download (.deb for Ubuntu 8.04+),
and then install as with the RealPlayer software earlier. Note that you’ll be
prompted to close down all browsers during the installation procedure.
Removing a Flash Plug-in
If you want to remove a Flash plug-in—perhaps because it doesn’t work correctly and you want to try an
alternative—open the Synaptic Package Manager (System Administration) and search for gnash to
remove Gnash, swfdec to remove Swfdec, or flashplugin-nonfree to remove Adobe’s Flash Player. Click
the check box alongside the entry in the list and select Mark for Removal from the menu that appears. (If
you want to remove Gnash, you’ll need to mark both gnash and gnash-common for removal.) Then click
Apply on the main toolbar. Close Synaptic when the removal is complete.
Following this, whenever you visit a site requiring Flash, you will again be prompted to install a
Flash plug-in. You can then select a different option from the list.
Adding Java Support
Java is a software platform that some programs use. The intention is that Java is cross- platform, which
means that software developed for, say, Microsoft Windows will also work on Linux and Macintosh.
Because of this, some web sites use Java applets—small programs embedded into the web page—to
present interaction, animation, and even movies.
To access web sites that employ Java applets, you’ll need to install the Java Runtime software along
with a browser plug-in. Previously, Java would have been a separate installation, but since Sun
Microsystems released the software under an open source license, it has been available to distribution
developers and hence is now included in the Ubuntu software repositories. The simplest way to install is
to open Synaptic Package Manager, do a search for Java, and then select Sun Java6 JRE for installation.
Other options will automatically be selected, including the binaries and plug-ins for Firefox, and you can
just click Apply to install the software.
Watching Movies
The Totem movie player application (Applications Sound and Video Movie Player) is used to play
back video under Ubuntu, as shown in Figure 17-3.
Figure 17-3. Totem handles movie file playback under Ubuntu and is simple but effective.
To play a movie file on your hard disk, simply double-click its icon. This will automatically start
Totem and play the video, if Totem has the appropriate codecs, as shown in Figure 17-4. If not, Totem
will suggest which codecs to download and install, as explained earlier in the chapter.
■ Tip By default, all video files will play in Totem, including RealMedia. To change this so that RealPlayer
handles its own file types, right-click any RealPlayer movie file, select Properties, click the Open With tab, and
click Add. Locate RealPlayer in the list, click the Add button, and then make sure the radio button alongside
RealPlayer is selected.
Using Totem is easy, and the interface has only a handful of options. At the bottom left of the screen
are the transport controls that enable you to pause, play, and move forward and backward in the video
file. Alternatively, you can right-click the video window and select the controls from there.
Above the controls is the Time bar. You can usually drag the slider to move through the video, but
not all files support this function. You might find that some dragging is allowed, but you’re not able to
click a new place in the Time bar and have the counter jump to that position.
Figure 17-4. Totem can play just about every kind of movie file, such as QuickTime, Windows Media
Player, DivX, and Ogg (or .ogv) files, as shown here.
At the right of the program window is a playlist. You can queue several video files to be played in
sequence by simply dragging and dropping movies from a Nautilus file browser window. You can hide
the playlist by clicking the Sidebar button. This gives nearly all of Totem’s program window to the
playback window. To play the video full screen, thereby hiding the desktop and Totem controls, press
the F key. To return to the program window, press Esc (or press F again). In full-screen mode, you can
start and stop the video by pressing the spacebar.
To adjust the image quality, click Edit Preferences and then click the Display tab in the
Preferences dialog box. You can make adjustments by clicking and dragging the Brightness, Contrast,
Saturation, and Hue sliders. If a video is playing in the background, the changes are shown as you
make them.
■ Tip If you find you have problems with video playback, such as Totem showing an error message about another
application using the video output, try the following: click System Preferences Terminal, and at the prompt,
type gstreamer-properties. Click the Video tab, and in the Plugin drop-down list under Default Output, select
Xwindows (No XV).
A number of promising open source movie file formats are in development. Some are more mature than
others, but few see widespread use at the moment. All promise much for the future. Many consider the
following three formats the chief contenders:
Xvid ( is a reworking of the popular DivX MPEG-4–based file
format. Unfortunately, Xvid uses technology covered by patents in some parts
of the world, so the project exists in a legally gray area. Xvid is able to encode
movies to relatively small file sizes (a 90-minute movie can fit on a CD). Despite
small file sizes, this format maintains good image and sound quality. In theory,
it should also be possible to play Xvid movies by using any MPEG-4 codec, such
as DivX or QuickTime.
Ogg Theora ( is being developed by the Foundation,
the people behind the Ogg Vorbis audio codec project that’s a favorite among
Linux users. As such, it promises to be a completely open source project.
Although the technology, again, is covered by patents, has promised
never to enforce them, meaning that anyone in the world can use Theora
without charge.
HTML 5 is currently being developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Like all its predecessors, from HTML 1.0 onwards, it is supposed to become the
dominant web markup language. HTML 5 has explicit support for audio and
video. Some parts are stable, others are not, but its video support is being
developed vigorously and should be stable by the end of 2010.
Watching DVDs
DVD movie discs are protected by a form of DRM called CSS. This forces anyone who would like to
create DVD playback software or hardware to pay a fee to the DVD Copy Control Association, an
industry organization set up to protect DVD movie technology.
Nearly all Linux advocates are scornful of any kind of DRM system. Although it is possible to
purchase playback software created by Fluendo and CyberLink through Ubuntu’s online store, few
appear to be willing to support what they see as restrictive software technology.
Some open source advocates reverse-engineered DVD protection and came up with the DeCSS
software. This bypasses the CSS system and allows the playback of DVD movies under practically any
operating system. Sadly, DeCSS is caught in a legal quagmire. The Motion Picture Association of America
(MPAA) has attempted to stop its distribution within the United States, but has so far failed. Some
experts suggest that distributing DeCSS breaks copyright laws, but there has yet to be a case anywhere in
the world that proves this. Nor has there been a case proving or even suggesting that using DeCSS is in
any way illegal.
Ubuntu doesn’t come with DeCSS installed by default, but you can download and install the
software by issuing a simple command, following the installation of a software package. Here is the
Choose System Administration Synaptic Package Manager.
Click Search and search for libdvdread4. In the list of results, click the check
box alongside the package and click Mark for Installation. Click Apply on the
main toolbar. Close Synaptic.
Open a terminal window (Applications Accessories Terminal). Type the
following in the terminal window to download and install the DeCSS
sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/
After the command has completed, you can close the terminal window.
■ Note You must ensure that Synaptic and Update Manager are closed before typing the command to install the
DeCSS software. It will fail if either program is running.
After you’ve installed DeCSS, just insert a DVD, and Totem will automatically start playing it, as
shown in Figure 17-5.
■ Note If the relevant codecs aren’t installed when you insert a DVD, you will be prompted to install them, as with
all kinds of multimedia file playback.
If the movie doesn’t start playing automatically, double-click the disc’s icon on the desktop. In the
Nautilus file browser window, click the Open Movie Player button.
Unfortunately, there is a slight limitation to playing DVD movies within Totem: the chapter menus
don’t work, so you can’t navigate from chapter to chapter in the disc. Additionally, in our tests, we
noticed that DVD playback can be a little glitchy. To get around both these issues, you can install the
totem-xine package. This installs a separate but otherwise identical version of the Totem movie player
that utilizes the Xine multimedia framework. Then you can choose between using the standard version
of Totem, which relies on the GStreamer multimedia framework, or the Xine version of Totem. Installing
the totem-xine package also installs Xine versions of the codecs you need for virtually all multimedia file
playback, meaning no extra configuration is necessary.
Figure 17-5. Just insert a DVD in your computer, and it will automatically play in Totem.
■ Note You might be wondering why we didn’t just advise you to install totem-xine back at the beginning of this
chapter, if it installs all the codecs you need. The method we recommend installs codecs for the GStreamer
multimedia framework, rather than just Totem. GStreamer is used by all the GNOME desktop multimedia software.
This means that if you install a different GNOME movie player in the future, it will automatically have support for all
the file formats you’ve already added to Ubuntu. In contrast, the totem-xine package is rather self-contained and
installs codecs for only the Xine framework, which isn’t supported elsewhere under Ubuntu (but is the default
framework under KDE).
To install the totem-xine package, start the Synaptic Package Manager (System Administration)
and click the Search button. Search for totem-xine. Click the check box alongside the entry in the results
list and select to install it. As you’ll see from the warning dialog box, installing totem-xine also installs
a lot of other packages, including the necessary codecs for playback of virtually all multimedia files. This
is fine.
From now on, you’ll need to run the Xine version of Totem to play DVD movies. You’ll have to do
this before you insert the DVD movie disc, to avoid the standard version of Totem attempting to play it.
To run the Xine version of Totem, you can use either of these methods:
Run it from a terminal window: Click Applications Accessories Terminal and type nohup
Create a new launcher: Right-click the desktop, select Create Launcher, and in the Command text
box, type totem-xine. In the Name box, type something like Totem (Xine) for easy identification,
and then click OK.
■ Tip To find out which version of Totem you’re using—GStreamer or Xine—click Help About in Totem.
You’ll see either “Movie Player using xine-lib,” in the case of Xine, or “Movie Player using GStreamer,” in the case
of GStreamer.
The field of Linux movie-editing software is developing, and only a handful of programs are available for
the nonprofessional user. One of the best is Kino (, which is available in the Ubuntu
software archives. Although far from being a professional-level program, Kino allows competent users to
import and edit videos, apply effects, and then output in either MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 format.
If you’re looking for something more powerful, but also more complicated, Cinelerra is worth a look
( Just follow the instructions at getting_cinelerra.php#hardy to install a version of Cinelerra for Ubuntu.
For those who want something a little simpler, the PiTiVi ( project is attempting to build a
piece of software akin to Apple’s iMovie. The possibilities that are offered by PiTiVi are limited, but you can
use it to apply simple movie editing to your video films. You can find a default installation of PiTivi in
Applications Sound and Video PiTiVi Video Editor. After starting it, PiTiVi shows the screen that you
can see in Figure 17-6.
Figure 17-6. PiTiVi offers a simple solution for Video editing on Ubuntu.
Basically, all you can do with PiTiVi is put video clips together to join them in a new file. There are no other
editing features, neither is it possible to write to another output format as the default PiTiVi format. If you’re
interested in using this application, you can drag and drop your movie files to the pane in the upper left
corner. That makes them available for further editing in PiTiVi. From this location, you next drag them to
the time line. By dragging several clips to the timeline, you can compose your own video and that is
basically it.
Another approach to movie editing, is to go web-based. An example of this is Adobe’s Premiere Express
(available through the Photobucket picture-sharing service), which is designed specifically for online video
editing and distribution. It works very well under Ubuntu with the Flash plug-in.
Professional moviemakers don’t just use software that comes with normal desktops. Quite a few use Linux
all the time, particularly when it comes to adding special effects to movies. Movies like Shrek 2, Stuart
Little, and the Harry Potter series all benefited from the CinePaint software running under Linux! For more
details, see
Watching TV
If you have a TV card, you may be able to use it to watch TV under Ubuntu. Ubuntu doesn’t come with a
TV tuner application by default, but you can download the tvtime program from the software
repositories by using the Synaptic Package Manager.
Checking for Video Input
Ubuntu includes the Video for Linux project, an extension to the Linux kernel, to allow many popular TV
and video-capture cards to work. You can find out whether yours is compatible by opening a terminal
window (Applications Accessories Terminal) and typing gstreamer-properties. In the dialog box
that appears, click the Video tab and click the Test button in the Default Input part of the window. If you
see a video window without an error message, your TV card is compatible. If you receive an error
message, your card probably isn’t compatible.
■ Note Getting Video for Linux to work can be troublesome, but there are a lot of resources out there to help. You
can start by visiting and
Installing tvtime
To download and install tvtime, open the Synaptic Package Manager (System Administration), click
the Search button, and enter tvtime as a search term. In the list of results, click the entry for the package,
mark it for installation, and then click Apply.
When the download has completed, you’ll be asked a number of questions during the configuration
process. First, you need to choose your TV picture format. Users in the United States should choose
NTSC. Users in the United Kingdom, Australia, and certain parts of Europe should choose PAL. To find
out which TV system your country uses, look up your country at
You also need to choose your geographical area from the list so that tvtime can set the correct radio
frequency range for your TV card.
After the program is installed, you’ll find it on the Applications Sound & Video menu. Using the
program is straightforward, but if you need guidance, visit the program’s web site at
■ Tip If you’re interested in setting up a low-cost personal video recorder (PVR) and entertainment system, you
may want to install MythTV by using the Synaptic Package Manager. For more information, check out Practical
MythTV: Building a PVR and Media Center PC by Stewart Smith and Michael Still (Apress, 2007).
In this chapter, you looked at how you can watch movies on your PC. You’ve seen how you can update
Ubuntu to work with the most popular digital video technologies, such as Windows Media Player and
In addition, you looked at how you can view online multimedia such as Flash animations on your
computer, and learned how you can watch TV on your PC.
In the next chapter, you’ll take a look at image editing under Ubuntu. You’ll learn about one of the
crown jewels of the Linux software scene: GIMP.
C H A P T E R 18
Digital Photos
The PC has become a vital tool in the field of photography. In fact, you’re unlikely to find any
photographer—professional or amateur—who doesn’t use a PC somewhere in his or her work.
Ubuntu includes a number of applications for cataloging and editing images. Chief among these is
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), which compares favorably with professional software such
as Photoshop. But there are also applications for more casual users. This chapter begins with a brief tour
of F-Spot, an application ideal for cataloging and managing image collections and also doing some basic
edits, before introducing GIMP. The GIMP is not part of the default Lucid install, but you can quickly and
easily install it via the Ubuntu Software Center.
Downloading and Cataloging Images
Before you can undertake any image editing, you need to transfer the images to your PC. Depending on
the source of the pictures, there are a variety of methods of doing this, but in nearly every case, the work
of importing your photos can be handled by F-Spot. But before we cover F-Spot, let’s briefly recap the
various methods of transferring images to your PC, some of which were outlined earlier in this book.
Connecting Your Camera
Most modern cameras use memory cards to store pictures. If you have such a model, when you plug the
camera into your PC’s USB port, you should find that Ubuntu instantly recognizes it. An icon should
appear on the Desktop, and double-clicking it should display the memory card’s contents in a Nautilus
window. Along the top of the window, you’ll see an orange bar reading, “This media contains digital
photos” alongside a button marked Open F-Spot Photo Manager. Clicking this button starts F-Spot, with
which you can copy the images to your hard disk, as explained in the next section. Of course, you can
also drag and drop pictures to your hard disk manually using Nautilus.
In the unlikely event that your camera doesn’t appear to be recognized by Ubuntu, you might have
more luck with a generic USB memory card reader, which will make the card appear as a standard
removable drive on the Desktop. These devices are relatively inexpensive and can usually read a wide
variety of card types such as SD, XD, and CompactFlash (CF), making them a useful investment for the
future. Some new PCs even come with card readers built in, but they often are hard to address in Linux
environments. Most generic USB card readers should work fine under Linux, though, as will most new
digital cameras.
■ Caution Before detaching your camera or removing a photo card, you should right-click the Desktop icon and
select Safely Remove. This tells Ubuntu that you’ve finished with the device. Using this method to eject the device
ensures that all data is written back from memory to the photo card. Failing to eject in this way could cause data
errors, as information may be partially written back to the card, or transfers between the two devices may not
have finished.
If you’re working with print photos, negative film, or transparencies, you can use a scanner and the
Simple Scan program (Applications Graphics Simple Scan Image Scanner) to digitize them, as
explained in Chapter 7.
Importing Photos Using F-Spot
F-Spot is designed to work in a similar way to applications you may have encountered under Windows
or Mac OS X, such as iPhoto or Picasa. After you run F-Spot (Applications Graphics F-Spot Photo
Manager), or after you click the Open F-Spot Photo Manager button that appears along the top of a
Nautilus file browser window when you insert a memory card or attach your digital camera, the F-Spot
Import window will appear. (Depending on your configuration, the Import window may appear within a
file browser.) For some devices, though, this doesn’t happen automatically. If, for instance, you attach
your mobile phone to your computer, you may have it attached as a disk device by default. To import
photos in that case also, use the Import button in F-Spot to browse to the appropriate device and import
your pictures from there.
The Import window contains a preview of the pictures stored in your camera, the option to tag the
pictures, and the target directory where the photos will be copied. If you have no camera attached, you’ll
see some default pictures that are available in the F-Spot program directory. While working on your
camera, by default, all the pictures are selected. You can deselect and select photos by using the
standard selection techniques (Ctrl-click or Shift-click). Embedded tags are very useful in filtering and
searching for pictures, as discussed in the “Tagging Images” section a little later in the chapter. The
default target directory where the photos will be copied is Photos in your /home directory, but you can
change it to any directory you want.
To import the pictures from your camera to your hard disk, just click the Import button. F-Spot will
import your photos in the target location, in directories named after the year, month, and day the photos
were originally taken.
Importing pictures from a mounted Windows partition, or any other folder on your computer’s hard
disk is easy. Click Photo Import. In the Import window, click the Import Source drop-down list and
then click Select Folder. Using the file browser, navigate to the Windows directory containing your
images and then click Open. (Don’t double-click the directory, because that causes F-Spot to open the
directory in the file browser.) After you’ve selected the folder, F-Spot displays thumbnail previews of the
images, and this might take some time. Keep your eye on the orange status bar. When this indicates
“Done Loading,” you can click the Import button to import all the images in one go, or Ctrl-click to
select photos in the left side of the window and then click the Import button.
If you’re importing the photos from a particular event, this is also a great time to define a set of tags
for the whole set, which will save having to manually tag pictures later. Using tags makes it much easier
to find back your photos later. Of course, a well-organized directory tree containing your photo albums
might suit you as well. As with photos from a camera, by default, F-Spot copies the images into a
directory it creates within your /home directory, called Photos. Therefore, after you’ve imported the
photos, you can delete the originals from the Windows partition if you want.
■ Tip You may be familiar with Picasa from Google. This software is available for Ubuntu from http:// One advantage of Picasa is that it integrates well with Google’s own photo-sharing
service and also has a plug-in that allows one-click uploading from your library to Facebook.
After the photos have been imported, the main F-Spot window will appear. On the left are the
default tags and a list of any tags added to imported files. On the right is the picture preview window,
which can be set to either Browse or Edit Photo mode. You can switch between these two modes by
using the buttons on the toolbar. You can also view an image full screen or start a slide show that will
cycle through the images in sequence.
Above the picture window is the timeline. By clicking and dragging the slider, you can move
backward and forward in the photograph collection, depending on when the pictures were taken. Each
notch on the timeline represents a month in the year marked beneath the timeline. The graphs on the
timeline give a general idea of how many photographs were taken during that particular month (or,
indeed, if any were taken during a particular month). The arrows to the left and right of the timeline can
be used to expose a different set of months.
Tweaking Photos
F-Spot offers you all you need to do basic photo editing. By either double-clicking an image or selecting
an image and clicking Edit Photo on the toolbar, you can tweak images by cropping them, adjusting
brightness and contrast, or setting the color saturation/balance. The available tools appear in a docked
toolbar, replacing the default tags pane, as shown in Figure 18-1. In addition, you can convert images to
black-and-white or sepia tone, and you can remove red-eye caused by an indoor flash. All of this can be
achieved by clicking the buttons under the image. (Hovering the mouse cursor over an icon will cause a
tooltip to appear, explaining what the button does.) Simple rotations on single images or multiple
selections can be performed by using the Rotate Left and Rotate Right buttons on the toolbar.
Figure 18-1. Any edits to the image are made live, so it’s a good idea to move the adjustment dialog box out
of the way.
You can also add a comment in the text field below the image. This is then attached to the image for
future reference and can act as a useful memory aid.
A note of caution is required when tweaking images with F-Spot, because there is no traditional
undo mechanism. However, F-Spot keeps a copy of the original image alongside the modified one,
which you can access by clicking Photo Version Original. It’s possible to create a new version of the
image complete with modifications by clicking Photo Create New Version. You can then name this
separately and, if necessary, continue to edit while retaining both the original and the intermediate
version. You can do this as many times as you want, perhaps to save various image tweaks to choose the
best one at a later date.
Tagging Images
F-Spot’s cataloging power comes from its ability to tag each image. A tag is simply a word or short phrase
that can be attached to any number of images, rather like a real-life tag that you might find attached to
an item in a shop. After images have been tagged, you can then filter the images by using the tag word.
For example, you could create a tag called German vacation, which you would attach to all images taken
on a trip to Germany. Then, when you select the German vacation tag, only those images will be
displayed. Alternatively, you could be more precise with tags—you could create the tags Dusseldorf and
Cologne to subdivide pictures taken on the vacation.
If your collection involves a lot of pictures taken of your children at various stages during their lives,
you could create a tag for each of their names. By selecting to view only photos tagged with a particular
child’s name, you could see all the pictures of that child, regardless of when or where they were taken.
Images can have more than one tag. A family photo could be tagged with the words thanksgiving,
grandma's house, family meal, and the names of the individuals pictured. Then, if you searched using
any of the tags, the picture would appear in the list.
A handful of tags are provided by default: Favorites, Hidden, People, Places, and Events. To create
your own tags, right-click under the tag list on the left of the F-Spot program window and select Create
New Tag. Simply type in the name of the new tag in the dialog box and click OK.
If you tagged items on importing, these will appear under the Import Tags parent. Drag and drop
these tags to the appropriate parent tag (Germany under Places, for example).
■ Note Tags can have parents, which can help organize them. For instance, you might put the names of family
members under the People parent tag, or put Birthday under the Events parent. You can reveal or hide child
tags by clicking the disclosure arrow next to the parent.
Tags can also have icons attached to them. An icon based on the first photo that is tagged will
automatically be added to the tag name, but to manually assign one, right-click it in the list and select
Edit. Next, in the Edit Tag dialog box, click the icon button and select from the list of icons under the
Predefined heading.
To attach a tag to a picture, simply right-click it (in either the Browse or Edit Photo mode) and click
its entry on Attach Tag.
To filter by tag, double-click the tag in the tag list, as shown in Figure 18-2. To remove the filtering,
right-click the tag in the orange bar at the top of the display and select Remove from Search.
F-Spot has a good range of export options for when you want to share your pictures with the wider
world. You’ll find these under the Photo Export To option, and supported services include Picasa Web
Albums, SmugMug, and Flickr. When using Flickr, F-Spot even includes an option to turn your tags into
Flickr tags during the upload process.
Figure 18-2. Tag an image by right-clicking and selecting the appropriate entry from the Attatch
Tag option.
Using GIMP for Image Editing
GIMP is an extremely powerful image editor that offers the kind of functions usually associated with topend software like Adobe Photoshop. Although GIMP is not aimed at beginners, those new to image
manipulation can get a lot from it, though it may demand a little more work than the limited options
available in F-Spot.
The program relies on a few unusual concepts in its interface, which can catch many people off
guard. The first of these is that each of the windows within the program, such as floating dialog boxes or
palettes, gets its own panel entry. In other words, the GIMP’s icon bar, image window, settings window,
and so on have their own buttons on the Ubuntu Desktop panel alongside your other programs, as if
they were separate programs.
■ Note GIMP’s way of working is called a Single Document Interface, or SDI. It’s favored by a handful of programs
that run under Linux and seems to be especially popular among programs that let you create things. If your
taskbar is getting a little crowded, edit its Preferences to “Always group windows.”
Because of the way GIMP runs, before you start up the program it’s a wise idea to switch to a
different virtual desktop, which you can then dedicate entirely to GIMP.
Having installed GIMP via the Ubuntu Software Center, click Applications Graphics GIMP
Image Editor to launch the application. You’ll be greeted by what appears to be a complex assortment of
program windows.
Now you need to be aware of a second unusual aspect of the program: its reliance on right-clicking.
Whereas right-clicking usually brings up a context menu offering a handful of options, in GIMP it’s the
principal way of accessing the program’s functions. Right-clicking an image brings up a menu offering
access to virtually everything you’ll need while editing. Ubuntu offers the latest version of GIMP, 2.6.8 (as
of this writing), which includes a more traditional menu bar in the main image-editing window, so you
can choose your preferred method of working.
The main toolbar window, shown in Figure 18-3, is on the left. This can be considered the heart of
GIMP, because when you close it all the other program windows are closed too. Version 2.6 also
introduces a blank window that is visible when no image is open. This means that the traditional menus
are available at all times. Closing this window also causes the entire application to close. The menu bar
on the toolbar window offers most of the options you’re likely to use to start out with GIMP. For
example, File Open opens a browser dialog box in which you can select files to open. It’s even possible
to create new artwork from scratch by choosing File New.
■ Tip To create vector artwork, a better choice is a program like Inkscape (, which can be
downloaded via the Ubuntu Software Center (to learn about software installation, see Chapter 20).
Beneath the menu bar in the main toolbar window are the tools for working with images. Their
functions are described in Table 18-1, which lists the tools in order from left to right, starting at the
top left.
Figure 18-3. GIMP’s main toolbar window
Table 18-1. GIMP Image-Editing Tools
Description of Use
Click and drag to select a rectangular area within the image. This selected area can then
be copied and pasted into a different part of the image or turned into a new layer.
Ellipse Select
Create an oval or a circular selection area within the image, which you can then copy
and paste.
Free Select
Click and draw with the mouse to create a hand-drawn selection area. Your selection
should end where it started. If not, GIMP will draw a straight line between the start and
end of the selection, which makes it easy to create geometric selections.
Description of Use
Select by
Works like the Fuzzy Select tool, but creates a selection across the entire image based on
the color you select. In other words, selecting a black T-shirt will also select a black
signpost elsewhere in the picture if the hues are similar.
Another “magical” tool that lets you create a selection by clicking on various points
within an image, with the program joining the points together based on the color
differences between the two points. This means that you can select the outline of a car
by clicking a few points around the edge of the car and, provided the color of the car is
different from the background, GIMP will work out the color differences and select the
car’s shape automatically.
Lets you automatically create an intricate selection of an object in the foreground of a
picture, via a three-step process. Click to draw roughly around the foreground object as
with the Free Select tool. (Be careful you don’t stray into the object; if you do,
momentarily select a different tool, which will cancel the selection, and try again.) Then
release the mouse button and draw across the main areas of the object by using a kind
of paintbrush tool. For example, if the object is a face, draw a little on the skin and hair.
The trick is to cover areas that have different color ranges, because that’s how GIMP
detects the edges. You’ll see that the background—the area that won’t be selected—is
masked out in blue tint. If any of the foreground object is masked, draw on it to add it to
the selection area. You can subtract from the selection area by Ctrl-clicking. When
you’re happy with the selection, press Enter.
Draws Bezier curves in order to create paths, which are akin to selections and can be
saved for use later in the image-editing process. Just click and drag to draw a curve.
Each extra click you make will define a new curve, which will be joined to the last one.
To turn the path into a selection, click the button at the bottom of the toolbar.
Color Picker
Lets you see the RGB, HSV, or CMYK values of any color within the image. Simply click
the mouse within the image.
Click to zoom into the image, right-click to see various zoom options, and hold down
the Alt key while clicking to zoom out.
Measures distances between two points (in pixels) and also angles. Just click and drag to
use it. The measurements appear at the bottom of the image window.
Click and drag to move any selection areas within the image, as well as rearrange the
positioning of various layers.
Allows you to align layers to other objects relative to each other. To choose a layer, click
an object within the preferred layer. To select several layers, Shift-click objects inside
the preferred layers. In the tool options of the Alignment tool, select how the layer or
layers will be aligned relative to other layers or image objects. Alignment includes left,
center horizontal, right, top, center vertical, and bottom, with an option to use offsets
as well.
Description of Use
Click and drag to define an area of the image to be cropped. Anything outside the
selection area you create will be discarded.
Rotates any selections you make and can also rotate entire layers. It opens a dialog box
in which you can set the rotation numerically. Alternatively, you can simply click and
drag the handles behind the dialog box to rotate by hand.
Known in some other image editors as transform, this lets you resize the selection area
or layer. It presents a dialog box for entering numeric values, or you can click and drag
the handles to resize by hand.
Lets you transform a selection by clicking and dragging its four corners and
independently moving them without affecting the other corners. In this way, a sense of
perspective can be emulated.
Flips a selection or image so that it is reversed on itself, either horizontally (click) or
vertically (Ctrl-click).
Click the image to add text.
Bucket Fill
Fills a particular area with solid color or pattern, according to the color or pattern
selected in the color box or fill type box below.
Creates a gradient fill based on the foreground and background colors. Just click and
drag to add the fill. Hold down Ctrl to force the blend along predefined angles, including
horizontal and vertical.
Lets you draw individual pixels when zoomed in, or hard-edge lines when zoomed out.
Simply click and drag to draw freehand, and hold down Shift to draw lines between two
points. Again, holding down Ctrl constrains the angle of the lines.
Lets you draw on the picture in a variety of brush styles to create artistic effects. A brush
can also be created from an image, allowing for greater versatility.
Rather like the Paintbrush tool in reverse, deletes whatever is underneath the cursor. If
layers are being used, the contents of the layer beneath become visible.
Like the Paintbrush tool, it draws on the picture in a variety of styles. However, the
density of the color depends on the length of time you press the mouse button. Tap the
mouse button, and only a light color will appear. Press and hold the mouse button, and
the color will become more saturated.
Like the Paintbrush tool, except that, rather like an ink pen, the faster you draw, the
thinner the brushstroke.
Allows you to copy one part of an image to another via a brush. The origin point is
defined by Ctrl-clicking.
Description of Use
Typically used to remove unwanted irregularities, such as pimples, scars, and blemishes
in a person’s face. Ctrl-click an ideal source similar to the area that needs to be healed
and then draw over the blemish, which will disappear. Effectively, the Healing tool is a
Clone tool that has some intelligence built in to aid intermixing of the sample area and
the area you’re drawing over.
Clicking and drawing on the image will spot blur or sharpen the image, depending on
the settings in the tool options area, in the lower half of the toolbar.
As its name suggests, clicking and drawing with this tool smudges the image, rather like
rubbing a still-wet painting with your finger.
Directly beneath the image-editing tool icons, on the left, is an icon that shows the foreground and
background colors that will be used when drawing with tools such as the Paintbrush. To define a new
color to be used for either of these, double-click either the foreground (top) or background (bottom)
color box.
Beneath these icons, you’ll see the various options for the selected tool. The brush selector lets you
choose the thickness of the brushstrokes and patterns that are used with various tools. Simply click each
to change them. By using the buttons at the bottom of the window, you can save the current tool
options, load tool options, and delete a previously saved set of tool options. Clicking the button on the
bottom right lets you revert to the default settings for the tool currently being used (useful if you tweak
too many settings!).
If you use particular options regularly, use the disclosure arrow on the right edge of the contextsensitive part of the toolbox to add a tab to the window. When you begin to experiment, having the
Layers tab available here is useful, but you can add and remove as many as you like.
The Basics of GIMP
After you’ve started GIMP (and assigned it a virtual desktop), you can load an image by choosing File Open. The browser dialog box offers a preview facility on the right side of the window.
You will probably need to resize the image window, or change the zoom level, so the image fits
within the remainder of the screen. You can then use the Zoom tool (see Table 18-1) to ensure that the
image fills the editing window, which makes working with it much easier. Alternatively, you can click the
Zoom drop-down list in the lower left part of the image window.
You can save any changes you make to an image by right-clicking it and selecting File Save, or
create a new, named version of the picture by using Save As. You can also print the image from the
same menu.
Before you begin editing with GIMP, you need to be aware of some essential concepts that are vital
in order to get the most from the program:
Copy, cut, and paste buffers: Unlike some Windows programs, GIMP lets you cut or copy many
selections from the image and store them for use later. It calls these saved selections buffers, and
each must be given a name for future reference. Create a new buffer by using any of the selection
tools to select, and then right-clicking within the selection area and selecting Edit Buffer Copy
Named (or Cut Named). Pasting a buffer back is a matter of right-clicking the image and selecting
Edit Buffer Paste Named.
Paths: GIMP paths are not necessarily the same as selection areas, although it’s nearly always
possible to convert a selection into a path and vice versa (right-click within the selection or path,
and look for the relevant option on the Select menu: Select To Path, or Select From Path, as
shown in Figure 18-4). In general, paths allow the creation of complex shapes, rather than the
simple geometric shapes offered by the selection tools. You can save paths for later use or take one
from one image and apply it to another. To view the Paths dialog box, right-click the image and
select Dialogs Paths.
■ Tip Getting rid of a selection or path you’ve drawn is easy. In the case of a path, simply click any other tool or
some other part of the canvas, and the path disappears. To get rid of a selection, use any selection tool to quickly
click once on the image, being careful not to drag the mouse while doing so.
Figure 18-4. Paths allow for more elaborate and intricate selections, such as those that involve curves.
Layers: In GIMP (along with most other image-editing programs), layers are like transparent sheets
of paper that are placed on top of the image. Anything can be drawn on each individual transparent
sheet, and many layers can be overlaid in order to create a complicated image. Layers also let you
cut and paste parts of the image between them. Though layers might be thought of as high-end,
they’re great if you need to add text to an image; the text is added to a new layer, which can then be
moved or resized simply. The Layers dialog box, shown in Figure 18-5, appears by default, but if you
closed it earlier, you can open it again by right-clicking the image and selecting Dialogs Layers.
The layers can be reordered by clicking and dragging them in the dialog box. In addition, the
blending mode of each layer can be altered. This refers to how it interacts with the layer below it. For
example, you can change its opacity so that it appears semitransparent, thereby showing the
contents of the layer beneath. You can also define how the colors from different layers interact by
using the Mode drop-down list. The Layers menu also offers an option to collapse all of the layers
back down to a single image (Layers Merge Visible Layers or Flatten Image).
Figure 18-5. Set the opacity of various layers by clicking and dragging the relevant slider in the Layers
dialog box.
Making Color Corrections
The first step when editing most images is to correct the brightness, contrast, and color saturation. This
helps overcome some of the deficiencies that are commonly found in digital photographs or scanned-in
images. To do this, right-click the image and select Colors. You’ll find a variety of options to let you
tweak the image, allowing you a lot of control over the process.
For simple brightness and contrast changes, selecting the Brightness-Contrast menu option opens a
dialog box in which you can click and drag the sliders to alter the image. The changes you make will be
previewed on the image itself, so you should be able to get things just right.
Similarly, the Hue-Saturation option lets you alter the color balance and the strength of the colors
(the saturation) by clicking and dragging sliders. By selecting the color bar options at the top of the
window, you can choose individual colors to boost. Clicking the Master button lets you once again alter
all colors at the same time.
The trouble with clicking and dragging sliders is that it relies on human intuition. This can easily be
clouded by a badly calibrated monitor, which might be set too dark or too light. Because of this, GIMP
offers another handy option, which can ensure that the whites in your image are white and that your
blacks are truly black: Levels. To access the Levels feature, right-click the image and select Colors Levels. This presents a chart of the brightness levels in the photo and lets you set the dark, shadows, and
highlight points, as shown in Figure 18-6. Three sliders beneath the chart represent, from left to right,
the darkest point, the midtones (shadows), and the highlights within the picture. The first step is to set
the dark and light sliders at the left and right of the edges of the chart. This will make sure that the range
of brightness from the lightest point to the darkest point is set correctly. The next step is to adjust the
middle slider so that it’s roughly in the middle of the highest peak within the chart. This will accurately
set the midtone point, ensuring an even spread of brightness across the image.
Figure 18-6. The Levels function can be used to accurately set the brightness levels across an image.
A little artistic license is usually allowed at this stage, and depending on the effect you want in
the photo, moving the midtone slider a little to the left or right of the highest peak might produce
more-acceptable results. However, be aware that the monitor might be showing incorrect brightness or
color values.
Cropping and Healing
After you’ve adjusted the colors, you might want to use the Crop tool to remove any extraneous details
outside the focus of the image. For example, in a portrait of someone taken from a distance away, you
might choose to crop the photo to show only the person’s head and shoulders, or you might separate a
group of people from their surroundings, as shown in Figure 18-7.
Figure 18-7. You can use the Crop tool to focus on one part of a picture or introduce a dramatic new shape.
The Healing tool is great for removing small blemishes, not just on people, but also dust from an
unclean lens or scratches on an old scanned photo. Start by using the Zoom tool to close in on the area.
If the blemish is small, you might need to go in quite close. Then try to find an area of the image that is
clear and from which you can copy. Ctrl-click that area. Then click and draw over the blemish. The
crosshair indicates the area from which you’re copying.
Applying Filters
To take you beyond basic editing, GIMP includes a selection of filters that can add dramatic effects to
your images. Filters are applied either to the currently selected layer or to a selection within the layer. To
apply a filter, right-click the image and choose the relevant menu option. If you don’t like an effect
you’ve applied, you can reverse it by choosing Edit Undo, or by pressing Ctrl+Z.
The submenus offer filters grouped by categories, as follows:
Blur: These filters add various kinds of blur to the image or selection. For example, Motion Blur can
imitate the effect of photographing an object moving at speed with a slow shutter. Perhaps the most
popular blur option is Gaussian Blur, which has the effect of applying a soft and subtle blur and is
great for creating drop shadows.
Enhance: The Enhance effects are designed to remove various artifacts from an image or otherwise
improve it. For example, the Despeckle effect attempts to remove unwanted noise within an image
(such as flecks of dust in a scanned image). The Sharpen filter discussed in the previous section is
located here, as is Unsharp Mask, which offers a high degree of control over the image-sharpening
Distort: As the name of this category of filters suggests, the effects available distort the image in
various ways. For example, Whirl and Pinch allow you to tug and push the image to distort it
(imagine printing the image on rubber and then pinching or pushing the surface). This category also
contains other special effects, such as Pagecurl, which imitates the curl of a page at one corner of
the picture.
Light and Shadow: Here you will find filters that imitate the effects that light and shadow can have
on a picture, such as adding sparkle effects to highlights or imitating the lens flare caused by a
camera’s lens.
Noise: This collection of filters is designed to add speckles or other types of artifacts to an image.
These filters are offered within GIMP for their potential artistic effects, but they can also be used to
create a grainy film effect—simply click Scatter RGB—or white noise.
Edge-Detect: This set of filters can automatically detect and delineate the edges of objects within an
image. Although this type of filter can result in some interesting results that might fall into the
category of special effects, it’s primarily used in conjunction with other tools and effects.
Generic: In this category, you can find a handful of filters that don’t seem to fall into any other
category. Of particular interest is the Convolution Matrix option, which lets you create your own
filters by inputting numeric values. According to GIMP’s programmers, this is designed primarily for
mathematicians, but it can also be used by others to create random special effects. Simply input
values and then preview the effect.
Combine: Here you’ll find filters that combine two or more images into one.
Artistic: These filters allow you to add paint effects to the image, such as making it appear as if the
photo has been painted in impressionistic brushstrokes or painted on canvas. Figure 18-9 shows an
example of applying the Oilify filter for an oil painting effect.
Decor: This section has some interesting rendered effects such as coffee stains, bevels, and outlines
that can be applied to images or layers.
Figure 18-8. The Artistic effects can be used to give images an oil painting effect.
Map: These filters aim to manipulate the image by treating it like a piece of paper that can be folded
in various ways and stuck onto 3D shapes (a process referred to as mapping). Because the image is
treated as if it were a piece of paper, it can also be copied, and the copies placed on top of each other
to create various effects.
Render: Here you’ll find filters designed to create new images from scratch, such as clouds or flame
effects. Most of the options here will completely cover the underlying image with their effect, but
others, such as Difference Clouds, use the base image as part of its source material.
Web: Here you can create an image map for use in a web page. An image map is a single image
broken up into separate hyperlinked areas, typically used on a web page as a sophisticated menu.
For example, an image map is frequently used for a geographical map on which you can click to get
more information about different regions. There’s also a useful Slice tool, which can be used to
break up a large image into smaller parts for display on a web page.
Animation: These filters aim to manipulate and optimize GIF images, which are commonly used to
create simple animated images for use on web sites.
Alpha to Logo: These filters are typically used to create special effects for text. They are quite
specialized and require an in-depth knowledge of how GIMP works, particularly the use of
alpha channels.
■ Tip If you like GIMP, you might be interested in Beginning GIMP: From Novice to Professional, Second Edition
by Akkana Peck (Apress, 2009). This book offers a comprehensive, contemporary, and highly readable guide to
this software.
GIMP is one of the most powerful programs available for Linux, but not everyone is enamored of its user
interface. One bone of contention for some is that GIMP uses almost completely different terminology from
that used by Adobe Photoshop.
One developer became so annoyed by this that he created a new version of GIMP called GIMPshop
( This is ostensibly exactly the same as the GIMP program, but the names of the tools
have been changed to match those of Photoshop (or the simpler Photoshop Elements program). In a similar
way, many of the GIMP’s right-click menu entries have also been changed so that they’re identical to
Photoshop’s menu options.
The freedom to adapt programs in this way is one of the benefits of open source software. The ability to
take program code and create your own version is the foundation of Linux.
GIMPshop isn’t available via the Ubuntu Software Center, but the Linux version offered for download at the
GIMPshop web site can be installed under Ubuntu. After you’ve downloaded the package, see Chapter 20
to learn how software installation works under Ubuntu.
A second Photoshop-like fork of the software is called GimPhoto (/, but it is based on
an older version of the software.
One handy trick that can improve your photos, when used with care, is to use the Sharpen filter. This has
the effect of adding definition to the image and reducing any slight blur caused by camera shake or poor
focusing. To apply the Sharpen filter, right-click the image and select Filters Enhance Sharpen.
As shown in Figure 18-8, a small preview window shows the effect of the sharpening on the image
(you might need to use the scrollbars to move to an appropriate part of the image, or resize the preview
by clicking and dragging the bottom-right corner). Clicking and dragging the slider at the bottom of the
dialog box alters the severity of the sharpening effect. Too much sharpening can ruin a picture, so be
careful. Try to use the effect subtly.
Figure 18-9. Sharpening an image can give it better definition, but keep checking the preview.
In this chapter, you’ve taken a look at working with images under Ubuntu. First you looked at the F-Spot
photo manager tool. F-Spot lets you easily import pictures, catalog them, and make some adjustments.
Then you learned how to edit your images by using GIMP, one of the best programs available for the task
under any OS. As with most areas, we could have selected many more applications to cover such as
Google’s Picasa, digiKam, and gphoto2, but F-Spot and GIMP provide perfect tools for both users and
uses across the spectrum.
C H A P T E R 19
Playing Games
Playing games in Ubuntu might be seen by some people as an awkward idea, and many more may think
that you will be lucky if you find at most a Space Invaders-like game. It is not widely recognized as a
mainstream gaming platform like PlayStation, Xbox or Wii, and it’s not as popular as Windows. But
Ubuntu does, you might say, under-promise and over-deliver. You’ll be surprised by the sheer amount
of possibilities that the casual gamer has at hand.
In this chapter we first examine what games Ubuntu has to offer by default and in its official
repositories. Those are games developed specifically for Linux and that are at some level endorsed by
Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu. There are also other sources of games for Ubuntu, not officially
acknowledged, which can provide many hours of fun.
But the gaming world is changing rapidly, and many people find that web- and Adobe Flash-based
games are all they need. And we’ll learn how to make those available under Ubuntu. Unleashing the
power of Flash-based games will open you the door to an awesome source of free entertainment.
One cannot deny that Windows is a popular gaming platform, and that many games for Windows
are available. So you might be in a position in which you want to switch to Ubuntu because you think it
is a great OS, but are afraid that you will lose the possibility of playing with your favorite Windows
games. What if we tell you that you can have your cake and eat it too? What if you can have the OS of
choice (Ubuntu) and your games at the same time and computer? As you see in this chapter, such thing
is possible.
So start warming up your thumbs, because at the end of this chapter there’ll be action!
Linux Games
As with any type of application, Ubuntu has a bunch of games installed by default and many other
readily available at the Ubuntu Software Center. You will usually find games in the Applications Games menu.
Official Sources
The most basic game package is gnome-games, which is installed by default (and is available at the
Ubuntu Software Center). It includes 16 simple games, ranging from Chess to Mahjongg, and from
Sudoku to Four-in-a-row. You can see the full list in Table 19-1; those are games designed to give you a
rewarding break from work. In five minutes you can be relieved from your stress and go back to your
tasks with your batteries renewed. But be careful, because those games are well known for their
addictive power! They will certainly help you get through a lazy day. Who hasn’t spent hours at the office
playing Minesweeper (Ubuntu’s version is called Mines)?
■ Tip You will not find gnome-games if you look for it in the Games department in the Ubuntu Software Center.
Being a metapackage, you’ll find it either in Get Software or in the Provided by Ubuntu folder.
Table 19-1. GNOME Games: That’s Entertainment!
Aisleriot is a compilation of over 80 different solitaire card games, from Freecell and
Klondike to Clock Patience.
A chess game. Need we say more?
Five or More
GNOME version of Color Lines. Arrange the balls to form lines of five or more and they
will disappear. Meanwhile, more balls keep appearing.
Play against the computer in an attempt to form a line of four balls.
The GNOME version of Reversi. The goal is to control the largest number of disks on
the board.
A series of sliding block puzzles. Try and solve them in the least number of moves.
Lights Off
Lights Off is a puzzle game, where the objective is to turn off all of the tiles on the board.
Each click toggles the state of the clicked tile and its non-diagonal neighbors.
The popular logic puzzle minesweeper. Find mines on a grid using hints from squares
you have already cleared.
A tile-based solitaire game with an Asian flavor. Remove tiles in matching pairs to
dismantle elaborately designed stacks.
Pilot a worm around a maze trying to collect diamonds while avoiding the walls and
yourself. With each diamond your worm grows longer and navigation becomes more
and more difficult. Playable by up to four people.
Tetris-like game.
The classic game where you have to avoid a hoard of robots who are trying to kill you.
Each step you take brings them closer toward you. Fortunately they aren’t very smart
and you also have a helpful teleportation gadget.
Swell Foop
Swell Foop is a puzzle game. The goal is to remove as many objects as possible in as few
moves as possible. Objects that are adjacent to each other get removed as a group. The
remaining objects then collapse to fill in the gaps and new groups are formed. You
cannot remove single objects.
The Japanese game that became a sensation in the last few years.
An ancient Roman game.
A puzzle game where you have to match a grid of tiles together. The skill level ranges
from the simple two by two up to the seriously mind-bending six by six grid.
There are plenty more games in the default repositories. Just open the Ubuntu Software Center and
browse to the Games department, shown in Figure 19-1. There are close to 500 games to choose from!
Figure 19-1. Search through the Games department and you’ll find many jewels.
Two games even made it to the initial Featured Applications list:
Frozen Bubble: Frozen Bubble is a clone of the popular Puzzle Bobble game, in
which you attempt to shoot bubbles into groups of the same color to cause them
to pop. The game mainly consists of firing randomly chosen bubbles across the
board. If the shoot ends up having a clump of at least three bubbles of the same
color, they all pop. If some bubbles were stuck only on the popping clump, they
fall. In one-player mode, the goal is to pop all the bubbles on the board as quickly
as possible. In two-player or network mode, you have to get your opponent to
“die” before you.
Pingus: Pingus is a free clone of the popular Lemmings game. Your goal is to guide
a horde of penguins through a world full of obstacles and penguin traps to safety.
Although penguins (unlike lemmings) are rather smart, they sometimes rely on
you to save them.
Some of the most popular Linux games find their home too in the Ubuntu repositories. Before
ditching Ubuntu as a gaming platform, try out these games. You will be surprised!
Tremulous: Tremulous is a free, open source game that blends a team-based firstperson shooter (FPS) game with elements of a real-time strategy (RTS) game.
Players can choose from two unique races, aliens and humans. Players on both
teams are able to build working structures in-game like an RTS game. These
structures provide many functions, the most important being spawning. The
designated builders must ensure there are spawn structures or other players will
not be able to rejoin the game after death. Other structures provide automated
base defense (to some degree), healing functions, and much more.
Alien Arena: Alien Arena is a standalone 3D first-person online deathmatch
shooter crafted from the original source code of Quake II and Quake III, released
by id Software under the GPL license.
Warzone 2100: Warzone 2100 is a 3D real-time strategy set on a future Earth.
Extreme Tux Racer: Racer is a racing game featuring Tux, the Linux mascot. The
goal of the game is to slide down a snow- and ice-covered mountain as quickly as
possible, avoiding the trees and rocks that will slow you down. Collect herrings
and other goodies while sliding down the hill, but avoid fish bones.
SuperTux: Super Tux is a classic 2D jump and run sidescroller game in a style
similar to the original Super Mario games. Super Tux features 9 enemies, 26
playable levels, software and OpenGL rendering modes, configurable joystick and
keyboard input, new music, and completely redone graphics.
Frets on Fire: Frets on Fire is a game of musical skill and fast fingers. The aim of the
game is to play guitar with the keyboard as accurately as possible.
FreeCiv: FreeCiv is a Civilizations-like game in which you are the leader of an
entire civilization in the search of progress and world domination.
Pysol: Pysol is a collection of more than 1,000 solitaire games, ranging from
Mahjong to Hanoi Puzzle.
Are your engines getting ready for gaming now? Would you have believed there were so many great
games available for free, just clicks away? Well, buckle up, because this ride is just starting!
Additional Sources
Ubuntu being part of a community, it is only natural that the official source of games is not the only one.
As explored in Chapter 20, you can add new, unofficial repositories to your list and download programs
from them. Games are no exception. If you browse the web and the Ubuntu Forums you will find plenty
of information about additional sources for installing games. In this section we examine one of those
sources, so you become familiar with the idea.
The site we will be accessing is, shown in Figure 19-2.
Figure 19-2. is one of many sources of additional games.
You can click Games and browse the list of games available. But when you see one that you like and
click “Install this now” and follow the instructions on screen, you might soon get the error message
shown in Figure 19-3. Why?
Figure 19-3. An error message when trying to install from
In order to be able to install games from, you should add the repository to your
software sources. Repositories, covered with greater detail in Chapter 20, are storage locations from
which software packages can be downloaded and installed. Let’s follow the steps of adding
as a source. This training will help you when adding any other source of Ubuntu games.
Try to install a game from and verify if you get an error message.
Open System Administration Software Sources. Go to the Other
Software tab.
Click Add… and in the apt line textbox copy the following line :
deb lucid-getdeb games
Click Add Source. Don’t close the Software Sources dialog box.
Open a web browser and copy the following line in the address bar :
You will be prompted to open or save the key file. It will be stored in your
Downloads folder.
Go back to the Software Sources dialog box and click the Authentication tab.
10. Click Import Key File… and browse to your Downloads folder. Double-click
the downloaded key.
11. Click Close. You will be prompted to update the catalog on your computer.
12. Try to install the game once again. You should be successful this time!
Although is just one of many additional sources of games for Ubuntu, this demo is
useful because adding software sources is almost always the same two-step process: adding the
repository in the Other Software tab, and importing the key in the Authentication tab.
The next time you open the Ubuntu Software Center after reloading the catalog, you should see
under Get Software a new entry, GetDeb, along with Provided by Ubuntu and Canonical Partners. If you
select GetDeb, the list of available games will be displayed in the main pane. To install a new game, just
select it and click Install, as you would for any application.
Congratulations ! You now have access to more than 200 additional games!
Adobe Flash and Web-based Gaming
Many things have been said about the cloud and cloud-based applications—especially about how you
will no longer need to install applications locally on your hard drive to use it, because they will always be
available online.
In no area is this trend is more obvious and mainstream than in the world of gaming. And when you
talk of online gaming, you more often than not come to rely on Adobe Flash. Flash is an animation file
format pioneered by Macromedia which continues to be supported by its successor company, Adobe.
Flash has been extended to include audio and video content, and programs written in many scripting
languages. Despite the advance of other web gaming technologies and of the recent Steve Job’s attack on
Flash, more and more games based on this technology are created each day and made available online
entirely for free. Search for “free flash game” in Google or Yahoo, and a seemingly interminable list of
sites will be displayed. It’s hard to avoid them if you like to play.
But when you try to open those games after installing Ubuntu, you find that Firefox tells you that
“Additional plug-ins are required to display all the media on this page,” and where the game should be, a
broken link is all you get. Many people have thought that that was all for Linux, that they could never be
able to play Flash games in Ubuntu. This isn’t so.
In fact, there’s not one but three different ways of playing Flash files in your Ubuntu computer, but
none of them is installed by default. You can see them in your browser if you click the “Additional
plugins” bar. They are listed in Table 19-2.
Table 19-2. Flash Players
Adobe Flash Player
A plug-in for web browsers, developed and maintained by Adobe. This is
proprietary software.
Swfdec SWF Player
Swfdec SWF Player is a plug-in that integrates Flash player capabilities to the
GNOME environment.
Gnash is a GNU Flash movie player sponsored by the Free Software Foundation.
If you intend to play online games, we recommend you install Adobe Flash Player. It is available at
the Canonical Partners section of the Ubuntu Software Center. Follow these instructions to install the
Flash Player:
Open Firefox and go to your Flash gaming site. When you try to load a game,
the message “Additional plug-ins are required to display all the media on this
page” should appear.
Close Firefox.
Go to Applications Ubuntu Software Center
Expand Get Software in the navigation pane and select the Canonical
Partners folder.
The application Adobe Flash Plugin 10 should be at the top of the list.
Click Install.
When it finishes, close the Ubuntu Software Center and open Firefox.
Go to your favorite Flash gaming site. Now you shouldn’t have any problem.
■ Tip You might find Java-based games at some web sites. Although Java’s use is less mainstream nowadays
than Flash for these kinds of applications, Java is a very popular technology. To play online Java games, make
sure you install the application Icedtea Java Plugin in the Ubuntu Software Center.
Installing Windows Games
One of the reasons you might be reluctant to make the switch to Ubuntu is you have made a large
investment in Windows games and don’t want to throw all that money away, even when finding Ubuntu
the superior OS.
This is a very understandable concern, but there is a workaround. Follow us.
Welcome to PlayOnLinux. In Chapter 20 we talk about Wine, a utility that allows you to run
Windows applications under Linux. We also point out in that chapter that sometimes those applications
are not so easy to install and configure. Many present a bunch of problems requiring expert knowledge
and hours of investigation. They may work in the end, but the process can be lengthy and tedious. It’s
not very encouraging when you only want to play a game.
PlayOnLinux is a frontend for Wine, specialized in making games work out-of-the-box. It takes
away from the user the task of preparing the system for a certain application. It is a community-based
solution in which different users upload configuration scripts for games to the repositories. When you
need to install a game that someone else has installed before, the script is executed and the game is
seamlessly installed.
It is worth noting that to install Windows games you will likely need the original CD or DVD and the
license key. It is a drag sometimes, but that’s how Windows games work. Having a community tool for
installing games doesn’t make games themselves sharable. Original licensing restrictions still applies.
You can install PlayOnLinux from the official repositories. Just look for it in the Ubuntu Software
Center and click Install. Once installed, a shortcut will be created in Applications Games.
The first time you launch PlayOnLinux it will try to download the game’s catalog from the Internet,
which can take a few minutes. If a game you’re trying to install is not in the catalog, you can try updating
it by clicking File Refresh the repository.
Before you install any application, the main window of PlayOnLinux will be rather empty, as you
can see in Figure 19-4. There’s where installed games are listed after you install them.
Figure 19-4. PlayOnLinux main window is empty until you install a game.
To install a game, click Install and select the Games category. You’ll see the list of compatible games,
as shown in Figure 19-5.
Figure 19-5. The list of PlayOnLinux compatible games
Select the game you want to install and click Apply. The script for that game will begin to run, asking
you for the installation media and keys if they apply. At some point the installation wizard for the
application starts, the same wizard you can see in Windows. When it finishes, the game is installed.
You will see the game in the PlayOnLinux main window. Just click Run and enjoy!
■ Tip As you can see in the Install dialog box, PlayOnLinux can install other types of applications in addition to
games. What PlayOnLinux does is to run a script when installing the application. However, games are the main
feature of PlayOnLinux.
In this chapter we opened you the door for a world of games and entertainment. Although many
people consider Linux to be a platform for playing with the command-line, this chapter has shown that
this is not true. You can find a lot of free games in the official repositories, and many more in the
community pages.
You can also play mainstream Flash- and Java-based games online.
And if this is not enough, and you miss your Windows games, PlayOnLinux makes it easy to install
them in your Ubuntu box, so you can have the OS of choice without losing your investment in games.
If all these methods fail to satisfy your gaming hunger, maybe it’s time to think about buying a
Keeping Your System
C H A P T E R 20
Installing and Removing Software
One of the fun things about running any operating system is the ability to expand it—to add in new
software over time to improve your workflow or just enhance entertainment value.
Linux is blessed in this regard, because tens of thousands of software titles are available to meet
almost every need.
But for years, the generally accepted idea was that Linux was a great OS, superior in many ways to
Microsoft Windows, but that it was too difficult to use. Software installation, continued the argument,
was one of the major examples of this difficulty: many people still think that for installing software in
Linux you must know how to compile source code! Comparing this to the seemingly straightforward
method of getting software for Windows, either online or at a retail store, and then running an
installation wizard, Linux was seen as a non-option for the average user.
It is not that Windows applications are easy to get. For starters, you must pay for them, a couple
hundred dollars or more in some cases. Then you have restrictions on how you can use them, and it
is often hard to follow the rules of what you can or cannot do. You might be infringing the terms of
license of your software even without knowing it. It is harder still for companies and individual users
alike to determine and prove that the software they are using is legitimate; some vendors asks that you
store your license keys or certificates, while others demand an invoice as proof of your purchase. It’s up
to the vendor.
Another problem is to find the right software. There’s no central location where you can find all
the software available for Windows. And while there are freeware applications, more often than not
you need to download them from less-than-trusted sites prone to bundling malware into their
download packages.
This method of application installation was practically rendered obsolete by Apple’s Application
Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch. This is a secure, centralized, and searchable catalog of
applications, available just one click of the mouse away. If the application exists, you just browse or
search the store, and the application appears.
But this model has its limitations too, the most important being the tight control Apple enforces in
this store, making a developer’s job of publishing applications a nightmare.
When the people at Canonical wanted to make an OS for human beings, they soon realized that all
the shortcomings of competing models could be overcome based on the foundations of Linux, and of
Debian in particular. The result of this effort was the Ubuntu Software Center, first launched for Karmic
Koala (Ubuntu 9.10), and revamped for Lucid Lynx. It is a centralized yet extensible catalog for all
Ubuntu applications, and is also the subject of the first section of this chapter. If you just want to install
applications the easy way, that’s all you need to read. Next, a few pages of theory are available, which
gives you a clearer view of how the Center works and lays the foundation for the third section of this
chapter, in which you learn more methods for installing and working with Ubuntu… and Windows!...
And of course, how to compile source code!
Using the Ubuntu Software Center
Ubuntu has traditionally had many different tools for application installation and management: the
Synaptic Package Manager, Add/Remove Programs, the Update Manager, Software Sources… not to
mention the command-line tools dpkg and apt. Those were related tools for doing similar tasks around
software management. Before undertaking any installation task, you first needed to know which tool
to use.
And many developers weren’t even coordinated to the extent of making their applications available
from a single source. So an effort was to be made in two directions: the making of a single, allencompassing tool, and the publication of all available software in that tool. Thus the Ubuntu Software
Center was born.
Navigating the Ubuntu Software Center
The Ubuntu Software Center is available as the last item in the Applications menu. When opened, it
shows a default start page, as shown in Figure 20-1. It is the root of the Get Software item.
Figure 20-1. The structure of the Ubuntu Software Center
The menu bar is a quite straightforward way of performing actions within the Center, but its options
are usually disabled. They are made available only at certain times, depending on the section of the
Center in which you are.
File: Here you will find the Install and Remove commands, only available when you select a specific
application in a list, or when you open the application page itself. Only one of the options will be
available at a given time, depending on the current state of the application. The Close option is
always available and instructs the Ubuntu Software Center to quit (notice that if there are pending
operations in progress, the Center will wait until those are completed to close).
Edit: Many of the options in this menu, like Cut, Copy, Paste, and Delete, are available only when
you are entering text in the Search dialog box. The Copy Web Link option is enabled when you select
an application from a list or when you open that application’s details page and copy the URL of the
application to the clipboard, so you can paste it into your browser and access it directly. The Search
option is available whenever the Search dialog box is present, and basically focuses on it. And last,
the Software Sources option allows you to modify or add locations from which you want to
download applications. More about this later in this chapter.
View: Here you can select the scope of the applications which you want to see listed. All Software
displays software from all sources. Canonical-Maintained Software displays only software
maintained by the company behind Ubuntu.
Help: Here you can access useful help information about the Ubuntu Software Center.
The navigation pane is used to browse the different sections of the Ubuntu Software Center. It has
three main elements, of which one is usually hidden. The main page changes depending on the element
selected in the navigation pane.
Get Software: This is used mainly to locate and install software in the catalog. This catalog is
constructed by using software sources, of which you can see the default two: Provided by Canonical,
and Canonical Partners. More items appear under Get Software as you begin to add alternative
software sources, as explained later in this chapter. Those two default sources are by far the most
secure way of installing applications in Ubuntu—much safer than downloading them from an
unknown web site. But someday you may want to install software not officially endorsed by
Canonical, and for that it is important to know how to add software sources.
Installed Software: Here you see the list of software already present in your computer, and can
remove it. Installed software is recognizable by the checkmark that accompanies its icon in the list.
Browse this section if you don’t want to install additional software; you could for instance just see
what you have installed, or remove an application that is no longer needed (to free up disk space, for
In Progress: When performing actions like installing or removing applications, or updating the
software catalog, you will notice in the notifications pane a third element named In Progress. When
you select this item, you can see in the main pane the status of each of those actions, along with a
progress bar indicating how near to completion the task is. If you are installing an application, for
instance, a Cancel button will show up next to the progress bar while downloading the application.
Once the installation starts (after download), it cannot be canceled. When all actions have
completed, the In Progress element returns to its hidden state.
The status bar usually shows useful information about the number of applications in each section.
For example, when selecting Get Software for the first time, it shows the total number of applications in
the catalog (32,420 at the time of writing!). If you select a particular department, it shows the number of
applications in that department (for instance, the Office department shows 124 applications). When
using the Search dialog box, it tells the number of applications that matched the search terms.
Browsing and Searching for Software
To install an application, first you need to find it. This is made easy by the Center’s browsing and
searching mechanisms, and by the fact that Ubuntu maintains all applications in a catalog containing
information about the applications available from all configured software sources.
This catalog is a hierarchical structure organized into departments and sometimes sublevels under
them, and is made available in the main pane when you select Get Software in the navigation pane. Each
department groups applications with a common objective, and its name is self-explanatory; for example
the Games department has games like Mines, and the Office department has applications used mostly at
the office, like Word Processor (commonly known as Writer). So, just select the
department you feel is most likely to have the application you are looking for. If you are just exploring,
you can select the Featured Applications link, which takes you to a special list of applications selected by
the Ubuntu team.
At the top of the Get Software section in the main pane is the location bar, composed of three items:
the Back and Forward buttons, the path bar, and the Search dialog box.
The Back and Forward buttons allow you to navigate the history of the visited pages.
The path bar shows you which part of the hierarchy you are in at the moment, and allows you to
navigate to parent levels by clicking in the corresponding part of that bar. For example, clicking Get
Software takes you to the start page.
Either by selecting the Featured Applications or by clicking on a department, you access what is
known as a software list view. Some departments (like Games, for instance) have sublevels, and this is
shown by dividing the main pane in an upper section with the sublevels (which are browsable
themselves), and a lower section with the software list view. In this view all related applications are
displayed in a series of contiguous rows, as shown in Figure 20-2. You see here the application’s icon,
name, and short description. You can tell whether an application is already installed by looking at its
icon: if a white checkmark inside a green circle is merged with the icon, then your application is already
in your system.
■ Note Take into account that the software installation media actually resides in repositories maintained by
Ubuntu on the web, and that the first thing the Ubuntu Software Center has to do when you click Install is
download the software package. If you don’t have an Internet connection, you will not be able to install software
from those repositories. You can use a CD or DVD instead, or download the application packages to another
computer and then locally install them into your computer. Those options are explained later in this chapter.
When you find the application you want to install, just select it from the list and press the Install
button that appears at the right end of the application’s row. You’ll be prompted for your password, and
the application will start installing. A progress bar will appear above the Install button, and a new
element labeled In Progress will emerge in the navigation pane. Once it has finished installation, the
progress bar disappears, the Install button is replaced with a more appropriate Remove button, and the
In Progress element disappears. Can you guess how to uninstall your application? Yes, by pressing that
Remove button.
Figure 20-2. The list of available software for the Accessories department
If you want to know more about a particular application, just select it from the list and click the
More Info button. This takes you to the software item screen, which you can see in Figure 20-3.
Figure 20-3. The software item screen for GNOME Do
The elements in the software item screen are:
The application icon.
The name of the application.
A short description.
An Action/Status bar section, in which you can see if the application is already
installed, choose to Install or Remove it, and follow the progress bar when
performing one of those two tasks.
A full-length description of what the application does.
A link to the application’s web site.
Screenshots of the application.
A description of the availability of updates for the application—whether they are
made available by Canonical or by the community, or by nobody.
Licensing information. Most applications are Open Source, but you will find some
proprietary drivers.
Package name and version.
Click the Back button or the name of the department in the location bar to go back to the list
of applications.
Another way of finding an application is by using the Search dialog box, available at the location bar.
You need to be aware that searches are targeted at the scope specified by the path bar. This is to say that
if you are browsing the Get Software Education department and search for an application, only
applications in that department will show up. The department software list is filtered to show only the
applications that match the search terms, and in the status bar the number of matching items is shown.
All operations available at a text box, such as pasting and deleting, can be used in the Search dialog
box. The search is performed as you type your text; it is not necessary to press Enter or click on the
magnifying glass to execute the query. If you want to remove the filter for the applications, just click the
little sweeper that’s inside the Search dialog box, at the right.
Does all this seem too easy to be true? Well, it is true, and it is all you have to do to install most of the
software you will ever need within Ubuntu (as we mentioned before, at the time of writing there were
32,420 applications available at the Center!). But Ubuntu is also a versatile and flexible OS that gives you
options. It allows you to install additional software through alternative sources, keep your applications
up-to-date, and even use Windows applications. This is explained later in this chapter, but first we need
to delve a little deeper into the theory behind Ubuntu software management to understand those
processes better.
Software Installation Basics
If the Ubuntu Software Center is a marvel for its beauty and simplicity, the overall Ubuntu software
management system is of no lesser merit in what it enables. The Center takes advantage of years and
years of previous developments that made it possible, such as the introduction of Debian packages, the
apt tool, and software repositories. Let’s look at those elements in a little more detail.
Formats of Linux Installation Files
If you visit the web site of a particular Linux application, you may find that it’s available to download
in a number of different formats. The program will almost certainly be available as source code—the
original human-readable text that the developer created. But it might also be available as a binary or a
package file.
■ Tip Linux isn’t the only OS for which open source programs are created and used. There are open source
projects for both Windows and Apple Macintosh, many of which are hosted at the web
site. Many other, less widely used operating systems also rely on open source software to a greater or lesser
extent. Ubuntu software is hosted in Launchpad (, a web application maintained by
Canonical, used also for software development and bug tracking.
Here are the formats by which Linux software is usually distributed:
Source code: Programmers write their software in various programming languages, such as C and
C++, and the code that results is known as source code. To make source code usable, it must be
compiled into a binary. Because the cornerstone of the Linux philosophy is the sharing of source
code, you’ll almost always find the source code of a program available at the developer’s web site.
You can then download and compile this on your own system (or, if you’re so inclined, study the
source code to further your understanding). Although compiling source code isn’t very hard to do,
it’s more convenient to download either a binary version of the program or a package.
Binary files: You might find that ready-made binary files are available at the developer’s web site. In
other words, the programmer (or a third party) has taken his or her own source code and, as a
service to users of the program, compiled it so that it’s ready for use as soon as it’s downloaded. For
example, this is how Linux versions of the Mozilla Foundation software, like Thunderbird and
Firefox, are currently distributed if you download them directly from Sometimes
binary files come with scripts to help you install them. However, in most cases, you simply place the
files in a convenient location on your hard disk and then run them from there.
■ Note In the cases of both source code and binary files, the files usually come in a tarball, which is a single
archive file containing other files. A tarball isn’t, by definition, compressed, but usually either the bzip2 or gzip
tool is used to shrink the file, to ease transportation across the Internet.
Self-installing binaries: Some larger programs are made available as self-installing binary files. This
comes very close to the way Windows works, because when the file is executed, a GUI-based
installation wizard takes you through installation. If you download the standard version of (that is, not a version packaged for a particular system) from the official web site
(, for example, you’ll end up with a single 160MB+ file, which you then simply
execute from the command line.
Package files: In many cases, you’ll find that a package file of the program is available. In this case,
someone has compiled the software files and put them all together in a single, easily transported
file. Ubuntu package files end with .deb file extensions, but other Linux distributions use other
package formats, such as .rpm (Fedora/Red Hat, SUSE Linux, and Mandriva, among others).
■ Note As a blanket rule, an installation package created for one distribution isn’t compatible with another. It’s
possible to use a program called alien under Ubuntu, which aims to convert packages between distributions and
different package formats, but this should be seen as a last resort because the results may not always be
satisfactory. You’ll be better off simply obtaining a package specifically designed for your Linux distribution.
Package Management
Of all the preceding formats, packages are by far the most common and popular in the world of Linux.
Ubuntu utilizes packages, as do nearly all other distributions. In fact, the Ubuntu installation DVD-ROM
contains hundreds of packages, and its various software repositories contain many thousands.
A well-implemented package management system is able to install programs, upgrade them, and
uninstall them, all with just a few keystrokes or clicks of the mouse. It vastly reduces the amount of work
required to get new software onto your system and makes maintenance tasks such as upgrading
software easy too.
It’s important to understand what an Ubuntu package file actually is and what it contains. With
Windows, an installation .exe file is effectively a piece of software combined with an archive of files.
When you run the executable, it triggers a small program contained within it that then unpacks the
contents of the file and installs them to the hard disk.
In contrast, package files used by Ubuntu merely contain the program files along with a handful of
configuration scripts to ensure that the software is set up correctly. Package files are useless without the
various pieces of software already installed on the system that are used to manipulate them and do the
hard work of installing, removing, and querying them. This software is known as the package
management system. In the case of Ubuntu, the package management system has two components: dpkg
and apt, which we cover later in this chapter. The Ubuntu Software Center itself is always working with
packages, although you never see them.
The use of a package management system has a number of benefits. The package management
system builds its own database, so it knows exactly what programs are installed at any one time.
Therefore, you can simply query the database rather than search the applications menu or hard disk.
The package system also keeps track of version numbers. This gives the user much more control over the
software on the system, and it makes updating easy.
The use of a package management system also means that if a program starts to act strangely, its
configuration files can simply be refreshed by using the package manager. There’s no need to uninstall
and reinstall the software, as is so often the case with Windows programs. The clean way in which a
package manager uninstalls software makes it very easy to try out, and remove, lots of different software
without worrying about the stability of your computer.
Dependency Management
One of the key features offered by any package management system is dependency management. Put
simply, the package manager ensures that if you install a piece of software, any additional software it
relies on to work properly is already present on the system. It the software isn’t present, the package
manager must either resolve the situation automatically or ask you what to do.
Sometimes the software you want to install might depend on other programs on your system, such
as applications that simply add a graphical front end to shell applications, but more often, the
dependencies take the form of system libraries. It helps if you realize that not all packages contain
software that you, as a user, will make direct use of. Some packages contain nothing but library files—
shared pieces of code that are equivalent to .dll files under Windows. The key library on an Ubuntu
system is the GNU C Library, without which the Linux kernel couldn’t function, which is provided by the
libc6 package. But practically every program has its own needs when it comes to library files, and these
requirements must be handled by the package manager.
■ Note One reason Windows installation files are often so large is that they typically come with all the system files
they need, in case they’re not already present on the system. This does not make dependency problems
disappear, however. Third-party application installers sometimes overwrite existing libraries with versions that are
incompatible with the rest of the system.
Dependency management doesn’t just mean adding in packages that a piece of software needs. It
might also mean removing packages already present on your system. This might need to happen if
they’re incompatible with new software you want to install, something that’s referred to as package
conflict. In addition, sometimes you might want to remove a package that other packages rely on, a
situation known as reverse dependency. In such a case, the package manager must either stop you from
removing that software, to avoid breaking the software that depends on it, or remove the reversedependency packages too. In most cases, the package manager ask you what to do.
If you try to install certain software packages, you will very likely find that they depend on other
packages, such as software libraries. These must be either already present on the system or installed at
the same time for the software to work correctly. In most cases, the Synaptic Package Manager takes care
of all this.
Dependency hell, which is far less common than it once was, comes about when chains of dependencies
arise, which is to say, when a program you install or remove involves the installation or removal of several
other, apparently unrelated pieces of software. For example, let’s say you decide to manually install a
program called Oscar. You download it and type the command to install it, but you are then told that this
depends on another program called BigBird, which isn’t installed. Fine, you think, I’ll just download and
add BigBird to the same installation command. But it then transpires that BigBird has its own
dependency of Snuffleupagus. You download and add that too. Alas! Snuffleupagus has its own
dependency of MrHooper.
This can carry on for some time, and this is why you should use the Ubuntu Software Center to install and
remove software and try to stay within the standard Ubuntu repositories (see the following section). In the
preceding example, the Ubuntu Software Center would add in all the dependencies automatically and
download and install them at the same time.
Dependency chains like this are a by-product of any package management system. The solution is often
simple—just don’t remove the software package. After all, hard disks are extremely large nowadays,
and space is rarely an issue, so there’s little reason to not have software packages you no longer need
hanging around.
Software Repositories
As mentioned previously, dpkg and apt take care of package management within Ubuntu. These tools are
taken from the Debian distribution of Linux, on which Ubuntu is based.
Debian Package, or dpkg, is the most basic part of the system. It’s used to install and uninstall
software, and it can also be used to query any individual software packages. It’s like the manager in a
warehouse who is tasked with knowing exactly what boxes have been stored where. The manager
doesn’t know where the boxes come from, and he doesn’t know anything about packages outside his
warehouse. He just manages the boxes that are delivered to him and that are stored in his warehouse.
dpkg is aware of dependency issues and will refuse to fully install a package if the others it needs
aren’t already installed or supplied at the same time. But it doesn’t have the means to fix the situation
automatically. This is akin to the warehouse manager’s inability to order more boxes if he needs them.
That’s not his job. He’ll just tell you if boxes delivered to him are missing some of their components.
Because of this, there’s an additional layer of software that sits on top of dpkg called the Advanced
Packaging Tool, or apt. apt is very sophisticated. Its job is to handle dependency management. Try to
install some software using apt, and any dependency issues will be worked out for you.
apt can do this because it’s designed to work with software repositories. Users can search and install
packages from these collections of software. More often than not, these software repositories are online,
but that’s not always the case. The DVD supplied with this book contains the base installation software
repository, for example.
■ Note As you might already have guessed, the Ubuntu Software Center is simply a GUI front end for the
apt system.
It’s important to note that apt relies on the dpkg system to take care of the actual installation.
Effectively, dpkg and apt are two sides of the same coin.
As you might have realized, the package management system means that Linux software
installation/removal is a fundamentally different proposition than handling software under Windows or
Mac OS X. If you want to install new software, the first place to look is the Ubuntu software repositories.
The online repositories contain most of the popular software available for Linux right now, all packaged
for installation under Ubuntu.
It’s comparatively rare for an Ubuntu user to visit a web site and download a package file for
installation, as is often the case for Windows users. The only time this normally happens is if you can’t
find what you’re looking for in the official repositories. Staying within the standard repositories makes
problems less likely.
■ Tip Software repositories don’t have to be “official,” or sanctioned by Ubuntu, to be used under Ubuntu.
Sometimes you might opt to add repositories that contain particular software, such as multimedia repositories.
This may be necessary because multimedia formats are often licensed under terms that Ubuntu doesn’t agree
with, so it declines to offer this software from its official repositories. Bear in mind that unofficial repositories
aren’t necessarily safe.
Out of the box, Ubuntu comes with a couple of software repositories already configured. These
allow you to download new software and also update the system online. Ubuntu software repositories
are subdivided into various categories and components.
Because most Linux software is open source, a curious thing happens when it comes to software versions.
Rather than there being just one “official” version of a program, such as with most Windows software
(where you must download the official version of the file), many individuals and organizations take the
source code, compile it, and make their own package files available for others to use.
For example, virtually all the software installed with Ubuntu has been compiled by Ubuntu developers. This
means it can be quite different from what’s “officially” available at the programmer’s web site. In some
cases, the source code is tweaked to fix notorious bugs or apply a different look and feel to the software,
so it integrates with the distribution. Often the configuration files are changed so that the software works
properly under Ubuntu, such as integrating with other software packages.
The programmer behind the software doesn’t mind when such things happen, because this way of
working is part and parcel of open source software. In fact, the programmer is likely to encourage
such tweaking.
Because of this, the first place to look if you want any additional software is not the developer’s web site
but the Ubuntu software repositories. If the package is available in the Ubuntu main distribution, you’ll get
an officially sanctioned Ubuntu release that will fit in with the rest of your system and won’t require much,
if any, additional work to get it up and running.
Categories of Repositories
Regardless of whether they’re online or on a CD/DVD, Ubuntu repositories are strictly categorized
according to the type of software they contain:
Main Distribution: This repository contains the packages that are required to install Ubuntu. This
repository usually takes its name from the code name for the release and is activated by default. For
Ubuntu 10.04, the main distribution repository is called lucid, after the code name for the 10.04
release (Lucid Lynx). In the previous release, the main distribution repository was called karmic, and
the next version (Maverick Meerkat) will have the maverick repository. (For more details on Ubuntu
code names, see
Security Updates: Sometimes security flaws are so serious that they need to be fixed immediately,
within as little as 24 hours of being discovered. If so, the packages concerned will be placed on this
server. The Security Updates server isn’t about new versions or functionality. It’s about fixing
security holes rapidly. This repository is also activated by default and is named after the main
release title. In the case of 9.04, this means the Security Updates repository is called lucid-security.
Recommended Updates: This repository contains newer versions of the packages in the Main
Distribution repository. Like Security Updates, this category also offers bug fixes, but these fixes
aren’t urgent and are often more substantial than quick patches to fix a critical bug. It is named after
the main release title. In the case of 10.04, it is called lucid-updates.
Proposed Updates: This is a special category by which testing releases of updates are made available.
There’s no reason to use this category unless you want to test packages and help fix bugs (for more
information, see HelpingWithBugs). This category is not activated by
default. It is named after the main release title, so in the case of 10.04 is named lucid-proposed.
Unsupported (Backport) Updates: The Backports server allows access to software that’s intended to
go into the next version of Ubuntu but has been packaged for the current version. This software
might not have been tested thoroughly and so is suitable only for neophiliacs or those who
absolutely need the latest version (perhaps because of a vital new feature it offers). This category is
not activated by default. As before, its name is derived from the main release, so in the case of 10.04
is called lucid-backports.
Repository Components
In addition to the categories listed in the previous section, the Ubuntu repositories are further split into
components (effectively subsections) according to how essential the software is to a basic Ubuntu
installation or the license that the software uses. Here are the components under which software is
typically filed within a repository (although you should note that a third-party repository might have its
own names for repository components, and they might vary from this list):
Main: This section contains nearly all the software that’s featured in a basic Ubuntu installation. As
such, it’s all free software, and every package is supported by Canonical, the company that oversees
the Ubuntu project. That means that updates are frequently provided to fix security holes or simply
to keep up with latest releases.
■ Note Free software refers to software that’s licensed by using one of the schemes recognized by the Free
Software Foundation as being free. The most common example is the GNU Public License (GPL). It doesn’t
necessarily mean that the software is free of charge, although that’s nearly always the case.
Universe: This section might be referred to as “the rest,” because it contains the majority of free
software available at the present time. Much of it is borrowed from the massive Debian software
repository, although the packages are sometimes tweaked to work correctly under Ubuntu before
being made available (some people who create Debian packages also create the Ubuntu
equivalents). Unlike Main and Restricted, the Universe section is not officially supported by the
Ubuntu project, which means there’s no guarantee that security flaws will be fixed. Nor is there any
guarantee of updates, although most packages are usually updated regularly.
Restricted: Although Ubuntu is mostly free software, it must include some drivers released only in
binary form (that is, proprietary) and that, therefore, have license agreements that are not
compatible with the goals of free software. That’s what you’ll find in this section. Some hardware
simply won’t work fully without software from the Restricted section.
Multiverse: As with the Restricted section, here you’ll find software that’s released under a software
license incompatible with either the letter or spirit of free software. However, unlike the software in
the Restricted section, none of the software in Multiverse is considered essential to a default Ubuntu
Source Code: This section contains source code packages. Unless you’re a software developer or are
thinking of becoming one, this section won’t be of much interest.
Partner: This repository contains software offered by vendors who have partnered with Canonical,
the company that sponsors the development of Ubuntu. This software is usually commercial and
proprietary (that is, not open source). The precise list of software packages offered differs from
release to release, but past examples have included virus scanners, media players, and commercial
server software.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of Linux software installation, it’s time to talk about additional
tools used to manage software that will enable you to perform advanced tasks.
Although the filenames of packages might seem like cryptic mumbo-jumbo, they actually tell you a great
deal about the file. Let’s take a look at the package file of the Eye of GNOME image viewer to explain this:
The first element of the filename is the name of the program. In this case, Eye of GNOME has been
abbreviated to eog. Abbreviations like this are quite common, because they decrease the length of the
filename. But it’s important to note that they will be consistent. For as long as Eye of GNOME is supported
as a package under Ubuntu, its package filename will always begin with eog.
Following the name of the package is the version number of the program in question: 2.21.92-0. This is
almost always the version number that will appear if you click Help About when the program is running
and is the version number decided on by the developer who created the software.
After the version number is the word ubuntu, which indicates that this is a package that has been created
specifically for the Ubuntu distribution of Linux. Then you see the build version number of the package: 1.
This is Ubuntu’s own version number, indicating how many times the package has been built (created) by
the Ubuntu team. Sometimes it’s necessary to release an updated build of the same version of a program
in order to correct an error that was accidentally introduced in the preceding build version. Sometimes the
program is patched by the Ubuntu team to support a new function.
After Ubuntu’s build version number is the platform on which the package will run. In this case, i386
indicates that the package will run on all x86-based processors, from 80386 upward (the 486, Pentium,
Pentium II, AMD processors, and so on). Sometimes you might see i686, which means that the package
has been optimized for Pentium Pro chips and above (Pentium II, III, IV, and AMD’s Athlon range of chips). If
the package is created for 64-bit desktop processors, amd64 will appear there. Some packages are for all
Optimized versions of packages for particular processors are used only when they might bring a
performance boost. For example, there are i686 versions of the Linux kernel and the libc6 library. Even
ordinary programs, like, can be optimized for their architectures, but the majority of
packages that are used under Ubuntu have the i386 designation.
Advanced Application Management
There may be times when you need to perform more advanced tasks than just installing or removing
software. You might want to have more control over what you install, or enable additional software
repositories not included by default. You can update your installed software to use always the most
recent version. Or you might need to install software manually from a Debian package. In this section we
will look at those and other tasks in depth.
Managing Ubuntu Software Options
You can manage what components of the official repositories to make available to download in
your catalog by using the Software Sources tool, available many places: at the main menu in System Administration Software Sources, in the Edit menu in the Ubuntu Software Center, and in
other places.
Figure 20-4. The Ubuntu Software tab at the Software Sources tool
You can see the Ubuntu Software tab in Figure 20-4. Here you can:
Select the repository components downloadable from the Internet. You can
choose to make available the main, universe, restricted, and multiverse repository
components, as well as the source code of the applications (which you will rarely
need). We have already talked about those components.
Select the server from which you will download applications. If you select Other…
from the drop-down list, you will see a series of servers from all around the world.
If you are unsure which server best suits your needs, click the Select Best Server
button and the system will start checking how long it takes for each listed server to
respond to its requests, to determine which one is the best selection.
Select the Installable from CD-ROM/DVD option if you want to install software
available directly in the Ubuntu CD or DVD, without an Internet connection. This
source will be listed in the Ubuntu Software Center under the Get Software
Click Close when finished.
Adding Software Sources
Other sources of software available for Ubuntu are out there that you might need or like to set up. You
can access them using the Other Software tab in the Software Sources tool, shown in Figure 20-5.
Figure 20-5. The Other Software tab at the Software Sources tool
By default you will see the Canonical partner repositories, of which the main component is selected
and the source code component is not. This is the software source listed under Canonical Partners in the
Ubuntu Software Center. You can also add PPAs and other software sources.
The PPAs or Personal Package Archives are repositories hosted by Canonical in its Launchpad
service, on behalf of third-party developers. A developer can activate a PPA, and Launchpad will
generate a unique key to sign any package contained in that PPA. The developer can then submit the
source code for its applications, and the people at Canonical build the binaries and packages needed to
install the application. Ubuntu users benefits from this collaboration because they can add those PPAs
to their software sources and install the applications with Ubuntu Software Center. Note that the
software contained in a PPA is considered untrusted by Canonical, so extra care should be taken.
Follow these steps to add a PPA to your software sources:
First you need to find the right PPA. You can search for PPAs at the PPAs main
page,, or browse to a PPA directly if you
know its URL (it will always be contained in the same site). For example, the
Chromium web browser’s daily build is hosted in
Locate the Adding this PPA to your System section. You will see the address of
the PPA in the format ppa:<software_name>/ppa. For example, for Chromium
daily build it is ppa:chromium-daily/ppa. Copy that text to the clipboard.
Open the Software Sources tool and access the Other Software tab. Press the
Add button and paste the PPA’s address in the APT line text box. Press Add
Source. You will see a URL for the added PPA.
The key generated by Launchpad for that PPA will also be imported, as you can
see in the Authentication tab in Software Sources (you will see an entry called
Launchpad PPA for <software_name>)
Click Close. The catalog in your hard disk will be updated to take into account
the new software source. Click Reload.
Now that the catalog is updated, the software available at that PPA can be installed by using the
Ubuntu Software Center. You will see an entry for the PPA under Get Software.
You can also add software sources hosted at other services. You need to know the server name and
the component name. Go to the Other Software tab, click the Add… button, and fill the APT line field
with the information of the repository, using the following format:
deb http://<server>/<repository> lucid <component>
Click Add Source and then Close to add the source to the catalog.
Managing Software Updates
As important as installing software is keeping it up-to-date, to avoid security breaches and to take full
advantage of new functionality as it is added. Ubuntu can automatically take notice of software that has
been updated in the repositories or software sources it knows, and lets you choose your course of action.
This is configured by using the Updates tab of the Software Sources tool, shown in the Figure 20-6.
Figure 20-6. The Updates tab at the Software Sources tool
Here you can:
Select the type of Ubuntu update to allow: Important security updates (lucidsecurity), recommended updates (lucid-updates), pre-released updates (lucidproposed) and unsupported updates (lucid-backports). We discuss them earlier in
this chapter.
Configure how often to check for updates (daily, every two days, weekly or every
two weeks) and what to do when new versions are found: to install security
updates without confirmation, to download all updates in the background, or to
only notify when new versions are available.
Ubuntu will let you know when a new version of the OS itself is made available
(which is every six months!). You can select to be warned about “Long term
support” (LTS) releases only (which happens every two years), for all normal
releases, or never be warned.
Once you have configured to be notified about software updates, it will be a short while until you are
prompted to install them. You can do so by opening the Update Manager, a tool located at the System Administration menu and shown in Figure 20-7.
Figure 20-7. Ubuntu Update Manager
There’s the list of available updates, each with a check box next to it that indicates whether you want
to install the update or not. It is always recommended to keep your software up-to-date, or at least to
install the important security updates as soon as possible to avoid future problems.
Clicking the Check button forces a resynchronization of the software catalog to verify that there are
no new updates to install. Once you have reviewed all the updates, you can click the Install Updates
button and proceed with the task.
The Synaptic Package Manager in Depth
The Synaptic Package Manager is effectively a graphical front end for the apt system and was the
preferred GUI application prior to the Ubuntu Software Center. Although Synaptic has been replaced as
the primary source for software installation, it can still be useful if you need more control over the
specific packages that get installed into your system. While Ubutu Software Center is a great tool for
installing applications, you may feel more comfortable installing system libraries or other files with
Synaptic. You can use it to search for and install software. To start this program, click System Administration Synaptic Package Manager.
Searching for Software
Before searching for software, it’s always a good idea to refresh the package database. This database
describes the software contained in the repositories, and it is held on your hard disk. Just click the
Reload button on the Synaptic Package Manager toolbar to grab the latest package lists from the
various repositories you’re subscribed to (which are in your Software Sources). Reloading can take
a few minutes on a slow connection, but it ensures that you have access to the latest software within
the repositories.
You can search for software in three ways:
Ultra-quick: For a fuss-free instant search, click any entry in the list of packages and then simply
start typing. This will match what you type against the package names and sort the list dynamically
as you type. This does not let you search through descriptions for keywords, however.
Quick: By typing your search term into the Quick Search field on the main toolbar, you can search
through package names and descriptions.
In-depth: For an in-depth search, which lets you search all the information contained within
packages, click the Search button on the toolbar. By default, this searches through both package
names and the descriptions, but by clicking the Look In drop-down list, you can select to search
by other information, such as the version number. You can type either the specific program name
or a keyword that may be within the description. For example, if you are looking for graphics
drivers for your Nvidia card, but you don’t know the name of the package that contains them, you
can type nvidia.
■ Tip You don’t need to type whole words in the search field. You can type part of a word or, more commonly, the
word in a shortened or alternate form. For example, if you’re looking for an e-mail client, it might be more fruitful
to simply type mail client or even just mail. This will then return results containing e-mail, mail, mailing, and so on.
By clicking the Settings Filters button, you can enhance your search results by creating a filter that
removes packages from results that don’t meet your requirements. You can filter by criteria such as
whether the software is already installed, whether it’s new in the repository, and much more. It’s
advisable to click the New button to create your own filter before starting, as shown in Figure 20-8,
rather than editing one that’s already there. After a filter has been created, you can apply a filter to
search results by clicking the Custom Filters button at the bottom left of the main program window, and
then clicking the name of your filter in the list.
Figure 20-8. Filters can be used to trim the list of search results according to certain criteria.
One use of filtering is to remove the check alongside Installed so that you can remove from the
search list any packages that might be already on your system.
■ Note Filtering can help reduce the number of search results if you use a generic search term, but don’t forget to
deactivate filtering when you’re finished. To do so, click All at the top of the filters list.
In the search results, any packages with the Ubuntu symbol next to them are supported packages,
which is to say, they’re from the Main or Restricted software repositories, as opposed to Universe,
Multiverse, or a third-party repository. Therefore, future updates are likely to be offered.
If the check box is green, that means the package is already installed. A star next to the check
box means the package is new. You can view the complete range of Synaptic icons by clicking Help Icon Legend.
By clicking the Get Screenshot button at the top of the description panel, you can view a thumbnail
screenshot of the application, if one is available. This can help identify whether the software will
fulfill your needs. Clicking the thumbnail when it appears downloads a full-resolution rendition
of the screenshot.
Be aware that not all applications presently have screenshots. Some—such as system software or
command-line programs that lack a user interface—will never have screenshots because, quite simply,
there is nothing to see.
Installing Software
When you click the check box next to a piece of software in the search results and select Mark for
Installation, the program will be queued for installation, which will take place as soon as you click the
Apply button on the toolbar. If the program has any uninstalled dependencies, you’ll also see a dialog
box asking you to confirm installing those as well. If you agree, these are automatically added to the list
of packages to be installed.
Additionally, if you right-click the file a