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Friday, October 15, 2010

Tips and Tricks for Ubuntu after Installation

Tips and Tricks for Ubuntu after Installation


UbuntuUbuntu is a free operating system or a Linux distribution ("distro") which receives the highest hits on DistroWatch and has been selected by readers of DesktopLinux as the most popular distro. It also gets the highest number of votes in Poll Results on Gizmo's Freeware Forum.

If you have the Ubuntu system installed in your PC, you might find these tips and tricks useful for working with the system.

Note: The steps described in this article work with Ubuntu 10.10 and Ubuntu 10.04.

Panel, Desktop & Window
Drive, System & Software


Tips and Tricks
   Customize the Panel

Ubuntu includes a top panel and a bottom panel by default. If you prefer to keep only one panel at the bottom just like the Windows Taskbar, then these are the steps to follow:

  1. Ubuntu DesktopDelete the bottom panel: right-click over it and click "Delete This Panel".
  2. Move the top panel to bottom: right-click over it, select "Properties" and change Orientation from "Top" to "Bottom".
  3. Add running program buttons: right-click the panel, select "Add to Panel", scroll down and select "Window List", click "Add".
  4. Replace the Menu Bar ("Applications-Places-System") with the "Main Menu" to save space in the panel:
    1. Right-click the "Menu Bar" and select "Remove From Panel".
    2. Right-click the panel, select "Add to Panel" and choose "Main Menu", click "Add".
    3. Right-click the items (Firefox, etc) and untick "Lock to Panel".
    4. Right-click the added "Main Menu", select "Move" to relocate it to the far left.

These are basic changes. The panels are much more flexible than the Windows Taskbar in that many items in the panels can be easily added, removed or configured.

Note: If you need to restore the panels to the original state, enter the following commands into the Terminal and re-start the system:

  1. sudo gconftool-2 --shutdown
  2. sudo rm -rf .gconf/apps/panel
  3. sudo pkill gnome-panel


   Set Full Transparent Panel

When you set the panel to be transparent in the default Ambiance theme in Ubuntu 10.10 or 10.04, you will find that some panel items' backgrounds are not transparent, but you can make them transparent and consistent with others, following these steps:

  1. Ubuntu DesktopGo to Applications (or Main Menu) > Accessories > Terminal.
  2. Enter cp -R /usr/share/themes/Ambiance ~/.themes/
  3. Enter gedit ~/.themes/Ambiance/gtk-2.0/apps/gnome-panel.rc (for Ubuntu 10.10) OR gedit ~/.themes/Ambiance/gtk-2.0/gtkrc (for Ubuntu 10.04), to open the file with gedit.
  4. Search for this line bg_pixmap[NORMAL] = "img/panel.png" (for Ubuntu 10.10) OR bg_pixmap[NORMAL] = "panel_bg.png" (for Ubuntu 10.04)
  5. Ubuntu DesktopComment out the line by placing a # at the beginning of the line, like this: #   bg_pixmap[NORMAL] = ...
  6. Save the file.
  7. Go to System > Preferences > Appearance, switch to the other theme and then back to the Ambiance theme.

Note: If you'd like to change to the Radiance theme, replace Ambiance with Radiance in the above command lines, but you'd like to change to the New Wave theme, then enter cp -R /usr/share/themes/"New Wave" ~/.themes/ in step 2, enter gedit ~/.themes/"New Wave"/gtk-2.0/gtkrc in step 3, search for and comment out this line bg_pixmap[NORMAL] = "Images/Panel/PanelBarLong.png" in steps 4 and 5 respectively.


   Customize the Theme

Themes in Ubuntu can be customized to match the applications or suit your needs. I once tried the "New Wave" theme and the menu (File, Edit, View, etc) was hardly visible on the dark background in OpenOffice. These are easy steps to customize a theme, for example, "New Wave" so that the menu can be more visible in OpenOffice.

  1. Customize the ThemeGo To System > Preferences > Appearance.
  2. Under the "Theme" tab, click the "Customize" button while the "New Wave" theme is selected.
  3. Under the "Controls" tab, click any other control item such as "Ambiance" and click the "Close" button.
  4. Now it becomes your Custom theme and you can save it as a new theme, such as "New Wave with Ambiance Controls".

The menu should now be clearly visible in OpenOffice in this new theme (See the lower section in the screenshot).


   Set Aero Glass Effect

In Ubuntu you can set nearly the same aero glass effect to window borders with alpha transparency as available in Windows 7.

  1. Aero Glass EffectPress Alt-F2 to bring up "Run Application" window.
  2. Type gconf-editor into the box, click "Run" to bring up Configuration Editor.
  3. Browse to apps > gwd, look for "metacity_theme_active_opacity" on the right panel.
  4. Change the value in "metacity_theme_active_opacity" from 1 to 0.75 (or smaller such as 0.5 for more transparency).
  5. Then go to System > Preferences > CompizConfig Settings Manager
  6. Select "Effects" from the left panel.
  7. Tick "Blur Windows" and click the "Close" button. (Note: default values in Blur Windows can be applied.)


   Pin Programs to the Panel

Frequently used programs can be easily pinned to the panel.

  1. Browse to the program from "Applications" or "Main Menu".
  2. Drag and drop the program to an empty space in the panel, or right-click the program and select "Add this launcher to panel".
  3. Right click the program icon, select "Move" and drop it to a new place in the panel.
  4. Right click the program icon and select "Lock to Panel".

See also "Enable Windows 7 Superbar".


   Hide Drive Icons on the Desktop

Ubuntu adds an icon to the desktop for every removable drive that you attach to your system. The icons can be hidden by these steps:

  1. Press Alt-F2 to bring up "Run Application" window.
  2. Type gconf-editor into the box, click "Run" to bring up Configuration Editor.
  3. Browse to apps > nautilus > desktop.
  4. Untick "volumes_visible" and close the window.

The drive icons would then disappear from the desktop. Remember that you can always access the drives from "Places".


   Move Window Control Buttons to the Right

If your Ubuntu system sets the Minimize, Maximize and Close buttons to the left in a window and you prefer to change them to the right, then follow these simple steps:

  1. Move buttons to rightPress Alt-F2 to bring up "Run Application" window.
  2. Type gconf-editor into the box, click "Run" to bring up Configuration Editor.
  3. Browse to apps > metacity > general, look for "button_layout" on the right panel.
  4. Change the value in the "button_layout" from close,minimize,maximize: to menu:minimize,maximize,close and press the Enter key.


   Set a Default View in File Browser

Windows Explorer allows for users to set a default view to all folders. In almost the same way, Ubuntu's Nautilus File Browser allows for these settings:

  1. Set File BrowserGo to "Places" and open a folder.
  2. At the top of the File Browser, click "Edit" and "Preference".
  3. Under Default View, change "Icon View" to "List View", to see more details in columns.
  4. Tick "Show hidden and backup files" if that's your choice.

Other various settings, such as single or double click to open items, icon captions, list columns, preview files and media handling can be done in the same window as well.


   Open Up a Window in Center

When running an application without maximized, Ubuntu always puts it in the left-top corner of the desktop by default, but you are allowed to set a program window to open up in the center of the desktop area.

  1. CompizConfig             Settings ManagerGo to System > Preferences > CompizConfig Settings Manager
  2. Select "Windows Management" from the left panel.
  3. Click "Place Windows".
  4. Change Placement Mode from "Smart" to "Centered", click "Back" and "Close".

Ideally, the window manager in Ubuntu should restore the last known position of an application window, but it does not do that unless an application remembers its own window position. (See reported bugs)


   Enable "Rotate Cube" Effect

Ubuntu enables "Desktop Wall" by default. By holding Ctrl-Alt keys and pressing the left-arrow or right-arrow key each time, it slides through desktop workspaces horizontally for you to choose one to work on. Alternatively, you can change this to a "rotate cube" effect.

  1. Rotate CubeGo To System > Preferences > CompizConfig Settings Manager
  2. Select "Desktop" from the left panel.
  3. Tick "Rotate Cube".
  4. Select "Eable Desktop Cube" as this plugin is required by "Rotate Cube".
  5. Select "Disable Desktop Wall".

Immediately you can rotate your desktop workspaces in this way— holding down Ctrl-Alt keys, EITHER press the left-arrow or right-arrow key OR left-click the mouse and drag it to left or right.


   Enable Windows 7 Superbar

In Windows 7, frequently used programs can be pinned to the taskbar (hence called Superbar). Likewise, DockBarX, a Gnome panel plugin, can be added to Ubuntu to achieve almost the same effect to pin and unpin or launch the applications from the panel.

  1. DockBarX AppletGo to Ubuntu Software Center > Edit > Software Source.
  2. Select "Other Software" and click "Add"
  3. At APT line, enter ppa:dockbar-main/ppa, click "Add Source" and "Close"
  4. At the left panel of Ubuntu Software Center, select "PPA for Dockbar Main Group", which is added after the above steps
  5. At the right panel, select DockbarX and click "Install"
  6. Right click the panel and click “Add to Panel”.
  7. Select the DockBarX Applet and click "Add".

Note: A thumbnail preview of a running program is also available to DockBarX. To enable this feature, right-click the DockBarX item on the panel, select Properties, choose Window List and tick "Show Previews".


   Enable Windows 7 Aero Snap

In Windows 7, you can click and drag a window to the left or right edge of the desktop and it will fill half of the screen, or snap a window to the top edge of the desktop and it will be maximized.

In Ubuntu, you can click and drag a window to the left, right or top edge of the desktop to achieve the same result.

  1. In addition to CompizConfig Settings Manager, install WmCtrl if not added.
    1. Go to Applications (or Main Menu) > Accessories > Terminal.
    2. Enter sudo apt-get install wmctrl
    3. Enter password when prompted.
  2. Go To System > Preferences > CompizConfig Settings Manager.
  3. Select "General" from the left panel and click "Commands".
  4. In Command line 0, 1 and 2, paste the following codes:
    1. Command line 0, paste WIDTH=`xdpyinfo | grep 'dimensions:' | cut -f 2 -d ':' | cut -f 1 -d 'x'` && HALF=$(($WIDTH/2)) && wmctrl -r :ACTIVE: -b add,maximized_vert && wmctrl -r :ACTIVE: -e 0,0,0,$HALF,-1
    2. Command line 1, paste WIDTH=`xdpyinfo | grep 'dimensions:' | cut -f 2 -d ':' | cut -f 1 -d 'x'` && HALF=$(($WIDTH/2)) && wmctrl -r :ACTIVE: -b add,maximized_vert && wmctrl -r :ACTIVE: -e 0,$HALF,0,$HALF,-1
    3. Command line 2, paste wmctrl -r :ACTIVE: -b add,maximized_vert,maximized_horz
  5. In the same window, click "Edge Bindings" tab.
  6. Change Run Command 0, 1 and 2 from "None" to "Left", "Right" and "Top" respectively.
  7. Click "Back" button and select "General Options", change "Edge Trigger Delay" to about 500.


   Auto Mount Drives at System Startup

Ubuntu is capable of reading and writing files stored on Windows formatted partitions, but partitions must be 'mounted' before they can be accessed each time you start up the system. With these steps, you can auto mount the drives without the need to manually mount them for access.

  1. Storage Device ManagerInstall Storage Device Manager if it has not been added.
    1. Go to Applications (or Main Menu) > Ubuntu Software Center.
    2. Enter pysdm in the Search Box.
    3. Select Storage Device Manager, click the "Install" button.
  2. Go to System > Administration > Storage Device Manager, enter password.
  3. Extend the list of sda and select the sda you want to auto mount, click 'OK' to configure.
  4. Click the "Assistant" button.
  5. Uncheck "Mount file system in read only mode" and keep "The file system is mounted at boot time" checked.
  6. Click the "Mount", "Apply" then "Close" button, and restart the system.

If you wish to remove the auto-mount of a certain drive, you can similarly use Storage Device Manager to do the setting.

Note: In the background, Storage Device Manager follows your setting to edit the configuration file /etc/fstab which contains the necessary info to automate the process of mounting partitions. (See Introduction to fstab)


   Manually Mount a USB Drive

A USB storage device plugged into the system usually mounts automatically, but if for some reasons it doesn't automount, it's possible to manually mount it with these steps.

  1. Go to Applications (or Main Menu) > Accessories > Terminal.
  2. Enter sudo mkdir /media/usb to create a mount point called usb.
  3. Enter sudo fdisk -l to look for the USB drive already plugged in, let's say the drive you want to mount is /dev/sdb1.
  4. Enter sudo mount -t vfat /dev/sdb1 /media/usb -o uid=1000,gid=100,utf8,dmask=027,fmask=137 to mount a USB drive formatted with FAT16 or FAT32 system. OR:
    Enter sudo mount -t ntfs-3g /dev/sdb1 /media/usb to mount a USB drive formatted with NTFS system.

To unmount it, just enter sudo umount /media/usb in the Terminal.


   Enable Media Playback

Ubuntu only includes completely free software by default and does not configure proprietary media formats such as mp3 and mp4 'out of the box'. The required codecs however can be easily installed for the default player to playback these files following a few simple steps below.

  1. Double click an mp3 file in a folder.
  2. Click "Search" button when the the default player shows up with a "Search for suitable plugin?" window.
  3. Click the "Install" and "Confirm" buttons to download and install the restricted software.
  4. Restart the player after the package files are installed.

You might need to do the same for other restricted media formats such as mp4 too.


   Set Sound Output

When I first installed Ubuntu onto a PC with an integrated audio device and tried to play a media file on a player, it had no sound. I tried these simple steps in setting Sound Preferences and then it had sound. It works for me for the audio device I have.

  1. Go to System > Preferences > Sound to bring up the Sound Preferences window.
  2. Under the Hardware tab, change Profile to Analog Stereo Duplex from the drop-down menu.
  3. Under the Output tab, change Connector to Analog Output (LFE)/Amplifier from the drop-down menu.

As the items available from the drop-down menus might differ depending on the hardware devices detected by the system, you might want to try other items in the menus to see if they work for your devices. It might also help to check out the steps in Sound Troubleshooting from the Ubuntu Documentation.

Playing a media file in a proprietary format on a player might also have no sound if the required codecs are not installed. In this case, see Enable Media Playback in this article.


   Terminate Unresponsive Programs

Xkill is part of the X11 utilities pre-installed in Ubuntu and a tool for terminating misbehaving X clients or unresponsive programs. You can easily add a shortcut key to launch xkill with the steps below.

  1. xkillGo to System > Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts.
  2. Click the Add button to create a custom shortcut.
  3. Enter xkill to both the Name and Command boxes and click the Apply button.
  4. Click on Disabled at the xkill row in the Keyboard Shortcuts window (Disabled is then changed to New shortcut...).
  5. Press a new key combination, e.g. Ctrl+Alt+X (New shortcut... is then changed to Ctrl+Alt+X).
  6. Click the Close button.

Xkill is ready for use. Press the above key combination to turn the cursor to an X-sign, move the X-sign and drop it into a program interface to terminate the unresponsive program, or cancel the X-sign with a right-click.


   Change Default Boot Options

After full installation, Ubuntu is set to be the default operating system to boot up if no key is pressed within a few seconds on a multi-boot system. You might want to set your preferred operating system to boot up by default. This can be done easily with StartUp-Manager.

  1. StartUp-ManagerGo to Applications (or Main Menu) > Accessories > Terminal.
  2. Enter sudo apt-get install startupmanager(or copy the highlighted code and press Ctrl-Shift-V to paste it in the Terminal).
  3. Enter password used upon installation of Ubuntu.
  4. Go to System > Administration > StartUp-Manager
  5. Enter the same password to perform pre-configuration tasks, which include searching bootloaders to operating systems.
  6. Select the default operating system from the pull-down menu, click "Close" to perform post-configuration tasks.

With StartUp-Manager, you can also do others such as manage Usplash themes, adjust bootloader menu resolution or set timeout in seconds. Avoid changing timeout to 0 seconds if you need to select a system to boot up from a multi-boot menu.


   Remove Old Linux Kernel, Clean Up Boot Menu

Each time when Ubuntu updates to a new Linux kernel, the old one is left behind and the boot menu gets longer. If your new Linux kernel works well, it's safe to remove the old one and clean up the boot menu. Do take these steps carefully as incorrect removal of the items can make your system unbootable.

  1. Go to Applications (or Main Menu) > Accessories > Terminal.
  2. Enter uname -r to print the Linux kernel version you're running (e.g. 2.6.32-22-generic).
  3. Go to System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager.
  4. Click Status from the left panel and select Installed.
  5. Enter the main version number (e.g. 2.6.32) in the Search box.
  6. Right-click the items with smaller sub version number (e.g. 2.6.32-21) for older Linux kernel and select Mark for Complete Removal. The files for the older version to remove may include linux-headers-2.6.32-21, linux-headers-2.6.32-21-generic and linux-image-2.6.32-21-generic.
  7. Click Apply from the top panel.
  8. Click Apply again from the pop-up window to confirm removal of the marked packages. The boot menu will be cleaned up automatically after the removal is confirmed.


   Auto Shutdown the System

A simple command can be entered in the Terminal to schedule a time for the system to shut down.

  1. Go to Applications (or Main Menu) > Accessories > Terminal.
  2. Enter sudo shutdown -h +m (replace m with the number of minutes, e.g. +60).
    OR: enter sudo shutdown -h hh:mm (replace hh:mm with the time on the 24hr clock, e.g. 23:15).
  3. Enter password and minimize the Terminal window.

The system will then shut down within the minutes or at the time specified. To cancel a scheduled time, enter sudo shutdown -c in the Terminal.

GShutdown is a GUI program for scheduling a time to shutdown the system but the current version 0.2 is noted not working well in the newer Ubuntu system.


   Install Extra Fonts

Do you prefer Windows TrueType fonts to the default fonts installed by Ubuntu? The Windows fonts can be installed and activated easily in a few steps below:

  1. Ubuntu Extra FontsGo to Applications (or Main Menu) > Accessories > Terminal.
  2. Enter sudo apt-get install ttf-mscorefonts-installer(or copy the highlighted code and press Ctrl-Shift-V to paste it in the Terminal).
  3. Enter password used upon installation of Ubuntu.
  4. Go to System > Preferences > Appearance > Fonts.
  5. Click each of them and pick a font and size.

The screenshot here uses the following settings:

Application font: Verdana 9
Document font: Verdana 11
Desktop font: Verdana 11
Window title font: Sans Bold 10
Fixed width font: Monospace 10

After completing the above steps, if you like the Tahoma font which is not included in the mscorefonts package, you might want to copy the two files tahoma.ttf and tahomabd.ttf from /Windows/Fonts to the Desktop. Next, move them to the restricted folder by entering sudo mv Desktop/*.ttf /usr/share/fonts/truetype/msttcorefonts/ in the Terminal. This font will then be available in step 4 above.


   Install Screenlets

Screenlets are small applications to represent things such as sticky notes, clocks, calendars around on your desktop. You can launch a pre-installed screenlet from Screenlet Manager, or install a new one into the Manager for launching it. Here are the steps for installing and launching a screenlet, for example, WaterMark System Information.

  1. WaterMark ScreenletInstall Screenlets Manager if it has not been added.
    1. Go to Applications (or Main Menu) > Ubuntu Software Center.
    2. Enter screenlets in the Search Box.
    3. Select Screenlets, click the "Install" button.
  2. Download the screenlet "WaterMark System Information" to a folder.
  3. Go to Applications (or Main Menu) > Accessories > Screenlets.
  4. Click Install, select Install Screenlet and click OK.
  5. Browse to the folder, select the file downloaded and click "Open" to install the screenlet into the Screenlets Manager.
  6. Select the screenlet "WaterMark" and click "Launch/Add". (Tips: you can add more than one WaterMark screenlet and set it to display other system information.)

More screenlets are available for installation from


   Install Sun Java Packages

Ubuntu uses OpenJDK by default, but I note that some web services such as might need the Sun Java Runtime Environment (JRE) to be installed in the system for running the services properly. If you would like to get the proprietary Sun Java packages for your system, you can download and install them from the Canonical Partner Repository with the steps below:

  1. Go to Applications (or Main Menu) > Accessories > Terminal.
  2. Enter sudo add-apt-repository "deb lucid partner" to add the partner repository.
  3. Enter sudo apt-get update to update the source list.
  4. Enter sudo apt-get install sun-java6-jre sun-java6-plugin sun-java6-fonts to download and install the Sun Java packages. (If asked to accept the Distributor License for Java (DLJ) terms, use the left/right key to navigate and select Yes, then press the Enter key for installation).
  5. Enter sudo java -version to check the version of the Java used in the system.
  6. Enter sudo update-alternatives --config java to choose the default Java for use in the system when necessary.


   Install More Useful Software

Ubuntu Software Center lets you search and get free software. If an application you need is not included in the Center, you can go to System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager, type in an application name to search and install a software package from the repositories.

Alternatively, you can get the latest freeware applications by clicking the Install this now button from the GetDeb Repository after the getdeb package is installed with the instructions given.

See also our Best Free Software for Linux.



CompizConfig Settings Manager (ccsm), if not added yet, can be installed this way:

  1. Click "Applications" (or "Main Menu"), select "Ubuntu Software Center".
  2. Type ccsm into the Search box.
  3. Select "Advanced Desktop Effects Settings (ccsm)" and click the "Install" button.
  4. Enter the password used upon installation of Ubuntu.
Related Links

This article is maintained by volunteer editor Jojoyee. Registered site users are allowed to edit and improve this article wiki-style.


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