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Ubuntu is an impressive operating system and can be incredibly rewarding once you’re comfortable using it. People keep asking me for suggestions on how to get started with this OS so I’ve decided to write up my suggestions, which will hopefully ease a few more people towards adoption.
The points below assume that the reader has at least an intermediate level of computing skill. If you’re not quite at that point yet, then it might not be worth the effort.
Download and burn the 64bit Ubuntu desktop iso to disc and boot it. It will take a while for everything to load to memory but eventually the installation screen will show up and give you two options “Try Ubuntu” and “Install Ubuntu”. I definitely recommend trying Ubuntu before installing it, however there is one thing that you should keep in mind when using this option — at this point, the whole OS is running off the CD and that means things are going to be noticeably slow. Once Ubuntu is installed it’s very fast on most PC’s.
I’m not going to go through the installation process, Marius Nestor wrote a fantastic tutorial for that here.
But there is one thing I want to mention about the installation; don’t select the “Log in automatically” option when asked. Firstly it is counter-intuitive to Linux security and secondly it will cause issues with the Gnome keyring later on.
Suggested apps/drivers to install
- Proprietary graphics drivers
The proprietary graphics drivers still out-perform the open source alternatives in most cases so this is highly recommended. Ubuntu should suggest installing them in the notification area otherwise you can get to them via: [System > Administration > Additional Drivers] Allow it to search for available drivers. If the list is empty then Ubuntu is already using default drivers and there is nothing more you need to do. Otherwise select the one that is marked as “Recommended” and click “Activate”.
- Ubuntu Restricted Extras
You may have noticed that Ubuntu now offers the proprietary MP3 codec during installation, Ubuntu Restricted Extras includes a whole lot of other audio and video codecs, as well as other proprietary “nice-to-haves” like Microsoft fonts and Adobe Flash.
To get this package, open the Ubuntu Software Center (under “Application”), search for “extras” and install “Ubuntu Restricted Extras”
- Google Chrome
This is obviously preferential. Chrome is still faster than Firefox and it’s nice to know that there is a competitive alternative for web browsing in Ubuntu. Go here to download the 64bit .deb file. Once downloaded double click the file, it should open the Ubuntu Software Center and give you the option to “Install”. Once installed, you will find it here: [Applications > Internet > Google Chrome] while you’re here right-click on it and click “Add this launcher to panel”. You might also want to pick up the Ambiance Chrome theme so that it fits seamlessly into Ubuntu.
Gimp is a professional image manipulation package similar to Adobe Photoshop. It has recently been removed from the list of default apps in Ubuntu because it is targeted towards industry professionals rather than casual computer users. Nevertheless, I am completely dependent on Gimp as I was on Photoshop before it, so it’s one of the first apps I install. As usual you can find it in the Software Center.
You can find numerous free games in the Software Center but if you’re like me and want to play something that’s more than a “free alternative”, then here are two good options:
Amnesia: The Dark Descent –A single player survival horror with amazing graphics and interactive physics, it’s one of the most terrifying games I’ve ever played. This title goes for a modest US$20.
A few additional suggestions
- Use the Ubuntu Software Center or .deb files only
Explore the Software Center as much as possible and if you resort to downloading software off the web, then always get the 64bit .deb package file.
Stay away from .sh files, .run files and “sudo make install” unless there is a good tutorial or step-by-step wizard that accompanies it. Once you’re comfortable with Ubuntu specific packages then you can move onto applications made for any Linux distro.
- Don’t try install Windows apps with Wine
When I first installed Ubuntu, I made the mistake of thinking that I couldn’t do much on it and that resulted in me experimenting with Wine. Wine is an open source replacement of the Windows core libraries. It is an important project and should definitely be experimented with… but not when you are new to Ubuntu and Linux. As I mentioned above; get comfortable with using Ubuntu specific applications before moving to broader options.
- Install VirtualBox
Virtual Machines are the simplest and most effective way of running have-to-have Windows apps like Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Office. However, you will still need a full Windows license to install it on a virtual machine as you would if you were installing it on a physical machine. You can get VirtualBox from the Ubuntu Software Center.
- Insist on using the GUI
Linux guru’s on various forums like to give advice in terminal speak but 90% of that advice can be done far easier using the graphical user interface. The reason you are encouraged to use the terminal for basic tasks is so that you can perform the same task in any Linux distribution. I’ll repeat the same advice again; once you are comfortable using Ubuntu then you can play around in the terminal, in fact I encourage it. Before then, insist on the Gnome GUI-based solution to your queries.
- Office Applications
If you just can’t bring yourself to use LibreOffice/OpenOffice.org or even Google Docs, there are ways to use Microsoft Office. As I mentioned above, VirtualBox is a good way of using MS Office in Ubuntu but the high price of a Windows license makes this option difficult to digest. A cheaper option would be Crossover Linux which uses Wine at its core, but simplifies the process of installing and running Windows applications and is relatively user-friendly.
This is certainly not a definitive guide for new Ubuntu users but hopefully it’ll get you closer to that point where you can feel comfortable using it.
If you feel there’s something that should be included here, please add it in the comments below.