Using Ubuntu on the Desktop - The Official Ubuntu Book (2011)

The Official Ubuntu Book (2011)

Chapter 3. Using Ubuntu on the Desktop

Taking Your Desktop for a Ride

Using Your Applications

The Ubuntu File Chooser and Bookmarks

Ubuntu in Your Language

Customizing Ubuntu’s Look and Feel

Managing Your Files

Ubuntu and Multimedia

Moving to the Next Ubuntu Release


With ubuntu installed and ready to go, it’s time to get started using your new desktop. The stock install of Ubuntu provides a very complete and flexible system. Unlike other operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X, Ubuntu includes everything you need to get started: an office suite, media tools, a Web browser, an e-mail client, and more. Once the installation is complete, you are up and running right away without having to install any additional software. Different people use their computers in different ways, and every user has her own personal preference for look and feel. Recognizing this desire, Linux has the capability to use any one of a number of different graphical interfaces. This flexibility, combined with the ballooning popularity of Linux and open source, has resulted in literally hundreds of different graphical environments springing up, each covering these different types of users and ways of working.

Even though there is a huge range of different environments available, there are two clear leaders in KDE and GNOME. Each environment provides a good-looking, comprehensive, and easy-to-use desktop, but they differ in how that desktop is used as well as in how further personalization can take place. The KDE system aims for complete control and configurability of the desktop. Any desktop configuration options that exist are available to the user, who has easy access and can change the behavior and look of almost everything. The competing GNOME desktop takes inspiration from both Windows and Mac OS X and sets a priority on simplicity and ease of use. GNOME is also easy to customize, but the less common options are either eliminated or well hidden to prevent user overload. Luckily, Ubuntu users are blessed with the choice of either desktop, along with several others, some of which are mentioned in Chapter 10. The default desktop in Kubuntu is KDE. Kubuntu is covered in Chapter 8. Ubuntu used to use GNOME as its default desktop. Even though it is no longer the default, the new GNOME3 is an option and is covered in Chapter 9.

In this chapter, we help you get started with Unity, the default desktop for Ubuntu, and show how you can use it to do the normal things you face every day with your computer and a few not-so-normal things. This includes opening and running applications, managing your files, adjusting the look and feel, using applications, managing your media, and more. Buckle up and get ready to take your shiny new desktop for a drive!


The Ubuntu Desktop Is Unity

When reading about Ubuntu, you may see terms like Unity and Ubuntu desktop used interchangeably. The Ubuntu community, with sponsorship from Canonical, has created the Unity desktop as the next stage in graphical interface evolution. Time will tell if other Linux distributions follow suit or if they choose to use one of the other existing options.

Taking Your Desktop for a Ride

When you start your Ubuntu system, you are presented with a list of users. Once you select your username from the list by clicking it, you are asked for a password to log in with. In the last chapter, you specified a user account when installing the system, so use that to log in. First select your username and press Enter, then your password and press Enter. Your password will appear as a series of *s. This is a security feature.

After a few seconds you will see the Ubuntu desktop appear. If you have a video card that is able to handle Unity, your desktop will look like Figure 3-1.

Figure 3-1 Ubuntu Unity


If your computer cannot run Unity, or if you choose Ubuntu Classic Desktop from the menu at the bottom of the login screen after clicking your username and before entering your password, instead of the default Ubuntu Desktop Edition, your desktop will look and behave as in previous Ubuntu releases (Figure 3-2).

Figure 3-2 The Ubuntu Classic Desktop


Ubuntu Classic Desktop

This chapter will focus on the Unity desktop after the following short description of the Ubuntu Classic Desktop. Much of what is said under the Unity sections will apply to both, but screenshots and general descriptions will be derived from the default Unity desktop.

1. At the top of the screen is the panel. This bar contains the desktop menu options and application shortcut icons on the left side in a menu accessed using the Ubuntu logo as well as the notification area on the right side. You use this bar to load applications and to see the status of certain activities on your system. The panel is always visible when you use your desktop.

2. The large middle part of the screen, located under the panel, is the desktop. This part of the screen is normally covered by the applications that you use, but you can also put icons and shortcuts on the desktop, too.

3. The bottom part of the screen is called the taskbar. This area displays a rectangle for each open application, just like in Windows.

Starting applications is simple. Just click on the Applications menu on the left side of the panel, denoted by an Ubuntu logo. Inside this menu are a number of submenus for different types of applications. Hover your mouse over each category, and then click the application you want to load. As an example, click on Ubuntu Logo > Games > Mahjongg.

Unity Starts Here

You may have noticed that, unlike other operating systems, there are no icons on either the Unity or Classic desktop. The reason for this is that desktop icons typically get covered by applications, and, as such, you can’t get at them.


Device Icons

Although there are no application icons on the desktop, when you plug in USB devices such as portable music players, keyring drives, or digital cameras, a device icon will appear on the desktop.

Starting Applications and Finding Things

To start an application in Unity, click the Applications logo in the Launcher at the left side of the desktop (Figure 3-3).

Figure 3-3 The Unity Launcher


When applications are loaded, the window border has three buttons on the top on the left-hand side:

Left button (red button with a black X): This button closes the application.

Middle button (white button with a gray –): This minimizes the application, taking it off of your screen, and puts it in the Launcher for easy access when you need it again.

Right button (white button with a gray square): This is used to maximize the window to take up the full desktop area. Not all application windows use this button, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see it for an application that has a small window.

Every application that is currently in use has an entry in the Launcher on the left of the desktop. You can click these entries to minimize or restore the application, and you can right-click to see some other options.

Any menus with options that exist for a program currently in use in the foreground will appear in the top panel of the desktop. When you switch programs, the contents of the top panel will change accordingly. Hover over the name of the program at the top of a screen for a list of menus to appear. Click any one for a drop down list of options.


Because this is a new interface, not all applications have been modified to take advantage of the idea; some applications may retain a menu within the application’s window.

Finding Your Files and Folders

When using your computer, you often need to save and open files and folders, move them around, and perform other tasks. Click the Files & Folders icon from the Launcher for simple access to your files and folders or the File Manager icon to access files and folders across different parts of your computer or a network. Here are some of the main folders you will find by default:

Home Folder: Your home folder is used to store the files and work for each user who is logged in. This is the most important folder on the system, and you can think of it as the equivalent of My Documents in Windows—virtually everything you save lives here. Each user has a separate home folder that is named after the user’s username.

Desktop: The Desktop folder is inside your home folder and contains files that visually appear on your desktop as icons. If you drag a file onto your desktop, it will appear in the Desktop folder. Similarly, moving a file out of this folder or deleting it will remove it from your desktop.

Documents: This is a folder inside your home folder that is intended to contain word processing files and other documents you create.

Downloads: This is a folder inside your home folder that is intended to contain items you download from the internet.

Music: This is a folder inside your home folder that is intended to contain music files.

Pictures: This is a folder inside your home folder that is intended to contain image files.

Public: This is a folder inside your home folder into which you can place files you want other users on your system or network to be able to access.

Templates: This is a folder inside your home folder that is intended to contain templates for applications like your word processor.

Videos: This is a folder inside your home folder that is intended to contain visual media files.

Network: This option accesses all networked and shared devices, such as file servers or printers, that are available on your local network. This is the equivalent of the Network Neighborhood or Network Places in various versions of Windows.

Connect to Server: This option is available in File Manager from the File menu that is accessed by hovering over the words File Manager at the top of the screen when the application is open. Click this to run a wizard to create a connection to a network server. You can use this to add an icon to the desktop that, when clicked, provides a list of remote files in the desktop file manager. You can then treat this window like any other file manager window and drag files back and forth. This is really useful for copying files to and from other computers.

Search for Files: Click Files & Folders from the Launcher to open and enter your search term(s) at the top of the window.

Configuring Your System

Click Applications from the Launcher and click the down arrow to the right of the search box. Select System to list Applications that let you configure and customize your system. Possibilities include:

Broadcast Preferences: This changes settings related to social applications.

Keyboard: This is where you install other keyboard layouts, languages, and adjust settings.

Mouse: This is where you can adjust your mouse settings.

Power Management: This is where you can adjust your power use settings.

Screensaver: This is where you can adjust the operation of your screensaver.

Time and Date: This is where you can adjust time and date settings, including setting Ubuntu to automatically update these via the internet.


Feel the Power

When you installed Ubuntu, you were asked for a username and password for the system. That first user account (and its password) has access to not just your normal user account but also the all-powerful Administration features. Therefore, when you access the menu options while using this account and are asked for a password, just enter this user account’s password to use those features.

This feature applies only to the user account created during installation. If you add other users, you need to explicitly allow them access to Administration options.

Adding Additional Users

Many computers these days are used by more than one person. Rather than forcing everyone to use the same desktop settings or making the computer less secure by allowing everyone who uses it to have access to administrative functions, it is easy and recommended to create an account for every person who will use the computer. This allows each user to customize how the computer works and looks without interfering with anyone else’s preferences, and it grants the administrator privileges that prevent others from accessing functions that may affect everyone or even damage the installation if used incorrectly.

Click Applications from the Launcher and choose Users and Groups to add a new user. In the dialog box that appears, there is a list of current users. At the bottom of the list, select Add to create a new user account, as in Figure 3-4.

Figure 3-4 The User Settings dialog


A password is required to make changes to users and groups, and only those users with administrative access are able to do so. You must now provide a name for the new user as well as a short name that will be used by that user to log in. Click OK, and in the next dialog box, enter a password for that user, confirm the password by entering it a second time, and click OK again. Voila, our new user account is created. You may also have a password generated randomly or allow the user to log in without a password. This last option is not generally a good idea but can be useful. For example, if the users are small children who are not expected to perform administrative tasks, the children could have an account that automatically logs in at boot time, and the administrator would have an additional account, accessed by a password, to perform changes and updates when necessary.

Finally, now that the account is created, we may customize its settings. Highlight the username in the list, and click the Change button at the right next to Account Type for a speedy way to give the user administration privileges. The Advanced Settings button from the lower right corner of the dialog box may be used to set contact information for the user, change the account’s user privileges (for example, giving access to administrative and several other functions that are not available through the quick change option), and even change the location of the account’s home directory. Be careful when using this power because an account can be damaged or rendered inaccessible if things are not done properly.

The Notification Area

On the right-hand side of the top of the desktop is the notification area and the clock. The notification area is similar to the Windows system tray in that it provides a series of small icons that indicate something specific. A good example of this is Network Manager, which looks after your network connections—both wired and wireless—for you.

You can adjust the notification area items by right-clicking them to view a context menu. Some icons (such as the volume control) allow you to left-click on them to view them. As an example, try clicking the little speaker icon and adjusting the slider.

Quick Tip

Left-click the volume icon and select Sound Preferences to access a large number of sound settings. These settings configure the speakers, microphone, line-in, any other sound card inputs or outputs, and more.

Network Manager

Network Manager is a network interface created to help you manage your network devices and connections and is accessed using the network manager applet. The goal is to make networking “just work” easily and without requiring users to know how to hand-configure the settings (although that is still available for those who want to do so). A left-click of the mouse on the applet shows you the dialog box and enables quick changes between network types. It even provides an easy way to set up access through a virtual private network (VPN), such as many of us are required to use to securely access files from work or school. A right-click lets you enable or disable both wired and wireless networking, enable or disable notifications, see information about your current connection, and edit connections quickly and easily (Figure 3-5).

Figure 3-5 The Network Manager applet, right-clicked to show connections menu


The Clock

Next to the notification area is the clock. Click on the clock to view a calendar. Later, when you use Evolution, items that are added to your calendar appear in the clock applet too. Instead of opening up Evolution to find out when your dentist appointment is, just click on the clock to see it immediately. More information about Evolution is contained later in this chapter.

Quick Tip

Customize your clock by right-clicking it and selecting Preferences.

The Launcher

The Launcher sits on the left of the screen. This icon bar is visible, except when an open window covers it, and indicates which applications are currently open as well as showing icon links for several applications. If the Launcher is hidden by a window, it will appear as soon as you move your mouse cursor over the area. In addition to indicating open applications and providing links to select applications, the Launcher also sneaks in a few other handy little features.

A purple icon with four squares inside it is the Workplace Switcher. Click it to show all of your desktop workspaces (it will also show you what is open in each, which is convenient). Each of these is another screen in which you can view an application. As an example, you may be using your Web browser and e-mail client while talking to your friends in a chat client on the first desktop and working on a document on the second desktop. You can then just click each virtual desktop to switch to it to access your different applications. Click the desktop you want to use. Essentially, this expands the screen real estate you have available and creates an easy way to keep many programs open without them blocking one another.

Quick Tip

You can switch between multiple applications in Ubuntu just like in Windows by pressing Alt-Tab. When you press this key combination, a small window appears that can be used to switch between active applications on the current Workspace.

Other icons included by default are Tomboy Notes, a note taking application, Ubuntu One, cloud storage described in Chapter 11, and the Firefox web browser. At the bottom of the Launcher is the trash. Files dragged onto this icon or right-clicked and “moved to trash” are destined to be deleted. To fully delete these files, right-click the trash and select Empty Trash.


Usability and the Ubuntu Desktop

Throughout the development of the Ubuntu desktop, great care and attention have gone into usability. As an example, the four corners of the screen are established as areas that are simple to access—you don’t need to carefully mouse over the area and can instead just throw your mouse to the corner. This is why each corner has an important feature. It makes accessing each feature that little bit easier.

Ubuntu is filled with tiny usability improvements such as this that help make it as intuitive and powerful as possible. Canonical has created a collective project called Ayatana to spearhead this development, which has already produced the lovely indicator applet and is working on greater refinements and features. More on Ayatana can be found at

Shutting Down Your Computer and Logging Out

Now that you’re becoming acquainted with Ubuntu, you’ll want to keep using it as long as possible, but there will always come a time when you have no choice but to leave your computer and go do something else. As you have already seen, Ubuntu is extremely flexible, and this area is no exception. Click the icon in the top right of the screen to see the various options (shown in Figure 3-6) for ending your current computing session.

Figure 3-6 Ahh, the possibilities. . . .


A number of options are available upon logout; however, the choices presented to you will depend on your installation (e.g., Suspend may not be available).

Lock Screen: This option locks the screen, which is useful when you need to use the bathroom or grab some lunch. It locks the computer and asks for your password to reenable the desktop.

Guest Session: This option lets you allow someone else to use your computer while keeping you logged in but your data and account secure by giving the guest a limited desktop to work with temporarily and requiring your password to return to your desktop.

Switch from . . .: Your username will be listed here. This option takes you to the login screen and lets you switch between logged in users without logging anyone out. It also requires each specific user’s password to access his or her account.

Log Out: This option lets you log out of the current session and go back to the main login screen.

Suspend: If your computer supports it, this option will be included in the list, and you can click it to save the current state of your system in RAM. The next time your computer is turned on, the desktop will be resumed. This option continues to use power, but only a minimal amount.

Hibernate: Save the current state of your system to the hard drive and on a restart your computer will resume.

Restart: Click this to restart the computer.

Shut Down: Click this to shut down your computer.

Using Your Applications

Now that you have become familiar with the desktop, let’s explore some of the many applications included on your new system. By default, Ubuntu comes with a wide range of popular and established applications to listen to music, watch videos, create documents, browse the Web, manage your appointments, read your e-mail, create images, and much more. These applications have been vetted by the developers to ensure they are the best-of-breed Linux applications available.

Although Ubuntu includes a range of software applications, it is likely you will want to install extra applications and explore other available software. Fortunately, the Ubuntu system is built on a powerful foundation that makes software installation as simple as pointing and clicking in the Ubuntu Software Center, covered in Chapter 4. Just browse through the different categories and check the applications to install. Click the Apply button, and the application is downloaded and installed for you.

This tool provides a simple way to access a limited core set of popular applications, but there are actually more than 30,000 packages available to your Ubuntu system. Software installation is discussed in detail in Chapter 4.


Another Way to Run Applications

Although you will most typically start your applications by selecting them from the Applications menu, you can also press Alt+F2 (on Mac hardware, use Fn+Alt+F2) to bring up a box where you can type in the name of an application and run it.

Browsing the Web with Firefox

Firefox is the default Ubuntu Web browser and provides you with a simple, safe, and powerful browsing experience. Firefox is developed by Mozilla and has become one of the most successful open source projects in the world and continues to garner huge popularity. With hundreds of millions of downloads and rapidly increasing browser share, Firefox has been an unparalleled success.

Quick Tip

You can learn more about Mozilla and Firefox, as well as their other software products, at

Fire up Firefox by clicking its icon (the first one next to the System menu) on the panel or by selecting Applications > Internet > Firefox Web Browser. Before long, you’ll be presented with the main Firefox window (Figure 3-7).

Figure 3-7 The Firefox interface is sleek but extensible.


The Firefox window looks similar to most Web browsers and includes the usual back, forward, reload, and stop buttons, an address bar, and some menus. These familiar-looking elements help you become acquainted with Firefox, and if you have used Internet Explorer, Opera, Chrome, or Safari before, you are sure to pick it up in no time.

Navigating your way around the Internet is no different in Firefox than in any other browser—just type the Web address into the address bar and press Enter. Firefox also has a few nice features that make it easy to access your favorite sites. As an example, if you want to visit the Ubuntu Web site, you can just enter (leaving off all that http:// nonsense). Alternatively, you can just type in “Ubuntu,” and Firefox will do the equivalent of going off to Google, entering “Ubuntu” as the search term, and taking you to the first result for the search. This feature is incredibly handy for popular sites that are likely to be at the top of the search results page.


The search box next to the address bar can be used to do searches. By default, these searches are on Google. To do a Google search, just type in your search term and press Enter. You can also click the down arrow next to the Google logo and select from a variety of other sites to search, including sites like and Wikipedia.

This search box can be used to search just about anything. To add more search engines, click the small icon and then select Manage Search Engines.

Bookmarking Your Favorite Sites

To bookmark the page you are viewing, click Bookmarks > Bookmark This Page or click Ctrl+D. In the drop down box that pops up, use the combo box to select the folder to store the bookmark in. You also have the option to add “tags” to your bookmark, which are like keywords that can be used to sort and search for your bookmarks in the future. When you have finished naming and tagging your bookmark, click Done to save the bookmark.

Save Time with Live Bookmarks

Firefox also includes a special feature called live bookmarks that automatically grabs content from a Web site without your needing to visit it. As an example, go to (a popular Ubuntu news site), and you will see a small orange icon—which indicates that this site has a feed available—on the right side of the address bar. Click this orange square, and you will be taken to a new page that previews the feed and gives you the option of what you would like to use to subscribe to it. Use the default option (Live Bookmarks), and click Subscribe Now. A dialog box will pop up. Use the default values provided and click OK. A new toolbar button is added, and when you click on it, a list of the items from the Web site are displayed. Each time you start Firefox, it will quietly go away and update this list so that you don’t need to visit the site yourself. The “Latest Headlines” toolbar entry is an example of this.


If You Liked the Fridge

You may also like Planet Ubuntu at This site collects the personal blogs of a number of different Ubuntu developers and other community members. Planet Ubuntu gives a unique insight into what the developers are working on and/or interested in.

Bolt It On, Make It Cool

Although Firefox is already a powerful and flexible Web browser, it can be extended even further using special plug-in extensions. These extensions cover not only typical browsing needs but also other more specialized extras that extend the browser itself.

To install normal Web plug-ins, just visit a site that requires the plug-in. A yellow bar will appear at the top of the page, indicating that you are missing a plug-in necessary to fully take advantage of the page you are visiting. Click the Install Missing Plug-ins button to grab the required plug-in. For example, Ubuntu does not come with the Adobe Flash plug-in because it does not live up to Ubuntu software freedom requirements. As a result, you will have the option to install either Adobe Flash or the free software version Gnash if you want to use Flash.

To extend the browser itself with additional features, go to and browse for an extension that you are interested in. When you find something you would like to install, click the Install link. A dialog box will pop up asking you to confirm the installation. Click Install Now. Your new extension will now download and install automatically. Typically, this requires a restart of Firefox, and then your extension is available.


Be Careful Where You Download

It is recommended that you download extensions only from If you do need to install an extension from another site, make sure it is a site you trust. Otherwise, the extension may contain unsafe software, viruses, or spyware.

Creating Documents with LibreOffice

Included with Ubuntu is a full office suite called LibreOffice. This comprehensive collection contains applications for creating word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations installed by default with the ability to easily manipulate and create databases, drawings, and mathematical equations—all just a click away. The suite provides an extensive range of functionality, including reading and writing Microsoft Office file formats, and can also export documents as Web pages, PDF files, and even animations.


History of LibreOffice

Years ago, a company called Sun Microsystems acquired an office suite called StarOffice when it bought the company that developed it, StarDivision. Sun Microsystems continued to develop StarOffice as a proprietary office suite, but a few years later released an open source version called had slightly fewer features, but was still very mature and gathered a large following. When Sun Microsystems was bought by Oracle, some developers were unhappy with the direction the new company was leading development and, since the code was open source, these developers created what is called a fork, a project based on the same open source code up to that point, but which would then diverge for all future development. This new office suite is called LibreOffice.

Let’s give LibreOffice a whirl by creating a letter with it. Start LibreOffice word processor by clicking Applications in the Launcher and then find LibreOffice. When it has loaded, you will be presented with the interface shown in Figure 3-8.

Figure 3-8 LibreOffice looks similar to Microsoft Office and is therefore quite simple to adjust to the interface.


If you have used a word processing program before, many of the common interface elements, such as the buttons for setting font type and size, bold, italic, underline, and alignment, look and behave the same. The LibreOffice developers have designed the suite to be easy to migrate to if you have used a program like Microsoft Office before. After a few minutes playing with LibreOffice, you will be confident that you can find the functions you need.

Start your letter by first choosing a nice font. In the font combo box, you should see Liberation Serif (which is a free-as-in-liberty font similar to Times) selected as the default. You can click the box and choose another if you prefer, such as the lovely DejaVu Sans or the Ubuntu font. Change the font size by clicking the combo box to the right of the font box and selecting 10 as the size. With the cursor on the left side of the page, add your home address to the letter.

Now press Enter to leave a blank line under the address, and click the Align Right toolbar button (the icon looks like some lines aligned to the right). If you are unsure of what a button does, hover your mouse over it to pop up a tool tip. Now add to your letter the address of the recipient.

Press Enter again to leave a blank line, and type the main body of the letter. Feel free to use the bold, italic, and underline buttons to add emphasis to your words. You can also use other toolbar buttons to add items such as bullet points and numbered lists and to change the color of the font. If you want to add features such as graphics, tables, special characters, and frames, click the Insert menu and select the relevant item. You can customize each item added to the page by right-clicking the item and using the options shown in the context menu.

When your letter is complete, you can save it by selecting File > Save, by clicking the floppy disk toolbar icon, or by pressing Ctrl-S. The default file format used by LibreOffice is the OpenDocument Format. This file format is an official open standard and is used across the world. The file format is slightly different for different types of applications (.odt for word processor files, .ods for spreadsheets, and so on), but each format provides an open standard free from vendor lock-in. You can also save in a variety of other formats, including the default formats for Microsoft Office.


Vendor Lock-In?

In the proprietary software world, it is common for each application to have its own closed file format that only the vendor knows how to implement. When a person uses the software to create documents, the closed format means that only that specific tool can read and write the format. As long as you want to access your documents, you need that tool. This is known as vendor lock-in.

To combat this problem, the LibreOffice suite (and the vast majority of other open source applications) uses an open file format that is publicly documented. In fact, the format is a published standard under ISO/IEC 26300:3006. This means that other applications can implement the OpenDocument file format, and you can be safe in the knowledge that your documents will always be available and you are not locked in to any specific tool.

Another useful feature wedged into LibreOffice is the capability to save your documents in the Adobe PDF format. PDF files have been increasingly used in the last few years and are useful for sending people documents that they should not change (such as invoices). PDF files provide a high-quality copy of the document and are well supported across all operating systems. This makes PDFs ideal for creating catalogs, leaflets, and flyers. To save a document as a PDF file, click the PDF button on the main toolbar (next to the printer icon). Click the button, enter a filename, and you are done. Simple.

Connecting with Empathy and Gwibber and the Indicator Applet

Empathy is a chat program that can interact with Google Talk, AIM, Windows Live, and many other chat programs. It has audio and video capability as well. You can get started by left-clicking the indicator applet (it looks like an envelope) on the top panel and choosing Chat. You will then be given an opportunity to enter your account information for various services and to begin communicating.

Gwibber, listed in this menu as Broadcast, is accessible from the same location and can be set up to allow you to integrate online services like Flickr, Twitter,, and Facebook into your desktop for even easier access to what is happening in your social networks. Open it, enter your account information as directed, and you can begin to interact with all your circles from one location on your desktop.

On the top panel, you may have noticed your username with a speech balloon icon next to it. This location gives you a convenient place to mark yourself available for chat or away, update your information for social accounts that use either Empathy or Gwibber, and use your Ubuntu One services.

Ubuntu One

Ubuntu One is an online cloud storage application that is free for any Ubuntu user. This enables any user to create an Ubuntu One account and store up to 2GB on remote servers (more space is available for a fee) that may be accessed from anywhere. The service is built in to the Ubuntu desktop and, once activated, integrates smoothly. You can get started configuring your account from the menu at System > Preferences > Ubuntu One. More information is available at and in Chapter 11.

Managing Your E-Mail and Calendars with Evolution

Evolution is modeled around the all-in-one personal information management tool. Within Evolution you can read your e-mail, manage your schedule, store contact details, organize to-do lists, and more in a single place. This makes Evolution useful for both businesspeople and regular users who want easy access to this information.

Setting Up Your E-Mail Account

To use Evolution to read your e-mail, you need to find out the following settings for connecting to your e-mail server (you can get these details from your ISP or system administrator):

• Your type of e-mail server (such as POP or IMAP)

• Your mail server name (such as

• Your mail account’s username and password

• Authentication type (typically by password)

• Your outgoing mail server type (typically SMTP)

• Your outgoing mail server name

To use Evolution for just the calendar function, you need to go to the indicator applet (which looks like an envelope) in the notification area on the top panel and click on Set Up Mail. In a few seconds, the Evolution Setup Assistant window will pop up. Here are the necessary steps:

1. On the Welcome screen, click the Forward button.

2. Next, you may restore your e-mail from a backup, but since we are doing a fresh setup, click the Forward button.

3. On the Identify screen, enter your full name and e-mail address in the appropriate boxes. Under Optional Information, you should uncheck the Make this my default account box. Then click the Forward button.

4. In the Receiving Email dialog box under Configuration > Server, just add your name. You can add your name under Username as well. Then click the Forward button.

5. On the Receiving Options screen, click the Forward button.

6. On the Sending Email and Server Configuration screen, add your name here as you did in earlier steps.

7. In the Account Management dialog box, just click the Forward button.

8. On the Done screen, click the Forward button.

9. Finally, once Evolution opens, click New Icon (looks like a clock), and from the drop-down menu, select Calendar.

10. When the New Calendar window pops up, you can pick which type of calendar you want to use. Note: If you don’t already have another type of calendar, just leave the Type as CalDAV, then fill in the name—this will be the name of your calendar. Pick the color you want your events to show up as, then click Mark as default calendar.

If you are using Google calendar, you can also add this function to your calendar. All the steps are the same, but when you get to step 10 to add a new calendar, you need to choose Google as the type of calendar. Then fill in the name you want to use for the calendar, choose the color, and mark it as your default calendar. You probably want to copy the contents locally, too, in case you need to access it when you do not have Internet access. When you click Google, you will see a Username field show up under Name. Your username should be your gmail name, but without the “” Once you enter your username, click on Retrieve List. You will be prompted to enter your gmail password. Enter it. When the Enter Password window goes away, you should see a list of calendars that you have linked to your Google calendars. If you have more than one Google calendar you want to add, then just pick which one will be your default calendar. Repeat step 10 for each calendar you want to add.


Evolution and Webmail

You can’t use Evolution to read Webmail such as Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail unless you configure your Webmail to allow POP access and to use SMTP to send e-mail. Consult your Webmail provider for more details on if and how you can access the mail with a local client like Evolution.

Click Applications to find and load Evolution. When the application loads, you are taken through a wizard to set up your e-mail server (as shown in Figure 3-9).

Figure 3-9 Setting up Evolution is simple as long as you know the details for your mail server.


Click Forward to continue the setup, and after choosing to not restore from a backup, you will be asked for your identity. Fill in your e-mail address in the E-Mail Address box, and add the optional information if you want to. The additional details are not essential for using Evolution. Click Forward to continue.

You are next asked to choose what kind of e-mail server you have from the drop-down box. When you make your selection, some additional settings are displayed. Fill in the server name and the username. You may need to adjust the Security and Authentication Type settings, but for most accounts the default settings should be fine. Click Forward to continue.

The next page configures some options for receiving your e-mail. None of these options are essential, although you may want to check the first box to automatically check for new mail. Click Forward to continue. The next screen configures the settings for sending e-mail. In the combo box select the Server Type (typically SMTP) and add the server name to the Server box. Click Forward to continue.

In the next screen, enter a name to describe the account. The default entry (your e-mail address) is fine, but you may want to add something more meaningful such as “Work E-Mail” or “Home E-Mail.” When you have added this, click Forward to continue. Finally, select your location from the map. If you click on your area of the world, the map will zoom in. Once you have done this, click Apply to complete the process and close the wizard.

With the wizard completed, the main Evolution interface will appear, as shown in Figure 3-10.

Figure 3-10 Those of you who have used Microsoft Outlook should find the interface very similar.


On the left sidebar you can see a number of buttons to access the mail, contacts, calendars, memos, and tasks components in Evolution. When you click each button, the interface adjusts to show you the relevant information about that component.

Working with Your E-Mail

Inside the e-mail component you can see the e-mail folders in the left panel and the list of messages in the top pane. When you click on a message, it is displayed in the bottom pane, where you can read it. With your new account set up, you will first want to go and grab the e-mail from your mail server. Click Send/Receive, and the mail is retrieved from your server and any unsent mail is sent.



If you cannot connect to your mail server, there may be an error in your account configuration. To edit your account settings again, click Edit > Preferences, select the account from the list, and click Edit.

With your messages loaded, unread e-mails are shown in bold in the top pane. Move through the different e-mails using the up and down arrow keys, and each message will be displayed. You can reply to a message by clicking the Reply or Reply To All toolbar buttons. New e-mails can be created by clicking the New toolbar button. By default, new e-mails and replies are sent automatically when you click the Send button in the compose window. This way you don’t need to click the Send/Receive button to deliver them.

Managing Your Calendar

Inside calendar mode, Evolution provides another convenient way to manage your schedule, add new events, and view your calendar in different ways. When you click the Calendars button to switch to this mode, you can see the timetable for today as well as the month view. The month view shows a couple of months in which the bold dates have events.

You can add two types of events to your calendar.

Meetings: These are events with a specific group of people.

Appointments: These are general events.

To add a new appointment, navigate to the date you require using the calendar, then right-click a time slot in the day view, and select New Appointment. Alternatively, simply click the New toolbar item. In the box that pops up, fill in the Summary, Location, Time (adjusting the date if necessary), and Description boxes. You can also select on which calendar the event appears if you have multiple calendars configured.


Multiple Calendars

Evolution supports multiple calendars. This is useful if you want different calendars for different types of events such as personal and work-related activities. To create a new calendar, right-click the calendar list in the left sidebar and select New Calendar.

To add a new meeting, again find the date, right-click the day view, and select New Meeting. Inside the dialog box that pops up, you need to add the participants who are attending the meeting. You can add participants in two ways: Use the Add button if they are not in your address book, or use the Attendees button if they are in your address book.

When you click Attendees, a new dialog pops up with a list of attendees down the left. You can use the Add and Remove buttons to add contacts to (or remove them from) the different categories of Chairpersons, Required Participants, Optional Participants, and Resources. Now, you probably don’t have any contacts in there, as you are just starting to use Evolution, so use the main Contacts button on the left side of the main Evolution window to add some.

You can view your calendar in lots of different ways by clicking the different toolbar buttons such as Week, Month, and List. Play with them and see which ones are most useful to you.

Quick Tip

Remember, you can access your appointments without opening Evolution by clicking on the clock in the panel.

The Ubuntu File Chooser and Bookmarks

One area in which the GNOME developers have worked hard is in creating an intuitive and useful file chooser that is accessed in applications with File > Open. The window that pops open is called the file chooser. You may be wondering why they have spent so much time on such a small and seemingly insignificant part of the desktop. In reality, however, finding files is one of the most frustrating aspects of using computers and often involves digging through folder after folder to find what you need. Luckily, the GNOME file chooser (Figure 3-11) helps cut down much of this file hunting significantly.

Figure 3-11 GNOME file chooser


The listing of files on the right-hand side is used to find the file you need, and you can click on folders in this listing to traverse deeper into your subfolders. Note how each folder is displayed above the listing in a series of buttons. You can click these buttons to easily jump back to parent folders when needed.

Aside from enabling you to manually pick files, the chooser also supports bookmarks. On the left side of the chooser is a list of devices and bookmarks labeled Places. These include your home directory (shown as your username), Desktop (the files on your desktop), and File System (the entire hard drive), as well as devices such as CD drives, floppy drives, and USB sticks.

To create your own bookmark, use the listing on the right to find the folder that you want to bookmark, single-click it, and then click Add below the Places box. You could also right-click on the file and choose Add to Bookmarks. The folder now appears in your bookmarks. Now whenever you need to access that folder, just click the bookmark! In addition to putting the bookmark in the file chooser, it is also available in other parts of the desktop, such as the Places menu and in the file manager.

Ubuntu in Your Language

When you installed Ubuntu, you were asked which language the system should use. Although this sets the initial language for the system, you may want to change the language at a later date. To do this, click Applications from the Launcher and find Language Support.

Ubuntu supports a huge range of different languages, and many applications include a Translate This Application menu option in the Help menu so that all Ubuntu users can contribute translations in their language(s). If you would like to help with this effort, it is a fantastic contribution to the Ubuntu project.

When the language selector first loads, it may ask you to update your language packs. Just click Yes to continue. Inside the dialog box a number of languages are listed, each of which has a Support checkbox listed next to it. For each language that you want available on the system, check the relevant boxes.

When you have selected the boxes, click the Apply button, and the appropriate language packs are downloaded and installed. Now use the Default Language combo box to choose the new language. You need to log out and log back in for the changes to take effect.


Choosing a New Language

When you see the login screen, you can use the Language button to choose a language for that specific login session. When you select the language, you are asked if you want to make it the default language or use it just for that specific session.

Customizing Ubuntu’s Look and Feel

Whenever we put someone in front of Ubuntu for the first time, there seems to be a uniform natural desire to tweak the look and feel of the desktop. It can be fun tweaking our desktops so they look just right, and Ubuntu has great support for all kinds of adjustments. Do you want different-looking applications with a lime green background and crazy fonts? No problem; just don’t show it to anyone else. . . .

Changing the Background

To change the background of your desktop, right-click it and select Change Desktop Background. Inside the dialog box that appears, choose your wallpaper by clicking on an image, and the desktop background will automatically change. Ubuntu comes with a limited range of preinstalled wallpapers, so it is likely that you will want to add your own wallpaper. To do this, save your wallpaper somewhere on your computer, and then use the Add Wallpaper button to select it. The new wallpaper can be selected from the list.

If you are not really a wallpaper kind of person and would prefer just a color for the background, you can use the Desktop Colors controls at the bottom of the dialog box. The combo box provides three different types of background: Solid Color, Horizontal Gradient, and Vertical Gradient. Next to the combo box, click on the color chip to select the relevant color(s).

Changing the Theme

When you are using your applications, the visual appearance of the buttons, scroll bars, widgets, and other bits and pieces are controlled by the theme. The built-in theming system can make your applications look radically different, and Ubuntu ships with a number of themes that you can try.

Choosing a New Theme

To choose a new theme, click Applications from the Launcher and find Appearance and then click on the Theme tab. Inside the tab that pops up are a number of themes that you can choose. Just click on a theme, and the desktop will be adjusted automatically. You can further customize your theme by clicking the Customize button. A new dialog box appears that has tabs for the different parts of the theme you can configure. Click each tab, and select an entry from the list to create your own perfect theme.

Installing New Themes

To install a new theme, head over to and find a theme that you like. You can do this directly from the Theme tab in the Appearance window by clicking Get more themes online. You need to look for Controls and Borders when browsing under the Themes tab on the site. When you find a theme that you like, download it to your computer. Now Click System > Preferences > Appearance, and click the Install button in the Theme tab. Using the file chooser, find the theme that you just downloaded, and it will install automatically. You may now select your new theme from the list.

Configuring a Screensaver

To choose a different screensaver, click Applications from the Launcher and find Screensaver. This will load the screensaver configuration tool (Figure 3-12).

Figure 3-12 A number of screensavers are bundled with Ubuntu.


On the left side of the window is a list of available screensavers. Click on a screensaver and you will see a preview appear in the space to the right of the list. You can then use the slider to select how long the computer needs to be idle before the screensaver kicks in.

The Lock Screen When Screensaver Is Active checkbox can be selected to lock the screen when the screensaver starts and, as such, requires a user to enter the password to reactivate the desktop. This is useful if you work in an office and want to ensure that no one tampers with your computer when you are away.

Managing Your Files

Files are the primary components of any computer use, and they need to be managed, copied, moved, renamed, grouped, and loaded. Included with Ubuntu is a powerful yet simple file manager called Nautilus that integrates tightly into your desktop. You’ll use it all the time even if you don’t often see that name. Most often, you will see it referred to as File Browser.

File Browser makes extensive use of drag and drop. Unlike the kind of file manager used in Windows with its tree view and listing of files, File Browser displays files in a series of windows in which you can drag files around easily. For those who just can’t say goodbye to the tree view, File Browser also supports that. Aside from providing a simpler user interface, File Browser also includes a number of useful features such as video and image previews, emblems, bookmarks, permissions management, and more.

You can start File Browser from the Launcher. When the folder loads, you should see something similar to what Figure 3-13 shows.

Figure 3-13 Accessing your home folder files is as simple as clicking Places > Home Folder.


The File Browser window is split into two parts. The sidebar shows categories of information such as bookmarks, folders, emblems (more on these later), and more. In the main part of the window, you can see the subfolders and files in the current folder. By default, File Browser displays your bookmarks in the left sidebar and displays the contents of your home folder.

So, let’s play with File Browser and see what you can do with it. The first important skills to learn involve general file management. Many of the tasks you need to do can be achieved by right-clicking your file/folder and selecting the relevant option. There are also a number of options in the Edit menu.

First, create a folder by right-clicking the main part of the window and selecting Create Folder. A folder is added, and you can type in the name of it. If you change your mind about the name, rename it by right-clicking and selecting Rename. If you double-click on a folder, you can access it and perform the same operations within that folder.

Quick Tip

Just as folders and directories are the same thing, so are folders and subfolders . . . well, almost. When we refer to subfolders, we are referring to folders contained within another folder. For example, /home is a folder, while we can refer to /home/mako as a subfolder of /home.

File Browser is also flexible in how your files are displayed. You can view the files and folders as either the default collection of icons or as a list. To switch to the list view, select View > View As List. You can also configure the organization of how your files and folders are displayed by right-clicking the main part of the window and selecting one of the options in the Arrange Items menu. Play with each of these options to see which ones work best for you.

Quick Tip

Just like in the file dialog, File Browser displays each of the different parts of the path as different buttons. As an example, /home/mako/work would have three buttons: home, mako, and work.

Selecting, Copying, and Moving Files and Folders

Copying and moving files and folders are simple tasks with File Browser and can be done in a number of different ways. To test this, create two folders called Work and Invoices in your home directory. Save some files inside each folder. You can quickly create empty files by double-clicking the folder to go into it, right-clicking, selecting Create Document > Empty File, and renaming the file to something useful. With a couple of folders now complete with files in them, let’s move them around.

One method is to use two windows. Right-click the Work folder, and select Open in new window. You now have two windows open, one with the contents of Work and one with the contents of your home directory. Now copy the Invoices folder to the Work folder by clicking it and dragging it over to the second window (which shows the contents of Work). By default, dragging from one window to another copies the item.

Another option is to select what you want to copy and paste it. Selecting items can again be done in a number of ways. One method is to click each file/folder while holding down the Shift or Ctrl keys to make multiple selections. The difference between the two keys is that Shift allows you to select a number of files and folders next to each other, and Ctrl selects independent files and folders from anywhere in the folder-listing view. When you have selected what should be copied, right-click and select Cut or Copy. Cut will copy the original files but remove them, and Copy will just copy them while leaving the original files intact. Now go to the destination folder, right-click it, and select Paste. The files/folders are now added.

Using the Sidebar

The sidebar in File Browser can be changed to a variety of views that should cater to virtually all tastes. Each of these different sidebar views has a range of functions. Table 3-1 explains each one.

Table 3-1. The Different File Browser Sidebar Options


Although you will probably stick with one in particular, it is not uncommon to switch between options to achieve a particular task. For this reason, the flexibility provided by the range of sidebar options is useful. You can find out more about using File Browser at, where it is referred to using its official GNOME name, Nautilus.


Drag and Drop

If you want to put something in the Places view, drag and drop the item. The Ubuntu desktop is filled with drag-and-drop shortcuts like this. If you think something could be dragged and dropped, try it!

Graphically Accessing Remote Files

Within the Ubuntu desktop, you can use the same powerful file manager to manage files that are on a remote server, either on your local network or in far-flung parts of the world via the Internet. This feature is incredibly useful when you need to transfer lots of files around, such as when you work on Web pages or need to make your work remotely available to someone else. To access these files, you can connect to the server in various ways, each of which requires a connection profile. This profile configures the connection, and you need to gather your server’s settings to create it.

To set up the connection, click File Manager from the Launcher, hover over the File Manager name at the top of the screen and choose Connect to Server from the File menu. You will see the dialog shown in Figure 3-14.

Figure 3-14 Access your remote server’s files graphically on your desktop.


When the dialog box appears, select the type of connection from the combo box. The box then adjusts to display the settings required, and you should make sure the Name to Use for Connection box contains a descriptive name for the connection, such as “Work Server” or “Web Site.” When you have added the settings, click the Connect button to continue.

An icon now appears on your desktop for the connection. Double-click the icon, and you are asked for a password to the server. Enter this password, and you are then asked if you would like to store your passwords in the keyring. The desktop keyring provides a convenient place to store all of your connection passwords, and you need to remember only the password for the keyring itself. If you choose to store the password in the keyring, you are asked for a password for it. In the future, whenever you double-click the icon to access the server, you will be asked for the keyring password.

When you have been authenticated to access the server, your files appear in a file manager window, and you can use the file manager as normal.

You can also use File Browser to access Samba and NFS shared drives, FTP servers, remote ssh connections, and more by using the correct prefix in an entry in the Location box, such as ssh://accountname@ to access an account on a computer at that IP address on your network via ssh. Use smb:// for Samba, nfs:// and ftp:// for those protocols.

Quick Tip

You can learn more about the protocols File Browser can use to connect to shared storage and how to use them at

Ubuntu and Multimedia

In recent years, multimedia has become an essential part of computing. Watching DVDs and videos and listening to CDs and music have become part and parcel of the modern desktop computer experience. These multimedia capabilities have been further bolstered by the huge popularity of legal music downloading. With a range of online stores for a variety of different types of music, it is not uncommon to listen to most of your music without ever seeing a little shiny silver disk.

Installing Codecs

Multimedia files and disks come in a variety of different types, and each type uses a special codec to compress the content to a smaller size while retaining a particular level of quality. To play this media, you need to ensure that you have the relevant codecs installed. Ubuntu now makes this easier by suggesting packages that provide a suitable codec when you open a file that isn’t supported by the ones that are currently installed. Simply double-click the file you want to open, and you should be provided with a list of packages that you can install to enable support for the file you have tried to open. Select the packages that seem appropriate, and click Install.

Quick Tip

If you double-click a file but no packages are suggested, you may need to change the package filter in the top right-hand corner to All Available Applications.

Codecs still remain a problem for open source software because of the legal restrictions placed upon them. Certain codecs (including MP3, Windows Media Format, QuickTime, and RealMedia) are proprietary and as such have restrictions placed on their use, distribution, and licensing.

Although developers in the open source community have gone away and created free implementations of some of these codecs, the licensing that surrounds them conflicts with the legal and philosophical position that Ubuntu has set. These codecs are excluded not only because they are legally dubious but also because they disagree with Ubuntu’s ethic of creating a distribution that consists entirely of free software in the most free sense of the word.

Quick Tip

If you want to find out more about installing these codecs, see

To work toward resolving these problems, a number of developers are working on free codecs such as Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora that provide high-quality results and open licensing. The Ogg Vorbis codec is used on audio and can provide better results than MP3 at a smaller file size. The Ogg Theora codec is used for video and competes with the MPEG-4 codec. Ubuntu includes the Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora codecs by default, and you can encode and play back any media that uses those codecs out of the box.

Although the world would be a better place if all codecs were free, the reality is different, and many Ubuntu users still want to play media compressed with proprietary codecs. Table 3-2 shows the most typical codecs used to encode and play back media and lists their support in Ubuntu.

Table 3-2 Codec Support


Listening to Audio Files

Ubuntu includes a powerful music player called Banshee Media Player to organize and play your music file collection. By default, Ubuntu will look for music in the Music directory accessible in the Places menu.

Using Banshee

Load Banshee (Figure 3-15) by clicking on Applications from the Launcher and find Banshee Media Player. The Banshee window is split into a number of different panes, each displaying different details about your music collection. The left pane (Source) lets you select the source of the music, such as your media library, podcasts, and Internet radio. Each of these options has a browser pane available to display the source of the content. As an example, when you use the Library, one pane displays the artists and one displays the albums. You can use this to navigate your music. Be sure to explore. You can even fix metadata for files in your collection from Tools > Fix Music Metadata.

Figure 3-15 Banshee is a great place to look after your music collection.


Listening to Podcasts

Podcasts are audio shows that you can subscribe to, and they are increasingly becoming the new way to listen to audio and music. When you subscribe to a podcast, each new release is automatically downloaded for you. This makes it extremely convenient to regularly listen to audio shows.

Banshee has good support for Podcast feeds, and subscribing to a feed is simple. In the sidebar, right-click the Podcasts entry and click New Podcast Feed. Paste in the feed by right-clicking the box and selecting Paste. The files are automatically downloaded, and you can listen to them by double-clicking on them. Each time you start Banshee, a check is made to see if any new episodes exist, and if so, they are downloaded.


Banshee and iPods

Banshee can also read songs from your iPod—just plug it in and it will display in Banshee.

Banshee can read from the iPod but may not be able to write to all iPods.

Playing and Ripping CDs

Banshee Media Player can both play CDs and also rip their contents to your hard drive. Insert your CD into the drive and open Banshee. To play, select the CD from the list on the left and click the play icon (the arrow). To rip, which Banshee calls importing, hover over the Banshee Media Player text in the top panel and select Import Media from the Media menu. Edit > Preferences will let you adjust settings while other options can be found in various menus.

Buying Music

Canonical has added options within Banshee. You may now buy music through the Ubuntu One Music Store alongside Jamendo, Magnatune, and the Amazon MP3 Store. While Jamendo and Magnatune are great sources for creative commons and other open-licensed music, for the first time, major and minor label artists will have their music available directly from within Ubuntu. These are the songs you would typically find in your local record shop or on a radio station. Music in the Ubuntu One Music Store will be encoded at a minimum of 256 kbps in MP3 format without any digital rights management (DRM). An Ubuntu One account (mentioned earlier in the chapter) is required to purchase music.


You can learn more about the Ubuntu One Music Store at

Interacting with Photos

Shotwell is a photo management program that you may use to import your pictures, organize them, and perform basic touch-ups like removing red eye, cropping, or simple color adjustment. When Shotwell imports photos, it reads the metadata embedded in the image file and then sorts the images by date. Once done, it creates a timeline that allows you to view photos easily as a group, individually, and even as a full-screen slideshow. You can export your photos individually or in groups directly from Shotwell to well-known Web services like Flickr or Google’s Picasa, to a folder, or even to a CD you could give to a friend or family member.

Watching Videos

To watch videos in Ubuntu, you need to ensure that you have the correct codecs installed. As discussed earlier, some of these codecs are available separately due to the legal implications of including them with the Ubuntu system. Although the new process for suggesting and installing codecs should cover most popular types of files, you should still refer to the Ubuntu wiki at for details of how to install ones that are not recognized.

Using Movie Player

To watch videos in Ubuntu, you use the Movie Player (Figure 3-16). Load it by clicking Applications from the Launcher and find Movie Player.

Figure 3-16 Movie Player is a simple and flexible media player.


To watch a video on your hard disk, click Movie > Open, and select the file from the disk.


Another Way to Load Files into Movie Player

You can also load multimedia files into Movie Player by double-clicking them on your desktop or in the file manager.

Movie Player also supports video streams. To watch a stream, click Movie > Open Location, and enter the Internet address for the stream. The video feed is then loaded and displayed.

Getting DVDs to Work

Ubuntu comes with DVD support for unencrypted DVDs. With the DVD industry being what it is, the majority of DVDs come encrypted, and if you want to watch them, you need to ensure that a library that can decrypt these DVDs is installed. Unfortunately, this library needs to be installed separately and is not included with Ubuntu. Refer to the Ubuntu restricted formats page at for details.

With the library installed, insert a disk into your computer, and Ubuntu will automatically start Movie Player to view the disk. Alternatively, fire up Movie Player, and click Movie > Play Disk to play the DVD. Movie Player doesn’t support DVD menus but you can still use it to play a DVD.

If you are settling down to watch a movie, you may want to configure a few other settings. First click View > Aspect Ratio to select the correct aspect ratio for your screen, and then select View > Fullscreen to switch to full-screen mode. To exit full-screen mode, just move your mouse, and some on-screen controls will appear.


Control Movie Player with a Remote Control

Movie Player supports the Linux Infrared Control (LIRC) library so you can use a remote control while watching your media.

If you want to use a remote control with your Ubuntu computer, you need to install the Linux Infrared Control (LIRC) package. LIRC is the library, and it supports a wide range of remote control units.

The first step is to determine which LIRC driver is required for your particular remote control. Take a look at the list of remotes on the LIRC site at, or use your favorite search engine if your remote is not listed on the site.

LIRC includes a number of built-in drivers. You can see which ones are included by running the following command:

foo@bar:~$ lircd –driver=help

When you know which driver is required and you know your installed LIRC supports your hardware, you can edit the hardware.conf file in the /etc/lirc file to configure which one is used. Simply set the DRIVER line to the driver you selected. Then restart LIRC:

foo@bar:~$ sudo /etc/init.d/lirc restart

When you press the buttons on your remote control, a code should appear. This code can be mapped to a button on your remote by editing the lircd.conf file in /etc/lirc. For more information, see

Creating Videos

PiTiVi is a movie editor that is based on the same media framework as Banshee and Movie Player, GStreamer. As a result, it handles any video format supported by GStreamer, which makes it very powerful indeed. It has interface options ranging from the simplicity of Apple’s iMovie to a more complex professional view, as in Complex View. The goal is an easy-to-use but powerful piece of software for taking your video footage from your camera and editing it, adding effects and transitions, and mixing audio to create your own personal cinematic masterpiece. More information about PiTiVi is available at Click Applications from the Launcher and find Pitivi Video Editor to try it out.

Exploring the Ubuntu Landscape

Unlike many other operating systems, Ubuntu includes a comprehensive suite of applications right inside the system. This range of tools has been selected to allow you to install Ubuntu and get your work done, communicate with other people, read and create documents, watch and/or listen to media, and more. Unfortunately, due to space restrictions, this book can only skim over the surface of available applications.

To help remedy this a bit, here is a quick summary of many of the applications listed in the Applications menu in Ubuntu. For all, click Applications from the Launcher and find the name.

gedit Text Editor

This simple yet powerful text editor is ideal for editing documents, making quick notes, and programming. Included is a range of plug-ins for spell checking, statistics, file listings, and more.


For those times when you need to figure out a percentage or calculate whether you are getting a raw deal from your employer, the calculator is there. It provides a range of functionality for simple and scientific calculations.


Underpinning the desktop is an incredibly powerful command-line core. This application puts a window around a command-line interface and allows you to configure transparency, fonts, behavior, and more. Essential for the command-line junkies among you.


For those of you who actually understand the rules of Mahjongg, this application provides a great implementation of the game.

Sound Recorder

If you need to record something, such as your voice for a podcast or audio message, you can use this simple tool.

System Monitor

To get an idea of the current performance or load on your computer, click on this tool. The System Monitor lets you know which applications are running and how much memory/processing power they are using, and it also allows you to kill or restart processes that are hogging the resources.


Play the increasingly popular logic game on Ubuntu.

Disk Utility

Bits and bytes never looked so good! In case you were wondering exactly where all your disk space had gone, this will help solve the mystery.

Other Applications to Try

There are literally thousands of available packages that can be installed on your Ubuntu computer. These packages span a range of different areas, and this section highlights some of the popular ones. Software installation is covered in Chapter 4.


Package to install: inkscape

Inkscape (Figure 3-17) is a drawing package for creating Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). Ever since the SVG format was introduced, it has taken the design world by storm. SVG allows the creation of graphics that can scale to any size. Inkscape is a hugely flexible tool for creating such graphics, and a huge range of icons and artwork in open source projects are made in Inkscape.

Figure 3-17 Inkscape



Package to install: gimp

The GIMP Image Editor (Figure 3-18) is a powerful raster or bitmap graphics program that lets you draw, paint, edit images, and much more. It is similar to proprietary graphics programs and has the ability to process and create images using layers, plug-ins, and much more.

Figure 3-18 GIMP Image Editor



Package to install: blender

Blender (Figure 3-19) is an incredibly powerful 3D modeling, animation, rendering, and production studio. Blender amasses an impressive range of functionality for creating photorealistic scenes, animations, and real-time virtual walkthroughs. Blender is also fully scriptable in Python.

Figure 3-19 Blender



Package to install: scribus

Scribus (Figure 3-20) lets you lay out pages graphically and create publication-ready output in PDF and Postscript formats. It is ideal for newsletters, magazines, technical documentation, and more. It supports CMYK color, Unicode text, and many graphic formats in the creation process.

Figure 3-20 Scribus


Bluefish Editor

Package to install: bluefish

For those of you who want to create Web pages but prefer to write code, Bluefish Editor (Figure 3-21) is a lightweight but feature-rich editor with support for a range of languages as well as HTML and CSS.

Figure 3-21 Bluefish


Audio CD Extractor

Package to install: sound-juicer

Many of us have legally purchased compact disks that we would like to listen to using our computer or portable music player. Audio CD Extractor (Figure 3-22) will help you record the songs to your hard drive so you may do so.

Figure 3-22 Sound Juicer: An audio CD extractor


Moving to the Next Ubuntu Release

So your system is up to date and current, but Ubuntu doesn’t like to let the grass grow. One of the original goals for Ubuntu was to have frequent releases, and with only one notable exception (the 6.06 LTS release, which was delayed by two months), there have been six months between each release since 4.10. This book has been revised for the latest version—11.04—but another release will be along soon. Release 10.04, like the earlier 8.04 and 6.06, was a Long Term Support (LTS) version of Ubuntu, supported for three years on the desktop and five on the server. All other versions, such as 11.04, are supported for eighteen months and at the same time are superseded by a new version every six months. Essentially, if you are running the LTS version, you might not be too interested in moving to the latest and greatest until the next LTS version comes out, but if you are running a regular release version, you might be the sort of person who is more interested in the latest and greatest software updates. In either case, this is how you perform the upgrade.

Doing the Actual Upgrade

A graphical tool called Update Manager, found in the Applications menu, tells you when a new version of Ubuntu is available and walks you through the upgrade process. Note that if you already know or want to learn the manual method, that is fine too. Both means will achieve the same result.

When a new release is available, Update Manager will alert you, as in Figure 3-23. All you need to do is click on the Upgrade button to start the process. You will first be shown the release notes, which mention new features or any outstanding bugs. After you click on the Upgrade button on this screen, the necessary changes to your software repositories are made, and then the program downloads and installs the new distribution. You may be prompted if you have changed any configuration files. After the actual installation is complete, you will be told which, if any, packages are no longer officially supported by Ubuntu (have moved to the universe repository). Last, all you need to do is restart your computer when prompted, and you will begin enjoying the new release.

Figure 3-23 Upgrading from Ubuntu 10.10 using Update Manager and an Internet connection


You can also initiate an upgrade simply by inserting a CD that contains a newer version of Ubuntu than the one you are currently running, as shown in Figure 3-24. Follow the prompts for an upgrade experience similar to using the update manager.

Figure 3-24 Upgrading from Ubuntu 10.10 using a 11.04 CD



In this chapter, you’ve learned how to start using the core features of your new desktop. These concepts should allow you to perform most of the day-to-day tasks when using your computer and provide a base from which to explore the other applications installed on your system. This solid grounding in the desktop paves the way for you to meander through the rest of the book, learning about the more advanced uses of your new system and exploring the enormous flexibility that Ubuntu provides.

Always remember that there is a wealth of help and documentation available online. If you ever find yourself stuck, take a look at the Ubuntu Web site at or the Ubuntu documentation at and make use of the forums, wiki, mailing lists, and IRC channels.