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#2 Ubuntu features & customizations
1 - Update manager
2 - System settings basics
4 - Advanced settings
5 - Workspace switcher
6 - Compiz
7 - StartUp applications
8 - Monitor disk usage and health
9 - StartUp disk creator
10 - Virtual machine
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Welcome to the second tutorial about the Ubuntu desktop 12.04 for beginners. The scope of this tutorial is to show you some useful features and customizations of Ubuntu in 10 step by step short videos. Hover the mouse over the main video to see all the other videos of this tutorial and click on one of them to jump directly to it. If you are watching this video on idilix.net you can see below the list of videos in this tutorial and a written transcript of each video. Pause the video if you want to have time to practice otherwise all videos will be played one after the other.
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1 – Update manager
One of the most important features of any software is how updates are handled. In Ubuntu this is done by the Update manager. You can see if your system is up to date clicking on the button at the top right-hand corner and going to Software Updater to launch the Update Manager. If updates are available you will see “Software available” directly on the menu. The Update Manager usually launches by itself when new updates are available and you just have to click on Install Updates. In Settings you can choose how often and what software you want to Update. The options by default should be fine. Just make sure that important security updates and recommended updates are checked, automatically check for updates should not be set to never, security updates should be downloaded and installed automatically, there's no need to display other updates, they are not so important and finally, chose what Ubuntu version you want to run. If you choose any new version, your system will be updated every six month to the latest release of Ubuntu. This happens on April and October every year. The Long Term Support versions however are updated only every two years, on even years. Ubuntu 12.04 for example is an LTS release. They are usually more stable and tested but do not include the latest, cutting edge software.
If you remember well we have already talked about the Software Sources window on the first tutorial. It is in this window that you can select if restricted or proprietary software should be downloaded and updated as well.
Once you have made your settings you can forget about the update manager, just expect it to appear every once in a while asking your permission to install updates.
On the next video we will take a look at the system settings.
2 – System settings basics
The system settings are located in the menu at the top right-hand corner of the screen. In the first tutorial we used the system settings to set up the system language. You will see that many things in the system settings will sound familiar. We have already talked about Language support, Additional drivers, Network and Backup. This time let's take a look at some other useful settings. Note that there are three main sections, the personal stuff, the hardware set-up and the system configurations.
-Appearance lets you personalize your desktop changing the background image. You can click on one of the default images or chose another picture from your pictures folder. If you chose the colours and gradients option you can change the colour using the colour button below. On this same window you can also change the theme of your desktop and the size of the icons in the Launcher. In the behaviour tab you can choose to hide the Launcher and adjust how it behaves. To go back to the previous window click on “all settings” at the top of the window.
-Brightness and Lock sets the brightness of your screen and the delay before turning it off if the computer is idle. You can also select to lock your computer when the screen turns off.
-Displays let you set the resolution of your screen and eventually also of a second display.
-Keyboard is useful to adjust how fast a key is repeated if held down and to set up short-cuts.
-Mouse and Touchpad allow you to adjust the sensitivity of the mouse movements and clicks and chose some nice features for trackpad like two finger scrolling and horizontal scrolling.
-Power lets you determine the delay to suspend your hard drives if the computer is idle.
-Details shows you the version of Ubuntu you are running and some basic hardware specifications. You can also chose here what is your preferred application for a common tasks.
We have seen already about half of the option in system settings. Going into every option in one video would be a bit daunting so we will use the system settings again in the next videos.
Let's see now in more details how to set up UbuntuOne.
Ubuntu One is a service to store files in the cloud and to synchronize files across several devices. If you know DropBox you will notice they have very similar functionalities. In short, there is a folder in your computer called UbuntuOne, everything your put into this folder is uploaded and stored online. With UbuntuOne you can choose to synchronize any folder in your desktop or even make backups of your entire hard disk. You can access the content of your cloud on Internet anywhere in the world by logging into your account with a browser. You can also synchronize your UbuntuOne folder, contacts, notes and music across several computers or mobile devices and have the files up to date on all of them. This service is free up to 5 gigabites of data.
To install it, launch UbuntuOne from system settings and click Install.
To create an account, go to the website https://login.ubuntu.com/, click on “New account” and follow the steps that will appear on your screen. You will also have to verify your e-mail before using your UbuntuOne account. This account will also be valid in several other websites related to Ubuntu, including ubuntuforums, askubuntu and launchpad. Actually you can use this same account information to log into hundreds of other sites as well that are not related to Ubuntu using something called “singleID” provided by your Ubuntu account.
Once your account is created you can go to your other computers and this time enter your account information. It is possible to synchronize the folder with Windows computers too, click on the link that appears on this video to learn more.
To synchronize other folders, right click on any folder on your computer, go to the UbuntuOne option and click on “synchronize this folder”. You can also share files with people that do not have an UbuntuOne account. To do this you will have to right-click on a file you want to share that is already in a synchronized folder. You will see on the menu that the option “Publish” is now available. Then click on “copy web link” and send the link to the person that you want to share the file with. Alternatively you can see and copy the link on your UbuntuOne account at the address login.ubuntu.com. Be aware that anyone that has the link to a published file will have access to it so don't publish files that are confidential and don't share the link with people who should not have access to it!
Next we will see how to customize advanced customizations.
4 – Advanced customizations
There is a little tool to easily to customize your interface not available by default in the system settings. You have to download it, so go to the software centre, type “My unity” on the search bar and click on install. MyUnity will then be placed on the launcher and also in your system settings.
On the launcher, dash and panel tabs you have some extra options to modify the appearance and behaviour of the top and left bar, changing colours, transparency, size and animations.
Clicking on the Desktop tab you can decide what icons appear on the desktop turning on or off the icons you want. On fonts you can change the fonts of the system, I like to set the window title to Ubuntu and the system font to Ubuntu Light. It might be useful to change the size of the fonts according to the size of your screen, small fonts might look better on small screens. On the themes tab you have a large choice of interface and icon themes to chose from. If you happen to change something by mistake you can always click on the default settings button to reset.
Next we will talk about the Workspace switcher.
5 – Workspace switcher
You might already have noticed the Workspace switcher at the bottom of the unity launcher. It is a very simple yet useful feature to organize your documents and applications and avoid having a cluttered desktop. When you click on it four different spaces appear. You can drag and drop windows from one workspace to another to separate, let's say, text documents from browser windows.
Some people prefer to minimize windows and maximize when they need it. Workspace switcher is similar to minimizing and maximizing. The advantage of workspaces is that it works as if you were maximizing and minimizing a group of windows at once.
To make it easier to switch spaces you can use the default short-cuts or set your own short-cuts. There's a handy way to view the most useful short-cuts at any time pressing and holding the “Super” key (usually the one that has a windows logo on it). The default short-cut to view workspaces is super+S and then the arrows to move to the desired space and press Enter. To change short-cuts, go to system settings, click on Keyboard, then go to the tab Short-cuts and select Navigation on the left column. These short-cuts are on the line “Move to workspace left”. Click on the short-cut and type your combination of keys to set it. I use simply Ctrl+arrow to make it easier to switch workspaces.
By default you will have four workspaces on your computer but you can change that too using CompizConfig Settings Manager (or CCSM for short) and increasing or decreasing the desktop size to the number of workspaces you want. We will show this in the next video when talking about the Compiz cube.
We will see now how to use CompizConfig Settings Manager.
6 - Compiz
Compiz is a very nice tool to change how you interact with your computer. Although Compiz is installed by default you will have to install the CompizConfig Settings Manager from the Software Centre to configure it. Since CCSM can change important settings of your system, use it with caution and be prepared to troubleshoot your computer in case of problems. Skip this tutorial if you don't want to take risks.
Once you have it installed, go to the Dash home and type ccsm. As you can see there are lots of configurations that you can tweak. Let's start with an enhancement of the workspace switcher. Instead of having the standard four spaces on the same surface we will make the spaces be on four sides of a cube. Start by going to General > General Options > Desktop Size and change the Horizontal Virtual Size to four. Then click on back and then on Desktop. Enable the option Rotate Cube and accept the changes. If the Ubuntu Unity Plugin has to be disabled and you can't see the top bar and the launcher, enable Ubuntu Unity Plugin again. Then Under Rotate Cube > Bindings > Initiate you can see what combination of keys you need to type to start rotating the cube. Change them if you want to. Take a look at the other options like General > Zoom to adjust how the cube looks like. Now your workspaces are shown in a cool 3D cube.
Another nice feature is the Scale Windows to have an overview of all open windows on your computer scaled down to fit your screen. By default it is set to the short-cut Shift+Alt+Up or also Super+W. If you don't want to reach your keyboard to do this you can assign Scale Window to a corner of your screen. To assign, let's say, the bottom right corner to trigger this, go to Window Management > Scale > Bindings > Initiate Window Picker, click on the button disabled and then on the corner of the screen so that it becomes green. Now move your mouse to the corner of the screen and see if the action is triggered.
Compiz has really a lot of options and we can't see all of them here. If you want to discover more options, be careful not to do something that could break your interface. Unfortunately this might happen when you tweak something and you are not quite sure how it works. So be cautious.
Next we will talk about choosing startup applications.
7 – Startup applications
Startup applications are the applications that are launched automatically when you login. It is a handy way to have all the applications that you use everyday already running as soon as you turn on your computer. In this tutorial I will configure it to launch Thunderbird on startup but you can add any application you want. Keep in mind that launching applications on startup will make the startup a little bit slower since it takes time to launch applications. Use it for essential applications that you really want running as soon as you turn your computer on. Since you are going to look at your startup applications, take the opportunity to disable applications that you don't need on startup so that your computer runs faster.
The easiest way to add applications is to go to the menu at the top right-hand side corner and click on startup applications. Then go to the Dash home and choose the application you want to launch. I'm going to search for Thunderbird as an example. Do not launch the application, just drag it's icon on top of the startup applications window and drop it there. The application will be added to the list of applications that will launch automatically on startup. If the Dash home is shown in full screen, click on the square button at the left-hand side corner to maximize/minimize it in order to be able to drag and drop the application icon on the startup window. Now Thunderbird will launch automatically every time you log into your account.
In the startup window you will also notice that GNOME Login sound is enabled by default. You can uncheck or remove this if you do not want to have the login sound every time you turn your computer on. Uncheck any other application that you don't necessarily want on startup so as to make your computer boot faster.
Next we will see how to monitor hard drives usage and health.
8 – Monitor disk usage and health
There are two tools that are very useful to check how your hard drive is being used and how healthy it is.
The first tool is the disk usage analyser that you can launch from the dash home. This is a fantastic tool to spot the biggest files or folders on your computer and free up space when needed. The total file-system usage shows you how much space is being used. It is recommended to have at least 15% of your hard drive free. To drill down your disk usage by folder click on “Scan home” and eventually click on the “Size” column to order them by size. A visual representation of the disk usage is displayed on the right and you can hover your mouse over the areas to see what folder they represent. The rings in the centre are closer to the root and the further you get from the centre the more you go into specific folders inside the root folders. This tool is a great way to spot the biggest folders and free up some space when needed.
The second tool is the Disk Utility. Click on the disk you want to analyse in the left column and the information will appear on the right. Check the SMART status to ensure the disk is healthy and eventually run self-tests, Benchmark or check file system to see how your disk is performing. With this utility you can also mount and unmount external drives and USB pen drives, create partitions and format drives but be careful because formatting a disk will erase everything that is in it.
Next we will see how to create a startup disk.
9 – StartUp disc creator
A startup disk is used to launch an Operating System from an external disk or a pen drive. When you installed Ubuntu you probably used a startup disk. This utility can be used to create another Ubuntu startup disk for a friend or to try out other GNU/Linux distributions from a CD or a pen drive.
First you will need to download an iso image of the distribution you want. If you want to make a bootable CD or DVD, insert the disc in the drive then right click on the iso disk image you downloaded and chose the option “Write to disk”. Alternatively you could launch Brasero that is the default application for burning CD's and select “Burn image” then chose the iso image of the distribution you want. Make sure to burn the image and not just a copy of the iso file.
To install the bootable distro in a USB drive, launch startup disk creator from the dash home, select the source disc image that you downloaded, select the USB drive you want to startup from, select the amount of space that should be reserved on the drive to store information or discard changes on shut-down and click on Make Startup Disk. Once this is done you can insert the pen drive in a computer and restart to launch the system that is in your startup disc. If the startup disk does not load during the boot process you might have to change the order of boot. The instructions may be different depending on the vendor so check out on Internet how to do this in case you are having trouble.
Sometimes the startup disc creator that comes with Ubuntu does not recognize some other distributions disk images. There is another application that can make the bootable USB drive for you. It is called UNetbootin and it can be downloaded from the software centre. It is very similar to the Startup disc creator, select the disc image, the startup drive and click ok. UNetbootin can also handle the download of the iso file for you. At the top of the window, select the distribution you want to try, the disk you want to use and click ok.
Next we will see how to use a virtual machine.
10 – Virtual machines
Apart from bootable disks you can run an Operating System alongside Ubuntu using a virtual machine. A virtual machine is like having another computer inside your real computer. You can even chose to install Windows on a virtual machine and run it inside Linux. We will use VirtualBox to do this.
The first step is to download VirtualBox from the software centre and launch it. Then click on New to configure a new virtual machine. Enter the name you want to give to this machine, then chose the operating system you want to run, the version you are going to install and click Next. Select how much ram memory you want to assign to the virtual machine. For the system to run fast, select as much memory as possible but stay on the green portion of the slider otherwise your real machine might not have enough memory. On the next window click on startup disk and chose create a new disk. The file type will be fine if you chose VDI, chose another option if you want to. Dynamically allocated storage means that your disk image will increase if you need more space. It's a good idea to chose that. Then you will decide what is the maximum size of the hard drive of your virtual machine depending on your needs and on how much free space you have on your real hard drive. Then verify the information and create your virtual machine. Once the configuration is done you can click on Start. The first time you run your virtual machine it will ask where the Operating System of this machine is located. If it is a disc image downloaded from the internet, select the iso image or select a CD if the system is on a CD. Now the virtual machine will work as if it was a second computer.
I'd like to mention also another software that can run Windows applications without having to install Windows. This software is Called Wine. Keep in mind that Wine tries to emulate a windows environment but it is not perfect. Some applications will work fine but not all of them. To know more about it visit the site www.winehq.org.
We have finished the tutorials about features and customizations of Ubuntu. Thank you for following this tutorial and visit our website idilix.net for more information about Free Communal and sustainable Technologies.