Saturday, October 23, 2010

Doing more with ubuntu desktop - Part I

I thought of sharing only online stuff in this blog but since I got bored of those and since it is a long time I posted, I'm converting this blog to contain anything I feel like blogging. :)

I'm a ubuntu linux user for more than 4 years. Lots of my friends like ubuntu but for some small reasons switch back or dual boot with windows. Many fear to upgrade to latest versions of linux and many find it hard to switch between operating systems. They complain that it takes lots of time to re-configure everything in the new os.
Here are some mistakes people make when using ubuntu.
  • Not using the home folder and the default sub folders namely Documents,Pictures,Videos, etc..

    • Don't use separate partitions for everything and forget where is what. Mount all partitions in some meaningful places while installing.

  • Not using ubuntu software centre/synaptic manager for installing applications.

    • Most of the opensource applications/tools you can think of is in ubuntu repository. Using that makes life very very simple than installing from tar.gz files or downloaded deb files in some arbit directory and forgetting it.

  • Trying to mirror whole of ubuntu repository and having a misconception that ubuntu is useless without offline repository.

    • Having offline repos is useful only for the geeks who doesn't have internet connection and want to install and experiment new softwares daily. Normal users doesn't have to mirror whole of repos. Once after you install a fresh ubuntu, one time proper internet connection may be essential to install all that is required. Then a normal/no internet connection is enough for most of the work.

  • Not using ubuntu GUI.

    • Most of the configuration changes a normal user will require is there in the Systems menu. Unlike windows, any one can understand what the preferences mean. Please have a look at the options there before googling. Because the results google gives you will be generic for all linuxes and usually will need to type commands in the terminal or edit some config files in /etc/ . Beginners are frightened because of this and claim windows has better user experience. Ubuntu's System -> preferences and System -> administration menu is much better and easier to use than windows control panel.

  • Not using the power of symlinks

    • Symlinks are very useful and are much better than shortcuts in windows. Applications don't distinguish between normal folders and symlinks. Hence we get the benefit of having same stuff at various places.

  • Not using default packaged software. Ubuntu has some tools/software bundled with it. Have a look at those before searching/using new ones.

    • Rthymbox player.

      • Many don't use this and try to install vlc/amarok for listening to music and claim that vlc doesn't look good and using playlists etc are difficult etc,. Managing music collections, listening to internet radio, playlists, rating, displaying album art, and lots more are inbuilt in rythmbox. It recognised newly added music files in your computer It minimises in a corner and you can use your multimedia keys in the keyboard to control it. Amarok also has all the features but its always better to use applications which is designed for the environment you use. Amarok is designed for KDE desktop while rythmbox for gnome. I avoid KDE apps when using gnome desktop and vice versa. Using menus and shortcuts may be confusing between environments. Also os may have to use lots of resources/background processes for supporting the application from other environment.

    • Empathy & Gwibber

      • I had problems with these when my internet connection was via proxy but with proper internet connection it works really cool. Dont have to always keep your browser with gmail open to chat. If u get a chat msg, it neatly pops up in a corner. You can chat with facebook friends also without opening firefox and logging in. Link the contacts i.e. If a person is in multiple accounts(gmails,fbs,yahoo etc), it'll appear as one entry. This avoids long contact lists. Video call also works cool. :)

      • Twitter and facebook updates keeps popping up neatly in a corner without having a browser open always. Gwibber was very buggy in the beginning. Now it works without problems. If anyone got pissed off this before can give another try.

    • Some interesting applets on panel.

      • Tombay notes allows to take quick notes and it syncs it with ubuntuone. So you can access your notes online any time.

      • Pointer capture captures the pointer. May be useful when you find the mouse disturbing when typing.

      • Force kill applet kills a not responding application instantly. Don't have to go to any task manager and try killing the same several times.

      • Inhibit sleep applet prevents the laptop to go to suspend state when not using laptop for long time. This is useful when you have started a download or listening to music.

    • Evolution.

      • Many have several mail accounts and forget the ids and passwords. Using evolution you can receive mail from several accounts. (Even several gmail accounts). All the mail are saved to your computer so don't have to connect to internet or rush to browsing centre for seeing some important mail. I was previously using Offline gmail using gears but using evolution is very simple and clean.

    • Some interesting accessories.

      • Disk usage analyser shows graphically where most of the disk space is used.

      • Character map can be used if u want to type in local languages, or different symbols etc.

      • Cd burning is in built and I feel its better than windows versions. Hardly any cds were wasted when burning. Also copying cd image is also very simple. Just right click and say copy iso image.

      • Connecting another monitor or projector is very simple in ubuntu. Just click System -> preferences -> monitor. Very easy and clean to understand and use.

Since the post gets very longer and I'm tired of typing, I'll share the remaining tips in the next post hopefully sometime not very late. Please post the your reactions as comments below.




venki said...

Basics were neatly explained and i need to mention about pidgin here. It works like a charm :) And ya rhythmbox is super-cool once exploited fully esp with lucid.
Few more basic info that could help anyone who reads this post esp someone who is GNOME freak like me,
1)catfish- a simple awesome search tool(i found nautilus search results bit inefficient). This uses find, locate and grep -inr ytils in one go :) Handy one.
2) Gwibber though now works handy, pidgin customizations are more widely available than Gwibber. Empathy is traditional substitute for Gwibber.
3) For those who want cool desktop features, a one-step process will help by just installing either docky or epidermis(theme-manager) from synaptic. Usage of synaptic is highly recommended as balki mentioned.

Hope this helps for newbies and am lazier than you(balki) to blog :P

venki said...

And one more point i forgot to mention, for terminal lovers(of course anyone who uses ubuntu in due course must love it :P), there is this util 'guake' which is a bg terminal running toggled by F12. You can install it and instead of switching to terminal by ALT-TAB or maybe reducing keystrokes, pressing F12 is much simpler. Start it as soon as u login or, as i do, write a script which starts default apps like pidgin, rhythmbox, firefox or chrome, guake etc and place it in .bash_profile or .bashrc :)

Balakrishnan.B said...

Thanks for commenting da. :)
Dont frighten beginners with .bash_profile and .bashrc. Do

System -> Preferences -> Startup applications.

Let this dialog be open. Now navigate to desired application from application menu, drag and drop it into the above dialog.

Gwibber is completely different from empathy. gwibber is for broadcast accounts like twitter, facebook updates. Empathy and pidgin for chatting,video,audio calls. In default empathy everything worked out of the box. So didnt try pidgin.
BTW video calls started working in pidgin? can gtalk users use it?

venki said...

Ya you are right with Gwibber, i was using it few months back. As i spend almost all the time with a browser open, chromedbird or facebook addon takes care of updates and stuff. So just a chat app for audio-video calls and IM was reqd back then and pidgin worked like a charm. Yeah video calls are supported in pidgin now for gtalk users :)
The main reason i prefer pidgin over empathy is 1) Buddy pounce in empathy is not good,
2) Idlemaker is simply too good in pidgin. You must've tried it.

Personally i use my pidgin status itself to get updated in twitter(defending the non-usage of gwibber and making pidgin play a solo) and you can do it on facebook too using few plugins @ Anyways these customizations depends on personal interest but i found it fun to play around.

P.S : Oh, in my first comment, i mistyped Gwibber in place of pidgin as a substitute by empathy. But i still standby pidgin though empathy is a good substitute except for above reasons. Customizations from XMPP console(i doubt if its there in empathy da) are really good as i learn some cool tricks from Sathya and tried few on my own too. :)

P.S 2 : Waiting for part-II :D Cheerio!

adithyak said...

Awesome compilation! a must read for all linux newbies ;)

Way to go!

Balakrishnan.B said...

Thanks. :)