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June 24, 2011 2:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm nu tu ubuntu. Wut du?

So I had an old Toshiba Satellite-something laptop sitting around doing nothing. I just downloaded the latest version (or, I guess, "package") of Ubuntu, 11.0-something. It's installing now off a USB.

For all intents and purposes, I know nothing about Linux/Ubuntu and to be perfectly honest I want to get this thing as Windows-y as possible. Or, at least, I'd like to get some advice on it in Windows terms. I knew about the nineteen different partitions you once needed to have to run Linux, but Ubuntu appears to be content to install on a single partition.

Anyway, I'm after Ubuntu advice. I'm going to trawl the forums and do plenty of reading of my own, but I'd really love to know about:

- Great things to do with Ubuntu
- How to get myself familiarised with it as quickly as possible, assuming a Windows background
- Must-have software (apps, utilities, toys, games, whatever).

I'm not too interested in grepping or vi-ing stuff or recompiling any kernels just at the moment. Assume you're trying to convince me that Ubuntu is the coolest thing on earth and way better than Windows.

Much obliged.
posted by tumid dahlia to Computers & Internet (33 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I want to get this thing as Windows-y as possible.

Then you want KDE, not Gnome or Unity, as your window manager.
posted by orthogonality at 2:09 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

One of the best things about X in general is that you have multiple workspaces by default and can organize things there; firefox on one, GIMP in another, etc. Ubuntu comes with a lot of software already installed to meet most of your basic computer needs, and most of these are a lot better than that which comes with windows. But IIRC, you'll have to install VLC "by hand." For games, linux isn't all that great, but both ioQuake3 and Urban Terror are available!
posted by beerbajay at 2:13 AM on June 24, 2011

Only the most ridiculously hardcore obsessives compile their own kernels these days, unless they actually have a pressing need to do so (ie, they're either kernel developers or are having to apply a patch to work around a show-stopper bug that happens to crop up in their particular environment.)

Fair warning, Ubuntu 11.whatever has gone for a GUI redesign which is not windows-like at all. There are a few OSX-inspired elements (the application menubar being moved to the top of the screen for instance) but they're doing their own, new, thing. I actually quite like it, but then I spend most of my time in terminals hacking out code so GUI interaction is something I only ever do occasionally.

What do you actually want to achieve with this new box? You could use it as a platform for learning one of the hot scripting languages (python, ruby, scala, whatever), or as a media-player, or pretty much anything. Given the right graphics hardware (ie, stuff that's actually fully supported which is a bit hit and miss) you can play a decent range of games, a range that's even wider if you're prepared to use wine & install windows releases, but down that path lies hackery & reading the Wine AppDB for obscure windows configuration tips...
posted by pharm at 2:22 AM on June 24, 2011

The package manager, for me, is the killer over Windows, and you kind of need to know about it. In Ubuntu it's called Synaptic, and in KDE (ie. Kubuntu) it's called Adept.

For almost any application you care to install, if it's supported by Ubuntu (and odds are, considering Ubuntu, it is), you can go straight to the package manager, browse it, tick a box and it'll install it for you. And then it'll keep it, and your OS, up to date without having to piss about with Service Pack upgrades, patches, or anything like that.

Flash is kind of a pain and here are some instructions about getting it. Ditto, for MP3 for your music player and DVDs.

On Preview: I've installed VLC on my Ubuntu machine just a week ago the easy tick-a-box way.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:22 AM on June 24, 2011

I'm using 10.04. Things may be a little different on 11-something . . .

goto Applications -> Ubuntu Software Centre. Loads of stuff there including:

VLC: for all your media player requirements
deluge: for torrents

Elsewhere, Google's picasa (for photos and simple photo editing), skype. . .
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:23 AM on June 24, 2011

(Note that you can get a more windows-like GUI by either installing the KDE environment, or rolling back to the standard Gnome GUI, which is still available by picking the right option at the bottom of the login screen, but I can't remember precisely which menu option to pick offhand.)
posted by pharm at 2:24 AM on June 24, 2011

If you want it as windowsy and shiny-out-of-the-box as possible, you might want to start with Pinguy or Linux Mint instead of straight-up Ubuntu. These are distributions of Linux that are tweaked for a friendlier user experience.
Is there any reason it must be Ubuntu?
posted by jozxyqk at 2:24 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

A very similar question was asked on AskUbuntu the other day. (so similar it might even have been posted by you!). Some good information in there.

But as orthogonality points out, Kubuntu (with the KDE interface) is more 'windows'-like. But that isn't to say that the default Gnome/Unity interface is impossibly dense or anything.

You will probably want to install 'Ubuntu Restricted Extras' from the Ubuntu Software Centre as well so it can play things like mp3, avi etc. (for licensing reasons Ubuntu doesn't install this by default).

Just click on the Ubuntu icon on the very top left of your screen. go to Ubuntu Software Centre and enter 'Ubuntu Restricted Extras' into the search box. VLC can be installed the same way.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 2:25 AM on June 24, 2011

Is there any reason it must be Ubuntu? legitimate reason apart from I've already done the 700MB download and am lazy and tight and don't want to do another. And I figured that since it's the biggest name in Linux, for non-Linux types, it would be the most widely supported and frequently updated.

What do you actually want to achieve with this new box?

It's basically for mucking around with. It would be cool to have some sideways compatibility with Windows. Basically I wanted it to be quick, customisable, just something to take to the park and do some writing on or watch a few episodes. I don't really want to achieve anything, exactly, I just wanted to give it a whirl.
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:28 AM on June 24, 2011

If you want a bit of sideways Windows compatibility, install Libreoffice (OpenOffice as was) for the ability to read / write Office .doc / .xls files.
posted by pharm at 2:34 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get Linux Mint. They use ubuntu as base, so everything you learn will still apply to ubuntus. They are better than Ubuntu because they avoid some of the most recent controversial choices made by Shuttleworth, like breaking button placement tradition and a funky new desktop environment that breaks with some other user interface traditions you find in Windows. They also make in improved package manager, and is, in my opinion, the best distro to just install and have it work nicely without fidgeting.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 3:38 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mint does look really nice, but I don't notice a super-easy-to-use USB install option, and have given up burning DVDs for Lent.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:40 AM on June 24, 2011

Run Linux Mint 9 from a USB flash drive. It's two versions behind, but you'll be able to upgrade it once it's installed. It's a very nice distro.
posted by Jeanne at 4:27 AM on June 24, 2011

While not exactly the same as Windows, the interface is actually pretty intuitive, and designed to be. Ubuntu help includes a guide for new users, which is actually helpful. Read that, play around with it, and give yourself a few days to get used to and you should be OK on basic stuff.

Like others have said, you'll want to get Ubuntu Restricted Extras right away so you can watch YouTube, play MP3's and stuff. (Official summary.) This will also give you a run-through of installing software in Ubuntu, which is something that's quite different from Windows. (Short version: it's much easier.)

After you've got used to it a bit, you can play around with customizing stuff. And if you're not happy with it you can try installing other flavors or distributions. (Kubuntu and Lint are good recommendations, but you might as well give Ubuntu a chance since you've already installed it. We can get into endless arguments about whether KDE is better, or what people think about the changes Canonical made to Ubuntu versus the older versions. What matters is if you like it.)

For diagnostics you will need to use the terminal (ie. the command line), and when you ask for help on the forms, people will frequently give you commands to enter into the terminal even if the same thing can be done through the graphical interface (just because it's easier to communicate this way, and you can just paste the commands into the terminal to execute them). You will probably want to familiarize yourself will basic Linux commands at some point so you'll have some idea what people, and help files, are telling you to do. You don't need to worry about this now though (unless, of course, you have problems with your install).

Oh, one other thing. You're dual booting. Find out how to access your Windows files from Ubuntu. It's under "Places" and called "[some number] GB Media." There's an explanation in Help.

Good luck. Have fun!
posted by nangar at 4:29 AM on June 24, 2011

I think as far as distros go, you've done great in choosing Ubuntu as your first. It has heaps of community support around it, and is generally one of the easier distros out there to install and use.

All in all you should be fine for most things without ever having to open a terminal. Unity is a decent WM (window manager) once you get used to using it...more OSX like than Windows really, but I've grown fond of it after giving up my old compiz desktop cube which in the end was more flashy-awesome-looking than useful for dual monitor setup (and it would be more than your laptop could handle I'm thinking).

One thing you might want to look into, is making sure that you have the Wine subsystem installed. This will allow you to run traditional Windows applications. It's not entirely a straight forward process, and many things won't run without some serious tweaking, but it might be an interesting start to get your hands dirty with Linux, as Wine may increase your understanding of the differences between the two OSes.

If you have atleast 1gb of ram, you could try out VirtualBox and have a Windows XP virtual machine running on 512mb ram. With the vbox addons you can have XP run in "seamless mode" which gives the illusion that the Windows apps are running on your linux desktop.

As a personal preference, I picked Chromium over Firefox as it loads up much quicker and supports many chrome versions of the extensions that Firefox has.

If you do fire up a terminal, some useful commands are:

[yourcommand] --help - the --help switch (note two -'s) will bring up a help screen for most linux console progs
man [yourcommand] - (manual) this command will bring up a users manual for most linux console progs
sudo - (super user do) this elevates your permissions for applications, much like runas in Windows..requires your accounts password
su - (super user) without parameters, this elevates your shell privilages to root, requires root's password
sudo su - this would get your hand slapped at any business setting, but is useful for getting a root shell without having to know root's password
df - shows free space on all mounted disks
ls - lists files...same as dir
free - memory usage
cd / - takes you to the top level of the file system
cd ~ - takes you to your profile
apt-get - a command line way to install packages

Try typing "tree" in the console (tree is a command similar to ls that shows directories semi-graphically), it will report it is not unistalled and will refer you to use the command: "sudo apt-get install tree" to install it.

Oh also, outside of the X Window System (the graphical side of Linux), you can also switch to a full screen terminal by pressing CTRL+ALT+F1. Normally you'll have separate terminals on F1 through F6, with F7 being your graphical desktop. This is common with nearly all Linux distros.

When it's all said and done, and you've become familiar with the Linux console, you too will chuckle at this XKCD comic.
posted by samsara at 5:38 AM on June 24, 2011

The package manager, for me, is the killer over Windows, and you kind of need to know about it. In Ubuntu it's called Synaptic

It's not Synaptic anymore, they now use "Ubuntu Software Center." Synaptic is set to be removed from the distro.

For all intents and purposes, I know nothing about Linux/Ubuntu and to be perfectly honest I want to get this thing as Windows-y as possible.

When you first login, after you type in your username but before you type in your password, on a bottom panel on your screen there will be an option to switch to "Ubuntu Classic." Do this. For 11.04 they tried to introduce a new user interface paradigm or whatever. It's not as bad as some people say but it's kind of broken. One of the great joys of Linux is when they break fundamental stuff in updates. Over time it averages out but still...
posted by at 5:41 AM on June 24, 2011

tumid dahlia, I use unetbootin to make bootable USBs out of the install live CD. It works for a bunch of distros, Ubuntus and Linux Mint included.

Haven't burned a CD in a long long time...
posted by CautionToTheWind at 7:56 AM on June 24, 2011

Put this forum in your bookmarks. I get great help here, and the forum has a strictly enforced "no snotty geek attitudes; we're here to help" policy.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:35 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use unetbootin to make bootable USBs out of the install live CD.

Yeah, my last installation was via USB and now I may never get rid of that ginormous box of CD-R's I bought 10 years ago.

I know nothing about Unity, the new Ubuntu interface, but I'll say that things will probably be less unfamiliar than you expect. You use the installer to get ubuntu-restricted-extras; there's a command you have to run to enable dvd playing (it's not there by default for legal reasons), see:

And then if you want a word processor or spreadsheet, you use LibreOffice. To browse the web, Firefox or Chrome. For home accounting, install GnuCash. Paradigmatically, it's still the basic WIMP (windows-icons-menu-pointing device) GUI you're used to.

If you stick to using the Ubuntu Software Center and the official repositories, you have a mostly worry-free life when it comes to malware. Downloading things from random websites and running them is still a very bad idea, especially if they need elevated permissions; the big advantage here is that it's not the standard way to install software.

I'm not too interested in grepping or vi-ing stuff or recompiling any kernels just at the moment. Assume you're trying to convince me that Ubuntu is the coolest thing on earth and way better than Windows.

Well, see, Ubuntu is a worse Windows than Windows is. If that's the standard you're judging by, it's going to come up short. If I were trying to explain why I find a Linux distro to be better than Windows, the power of the command line and things like grep, and the ability to not use a WIMP GUI are what I'd be talking about. (As noted above, kernel recompiling hasn't been relevant for ordinary use for a long time.)
posted by Zed at 9:17 AM on June 24, 2011

The thing that makes Ubuntu, and others, the coolest thing ever, is that it makes the computer you bought unequivocally yours. This manifests repeatedly over the years of use, mostly in things that are very troublesome or impossible for proprietary operating systems.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 9:41 AM on June 24, 2011

Great things to do with Ubuntu

Internet banking :-)

How to get myself familiarised with it as quickly as possible, assuming a Windows background

Just use it.

Must-have software (apps, utilities, toys, games, whatever)

None. You will find after using it for a bit that the fact that because everything you could conceivably want is a mere checkmark away in the Software Center, and so nicely integrated once checked, there's simply no desire to stuff the thing full of every conceivable must-have app. It's like you've got this massive shed out the back stuffed full of wonderful things - there's no need to bring them all into the living room at once. Just knowing they will be there when you need them is enough.

That said: VLC craps mightily from on high upon every other media player. Picasa is a better photo manager than any of the open-source alternatives. KeePassX will let you stop worrying about passwords. Jin is a competent online chess client. The sun-java6-jre package works better for more things that the open source alternatives. Python-iView is the right way to watch ABC TV. Hugin is fun for making panoramas with.

And when you get sick of how wanky Ubuntu has got, you'll be ready to come home to its mother, and give Debian a whirl.
posted by flabdablet at 9:41 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Need to waste an inordinate amount of time? Install Frozen Bubble and keep playing!
posted by dragonplayer at 7:32 PM on June 24, 2011

I cut my teeth on Ubuntu, moved to Kubuntu for the more Windows look (all in a few weeks) and then moved to Fedora/KDE and never looked back. I'd encourage you to take a look at more than the *buntu family. Fedora is a really nice disto, though perhaps a bit more bleeding edge.

There are lots of choices and someday you'll overcome your hatred/fear of the command line and will be doing so much more there. Moving files, tons faster than having the stupid GUI updating constantly. Installing software `yum install whatever` (Fedora specific). In face, for updating the OS, Fedora has this nifty new presto thing that only downloads the diffs. I don't understand it, but I do understand it can reduce your download by 90% (actual number observed in the last update of my VM).

/end shrill for Fedora :-)
posted by kathrynm at 3:14 AM on June 25, 2011

Well, it sounded like a good idea, but I'm not able to get the keyboard working correctly (the arrow keys, and the /? key) and I've Googled my heart out to no avail.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:27 AM on June 25, 2011

Weird that it's just a couple keys like that. Could be a key board layout issue, maybe? (I'm just mumbling blindly.)

Have you posted it to the Ubuntu forums yet? (Warning: the Absolute Beginners forum stays really busy, and stuff falls off the front page quickly. You might have to bump your post if doesn't get attention right away. And you might have better luck posting to one of the less hectic forums like "Hardware and Laptops.")

Plus, you've posted your problem here. If enough people still have the thread in recent activity maybe one of us can fix it. (I have the impression that flabdablet can fix anything that's fixable.)
posted by nangar at 7:08 AM on June 25, 2011

This is kind of dumb, but go to System > Preferences > Keyboard and check that your layout and model are what they're supposed to be, if you haven't done that already. . (I realize there's a good chance you already have.)

This sounds something that would be easily fixable. Unfortunately, I've never had to mess with key mapping before, and I'd also have to ask for help with this.
posted by nangar at 8:33 AM on June 25, 2011

It's really peculiar that you'd be having a hard time with select keyboard keys. Do you know they were working before you installed Ubuntu? Does the Satellite have any strange keyboard modes that are controlled by the BIOS or a special keyboard sequence, maybe?
posted by Zed at 5:09 PM on June 25, 2011

I did do a fair bit of mucking around in System > Preferences > Keyboard, it's down as a 105 key keyboard (which is not what it is), and I tried it as a few Thinkpads and the one Satellite model they had there. Still nothing. However I rebooted and jumped into the BIOS and unless I'm going crazy the arrow keys aren't working there either. This is pretty annoying as I distinctly remember using the arrow keys when I was a) saving stuff from the original Windows install that was on the laptop, and b) using the arrow keys to select the boot devices when I wanted to boot off the USB stick and install Ubuntu, and c) using the arrow keys when I was going through the original setup, to choose languages and locations etc. So since I'm pretty sure a driver fault in an OS doesn't actually carry across to a hardware fault in BIOS, apparently, somewhere along the line, the lower-right corner of the laptop keyboard has fritzed itself. I'll pull it apart and give it a good clean and check all the connections later, unless someone is able to suggest something else. Thanks for all the replies though, it's very heartening! The first time I ever mucked around with a Linux OS it was Red Hat, about ten years ago, and the only way I was able to get help from people was by saying "Linux is a piece of crap because it can't do THIS!", and then explaining the problem, and people would be all "Oh you're such an idiot there's like ten different ways to do THAT and here's eleven of them."
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:47 PM on June 25, 2011

Has the lappy ever had a beverage spill? Dried-out Coke will keep eating away slowly at circuit board tracks for years.

Good luck with getting inside the Satellite. Take it slowly, and make sure your swear jar has lots of free space before you start. I really, really dislike working on low-end Toshibas.
posted by flabdablet at 11:32 PM on June 25, 2011

No spillage that I'm aware of, certainly not any I've ever done, but it's a hand-me-down (more like "take-this-off-my-hands") so no way of telling really. More news as it breaks!
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:01 AM on June 26, 2011

I had an old Toshiba Satellite-something laptop

You might want to consider installing lubuntu - it's faster and less memory-hungry, ideal for older resource-constrained systems.

I've just installed it on an older laptop, and it looks quite good so far.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 10:17 PM on June 26, 2011

Blah, this keyboard has had it. I pulled the machine apart last night and got right in there, no sign of any problem at all but the keys just won't work. Shame, it was a decent little laptop. Time to send it to the recyclers I think. Thanks for all the help guys.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:04 PM on June 28, 2011

You should still be able to use it by plugging in a $15 supermarket-grade USB keyboard, if that helps. If all you want is a little machine to sit on a desk somewhere, that's actually a pretty good way to run a laptop - you can jack the laptop and its screen up to a comfortable height on a couple of housebricks and still have the keyboard on the desk where it belongs.
posted by flabdablet at 11:47 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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