Optimize A Fresh Ubuntu Installation

You've just download the latest and greatest version of Ubuntu Linux and it didn't cost you a thing. You breezed through the installation and a brand new desktop is staring you in the face -- now what?

Ubuntu's Add/Remove Programs interface makes installing free software easy

Ubuntu's Add/Remove Programs interface makes installing free software easy

There are a few things you'll need to do if you want to get the most out of your Linux desktop. But don't worry, none of this is too complicated. In fact, it's much easier than trying to do the same on Windows or a Mac.

The first thing to do is open up the Add/Remove Programs application (Click on Applications > Add/Remove...). This is a simple manager for installing and uninstalling software on your Ubuntu system. There are literally hundreds of free goodies at your disposal here -- Start with this list of essentials.

Web and Chat

Ubuntu ships with Firefox 2, but it never hurts to have an alternative like Opera around. And make sure to go ahead and install the Flash player so you won't have any problems with YouTube and other Flash-heavy sites.

The latest Firefox betas offer an Ubuntu-styled skin. Image: Mozillalinks

The latest Firefox betas offer an Ubuntu-styled skin. Image: Mozillalinks

If you'd like to live on the bleeding edge, Firefox 3 offers a new visual theme that integrates very nicely with the Gnome desktop. You won't find Firefox 3 in Add/Remove programs yet, but you can download it from Mozilla and follow UbuntuGeek's instructions to get it up and running. Tombuntu has some advice for installing Firefox 3 beta 3.

For BitTorrent downloads, our personal favorite is Deluge, a Gnome app that's a bit like Azureus, but doesn't use Java. If you're a KDE fan, kTorrent is your best bet. You can also run a Windows copy of ĀµTorrent through Wine if you want -- many swear it's still the fastest Torrent app on Linux.

Chatting in Ubuntu happens through Pidgin, a very nice multi-protocol chat client (formerly known as Gaim) that can handle just about any chat service you're likely to be a member of. However, if Pidgin's not your cup of tea, there's also the KDE app Kopete.


While the default audio player that ships in Ubuntu will do just fine, you may as well grab the king of digital music on any platform -- Amarok. It's like iTunes with Wikipedia and stashed away inside it, and it'll never sell you DRM.

If you're planing to copy and burn DVDs you'll want to have a look at K9copy. Yes, it's a KDE app, but it will run in Gnome without too many dependencies and it strikes a nice balance between no-need-to-tweak default settings and not too hard to tweak if you're in the mood power features.

VLC on the Linux desktop. Image:

VLC on the Linux desktop. Image:

For movies we recommend having both MPlayer and VLC around, between the two of them you should have most everything covered. We also like the Miro video player, which isn't in the Ubuntu Repositories, but there's a very simple install guide on the Miro site. It's especially worth the effort since you can subscribe to its great Ubuntu channels with video tutorials galore.

Also make sure to install the various GStreamer plugins, which will handle most video codecs -- from mpeg to DivX, the GStreamer collection should have you covered.

Enabling DVD Playback

For legal reasons, Ubuntu Linux does not ship with the ability to decrypt and play the video files that live on most commercial DVDs. Unfortunately, the libraries we need aren't available through the package manager either, which means we'll need to use the Terminal (Click on Applications > Accessories > Terminal). But there's no need to panic, this is only time you'll really need the command line and it's only two lines of code.

Just open up a new terminal window and type:

sudo apt-get install libdvdread3

Ubuntu will ask for your password and then download the package. Now you just need to install it with this line:

sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread3/

That's it. Now your DVDs should play back without any trouble. However, Totem, the default media player in Ubuntu isn't all that great. We suggest replacing it with the Video LAN Client (VLC). If you haven't already added VLC, which was covered in the previous section, just head to Add/Remove Programs and search for VLC. Check the box, hit Apply and you're done.

To make the newly installed VLC player the default option, just click the System menu and navigate to Preferences > Removable Drives and Media. That'll open a new window where you'll see a Multimedia tab. Click that tab and look under the "Video DVD Discs" section. You should find a text box which reads: "totem %m." Just replace "totem" with "vlc" and you're done.

Desktop Effects

Compiz running on Ubuntu

Compiz running on Ubuntu

Although certainly not necessary for getting the most out of Ubuntu, the visual candy of Compiz adds some welcome bling to your desktop. As of Gutsy Gibbon (7.10) Ubuntu ships with Compiz installed. There are three default settings (under System > Preferences > Appearance) which offer varying degrees of visual effects.

If you'd like more control, just fire up Add/Remove Programs and search for the Advanced Desktop Effects Settings. Check the box to install and head back to the Appearance panel where you should now see a fourth option -- Customize.

Click on Customize and you'll be able to fine tune Compiz until you achieve total desktop nirvana.


The Install/Remove program manager offers a huge list of applications available for your system. Here's some of our suggestions:

  • Microsoft Core Fonts - This will install a number of Microsoft TrueType fonts which will greatly improve the readability of your system.
  • Glipper - A clipboard manager that allows you to step backward in time through your cut-n-paste actions and retrieve bits of text.
  • Flickr Uploader - An easy way to get your images into Flickr, the online photo-sharing app.

Thanks to:

Norteinho | Funny But... | Look the Photo

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