Getting started with Ubuntu: the essentials

The Ubuntu desktop experience isn’t vastly different from Windows, and there are ways of making it even more Windows-like, if that’s what you feel most comfortable with. However, there are some things that may trip you up early on, not to mention some tricks that can help you get going.

Getting started with Ubuntu: the essentials

Installing graphics drivers

Much like Windows, Ubuntu handles drivers without much user intervention, either during installation or when you plug in new hardware. However, the drivers required by Nvidia and ATI graphics cards are proprietary code, and so Ubuntu treats them differently.

You’ll have to activate them manually, but that’s easy enough to do. Click System | Administration | Additional Drivers, wait while it scans the system, and then highlight the current driver and click Activate.

Occasionally, your system might get stuck at this point. If that happens, you can install the drivers using the Synaptic Package Manager (which can be found at System | Administration | Synaptic Package Manager).

Just type the keywords (Nvidia or Radeon) into the search box, then right-click on the drivers when they’re found and select Mark for Installation. Click Apply, wait until the new drivers are downloaded, then return to the Additional Drivers tools to activate. (See p96 for more on Synaptic and installing software.)

The next thing you’ll want to do is head to System | Preferences | Appearance, click on the Visual Effects tab and select the Normal or Extra options. Here, you can give your Ubuntu desktop a little more Windows 7-style bling, such as shimmering windows.

Find and install printer drivers

You can download and install Linux drivers from the manufacturer’s website, but Ubuntu has an easier option built in. Connect your printer via USB and switch it on, and the Printer applet may pop up straight away. Otherwise, go to System | Administration | Printing.

Press the green Add button and wait. Highlight your printer when it appears on the left, then click the Forward button. Ubuntu will now do its level best to find a driver.

You can either select a printer from the database (if you’re struggling, another model from the same printer family will probably do) or just ask Ubuntu to search for a driver to download. Alternatively, download and provide the PPD driver file yourself – a quick Google search can help here.

Transfer files to and from an MP3 player

The majority of non-Apple MP3 players will be configured as mass storage devices, and will work with Nautilus, the Ubuntu file explorer, to drag-and-drop files, or with Ubuntu’s default music player, Rhythmbox.

This is a straightforward app, and you can transfer tracks or playlists to your player simply by dragging them to the icon in the sources list to the left of the screen. This also works for iPod and iPhone devices in Ubuntu 10.10.

Share data with Windows

The easiest way to move documents from a separate Windows PC is to use a USB memory stick or an external hard drive; Ubuntu can read the FAT32 or NTFS file systems, and will happily copy the files across.

Alternatively, a cloud-based storage service such as Dropbox or Mozy can be an effective way of moving smaller files such as Word documents from one PC to another.

If you’re dual-booting Windows and Ubuntu, other options become available. You can browse Windows partitions in Ubuntu: simply open the File Manager and you should see any FAT32 or NTFS volumes appear in the left-hand pane, with names such as “100GB Filesystem”. In the Desktop Edition of Ubuntu, you can also access these volumes from the dropdown Places menu.

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