Archive for June, 2006

A beginner’s guide to installing programs in Ubuntu

Installing applications, games, and such in Ubuntu is usually quite easy, thanks to thetips_n_tricks Synaptic Package Manager. However, if you’re using Ubuntu (and Linux) for the first time, you may find the typical installation procedure somewhat confusing, if you can even figure out what you need to do in the first place. This guide will help you learn how to use Synaptic and install programs.

Here’s how it works
First, you’ll probably want to ensure that you’ve enabled the Universe and Multiverse repositories in your sources.list. If you don’t know how to enable repositories, you can go here to learn.

After you’ve ensured that you have the Universe and Multiverse repositories enabled, go to System->Administration->Synaptic Package Manager. Enter your password, if asked, and you should then find yourself staring at Synaptic, like this:

synaptic

If you just altered your sources.list, click on ‘Reload’ at the top left of the screen to sync your repositories with the Package Manager. With Synaptic, you have thousands of free online software packages at your fingertips. For our example, we’ll say that you just visited the Linux Game Tome, browsed for a good new game, and you decided to install Globulation 2 because of its positive reviews.

To install the game, you will first click ‘Search’ at the top of the Package Manager. Because package names don’t necessarily match with program names, your best bet is usually to try a “Description and Name” search. So enter “Globulation 2″ in the search field.

glob2search

In this case, the package is named “glob2,” and you should see it appear in the upper right-hand portion of Synaptic. To install it, click the box next to the package name, then “Mark for Installation.”

globgrab.jpg

To finalize the installation, click ‘Apply’ at the top of the Package Manager, then kick back and relax while Synaptic takes care of everything for you; it will install and configure the program, and if you’re lucky, it will also create an entry for you in your menu.

Hey, I installed something, but I can’t find it!
Globulation 2, as it turns out, does show up in your Games menu after you install (Applications->Games->Globulation 2). In most cases, packages will take care of creating menu entries for themselves. However, if a program doesn’t show up on its own, you can create a menu entry for it without much hassle.

So, if it doesn’t show up, here’s what you need to do: Go to Applications->Accessories->Alacarte Menu Editor. On the left side of Alacarte, click on the category in which you’d like to see your program. Then go to File->New Entry. Enter the program name (this name will show in your menu), a comment (this will appear when you hold your mouse over the new entry), and the command needed to start the program. The Globulation 2 entry looks like this:

alacarte

The command is almost always the program name. You can test a command by entering it in the Terminal. In our example, we see that glob2, which was the package name, is the appropriate command. Finally, if you’d like an icon for your new menu entry, just click on ‘No Icon’ in Alacarte and select an icon from the available options. If you really want to be neurotic, you can hunt down a small icon for the program on the internet, or create your own, and save it to usr/share/pixmaps.

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10 tips for the Ubuntu newcomer

tips_n_tricksYour initial first few days or weeks with a new operating system can be a somewhat frustrating experience, and Ubuntu is no different in this respect. The following list should help to relieve some of the frustration that accompanies the transition to Ubuntu. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does answer several commonly asked questions by newcomers to Ubuntu who have no prior Linux experience.

1. What is the Terminal (or command line), and where is it located?
The Terminal allows you to perform various tasks from a command line. It is an incredibly powerful — and as a consequence, potentially dangerous — tool that enables you to quickly and effectively execute commands. Because users can simply copy and paste text into the Terminal, it is often the preferred method of problem resolution in online help forums or guides.

You can access the Terminal by clicking on ‘Applications’ at the top left of the screen, then holding your cursor over ‘Accessories’, then clicking on ‘Terminal’. You want to be careful when using the terminal, as even an extra space, or the wrong letter, can cause serious damage. In other words, accuracy is very important here!

2. How do I install files?
You may have heard horror stories about installing programs in Linux; worrisome tales of compiling from source, or even worse — dependency hell. Well, you can rest at ease, because Ubuntu utilizes a really neat one-stop source for nearly all of your installation/uninstallation needs: the Synaptic Package Manager. Synaptic manages dependencies for you, so you don’t have to hunt down various libraries to make programs run.

Here’s how it works. Click on ‘System’ at the top of the screen, hold your cursor over ‘Administration’, then click on ‘Synaptic Package Manager’. You’ll be asked for your password (the one you created when you installed Ubuntu), then you’ll be greeted by the package manager. It may look somewhat intimidating at first, but it’s really quite simple to use. To install a specific package, you can click the ‘Search’ button at the top of Synaptic, then enter the package name. If the package is available, it will appear in the upper right segment of the package manager. Just click on the box next to the package name, select ‘Mark for Installation’, then click apply and follow any prompts; Synaptic will take care of the rest. Simple. To uninstall a program that you installed through Synaptic, you can follow the same steps, but instead of selecting ‘Mark for Installation’, you would select ‘Mark for Removal’, or ‘Mark for Complete Removal’ if you want to remove all of the configuration files.

3. How do I enable Universe and Multiverse repositories?
To enable Universe and Multiverse repositories, type the following into the command line, then press enter:

sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

After you enter your password, Gedit, a text editor, will pop up with your sources.list file, which contains a list of all of your software repositories. Repositories determine what software will be available to you through the Synaptic Package Manager. Ubuntu, by default, enables only its own repositories, which protects you from potential problems. However, if you want to be able to listen to mp3 files, watch DVDs, or have access to more applications and games, you’ll want to enable the Universe and Multiverse repositories. If you really want to live on the wild side you can add other repositories, such as PLF.

Before you edit the file, make a backup by saving it with a different name, like sources.list.backup, into your Home directory. Then, to enable Universe and Multiverse repositories, just “uncomment” (remove the # marks from) the lines of your current sources.list file that include Universe and Multiverse, and save. Then, to sync your sources with Synaptic, enter the following into the Terminal:

sudo apt-get update

Source-o-matic can tailor a sources.list for your specific needs, if you like. Once it has generated a list for you, back up your old sources.list by saving it with a different name in your Home directory, then replace the text in your current sources.list with the text generated by Source-o-matic and save. If you really hate the command line, you can go to System->Administration->Synaptic Package Manager, then press the ‘Reload’ button at the top left, instead of typing sudo apt-get update to refresh your sources.

4. Why am I being asked for my root password?
Your root password is your user password, the one you created when you installed Ubuntu. The system asks you for your root password when you’re about to go into potentially perilous territory; that is, when you could potentially screw up something. As such, it does several good things. Most notably, perhaps, it helps to prevent unwanted tampering with important system files, and it also reminds you to be careful.

5. How do I close a crashed application?
First, you access the Terminal, as was mentioned in in step 1, above. Then enter the following text into it:

xkill

Your cursor will then turn into a skull and crossbones, which, when clicked on an application, will close it instantly. If you decide you don’t want to kill the application, just right-click to get rid of the skull and crossbones.

6. Where is C:?
If you’ve been using Windows, you probably know that it uses a hierarchical file structure, and that C: is where it all starts. Like Windows, Linux uses a hierarchical file structure, only where you would normally see ‘C:’, you’ll instead see ‘/’. Slashes in Linux always go forward (/), whereas in Windows they go backward (\).

7. How can I get Ubuntu to play my mp3 files and DVDs?
DVD playback in Linux may be illegal in your country. However, if you don’t live one of the affected countries, you can go here, to the Ubuntu Documentation page on restricted formats, to learn how to enable playback of restricted formats. The linked page also explains why Ubuntu doesn’t automatically enable playback of such formats.

8. Where is the ‘My Documents’ directory?
If you’ve been using Windows, you’re probably familiar with, and anticipating, the ‘My Documents’ directory. In Ubuntu, ‘Home’ functions as the ‘My Documents’ directory, more or less. This is where you’ll save most of your work, and you’re free to create whatever directories you’d like within it. Your Home directory can be found by clicking on ‘Places’ in the top panel, then ‘Home Folder’.

9. How do I put the Trash bin onto my desktop?
The Trash bin is, by default, located in the lower right portion of the bottom panel. Many users prefer a larger Trash bin located on the desktop itself. In order to make the Trash bin visible on the desktop, open up the Terminal, then enter the following:

gconf-editor

The Configuration Editor will then open. On the left, navigate to apps->nautilus->desktop. Then click on the empty box to the right of ‘trash_icon_visible’. While you’re there, feel free to add other icons to your desktop, such as your Home directory.

10. How can I access my Windows partition from Ubuntu?
Since you now know how to use the Terminal, you can follow these simple instructions at the Unofficial Ubuntu 6.06 Guide to access your Windows partition from Ubuntu. If your Windows file system is NTFS (and it probably is) then you’ll only be able to read files from it, although you can always copy files from your Windows partition into your Ubuntu partition, and then modify them.

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Easing into Ubuntu, part 2

tips_n_tricksLast time, we examined the first few baby steps toward using Ubuntu. This time, we’ll go all the way up to the installation process!

So here you are, well-read on the topic of Ubuntu installations and Ubuntu experiences, in general. You’ve tried out the live CD (it worked, right?), and you’ve verified that your hardware will work with Ubuntu. You’re fairly confident that installation won’t throw you a curve-ball, or maybe not. But if you’ve made it this far and you’re still reading, then you probably want to carry on, right?

Right. Where shall we go next, then?
Well, you’ll probably want to decide whether or not you want to dual boot. Dual booting enables you to have two operating systems on one hard drive, or one computer. If you dual boot Ubuntu and another OS, such as Windows, you’ll be greeted by the GRUB boot loader when you turn on your computer. You may then choose which operating system to boot into by pressing up or down on your arrow keys.

If you do want to dual boot, you’ll have to partition your hard drive. Partitioning can either be done from within Windows with proprietary software such as Acronis Disk Director, or you can simply do the partitioning when you install, without paying $50. Again, you’ll want to read up on partitioning. Many people offer Ubuntu dual boot installation tutorials with photographs, so you can follow along if you printed the instructions out before you embarked on your installation journey, or if you have another computer nearby.

But wait a minute! Don’t start installing Ubuntu just yet; you need to take care of a few things first:

  • Make sure you have several free gigabytes of space on your hard drive–somewhere around 10 GB or more. You can’t install an operating system if you don’t have enough space!
  • Defragment your hard drive. You may need to defragment a few times, as the first time doesn’t always do the trick.
  • Backup, backup, backup! Make sure your life won’t be ruined if something goes wrong with installation.
  • Ideally, you’ll have your installation CD for your non-Ubuntu OS. It’s a good idea to be sure you can recreate your old system setup. Remember, there’s no guarantee that something won’t go wrong.

Installation
You’re probably ready to install, at this point. If you want to wipe out your old OS and just install Ubuntu, then the process should be a piece of cake, although you may still run into problems. See how easy it is here. However, if you want to dual boot, make sure you know what you’re doing. People tend to make the most mistakes when they partition their hard disks, and you don’t want to be another horror story! This guide, written by Aysiu, a self-described “regular on the Ubuntu forums,” is excellent for dual booting, and comes complete with photographs. Don’t forget to back up any important files, and good luck!

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Easing into Ubuntu, part 1

tips_n_tricksSo you’ve heard of Ubuntu, and you want to know what all the fuss is about. Or maybe you’re into open source applications on your Windows or Mac OS X computer, and you’re curious about an open source operating system. It could happen, right? That’s how it happened for me, at least.

What exactly is Ubuntu?
Ubuntu is a distribution of the Linux operating system. Linux is different from operating systems, such as Windows or OS X, because it was developed under the GPL, or GNU Public License, which makes it free, as in freedom–freedom to share and change the software–but not necessarily free, as in cost. Ubuntu is free as in freedom, as well as in cost! But, as we all know, free isn’t always a good thing. Many of us have come to consider “free” as a lure into paying for something eventually, or as a sign of something sub-par. Ubuntu, however, is free with no strings attached whatsoever. When you download or receive a free installation CD, you won’t be pestered to register, activate, or subscribe to anything. Moreover, Ubuntu is not, in my opinion, sub-par. A quick Google search yields countless positive (as well as some negative) reviews of Ubuntu. Even PC World approves; Ubuntu was rated #27 on its list of the 100 Best Products of the Year! You can read more about my opinion of Ubuntu here.

Now that we know a little about Ubuntu, let’s move on to more exciting territory!
Okay, I lied. Sadly, just about anybody who would like to install a new operating system needs to do some homework, especially if he or she is unfamiliar with this new OS. Where to begin, then? Well, the Ubuntu live CD is a good place to start. A live CD enables you to try out an operating system risk-free. It doesn’t touch your system files; it merely enables you to get a feel for the operating system, as well as see whether or not your hardware is supported out of the box. Ubuntu can be downloaded as an ISO image here, or you can go here to have a copy delivered to you for free (delivery usually takes a few weeks). If you download an ISO, you just need to burn the image onto a CD.

Once you have a live CD, you just need to pop it into your CD drive and reboot. Or maybe not. Some computers aren’t configured to boot from a CD first. If you need to change the boot order, you’ll have to get into your BIOS and adjust it (be careful in there!). Once your BIOS is configured to boot from a CD first, you can just leave it like that; it’s actually quite useful, and now you can use your live CD.

So now you’ve tried out the live CD, you’ve fallen in love with Ubuntu, everything seemed to work, but you’re still a little wary.
At this point, you’ll probably want to check on hardware support or laptop support (also here), just to be sure. I have a Dell Inspiron 630m, which is the same thing as the XPS m140, more or less, and Ubuntu works fine on it.

Search for a few online reviews of Ubuntu 6.06, as well as personal experiences with installation and use. This will not only make the installation seem less intimidating, if you’re new to such things, but you’ll also find solutions to potential problems with your hardware; even if something didn’t work in when you used the live CD, somebody may have figured out a way to make it work (which is why open source software is so great). You’ll also familiarize yourself with common installation issues. Nobody can guarantee that your installation will be hassle-free, although in my experience, Ubuntu 6.06 installs faster and easier than Windows XP, which itself isn’t very difficult to install. This site shows the general ease of the installation process. Assuming your hardware is supported and you know what you’re doing if you want to dual boot Ubuntu and another OS, the installation process is really quite easy. Still, you should know what to expect!

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