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:


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:


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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  1. roy samuels said

    very informative

  2. Alyson said

    Thanks, Roy.

  3. Crease said

    Really useful for a newbie attempting to get away from Windows

  4. Alyson said

    Glad I could help.

  5. Patrick said

    Great start for us noobs

  6. thierry said


    There’s news about accessing/writing to windows!
    In case someone is interested, go here:

    Thanks for your 10 tips; very well written. I wish I had discovered your site a good while back…when I needed it more.

  7. Mat said

    Well mostly it seems really nice, but trying to get my adsl connection going has turned into command line hell. Desperatly needs the network wizards aka windows style. When the help advises that use your previous working connection, that to me translates out as use windows to connect to the internet.

  8. mr ubuntu said

    great job man, important info to know;

    congrats to the people behind ubuntu and gnome

    i love it!! 🙂

    its’s not windows, it’s not mac, it’s in my pc, can be customized, what else can i ask for?

  9. Jason said

    I wish i saw this when I first stated with ubuntu

    you just need to add one called “why my printer won’t work?”

    Thanks for creating 🙂

  10. Jadd said

    Thanks for this. Much needed.

  11. Alyson said

    Thanks, Patrick, thierry, Mat, mr ubuntu, Jason, and Jadd! I think I needed something like this when I first started using Ubuntu, too. Clear, concise, reasonably-well-written documentation can be hard to come by in the free software world — although others certainly have done, and continue to do, fantastic work in this area.

  12. Thanks for this! Switched to Ubuntu today, and while it’s really awesome, there’s a lot to learn. Seems like most how-to sites about it assume a lot of Linux understanding!

  13. Alyson said

    Hi Dean,

    I agree. It can be tough to find help with some of the basic stuff. I hope that you find Linux worth your while!

  14. corehead said

    so, i got problems with this….i cannot even instal this driver, somehow i got an error in console that it “Couldn’t find package ntfs-3g”, where could i make mistake?
    i get an error when updating source list: “rr http://lt.archive.ubuntu.com edgy/main Sources
    Sub-process gzip returned an error code (1)
    Fetched 4B in 6s (1B/s)
    Failed to fetch http://lt.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/dists/edgy/main/source/Sources.gz Sub-process gzip returned an error code (1) ”
    maybe its just some problem with some server that I am updating from….or something…my knowledge about this is really minimal….sorry about that ;]
    still hoping for help ;]

  15. Adie said

    Thanx for the tips, i found them real helpfull, could you helo me with the following problem.

    I have downloaded a file “mysql-connector-java-5.0.5.tar.gz” and it saved it to my home\adie folder

    however when i go to Terminal to instll it using the follwoing command “tar xfvz mysql-connector-java-5.0.5.tar.gz -C /opt/” i get the following error message

    adie@adie-laptop:~$ tar xfvz mysql-connector-java-5.0.5.tar.gz-C/opt
    tar: mysql-connector-java-5.0.5.tar.gz-C/opt: Cannot open: No such file or directory
    tar: Error is not recoverable: exiting now
    tar: Child returned status 2
    tar: Error exit delayed from previous errors

    Could you tell me what i am doing wrong
    Many Thanx

  16. Alyson said

    Hi Adie,

    I usually install packages through Synaptic, so I’m probably not the best person to ask, but you may find this link helpful. The author explains the process much better than I can.

  17. Darell said

    I had almost given up on Ubuntu, but with this help will give another go. One comment is I tried GAG twice and lost the loader to Ubuntu but Windows worked OK? It was OK on bios and cannot see what I did wrong with GAG. Lot of work uninstalling and re-installing. I used the windows computer manager/disk services to remove ubuntu and reformat the partition. Maybe a better way but it worked.

    Thanks again so will give Ubuntu FF another go but not GAG unless someone can tell me where I went wrong as instuctions are simple. Guess I need to get my learning hat on a bit tighter.

    The ultimate noob

  18. Andrew said

    I have the same problem with GAG and Ubuntu.
    As I understood from instructions to GAG (http://users.bigpond.net.au/hermanzone/p12.htm) you should install GRUB or Lilo on your Ubuntu partition before you install GAG. (Usually Ubuntu installs GRUB on your boot sector, so when you install GAG you overwrite GRUB, and cannot run Ubuntu.)
    Here is instructions how to re-install GRUB after you deleted it.
    I haven’t chance to try it myself yet. So, will write you if it works for me.

  19. syed said

    very informative… we really appreciate your help… thank you.

  20. Kronos said

    nicely played old man!

  21. Linux tips said

    Thanks for the tips, I am hoping that I will learn Linux someday and I wanted to have that kind of knowledge regarding operating systems.

  22. […] But let’s start at the beginning, the sources.list needs to get some modifications. You can do it with some clicks: System -> Administration -> Software sources, or you do it the terminal way. […]

  23. […] repositories in your sources.list. If you don’t know how to enable repositories, you can go here to […]

  24. […] Source: Simply Ubuntu […]

  25. FredderiK said

    Hello, how are things ?)

    dj sy and kenny ken to the core mp3 download

  26. Uh said

    Oh. My. God.

    Tip #1 should not even exist.

    That goes for all the other “tips” that rely on “go to the terminal and type some cryptic garbage”, too.

    Please please please, work on making Ubuntu usable for the newcomer. Don’t drag it back into the dark ages of computing just because you don’t know the modern way to do things.

  27. Alexwebmaster said

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    write me here preonrelt@mail.ru

  28. […] https://simplyubuntu.wordpress.com/2006/06/24/10-tips-for-the-ubuntu-newcomer/#repos Categories: 69913 Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) Leave a comment Trackback […]

  29. jay said

    yeah this didn’t work for me at all. the universe and multiuniverse or what ever was already unlocked but i still cannot install any programs excetra

  30. New to Ubuntu, A useful guide, thanks.

  31. Leo said

    I have installed Ubuntu today using Wubi installer from following page: http://www.ubuntu.com/download/ubuntu/windows-installer and have tried putting the Trash bin and Computer onto my desktop using gconf-editor as described in your instructions above by navigating to apps->nautilus->desktop, but the trouble is, there is no desktop folder (or whatever it’s called) there. Only apps->nautilus->preferences, and in preferences there. Is there a way around, and why it’s not there? I also would want to add software shortcut icons to Desktop (like in Windows), is it possible? I don’t know how to launch installed software in Ubuntu other than from launcher/launch bar.

    Thank you in advance.


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  33. Noel said

    its telling me there is no such file or directory called sudo: gedit/etc/apt/sources.list

  34. Rob said

    Lose the colon, Noel.

  35. Great. Thanks!

  36. I comment each time I like a post on a site or I have something to add to the conversation.
    It’s caused by the fire displayed in the post I read. And on this post 10 tips for the Ubuntu newcomer | Simply Ubuntu — because Linux isn\’t just for nerds.

    . I was moved enough to write a thought 🙂 I actually do have 2 questions for you if you usually do not mind.
    Could it be only me or does it look like like some of the responses
    come across as if they are coming from brain dead folks?
    😛 And, if you are posting at other places, I’d like to keep up with everything fresh you have to post. Could you make a list the complete urls of all your community pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  37. zapatilla loca said

    seriously, this is supposed to be for newbies???? No idea what youre talking about, where to start, where is it Im supposed to insert the command, etc etc….this seems its for expirienced users…

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