Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Useful tools for Ubuntu

These are some of the tools I found to be useful. This list is far from being comprehensive; depending on what you're up to, you might still have to search for the tools you need, but I suppose this is a good start.

Installing new tools and applications
Most tools can be installed via Ubuntu's Software Center or other package managers. Sometimes, however, you're left with just the command line install instructions:

The line commands needed to update / install software need to be run under the root user. To do that, the command needs to be preceded by the keyword sudo

If the tool isn't in one of the software repositories available to your system, the repository it belongs to must be added before you can actually install the software:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:[repository name].

If this is necessary, the add-apt-repository command, includingthe actual repository name, usually comes with the installation instructions.

It is good practice to update the package information before running any installation process:

sudo apt-get update

Note that this does not actually update any components of your system, it merely updates the list of available packages and their versions.

The following command actually installs your tool / application:

sudo apt-get install [softwarename]

So, let's add some software:

Synaptic Package Manager
Install, update, and remove software packages via a convenient GUI
Synaptic Package Manager home page

Via Ubuntu software center

GDebi Package installer
Another useful package installer
GDebi package installer homepage

Via Ubuntu software center

MAC Changer
If you wish to hide your computer's identity, be it for privacy reasons or simply to circumvent the time limit of a public WiFi hotspot, you need to change the MAC address your computer is broadcasting to the world. MACChanger is a command-line tool that does exactly that.

See also my earlier post regarding this tool

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install macchanger

DConf editor
DConf is a basic key / value database where desktop environment settings are stored. DConf Editor allows you to view and modify these settings (see also the section on file explorer settings in my post on setting up Ubuntu).

sudo apt-get update)
sudo apt-get install dconf-tools

The LibreOffice version included in your Ubuntu distribution may be outdated; check for updates (for example via Synaptic Package Manager).

The basic functionality of LibreOffice can be extended according to your specific needs by installing, well, extensions. Dictionaries are part of the extensions set, so you may need to deal with extensions even if all you want to do is type (and spell-check) the occasional document in a language other than standard US English.

Extensions can be found here; this site can also be accessed directly via the Extensions dialog within LibreOffice (Tools --> Extension Manager).

To install an extension pack:
1) Download extension pack file (*.oxt)
2) Install via the Add... button in the LibreOffice Extension Manager (Tools --> Extension Manager)

That's all for today; I shall recommend a few more useful applications later.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ubuntu file explorer preferences

While most file explorer settings are managed via the File Management Preferences dialog (Menu edit -> Preferences, some can only be changed directly in the DConf database. DConf is a simple key/value database to manage system settings as well as settings for tools and some applications.

You can edit the DConf via the accurately named DConf editor. Unfortunately this handy tool isn't part of the Ubuntu 12.04 setup, so you need to install it first:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install dconf-tools

There's one file explorer setting in particular that not only is not accessible via the Preferences dialog, but is also set by default to a setting that most users probably want to change.

By default, the file explorer displays the path to your current location as a series of buttons.

File explorer window with directory path buttons

While these buttons allow you to quickly jump up and down as many levels of the hierarchy as you like, they of course won't let you directly type in a directory location, nor can you paste a file path from the clipboard, or copy the path to your current directory to the clipboard.

You might therefore prefer the more traditional text box that allows you do exactly that.

To change the file explorer navigation from buttons to location entry

1) Open the DConf editor

2) Navigate to org -> gnome -> nautilus -> preferences

3) Tick the checkbox of the always-use-location-entry parameter

DConf Editor

There you have it; the directory location input control just like you remember it from the operating system that shall not be named.

File explorer window with directory path input

Monday, April 28, 2014

Installing Ubuntu

After a recent SNAFU provided the opportunity to rebuild my Ubuntu machine from scratch, I decided that this time around, I might as well keep track of what I'm installing. So, here we go, starting with, well, the actual operating system.

So, I'm installing Ubuntu 12.04 on ye olde Lenovo ThinkPad T60, with 1 GB of RAM and a 60 GB hard drive.

On a side note, I'm by no means an expert on this; if you notice any obvious (or even just subtle) errors or mistakes, please let me know.

You can find the minimum requirements to install and run the operating system here. For Ubuntu 12.04, these requirements are
64 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
5 GB Hard Drive

Download Ubuntu
Download the current version here. Be sure to pick the right version (32 bit vs 64 bit). This download provides an iso file that allows you to create the installation CD.

Once downloaded, burn the iso file onto a recordable optical disk.

Note The iso file for Ubuntu 12.04 is 731 MB big, so you need to make sure you're using a blank CR-R that can actually take that much data (the capacity of a standard CD-R is 700 MB), and use a CD burner and software that feature the overburn option. Alternatively, you may want to burn the iso file onto a recordable DVD, just to be on the safe side.

Install Ubuntu
1) Boot the computer with your brand new Ubuntu installation disk in the CD/DVD drive (depending on your computer, you may have to manually interrupt the boot process and direct it to boot from the CD/DVD drive. The installation disk provides 3 options:

Install Ubuntu as the only system on the maching. Any data that might sit on the hard disk will be erased, the entire hard disk will become part of the Ubuntu environmental

Install Ubuntu on a separate partition. Alternatively, you can create a new partition just for Ubuntu, while leaving, for instance, your Windows environment intact. This will give you a dual-boot machine where you can run either Ubuntu or whatever other operating system you have already installed there. Obviously, for this option, your hard drive needs to be big enough to support both operating systems.

Explore Ubuntu from CD If you're not ready to commit just yet, you can start Ubuntu from the installation disk, explore the features and tools, all without making any change whatsoever to your computer.

Ideally, your computer is connected to the internet while you run the installation process, this allows Ubuntu to download any updates that may not have been included in the release provided with the iso file as part of that installation process.

Post installation updates
Even if you ran the installation process while connected to the internet and the option Download available updates selected, the first thing to pop up after starting your brand new Ubuntu system for the first time may still be the Update Manager. So you may spend some more time letting that Update Manager do its job, that way you're at least certain that your system is well and truly up to date.

First steps
If you intend to run Ubuntu with a dual screen setup (or with a single big-ass monitor), you will need to switch to Ubuntu 2D, as Ubuntu 3D supports only a very limited maximum screen size. To switch between 2D and 3D, click the little Ubuntu logo next to your user name on the login screen.

Ubuntu comes with a range of tools and applications, so you're pretty much good to go. The following list is by no means exhaustive, it just features some of the tools that may help you with your most common everyday tasks:

Mozilla's Firefox web browser. As with all applications, you may want to check for updates, as the Ubuntu distribution may not include the latest version. I'm mentioning this here specifically because the Firefox version that came with my Ubuntu download was very outdated.

Mozilla's Thunderbird email client

LibreOffice Office suite, featuring a word processor, spreadsheet application, and presentation / slideshow tool. And yes, they can handle (and create) Microsoft Office files). Additional applications are available and free, too.

Rhythmbox Music player

Movie player. It plays videos (well what did you expect)

Brasero Disk burner

GEdit text editor

Ubuntu One
For those who are keen to share their content with the NSA and other cyber-scum, Ubuntu used to provide (and still includes the tool in its current distribution) the Ubuntu One cloud service and online music store. However, this notification informs us that Ubuntu One will be shut down from June 1, 2014. So, if you're reading this before that date, it's probably best not to bother.