Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Menu in Depth

The Menu in Depth


Programs which are installed by default or which you add later will be located here. Many are called simply by their function (e.g. Text Editor or Calculator). If there are several programs available for the same function, the name of the program is also included (e.g. Word Processor and Abiword Word Processor). The following is an overview of the major entries in the default setup.


  • Calculator: The calculator has only basic functions. If you want a more advanced calculator, use Add/Remove to search for calculator and install that.
  • Dictionary: This will look up a word for you. It can be configured to work with dictionaries other than the default one (for example Korean) and it can be launched from the panel. A dictionary applet is available for the panel which creates a pulldown to type in the word. More useful is the Deskbar applet, which can be configured to look in the dictionary, your bookmarks, your history, and many other places. That's how I generally access the dictionary.
  • Take Screenshot: If you want to take a picture of your screen for some reason (e.g. you're writing a blog like this), you can use this program. Hitting the "Print Screen" button does the same thing, and there is a panel applet available to launch the screenshot program, as well.
  • Text Editor: This is similar to Notepad in MS WindowsXP, but has many more advanced functions.
  • Tomboy Notes: When I am writing or doing research, I am constantly taking notes. Tomboy is great for this, because it allows you to link between notes and create links to new notes easily. It is sort of like a desktop wiki, if you know what that is. I keep a Tomboy applet in my top panel which makes it easy to find recent notes, create a new note, or even have a note dedicated to today's date, a great place to keep todos and the like.


You said that you aren't much of a game player, so I'll keep this section short. There are a million little games for Ubuntu which you can get using Add/Remove. They are generally the quality of shareware or Yahoo games, but there are a few larger, more involved ones. I don't play much either....

  • AisleRiot Solitaire: A solitaire game with probably a hundred variations.
  • Blackjack: 21. The Vegas standby. You can change card faces, as well.
  • Chess: Human vs. human or human vs. computer (or, I guess computer vs. computer. Hmm. Wargames springs to mind).
  • Five or More: A cute little game where you move pices around while new ones are constantly being added. Put five in a row to take them off the board.
  • Four in a Row: Connect Four for the computer.
  • Freecell: You have to know this game.
  • Gnometris: A Tetris clone. The name comes from the Gnome Desktop, which is the desktop environment you are using now.
  • Iagno: An Othello-type game
  • Klotski: A puzzle game where you try to move the large square out of the box in as few moves as possible.
  • Mahjongg: You said that this is your favorite. There are different tile faces to choose from.
  • Mines: You know this one.
  • Nibbles: This is a complicated worm game.
  • Robots: You move around the board avoiding robot and trying to make them crash into each other.
  • Same Gnome: The Same game for Gnome. Similar to the jewel games on Yahoo.
  • Sudoku: The famous number puzzle.
  • Tali: Yahtzee for the computer. Play against the computer or a friend.
  • Tetravex: A number puzzle like quadraminoes.


There are a million graphics programs for Ubuntu Linux, but only four are installed by default. If you want stuff like Picassa or vector image programs, search for them in Add/Remove.
  • F-Spot Photo Manager: This is an indexing and tagging program similar to Google's Picassa. You can organize your photos with tags indicating who is in them or where they were taken and then easily find all the photos that have that person or place in them.
  • Gimp Image Editor: If you want to edit photos or create graphics on Linux, this is the way to do it. It's similar to Adobe Photoshop, but not quite as sophisticated. Think of PaintShop Pro, maybe. It has a lot of windows, so you'll want to put it on its own workspace if you use it.
  • GThumb Image Viewer: This is the default image viewer. If you double-click on a graphic, this will display it. It can do some simple rotation and flipping. There are forward and backward buttons to browse through the photos in a directory (folder). You can also delete photos from within the program. Easy to use and extremely useful.
  • XSane Image Scanner: You don't have a scanner. If you did, though, this is the program you'd use.


If you are going to do anything on the Internet like browsing, chatting or Skype, the program will be here. Just like games, there are a million programs on Ubuntu Linux. Don't install too many, though, because most of the functionality is already there.
  • Ekiga Softphone: This service is similar to Skype. I don't use it, so I can't comment on its quality, but it's free. I think you have to pay if you want to call land lines, though.
  • Evolution Mail: This is the personal information manager (PIM) for Gnome. It's very similar to Outlook (the full version, not Express). Sometimes, it's too similar for my tastes. Anyway, it is the default mail and calendar application in Ubuntu Linux, so clicking a mailto: link or the clock/calendar will send you into Evolution. You can install Thunderbird if you don't like Evolution.
  • Firefox Web Browser: You use this one already on WindowsXP, so the transition should be easy. Click on your mouse wheel (or both right and left buttons on the touchpad) in order to open a link in a new tab.
  • Gaim Internet Messenger: You will use this instead of MSN Messenger. It is a multi-account program similar to Trillian on WindowsXP. You can connect to Yahoo, MSN, GTalk, AOL, and others from within the same program. It handles all the text functions well, but voice availability depends on the IM service. If you are not satisfied with it, I recommend Telepathy. Search for it in Add/Remove.
  • Teminal Services Client: You won't be using this program unless you need to connect to a Windows Terminal Server. Not likely.
  • Epiphany: Honorable mention goes to this web browser. It uses the same engine as Firefox to render web pages, so everything will look exactly the same, but Epiphany is built into the Ubuntu desktop. Bookmarks operate on a tagging system instead of folders and are available to other programs. The interface is generally faster. There are also many extensions available, such as ad blockers and smart bookmark extensions. It's also easy to add your own Quick Searches. CTRL-T opens a new tab and CTRL-L focuses the cursor in the url area.


MS Office isn't available for Ubuntu. There are, however, many alternatives, quite a few of which open and save in MS Word format.
  • Evolution: I've already covered Evolution in the Internet section. The full version has Mail, Calendar, Address Book, and To Do functions. I don't use 30% of these capabilities, so I tend to stay away from Evolution. GMail has POP3 access, so you can set Evolution up to download and read your mail offline.
  • This is the default office suite for Ubuntu. It is extremely slow to start, taking about 30 seconds, but the speed is good once it loads. It is full featured. One-button export to PDF is especially useful for me. I honestly tend to use Google Apps these days because I don't need much more.
    • Database: It is called Base. I doubt you'll have the need for this, but it operates similarly to MS Access.
    • Presentation: Named Impress, this is a full-function presentation program. Embedding videos is still difficult, but every other function you'd want is available.
    • Spredsheet: This is called Calc, and it has every spreadsheet function you'll need.
    • Word Processor: Write is a style-based word processor. This means that using styles like Header 1, Header 2, and Title are preferred to setting the font size and type. The documents come out looking much more consistent and changing every heading or sub-heading is as easy as modifying the style.

Sound and Video

A lot of what you want from a computer will be in here. Music. Movies. Ripping. Writing audio CDs. Like other sections, there are so many optional programs that I couldn't begin to explain them all. If you don't like the default choices, search in Add/Remove and find / try others.
  • Movie Player: You mentioned GOM. I hope that I spelled that correctly. The movie player (called Totem) in Ubuntu can play just about anything you want. The interface is easy to understand and it supports playlists for entire seasons of TV shows. Get fullscreen playback by pressing "f." Pause or play with "p." It's a beautiful piece of software, but you can install MPlayer if you don't like Totem for some reason.
  • Rhythmbox Music Player: People tell me this is an iTunes-style player. When you start, it will ask you for a default location for your music. You can then browse by artist, album and genre, setting up queues of music. It also supports Internet radio and podcasts. There are quite a few extensions available, as well. It has a party (full-screen) mode for when people come over and want to queue up music.
  • Serpentine Audio CD Creator: If you want to use audio files to create standard music CDs, this is the program to use. I don't use it, so I can't go into depth about it.
  • Sound Juicer CD Extractor: This is a CD ripping program. There are, of course, many options to choose from, but the defaults are pretty good. Depending on your portable player, you might want to change the format it rips to. I think it uses OGG Vorbis by default, which some players don't support (but is a patent-free, high-quality format which destroys mp3). You can change it to a format which your player supports. MP3 is safe, but the sound quality is the lowest of the major formats.
Well, that covers the Application menu. Are you tired, yet? The rest will be quicker.


The Places menu is the launching point for the file explorer (called Nautilus). Think of it as a My Computer icon on steroids. Your home folder, where all your private documents and settings are stored, will be the logical starting point for most things you do. Clean your home folder out regularly, as it can get cluttered and make things difficult to find. Have a good folder (directory) structure to keep your files in. The Desktop entry will probably be the second most used entry in the Places menu. If you bookmark folders in the file explorer (more on how to do that later) they will also conveniently appear in the Places menu.
Search for Files is useful, but slow. You probably won't have that many files to search for right now, anyway. A better option is the Desktop Search tool (F12), which indexes your documents and photos based on content. Full text search of your documents and e-mails at a touch. Can remember where or under what name you saved that presentation on fossils? Desktop Search for fossils and get a list of all documents and e-mails using that word in the text of the document. Pretty snazzy.
The other entries: Computer, CD/DVD creator, Network, and Connect to Server will probably not be of much use to you, but are to other people, especially those who work in corporate settings. The CD creator will automatically appear whenever you put a blank CD-R in the drive.


The file explorer under Ubuntu is extremely capable. The sidebar shows the major area in your computer and any removable drives you have. There is no such thing as drive C: or D: in Ubuntu, so you don't need to worry about that. Notice in the picture the difference between befroe and after the thumb drive was inserted. To safely remove usb devices like thumb drives, right click on the drive entry in the sidebar and choose "Unmount." Your folder bookmarks are located at the bottom of the sidebar. To add a new bookmark, either choose "Bookmarks" in the explorer menu or just drag the folder into the sidebar.
You will notice that many documents and movies have previews available instead of icons. This will help you locate documents quickly and easily. Sound files can also be "previewed" by hovering the mouse over them for a few seconds, but this is annoying for some people, so it is turned off by default. Double clicking on any icon will cause the default program to open the file. Right clicking on a file will let you choose from many different options, one of which is to open the file with a different program. To permanently change the program you want to use with a file type, right click on the file, choose "Properties" and go to the "Open With" tab.
The file explorer is a large topic, but this can serve as a simple introduction. Maybe I'll do a blog entry specifically on the file explorer later.


The System menu is where you change setting for yourself or globally across the system. It contains Preferences for changing your user experience (e.g. theme, screensaver, or keyboard shortcuts), Administration for changing system-wide settings (e.g. time, date, network, or installed programs), and the Help system.


There are many preferences. Ubuntu's philosophy is to limit the number of choices as much as possible while still maintaining flexibility, but there are still quite a few. Actually, there are many more that are adjustable but hidden from the average user.
  • Accessibility: If you are legally blind, hard of hearing, or have physical limitations which make using a mouse and keyboard difficult, then this section is for you. Discounting your insanity, Cass, I don't think you'll need this section.
  • About Me: There is a bunch of personal information which gets asked by programs again and again. They should really have a central store of information so that they don't have to ask you every time, shouldn't they? Well, they do. You can even include a photo if you wish.
  • Desktop Background: You can change the wallpaper here. There are a few to choose from and more images installable from Add/Remove if you search for "wallpaper," but you can also download and add your own. This function is also accessible by right clicking on the desktop and chossing "Change Desktop Background."
  • Desktop Effects: There are cool 3D effects available for Ubuntu, like wobbly widows, transparency, workspaces on a rotating cube, and many others you can't use because your hardware isn't up to snuff. Sorry. See
  • Font: Change the default font and size here. The defaults are really good unless you have a special need for something else.
  • Hardware Information: List all your hardware. You're probably not even interested.
  • Keyboard: If you want to type in multiple languages, you can add alternate keyboards here and tell Ubuntu what key combinations switch between them.
  • Keyboard Shortcuts: The defaults here are good, but you probably won't know them. If you are interested in getting more work done, learning the keyboard shortcuts is a good way to keep your hands on the keyboard instead of swintching between the keyboard and mouse.
  • Main Menu: If you don't like the set up of the main menu or want to hide programs you never use, do it here.
  • Menus and Toolbars: This configures how the menus and toolbars in applications look. If you like only icons, icons and text, or only text for menu items, you can set the preference here.
  • Mouse: Set mousy things like speed and sensitivity.
  • Network Proxy: You won't need this now, but if you move to a network with a proxy, you'll set it here.
  • PalmOS Devices: Do you have a Palm? I didn't think so.
  • Power Management: Do you want the computer to shut down when the lid is closed? Maybe it should warn you when the battery is low. That kind of stuff is in here.
  • Preferred Applications: Set your preferred browser and e-mail application here. If you switch to Epiphany from Firefox, make sure to change this so that links you click in help and other apps open in Epiphany and not Firefox.
  • Remote Desktop: If you need me to help you from a distance, I can take over your desktop using this. You'll need to turn it on temporarily in emergencies, but otherwise it should remain off for safety reasons.
  • Removable Drives: If you really hate windows popping up when you insert a CD or USB drive, turn it off. You can also determine what kind of program comes up for each type of media.
  • Screen Resolution: Change your resolution here. I recommend the setting I gave you.
  • Screensaver: Blank the screen or get flying dominoes. Whatever. Turn it off if you want to. I do.
  • Sessions: If you want to autostart certain programs every time you log in, set that preference here.
  • Sound: Change the start up sound, etc.
  • Theme: Change your theme. There are many to choose from, and more are available in Add/Remove by searching for gnome theme. You can also go to the Gnome Look website.
  • Touchpad: Change the sensitivity of the touchpad here. Want tapping? No tapping? Vertical or horizontal scrolling? Your choice.
  • Windows: Options for window response live here.


Things that change the whole computer for everyone are here. Since you're the only user, that may seem a little confusing, but many desktops and server have multiple users.
  • Keyring Manager: You won't need to worry about this. It decides who you trust on the Interenet.
  • Language Support: If you want multiple languages installed (e.g. German, French, and Korean), you can add them here. Anyone can then get menus in those languages by choosing the language during log in.
  • Login Window: If you want to change the theme, message, or performance of the login screen, do it here.
  • Network: Your wired network comes up by default now, but wireless won't work unless you tell the computer which network to connect to.
  • Network Tools: Find out about your network IP address and other things here.
  • Printing: You don't have a printer connected. If you get one, add it here.
  • Restricted Drivers Manager: You don't need to worry about this. Other computers need special drivers for graphics cards, etc.
  • Service: Decide what services to turn on or off. Don't touch it!
  • Shared Folders: If you want to share a folder with another Ubuntu computer or a Windows computer, you'll need some software and configuration. This will do it for you.
  • Software Sources: When you search for programs using Add/Remove, it looks in several different spots on the Internet. You can add, remove or change those spots here. Right now, you use locations mostly in Korea. If you move to Japan again, you'll want to change them to Japanese sites.
  • System Log: Find error messages and stuff. Don't worry about it.
  • System Monitor: This is like pressing in Windows. You won't need it in Ubuntu. Stuff is pretty stable.
  • Time and Date: Duh.
  • Update Manager: Decide if you want updates automatically installed or downloaded in the background.
  • Users and Groups: Have a friends coming over? Add an account for them so they don't see your stash of porn and links to the Transformer site. Haha.


The help system is really quite complete for the desktop in general, but some specific programs have more help than others. If you're confused, look around a bit in help. It probably will.


I hope this helps avoid confusion about what the various parts of the menu are for. If you have questions, just ask. :)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Lesson1 - Introducing Your New Ubuntu Linux Desktop

So, Cass, you've got a strange looking computer sitting on your desk. You're not really sure what to do with it. Over the next few days, I'll cover the basic points of the system and how to get stuff done with it.

First, let's take a look at your desktop. It should look like this:

Unlike Windows, there are two panels. Windows has only one panel at the bottom of the screen. In Ubuntu Linux, the bottom panel has information about what programs you have running (in the taskbar) and lets you switch to different workspaces. The top panel has the menus, and quick launchers, the notification area, and the clock / calendar.

The Bottom Panel

Show Desktop

The bottom panel has a button on the left side to show the desktop. I never used this in Windows and I still don't use it in Ubuntu Linux, but I suppose that it could be useful.

The Taskbar

The middle of the bottom panel has a taskbar listing all of your windows. Unlike Windows, it won't group them because most people don't like that behavior (although you can change this if you want).

The Workspace Area

The right side has a couple of rectangles representing virtual workspaces (sometimes called virtual desktops or just desktops). If you find that your desktop is becoming cluttered with too many windows, you can switch to a new workspace and start cleanly. If you want to move a window to another workspace, click on the window's representation in the small workspace box on the panel and drag it to another workspace, then drop it there. By default, only the windows on your workspace will appear in your taskbar. If you think you've lost a program, change to the other workspace. It's probably there.

You can change the number of workspaces by right-clicking on the workspace area and choosing "Preferences."

The Trash

The rightmost icon on your bottom panel is the trash. When you delete stuff, it goes into the trash can. Left click on the can to look at the contents and recover something you accidentally deleted. To empty the trash and free disk space, right click on the trask icon and choose "Empty Trash."

The Top Panel

The top panel has five components: The menus, the quick launchers, the "applets," lthe notification area, and the clock / calendar.

The Menus

Unlike Windows, there are three menus. The "Applications" menu has all the programs divided strictly into categories. Most menu items have both the name of the application and the function, so figuring out what application does what is pretty easy. Very few Windows programs run on Linux, so try the default programs first. If you don't like them, click on "Add/Remove" to find more to install.

The "Places" menu has all the things you'd want to look for file in. If you bookmark folders in the file browser, they'll show up here, too, for easy access. You can also search for files here, though I'll suggest a better way in another blog. Finally, your recent documents will show up here, as well.

The "System" menu lets you change things about you computer, either for you or globally for anyone using your computer. "Preferences" are for you, while "Administration" is global. For safety reasons, all global changes require a password.

The Quick Launchers

Any applications the you want quick access to can be added by right clicking on the menu item and choosing "Add this launcher to panel." Items already in the quick launch area can be removed by right clicking on the icon and choosing "Remove from Panel."


Ubuntu Linux comes with a lot of useful "toys" to make your life easier. Some of them are applicable to you and some aren't. Right click on a blank part of the top panel and choose "Add to Panel." A dialog will appear with a bunch to choose from. Many will have to be configured after you add them, because they need passwords, locales, or other information. Configure an applet by right clicking on it and choosing "Preferences." Ones that I use regularly in my day-to-day office life are: Tomboy Notes, Deskbar, and Dictionary Lookup. Remove an applet you no longer need by right clicking on the applet icon and choosing "Remove from Panel."

Notification Area

Running programs which want to keep you aware of something will put icons in the notification area. Examples include volume, Desktop Search, music players, and IM clients. When an orange square with a white diamond appears, it's time to update your computer.

The Time and Calendar

The time is displayed in the top-right corner of your desktop. Left clicking on the clock will pull down a calendar for the month. Double clicking on a date on the calendar will bring up the personal information manager (Evolution), where you can schedule an appontment or reminder for that day. The format of the time and calendar can be changed by right clicking on the clock and choosing "Preferences."

The Desktop

The desktop will be blank when you start, but will quickly get cluttered because Firefox saves everything there by default. There are no program launchers, but you can add them if you want. Simply right click on a menu item and choose "Add Launcher to Desktop."

Changing the wallpaper is as easy as right clicking on the wallpaper.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ubuntu Hardware

Goy's notebook started acting flaky recently. Programs were
segfaulting. Files were disappearing. The computer was hanging. I
suspected a bad memory chip, so I rebooted and ran memory tests. The
computer shut down in the middle and wouldn't post for thirty minutes.
Switching out the memory modules didn't help. Reseating the CPU didn't
help. I suspect the northbridge chip overheated.

Nothing has happened since I cleaned up the CPU fan and some other gunk inside, but she's become gun-shy about doing serious work on her computer, so her
studies have fallen off. The laptop that I bought her was originally
for office stuff, so she needed a new one equipped to handle Blender
and raytracing.

I spent three days researching what hardware to get for Goy's new
computer. She'll be doing a lot of Blender work on it, so I wanted the
best 3D I could reasonably get for her. I also wanted to make sure
that all the network cards, audio chipsets, etc. were well supported.

Despite being a big fan of AMD for many years, I chose to go with an
all Intel machine for the simple reason that Intel is currently
releasing vendor-supported FLOSS drivers, which will be included and
supported in the kernel for forever. There will be no "download the
latest binary driver from ...." I won't have to worry about tweaking
xorg.conf to get the most out of the nvidia driver. The laptop
wireless which we have now is based on the rt2500 chip and is also
vendor supported, but has a problem working with the new Network
Manager. Intel Pro Wireless doesn't have this limitation.

So, I went with the following hardware for her:
• Intel Core 2 Duo (add speed)
• 2GB of RAM
• Intel GMA 950 graphics chip
• Intel Pro Wireless
• 200GB SATA
• etc.
The monitor is a 22" widescreen LCD, probably the most expensive
single component in the machine.

The cost for this was 1.1M Won,

Well, the hardware arrived, and the bastard at the computer shop tried
to substitute a cheap-ass Maxwell wireless for my Intel Pro. I made my
displeasure quite clear. The replacement will come in today.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Frist Psot!

I've been a Linux user for almost ten years now, and Ubuntu since 4.10 (that's Oct 2004, the first version of Ubuntu) It has its fair share of kinks, but does better than most other distros.

I started off with Red Hat and then Mandrake. The first Mandrake was the first distro that I could install and run without problems. It also supported Thai, my second language. When I lived in Thailand, I used LinuxTLE, based on Red Hat. In Korea, it didn't make sense to use LinuxTLE, So I tried Fedora and Debian. I stuck with Debian until Ubuntu came out.

Ubuntu 7.04 is a nice piece of work. There is a lot of work in getting's suggestions into place, including unified multimedia capabilities based on DBus. I suspect that 7.10 will be unstoppable. I hope that the recent deal with Dell doesn't turn Canonical to the dark side.
Newer Posts Home

Other I' Been to Ubuntu Stories