Ever since I successfully installed Ubuntu on a laptop for the second time, I got a little more adventurous about customizing a few things in Ubuntu. I am quite impressed with what I did and I think they are essential to most Ubuntu users. My must-have list below is very basic. There are other must-have lists (read here and there) for advanced users, especially those who do a lot of multimedia.
One cool thing about Ubuntu is you can customize the startup screens. I am sure it can be done in Windows and Mac OS but it is not as popular as Linux where there are websites like GNOME Art that keep a collection of user generated artwork such as wallpaper, login screens, icons, and window border. Before you go look for the Hilary Duff GDM Theme, you need some tools that would load the artwork. Login Window comes standard in the last few releases of Ubuntu and it lets you change the GDM Theme. In simpler terms, you get to pick the login screen where you enter your username and password plus many other little things. But what about the boot loader (GRUB) and bootup screen (Usplash) that show up before the login? This is where Startup Manager comes in. Once you have the right tool, go to GNOME-Look.org to look for some fun Usplash. My personal favorite is Fingerprint.
GNOME Splash Screen Manager
After the login screen, there is one last splash screen before the desktop shows up. To customize this screen, you need GNOME Splash Screen Manager. Installing this tool is a little tricky. Go to System -> Administration, open the Synaptic Package Manager, install gnome-splashscreen-manager, ruby1.8 and ruby-gnome2. Then, you are ready to look for splash screens on GNOME Art.
Surfing the web nowadays requires more than an Internet browser. To watch MPEG videos (such as QuickTime), you need MPlayer. In addition to the standalone application, install the Mozilla plug-ins to watch videos within Firefox. Also, I learned that the Totem Mozilla plug-in can’t coexist with the MPlayer plug-in so I removed it (only the plug-in, not the application).
Want to watch videos on YouTube? You need Adobe Flash. Depending on when you install Ubuntu, you might have Flash working in the system. To verify, visit the Adobe site to see if the Flash animation would play for you on their front page. Check out this post on Ubuntu Forums that explains everything multimedia.