Ubuntu must-have utilities

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.

Startup Manager
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).

Adobe Flash
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.

I visit the BBC News on a daily basis. If you want to watch their videos, you need RealPlayer. Download and install from this link.

17 thoughts on “Ubuntu must-have utilities

  1. Yep. I bought 2 identical old Toshiba laptops within the last 7 months. The installation processes were almost the same although they were 6 months apart. I don’t know if I would have such luck with any other machines.

  2. I just figured out how to customize the Nautilus toolbar, and I am very happy about that.

    It’s not really well-documented at all, and you can’t do it through the GUI.

  3. Customizing the Nautilus toolbar sounds interesting. You might want to post a detailed how-to in Ubuntu Forums.

    Being a Mac person myself, I am not very comfortable with using the Terminal although I use it occasionally when I can copy a command. The improvements in the GUI of Ubuntu really helps the beginners like me.

  4. >I just figured out how to customize the Nautilus toolbar
    >It’s not really well-documented at all

    So write it up and share it with the rest of the world, Mike! Although I am a KDE user…

    Back on topic, there are a TON of ‘must-have’ softwares for the Linux desktop, Ubuntu or otherwise. Your list will only grow, Yellow Submarine author!

  5. The BBC’s videos play just fine with Mplayer configured to support the Windows media formats. Of course, the w32codecs package should be part of any installation on which you wish to view Windows media files.

  6. Thanks for the tip on MPlayer. I think one of my laptops does play BBC videos through MPlayer after I selected the Windows Media option. IMHO, the RealPlayer interface is more elegant. And it is useful for Real Media files on other sites.

  7. No, the laptop is not a dual boot. You can set up different partitions during the Ubuntu installation but I didn’t want to deal with it. My primary desktop is a Mac. I use Windows at work, not my choice. I have never own a Windows machine and probably never will so dual boot is not important to me.

  8. I’m not much of an eye candy guy.
    I’d like to suggest extending this post to include utils that make *operating* Ubuntu better. Time savers, shortcuts, work savers, things of a more practical nature.

    After approximately two years with linux, I still have managed not to install a splash manager. I’m happy just to turn them off.

    As for things that I use to make life easier, I love the XFCE desktop. Not so much eye candy that it slows the computer down but not too little functionality either. The Akregator RSS reader. An extra panel that autohides, equipped with my 10 most-used shortcuts. Thunderbird, Opera, Firefox. IE plugin for Firefox, NoScript plugin, cookie control plugin, custom menu plugin. Dual pane filemanagers. VLC.

    And some knowledge of keyboard shortcuts to get where I need to as fast as possible.


  9. RealPlayer is great but installing it to view the BBC News site is verging on abuse. You could be at danger of being brainwashed by deluded leftists.

  10. I have just finished installing Ubuntu 8.10 on an old Compaq Presario 2700US laptop: 20GB HDD, 256MB RAM… It is not a dual boot. I just could not get both windows and Ubuntu to share the HDD. Everything went well, except for the fact that I cannot get the audio to work (except on headphones). Actually, this is a second install: I reinstalled Ubuntu in the hope that the audio problem would be resolved on the second try. Unfortunately, the problem still persists…

  11. @Traveller ithree: I would really install Hardy Heron (8.04). 8.10, IMHO, had a lot of regressions. For example, they broke the perfectly-working bluetooth! I mean, how can you break bluetooth, of all things? Anyway, if eyecandy is not really an issue, I would downgrade (upgrade?) to 8.04

  12. @Yellow Submarine: Great job with the tips! Personally, I use VLC instead of Totem, MPlayer, or Real Player. I find that the support is MUCH better.

  13. @Chaanakya: Thanks for the compliments. When I was upgrading to Hardy Heron, I had to troubleshoot and select different kernels from GRUB which I had set to show for a few seconds through Startup Manager. I now value Startup Manager even higher than I first wrote this post.

  14. its now easy to install linux after trying on UFD booting option. i’ve tried almost 10 different linux distro, but ubuntu gives me best alternative. try the natty. its great.

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