In light of the Ubuntu family of distros having been updated to 11.10, I thought I’d update my old 10.10 guide from a year ago for Oneiric Ocelot. While there’s some major changes from 10.10, some of the suggestions will still be similar to the previous guide. Given my shift to Xfce, this guide is written with Xubuntu/Xfce in mind, though some of my tips may apply to Ubuntu as well.
Disclaimers: Not responsible if any of these tips wreak havoc on your computer. Backup all relevant hard drive information before proceeding with upgrades. My setup is Xubuntu 11.10, 64-bit version, for a two-year-old HP laptop with 4GB of RAM and a Core 2 Duo processor. These instructions assume one’s installing the 64-bit version of Xubuntu.
After upgrading via a fresh install to the newest version of Xubuntu, I always customize it to my liking. Of course, this involves installing my favorite programs and the proper codecs. While everyone has their own preferences, I hope this general guide helps anyone setting up Xubuntu (or even regular Ubuntu).
Setting up Medibuntu and installing multimedia support
The first thing I do is to make sure Medibuntu’s repository is installed, followed by installing the usual multimedia codecs and features that’re a part of a typical modern home computer experience. Medibuntu is a repository that contains some codecs and items that can’t be included by default with Ubuntu (at least in the US), such as DVD playback support. While the software in Medibuntu can be installed without installing the repository, it makes things easier to have the repository installed.
To install Medibuntu as a repository, open the terminal (Applications Menu > Accessories > Terminal Emulator), then copy and paste the following text into the terminal:
sudo wget --output-document=/etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list http://www.medibuntu.org/sources.list.d/$(lsb_release -cs).list && sudo apt-get --quiet update && sudo apt-get --yes --quiet --allow-unauthenticated install medibuntu-keyring && sudo apt-get --quiet update
After this is done, the next step is to install the following software using the Synaptic Package Manager (under Applications Menu > System > Synaptic Package Manager). While Xubuntu’s installation screen offers the option to install some codecs (including MP3 support) while installing the system software, this method ensures everything’s in place. Launch Synaptic, then enter your password if prompted. Search (or scroll down) for the following packages, putting a check in the box next to each one (a popup menu will display; “mark for installation” should be chosen). When finished, click “Apply” in the top toolbar:
- xubuntu-restricted-extras: This package will install support for MP3s and some other audio/video codecs, playback of unencrypted DVDs, Microsoft’s fonts, Flash, and Java.
- libdvdcss2: This package allows for playback of encrypted DVDs (i.e. pretty much all DVDs available).
- w64codecs: This package provides support for some popular video formats. (For those installing the 32-bit version of Xubuntu, use w32codecs).
Alternative to Xubuntu: Linux Mint
A user-friendliness note: I know a lot of the above isn’t user-friendly, and might intimidate some. If it all sounds too off-putting, you might be better off installing Linux Mint, a Linux distribution that comes with all of the above multimedia support pre-installed, as well as some extra programs to make managing your installation easier. Mint was initially based on Ubuntu, but now comes with several Ubuntu-free versions, including Linux Mint Desktop Edition. LMDE comes in versions based on Xfce or GNOME.
The Ubuntu-based versions of Mint are updated after a new Ubuntu release. Linux Mint Desktop Edition offers “rolling” updates, which means there’s no new “version” of the operating system to every worry about upgrading; new versions of software (or new components of the operating system itself) are simply offered as upgrades when available.
For more information on Mint, see their website: http://www.linuxmint.com/
After finishing up with installing multimedia support, my usual next step is to install my favorite programs, which can be installed either from Synaptic or from the Ubuntu Software Center (Applications Menu > Ubuntu Software Center). Ubuntu Software Center offers a more user-friendly way to install programs than Synaptic (though more obscure software components may only be listed under Synaptic). Xubuntu (and Xfce in general) offer support for GNOME based software, so those switching from Ubuntu/GNOME will find they can still use many of their old favorites. Programs I usually install consist of the following:
- GCStar: A well done database program for hobbyists who wish to track their collections.
- Calibre: an ebook management program.
- GnuCash: Similar to Quicken, this program handles general financial bookkeeping duties (balancing checkbooks, tracking payments, etc.).
- NixNote: Formerly named “Nevernote,” NixNote is a Linux clone of Evernote, which integrates well with the popular online notekeeping service.
- LibreOffice: While Xubuntu comes with the lightweight GNOME Office suite preinstalled (Abiword for word processing and Gnumeric for spreadsheets), I usually use LibreOffice for writing and spreadsheet needs.
- gEdit: The popular GNOME text editor. While Xubuntu comes with leafpad, I find gEdit more robust.
- Pan: For the six of us who still read Usenet, Pan is an excellent newsreader.
- Liferea: A well done newsfeed program, and what I use to keep up on various RSS feeds.
- XChat: A popular cross-platform IRC program.
- KeePassX: An excellent password management program, with cross-platform support.
- Back In Time: A user-friendly backup program with some similarities to OS X’s “Time Machine.”
- gufw: A firewall management program.
- ClamTK: A GUI version of the command-line program clamav, this is a popular (and free) antivirus program. While viruses aren’t as big a concern for Linux users, it still doesn’t hurt to have it installed.
- Xfce4 Timer: an Xfce applet that allows one to set various preset timers for different activities. I use it for cooking (a “pizza” preset, etc.), as well as for timing my laundry (“washer,” “dryer”).
- Comix: A reader for CBR or CBZ formatted comics.
- Audacity: An audio editing program.
- Sound Converter: A program to convert sounds from one format to another.
- VLC: The popular cross-platform media player that’s capable of playing just about any video or audio format.
- Handbrake: An easy-to-use DVD (and a few other video formats) conversion program. Handbrake isn’t included in the repositories; it may be installed by visiting its website, handbrake.fr.
- dvd::rip: A DVD ripping program, though not as easy to use as Handbrake for transcoding ripped DVDs into videos. I mostly use it on occasions I just want the VOB files from the DVD.
- Shotwell: Photo management software. While gThumb and Ristretto come preinstalled with Xubuntu, I still find myself using Shotwell.
- Banshee: The popular music player. While Xubuntu comes with gmusicbrowser preinstalled, Banshee has more features for my needs, though of course requires more system resources (versus the lightweight goal of Xfce).
- Frozen Bubble: A popular (and addictive) game.
Finally, there’s a few personal preferences I like to set:
- Set Banshee to rip CDs as FLAC files: I prefer to rip my CDs as lossless FLAC files for future-proofing purposes. It also helps that Banshee will automatically convert FLAC files to MP3s when transferring songs to my Android smartphone. To set FLAC as the default, open Banshee (Applications Menu > Multimedia > Banshee). Once open, go to Edit > Preferences > Source Specific tab, then select “Audio CD.” From here, you can choose which format Banshee should use to import audio CDs; besides FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, WAV, and MP3 are also available.
If anyone has any questions or suggestions (or corrections!), feel free to let me know!
Screenshot of Ubuntu desktop. (Screenshot by author)