Updated on February 25, 2023
After upgrading via a fresh install to the newest version of Ubuntu Linux (most recently to the newest version, 10.10/”Maverick Meerkat”), I always customize it to my liking. Of course, this involves installing my favorite programs, along with making sure the proper codecs and preferences are all set. While everyone has their own preferences, I hope this general guide helps anyone setting up Ubuntu. I should note this guide mostly focuses on Ubuntu 10.10 (64-bit version); older versions of Ubuntu might differ.
Setting up Medibuntu and installing multimedia support
The first thing I do is to make sure Medibuntu 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.
To install Medibuntu as a repository, open the terminal (Applications > Accessories > Terminal), and then copy and paste the following instructions 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 using Synaptic (a program that displays and handles installation of all available software for Ubuntu, including ones not listed in Ubuntu Software Center) the various multimedia codecs. Open Synaptic (under System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager), then if asked, enter your password. Synaptic will then open. 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), then click “Apply” in the top toolbar:
- ubuntu-restricted-extras: This package will install MP3 and other audio formats support (if you didn’t install MP3 support already when installing Ubuntu 10.10), Microsoft fonts, Flash (32-bit version), and Java.
- libdvdcss2: This package handles playback of encrypted DVDs (i.e. pretty much all DVDs available).
- w32codecs/w64codecs: Depending on if you’ve installed the 32-bit or 64-bit version of Ubuntu, select the one appropriate for your installation (w32codecs for 32-bit, w64codecs for 64-bit). This package handles playback of some popular video formats.
Adobe Flash 64-bit support
If you’re running the 64-bit version of Ubuntu, you might want to install the still-being-worked-on 64-bit version of Flash, as well (the above instructions only install the 32-bit version by default, which might cause some compatibility issues). While more complex in earlier versions of Ubuntu, recently someone’s created a repository for the 64-bit version of Flash. To install this repository/64-bit Flash (which will also uninstall the 32-bit Flash version installed), open the Terminal again, and copy and paste into the Terminal the following instructions:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:sevenmachines/flash && sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install flashplugin64-installer
A user-friendliness note: I know the above use of Terminal isn’t user-friendly, and might intimidate some. If all of the above is too off-putting, you might be better off installing Linux Mint, a Linux distribution based on Ubuntu made even more user-friendly by preinstalling all of the above multimedia support, as well as some extra programs to make managing your installation easier. Releases of Mint usually come some time after a new Ubuntu release. For more information on Mint, see their website: http://www.linuxmint.com/
After finishing up with 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 > Ubuntu Software Center). Programs I usually install consist of the following:
- 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.
- Frozen Bubble: A popular (and addictive) game.
- Comix: A reader for .CBR or .CBZ formatted comics. (One free source of such comics can be found here: http://goldenagecomics.co.uk/ ).
- The GIMP: GIMP was dropped from being preinstalled in Ubuntu recently, so this highly useful graphic editing program should also be installed.
- Liferea: A well done newsfeed program for GNOME, and what I use to keep up on various RSS feeds.
- XChat: A popular cross-platform IRC program.
- GCstar: A well done database program for hobbyists who wish to track their collections. For more information, read my review of it in Ubuntu User magazine (issue #5, Summer 2010).
- GnuCash: Similar to Quicken, this program handles general financial bookkeeping duties (balancing checkbooks, tracking payments, etc.).
- Back In Time: A user-friendly backup program with some similarities to OS X’s “Time Machine.” For more information, read my review of Back In Time in Ubuntu User magazine (issue #6, Fall 2010).
- Audacity: An audio editing program.
- Avidemux: A video editing program. While Pitivi is now included by default in Ubuntu, I still prefer to use Avidemux, particularly for its video conversion features (creating files to put on my Palm Pre).
- dvd::rip: A DVD ripping program, though not as easy to use as Handbrake for transcoding. I mostly use it on occasions I just want the .VOB files from the DVD.
- Handbrake: Easy-to-use DVD (and a few other video formats) conversion program. For more on Handbrake, see my article about it in Linux Journal (May 2010 issue).
- Sound Converter: A program to convert sounds from one format to another.
- VLC: The popular media player program that’s capable of playing just about any video format.
- gufw: A firewall management program for GNOME.
- timer-applet: A GNOME applet that allows one to set various preset timers for different activities. I use it for cooking (a “pizza” preset, etc.), as well as timing my laundry (“washer,” “dryer”).
(Update (12/11/10): See my companion post on suggested alternative programs to the ones listed above.)
Finally, there’s a few personal preferences (ones, like everything else listed above, I don’t expect everyone to be interested in) I set:
- Set computer, trash and home directory icons to show up on the desktop: I like having the drive, trash and home directory icons visible on the desktop, contrary to Ubuntu’s “clean desk” policy. If you prefer such as well, to display the icons: select ALT-F2. In the box that appears, type in “gconf-editor” and then press enter. This will launch the Configuration Editor program. From there, in the directory listings in the left pane, select apps > nautilus > desktop. In the pane that appears on the right, check the boxes labeled “computer_icon_visible,” “home_icon_visible,” and “trash_icon_visible,” then close the Configuration Editor.
- Set Rhythmbox to rip as FLAC (vs OGG or MP3): I prefer to rip my CDs as lossless FLAC files for future-proofing purposes. It also helps that Rhythmbox will automatically convert FLAC files to MP3s when transferring songs to my Palm Pre. To set FLAC as the default, open Rhythmbox (Applications > Sound & Video > Rhythmbox Music Player), then in the program go to Edit > Preferences and select the “Music” tab. From there, there’s a drop-down menu to select which format you want Rhythmbox to import CDs as (including FLAC).
- Spatial browsing: Being an old-time Mac user and never caring for my desktop windows to act like a web browser (something popularized with the introduction of Windows 95, and has spread to every other OS), I usually set my desktop to open each directory as a separate window. If you’re interested in this, under Nautilus, go to Edit > Preferences and choose the “Behavior” tab. Under that tab, select the box “Open each folder in its own window.”
If anyone has any questions or suggestions, feel free to let me know!