Getting started in Linux with Ubuntu

Well... this time I've done it.

I've threatened to move to Linux from Windows before. And, over the years, I've set up a few Linux boxes... but never got very far with them.

But this time is DIFFERENT.

I've set up a nice little laptop with Ubuntu, and spent a few days tearing my hair, but now have a working machine.

If you are moderately computer savvy, don't be afraid to try Ubuntu. You've only your Windows Chains to lose.

I think things are different this time because Ubuntu is so much more mature than it was the last time I tried it. (And this time I am even more disgusted with Microsoft.)

Yes... I will continue to use Microsoft for some things, of course. It will take time to turn my back

Early Days

It is early days for me and Ubuntu. And it is early days for this web-page... but I hope that what is here is of some use to you already?


Even if you are not ready to leave Windows (or the Mac OS), there are things you can start doing now. I'm glad I've been doing them for a while.

Use apps which have been developed for multiple platforms... Firefox, Filezilla, Open Office (more on that in a moment.)

I've been using open source, free, multi platform apps for some time now. In the first place, I like them, regardless of my wish to leave Windows. And secondly, now that the move has started, it is a lot less painful that it would have been otherwise.

The Hardware and Getting Started

I am lucky- where I live, we have a good independent computer retailer. He was quite happy to sell me a modest laptop with a basic install of Ubuntu already done. Whew. Toshiba Satellite Pro A200. Intel Core 2 Duo CPU (T5450, running at 1.66Hx x2). 2 Gig of RAM. 120Gig hard drive.

I plugged it in, turned it on, started up Firefox, and that much "just worked". No hassles.

What Else Works?

This page, at the moment, is mainly to encourage you. I will try to expand it when I can find time. Write about Newbie Gotchas. Write up the details of how I got the following working. But first, let me just list what's working so far.

The things I'm using are unlikely to be the things you want to use. I make no apology. I can only give you an idea of how things have gone well for me, to encourage you that the system may be robust enough for your wants as well. I also have not listed my successes exactly in the order they arose.

I will, sometime soon, I hope, put together a second page with "Gotchas for the Ex-Windows User".

Bluefish: I wrote much of this page using the Bluefish HTML editor. There were some comments about it not working, a little while ago. That hasn't been my experience. Installed with NO problems, has worked... so far! (I hope I'm not tempting fate with that comment!!)

I don't want a lot of "magic" from the text editor that I use to write web pages. If you do, then Bluefish will not be for you. But I like it. (This is my first use of the software. My text editor of choice is Textpad, from Textpad.com. Sadly, that hasn't been ported to Linux. Yet. Many of us live in hope!

Firefox: As already mentioned: It Just Worked.

Anti-malware: Shock! Horror! I am not using any. Yet. Some say you don't need it for Linux. I have my doubts. But I haven't looked for something suitable yet. Of course, I have tried to be a little careful about what I've installed, where I've gone.

Keyboard, Mouse: I'm delighted to say that the keyboard and mouse by an large behave as they do under Windows. The mouse has a right button. Right-click brings up sub-menus. Ctrl-C does "copy"; Ctrl-V does paste.

I'm sure there are subtle differences I'll have to master, but mostly, I can Just Get On with what I'm trying to do.

Equivalent of "Windows Explorer"

Now... what came on MY Ubuntu is not necessarily what you are going to find on yours. But, living in hope, I will mention things which I found "ready to go" on my machine, and one of them was an app to navigate the storage device. Both the laucher's (more on that in a moment... bit like Windows "Start menu") pop-up, and the "About" menu of the app gave the name simply as "Files".

Rather like Windows, since about Windows XP, the TRUE file structure is somewhat hidden. There's a folder called "Documents", and I keep my stuff there, by and large... at least at this stage, while I am finding my feet.

"Launcher": As with most things, most computers, the way this behaves can be tweaked. It is probably a bar of icons down the left side of your screen. It may be "coy", like the Windows Taskbar can be. Run your mouse pointer to the left margin, and move it up and down a bit, if you don't have the icons.

I'm pretty sure that the icons are meant to responde to a single click. Sometimes, especially if something hasn't been opened recently, it may be a little slow to open. Double clicking MAY be necessary, sometimes, in circumstances I don't yet understand. Double-clicking out of impatience doesn't seem to do any harm!

Menubar: Apps often have menubars, but Ubuntu itself has one, too. Probably (can be changed) across the top of your screen. At the right hand end, there are some icons for system matters... a bit like the Windows Syste, Tray. Then one at the extreme right (on my system) looking like a gear, with a small vertical bar at "12 o'clock" is particularly useful. Click on it... if you've got the one I mean, you will see "About this computer". Click on that and you get some useful information about your system. The one that I am using, to make my move (for some things now, more as time goes on) is loaded with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS ("Long Term Stable"... the version for people who are happy to just use it, don't need the latest and greatest "stuff" endlessly. (Although when you have things set up properly, you will still get bug fixes the Ubuntu people ("Canonical") feel you ought to have, for reasons such as security.)

That button also gives you the way you shut down your system, by the way.

Filezilla: My webpages are hosted for me by a commercial operation. I make changes to my website by using the multi-platform FTP client "Filezilla". It worked fine on Windows. It is working fine for me under Ubuntu.

Printer: I have a number of PCs, on a LAN. All of my printing needs are met for me by one printer, attached to one of the Windows computers on the LAN. Getting my Ubuntu PC to print to that printer was No Big Deal.

If you have a very old, or obscure printer, you may be out of luck. But my printer is far from new, and the system found the necessary drivers without hassle.

File sharing: This one is giving me a bit of a headache still. It WAS working, fine, for reading a shared file on the Ubuntu machine. I installed "Samba", so that the Windows computers could see files in a shared folder on the Ubuntu machine. Now I can see far too much on the Windows machines, but still can't see anything in the other direction. Oh well. It may be issues with the firewall on the Windows machines. (All of the shared folders, to reiterate, are on one LAN.)

Getting Software... Generally: Ubuntu has a built in "Software Center". This is the best way to get things for your machine... but the menu, while extensive, includes but a fraction of the stuff out there on the interet. (Good! (In some cases.)) Many of my successes so far have been with Ubuntu supported apps, but I have also gone out "into the wild" for some things, and made some use of The Terminal (ctrl-alt-t to open)

Text Editors: I REALLY wanted Textpad. For it's interface and features. A BAD answer may be to run Textpad using "WINE".

In the meantime, I'm trying to learn to love what normal Linux people use. After all, what system doesn't have a satisfactory text editor??

I first tried Geany. Sort of okay. Might be worth a try, if you don't like wither of the following. Adding its spell checker was easy.

GEdit came pre-installed on my system, and does many of the things I want... spellcheck, syntax highlighting, etc. But no "text replacement" provisions.

I am, to write this, using Bluefish... a simple editor with HTML author- friendly features.

Windows "Shortkeys": I am REALLY missing Shortkeys... and so will you, if you have a Windows machine and give them a serious try, and then try to live without them. Haven't found the Linux equivalent, yet... but like the text editor... there must be something.

Office Suite: I am a great fan of OpenOffice. So it was annoying to find that Ubuntu "pushes" LibreOffice. I am still in the throes of deciding what I am going to do here, longterm. In the meantime, I have Libre Office for word processing, spreadsheets, database. And I've every confidence that I CAN install OpenOffice if I decide to go that route. (Ironic: The spell checkers in Bluefish and GEdit both already "knew" "OpenOffice", but had to be told that "LibreOffice" is also okay. (Adding it to the dictionary of one of them didn't add it to the other... they have separate dictionaries, it would seem.)

Digital Darkrooms (Photo manipulation software: You know- the sort of thing you do with programs like Photoshop.

I've been a heavy user, for many years, of Serif's Photo Plus.

Because it is free and multi-platform, I really tried to like LightZone... and it did work, and it had some real strengths.

However, there were bits I couldn't find a way to do, and I turned to Gimp, which may end up being the one for me. Still early days. There are also things I don't... yet... know how to do in Gimp. So... we'll see!

SMTP / POP email: This was another of my ties to Windows. I like Pegasus. I am loathe to change. But I will have to. If the future of Thunderbird becomes more clear, that could well be the one. I've had that running okay under Windows. Haven't tried on Ubuntu yet.

Specialist interests...

Not everyone will want the following, but ** I ** did, and they will serve, I hope, to prove that Ubuntu isn't just for "mainstream", "major", "popular" apps...]

Arduino IDE: I installed the IDE for writing Arduino code, and quickly had it working, programming the little microprocessor systems without hassle.

General Purpose Programming: I haven't tried it yet, but I have every confidence that the Lazarus I've been using on Windows for ages will work just fine on Ubuntu.

KiCad: PCB design. What I said about Lazarus applies to KiCad as well.