There are a few things that power-users do to every installation or machine they use. It’s a feeling best described by putting on your favourite watch in the morning. The first thing I do on a fresh Ubuntu Linux installation is to fire up the Synaptic Package Manager. This application takes the guesswork out of both updating packages and installing new ones. Even if you’ve got the latest Ubuntu disk image, chances are some packages have already been updated with security or performance fixes, so I always make sure I click on “Reload” and “Mark All Upgrades“.
Then I click on “Search” and enter “ubuntu restricted extras” and select the “Commonly used restricted packages“. This meta-package (so called because it pulls up other applications), will install very useful things such as Microsoft fonts, support for MP3 and DVD playback using Gstreamer, Adobe’s Flash Plugin and Java.
You should click on the checkbox next to its name to “Mark for installation“. I then repeat the process with my favourite toolset of applications, such as:
- Banshee – which I consider to be the premier audio player application available for Ubuntu. Although not as feature rich as Amarok, I find its interface more user friendly, and it is very stable. Another great thing about Banshee is that you can extend its functionality above and beyond with small plugins, much like Firefox’s extensions.
- Cheeze – As a Mac user 90% of the time, I enjoy goofing around once in a while, as well as measuring the growth of my bonsai tree. This application will let you take snapshots from your webcam and apply effects to the image; it’s Photo Booth for Ubuntu.
- VLC – If you’re going to watch any videos at all on your Linux box, VLC is the way to go. Don’t even bother with any other applications.
- Transmission – Another reminiscent from being on a Mac, it actually provides good performance, stability and has the advantage of a familiar UI.
- Getting Things GNOME – A pun on the GTD (Getting Things Done) mantra, GTG is the way to organise your tasks on Ubuntu. It has an interface that closely resembles OmniFocus, which is my favourite task management tool. Unfortunately OmniFocus runs only on Macs and isn’t free either.
- FileZilla – Whether you need to upload some files to your NAS (Network Attached Storage) or your web server half a world away, FileZilla will take care of it.
- Ubuntu Tweak – An incredible time-saver which will certainly get the honour of being written up in a separate article soon, as the new version brings a lot of new functionality. Everything from cleaning up unused packages to fiddling with hidden system settings, all in a simple, straightforward UI. You need to go to ubuntu-tweak to get the package for this one.
I’m satisfied with the other applications in the default set. After I get all my packages installed and up-to-date I go to System->Administration->Hardware Drivers and check to see if I am using the better performing ‘proprietary’ drivers, if available.
I will also set the computer to automatically log into my account, without requiring a password in “Login Window“. Usually this is a security risk, but my main account is limited (not root) and running in a VM (virtual machine). In the “Preferences” menu, I check to see if the resolution is correct (“Display“) and adjust the mouse sensitivity (“Mouse“).
I then go to “Start-up Applications” and add Pidgin (IM application), Firefox, and Getting Things Gnome. Instead of manually typing entries for each app, I open just the ones I want to have automatically start and click on the “Remember Currently Running Applications“.
From System->Preferences->Appearance Preferences I turn off visual effects and set Menus to “Icon Only“. I also decrease all font sizes except Monospace by 1. People with less accurate eye-sight might want to increase the value, at least for the Document font.
If you’re running, or thinking about running, Ubuntu on your computer, we have some great articles on MakeUseOf covering Ubuntu which you can find here. We also have a complete guide which you can download for free, in PDF format.
What are your favourite must-have applications when installing Ubuntu? The same as mine or do you have others you like better? Let us know about them in the comments.