Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Precise Pangolin: Desktop Essentials

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In a previous article I showed you how easy it was to install Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and by now you should be making yourself familiar with the idea of how your desktop works, where your files are stored and some of the basic concepts that make Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Precise Pangolin a truly great operating system.

On the whole it would be true to say that Ubuntu also comes pre-installed with an excellent range of software and for the purpose of installing software Ubuntu maintains its very own Software Centre. Giving you instant access to thousands of free and open-source applications, games, and magazines does make things nice ‘n’ easy but with so much to choose from and for those of us who want to ‘hit the floor running’ it can be a little overwhelming (if not time consuming). So the question remains, where do I start?

To get the most out of your computer it is simply a question of what software you can run, what music you can listen to, what videos you can watch and what games you can play. You want to own your desktop and make it do fantastic things, you want familiarity but you also want something different. Choice can be a dilemna but it is purpose of this article is take up the running with a check-list of post install ‘tips and tricks’ that will deliver a fully functional desktop in no time at all. I  am not only going to show you short-cut the Software Centre process but I will also show you how to install a whole host of screensavers, remove the guest account, and install the classic Gnome interface – leaving you with plenty of time on your hands to discover the hidden gems of the Ubuntu Software Centre at your leisure.

So let’s get started …

Additional software sources.

Before we begin we must make sure that our software sources list is up-to-date.

You can achive this by simply opening the Ubuntu Software Center icon (found in the Launcher or by searching for the ‘Ubuntu Software Center’ in the search bar of the ‘dash’) and then:

  • Place your mouse over the top bar (near your username), choose Edit > Software Sources
  • From the resulting window choose ‘Other Software’.
  • Tick the checkboxes next to ‘Canonical Partners’ and ‘Canonical Partners (Source Code)’. This repository includes access to software such as Skype and Adobe Reader.
  • Choose the ‘update tab’ to configure your update schedule. A weekly or daily schedule is advised.
  • Click ‘close’ when done thereby allowing the operating system to update itself with the new settings.

Please note,
For the purpose of this article I will not be addressing the use of any Personal Package Archive (PPA). Otherwise known as PPAs, these archives are used to help test pre-release or specialty software.

Using Terminal.

A brief introduction to software installation can be found here, but for the purpose of this article we will be using the Terminal.

By single definition the Terminal is similar to the command line in Microsoft Windows but it differs in the fact that it can perform any operation on the system. It is a very powerful application, but after a little practice you will discover that it is a very easy tool to use.

You can find Terminal by using one of the following methods:

  • Dash > Search for Terminal
  • Dash > More Apps > Accessories > Terminal
  • But my favourite is to simply use Ctrl + Alt + T as a keyboard shortcut.

A helpful guide on this subject can be found here and here but once Terminal is open you will see somthing similar to the following:


Let’s digress and just for a quick experiment try the a command. Type in the following (exactly as you see it) or use copy/paste and press the ‘return/enter’ key when done:


By doing this you have just requested the system to tell you the time and date. Obviously the exact time and date will be different on your system but you should now see something like this:

Sat Apr 28 15:35:35 BST 2012

And throughout this article that’s as complicated as we will get :-)

Naturally, I would encourage you to read the background information at your leisure but it isn’t necessary as all we are going to do is run the following types of command in order to perform an installation request:

sudo apt-get install <package_name>

or to install multiple packages we will use:

sudo apt-get install <package_name_1> <package_name_2> <package_name_3>

In reverse or if you ever make a mistake and you need to remove a package, simply use the following command format (replacing <package_name> with the name of the software you wish to remove):

sudo apt-get remove <package_name>

The most important thing to remember is. It may be a little awkward and strange at first (and I have merely introduced you to the subject), but by doing it this way, you will not only get a true feel for the Linux operating system but you will discover that Terminal is the fastest and most efficient way of getting the job done.

Updating your system

So without further hesitation, let’s jump straight in and use the Terminal to update our system. The commands are a little bit different to what we just discussed but I am sure they will be self-explanatory :-)

Open Terminal and type:

sudo apt-get update && apt-get upgrade

You will be asked to authenticate yourself – so simply enter your password and hit the ‘return/enter’ key.
Terminal will now perform a check on your system to see if any updates are available to you.

If none are available then no further action is required but if updates are available, Terminal will respond by asking you to confirm the update by using either a simply Y (Yes) or N (No) to complete the task.

A large update may take a while to complete but that’s it, to update your system it really is that simple and you can repeat these steps whenever you need to.

Building your desktop

Now we will turn our attention to building the desktop.

So let’s begin by installing a collection of useful utilities by returning to Terminal and typing:

sudo apt-get install flashplugin-installer gsfonts-x11 unace rar unrar p7zip-rar p7zip zip unzip sharutils uudeview mpack lha arj cabextract file-roller acroread geany geany-plugins filezilla calibre gparted

Some of the package names will be familiar to you whilst some others may not, but we have just asked the system to install a collection of tools that includes the Adobe Flash Plugin and the associated fonts, (acroread) Adobe Acrobat Reader, a series of zip/compression utitlities, (gparted) a disk partitioning tool, (calibre) an e-book catalogue and viewer, (filezilla) for FTP, and (geany) a compact text editor that shares some features of a larger IDE.

In the same way we can now consider installing a collection of tools to finish off Libre Office with a global menu bar, provide PDF functionality and incorporate the Mozilla plugins whilst including a Viso-like diagram creator called DIA.

sudo apt-get install dia libreoffice-pdfimport mozilla-libreoffice

While we are here, let’s install the basic tool kit that will enable you to compile from source (you may not want to do anything like this now, but by installing these utilities you will be giving yourself options for the future):

sudo apt-get install build-essential checkinstall cdbs devscripts dh-make fakeroot libxml-parser-perl check avahi-daemon

And to finish up, for those who like options and want to install Google Chromium, in Terminal type:

sudo apt-get install chromium-browser chromium-browser-l10n

Now wasn’t that quicker and easier than searching for and installing each item individually :-)

Building for sound, vision and design

For those who want the very best in audio-visual play back and recording in Terminal type:

sudo apt-get install smplayer libxine1-ffmpeg gxine mencoder mpeg2dec vorbis-tools id3v2 mpg321 mpg123 libflac++6 ffmpeg totem-mozilla icedax tagtool easytag id3tool lame nautilus-script-audio-convert libmad0 libjpeg-progs flac faac faad sox ffmpeg2theora libmpeg2-4 uudeview flac libmpeg3-1 mpeg3-utils mpegdemux liba52-0.7.4-dev libquicktime2 gstreamer0.10-ffmpeg gstreamer0.10-fluendo-mp3 gstreamer0.10-gnonlin gstreamer0.10-sdl gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad-multiverse gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly totem-plugins-extra gstreamer-dbus-media-service gstreamer-tools ubuntu-restricted-extras ttf-mscorefonts-installer regionset

This collection of important utilities should provide you with enough media codecs and players to keep you happy for quite a while :-)

For those who want to use their desktop for photography and/or graphic design, in Terminal type:

sudo apt-get install scribus gimp gimp-data gimp-plugin-registry gimp-data-extras inkscape pinta libraw-bin ufraw ufraw-batch and gimp-ufraw rawtherapee

This will install Scribus, Gimp, Pinta and Inkscape with a collection RAW file viewers/editors/plugins for SLR Digital Photography.

How do I remove the guest account

The Ubuntu ‘Guest’ account is installed by default and for those of us who want to keep the login screen nice and tidy, to remove it all we need to do is this:

In Terminal type:

sudo gedit /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf

This will open the ‘lightdm’ configuration file in your text editor.
At the bottom of this file, underneath the existing copy add the following line:


Now save the file, close it and reboot.
The Guest account should no-longer be visible!

Restoring the screensaver

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Precise Pangolin does not feature any screensavers in the standard installation and if you are like me (and miss them) this can fixed like so.

Run the following command to remove the existing gnome-screensaver package:

In Terminal type:

sudo apt-get purge gnome-screensaver

Next, run the following command to install the ‘xscreensaver’ packages:

In Terminal type:

sudo apt-get install xscreensaver xscreensaver-gl-extra xscreensaver-data-extra

Next, run the following command to create the ‘xscreensaver autostart file’.

In Terminal type:

sudo gedit /etc/xdg/autostart/screensaver.desktop

This will open a newly created file in your text editor. Simply copy and paste the following lines into that file and click ‘save’:

[Desktop Entry]
Exec=xscreensaver -nosplash

Close the file, reboot, search for screensavers in the ‘dash’ and configure as required and you will have as many screensavers as you will ever need …

Fall-back to the Gnome desktop environment

Some people like Unity, some people do not; (who am I to judge) but if you ever find yourself wishing to see the face of Gnome back on Ubuntu simply open Terminal and enter the following commands, one line at a time (press the ‘enter/return’ key at the end of each line):

sudo apt-get install gnome-session-fallback
sudo apt-get install indicator-applet-appmenu
sudo apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool

Each command may take a few minutes to complete but when done, simply ‘reboot’ your computer and at the login prompt, use the small ‘cog’ icon to change the user interface style.

You will have the choice of Unity, Gnome Classic or Gnome 3.

On the other hand, if you do not want to do this right now and just in case you are curious, Gnome Classic looks like this:

Whereas Gnome 3 looks like this:

And what about security they ask …

Last but not least we want to make our desktop environment safe and secure and to do this we need an anti-virus solution.

In Terminal type:

sudo apt-get install clamav clamtk

This will install ClamAV, an open source (GPL) antivirus engine designed for detecting Trojans, viruses, malware and other malicious threats.

When the installation is complete simply search for ClamTK in the ‘dash’, it is very easy to use, the software also runs on Windows and all updates are made free of charge. See https://www.clamav.net/ for further details.

And finally, to finalise our ‘desktop starting point’ we now want to install a firewall.

Thank fully, Ubuntu have made this an easy choice that simply requires you to install the ‘Uncomplicated Firewall’. Otherwise known as UFW, it is designed to be very simple and is packaged with an intuitive user interface. According to the developers,

“The reason ufw was developed is that we wanted to create a server-level firewall utility that was a little bit more for ‘human beings'”

They may call it simple (and it is), but don’t underestimate its power.

In Terminal type:

sudo apt-get install gufw

When the installation is complete you will be able to find it in the ‘dash’ under UFW but for now this is where I will leave you as I shall come back to the UFW and the art of firewall configuration at a later date.

If you followed this article you should (by now) have a desktop swimming with ‘apps’ and more than enough to get you started. And I think it’s time to let you play …

I hope you enjoy using Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Precise Pangolin.

If you enjoyed reading this post, you’ll love Learnable; the place to learn fresh skills and techniques from the masters. Members get instant access to all of SitePoint’s ebooks and interactive online courses, like Ubuntu Linux.

Jonathan HobsonJonathan Hobson
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Jonathan is an independent web developer, server administrator and application programmer and for nearly 20 years he has been working behind the scenes to support companies, organisations and individuals from all over the world to realise their digital ambitions. As a practitioner of many the computer languages Jonathan enjoys all things Linux, writing code, building computers, playing the XBOX, history and getting 'out and about' in the big outdoors. He thrives on new challenges, works around the clock and prides himself on being friendly, honest, reliable and ultimately, the complete professional.

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