With the release of the 12.04 long-term service (LTS) release versions of the Ubuntu family, I thought I’d update the previous version of my user guide. While it’s primarily aimed at Xubuntu/Xfce, aspects of it should also apply to regular Ubuntu.
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 12.04, 64-bit version, for a three-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).
Installing multimedia support
(Update 10/20/13) Last week, the Medibuntu repository ceased operation, claiming that the repository has become unmaintained, as well as changes in the Ubuntu family of software/Linux as a whole making its existence less necessary. Therefore, I’ve updated the instructions in this section.
Xubuntu, while coming with some functionality upon installation, does need several pieces of software installed to make use of things such as DVDs or various popular codecs. Follow the instructions below for each piece of software.
This package will install support for MP3s and some other audio/video codecs, playback of unencrypted DVDs, Microsoft’s fonts, Flash, and Java. To install xubuntu-restricted-extras, open the Terminal, then enter:
sudo apt-get install xubuntu-restricted-extras
This package allows for playback of encrypted DVDs (i.e. pretty much all DVDs available). To install libdvdcss2, open the Terminal, and enter:
This package provides support for some video formats. To install w64codecs, download the package from this site (a sister site of video player program MPlayer), then open the Terminal, navigate to the directory the package is downloaded to, and type:
sudo dpkg -i w64codecs_20071007-dmo2_amd64.deb
For those installing the 32-bit version of Xubuntu, use w32codecs instead, which is downloadable from here. Follow the same instructions as above, entering the w32codecs package name instead.
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 Ubuntu-free, Debian-based versions. The Debian-based versions offer a choice of Xfce, MATE, or Cinnamon (the latter two are forks of GNOME 2 and GNOME 3 respectively). The Ubuntu-based versions offer the choices of GNOME 3, KDE, LXDE, or MATE.
The Ubuntu-based versions of Mint are updated about a month or so after a new Ubuntu release. The Debian-based versions of Mint, however, offer “rolling” updates, which means there’s no new “version” of the operating system to every worry about upgrading. Instead, 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”). Since I’ve started using a timer app on my Android smartphone, I don’t use this one as often anymore, but I thought I’d keep it listed anyway.
- 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).
- Avidemux (GTK+): a video editing/conversion program.
- WinFF: another video conversion program.
- uShare: a command-line program that offers a media server solution, allowing one to stream files (videos, music, photos) from their computer to a UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) compatible device. I use uShare to stream files from my laptop to my Xbox 360.
- 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!
This article’s also available as a downloadable PDF.
EDIT (8/11/13): This guide’s now available via Smashwords as an EPUB ebook, for 99 cents (US)!