A good friend of mine, who is very computer savvy, recently bought a new computer and installed Ubuntu on it rather than Windows. Now, despite being a very smart guy when it comes to PCs and Windows, he was still a newbie to the world of Ubuntu, so he and I went through a series of questions and answers before, during, and after his Ubuntu install. I’ve turned those into a FAQ for Ubuntu noobs that should answer a fair amount of questions for the first 24 hours of a first-time Ubuntu installation.
Of course, don’t forget to read my previous post on Ubuntu Tips and Tricks as well, for some more ubuntu newbie help!
Q: Should I install 32-bit or 64-bit Ubuntu on my new 64-bit machine?
A: The short answer is that most people should install the 64-bit version, even if they don’t see a noticeable (to the naked eye) boost in performance. Some reasons (beyond “just because”) to go with the 64-bit version:
Who should consider installing the 32-bit version on their 64-bit machine? Occasionally, it may be difficult or even impossible to install an app that you need or want because there is no 64-bit version for it, and the 32-bit version refuses to install and/or run on a 64-bit OS. *cough* Adobe products *cough* for example are notorious for causing problems in this area. Luckily, over time, most of these difficulties have been resolved or have decent workarounds. For example, I like to download music from Amazon’s MP3 store. Downloading single songs is not an issue, but for some reason, Amazon insists that you run the Amazon MP3 Downloader application in order to purchase/download an entire album. Unfortunately, that app doesn’t want to be installed on 64-bit Ubuntu, but some searching brings up a nice workaround that works perfectly. Still, the possibility exists that an app that is absolutely essential to you just won’t run unless you are using the 32-bit version. In that case, you’re a candidate for using 32-bit instead of 64-bit Ubuntu on your 64-bit machine. These days, I’d say that’s going to be a rare case.
One other note: If you don’t want to make the commitment to partitioning and installing, but want to either try Ubuntu or one-click install it through Windows, then you should be aware of these two options.
A: Yes! It uses a driver called NTFS-3G to make this magic happen. In previous versions, the driver had to be installed separately, but these days, it’s included by default, and you should be able to mount your old drive and read/write to it without a second thought.
A: Again, yes! And again, you shouldn’t need to do anything special to make that happen. It just works.
A: It’s a good idea, but it makes the initial installation a bit more complicated, as you’ll have to do a manual partition and that can get hairy for non-geekazoids. Still, if you want to have all your documents etc on one partition, here are a few guides to help you through it. Start here, then go here, then here. It’s absolutely not essential though, so just let the install process handle the partitioning automatically for you if you’d like.
A: The very first thing you should do is head on over to the Ubuntu forums, register for a free account, and bookmark the site. You’ll use it often. Having said that, as is the case with many forum software packages, the search function kinda sucks. The better way to search the Ubuntu forums is to search via Google with a search phrase something like this:
ubuntu firefox flash problem site:ubuntuforums.org
(where “firefox flash problem” is replaced with whatever you want to search for)
Keep ubuntu and site:ubuntuforums.org somewhere in the search phrase.
If that’s too much typing or too difficult to remember, you can also use the Google Custom Search Engine I created which will use Google’s search engine to search JUST the ubuntu forums without you having to do anything special. Just search as usual and you’ll only get results from the forums. Here’s the special search engine I created for you:
Almost every question or problem you can imagine has been encountered by someone and probably resolved by someone else. The forums are your friend.
Q: Ok, I got Ubuntu installed, but I have Nvidia graphics and the drivers didn’t load properly. Now what? (This question could be slightly altered in any number of ways, but the bottom line is that if you are having issues with Nvidia video, it’s a common problem, and yes, there are solutions).
A: Nvidia uses a restricted set of drivers (as in “not open”), so you’ll have to allow Ubuntu to use these restricted drivers. This is where you dive into the world of repositories. And while we are adding the appropriate restricted drivers repository so that you can use the Nvidia drivers, we’ll go ahead and make sure you have a few other repositories added (assuming you want the extra apps and goodies that are available in 3rd-party repositories). (And unless you are a purist freak, you probably do). (j/k on the “freak” comment…sorta).
A: Here comes the fun part. Go to System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager, type in your password when prompted, and welcome to the world of finding new software! At this point, you can either browse or search. Browse around just to get an idea of what’s available. Search if you know what you want.
Let’s go ahead and install one nice little utility right now, so you can see how it works. Type “sysinfo” (without the quotes) into the Quick Search box. You see one or more listings come up, with a checkbox to the left of each. If the checkbox is empty next to the sysinfo listing, you can check it by clicking on it, and choosing Mark for Installation from the resulting drop-down box. This often brings up a box letting you know that in order to install this app, you’ll need to also install a list of other things. Just agree by clicking on the Mark button. Now that you’ve chosen to install sysinfo, click on the big Apply button (with a green check mark in the menu) and when asked if you want to apply the changes, click Apply.
That’s it! Sysinfo will install itself and you’ve just added a new piece of software to your system. Free and easy, eh? Wait, you say, where is this new application? How do I run it? Good question, let’s tackle that next.
A: That depends. The first place to look is in the Applications menu. For example, the Sysinfo app that you just installed is now located in Applications > System Tools > Sysinfo. Click on that and open up your new application! Not every app automatically installs itself into the menu however. In those cases, some digging might be required.
The first thing I’d try to do is run it manually by doing the following: Click Alt-F2 to open the Run Application window. Now start typing in the name of the app you just installed (such as sysinfo). As you type, it will try to find the app you want, and if it does, just hit enter to run it.
A: Right-click on Applications and choose Edit Menus. For more detailed instructions, go here. Just remember that “command” is the most important aspect of the process. That’s the field that contains the actual command that makes the application launch, so that’s the most critical field to get right when you add the information into the new menu. The command is “usually” the same as the program name.
A: Now it’s time to introduce you to the terminal. You may have already used the terminal in any of the previous actions when I sent you off to another link for detailed instructions, but if not, here’s your first foray into the world of command-line control via a terminal window. To start, open a new terminal window from Applications > Accessories > Terminal. Now type in:
replacing sysinfo with the name of whatever application you just installed. You should see a list of directories that contain any bits and pieces of the app. One part of the new app is probably in one of the directories called bin (either /bin or most likely /usr/bin), and this is usually the file that you’d need to run or add to the command field in the menu. This may be getting you in over your head at this point, and I won’t elaborate further, but it would at least be a start at figuring out where it lives, and might help determine what to put into a command field when adding to the menus. You’ll need to dig deeper into the Ubuntu file system and structure if you want more details however. A good place to start is here.
A: Ah yes, permissions. Ubuntu likes to make sure your system stays nice and secure, so it requires that you occasionally jump an extra hoop to accomplish some tasks that might muck everything up. You should read more about sudo, gksudo and root here.
A: There may be lots of answers to this question, some more appropriate than others, but I’m going to start with the short (and most likely) answer. Ubuntu uses something called PulseAudio and it frankly just doesn’t always work right – right out of the box anyway. The quick and dirty method of getting your sound to work is probably by doing this:
Go to System > Preferences > Sound. Change the first 3 dropdowns on the Device tab to ALSA – Advanced Linux Sound Architecture. Does that make it work for you? If so, great. If not, or if you’d just really rather use PulseAudio which is newer and has some features ALSA lacks (such as the ability to change the volume of applications separately), then you’ll need to go down a (probably frustrating) road of research and trial and error. Start here, then read the posts nearer the bottom of this bug report, and good luck.
A: Ok, this is a big one. I’m not going to even TRY to answer it here. Instead, I’m going to send you here. Pretty much any of your questions related to Flash or multimedia will be addressed by following the incredible details in this post. Follow those instructions and you’ll probably end up with a big smile on your face, even if it did take a while to get through it all.
A: Nautilus is Ubuntu’s version of Explorer. Click on Places > Home Folder. That gets you right into your user’s home folder within the Nautilus file browsing window. You can get into nautilus other ways, of course, but that’s enough to know for now.
A: Easy. While in Nautilus, click on View > Show Hidden Files or press Ctrl-H.
A: Those “bars” are called Panels, and it’s very easy to customize them. Just right-click on any empty spot on a panel to see your options. You can add launchers (shortcuts to programs) to any panel, you can move launcher icons around, you can move panels around, etc. It’s all fairly self-explanatory, so I’ll let you just play around with it and investigate your options.
A: You can customize just about everything! A good place to start is System > Preferences > Appearance.
A: What you want is Compiz Fusion composite manager (assuming your video card can handle the advanced graphics, and if your system isn’t very old, it probably can). Check out this video first to get an idea of what it’s all about.
Now to get all that fun eye-candy yourself, you’ll first need to install it from Synaptic Package Manager. Search for simple-ccsm and install it. Then search for compizconfig-settings-manager in Synaptic and install it. Now go to System > Preferences > Appearance, choose the Visual Effects Tab, select Custom. Then go to System > Preferences > Compiz Config Settings Manager, and play with the fancy effects. You’ll want to check the box next to Rotate Cube to get the rotating cube effect obviously. There are so many options with Compiz, that I’ll just send you here and here for all the info.
A: True. You can install Wine from Synaptic Package Manager just like any other app. Once installed, you can then install some Windows programs just like you would if you were doing it on Windows. In other words, you can just double-click on the .exe install file, and it will install it just like it would on Windows. Yes, you’ll even see some “fake” C:\Program Files and other similar Windows type directories being created. (Sort of, like I said, it’s kind of fake, but it works). You can read more about Wine here, and see a list of apps that are known to work well here.
P.S. If you want, you can read the post I wrote not long after I first installed Ubuntu and was still a newbie. Well, I’m still a noob in some ways, but I’ve come a long way in the last 9 months. You will too, now that you’re armed with a guide for your first 24 hours as an Ubuntu noob!
*There are incredibly bright and generous people who have already written detailed documentation and guides to all of these issues, and I simply link to them in many places rather than reinventing the wheel. I’ve done some of the leg work in finding these resources for you. This way, you don’t have to waste time hunting for them yourself!