Ubuntu Features

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by Christer Edwards | October 2013 | Linux Servers Open Source

In this article, by Christer Edwards, the author of Instant Ubuntu, we learn about different features you need to know about that helps you discover much of the software Ubuntu provides and learn how to use it. You will learn about different accessories of Ubuntu, how to customize Ubuntu, and also about some games you can play in Ubuntu.

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

Accessories

Ubuntu provides a number of basic accessory utilities that provide core functionality that you'd expect in a desktop operating system. These include applications, such as an archive manager, backup utility, calculator, and basic text editor. Here we'll introduce some of these applications to give you more of an idea of what you're able to do with your Ubuntu desktop.

Archive Manager is a very flexible utility for managing archived data. It supports a range of archive formats and provides you the ability to archive or unarchive data. This application supports archiving with the ZIP, TAR, RAR, and many other popular formats. If you've ever sent a ZIP file, this is the application you'll use to unzip it. If you need to create an archive, perhaps to create a manual backup of some of your data, you can use this application to archive and compress the data to be backed up elsewhere.

deja-dup is the included Backup utility. This application provides you with the ability to create automatic backups of your important files on a regular schedule. It supports daily, weekly, and monthly scheduling. The length of time to keep the backups is configurable, as well as the location of the backup. These backups can be automatically shared to cloud storage, FTP, Windows shares, or local-folder locations. With this application, there is no excuse to not have regular backups of your system!

The Calculator application is just what you'd expect at first look, a calculator. Upon closer inspection, you'll discover that it supports basic, advanced, financial, and programming modes of calculation. It's lightweight and easy to use, and of course, comes with Ubuntu out of the box.

Text Editor is a very flexible utility for everything from taking simple notes to creating computer programs. It isn't a full-blown word processor, but a plain-text text editor. I use Text Editor when I teach beginner programming courses at my local university, as it is flexible enough to support basic programming syntax, while still being simple enough for beginners to use. If you find that you need a basic editor to simply take notes for class, Text Editor is a great place to get started.

Customization

You'll discover that your Ubuntu desktop is very customizable, allowing you to make your desktop environment your own. You're able to customize the overall theme, desktop backgrounds, fonts, launcher characteristics, and much more. This section will outline a few of the basic things you might want to customize as you're getting started. This will include desktop look and feel, online account configuration, and even hardware and driver support.

Customizing the look and feel of your Ubuntu desktop is done within the Appearance application. Here you'll be able to customize the desktop background, theme, and launcher settings. Select from the many included desktop wallpaper backgrounds and see a preview on the virtual display. Change your theme within the theme drop-down menu. You can also optionally customize the launcher icon size and overall behavior.

The default theme is called Ambiance. This provides the darker look that you see now. If you prefer a lighter theme, you might try the Radiance theme, which is an opposite look and feel to Ambiance. I like to configure my desktop with Ambiance, relatively small launcher icons, and an auto-hiding bar.

Feel free to customize your desktop however you like. Experiment with different themes and settings until you find the look and feel you prefer.

In regards to hardware support, Ubuntu provides a system to check for and install the drivers for proprietary hardware. This generally includes popular video cards from ATI or NVIDIA as well as some wireless network cards. While these drivers are not open source, Ubuntu can automatically detect the need for them, and handle the installation for you. This will give you better support for hardware not normally supported by open source operating systems. Launch the Additional Drivers menu item, and let Ubuntu scan your hardware. If it detects a need for proprietary drivers, it will prompt you, and walk you through the installation. If nothing is found, it simply means that you are already using open source drivers, and that your hardware is already fully supported.

Also available within the customization section is the Broadcast Accounts and Broadcast Settings applications. This is where you can configure your Twitter and Facebook chat accounts as well as preferences. Once configured, these accounts will be available directly from the status bar in the top right of your screen. If you click on the icon that looks like an envelope, you should see an entry for broadcast. This is where the broadcast accounts are integrated into your Ubuntu system, allowing you to update your status, and view and reply to messages from friends and family without needing to keep Facebook or Twitter open in a web browser.

Games

Ubuntu has both basic and more advanced gaming options available. Some of the games are things you'd expect, such as Solitaire or Minesweeper. Also included are tile-matching game Mahjongg and the number puzzle Sudoku. These are sure to provide hours of gaming fun. If you're interested in other gaming options, quite a few more are available in the Ubuntu Software Center.

For those that are looking for gaming options beyond what is in the Ubuntu Software Center, Ubuntu is also supported by the Steam gaming platform. Historically, Steam has only supported Windows and Apple; however, Ubuntu was selected as the first (and currently only) Linux platform to be officially supported by Steam.

The following section will describe how to install Steam on your Ubuntu system and gain access to the Steam supported games for Ubuntu.

First, launch the Ubuntu Software Center and search for Steam in the search window. This should provide a number of results. You'll want to select the one labeled The ultimate entertainment platform. Select this option from the list, and click on Buy. You'll be prompted with and need to agree to the Software License Agreement. This will take you to the Ubuntu single sign-on page, where you'll need to log in or create a new account. If you have not yet registered for an Ubuntu account, you'll need to register here. This takes only a few minutes, and is completely free. Once you have created and/or logged into your account, the installation will continue.

When the installation is finished, a window will appear notifying you that you'll need to Start Steam to complete the installation. Click on Start Steam to continue. This will be followed by a Steam Installation Agreement, which you'll need to agree to. Check the box I have read and accept the terms, and click on OK. At this point, Steam will launch and begin downloading any available Steam updates. This may take a few minutes depending on your Internet connection.

From this point, you'll have the option to create a new Steam account or sign into an existing account. If you've played Steam games on other platforms, you should be able to use your existing credentials here. If you're new to Steam and want to get started, create a new account, and continue.

From here on you're ready to play Steam games!

Summary

In this article, we learned about different accessories, such as archive manager, backup utility, calculator, and basic text editor. Then, we learned how to make an operating system our own by customizing it with things that includes desktop look and feel, online account configuration, and even hardware and driver support. Lastly, we also learned about the part you will love the most that is games available on Ubuntu, such as Solitaire, Minesweeper, Mahjongg, and Sudoku. So, have fun while learning about one of the best operating systems available out there: Ubuntu.

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Instant Ubuntu [Instant] Your complete guide to making the switch to Ubuntu with this book and ebook
Published: September 2013
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About the Author :


Christer Edwards

Christer Edwards began his career as a professional Linux instructor and avid technical blogger, publishing regular tutorials on using and improving Ubuntu systems. His love for teaching soon led him to a part- time instructor position at the University of Utah, where he has taught a variety of topics. In his day job, he currently works as a System Administrator for a large international company maintaining thousands of servers worldwide. He currently lives in Utah, where he enjoys exploring the outdoors.

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