Tips and Tricks for Ubuntu after Installation [Ubuntu 14.04]

 

Introduction

Ubuntu UnityUbuntu is a free operating system or a Linux distribution ("distro") which currently receives the second highest hits after Linux Mint at DistroWatch.

The recent versions of Ubuntu have used Unity as a default user interface for the GNOME-3 desktop environment. If you have installed a new version of Ubuntu operating system with the Unity user interface on your PC, you might find these tips and tricks useful for working with the system.

Looking for a desktop interface with a start menu that looks closer to the traditional Windows system? Then give Linux Mint a try and check out Tips and Tricks for Linux Mint 17 Qiana Cinnamon Edition or MATE Edition.

Note: The tips and tricks included in this article work well with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Trusty Tahr. Please see this article if you're using an older version of Ubuntu.

 
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Adjust the Launcher Icon Size

Ubuntu DesktopUbuntu includes a launcher on the left of your screen. If it appears that the size of the icons on the launcher is either too small or too big, you can adjust it to the size you like.

  1. Click the Control Gear and select "System Settings".
  2. Click "Appearance" under "Personal".
  3. Under the Look tab, drag the slider of "Launcher Icon Size" to the left for a smaller size, or right for a bigger size.

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Auto Hide the Launcher

Depending on the version of Ubuntu you use, the Launcher is set to always either appear or hide on the screen by default. You can change this default setting easily.

  1. Click the Control Gear and select "System Settings".
  2. Click "Appearance" under "Personal".
  3. Under the "Behavior" tab, switch on or off the button of "Auto-hide the Launcher".

To reveal the Launcher temporarily, just press and hold the Super (aka Windows) key, or move your mouse cursor to the far left of the screen. You can adjust the reveal sensitivity with the slider under the "Behavior" tab mentioned above. If it still doesn't work very well, you can adjust the amount of mouse pressure in the following tip.

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Make Revealing the Launcher Easier

After auto hiding the Launcher, you can reveal it by moving the mouse cursor to the left edge of the screen. But when you feel that you have to actually knock the mouse cursor against the screen edge hard enough to get the Launcher revealed, then it's better that you adjust the 'mouse pressure' using CompizConfig Settings Manager.

  1. Install CompizConfig Settings Manager from the Ubuntu Apps Directory if the application is not available in your system.
  2. Press Alt-F2 and type ccsm into the box, press Enter to run this program.
  3. Select "Desktop" from the left panel.
  4. Click "Ubuntu Unity Plugin".
  5. Under the "Launcher" tab, adjust the preset value of "Launcher Reveal Pressure" or "Launcher Reveal Edge Responsiveness" where applicable, to lower to make the launcher easier to reveal, or higher to do otherwise, click "Back" and "Close".

Try the Launcher again and enjoy.

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Disable Shopping Suggestions

When you do a search from the Dash in Ubuntu, it offers additional search results including shopping suggestions, a feature known as "Shopping Lens" or "Unity Smart Scopes", underneath the local search results by default. If you don't like these suggestions, you can turn them off or back on.

  1. Click the Dash Home icon on the Launcher and click "Filter results" next to the search box.
  2. Deselect the categories or sources that you want to exclude from the search results.

To turn the online search results permanently, follow these simple steps:

  1. Click the Control Gear and select "System Settings".
  2. Under Personal, select "Security & Privacy".
  3. Under the Search tab, turn off "When searching in the Dash: Include online search results".

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Disable or Enable the Global Menu

Move buttons to rightUbuntu system places the application menu (File/Edit/View) (also known as AppMenu or Global Menu) on the top bar by default, but it also allows for a locally integrated menu (LIM). If you want to opt for a LIM which moves the menu back to the application's window, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Control Gear and select "System Settings".
  2. Click "Appearance" under "Personal".
  3. Under the Behavior tab, check "In the window's title bar" to show the menus for a window.

The menu appears when you mouse over the window's title bar. To enable the global menu, re-check "In the menu bar" to show the menus for a window.

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Open Up a Window in Center

If you run an application without maximized and the system always puts it in the left-top corner of the desktop, but you are allowed to set a program window to open up in the center of the desktop area.

  1. CompizConfig Settings ManagerInstall CompizConfig Settings Manager from the Ubuntu Apps Directory if the application is not in your system.
  2. Press Alt-F2 and type ccsm into the box, press Enter to run this program. (You may receive a warning to use this advanced tool with care.)
  3. Select "Windows Management" from the left panel.
  4. Click "Place Windows".
  5. Change Placement Mode from "Smart" or other modes to "Centered", click "Back" and "Close".

Ideally, the window manager in Ubuntu should restore the last known position of an application window, but it does not do that unless an application remembers its own window position. (See reported bugs)

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Customize the Theme

Themes in Ubuntu can be customized to suit your needs. The default theme "Ambiance" has the menu (File, Edit, View, etc) printed in white on a dark background, but you can easily switch to another theme such as "Radiance" to have the menu printed in black on a light background. These are easy steps to customize a theme.

  1. Click the Control Gear and select "System Settings".
  2. Click "Appearance" under "Personal".
  3. Under the Look tab, select a theme from the drop-down menu.

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Disable Overlay Scrollbar

In new versions of Ubuntu, the scrollbar button is hidden until you mouse over it. You can revert it to the normal scrollbar by changing the settings.

Either enter this command in the Terminal: gsettings set com.canonical.desktop.interface scrollbar-mode normal

Or edit the value using dconf-editor:

  1. Press Alt-F2, type dconf-editor into the box, and press Enter to run it.
  2. Browse to com > canonical > desktop > interface, look for "scrollbar-mode" on the right panel and change the value from overlay-auto to normal.

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Change Wallpapers Automatically

You can right click your desktop, select "Change Desktop Background" and choose any one of the wallpapers pre-installed, but you need to do it each time you want to change a wallpaper. What about changing a wallpaper automatically within a certain time interval? Try to install the wallpaper changer Variety.

  1. Press Ctrl-Alt-T to run Terminal.
  2. Enter sudo add-apt-repository ppa:peterlevi/ppa
  3. Enter sudo apt-get update
  4. Enter sudo apt-get install variety

With this wallpaper changer, you can change wallpapers in a fixed time interval from the sources you set and run it with several other settings such as randomly applying filter effects, color and size, customizing the indicator icon and so on.

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Set a Default View in Files Manager

Windows Explorer allows for users to set a default view to all folders. In almost the same way, Ubuntu's Files Manager allows for these settings:

  1. Set File BrowserClick the Files icon on the Launcher.
  2. From the menu, click "Edit" then "Preferences".
  3. Under Default View, change "Icon View" to "List View", to see more details in columns.
  4. Tick "Show hidden and backup files" if that's your choice.

Other various settings, such as single or double click to open items, icon captions, list columns and preview files can be done in the same Files Preferences window as well.

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Preview in Files Manager

Sushi is a quick previewer of files in Files Manager. You can download the previewer from here if it's not in your Ubuntu system. With this handy tool installed, you can preview text, PDF, audio and video files, and other supported documents in a single step when using the Files Manager.

  • Select a file, press Spacebar to preview.
  • Press Spacebar again or Escape to close a preview.

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Change a Folder Icon

When running the default Files Manager, you will see that the folder icons are predetermined by the theme you set. If you wish to change a folder icon to another for it to stand out from the system-wide icons, follow these steps:

  1. In the Files Manager, right click a folder icon, select Properties.
  2. Under the Basic tab, click the icon image to open up the "Select Custom Icon" window.
  3. In the Location field, type /usr/share/icons, press Enter. (You can hide or unhide the Location field by clicking the Edit button on the top-left of the window.)
  4. Browse and select an icon you want.
  5. Click the Open button on the bottom-right of the window to confirm.

Note: You can change your custom folder icon back to the default by clicking the "Revert" button in the "Select Custom Icon" window at Step 2 above.

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Create an Advanced Files Manager

In the Ubuntu file system, you can use "Files" Manager to browse most files but can only write files in your home folder /home/your_name and its sub-folders such as Desktop and Documents. If you have to rename a folder or write files outside of your home folder using the Files Manager, you won't be able to but you can create a shortcut to run an advanced Files Manager for this purpose.

  1. Click the Dash Home icon on the Launcher (or tap Super), then type keyboard into the Search box and press Enter.
  2. Under the "Shortcuts" tab, select Custom Shortcuts, then click the "+" sign to create a custom shortcut.
  3. Enter a name such as Advanced Files Manager in the "Name" box.
  4. Enter gksu nautilus in the "Command" box, then click the Apply button. (See note below)
  5. Click on Disabled at the Advanced Files Manager row in the Keyboard Shortcuts window (Disabled is then changed to New accelerator...).
  6. Press a new key combination, e.g. Ctrl+Alt+N (New accelerator... is then changed to Ctrl+Alt+N).

Now you can easily access the Advanced Files Manager by pressing the shortcut key you assigned. But be careful since you can use it to delete or change any files on your system.

Note: For Ubuntu 14.04, "gksu" is not available by default. You'll need to enter sudo apt-get install gksu in the Terminal for it to work. If you're using the 64-bit version of Ubuntu, enter gksu-properties in the Terminal after installing gksu and set the authentication mode to sudo.

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Add or Change Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are preset in the system, but you can add new ones or change them easily. For instance, you can add a keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Alt+C to run Calculator conveniently in a few steps below:

  1. Keyboard ShortcutsClick the Dash Home icon (or tap Super), type keyboard and press Enter.
  2. Under the "Shortcuts" tab, select "Launchers" on the left panel
  3. Click "Launch calculator", and it shows "New accelerator..."
  4. Press Ctrl+Alt+C keys simultaneously, and it shows Ctrl+Alt+C
  5. Close the window and try the new shortcut.

   To disable a shortcut, press Backspace when it shows "New accelerator..." after the step 3 above.

   Keyboard shortcuts can also be set by changing keybinding values with Configuration Editor. In Ubuntu, press Alt+F2 and enter dconf-editor, then navigate to org > gnome > desktop > wm > keybindings.

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Terminate Unresponsive Programs

Xkill is part of the X11 utilities pre-installed in Ubuntu and a tool for terminating misbehaving X clients or unresponsive programs. You can easily add a shortcut key to launch xkill with the steps below.

  1. xkillClick the Dash Home icon on the Launcher (or tap Super), then type keyboard into the Search box and press Enter.
  2. Under the "Shortcuts" tab, select Custom Shortcuts, then click the "+" sign to create a custom shortcut.
  3. Enter xkill to both the Name and Command boxes and click the Apply button.
  4. Click on Disabled at the xkill row in the Keyboard Shortcuts window (Disabled is then changed to New accelerator...).
  5. Press a new key combination, e.g. Ctrl+Alt+X (New accelerator... is then changed to Ctrl+Alt+X).

Xkill is ready for use. Press the above key combination to turn the cursor to an X-sign, move the X-sign and drop it into a program interface to terminate the unresponsive program, or cancel the X-sign with a right-click.

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Enable Media Playback

Ubuntu only includes completely free software by default and does not configure proprietary media formats such as mp3 and mp4 'out of the box'. The required codecs however can be easily installed for the default player to playback these files following a few simple steps below.

  1. Double click an mp3 file in a folder.
  2. Click the "Install" button to download and install the recommended codecs. (See Note below)
  3. Restart the player after the codecs are installed.

You might need to do the same for other restricted media formats such as mp4 too.

Note: As an alternative, you can also download and install Ubuntu restricted extras from Ubuntu Apps Directory right away for media players to playback some restricted formats.

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Install Screenlets

Screenlets are small applications to represent things such as sticky notes, clocks, calendars around on your desktop. You can launch a pre-installed screenlet from Screenlets manager, or install a new one into the manager for launching it. Here are the steps for installing and launching a screenlet, for example, WaterMark System Information.

  1. WaterMark ScreenletInstall Screenlets manager if it has not been added from the Ubuntu Apps Directory.
  2. Download the screenlet "WaterMark System Information" to a folder.
  3. Press Alt-F2, type Screenlets into the box and press Enter to run the manager.
  4. Click Install, select Install Screenlet and click OK.
  5. Browse to the folder, select the file downloaded and click "Open" to install the screenlet into the Screenlets manager.
  6. Select the screenlet "WaterMark" and click "Launch/Add". (Tips: you can add more than one WaterMark screenlet and set it to display other system information.)

More screenlets are available for installation from screenlets.org.

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Install Oracle Java Packages

Other than using OpenJDK, some web services may need the Oracle Java Runtime Environment (JRE) to be installed in the system for running the services properly. If you would like to get the proprietary Oracle Java packages for your system, you can download and install them following these steps:

  1. Press Ctrl-Alt-T to run Terminal.
  2. Enter sudo add-apt-repository ppa:webupd8team/java to add the partner repository.
  3. Enter sudo apt-get update to update the source list.
  4. Enter sudo apt-get install oracle-java7-installer to download and install the Oracle Java packages.
  5. Enter sudo java -version to check the version of the Java used in the system.
  6. Enter sudo update-alternatives --config java to choose the default Java for use in the system when necessary.

Note: The new version of Oracle Java may not allow you to run applications or services that are unsigned or self-signed. If you trust the services that you're using, you may configure the security level of JRE or add the services to the Exception Site List using the Java Control Panel. To run it, press Alt-F2, type jcontrol then press the Enter key.

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Auto Mount Drives at System Startup

Ubuntu is capable of reading and writing files stored on Windows formatted partitions using NTFS file system, but partitions must be 'mounted' before they can be accessed. With these steps, you can auto mount the drives or partitions without the need to manually mount them for access each time you start up the system. Below is a way of doing it by adding an entry in the fstab file.

  1. In the Terminal, enter sudo blkid to get the UUID (Universally Unique Identifier) of the partition you want to mount.
  2. Enter sudo mkdir /media/ntfs to create a mount point
  3. Enter gksu gedit /etc/fstab and add the following line in the fstab file: (see Note below about gksu)
    UUID=1234567890123456 /media/ntfs ntfs rw,nosuid,nodev,noatime,allow_other 0 0
  4. Replace the above 16-digit number with the UUID you've got from step 1, then click 'Save'.

Restart the system and check if the partition is mounted.

   To identify disk partitions by label, either use sudo blkid or ls /dev/disk/by-label -g in the Terminal. The "Disks" utility mentioned in "Name or Label a Partition" also gives you a glance of device numbers, partition types, sizes and labels.

 

Note: If "gksu" is not available, enter sudo apt-get install gksu in the Terminal to install it. If you're using the 64-bit version of Ubuntu, enter gksu-properties in the Terminal after installing gksu and set the authentication mode to sudo.

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Manually Mount a USB Drive

A USB storage device plugged into the system usually mounts automatically, but if for some reasons it doesn't automount, it's possible to manually mount it with these steps.

  1. Press Ctrl-Alt-T to run Terminal.
  2. Enter sudo mkdir /media/usb to create a mount point called usb.
  3. Enter sudo fdisk -l to look for the USB drive already plugged in, let's say the drive you want to mount is /dev/sdb1.
  4. Enter sudo mount -t vfat /dev/sdb1 /media/usb -o uid=1000,gid=100,utf8,dmask=027,fmask=137 to mount a USB drive formatted with FAT16 or FAT32 system. OR:
    Enter sudo mount -t ntfs-3g /dev/sdb1 /media/usb to mount a USB drive formatted with NTFS system.

To unmount it, just enter sudo umount /media/usb in the Terminal.

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Name or Label a Partition

Auto Start Up ApplicationsThe Files Manager shows the root directory as Computer for your Ubuntu system partition. If you have other partitions (or volumes), it shows them as xx GB Volume if they’re not named or labelled.

Using Disks utility is one of the effective ways to name a partition easily:

  1. Click the Dash Home button (or tap Super), type Disks to search for the utility and run it.
  2. Select the item Hard Disk.
  3. In the Volumes section, click a partition you want to label.
  4. Click the 'More actions' button below the Volumes section then select "Edit Filesystem..."
  5. In the Label box, enter a name, e.g. Data-Disk, and click Change.

The Files Manager should now show the partition label, such as Data-Disk, instead of xx GB Volume. This tip is for naming a partition using the utility; use other advanced features such as format, edit or delete partition with caution as they can delete data on your disk.

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Auto Start Up an Application

In Windows, you can place a program shortcut in a startup folder for running a program automatically when the system starts. In Ubuntu, you can do the same in this way:

  1. Auto Start Up ApplicationsClick the Dash Home icon (or tap Super), type 'Startup Applications' to search for the application and run it.
  2. Click the "Add" button.
  3. Name a program.
  4. Click the "Browse" button and navigate to "Computer" > usr > bin, where programs are usually installed.
  5. Select a program, click the "Open" button followed by the "Add" button.

The above program will then be listed in additional startup programs. Check if the program runs automatically by logging out and back to the system.

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Clean Up Old Crash Reports

System program problem detectedIf your Ubuntu system always pops up a dialog saying "System program problem detected" each time you log in even though you've already reported the problem, you might need to clean up all old crash reports by entering a command line below in the Terminal.

  1. Press Ctrl-Alt-T to run Terminal.
  2. Copy and paste sudo rm /var/crash/* in the Terminal and press Enter.

Log out and log back in the system, check if the dialog still appears.

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Enable Log-in Sound

Ubuntu doesn't have a log in sound that it used to have? If so, you can enable it easily:

  1. Click the Dash Home button and type "Startup Applications" to search for the application and run it.
  2. Click the "Add" button.
  3. In the Name field, type "Login Sound" (no quotes) or any other name you like.
  4. In the Command field, copy and paste this line: /usr/bin/canberra-gtk-play --id="desktop-login" --description="GNOME Login"
  5. Give a comment you like, such as "Plays a sound when I log in".
  6. Click the 'Add' button.

Log out and log back in to check whether the log-in sound works.

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Change Default Boot Options

After full installation, Ubuntu is set to be the default operating system to boot up if no key is pressed within a few seconds on a multi-boot system. You might want to set your preferred operating system to boot up by default. This can be done easily with Grub Customizer.

Press Ctrl-Alt-T to call up Terminal, copy following codes and paste (Ctrl-Shift-V) them inside Terminal to install Grub Customizer.

  1. sudo add-apt-repository ppa:danielrichter2007/grub-customizer
  2. sudo apt-get update
  3. sudo apt-get install grub-customizer

After installation, run Grub Customizer to set the default boot options with the following steps.

  1. Press Alt-F2, type grub-customizer into the box and press Enter to run it.
  2. Under the "General Settings" tab, select the default entry you like to boot up from the drop-down menu.
  3. Adjust the timeout value if needed, then press the Close button and the Save button.

Avoid changing timeout to 0 seconds if you need to select a system to boot up from a multi-boot menu.

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Clean Up the Boot Menu

Each time when Ubuntu updates to a new Linux kernel, the old one is left behind and the boot menu gets complicated. If your new Linux kernel works well, it's safe to clean up the boot menu. Do take these steps carefully as incorrectly hiding the items can make your system unbootable. You can check the Linux kernel version you're running by entering this command line uname -r into the Terminal.

To clean up the boot menu, it's pretty straightforward with Grub Customizer used in the tip above.

  1. Press Alt-F2, type grub-customizer into the box and press Enter to run it.
  2. Remove the entries you want to hide from the boot menu.
  3. Click the Save button.

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Auto Shutdown the System

A simple command can be entered in the Terminal to schedule a time for the system to shut down.

  1. Press Ctrl-Alt-T to run Terminal.
  2. Enter sudo shutdown -h +m (replace m with the number of minutes, e.g. +60).
    OR: enter sudo shutdown -h hh:mm (replace hh:mm with the time on the 24hr clock, e.g. 23:15).
  3. Enter password and minimize the Terminal window.

The system will then shut down within the minutes or at the time specified. To cancel a scheduled time, enter sudo shutdown -c in the Terminal.

   Alternatively, you might want to download and install GShutdown, which is a GUI program for scheduling a time to shutdown the system.

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Ubuntu and Unity Tweak Tools

With Ubuntu Tweak, you can configure Ubuntu system and change its settings much easier. Download this useful application from here and save it to a folder, then double click the downloaded .deb file. This will bring up the Ubuntu Software Center for you to install the application.

Ubuntu Tweak includes the settings for the appearance, startup login settings, desktop and system, plus these useful tools:

  • QuickLists Editor to re-order shortcut items on the Launcher.
  • Janitor to clear cache.

Besides Ubuntu Tweak, try also Unity Tweak Tool available here. It's designed to adjust the settings specifically for the Unity desktop with a simple and easy-to-use interface. With this tool, you are able to fine tune the Launcher, Search, Panel, Switcher and more.

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Add More Useful Software

Ubuntu Software Center lets you search and get more software. You can either click the Ubuntu Software Center icon from the Launcher to search for applications, or go to Ubuntu Apps Directory to find the software products you need. If you like a product on the Directory, just click the orange download button and it opens up in your Ubuntu Software Center app for you to confirm the install.

Besides this, you can get the latest freeware applications by clicking the Install this now button from the GetDeb Repository after the getdeb package is installed with the instructions given.

See also our Best Free Software for Linux.

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Related Links

 

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Comments

by Walter Castle on 30. June 2014 - 4:08  (117023)

Excellent and helpful tips for Ubuntu 14.04; saved me loads of time and energy. And at 72, that means a lot. Been using Linux since RedHat, Mandriva, and Suse first hit the store shelves, and this Ubuntu 14.04 is a real winner; runs perfectly on my old Dell Latitude E6400 laptop (about 2006 vintage). Thank you very, very much!!!

by ldmpub on 2. May 2014 - 22:27  (116006)

Upgrade to Ubuntu 14.04 done and thanks for this article: some tips were very usefull.

Thanks again for all the quality work done here ... for free!

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