Author: Kurt Hartman
As I was sitting here, preparing to write this article, my mind wandered back to the day I accidentally wiped out a Windows installation with a Gutsy Gibbon CD. I thought I was in trouble. I had just knocked out my work documents, including various templates I made, along with scanner support, and my Adobe 8.0 suite.
It was at that moment I decided to make a go of it with Linux as my sole operating system. After nearly 2 years of tweaking, making mistakes, fixing those mistakes, and then making even more mistakes, I finally feel qualified to give you advice.
In light of this experience, I now present "11 Crucial Things An Ubuntu Newbie Should Know".
1. ps -A: One of the reasons I hated Windows so much was the task manager. When a program would hang, you’d have to open task manager, tell it to kill the program, and wait 5 minutes for the system to kill the application, All the while, it would bog down the processor, hog memory, and be an overall nuisance. 50% of the time, you would have to restart the computer to get the process to clear.
Not so in Ubuntu/Linux. All you have to kill a program is open the terminal, and type "ps -A". This will pull up a list of all the processes currently running, with the name of the program, along with a 4-5 digit number next to it. Then, type "kill -9 PN" (PN should be substituted with the actual Process Number), and hit enter. This will kill the app, no questions asked. It will not ask you any questions, or give you any excuses. That program is now dead, until the time you decide to resurrect it. This will not work with things like Apache, or other process daemons. If you’re not sure, just try to kill it. If it doesn’t die, then it is probably a daemon. You will have to find the actual documentation to stop the daemon.
Bonus tip: In Ubuntu (Gutsy and later), the command to stop Apache is: sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 stop To restart: sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 start
2. gksudo nautilus: Nautilus is the GUI-based file browser for Gnome, which is the default window manager for Ubuntu. If you are not used to the command line, this command will save you hours when it comes to file operations. Well, it will only save you hours for things that have to be done as root. Things like special system configuration, and other things where you need upgraded privileges will be much faster when you use this command.
Just open the terminal, type "gksudo nautilus", enter your password, and magically you can do anything you want. For faster access, right click the Desktop, select "create launcher", enter "gksudo nautilus" as the command. You can now click the shortcut on your Desktop , rather than opening the terminal and entering a command each time you need access to Nautilus.
3. dmesg: If you have managed to really mess something up, or are having trouble getting things to work, you may need someone with greater experience to take a look. Typing "dmesg" in your terminal window will call up all the messages from your system kernel. Copy and paste this into a text document, attach it to an email, and let a true expert get a look at what is going on with your hardware.
4. Ubuntu’s package manager, Synaptic, is a GUI front-end for Aptitude. What you don’t know is that Synaptic is set to run in what could be called "safe-mode". It will not go get the latest and greatest versions of the software you are running. It will get the last (often 6 months older) version of the software you want to run. You can upgrades faster by enabling optional software repositories.
To do this, open Synaptic (System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager), then select Settings > Repositories. Once you are in the repositories window, select the "Updates" tab. The Ubuntu "security" and "recommended updates" repository have already been selected. To get the newer stuff, you need to check "backports" and "proposed" software. Apply, and reload. This should get most of your software up to date, along with the kernel.
5. The kernel: While having the latest and greatest stable kernel can improve system performance, it can also break little fixes you have made along the way. An example: I had gone through the painstaking process of editing some configuration files to get my webcam to work. The last kernel update overwrote the changes I had made, and in the process, disabled my webcam. This can get irritating, but eventually a kernel release might fix an issue on its own, so I guess it is an ok, if not completely lossless tradeoff.
6. Upgrading to the newest version of Ubuntu: Don’t do it right away. Always give a new version at least two months in regular use before you decide to upgrade. I have tried to upgrade for 3 releases now, in the first two weeks of availability for the upgrade. Each time, there has been a major failure, mostly in the area of graphics and sound. If your release is stable, there is no reason to upgrade right away, other than a few minor changes in speed and stability. You forfeit these if you upgrade on the first day of a new release. You have been warned.
7. You can Google it: If you haven’t googled it, do not trounce into a forum and ask the question. People are nice, but they really can’t stand laziness. If you have searched, and can’t find it, it may be a more advanced question that really needs more expert analysis.
Here’s the search formula that reaps the best rewards for me: [manufacturer] [model] [problem] [ubuntu distribution]…(e.g. sony vaio webcam installation hardy). You can vary this formula a little bit, as sometimes it takes a few searches to get the hang of it. The one thing that you should not change is having your version of the distribution in the search. The reason is that fixes, and places where applications install can be different depending on the version you are using. This will ensure that you receive the best solution possible.
8. The Forums: Most of the time, Googling the problem will send you to the Ubuntu forums. Get a user name, log in, and be respectful. Be sure you try everything they tell you to before griping that it won’t work. The help and advice is free, and usually very helpful in nature.
9. Launchpad: This is a bug reporting service that Ubuntu users use to get bugs and various other problems fixed. You can reach the project at https://launchpad.net/ubuntu . Once you get there, click on report a bug, and follow the instructions. Be sure the problem has not been reported already, as they will ask. Provide as much information about the incident as possible. They will keep you posted on the progress as far as the problem being resolved, and assign a priority rating based on the severity of the problem. I’ve had to use it 2 or 3 times. Even the minor problems have been resolved in 2-3 weeks.
10. Don’t Be Afraid To Break It
This is the most important rule. This ain’t your Granny’s china. Stuff will break, you will be the one to break it. You will also be the one fixing it, along with your friend Google. Be patient, be persistent, and walk away for a bit if the solution just won’t come. Vindication will come, and when the fix is done properly, or you changed a variable that caused performance to increase, there will a mountaintop rush. Chances are, your significant other won’t care, but that won’t matter. Feel free to prance around in your boxers, and act like you just won the Nobel Prize.
11. Everything in Windows can be replaced with Open Source software: Really, it can. It takes a little time to find it, but when you do, a whole new world will open up. You’ll start to see how things work better than you expected. Things will play that would not on Windows, you’ll be able to open every attachment you ever wanted to. Productivity will increase, thereby giving you more time to make your system work faster, and work on your own open source program.
I can’t include everything I’ve learned over the past two years here. There are some other articles that I have written on software packages, and the pros and cons of each. Just google my name and iSnare to get a full list of what I have written on the subject. In conclusion, have fun with Ubuntu, share your knowledge with others, and fear God. Seriously.
That’s all the advice I have for you.
About the Author:
Kurt Hartman has been using Linux as his primary operating system for the past 2 years, and has loved (almost) every minute of it. He uses it regularly in his role as Head of Employee Training for Mobile Fleet Service. They sell Titan Tires in addition to several other brands, including Michelin, Bridgestone, and Goodyear. If you enjoyed this article, please search for Kurt over on iSnare, or read his blog at http://www.buybigtires.com .
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