Ubuntu Setup: Configuring

Now that you have a fresh installation of Ubuntu Linux, let’s install some packages (applications) that will make your life easier.

Below are the packages to install, based on my experience setting up and repairing Ubuntu machines.

Unless otherwise noted, run all of these in the Terminal, which you can bring up via Ctrl+Alt+T. Many commands require you to enter sudo, which will often prompt you for your computer password. As you type, it will show nothing, not even asterisks. Just finish typing it and press enter.

In general, when installing via apt install, I will list multiple packages, each one separated from the last by a space. if one fails, the whole thing fails. Just find and remove any packages that you cannot install, and the rest will install just fine.

You can also copy and paste to the Terminal. Just be sure a) Not to copy the $ in the command, and b) to use Ctrl+Shift+V to paste in the Terminal. (Ctrl+v doesn’t work.)

Intro to Ubuntu

Pop!_OS

You have GNOME3 by default, but if you want a different desktop environment, it’s easy to install:

For MATE, run the following in a terminal:

$ sudo apt install mate-desktop-environment mate-desktop-environment-extras ubuntu-mate-desktop

If you’ve installed MATE, or are sticking with GNOME3, you can follow the instructions from the rest of this tutorial as if you had Ubuntu MATE or Ubuntu respectively.

For Cinnamon, run the following:

$ sudo apt install cinnamon-desktop-environment

For KDE Plasma (from Kubuntu), run:

$ sudo apt install kde-standard

For XFCE (on lightweight systems), run:

$ sudo apt install xfce4 xfce4-goodies

For LXDE (another lightweight option), run:

$ sudo apt install lxde

After installing, log out, and then at the login screen, find the option to switch which desktop environment you’re using.

Ubuntu MATE

The Welcome application will walk you through the initial setup process for Ubuntu MATE, and introduce you to many features in the operating system.

Early on, you should also start the MATE Tweak application, select Panel, and try out each of the eight panel layouts. By default, the Familiar layout is used.

  • If you liked the original Ubuntu Unity, try Mutiny.

  • If you like Microsoft Windows, try Redmond.

  • If you like Apple macOS, try Cupertino.

  • For the best of both worlds, try Pantheon (Jason McDonald’s favorite).

  • If you have a very small screen, try Netbook.

Ubuntu (GNOME3)

You can learn how to use Ubuntu from the official Ubuntu 20.04 Getting Started Guide.

You can customize many aspects of Ubuntu MATE using the GNOME Tweak application.

Important

The rest of the instructions are universal to all varieties of Ubuntu 18.04.

Pop!_OS

There are several additional features of Pop!_OS you should be aware of if you’re using that system. Take a look at the `official Pop!_OS documentation<https://support.system76.com/#pop>`_ for more information.

Updating System

Before we tackle anything else, let’s install any waiting updates. This can take a little bit of time, depending on your internet connection speed.

Ordinarily, you can just use the Software Updater program, but I like to use the Terminal.

$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt full-upgrade
$ sudo apt autoremove
$ sudo apt autoclean

Let’s break this down quickly. apt is a command-line program that installs and manages packages on your system. The update command fetches the latest list of packages available for installation. dist-upgrade installs all available upgrades, including new versions of software.

Note

There is a minor debate about whether one should update via apt upgrade or apt dist-upgrade. The former doesn’t upgrade to a new major version of software, meaning things are less likely to break. However, many bugfixes and security fixes are addressed in new versions of software. Personally, in the years I’ve been using Linux, I’ve never regretted running apt dist-upgrade.

Next, we run autoremove to have apt get rid of any unnecessary packages, and autoclean to remove old installation data and other cruft (garbage). You should run these regularly.

Note

The Software Updater program doesn’t run autoremove and autoclean automatically - you’ll need to do that yourself.

Installing Essential Packages

There are a handful of tools that I find extremely useful in maintaining an Ubuntu system. We’ll install those now:

$ sudo apt install gdebi synaptic apt-xapian-index gufw ubuntu-restricted-extras

While those install, here’s a quick breakdown of what those packages are for…

  • gdebi makes it easier to install packages from downloaded installers.

  • synaptic enables easier package selection and installation.

  • apt-xapian-index is needed by Synaptic.

  • gufw is for managing your firewall.

  • ubuntu-restricted-extras installs extra media codecs and tools that, while free, are not FOSS.

Before we can use synaptic, we need to run…

$ sudo update-apt-xapian-index -vf

For the rest of this tutorial, you can either install packages via the sudo apt install <packagename> command given, or you can select and install them via Synaptic. It’s up to you.

Important

Restart your computer now!

Alternative Package Sources

In addition to the apt package manager default to Debian-based systems like Ubuntu, packages can be installed via Snapcraft, Flathub, or Appimage.

Snapcraft runs applications in containers with partial or full isolation from the rest of the system. It’s portable, working on nearly all Linux systems. Your system may already be configured to use Snapcraft, but you can make sure by running the following:

$ sudo apt install snapcraft snapd

You may need to restart after installation before installing anything with Snapcraft.

You can search for packages with sudo snap search <package>, and install with sudo snap install <package>.

Flathub is a portable packaging format that works on most Linux systems. It installs the package onto the system itself, instead of running it in a container, so packages installed via Flatpak are likely to make better use of system resources than Snapcraft.

You can install via the following:

$ sudo apt install flatpak
$ flatpak remote-add --if-not-exists flathub https://flathub.org/repo/flathub.flatpakrepo

You will need to restart after installation before installing anything with Flatpak.

Flatpak maintains a store called Flathub, which you can browse online. The installation and run commands are at the bottom of each package’s page (although Flatpak packages will appear on your menu like any other program once installed.)

Appimage is a packaging format that requires nothing else to be installed on your system. Just make it executable, double-click it, and go! It’s a containerized format, much like snapcraft, but the system integration is more portable and lightweight.

Security Stuff

Firewall Settings

In the previous section, we installed gufw for controlling our firewall. You can now launch the “Firewall Configuration” application. It may also appear in your System Settings.

Once you bring up Firewall Configuration, set the Status switch to “On”. You can open and close extra ports as needed on this window as well.

Note

Unfortunately, the firewall does not change profiles automatically based on what network you connect to. Bear that in mind.

Virus Scanning

While there are very few viruses for Linux, all of which require a password to be installed, there are plenty of viruses for Windows and Mac. To make sure you don’t accidentally infect a non-Linux machine, it is helpful to have an anti-virus. There’s only one trusted source for that on Linux - the open-source ClamAV.

$ sudo apt install clamav clamtk clamav-daemon

You will need to run Clam manually when you want to check for viruses.

Office Applications

Updating LibreOffice

The version of LibreOffice that ships with Ubuntu is slightly older than the latest version. To get that “Fresh” version, you’ll need to add the PPA, or “personal package archive,” for LibreOffice “Fresh”, so apt can download the newer version. Just be aware that this version can have some bugs…but it also means you get the latest and greatest features.

Once you’ve added the new PPA, update the apt package lists and install all the now-available updates.

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:libreoffice/ppa
$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt dist-upgrade

Alternative Office Suites

While we use LibreOffice for all of our document work at MousePaw Media, there are three other office suites available that might be useful to you personally.

Calligra

One is Calligra, which sports a rather usual interface. Some people love it, and some people hate it. If you’d like to try it out, just install the calligra package.

FreeOffice

If you’re pining for the familiar design of Microsoft Office™, consider the proprietary FreeOffice. It is completely free on both Windows and Linux, and is designed to completely replace Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Best of all, it is capable of working with both the Office and OpenDocument formats.

You can download FreeOffice from the FreeOffice webside. Click Download, and register as a user to receive your product key. Then, download FreeOffice for Linux from that page. Save the *.deb file to your computer, and then browse to it in your File Browser. Right-click it and open with “GDebi Package Installer”, then click Install.

Web Browser

Installing Brave or Chrome

Firefox is installed by default, and works quite well. However, there are a number of other browsers available. On Ubuntu MATE, these can all be installed using the Software Boutique. On Ubuntu, most can be installed from Software. (Vivaldi must be installed by downloading the official .DEB file from their website.)

  • Brave: A privacy-focused browser. brave.com

  • Chromium: The open source version of the Google Chrome browser. (We recommend this over Google Chrome for privacy reasons.)

  • Vivaldi: A highly customizable browser, based on Chromium. vivaldi.com

A Note On Web Search Engines

When most people think ‘web search’, they say “Google!” However, there are two problems with Google, and many other search engines:

  1. Tracking: Google tracks your web history, search data, and a bunch of other personal stuff. A lot of this information is used to advertise to you.

  2. The Bubble: Google will adjust search results to show you what it thinks you want to see, making it harder to find objective information.

DuckDuckGo is an open-source search engine that is dedicated to total privacy. They will never track or use your history or web searches in any way. This also means that the results you get for a web search will be the same as for anyone else!

In addition to this, DuckDuckGo offers a number of unique features!

  • Search inside thousands of websites with bangs: searching “!w butterflies” searches Wikipedia for “butterflies”. Use “!a” for Amazon, “!g” for Google, “!nasa” for NASA, and thousands of others!

  • One of the largest collections of “instant answers,” all open source. Try “weather in spokane”, “dancing cat gif”, “python syntax”, or “ubuntu unity cheatsheet” (I made that last one!)

  • Customizable interface - colors, text, and layout.

  • Always-on SSL search - no one else can spy on you either!

  • The option to turn off all ads.

  • Web of Trust integration.

  • All results on one page.

  • Search by region.

To set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine, follow these instructions:

In Brave

Click the hamburger menu (upper right, just below the Lion shield), and click Settings…. Select Search from the left. Click the “DuckDuckGo” line to set that as the default search engine.

In Chrome/Chromium

Go to the menu (upper right of Chrome) and click Settings. Scroll down to “Search”. If “DuckDuckGo” is not in the list (which, suspiciously, it has been absent from for years), click Manage search engines…. Towards the bottom, in the box marked “Add a new search engine”, type “DuckDuckGo”. For “Keyword” type “duckduckgo.com”, and for “URL” type “https://duckduckgo.com/”. Press Enter. Then, hover over the new entry in the list and click Make default.

In Firefox

Go to the menu (upper right of Firefox) and click Preferences. Click Search on the left side, and select “DuckDuckGo” from the menu under “Default Search Engine”.

In Vivaldi

Go to the menu (upper left of Vivaldi) and ToolsSettings. Select Search, select DuckDuckGo from the list of Search Engines, and check the boxes Set as Default Search and Set as Private Search. Click Save.

DVD Playback

Warning

Under the DMCA, it is technically illegal to play any disc with copy protection on Linux (unless you use the non-free Fluendo DVD Player application). DVDs with copy protection have a label indicating it on the case, usually on the bottom of the back of the case. To date, there has never been legal action taken against a user for playing copy-protected DVDs on Linux, and the viability of the law is under heavy debate. Just be aware of the law and decide for yourself.

Want to play DVDs? Yes, Ubuntu can do that, but you have to set it up first.

$ sudo apt install libdvd-pkg
$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure libdvd-pkg

Note

In my experience, mpv Media Player (package mpv) provides the best video and DVD playback experience.

Helpful Settings

Keyboard Settings

There are two keyboard settings I always change when I set up Ubuntu.

Ctrl+Alt+Delete

The first is to duplicate Windows’ Ctrl+Alt+Del functionality, which is sadly missing by default on Linux. Thankfully, you can set up custom keyboard shortcuts for anything you like, so adding that in is easy!

First, we need to free up the keyboard shortcut for our use. Bring up the Keyboard Shortcuts application (Keyboard on GNOME). Under the Desktop section, double-click the Ctrl-Alt-Delete entry in the row for “Log out” and press Ctrl+Alt+Backspace. This will be the keyboard shortcut if you want to quickly log off your computer.

Now, click + Add at the bottom of the screen. Set the name to “System Monitor” and the command to gnome-system-monitor on Ubuntu, or mate-system-monitor on Ubuntu MATE. Press Apply.

Finally, double-click Disabled on the “System Monitor” row in the list and press Ctrl+Alt+Delete.

Note

If you’re on Linux Mint, Ctrl+Alt+Delete is already used for restarting the system. You can probably shut this off in Startup Applications.

Compose Key

One of the coolest features in Ubuntu is the ability to type accented characters very quickly. To do this, you’ll need to turn on your Compose Key.

Ubuntu MATE

Bring up the Keyboard preferences. Click Layouts and Options…. Find and click Position of Compose key, and check the box for Right Alt. Close both windows.

Ubuntu

Make sure gnome-tweaks is installed, and then launch it. Go to the Keyboard & Mouse section. Next to “Compose Key”, click Disabled. Toggle the switch at the top to the on position, and then select the option for Right Alt.

Tweaks

Both Ubuntu and Ubuntu MATE allow you to set a lot of hidden options.

On Ubuntu, you should install the gnome-tweaks package via sudo apt install gnome-tweaks, after which you can use the GNOME Tweaks application.

On Ubuntu MATE, MATE Tweaks is already installed by default.

Browse through your system’s tweak tool and try out the different options. Customize things to your liking!


This should be enough information to get you started! From here, you can keep adjusting things to your tastes.

You should now go through Guide: Development Environment, following the instructions for Ubuntu Linux.