Newbies: 7 Useful Ubuntu Tips

In this article we’re going to look at 7 useful tips to make your Ubuntu experience even better. This is particularly aimed at newbies, and shows you step by step how to tweak Ubuntu with some must have extras.

1. ubuntu-restricted-extras – Installing this package will pull in support for MP3 playback and decoding, support for various other audio formats (gstreamer plugins), Microsoft fonts,
Java runtime environment, Flash plugin, LAME (to create compressed audio files),
and DVD playback.

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras

2. NTFS-Config – manage your NTFS formatted drives easily without manually editing fstab. Add/remove drives, create mount points and enable external NTFS write support. Great when dealing with NTFS partitions on a dual boot system. Much better than manually editing /etc/fstab .

sudo apt-get install ntfs-config

3. Better sticky notes – an easy addon for the main toolbar gives you one click access the yellow goodness. It’s time to leave behind the paper ones and save some trees.

4.Upgrade without burning the Ubuntu CD – why waste that CD and the time it takes to burn it when you can upgrade from the command line? Downloading all the packages and installing them may take a while, a decent broadband connection is recommended.

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

5. Better photo management – Picasa, Google’s photo management software.

Download Picasa Linux source code from here, then compile using this tutorial.

The interface  is great, it has basic photo fixes for white balance, contrast, crop etc. and even effects. Prints, emails and uploads directly to Blogger and Picasa Web Albums.

6. Better music jukebox and video player – Amarok and VLC.

Amarok is by far the most advanced player out there, although it’s a bit unstable under Gnome.


sudo apt-get install amarok

VLC media player is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, mp3, ogg, …) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. VLC supports a lot of themes and decodes everything from avi to matroska.

sudo  apt-get install vlc

7. Hardware testing – Let the developers know about your hardware – what works and what doesn’t, so they can fix it.

Main Menu>System>Hardware Testing


It’s a 2 minute wizard that guides that tests audio, display, networking and mouse/keyboard and then send the results, a list of your computer’s hardware and your comments to the developers.

Bonus Tip – The Matrix on your desktop:

Main Menu>System>Preferences>Screensaver

Are we living in a simulation? We are certainly capable of creating such a system, just look at Spore. Now imagine the computing power 50 years from now. Scary, huh?

29 thoughts on “Newbies: 7 Useful Ubuntu Tips”

  1. Upgrading command is wrong. Should read ‘sudo apt-get dist-upgrade’. The word ‘install’ should not be there; ‘dist-upgrade’ is not a package!

    // Fixed that, thanks! //

  2. @hardWAREZ: these tips are absolutely useful to someone brand new. yes, most of us have seen 100s of pages like this dugg, but with more and more pages out there, it is more likely people will check these out and give it a shot. i did that with feisty, and i havent looked back. lists like these have helped me greatly.

  3. The first thing I’d do is install ubuntu tweak.
    Also, agreeing with rouge8, compiling picasa from source may give a slight performance boost but is really too complicated for a Linux newbie, my dad still has trouble installing anything other than .debs and I’ve had him on Ubuntu for over a year now(he’s a sloooooow learner).


    this is coming from someone who uses it often in mac osx, i love it but regular people are fucking terrified of it

  5. Surely, surely this is a joke, right? Or what a strange conception of a “newbie” you have, it includes the ability to (1) know that “sudo…” is a command given in the terminal (2) know how to find & launch the terminal (3) understand and cope with the kind of message blizzard that an apt-get install scrolls out.

    In other words, somebody who is a power-user of, say, a Sun or SGI box?

    I keep reading these dreams of people who imagine hordes of newbies changing over from Windows XP because their systems don’t support Vista — and if THAT is your idea of “newbie” and you think they could do ANY of the above, you are smoking some high quality shit.

    Re-do all your examples to use the click-n-drag interface of Synaptic, and throw out any that cannot be done that way and anything that requires the terminal. Then maybe you have something a genuine “newbie” could handle.

  6. apt-get dist-upgrade
    doesn’t do what you think it does. You still need need to change the sources manually and run an update before that will work.

  7. This is a good article. I don’t know why some people have to start cussing and using language that I wouldn’t want my children to read (as they often look over my shoulder while I’m looking at websites). Please refrain from cussing, if not in your verbal language, then in your type written language. And yes, some newbies (I am one myself) don’t like to use the command line. I was so glad when MS brought out Win95 and I didn’t have to use the command line and DOS anymore. I do however understand the power of it, and have learned to use it in Linux and am not afraid to use it. I do what I need to in order to have a good working OS. I still prefer to use a GUI and any tools that are in the GUI, but will use the CLI in a terminal when needed.

  8. The author was fired from Howtogeek and he republished his article on his site after the original was taken down.

  9. There is nothing wrong with the command line. It is an essential part of Linux and the sooner the newbie gets to grips with it the better for them.

    It is far simpler to say “type this”, than “click here, go there, do you see the checkbox? click that, click apply, click next, click yes you’re sure”

    In my opinion the command line has been given an unfair rap but it’s making a come back. Here’s what happened:

    1) MS-DOS is command line based
    2) Apple comes out with the Lisa (with only a GUI)
    3) Microsoft wants to show it’s modern like Apple with Windows 3.1
    4) The public are not convinced
    5) Microsoft goes further with Windows 95 ditches the command line completely for ordinary use.
    6) Linux arrives on the scene kicks butt on servers due to excellent command line
    7) Microsoft wants to show it’s geeky like Linux
    8) Microsoft makes Windows Server 2008 fully installable from the command line

    On the desktop, we are still suffering the reverberations of the shock that Microsoft felt at seeing the Lisa. But don’t let Apple fool you, the command line is the best way to do certain tasks. It is part of what makes Linux strong, and part of the reason I love it so much.

  10. I can’t believe the “ubuntu-restricted-extras” are so hidden given they are ESSENTIALS.

    Why not have a “additional install options” post new install?

    Where is Opera?

    And to think Open Source is about “choice”.

    Seems to be SELECTIVE CHOICE. Dissapointing.

  11. Another grovel … the adept Installer program … no sorting by alphabet …poor implementation/design. Linux X / GUI apps seems to be developed by amateurs.

    Where is the professional polish and design??? What does LINUX offer that Windows XP doesn’t???? Linux still has a 1990’s borland pascal look … just checkout those CANCEL / OK buttons STILL with the icons next to them.

    C’mon LINUX devs, lift your game.

  12. @Spackie post 22
    That’s not Ubuntu’s or Linux’s fault, restricted packages are very tricky legal ground and oss groups simply don’t have the resources to risk treading on a license
    @Spackie post 23
    Now your just trolling

  13. Not “trolling” bigbluealien, just the facts.

    Hell, I installed Vista and XP dual boot and the only time I use Vista is to use its boot loader to choose XP.

    See, not trolling.

  14. For whatever it’s worth, I consider myself an ubuntu newbie (~2 months or so, using it as a project computer, not our main one). One of the first things I learned about was the terminal. I don’t know what all of those commands mean, but I do know what to do when I come across a command and want to enter it into the command line. If you’re willing to educate yourself, ubuntu is quite handy.

  15. I agree with most of the things on this list, but telling newbies to download and compile source code (In the picasa instructions) really seems unnecessary.

  16. For command lines, Microsoft came up with PowerShell that programmer can develop new commands as demanded. I have see a guy managing mission critical web server with it

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