Switching to Linux

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04.Getting started with Ubuntu

Now that you've got Ubuntu up and running, take a look around. You'll notice that the GUI is quite different to Windows or OS X. It may seem daunting, but this guide will show you how to install software, along with a few programs that we recommend for standard users.

The most important thing to remember is that Ubuntu doesn't have a traditional start menu - instead, it has a search function in the top-left corner (default). This is where you go to open folders and run programs. Type the name of the folder or program into the search tool to open it. The list of icons on the left side of the screen is a quick launch station, similar to the dock on OS X. You can add regularly used programs to this list, and any program or folder that is open will appear there.

Look for a filing cabinet icon in the left hand menu. This contains your system files, and may require a password to access if you encrypted the folder during the installation. Unless you are an expert, don't go poking around in your system files. You can permanently damage the operating system if you accidentally delete a crucial system file. If you're running a dual boot system, note that you can still access and delete your Windows files via Ubuntu.

Installing programs

One of the best features of Ubuntu is the pre-loaded software. Most of what you need to run a basic system is already available, although there are a few things missing. You can install most additional software from the Ubuntu Software Center, which will automatically complete most of the terminal commands for you.


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These steps will work with any program in the Software Center, but we're going to use VLC media player for this example. Every computer needs a good media player, and VLC is versatile, easy to use and available for free.

  1. To launch Ubuntu Software Center, go to the menu on the left side of your screen, and click the briefcase with an A printed on it.
  2. Go to the search bar (top right), type VLC and press enter.
  3. Pick VLC Media Player from the list and click More Info to read about it, or Install.
  4. Either a dialogue box or the Terminal will open. Enter your password and press enter to proceed. If the installer accesses the Terminal instead of a dialogue box, you will need to press Y (for yes) then enter after you enter your password.
  5. Software Center will download and install VLC automatically.
VLC will automatically appear in the left hand column. You can remove it by right-clicking the icon and selecting remove from launcher. Some programs will not automatically appear in Launcher, you can access these with the search tool.

Recommended programs

There are hundreds of programs to choose from. We recommend these programs for a basic system with all the necessary tools up and running.

Internet access
  • Firefox – Comes pre-installed on Ubuntu
  • Chromium – An open source browser based on Google Chrome. Is not affiliated with Google.
  • Opera – Another browser which claims to offer the fastest internet speeds.
Office work
  • LibreOffice – Comes pre-installed on Ubuntu.
  • OpenOffice – The other major open source office program. You will need to uninstall LibreOffice for this to work.
  • Adobe Reader – PDF reader also available for Windows and OS X.
  • VLC Media Player – An essential, multi-purpose media tool that can play almost any format (except Bluray) including DVD.
  • SMPlayer – Similar to VLC, gaining popularity for its stability and image quality.
  • XBMC – Multi-purpose media centre capable of playing almost any format. Great for watching movies, streaming media, playing music or viewing pictures.
  • Amarok – Popular, versatile music player with great library capabilities that may be able to sync with your iPod. Do some research before installing to make sure that it works with your iPod’s generation and model.
  • Thunderbird – Mozilla's free email client.
  • Evolution – Similar to Microsoft Outlook, not exactly the same.
  • Claws Mail – Lightweight mail client for people who want software that can access emails without all the bells and whistles.
  • Steam – The internet's best one-stop shop for digital distribution. Download, sign up and install for free, and get access to their growing range of Linux friendly software. Look for the Tux icon for Linux friendly games.
  • Ubuntu Software Center – Giant list of free and low-cost downloadable titles for Ubuntu.
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