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Ubuntu 9.04 – a “how-to” for setting up my primary laptop

April 21, 2009
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This is a guide on how I set-up my work laptop to use Ubuntu 9.04 as the main Operating System (instead of some flavour of microsoft Windows).  Here I’ll list any instructions step-by-step with explanations on why you’d want to do these things.  I’ll also include links to various external resources where appropriate. If you have any suggestions; criticisims or comments then please leave a note.

Preambleubuntu-splash-brown

I first started looking at Ubuntu in 2006 and I’ve been using Ubuntu Linux for my PCs at home for about two years now.   When Ubuntu 8.04 came out (if you don’t know yet, the 8.04 means it came out in the fourth month of 2008),  I started using it for my primary operating system for my work laptop (I currently work as a server systems administrator).  Over the last year I’ve played with this Operating System on several machines for many and varied purposes (mainly for Desktop use) and I’ve worked out what the main things are that I need from Ubuntu on my primary laptop for me to be productive on a day-to-day basis.  Many of these tweaks will be relevant to the everyday user.

The big message here is that I am of the opinion that Ubuntu is ready for PRIME-TIME use by people who have a  inclination to learn a few simple things.  There are certainly some differences between windows and Linux and I’m not going to cover those here.  But having said that, the ready availability of a mature operating system (Ubuntu) in combination with a multiverse of free (and good quality) applications makes a compelling case for the average user to give this a serious try.

I will be setting this machine up initially to dual-boot between the old 8.10 and the new 9.04 installation.  This way I will still be able to go back to my “fully productive” work environment at any time while I’m getting my new “almost there” work environment up and running.  If you are a windows user, you can follow this guide and set-up a dual-boot with Windows/Ubuntu.

The Laptop

This is a Dell Latitude D620 bought by my employer back in September of 2006.  It is not the latest greatest machine but it’s not too shabby either.  I could do with a faster processor and a better hard-disk though.  Some spdell_latitude_d620ecs are…

  • WXGA+ (1440 x 900 resolution)
  • Intel Core Duo Processor T2500 (2.0GHz)
  • 3gb Memory 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM
  • Gigabit Ethernet network interface adaptor
  • Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 (802.11 a/g) MiniPCI Card
  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
  • 8X DVD+/-RW Combo Drive
  • 80GB SATA (5400RPM) Hard Drive
  • Starting at 2kg (4.41lbs)

Some Objectives

  • I will be running several virtual machines. This way I can get all of the benefits of Ubuntu but still have access to other operating systems (i.e. windows) running inside my machine during my work day without having to reboot.
    • One will be an image of our standard corporate laptop build of Windows XP.  The original physical laptop I’m doing all this on has a licence for Windows XP Professional (SP2) so I am fully compliant with the licencing in this respect.  Why an XP virtual machine?
      • We run Novell for file & print at work and I’m not a Novell expert.  So it’s easier for me to run an XP image for file and print until I transition us over to Microsoft Active Directory.
      • I’ve been using windows for so long that the vast majority of my experience is on that platform.  Why this is relevant is that as a sysadmin I’ve accumulated various tools over the years that I feel I need to run, and they run under windows.
      • Nokia doesn’t have sync software for my Nokia E90 except for the Windows platform.
    • There will be a standard corporate image of an XP desktop machine for testing of our move from Novell to Active Directory at work.
    • A few other Operating System instances for testing and play.  This way I can fiddle without installing experimental software on my main machines.

Step-by-Step

Step 1 – Freeing up space for the installation

I had about 10gb free before I started looking at doing this.  If this was my personal laptop I’d be replacing the hard-drive with a larger & faster unit.  But anyway this is a work machine so it’ll have to stay as-is.

So, 10gb is not really enough to do much with the virtual machines I’ll be running in the background and the media I’ll want to have with me so I need to free up some space on the hard-drive.

I have a Western Digital 320gb external USB hard-drive that my wife bought me last Christmas (she got the same thing from me ;-).  I plugged that into the back of the laptop and copied all the podcasts and other media off onto it as well as the current virtual machines I’m running.  Now I have about 48gb free.  This should be more than enough.

Step 2 – Ubuntu 9.04 Installation

You have a few options here depending on how committed you are to giving Ubuntu a solid try.  Regardless of which option you choose you should remember to back-up your data before you do anything.  Although I cover a sub-set of the options, you may want to read through the “Switching From Windows” guide which is here… https://help.ubuntu.com/9.04/switching/index.html

option 1 – Just boot up the operating system from a CD to have a look at it.  It will be slow because it’s running off the CD drive but this way you can see what is included by default.  The downside of this is that you can’t change anything ’cause you can’t write the changes back to the CD.  To get started with this option go here…  https://help.ubuntu.com/community/BurningIsoHowto

option 2 – If you are a microsoft windows  user, you can use” wubi” to do an easy installation of Ubuntu from within windows.  To quote from their website “No need to burn a CD. Just run the installer, enter a password for the new account, and click “Install”, go grab a coffee, and when you are back, Ubuntu will be ready for you.”  These guys are really on the ball!  As soon as the 9.04 version of Ubuntu was available, they had it up on their website for the WUBI installer.  You can find it here…  http://wubi-installer.org/

option 3 – (recommended) I suggest you try an install from a downloaded image that has been “burnt” to CD.  This is what we’re doing here with a slight variation from the “standard” install in that we will be doing a dual-boot installation.  What this means is that each time you turn on your machine, you’ll have a choice between the new Ubuntu 9.04 installation and whatever was installed on the machine before.  In my case, that will be a choice between booting into my new Ubuntu 9.04 installation or booting into my tried-and-tweaked Ubuntu 8.10 installation.

The dual-boot is the only real variation from the standard installation process.  It’s actually pretty easy and is supported by the graphic installer.   If you have windows already installed on your machine the installer will give you an option to set-up a new “partition” for the Ubuntu installation which is a dedicated bit of the hard-disk that is separate from the operating system you already have installed.

If you are installing onto a fresh hard-disk then you won’t get the option to do a dual-boot install.

The link to the “how to install” guide is here…  https://help.ubuntu.com/community#Installation

I’ll let you follow through their guide because they cover all the possible permutations.  When you’ve finished that we can go onto the tweaks, tips, and customizations.

Step 3 – Proxy

At this point we should have a vanilla installation of Ubuntu 9.04 that we have booted into.

I f you’re just doing this at home where there is no proxy server then you can skip this step (and the next one).

Since I’m going to be using this laptop mainly at work I’m going to have to deal with with my employer’s proxy server.  What this means is that every time I take my laptop home (each night) I have to change the network setting so that at home the laptop knows it has a direct internet connection through the broadband at home.  Then, when I get back to work the next day, I have to change it back to using the proxy.

Because I have to go through this process virtually every time I boot up my laptop, I’ve put a link to the proxy settings on the top panel so it’s easy to access.  Here we go…

  1. Navigate to System > Preferences > ;
  2. Right-click on “Network Proxy” and select “add this launcher to panel”.

Now you’ll have an icon on the top panel proxythat looks like a server with three legs.

One of the nice changes I see in this new version of Ubuntu  is the added feature of having proxy locations that you can switch between.  This is useful if you go between locations that have different proxy set-ups.  If you are just going between work and home (i.e proxy or no proxy) then you’ll switch between “Direct Internet connection” and “Manual proxy configuration”.

Step 4 – Add proxy exceptions for internal access.

still to come.

Step 5 – Ubuntu Updatesscreenshot-downloading-package-files

The system will automatically check for updates periodically.  On this occasion we’ll do it manually so we’re sure the system is fully updated from when the installation CD was burnt.

  1. Run the update manager from System > Administration > Update Manager.
  2. The system will automatically see if there are any updates, but to make sure you can click on the “Check” button.  If you are prompted for a password you should enter the same password you set-up during the installation.
  3. Once the update manager is finished, click on the “Install Updates” button.
  4. The system will show a progress indicator and an estimate of how long it will take.
  5. When the update is done, clock on the  “Settings” button;
  6. On the “Updates” tab, select the radio-button next to “Install security updates without confirmation”.
  7. Click on “Close” then “Close”.

I’m doing this from home where I have a “direct internet connection”.  Otherwise it is necessary to set-up the proxy details in the “Synaptic Package Manager” preferences.

Step 6 – change the desktop theme (I like chocolate)

One of the things to be updated in this version of Ubuntu is some new themes.  There are two ways to get to the configuration section for these themes:

  • System > Preferences > Appearance; and
  • Right click the desktop; Select “Change Desktop Background”; select the “Theme” tab.

There are not a huge variety built into the system but my favourite is the “darkroom” theme. So I’ll select that.

Also, I generally change the desktop to plain black.  To do this:

  1. Go to the “Background” tab;
  2. Of the three available backgrounds select the solid brown colour on the left side;
  3. Then, lower down, select the brown block of colour next to where it says “solid color”, you’ll be presented with a colour selection dialog;
  4. Look for the little white circle in the central triangle and drag it to the dark corner;
  5. click on OK.  You should see the background go dark.

This is also where you would change your desktop to a picture.  A website I’d reccommend as a starting point for wallpapers is…  http://www.natures-desktop.com/ The site will automagically format the selected picture to whatever screen format you select for your desktop.  Mine is 1440×900 so I’ll choose that format on the right-hand side.  Once I have a picture I want in the web-browser I’ll right-click and select “save image as” and save it into my pictures folder.  Of course you could use any picture at all for this.

Once you have a picture in your pictures folder:

  1. Go to the “Background” tab;
  2. Click on the “Add” button;
  3. Navigate to the “Pictures” folder;
  4. Select the photo you want and click “Open”.  You’ll see the desktop change in the background.

Step 7 – map windows button to applications menuwindows_button

Let’s face it, Microsoft did get a few things right with user interface design (whether they borrowed some concepts is open to debate).  One thing is getting the vast majority of manufacturers to include the “windows button” on most keyboards.  While it’s mainly used to open the windows “start menu”, what I generally do is map the “windows button” to the Ubuntu “Applications” menu.

  1. Navigate to System > Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts;
  2. Scroll down and click on “show the panel’s main menu”;
  3. With this selected, press the “windows button” on the keyboard; Click on “Close”

Now when you press the “windows button”, the Ubuntu “Applications” Menu will open up.  Then you can navigate to a menu item with the left/right/up/down/enter buttons without having to use the Alt+F1 key combination.

All we need now is a little Ubuntu Decal to cover over the windows logo.

Step 8 – silent boot & shut-down

I like to have a silent machine during boot-up and shut-down.  In fact, the only time I want to hear anything is when I intentionally play some audio or video.  So this is how to make the machine pretty well silent:

  1. Navigate to System > Preferences > Sound;
  2. Select the “Sounds” tab;
  3. De-select both the “Play alert sound” and also the “Play alerts and sound effects”; Click on “Close”.

Now I won’t be inflicting unnecessary noise on my colleagues.

There is a bug I’m tracking that is causing a LOUD BEEP when I shut-down. As a place-holder, I’ve included a link to the bug status report here…  https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/jaunty/+source/linux/+bug/331589

Step 9 – The Firefox bits

I love firefox!  It’s a great example of free libre open source software.  However, some of the default settings don’t fit my preferences; and there are some great plug-ins that enhance it’s functionality.

9a – firefox config: the backspace key

When I browse the web I often need to go back to the previous web-page.  Since I used to be a heavy “internet explorer” user I’m in the habit of using the “backspace” key for this action.  Thankfully we can set Firefox to behave in the same behaviour:

  1. Type “about:config” in the address bar of Firefox and press Enter;
  2. A page will come up warning that you should be careful, click on “I’ll be careful, I promise” button;
  3. In the “Filter” field, enter “browser.backspace_action”, you’ll see a single line with some settings displayed;
  4. Double-click on the line and change the displayed value to 0 (zero);
  5. Close down the browser tab.

Now the backspace key will take you to the previous web-page when you’re in firefox.

9b – firefox config: click to select

When I click on a URL in the navigation bar field I want the cursor to select the entire contents so I can type over it.  I don’t want to have to go through the additional step of right-clicking and then selecting “Select All”.  This is another tweak to make firefox act in a similar fashion to IE:

  1. Similar to the previous tweak, type “about:config” in the address bar of Firefox and press Enter;
  2. A page will come up warning that you should be careful, click on “I’ll be careful, I promise” button;
  3. In the “Filter” field, enter “browser.urlbar.click”,you’ll see a single line with some settings displayed (;
  4. Double-click on the line and the displayed value will change from “false” to “true”;
  5. Close down the browser tab.

Now a click on a URL in the navigation bar will select the entire contents of the field, ready to be typed over.

9c – firefox add-on: adblock plusadblockplus1

This firefox add-on will help you if you get annoyed by all those ads and banners on the internet that often take longer to download than everything else on the page? Installing Adblock Plus will get rid of them:

  1. In Firefox, select Tools > Add-ons.  An add-on search dialogue box will open up.  Make sure you’re in the “Get Add-ons” section.
  2. In the search box, type “adblock” and press enter. Search results will be displayed;
  3. Look for the adblock plus logo (shown in this blog at right) and click on the entry.  You’ll see some more information and a button;
  4. Click on the “Add to firefox…” button, a dialogue box will pop-up warning you to only add trusted add-ons.  Click on Install;
  5. Once it’s installed you can shut it down and then you’ll have to restart firefox;
  6. When firefox starts again you’ll have to choose an ad-block list.

Now you can go to an ad laden site and you’ll see a lot fewer ads.  These is a point here you should know.  I use a list that is primarily targeted ad ads on sites in the USA, however, I’m located in Australia.  Because of this I sometimes have to manually block an ad.  Thankfully this is easy to do:

  1. When you see an ad, right-click on the ad image and select “Adblock Image…”;
  2. A dialogue box will open up with some options.  You can select different levels of blocking, just exercise some caution because it’s possible to block an entire site when you just meant to block the ads.  The default “middle level” is a good starting point.  Click on “Add filter”.

You can alter the settings and see how many ads have been blocked by navigating to Tools > Add-ons, then selecting “Preferences” under “Adblock Plus”.

9d – firefox add-on: xmarks (previously called foxmarks)xmarks

I’ve used a lot of different machines over the years while working in IT.  And since the Internet came along I’ve constantly struggled with the problem of organizing and retaining all the web bookmarks & references from researching a multitude of problems and other just plain interesting stuff.  Xmarks helps me with this issue of retaining all those bookmarks and synchronizes them between all the different machines I work on.

  1. In Firefox, select Tools > Add-ons.  An add-on search dialogue box will open up.  Make sure you’re in the “Get Add-ons” section.
  2. In the search box, type “Xmarks” and press enter. Search results will be displayed;
  3. Look for the Xmarks plus logo (shown in this blog at right) and click on the entry.  You’ll see some more information and a button;
  4. Click on the “Add to firefox…” button, a dialogue box will pop-up warning you to only add trusted add-ons.  Click on Install;
  5. Once it’s installed you can shut it down and then you’ll have to restart firefox;
  6. When firefox starts again you’ll have to sign-up for a free Xmarks membership.

There are some other functions that involve passwords which I don’t use for my work machines.  This is pretty useful though and I use it for my machines at home.

9e – Other firefox plugins.

  1. firefox plugin:  iMacros
  2. firefox plugin:  snaplinks
  3. firefox plugin: noscript

10 – Jungle Disk for offsite backups

This is more than just installing a piece of software.  This involves setting up a paid membership with the Amazon S3 online storage service.  But don’t panic, our on-line backups of several gigabytes result in a monthly fee under AU$3.00 (three Australian dollars) each month.

So you should follow the set-up guide located at the Jungle Disk site here…  http://www.jungledisk.com/ .

The trick with this is setting it up so it starts automatically when you boot up.

  1. Navigate to System > Preferences > Startup Applications;
  2. Click on Add and in the command section enter the path to the Jungle Disk Monitor program, eg.  “/home/msmith/.jungledisk/jungledisk/junglediskmonitor”;
  3. You’ll need to have already configured the monitor software but this will start it up whenever you log in.  I have mine set to backup every 6 hours.  It doesn’t back-up through the firewall at work, but it does backup when I’m at home in the evening.

Other Steps – I’ll be documenting the following steps over the next few days

  1. Add icons to taksbar/panel:  Proxy; VinagreRemote Desktop Viewer; System Monitor;.  Remove email from panel
  2. firefox flash setup
  3. create downloads directory and point firefox downloader to it
  4. keepass
  5. consolidate lower panels into upper one
  6. reduce size of upper panel
  7. set to four workspaces
  8. change power settings to not shut down or go blank
  9. Change desktop background
  10. VMware server v 2.0 (/virtualmachines for VMs i.e. no space in directory name)
  11. disable desktop effects because they clash with VMWare
  12. VMWare keyboard fix
  13. copy in virtual machines from backup
  14. add desktop icons for vmware virtual machines
  15. add VirtualBox for testing
  16. Vinagre remote desktop bookmarks.
  17. Ubuntu Tweak:  Restricted Extras
  18. VLC Media Player
  19. change default view to list with small font size
  20. FSLint
  21. FreeMind
  22. Skype
  23. Workrave
  24. Terminal
  25. add locations to clock drop-down (wellington; zhengzhou; brussels; key west; chicago; loveland; portland)
  26. Lotus Notes
  27. FreeCiv
  28. System Monitor
  29. Boot-Up Manager (BUM)
  30. Boot Chart
  31. Disable irrelevant services
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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2009 3:33 pm

    Mike,
    You can get rid of that annoying loud beep by blacklisting the pc speaker.
    Edit the following file:

    /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf

    <insert by mike use this terminal command to edit the file "sudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf"

    add the following line to it:
    blacklist pcspkr

    The annoying beep will be gone. Also you won't get the loud annoying beep when you mis-key in a terminal tty session (e.g. Ctrl-Alt-F1).

    Cheers!

  2. Vlad permalink
    April 27, 2009 10:18 pm

    Thanks for this post. I’m going to replace XP on D620 of my girlfriend. I had a short yet good experience with Ubuntu 8.10 on my dell laptop 120l (now running debian lenny) and was not sure about tweaking the D620. Any important tips for an average windows user migrating to Ubuntu? I already have a to-do list but still consider new subjects before I hand it over to production .. ;o)

  3. Pierre permalink
    April 27, 2009 3:32 am

    Hi, Thanks for sharing your tips! I got the same laptop and I was wondering if you were able to use the standard resolution (1440 x 900) with Ubuntu 9.04?

    Cheers, Pierre

    • dominoconsultant permalink*
      April 27, 2009 6:25 am

      Yes, 1440 x 900 works fine. The screen management utility has recently had a bit of work done on it. Although the work is still ongoing the main thing that got me all excited is the (more graceful) support for external monitors. I have my dell d620 running at 1440 x 900 and my external display running at 1024 x 768.

      • Mike B permalink
        May 20, 2009 9:02 am

        What tool did you use to get that working? I assume you have a docking station that you are doing this with?

        If not, how are you accomplishing the dual monitor setup.

        Mike B.

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