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18 frequently asked questions about Ubuntu

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Many questions come up frequently. Below you'll find a selection.

Chrome / Chromium warns me about insecure content on this website. Why is that?

1. When you visit this website with the web browsers Chrome or Chromium, you might receive a warning about insecure content on the page.

This warning is quite unfounded, and is being caused by the advertisements. Sometimes the ads are being delivered by normal unsecured http, whereas the pages of this website are always being delivered by secured httpS.

Whenever that happens, Chrome / Chromium issues the warning that there's unsecured content on a secured page. Very bad, because it scares visitors away and diminishes my earnings from advertisements. And heck, this is even costing *Google* money...

Some time ago, this problem seemed solved, because it looked like Google started to deliver all of its ads by httpS. But apparently they don't always do that (sigh).

Google Chrome, Google Sites and Google Adsense: one would expect them to cooperate well. But those business units of Google are apparently quite unconcerned with each other.

How can I install applications in Ubuntu?

2. Ubuntu has tens of thousands of applications in its own software repositories, which are all freely available through the Internet. Installation is a matter of a few mouse clicks: see this manual.

How about viruses and firewalls?

3. You are well protected in Linux. Check this out: security.

How can I defragment the hard drive in Linux?

4. A Linux partition doesn't need to be defragmented. Because only insignificant fragmentation can arise, as long as the partition has more than 20% of free space.

That's because Linux positions the read/write head of the hard drive, above the middle of the partition and then writes files with spacing over the entire partition. Linux does not write the files as a contiguous block (such as Windows does) but with empty space between the individual files. This way, an individual file rarely gets fragmented: there is room for continuous growth of the file.

As I said, there must be at least 20% of free space on the partition, otherwise fragmentation of individual files will occur.

This advantage only applies to partitions with a native Linux format, such as EXT3 or EXT4. It does not apply to FAT, FAT32 and NTFS.

Further explanation in this pdf file.

Note: strictly speaking this is an oversimplification, and therefore not entirely correct: Windows also puts some files in the middle of an partition, and Linux places some files at the beginning of a partition. But although oversimplified, the big picture is correct.

How do I keep the system clean?

5. Ubuntu doesn't get polluted much. The only cleaning actions you might want to do in Ubuntu, are these.

Where can I find the Microsoft True Type fonts Arial, Times New Roman, Courier etc.?

6. The fonts Arial, Times New Roman, Courier New, Comic Sans and so forth, are protected by copyright. But they can still be installed easily in Ubuntu. They are part of the package "Ubuntu restricted extras". See Multimedia.

Why do I have to submit my password when installing applications?

7. Ubuntu uses the so-called Root System, in which certain rights (for example, installing applications) are reserved to the administrator of the system. Only the Root (or administrator) can install applications. This is to protect the system. It's the single most important security feature of Linux.

In Ubuntu there is no root account by default: even the administrator himself logs in with limited user rights. The administrator can perform administrative tasks with temporary root authority (in the terminal by placing sudo before the command).

Note: After entering your password, it will remain valid for 15 minutes. During that time, you can perform a variety of system management tasks, without having to re-enter your password.

For instance, you can reboot the computer by typing in the terminal:
sudo reboot

I am not being prompted for my password, when I want to perform a second administrative task shortly after the first. Why?

8. This is normal and is arranged for ease of use. The validity of the password is only 15 minutes.

When I type my password in a terminal, I see nothing?

9. That's normal. Your password is registered alright, although you can't even see asterisks. Simply press Enter.

Do I have 64 bit or 32 bit Linux?

10. You can check whether your Linux is 32 bit or 64 bit, by means of a simple terminal command. As follows:

Click on the grey Ubuntu logo (Dash home). Query: terminal.
Click on Terminal.

Type (use copy/paste to avoid errors):
uname -m

The output will tell you what it is:

i686 is 32 bit
x86_64 is 64 bit

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How can I open a file manager with root authority (omnipotence)?

11. For file management with root authority, it's better not to use the default file manager (explorer) Nautilus. Because Nautilus is so much engrained in the system as a whole, that this might easily cause problems. In Xubuntu it's the same with Thunar and in Lubuntu with PCmanFM.

For managing files as root, it's therefore much better to use a simple stand-alone file manager. For that, you can do the following:

Click on the grey Ubuntu logo (Dash home). Query: terminal.
Click on Terminal.

Type (use copy/paste to avoid errors):
sudo apt-get install gksu gnome-commander

Press Enter. Your password remains invisible, not even asterisks will show, that's normal.

Then type (copy/paste):
gksudo gnome-commander

Press Enter.

Note: closing the terminal also means closing file manager GNOME Commander: the terminal is always in charge. So don't close the terminal window until you're done.

What are the minimum system requirements for a computer, to be able to run Ubuntu?

12. According to my own experience, the minimum system requirements for "acceptable performance" (workable) and for "running smoothly" (optimal) are as follows:

Acceptable performance:
Processor: Pentium 4   1,3 Ghz
Graphics card: 128 MB memory
Hard drive space: 10 GB

Smooth running:
Processor: Pentium 4   2 Ghz
RAM: 1,5 GB
Graphics card: 256 MB memory
Hard drive space: 20 GB

What are Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Lubuntu and Edubuntu?

13. Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Lubuntu and Edubuntu are all official versions of Ubuntu (official derivatives). They differ only in the desktop environment and the standard applications. They are "under the bonnet" all the same and make use of the same Ubuntu repositories.

Ubuntu in its main version makes use of the Unity desktop environment, which in its turn is build on Gnome. Unity is particularly focused on people with few computing skills, plus it has a lot of eye candy.

Xubuntu is Ubuntu with the Xfce desktop. An excellent distro! An official member of the Ubuntu family, so of assured quality.

Xubuntu is very easy to use and has a clean, professional and functional look. No frills, which is one of the reasons why Xubuntu is very stable and reliable. Windows users get used to it right away.

Xubuntu has somewhat less "eye candy" than Ubuntu. It's not very demanding on the system resources. Many people use Xubuntu on their computers, because they like it better than the Unity desktop of Ubuntu. Or because they want to reserve as much computing power as possible for the applications.

Tips and how-to's for Xubuntu can be found here.

Kubuntu uses the Ubuntu basis and the KDE desktop environment. Where Unity is mainly focused on simplicity, KDE is aimed at providing maximum tweaking possibilities through the menu. These can be overwhelming, so I think Kubuntu is less suitable for beginners with Linux.

KDE has a lot of eye candy of its own, so it's about as demanding on the system resources as Unity is.

Lubuntu is the featherweight of the lot: very light on the system resources and easy to use. It looks a bit austere though: eye candy is almost completely absent.

Very useful for old computers.

Edubuntu is a customized educational version of Ubuntu, mainly aimed at schools. Despite the use of the Unity desktop environment, by default there are applications of both Gnome and KDE installed.

Edubuntu is also often used because of the built-in LTSP server, allowing you to work with "thin clients".

Can I install applications from Kubuntu (KDE) and Xubuntu (Xfce) in Ubuntu?

14. It's possible, but it's better not to. It may cause a lot of system pollution. Xfce (Xubuntu) is an exception, because it's closely related to Gnome.

Should I create a separate home partition?

15. No. I advise against a separate home partition: it only makes things more complicated, while offering no extra safety at all.

You always want an external backup of your documents, on an external device. A separate home partition is still part of the very same hard drive that all the other partitions are on. And they all die when the hard drive dies....

Plus you'll want to erase most of the old application settings anyway, before upgrading or re-installing. Because some of them may cause malfunctions in the new Ubuntu version.

The settings that you do want to keep, can easily be copied to an external device and then transferred back into a new installation. So a separate home partition causes more trouble than ease of use...

When do I get the latest version of an application from the Ubuntu update servers?

16. Probably never (Firefox, Chrome, Chromium and Thunderbird excepted): the whole idea of Ubuntu is that you are never forced to upgrade any application, package, library, or kernel to a new version if you don't want to.

New versions may fix old bugs, but they introduce new bugs, so it's better in many situations to keep the old version and simply just patch the bug. The major Linux distributions Ubuntu, Debian, Red Hat, CentOS, Fedora, SUSE, etcetera all follow this approach and are being used by many security-conscious institutions and corporations.

A fine explanation of this process can be found here.

Only security and stability bugs are being fixed. Your entire Ubuntu version will be fully supported by Canonical for nine months (regular version) or even five years (LTS version). If a vulnerability is discovered, Canonical releases an update with the security patch. This usually happens fairly quickly.

When you always want the latest versions of applications, the best approach is to install Ubuntu anew every six months, with the release of a new Ubuntu version. That should take you each time about two hours work (30 minutes for the install, and 90 minutes for polishing afterwards), so that's not a major exercise.

Firefox, Thunderbird and Chromium/Chrome are exceptions: those are always updated automatically, also in older Ubuntu versions.

How can I remove the advertisements from the Dash?

17. Ubuntu has ads in the Dash. Removing those advertisements is easy. All you have to do is this.

Can I make Ubuntu faster?

18. Yes, you can.

Want more?

19. Do you want more tips and tweaks for Ubuntu? There's a lot more of them on this website!

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