10 things to do first in Ubuntu 16.04.x LTS

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Congratulations with your brand-new installation of Ubuntu 16.04.x LTS Xenial Xerus! What's best for you to do, first of all?

I've made a list of the things to do, which I've divided into two categories:
- the absolutely essential ones (part 1);
- the recommended ones (not essential, part 2).

It's quite a list, but it'll give you a polished, nearly maintenance-free operating system that you'll be able to enjoy for years to come! Plus it's also a crash course in the use of Ubuntu.

Note: you'll find only relatively safe tips and tweaks here, because I think that the stability and reliability of your operating system should never be endangered. This website is serious about Ubuntu, so my approach is conservative.

I try to mention it whenever some risk is unavoidable, so that you can always make a balanced decision.

Note: this list is only meant for Ubuntu; the corresponding list for Xubuntu is here and the list for Lubuntu is here.

Do the following things, in this order:

Tip: you can download a checklist here, which you can print on paper. Then you can strike the items that you've done.

Are you unsure what Ubuntu version you have? You can check that as follows:

Launch a terminal window:

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

Type (use copy/paste in order to avoid typing errors):
lsb_release -a

Press Enter.

Part 1


Apply all available updates

1.1. First the updates, then the rest...

Click on the grey Ubuntu logo (Dash home). Query: update
Click on Software Updater, let it check for available updates and apply them all.

Afterwards reboot your computer (not always necessary, but in this case, do it just to make sure).

Install missing drivers

1.2. Installing drivers is usually not necessary, because they are already present in the Linux kernel. Exceptions are proprietary restricted drivers for (among others) Nvidia graphics cards.

a. Install your printer and scanner in this way (*Click*).

b. For optimal performance of your Nvidia graphics card, you'll want to install the closed source restricted driver (the proprietary driver).

When applicable, you'll get an automatic alert about the availability of restricted drivers for your graphics card, by a notification in the system tray in the upper panel of your screen (on the right). Click on the notification icon and follow the steps.

If there is no automatic alert, perform a manual check:

Click on the grey Ubuntu logo (Dash home). Query: software
Click on Software & Updates - tab Additional Drivers.

When available for your system, you'll be shown one or more installable non-free drivers. Select them.

The required drivers are then automatically downloaded from the internet, from the software repositories of Ubuntu, and (also automatically) installed. Afterwards you'll have to do a full reboot of your computer.

Note: Sometimes you're being offered several versions of the restricted driver for your video card. The order of preference is as follows:

1. nvidia-(from highest number to lowest number)
2. nvidia-(from highest number to lowest number)-updates
3. nvidia-experimental

Only choose from the versions that you're being offered, because only those support your video card! Start with the preferred number one, and only work your way down when it doesn't perform well.

Do you have a brand-new graphics card from Nvidia? Then it might be too new for the version of the proprietary restricted driver in the software repositories of Ubuntu. In that case you won't be offered any proprietary driver by Software & Updates.

If this happens, then you can look for another solution for your Nvidia card on this page. For an AMD/ATI card, it's better to stick with the default open source driver, because that's of higher quality than the restricted proprietary driver.

Optimize your Solid State Drive (SSD)

1.3. Do you have a Solid State Drive (SSD) instead of a conventional hard disk? Then optimize it for Ubuntu.

Install some useful tools

1.4. There are some important applications for managing your system, that aren't installed by default: Synaptic, dconf-tools, gksu, Lxkeymap, Leafpad, inxi, GDebi and Catfish.

Synaptic and GDebi are useful installation tools, which sometimes are more useful than the default application Software.

Leafpad is ideal for editing system-wide configuration files by hand.

gksu is very useful for launching Leafpad or other graphical tools, safely in root mode.

Lxkeymap is useful for changing keyboard layouts.

inxi can be used for generating a hardware list in the terminal. Usage: first make the terminal fullscreen, in order to avoid chopped lines in the output. Then in the terminal: inxi -Fx (note that the F is a capital letter).

Catfish is an excellent, simple and fast file finder.

Pavucontrol is a fine tool for managing sound.

Of course you can install them all by means of the application Software. But also by means of the terminal, which is much quicker:

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

Type (use copy/paste to transport this magical incantation to the terminal, it's one line):

sudo apt-get install synaptic dconf-tools gksu gdebi inxi leafpad catfish pavucontrol

Press Enter. When prompted, type your password. Your password will remain entirely invisible, not even dots will show, this is normal.
Press Enter again.

Decrease the swap use (important!)

1.5. This is especially noticeable on computers with relatively low RAM memory (2 GB or less): they tend to be far too slow in Ubuntu, and Ubuntu accesses the hard disk too much. Luckily, this can be helped.

Note: does your computer have 4 GB RAM or more? Then you can skip this item, because with so much RAM you probably won't notice any benefits from applying it.

On the hard disk there's a separate partition for virtual memory, called the swap. When Ubuntu uses the swap too much, the computer slows down a lot.

Ubuntu's inclination to use the swap, is determined by a setting. The lower the setting number, the longer it takes before Ubuntu starts using the swap. On a scale of 0-100, the default setting is 60. Which is much too high for normal desktop use, and only fit for servers.

A detailed explanation can be found here (link dead? Then download this pdf file with the same content).

Now the how-to:

a. Check your current swappiness setting:

Click on the grey Ubuntu logo (Dash home). Query: terminal.
Click on Terminal.
Type (use copy/paste):
cat /proc/sys/vm/swappiness

Press Enter.

The result will probably be 60.

b. Make sure that you have installed the applications gksu and leafpad:

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

Type (or copy/paste):
sudo apt-get install gksu leafpad

Press Enter and submit your password. Please note that the password will remain invisible, not even asterisks will show, which is normal.

c. To change the swappiness into a more sensible setting, type in the terminal (use copy/paste):
gksudo leafpad /etc/sysctl.conf

Press Enter.

Scroll to the bottom of the text file and add your swappiness parameter to override the default. Copy/paste the following two green lines:

# Decrease swap usage to a more reasonable level

d. Close the text file and reboot your computer.

e. After the reboot, check the new swappiness setting:

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

Type (use copy/paste):
cat /proc/sys/vm/swappiness

Press Enter.

Now it should be 10.

Note: your machine might benefit from an even bigger decrease in swappiness. A useful rule of thumb might be this:
1 GB RAM or more: swappiness at 10
Less than 1 GB RAM: swappiness at 5

Solve some known bugs

1.6. If you have a problem: look at the solutions for 17 bugs in Ubuntu. Don't skip this! There's a 90 % chance that you'll benefit from at least one of the workarounds presented at that page.....

Install full multimedia support

1.7. Install full multimedia support (mp3, Adobe Flash Player, Sun Java, Microsoft fonts, etc.) by applying this manual: multimedia support.

Avoid 10 fatal mistakes!

1.8. There are 10 mistakes that you definitely want to avoid, for the sake of the health of your system.

Turn on the firewall

1.9. The firewall is disabled by default, but in many cases it's better to turn it on. The how-to and the explanation can be found here.

Install Xfburn for burning DVD's

1.10. Brasero is the default DVD burning application in Ubuntu. It's, let's put it mildly, not doing a particularly good job: only too often it ruins your DVD's....

Luckily, there's a vastly superior alternative: Xfburn. I strongly advise you to install it, because it's simple, stable and won't let you down.

It has just one disadvantage: Xfburn can't burn multisession DVD's. So it can't add to a DVD that already has some content.

Install Xfburn with this terminal command:

sudo apt-get install xfburn

Press Enter and submit your password. Please note that the password will remain invisible, not even asterisks will show, which is normal.

(continued in the column on the right)

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Part 2


Improve the settings of the updates

2.1. You can improve the configuration of the updates as follows.

Click on the grey Ubuntu logo (Dash home). Query: software.
Click on Software & Updates.

Tab Updates:
When there are security updates: change it into: Display immediately

Reason: it's always better when updates don't get installed automatically. Even when they're security updates. Because there's always the risk that an update might cause a problem (regression).

If you always install updates consciously, then you'll know immediately when a regression hits your system. So you can act rightaway to fix that problem.

Notify me of a new Ubuntu version: change that into: Never

Reason: if you want to upgrade to a newer Ubuntu, it's always best to do that by means of a clean installation. Upgrading an older version "in place", has a bigger risk of failure. Plus you unavoidably retain some "pollution" from the previous version.

Install gnome-session-flashback and consider disabling the visual effects

2.2. By default, when your video card can handle it, 3D visual effects are enabled. However, these may cause malfunctions or sluggish performance. If you experience such problems you might consider disabling them, which you can do by switching to a 2D desktop environment.

Note: this applies only to Ubuntu and not to Xubuntu or Lubuntu.

There are several options for this.
My personal favourite is a switch to the Xubuntu desktop. But there's another option as well:

a. First, install gnome-session-flashback:

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

Type (use copy/paste):
sudo apt-get install gnome-session-flashback

Press Enter. When prompted, type your password. Your password will remain entirely invisible, not even dots will show, this is normal.
Press Enter again.

b. Log out. In the login window, click on the Ubuntu logo next to your user name (see the screenshot below):

Then click on GNOME Flashback (Metacity).
Note: don't select GNOME Flashback (Compiz), because that also has 3D effects, and you want to get rid of those.

c. Log in again.

Optimize Firefox

2.3. There are several things you can do to make Firefox leaner and cleaner.

Install an extra web browser

2.4. It's useful to have an extra web browser available. Firefox is a fine application, but now and then (especially when you've installed too many extensions or add-ons in Firefox), it doesn't function entirely well.

An excellent alternative to Firefox, is web browser Google Chrome. Unfortunately it's not in the software sources of Ubuntu, but you can download its 64-bit installer on the download page of Chrome.

That web page should automatically recognize that you're running Ubuntu: it should offer you a preselected installer for Debian/Ubuntu.

Double-click the installer, which has the extension .deb, as if it were a .exe installer in Windows. Then it'll install itself automatically.

Furthermore, it'll add the software source for Chrome to your software sources list, so that Update Manager will automatically offer you updates for Google Chrome as soon as they become available.

Note: do you have a 32-bit operating system? Then you can't install Google Chrome. In that case select Chromium, which can be installed by means of the application Software.

Most plug-ins that you've installed for Firefox (not the add-ons and extensions, but things like Java) work automatically in Chrome as well. No need for further action for that. Not even for Adobe Flash Player, because Chrome already contains it by default.

You can find tips and tweaks for Chrome and Chromium here.

Improve the configuration of Libre Office

2.5. You can improve the settings of Libre Office like this: click here for a how-to.

Disable activity recording in the Dash and normalize the appearance

2.6. Some privacy and appearance settings can be improved a bit.

a. It's possible to disable activity recording, although some people find it useful when applications like media players and the terminal have a "memory". You can disable it like this:

Click on the grey Ubuntu logo (Dash home). Query: privacy
Click on Security & Privacy - tab Files & Applications and put the slider at OFF.

Tip: if you want to help Canonical to make some money, turn the Search slider ON in the Search tab, now and then, whenever you want to buy something.... After all, it's an easy and free way to support your favourite Linux!

b. Click on the grey Ubuntu logo (Dash home). Query: appearance
Click on Appearance - click on the tab Behavior

Add show desktop icon to the launcher

Show the menus for a window:
put the dot at: In the window's title bar

Note: user preference, so repeat this in each user account.

Consider to pin the kernel version

2.7. You can pin Ubuntu to a certain kernel version. That may be useful, e.g. when you've manually installed a driver which would become unusable in a newer kernel.

It can also be useful to prevent "disk pollution" because of older kernels, because in the course of time, you get a lot of kernel updates....

The risk of such a pinning of the kernel is limited, especially for desktop users (servers are another matter). Because although kernel updates may contain security fixes, those are almost never relevant for desktop users. Linux Mint doesn't get kernel updates by default, by the way.

If you want to pin the kernel, this is how to do it.

Make NumLock turn on automatically

2.8. Note: this instruction is only meant for desktops and laptops that have a separate numeric keypad, as it's definitely not desirable to have the NumLock on by default on a laptop that has no such separate keypad.

In some cases it's useful for NumLock to be switched on automatically when you start Ubuntu. You can achieve that as follows:

a. Launch the application Software.
Search word: numlockx

Install numlockx ("enable NumLock in X11 sessions").

b. Make sure that you have installed the applications gksu and leafpad.

c. Now enable the keypad at the login screen.

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

Type (use copy/paste):
gksudo leafpad /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf

Press Enter.

d. Now add the following line, below the last line (use copy/paste):
greeter-setup-script=/usr/bin/numlockx on

Save the modified file.

Reboot your computer. The numeric keypad should turn on automatically at the login screen, and stay on after logging in.

Note: it's possible that during login, Ubuntu will turn NumLock off again (sigh). If that happens, you can counteract that irritating behaviour as follows:

Click on the grey Ubuntu logo (Dash home). Query: startup.
Click on Startup Applications.

Click Add

Give the new addition the name Numlockx and the command:
sleep 20 && numlockx on

Click Add.

This will turn NumLock on, 20 seconds after login. This delay is necessary, because you have to make sure it happens after Ubuntu has turned NumLock off.

Note: user preference: repeat this in each user account.

Have a laptop? Tame your touchpad

2.9. You can make the touchpad (trackpad) of your laptop behave better with a simple tweak.

And you can enable one finger scrolling as follows:

Click on the grey Ubuntu logo (Dash home). Query: touchpad
Click on Mouse & Touchpad.
Remove the check at: Two finger scroll

Speed up your Ubuntu

2.10. You can probably speed up your Ubuntu noticeably, by applying these safe speed tweaks.

Enable the key combination Ctrl+Alt+Backspace

2.11. Ubuntu almost never freezes. But when it does happen, it's often enough to perform a "partial reboot" (only the graphical environment). That's technically better than a hard reboot by the physical power button.

For a partial reboot you can enable the key combination Ctrl+Alt+Backspace. That used to be enabled by default, but the wise Linux gurus have since deemed it better that you have to enable it first.

In Ubuntu you can enable it as follows:

a. First make sure that you have installed the applications gksu and leafpad.

b. Now type in the terminal (use copy/paste to avoid errors):
gksudo leafpad /etc/default/keyboard

Press Enter. Your password will remain entirely invisible, not even dots will show, this is normal.

Find the line:

Replace it by this line (use copy/paste):

c. Save the modified file and close it.

d. Reboot your computer.

e. After logging in again, you can test it: Ctrl+Alt+Backspace should reboot only the desktop and throw you back into the login window.

Note: when you log in again after this "partial reboot", you'll be confronted with one or more error reports. Strictly speaking, you could safely ignore this error report, because it was triggered by the irregular partial reboot.

But in order to prevent it from returning again and again, go partly along with the report: enter your password and then remove the tick for sending in the error report.

Migrate your e-mail from Outlook (Express) in Windows, to Ubuntu

2.12. It's easy to migrate your e-mails and e-mail settings from Outlook (Express) in Windows, to Thunderbird in Ubuntu. Simply apply this how-to.

Want more tips?

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

Security in Ubuntu

Four popular myths and 11 tips about wireless security (for wifi)

How to clean Ubuntu

How to create a strong password that's easy to remember (the answer might surprise you!)

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