10 things to do first in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS

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Congratulations with your brand-new installation of Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Trusty Tahr! 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 and ATI graphics cards.

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

b. For optimal performance of your Nvidia or AMD/ATI 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

1. fglrx
2. fglrx-updates

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 or AMD/ATI? 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 and wait until the next Ubuntu release, which will probably provide a newer 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 and GDebi.

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

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).

Install them all by means of Software Center. Or by 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):
sudo apt-get install synaptic dconf-tools gksu gdebi lxkeymap inxi leafpad

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 (very important!)

1.5. This is especially noticeable on computers with relatively low RAM memory (512 MB or less): they tend to be far too slow in Ubuntu, and Ubuntu accesses the hard disk too much. Luckily, this can be helped.

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 blue 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. Look at the solutions for 14 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: too often it ruins your DVD's....

Luckily, there's a vastly superior alternative: Xfburn. There's a new version of Xfburn available for 14.04, which contains many bugfixes and improved disc support. I strongly advise you to install it, because it's simple, stable and won't let you down.

Installing is easy: use the Software Center or this magical invocation for the terminal:
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


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

2.1. By default, when your video card can handle it, the 3D visual effects are enabled. However, these may cause malfunctions or sluggish performance. 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

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

Install an extra web browser

2.5. 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 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, because that's what you need.

Watch out for mistakes: unfortunately this web page regularly offers you a preselected 32 bit installer when your system is 64 bit! Are you unsure whether your system is 64 bit or 32 bit? You can check it with the terminal command arch
When the output is : i686, then your system is 32 bit. When the output is x86_64, then your system is 64 bit.

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: 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 here.

Improve the configuration of Libre Office

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

Disable advertisements in the Dash and normalize the appearance

2.5. There are a couple of things you can do to improve the user-friendliness of Ubuntu.

a. As you've probably already noticed, Ubuntu shows advertisements in the Dash, whenever you type a query in the Dash.

It's easy to disable this:

Click on the grey Ubuntu logo (Dash home). Query: privacy
Click on Privacy - tab Search

Put the slider at OFF.

Do you also want to disable activity recording? That's possible as well, but normally it's useful when applications like media players and the terminal have a "memory". When you disable that, it can be bothersome at times.

If you still want to disable the memory of applications as well (but why?): go to the tab Files & Applications and put the slider at OFF there, too.

Tip: if you want to help Canonical to make some money, turn the Search slider on again, 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.

Make NumLock turn on automatically

2.6. 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. Start Ubuntu Software Center.
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

2.7. 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

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

Enable the key combination Ctrl+Alt+Backspace

2.9. 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

2.10. 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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