10 things to do first in Ubuntu 18.04 LTS Bionic Beaver

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Congratulations with your brand-new installation of Ubuntu 18.04 LTS Bionic Beaver! 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 three categories:
- the absolutely essential ones (part 1);
- the recommended ones (not essential, part 2);
- the neutral ones (possibly useful, part 3).

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 big square button with the rows of white dots (Show Applications), on the bottom left. 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...

On the bottom left, click on the button with the white dots (Show Applications). Query: update

Click on Software Updater, let it check for available updates and apply them all.

Note: when you install updates: what follows is often confusing (the process may seem to stall, especially when large amounts of updates are involved), which regularly causes misunderstandings.

The feedback is minimal, but when you're sure that all updates have finished, reboot your computer (not always necessary, but in this case: do it just to make sure).

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 some printer drivers and 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:

On the bottom left, click on the big square button with the rows of white dots (Show Applications). 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 video card you have to stick to the default open source driver. Because the closed AMD Catalyst (fglrx) drivers are not compatible with Ubuntu 18.04.x.

These closed fglrx drivers are proprietary and so their code is not available. AMD indicated they no longer wanted to support them and urged their customers to use open-source drivers instead.

If you're using an AMD or ATI GPU in Ubuntu 18.04.x, the operating system will automatically select either the radeon or the amdgpu driver for you, and both of these open-source drivers are installed by default.

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, gnome-tweak-tool, dconf-editor, Lxkeymap, inxi, GDebi and Catfish.

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

gnome-tweak-tool and dconf-editor offer many options for tweaking your desktop.

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 Ubuntu Software. But also by means of the terminal, which is much quicker:

On the bottom left, click on the button with the white dots (Show Applications). Query: terminal

Click on Terminal.

Copy/paste the following magical incantation into the terminal (it's one line!):

sudo apt-get install gdebi synaptic inxi catfish dconf-editor gnome-tweak-tool p7zip-rar 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 or file 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:

On the bottom left, click on the big square button with the rows of white dots (Show Applications). Query: terminal

Click on Terminal.
Type (use copy/paste):
cat /proc/sys/vm/swappiness

Press Enter.

The result will probably be 60.

b. To change the swappiness into a more sensible setting, use copy/paste to transfer the following line into the terminal:
gedit admin:///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

c. Close the text file and reboot your computer.

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

On the bottom left, click on the big square button with the rows of white dots (Show Applications). 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

Install full multimedia support

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

Turn on the firewall

1.7. 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

1.8. Brasero is often used as 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.

Avoid 10 fatal mistakes!

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

Solve some known bugs

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

Part 2


Improve the settings of the updates

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

On the bottom left, click on the big square button with the rows of white dots (Show Applications). Query: update

Click on Software & Updates.

Click on the tab Updates

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

When there are other updates: it should be set at: Display weekly or 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 have the opportunity to delay them until you've finished a job you're doing. Plus you'll know immediately when a regression hits your system, so you can act right away to fix that problem.

Click on the tab Other Software

Canonical Partners: enable it by ticking it.
Don't enable the useless Canonical Partners (Source Code), because that one is only relevant for developers who need the source code.

Reason: this'll give you access to useful extra software from reliable companies.

Note: on the tab Developer Options, do not enable "bionic-proposed"! Because that would make your system very unstable and buggy.

Optimize Firefox

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

(continued in the column on the right)

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Install an extra web browser

2.3. 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.

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

Weak graphics card? Consider a switch to the Xubuntu desktop

2.4. By default, when your video card can handle it, 3D visual effects are enabled. However, on weak hardware 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.

The best way is then a switch to the Xubuntu desktop.

Improve the configuration of Libre Office

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

Heighten your privacy

2.6. The privacy settings can be improved a bit.

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:

On the bottom left, click on the big square button with the rows of white dots (Show Applications). Query: settings

Click on Settings - tab Privacy

Usage & History: put the slider at OFF for Recently Used.

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 usually limited, especially for desktop users (servers are another matter). Because although kernel updates may contain security fixes, those are usually not very important for desktop users.

If you want to pin the kernel, this is how to do it (item 7, left column).

Have a laptop? Tame your touchpad

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

And you can enable one finger scrolling as follows:

On the bottom left, click on the big square button with the rows of white dots (Show Applications). Query: touchpad

Click on Mouse & Touchpad.
Set the slider to OFF for: Two-finger scrolling

Speed up your Ubuntu

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

Enable the key combination Ctrl+Alt+Backspace

2.10. 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. Type in the terminal (use copy/paste to avoid errors):
gedit admin:///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):

b. Save the modified file and close it.

c. Reboot your computer.

d. 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

2.11. 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.

Part 3


Multiple accounts: prevent other users from accessing the files in your account

3.1. Does your computer have multiple user accounts? Then you can easily prevent other users from accessing and seeing the files in your account, without taking radical measures like encryption. In the following way:

Launch a terminal window.
(You can launch a terminal window like this: *Click*)

Type (copy/paste):

chmod -v 700 $HOME

Press Enter.

Repeat this in each user account that needs the same protection.

Note (1): don't apply this recursively, on all files and folders within your home folder. That's quite unnecessary, and might even have negative side effects.

Note (2): this doesn't protect you from someone with root permissions! It won't stop a determined and experienced snooper, but it's an effective measure to "keep the honest people out". If that's not enough for you: encryption of files or even of your entire home folder, is much more secure....

Should you ever wish to undo this (but why?), that's easy as well. For undoing you can use this command:
chmod -v 755 $HOME

Make Num Lock turn on automatically

3.2. Does your keyboard (laptop?) have a separate numeric keypad on the right? Then it's useful for Num Lock to be switched on automatically, when you start Ubuntu.

Note: this instruction is only meant for desktops and laptops that have a separate numeric keypad! It's definitely not desirable to have the Num Lock on by default on a laptop that has no such separate keypad.

You can achieve that as follows:

a. Launch the application Software.
Search word: numlockx

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

b. Reboot your computer. The numeric keypad should turn on automatically.

c. It's possible that during the boot process, Ubuntu will turn Num Lock off again (sigh). If that happens, you can counteract that irritating behaviour as follows:

On the bottom left, click on the button with the white dots (Show Applications). 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 Num Lock 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 item c in each user account.

Make the Grub boot menu pretty

3.3. The Grub menu, from which you choose what operating system to boot on a dual boot computer, is practical but ugly.

Luckily, it's easy to make it prettier: *Click*.

Want more tips?

4. 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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