This tutorial’s difficulty level: Beginner
Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity to others’. It also means ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. The Ubuntu operating system brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the world of computers.
This is a new and improved tutorial, combining two previous (and now deleted) tutorials, covering the installation and post-installation configuration of Ubuntu 16.04.2 LTS Desktop, into one article. You should definitely grab something to drink, and a snack, and make sure you have an hour or so to complete this tutorial, not including the time it takes to download an installation image and burn it to a DVD, or copy it to a bootable USB device.The Ubuntu 16.04.2 LTS installer can be downloaded from the official Ubuntu website – https://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop. Also, be sure to verify your download afterward.
- Booting From the Installation Media
- First Boot After Installation
- Prepare the System for Updates & Upgrades
- Say Hello to the Terminal Emulator
- Upgrade Your System
- Enable Proprietary Media Types On Your System
- Meet the GNU Privacy Guard
- Install Google Chrome Web Browser
- Disable the Apport Crash Reporter
- Tweak the Desktop
- Where to Go for More Information
A PC or a virtual machine – Ubuntu will run on standard PC hardware. Even an older PC that used to run Windows XP can run Ubuntu, as long as it meets the following specifications:
2 GHz dual core processor or better
2 GB system memory
25 GB of free hard drive space
Either a DVD drive or a USB port for the installer media
Internet access is helpful
Ubuntu provides a 32-bit version of its desktop operating system, for very old PCs.
Booting From the Installation Media
On startup, the installer will offer you the chance to run the live version directly from the installation media, without writing to the hard drive. To access this feature, click the Try Ubuntu button. For the purpose of this tutorial, it is assumed that you have chosen to go ahead and install Ubuntu, instead. To install Ubuntu, click the Install Ubuntu button.
Check the boxes indicating that you want to download updates automatically from Ubuntu servers during installation and that you also want to avail yourself of the third-party software that enables the same kind of media playback one would expect from a Windows or Mac system. Click the Continue button when you are done.
Unless you know what you are doing, it’s best to just accept the default selection of installation type. Note that the Ubuntu installer is aware of any partitions and/or operating systems already on the destination drive. If you wanted to install a dual-bootable system, Ubuntu would offer you that choice by default, if it both detected an existing operating system and determined there to be enough free space on the hard drive for the Ubuntu installation, as well. Click the Install Now button when you are done.
One chance to change your mind and define another configuration, instead. When you are sure, click the Continue button.
I just happen to live in North Carolina, on the Eastern seaboard of the United States, so my time zone is the same as New York. Use your pointer to click on the map where you live to define your own time zone for the system. When you are done, click the Continue button.
Again, as if by magic, the Ubuntu installer seems to already know my preferred language and keyboard settings. When you are satisfied with the settings, click the Continue button.
And now provide a full name for what will be the primary user account, which is also an administrator account. Provide a username, or nickname, for login purposes, or alternately, you could check the radio button indicating the user should log in automatically on startup. As you can see in the image below, I’ve chosen not to enable automatic login. A password will be required to log on to the new system after installation, unless you choose “Log in automatically”. When you are ready, click the Continue button.
Okay, great! Ubuntu is now going to be installed to the hard drive, so it would be a good time to take a break, maybe get up and move your legs a bit. Hang in there!
When the installer is finished, it will present you with the dialog shown below. Click the Restart Now button.
If your hardware allows it, the installer will attempt to eject the installation medium. Either way, you must remove the installation medium before restarting the system.
First Boot After Installation
The Ubuntu login screen is shown below. Enter your password and then press the Enter key on your keyboard, or click the caret (right-arrow) on the right end of the password input box.
Below you see the Ubuntu desktop for the first time. It is very purple by default. We can change that in due course, but for now let us go immediately about the task of bringing the operating system up to date.
Prepare the System for Updates & Upgrades
To begin, click the gear icon at the bottom of the cluster of icons in the Unity Launcher on the left side of the screen. This will open the System Settings panel, which itself is a collection of small, configuration applets. Please take time in the future to explore the system applets below, but for now, go straight to Software & Updates icon in the bottom row, and click on it.
Select the Other Software tab, then check the box corresponding to Canonical Partners, as shown in the image below.
You must have administrator-level privileges to modify system software, so expect to be presented with a password dialog. Your account is an administrator account, so that’s helpful. Otherwise, you would be unable to perform this and similar tasks, with or without a password.
In the image below, you can see that I have intentionally not checked the DVD that I used to install the system, represented by the first check box, nor have I selected the source code option represented by the last checkbox. The files on the installation media will never be as current as the software in the online repositories. The source code is for the option of compiling the system software on your system, which is not something that most people will ever need to do, though if the need arises, well, there it is.
Now click on the Additional Drivers tab, and Ubuntu is going to inspect your specific hardware, and look for matching drivers. A common example of hardware that will show up under this tab is a graphics card, like Nvidia. Sometimes, vendors will offer their own, proprietary driver packages. Historically, the proprietary drivers outperform the automatically-installed open source drivers in some specific way, but otherwise performance is generally comparable. Personally, I would install an Nvidia driver if I were using an Nvidia graphics card, for example. On the other hand, I would likely not use Intel kernel code for the CPU. The sheer possible number of hardware configurations makes it impractical to address them all in this article.
I’m installing this Ubuntu system on a virtual machine, using special hypervisor software. If that sounds amazing, that’s because it is. My life is dope and I do dope stuff.
When you are done, click the Close button on the bottom right of the applet window, and be prepared to click the Reload button when the dialog shown in the image below pops up on your desktop. What you are reloading is the list of available software that repositories make available and continually update on remote servers. Before adding or removing software on your Ubuntu system, it is best practice to first contact those remote repositories and download their latest software indexes. That’s what is going to happen when you click the Reload button.
Say Hello to the Terminal Emulator
The command-line interface is a core part of the Linux user experience, even though this seems to strike dread into the hearts of people who are unfamiliar with it. Happily, this fear is easily dispelled. The Linux user eventually learns, and sometimes in spite of themselves, that it can just be more efficient to type a few commands into the terminal than to do certain things any other way. There is more than one way to open the terminal emulator, which I will refer to simply as the terminal, henceforth. My favorite way, and by far the fastest, is to use the keyboard combination Ctrl-Alt-T, but you can also click the Ubuntu icon at the top of the launcher to open the flyout, which has a search input right there at the top. As you begin to type the word “terminal” into the search input, the launcher will begin offering you a narrower set of options…
And when you see the choices as shown in the image below, you may either click on a selected icon, or press the Enter key to accept and launch the first item in the list, which in this case is our preferred terminal window.
Before you actually use the terminal, you should make a small change to the terminal configuration. Use your mouse pointer to select Edit -> Profile Preferences from the application menu at the top of the screen.
Select the Command tab, then check the box next to the Run command as a login shell option. When you are finished, click the Close button.
Upgrade Your System
Now, you only just reloaded the remote lists of available software maintained by the Ubuntu repositories a moment ago, so this first step is not strictly necessary if you have been following along, but it won’t hurt to update those lists a second time, and this will show you how to do it in the terminal. Type the following command into the terminaland then press the Enter key.
sudo apt update
You just entered a string of words that might look like complete nonsense to you, so in that case let me quickly break it down. The first term you used, sudo, is a magic word on Linux systems, meaning that you would like to execute the command that follows it as an administrator, with the elevated privileges that come with that role. You need administrative privileges to run the software manager, which is what apt is, after all – Ubuntu’s Advanced Packaging Tool. The last word is exactly what it looks like, the command issued to apt to make it update its list of available software. You will have to supply your password.
When the system has finished updating its software lists, instruct the package manager to do a full upgrade, replacing all outdated system files and software with the most recently available versions. You can do this by entering the following command:
sudo apt full-upgrade
The system will prepare the list of files to be downloaded, and will require you to confirm the download and installation of those files. Enter “y” in the terminal to proceed with the upgrade.
When the upgrades are finished installing, it will probably be a good idea to go ahead and reboot the system. To do that, you can click on the round, power/gear-like icon at the top right corner of the screen, and then select Shut Down… from the drop-down menu, or else you can enter the following command into the terminal:
Enable Proprietary Media Types On Your System
One of the more challenging aspects of choosing to go with a Linux system is the fact that you typically must specifically download and install third-party software that Windows and Mac users take for granted, those operating systems being pre-configured to play those file types. This is not a technical issue. This is a legal issue. Ubuntu is open source software, and the license under which it is distributed is incompatible with the proprietary licenses enforced by the likes of Microsoft and Adobe. Thus, users must choose to download and install the software needed to play or view certain media types, in an extra step. Believe me, it is worth the time it takes to do this.
I’m not going to explain all of the software choices, here. Suffice it to say that I think this is a bare minimum selection, being what I construe as the intersection of software capability most users would choose to have up front. You can copy and paste the following command into the terminal:
sudo apt install vlc gufw unity-tweak-tool ubuntu-restricted-extras ffmpeg gxine libdvdread4 libdvd-pkg id3tool lame p7zip-full zip unzip rar unrar uudeview file-roller gdebi dconf-tools synaptic default-jre
Your password will be required, of course.
Once again, the package manager will present the list of proposed software to download, and you must enter “y” into the terminal to proceed with the installation.
Suppose that you need to open a document created on a Windows system. Without the original fonts used to create those documents, they can be difficult to read at best, and hideously illegible at worst. The Microsoft TrueType fonts are available, but you must agree to the terms of the Microsoft End User License Agreement if you want them. Use the Tab key on your keyboard to highlight <OK>, and then press the Enter key.
You guessed it – more of the same.
Take note of this message, as we will be returning to it shortly. Again, go ahead and highlight <OK> in the terminal, and then press the Enter key to proceed.
When this dialog in the image below appears, highlight <Yes> and press the Enter key to enable automatic upgrades for libdvdcss2.
As suggested by the system in a previous step, you should go ahead and retrieve the source files for libdvdcss2, which will allow you to play encrypted DVDs, after they have been compiled on yours system. Do that by entering the following command into the terminal:
sudo dpkg-reconfigure libdvd-pkg
Confirm the download and the installation.
Meet the GNU Privacy Guard
GnuPG is a complete and free implementation of the OpenPGP standard as defined by RFC4880 (also known as PGP). GnuPG allows to encrypt and sign your data and communication, features a versatile key management system as well as access modules for all kinds of public key directories. GnuPG, also known as GPG, is a command line tool with features for easy integration with other applications. A wealth of frontend applications and libraries are available. Version 2 of GnuPG also provides support for S/MIME and Secure Shell (ssh).
All you are going to do is generate a private key that can be used in secure communication technologies. Begin by entering the following command into your terminal. This will initiate an interactive dialog where you will answer several questions.
The first choice to make is which algorithm to use to generate your private key. The various experts recommend (1) RSA and RSA (default), and the image below shows that I have entered “1” to indicate that as my preference. Enter a number corresponding to your preference, and then press the Enter key to proceed.
The longer your key, the more secure it will be. The image below shows that I have chosen a key length of 4096 bits. Enter your preference and press the Enter key to continue.
I set my key to never expire. Of course, I could always change my mind and rerun the wizard to overwrite my choices with new values if that became necessary. Enter your choice and press the Enter key to keep going.
Confirm your choices by entering “y” into the terminal.
You will now be asked to supply the human-readable part of the key, being the identity associated with that key, where you can be reached. As you can see in the image below, I have entered the name “Applebiter Jones” and my email address.
When you are satisfied that you have entered the proper credentials, enter “o” (letter) to finish and close the dialog.
Now I must apologize to some of you with weaker machines, like my own, because on Ubuntu, in particular, it seems to take a long time for the system to finally generate the private key. Please just be patient and give it the time it needs. Take the opportunity to go back to the System Settings panel and investigate the applets there, if you like, but do not close the terminal or turn off the computer until it has finished.
Install Google Chrome Web Browser
Ubuntu ships with the very fine Firefox web browser, but certain websites, like Netflix, require authentication technology that Firefox cannot provide without the Adobe Flash plugin. The problem is that the Adobe Flash plugin has become an otherwise rather obsolete bit of software, and a vector for malware that opens the user’s system to compromised security. Google’s Chrome web browser, however, has a highly-secure version of the Flash plugin built right in, and so using Chrome for those websites that require Flash or certain DRM technologies is the safer alternative to installing the Flash plugin system-wide.
While you could download a Linux installer from the Google Chrome download link on the web, that is an inferior way to accomplish our goal. I will show you the right way to install Google Chrome on Ubuntu. What we want is to install it once and be done with it, but we also want it to be updated when ever updates are available, because those updates are important, and often security-related. If we add the Google Chrome software repository provided by Google to our package manager, then not only can we install Chrome from the command-line, but when ever we run system updates in the future, automatic or otherwise, updates for Chrome will also be automatically downloaded and installed.
What you will do is modify a configuration file used by the package manager, informing it where to look for software indexes (or indices, if you are a nerd). The way you will modify it is by first opening it in a terminal-based text editor named nano. Advanced Linux users often migrate to fancier command-line text editors, like vi(m), but nano is much simpler to use. Enter the following command into the terminal to open the relevant configuration file into the nano editor:
sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list
You may have to supply your password.
With the file open in the browser, it is important to remember at all times that you are using the terminal, and your mouse functions will not work as expected inside the editor. For example, you cannot simply click somewhere in the text and move the cursor there, the way you ordinarily can in a graphical text editor. That is not to say that you cannot use the mouse at all, but that its use is limited to selecting, copying, and pasting, and not for locating the cursor. With all that said, use your arrow keys to scroll straight down to the bottom of the file, and add a line there that looks like the following:
deb [arch=amd64] http://dl.google.com/linux/chrome/deb/ stable main
When you are finished making changes, the way you save them is to use the keyboard combination Ctrl-O (letter “o”), followed by pressing the Enter key to confirm writing the changes to the original file. To close the file and return to the console, use the combination Ctrl-X.
You now need to import Google’s public signing key. This allows the package manager to verify the secure download of the browser and its updates from the Google repositories. To download it, enter the following command into the terminal:
Import the newly downloaded key into the package manager by entering the following command:
sudo apt-key add linux_signing_key.pub
Once again, since you have added a new repository, you should update the lists of available software by running the following command in the terminal:
sudo apt update
When it’s finished, and it gives you back the prompt, enter the following command to finally download and install Google Chrome:
sudo apt install google-chrome-stable
It is going to pull in additional software, and require you to grant it permission to continue. Enter “y” and press the Enter key to continue.
Just to tidy up, you can go ahead and remove that downloaded public key file with the following command:
Disable the Apport Crash Reporter
Sometimes, something goes wrong and software crashes. It happens on every system. When it happens on Ubuntu, a little program called Apport gets all excited and asks whether you want to report the crash back to Canonical’s website. If you are like me, then you are going to answer “No” to that question every time. If you are like me, you will want to go ahead and just turn this feature off. Understand that it does not prevent crashes in any way. It just wants to send the telemetry from that crash back to Ubuntu for inspection. It will not reduce your system’s functionality in any way to disable this feature.
Disabling the feature will first require modifying a file and changing a 1 to a 0, which will prevent the app from turning on when the system starts up, and second, shutting down the app, which is currently running as a system process in the background. First enter the following command into the terminal to open the configuration file in the nano editor:
sudo nano /etc/default/apport
Find the line that reads:
…and change it to:
Then save and close the file.
Now kill the apport daemon process by entering the following command into the terminal:
sudo systemctl stop apport
Tweak the Desktop
The first thing I really want to do after installing Ubuntu is change the wallpaper. If you would also like something a little more soothing, then you could change the wallpaper by opening the System Settings panel with the gear icon near the bottom of the launcher, and then clicking the first applet icon, Appearance. There is a drop-down menu that allows you to change the source folder for wallpaper images, so you can go to the web and download something at your leisure, but for now, I’m going to choose the serene, blue stock wallpaper image in the bottom left corner of the thumbnail grid.
That is so much better. Notice how other window and desktop elements change hue to match the desktop image. Pretty sweet.
While I am here, I am going to reduce the size of the big, fat, shiny icons in the launcher by half by adjusting the slider below the thumbnail grid. You can see in the image below that I’ve shrunk the icons down to 24×24 pixels from 48×48.
Click on the Behavior tab and you will find additional controls. In the image below you can see that I have made two changes that any sane person would make, namely to put the menus for a window on that window’s title bar, in the logical, comprehensible, normal, and well-established idiom of the graphical desktop, and to keep them there, and to show them. All of the time. When you are finished, click the All Settings button in the top left corner of the applet window to return to the main panel.
Open up the Brightness & Lock applet. I think you will agree that this setting needs modification. When I am finished using a monitor, I turn it off. What I don’t want is to be sitting back with my feet up on the desk, CEO-position, watching a video, when my screen goes dark. The image below shows how to fix it. When finished, return to the main panel.
Language support is not completely installed by default in Ubuntu, and so you must manually update this subsystem’s data. Click the Language Support icon and the applet will automatically initialize a download of the required files, pending your confirmation.
Your password will be required.
Click the Close button when you are finished.
Open the Security & Privacy applet and let’s walk through the tabs together. The first tab, Security, is fine as-is.
This is just a personal preference. Very organized people might appreciate the record-keeping offered by Ubuntu, but I am not very organized, and I am slightly paranoid. I turn off the feature as demonstrated in the image below.
The Search tab is a great big credit to Canonical, these days. Previous releases had this feature turned on by default, which meant that all of your online searches were being stored on the hard drive automatically. Well, now they leave the feature off by default, allowing very organized people to indulge themselves should they so choose.
Finally, moving on to the Diagnostics tab, this is again a judgment call. It is your machine, and you can make your own decisions. As you see, I have chosen to opt out of this kind of information gathering.
If you like, you can move the launcher from its position on the left side of the screen down to the bottom of the screen. If you want to give it a try, enter the following command into the terminal:
gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Launcher launcher-position Bottom
If you wanted to move it back, you could enter this command:
gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Launcher launcher-position Left
You can also add the real name associated with your user account to the panel at the top of the screen with the following command:
gsettings set com.canonical.indicator.session show-real-name-on-panel true
If you wanted to remove it again, you would enter the following command:
gsettings set com.canonical.indicator.session show-real-name-on-panel false
We have modified the desktop in some really simple ways, but we also have a tool at our disposal enabling us to get in way, way over our heads in terms of the details of the desktop configuration. Don’t be afraid. There are reset switches for the various settings, in case things get a little weird. If you feel adventurous, then open the tweak tool by entering the following command into the terminal:
As you can see, it is another configuration panel containing a selection of applets. You go ahead. I pretty much leave it alone. This is Ubuntu, and it looks like Ubuntu, and that is okay with me.
Where to Go for More Information
Why, go to the source, of course: https://help.ubuntu.com/stable/ubuntu-help/