Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
Linux Part 5
by Alan German
In the last
article (Exploring Linux Part 4, November 2006), we made a start
on customizing the Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake)
distribution of Linux by editing the boot-up command file
so that Windows started by default, with a pause allowing
us to select Linux if desired. Now, it's time to move on
and see what else we can do to Linux, and what else Linux
can do for us!
One of the obvious things that we will need is the
ability to add new software. For example, there's really
nothing wrong with the Evolution mail client that comes
with the Ubuntu distro, but I am used to the features
offered by Mozilla Thunderbird and, since there is a
Linux version of this program, I would like to locate and
My first thought was to go the Mozilla web site and
download the Linux version of Thunderbird. No problem
here, except that it comes as the compressed
"tar" file thunderbird-188.8.131.52.tar.gz. To use
the latter, we would need to know all about
"tarballs". Note that the file has two
extensions .gz, showing that it is compressed with
the gzip utility program and .tar indicating a
file in Tape ARchive format. The net result is a file
that is similar to the familiar (to Windows users) ZIP
archive. Unpacking the archive requires finding out how
to issue a tar command, with a gz option, in a terminal
window. We then need to identify a suitable shell command
file to run the Thunderbird program which, it turns out,
is complicated by a broken link in the help file! Now,
all this seems fairly complicated, and modern Linux
systems really should be easier to use. Perhaps what we
need is a different source of helpful information.
System Help on the main menu provides links to a
variety of help files. Online Documentation, Community
Support, and Commercial Support all require an Internet
connection for access. But, both System Information and
Ubuntu Book Excerpt are available on the local hard disk.
The System Information menu option opens a browser-type
window (actually a program called Yelp) with further
options that include access to the Ubuntu Desktop User
Guide which, in turn, provides a link to "Adding,
Removing and Updating Applications". This describes
a number of ways to access new software in an automated
fashion using various package managers. However, the
Ubuntu Book Excerpt (actually selected chapters from The
Official Ubuntu Book) probably has the best information
on this subject in the section entitled "How Do I
Install a Package?"
With this information at hand, we find out that it's
actually really easy to install new software in Ubuntu,
because the support community maintains a whole raft of
stuff in on-line file repositories. Using the menu
sequence Applications Add/Remove
provides access to one such repository. A considerable
number of available applications are displayed, broken
out by category (such as Internet, Office, Games, etc.)
The applications that were included as part of the
installation of Ubuntu are already checked. Selecting a
new application for installation is as simple as checking
one of the boxes, while unchecking a box marks that
application to be uninstalled.
Looking through the list, we find "Thunderbird
Mail" in the Internet section. Installing the
program is now as simple as checking the associated box
and clicking on the Apply button. A dialogue box confirms
the pending file operations. The system then asks for the
logon password, goes out to the web, downloads the
software, installs it on the local hard drive, and even
adds it as an option for use on the Applications
Note that the installation routine modifies the menu
system to include a link to the newly added software, but
it doesn't enable the new program. We accomplish the
latter by modifying the menu system with the Alacarte
Menu Editor (Applications Accessories
Alacarte Menu Editor). Calling up this utility program,
and highlighting the Internet tab, we can see all the
installed packages and the checkboxes that denote their
operational status. We can disable Evolution Mail by
unchecking its box, and then check the box for
Thunderbird Mail in order to enable our new program.
Click on Apply, and we have switched our default mail
client from Evolution to Thunderbird.
The Install and Remove Applications program noted above
provides a mechanism for simple addition and removal of
software packages. The generic engine underlying this and
other package managers is the Advanced Package Tool (APT)
whose primary task is search for, download and install
additional Linux software. One important aspect to this
is that the tool ensures that any necessary libraries and
support files are obtained to provide a total package and
making for a trouble-free installation process.
The Advanced tab on Add/Remove Applications calls up
Synaptic, the program's more powerful cousin. Synaptic is
part of the distro and can also be located as the menu
item System Administration Synaptic
Package Manager. Synaptic provides the ability to add
other web-based software repositories (Settings
Repositories), providing access to a much larger range of
additional software. For example, we can select Ubuntu
6.06 LTS (Binary) to give us access to the
community-maintained repository named Universe. The list
of packages with All selected is rather daunting, so hit
the Sections button to categorize the offerings and make
the process more manageable. Now, with very little
effort, we can find software of interest to use under
There are also ways to change the user interface to make
Linux look-and-feel precisely the way we want. For
example, we can add icons to menu bars, and to the
desktop, if we so desire.
One useful way to run a program is through an icon
located in the Panel (the menu bar along the top of the
screen). We can customize the panel by right clicking on
it at a location where we wish to position a new icon.
Select Add to Panel and then Custom Application Launcher.
We can now enter Thunderbird into the Name field, and
browse for an executable Thunderbird file as the entry in
the Command field. Which file to choose, and where to
locate it, is not intuitive. To fully understand the
process we need to explore the Linux file system. But,
life is too short. Let's take a wild guess and see what
happens! (Actually, there is a much easier way to
establish a new icon in the panel but bear with me
for a moment.) The file we seem to need is
mozilla-thunderbird in /usr/bin, so we browse to that
directory and select the file. We can also specify an
icon for Thunderbird by clicking on the Icon box,
browsing to the usr/share/pixmaps directory, and
selecting the mozilla-thunderbird-pm-menu.png image file.
This places the Thunderbird icon on the panel. Clicking
once on this icon launches the program.
In Linux, there always seems to be multiple ways of doing
things and so, it shouldn't come as any surprise that
there is a much easier way to create an entry in the
panel. It's actually as simple as going through the
initial stages of the menu system to call up Thunderbird
(Applications Internet Thunderbird Mail)
but, rather than left-clicking on the final menu item to
launch the program, right-click instead to launch a
sub-menu. The first item on this menu is "Add this
launcher to panel" which does exactly what it
says without having to locate obscurely-named
executable files and images. Easy!
One of Ubuntu's claims to fame is its "clean"
interface. It doesn't have a lot of icons on the desktop
when it starts up. In fact, it doesn't have any icons on
the desktop! Nor is it easy to find out how to create
such icons; the information isn't readily located in any
of the help files. However, the above trick provides one
clue. The second item in the sub-menu is "Add this
launcher to desktop" which, if selected, produces an
icon for Thunderbird on the display screen.
As mentioned, there are other ways to create icons on the
desktop. For example, we can open up the Nautilus file
manager and browse to File System usr
bin where we can locate the editor gedit.
Right-clicking on the program's icon provides a menu item
to copy the file. Moving the mouse cursor to the desktop,
we can right click once more and paste a copy of the
gedit icon onto the desktop. As you might guess, using
Control left-click and dragging the icon to the desktop
has the same effect. So now, we ex-Windows users can
create desktop icons to our heart's content. But, of
course, we wouldn't do that because, now, we are
"real" Linux users!
After simply installing Ubuntu and its associated
applications from the distribution CD, we have gone on to
explore how to tailor the system to work the way that we
want. We have also seen that a much bigger world of
applications programs is open to us, and that a really
nice feature is that the Ubuntu user community packages
many desirable applications and makes them available for
easy download. In addition, we have the ability to
customize how we launch all of this stuff, and we can
choose from a number of different methods. So, there's no
longer any excuse to download, install, customize and use
a copy of Ubuntu Linux for human beings!
Click here to view the
full OPCUG website with frames.
Copyright and Usage
Ottawa Personal Computer Users Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON K2G 1S6
opinions expressed in these reviews do not necessarily
represent the views of the OPCUG or its members.
comments or suggestions to the .