Ubuntu Linux 5.04
As noted before, Ubuntu is based on Debian GNU/Linux. Debian's package management system, APT (Advanced Packaging Tool) is famously easy to use. As long as your system has access to a server with the package you want, a single command installs the package and automatically brings in any other packages needed by the one you requested. There is no charge for downloading new packages or security updates.
Using the apt-get command-line tool, it also is possible to update your system, automatically retrieving any new versions of the packages you already have. There is also an ncurses-based character-mode tool called aptitude that makes it easy to browse packages, plus a GNOME graphical package browser called Synaptic Package Manager. All of these have been standard in Ubuntu since the first release.
With the 5.04 release, Ubuntu has made package management even easier, and the most common cases are now extremely simple and discoverable. When updated packages become available, a bright red icon appears in the notification area. Clicking on the icon launches the Ubuntu Update Manager, which shows a list of packages with available updates; one click on the Install button updates the Ubuntu system to the latest packages. This handles both security updates and feature updates.
Under Applications/System Tools there is a launcher for the Add/Remove Programs dialog, another new feature to Ubuntu 5.04. The most common programs a user might want appear here, along with an icon, a friendly name and a terse explanation of what the program does. Simply marking a check box next to the program name selects that program for installation. Clicking on the Advanced button brings up the Synaptic Package Manager, which can perform any package management task. Expert users probably will go straight to Synaptic or aptitude, but beginners will appreciate this feature.
The Ubuntu packages are divided among four components: main, restricted, universe and multiverse. With all four package components enabled, an Ubuntu system has access to more than 16,000 different packages. Packages that are installed by default are listed in the main or restricted components. Main contains completely free software, plus some fonts and binary firmware files that are redistributable but not actually free software. Restricted contains non-free proprietary software distributed with restrictions, such as NVIDIA video drivers.
Ubuntu is free to distribute, install and use, and the restricted packages are essential to make a distribution that simply works, out of the box, on all common hardware. If you want to avoid proprietary software, you can remove the restricted component from your package sources.
The universe and multiverse components are disabled by default. Universe contains many thousands of packages from Debian GNU/Linux, compiled for Ubuntu but tested very little and not supported. Multiverse contains proprietary packages, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.
Ubuntu comes standard with a solid assortment of software—OpenOffice.org office suite, The GIMP image editor, Evolution e-mail client and Firefox Web browser—all the basics you would expect to find on a modern Linux desktop system by default.
Using the Synaptic Package Manager you easily can search through the thousands of packages and select new ones; a click downloads and installs them. It's really fun to browse through the package listings, shopping for new software. Any software that Ubuntu does not install by default can be added easily, which is a real strength of the APT package management system.
Before you use Ubuntu, I suggest you look over the tips collected on the Ubuntu Guide Web site. It's a treasure trove of useful information.
A major hole in GNOME 2.10, however, is the lack of a menu editor. GNOME 2.10 adopted the new freedesktop.org menu standard, so older menu editors don't work, and there simply wasn't a new menu editor available to ship as part of GNOME 2.10. However, all of the packages in the Ubuntu base system are good about putting launchers in the menu, so the typical Ubuntu user does not need a menu editor. If you want to install a menu editor, you can install the KDE Menu Editor (provided by the kmenuedit package) or follow the step-by-step instructions from the Ubuntu Guide Web site to install a simple GNOME Menu Editor.
The six-month release cycle may cause this sort of rough edge to appear again in the future. But given how easy it is to update an Ubuntu system, any real problems that turn up can be fixed with updated packages. For example, once there is an official Ubuntu menu editor, all Ubuntu systems will get it when they update their packages.
If you want to use the universe packages, I suggest you set up the Debian menus. The universe packages may not add menu entries to the GNOME desktop menu, but they almost always add entries to the Debian menu. Install the menu and menu-xdg packages, and the Debian menu appears under Applications/Debian.
Ubuntu does not come standard with support for legally encumbered media technologies such as MP3 audio or MPEG2 video. The Restricted Formats page on the Ubuntu Web site discusses the situation.
For system administration, Ubuntu encourages you to use sudo. By default, no root password is set. You can get a root shell by running sudo -s.
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- Where's That Pesky Hidden Word?
- Problems with Ubuntu's Software Center and How Canonical Plans to Fix Them
- A Project to Guarantee Better Security for Open-Source Projects
- Firefox Security Exploit Targets Linux Users and Web Developers
- Doing Astronomy with Python
- My Network Go-Bag
- Build a “Virtual SuperComputer” with Process Virtualization
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