Every six months, Canonical releases a new version of Ubuntu, a Linux distribution which uses the Unity interface, built on top of GNOME 3 technology. With each new version there are additions that will be new to most users (aside from those who have been keeping up with the development process since the last version). In addition, programs are occasionally removed, only to be replaced with programs the Ubuntu developers feel are suitable for a larger audience. In this article, I’ll discuss three things that you should learn about or install after installing or upgrading to the latest version of Ubuntu – 12.04 the Precise Pangolin – released on April 26 of this year.
Head Up Display – HUD
While the Unity interface has certainly evolved, becoming more feature-filled and (happily) faster and more responsive, the part I’m most excited about is a completely new addition, called the Head Up Display. or HUD for short. The HUD is a new interface designed to lessen the need to mouse through dozens of menu options, instead allowing users to tap the Alt key once, then type the name of the command they wish to use.
See as an example, the first screenshot. Instead of trying to hunt down the command in Gedit (the default text editor in Ubuntu), to view document statistics, the user simply needs to tap the Alt key, then type statistics until the correct result appears. Hit the Enter key and the command will be executed. This is a fantastic addition, and one that’s well worth learning about and getting used to. It isn’t designed to completely replace the menus (which are still there and available), but if you’re the kind of computer user who would rather type than use the mouse, you should see a great increase in efficiency and speed.
Ubuntu offers an okay assortment of tweaking tools, but with the addition of the Unity interface, a few long-time options were suddenly missing. Instead of being able to choose from a huge variety of theme options, users are now limited to four (Ambiance, Radiance and two high-contrast themes). Because of this, a crop of tweaking tools has sprouted. Many of them are good, but my absolute favorite is called Ubuntu Tweak. While Ubuntu Tweak isn’t part of the standard Ubuntu repositories, you can simply head over to the project’s website and download the installer, which can then be installed using either the Ubuntu Software Center or via dpkg in the Terminal. See the second screenshot for a view of all the configuration options Ubuntu Tweak offers.
One of the largest grips many casual users of Linux in general have is a lack of out-of-the-box multimedia support. Because of licensing issues, many popular codecs and/or formats, such as MP3, WMV and AAC are not supported, but that’s easy to add if you know which packages to install. In the Terminal, simply type sudo apt-get install ffmpeg gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad-multiverse gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly gstreamer0.10-ffmpeg libavcodec-extra-53 libavdevice-extra-53 libavfilter-extra-2 libavformat-extra-53 libpostproc-extra-52 libswscale-extra-2 libdvdread4 x264 flac faac lame twolame adobe-flashplugin and in no time at all you should have support installed for all the Flash videos you can view on the Internet, MP3 playback and converting, plus practically any audio or video format you can think of. This command will install a lot of extras besides the ones specifically asked for in the above command.
This also provides support for playing DVDs, although not encrypted ones, such as those you’d purchase in a store. To add support for those, simply type sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/install-css.sh into the Terminal (you’ll need to enter your Administrator password), and the libdvdcss2 library will be installed, which allows Totem, VLC and other multimedia programs to use encrypted DVDs.