Many programs have splash screens when they start that give useful progress updates, or just something to stare at while the hard disk grinds away. The GNOME desktop used with Ubuntu also has one of these but it's disabled by default (at least in 8.04 Hardy Heron; some earlier releases had a splash screen). To activate it, fire up gconf-editor, navigate to /apps/gnome-session/options, and put a check alongside show_splash_screen.
To be honest, GNOME tends to start so quickly on my system that I only ever glimpse the splash screen, but there have been one or two situations where GNOME has got "stuck" while starting up, and the splash screen has given me valuable information about which component was causing the problem (as part of its display, the splash screen cycles through the system components that are being activated).
To personalize the splash screen, see Tip 237, on page 279.
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