The Ubuntu desktop

Before we get down to specifics, let's take an overview of the Ubuntu desktop. If you've already spent time playing around with the desktop then you can probably skip this part.

You first thing you might notice is that it's virtually icon-free. This is just because the Ubuntu developers don't like clutter. You can drag and drop icons onto the desktop and get it as messy as you wish.

At the top and bottom of the screen are the panels. These are almost identical to Windows' taskbar, except that there are two of them. The one at the top tends to be about running software and presenting information to the user. The one at the bottom is where programs minimize to, and contains a Show Desktop button (left) and Trash icon (right), along with a virtual desktop switcher (far right).

On the top panel there are three menus—Applications, Places, and System. These will always stick around, no matter what. An application's own menus (File, Edit, View etc.) will appear underneath.

The Applications menu contains the software you use on a day-today basis—media players, office applications, calculator, and so on. However, software used to administrate the software isn't found there. That's on the System menu, which has two sub-menus—Preferences, and Administration. Preferences lists programs that tweak settings specific to your user account, such as changing the desktop wallpaper. Administration lists programs that configure the overall system.

Programs on the System ^ Administration menu won't run unless you type your login password when prompted. I explain more about this on page 22.

The Places menu provides quick access to the file system, or to any other file system that is attached to your computer, such as your Windows partition, or USB memory sticks that are plugged in. See Figure 2.1, on the following page for an example. The Windows partition will probably be identified as x GB Media, where x is the size of the

Figure 2.1: Ubuntu's Places menu partition. USB memory sticks will be identified by their name (a.k.a. their label). Incidentally, the file browser used in Ubuntu has a name— Nautilus. It's a cool piece of software in its own right so be sure to explore its functions. Like most applications in Ubuntu, it can be configured by clicking Edit ^ Preferences on its menu.

Your personal area on the disk is a folder named after your user name and can be found the /home folder. Often people simply refer to this as their "home folder". It's analogous to My Documents under Windows. There are several other subdirectories in your personal /home folder for you to store stuff in—Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. There's also the Desktop folder that, like Windows, simply contains any files stored on the desktop.

As mentioned earlier, the Trash icon lives at the bottom right of the desktop. Drag and drop stuff onto it to delete (or just right-click what you want to delete and select Move to the Deleted Items folder). Click the Trash icon to see its contents and to see a button that lets you empty it.

At the top right of the screen is the notification area, which is just like Windows' System Tray area. Sometimes icons pop-up here to notify you of stuff, such as the fact that there are system updates available, or that you have new email. The volume control and clock live here, along with NetworkManager, which lets you configure your wifi/network connection. There's also something called the Fast User Switcher. That's why your login name is listed there. Clicking it lets you switch between users on the system. It's useless if there's only one user setup on the system, which is probably the case for 99% of Ubuntu installations. You can get rid of it (or, indeed, anything on the panels) by right-clicking and selecting Remove from panel. You can add it back in again if you wish by right-clicking a blank spot on the panels and selecting Add to panel. Then choose it from the list.

If you select Add to panel, you'll also see lots of other handy applets (small programs with a specific function) that can be added to the panel. Some are very useful, so take some time to explore.

Icons can be clicked and dragged from the menus to the desktop for ease of access. In addition, they can be dragged onto blank spots on the panels. The desktop can used as a semi-permanent store area for files, just like with Windows or Macintosh OS X. Just click and drag a file from the file browsing window. Files are always downloaded to the desktop by the web browser unless you specify otherwise.

Whereas Windows has Internet Explorer, Ubuntu uses Firefox (Applications ^ Internet ^ Firefox Web Browser). Outlook is replaced by Evolution (Applications ^ Internet ^ Evolution Email). Microsoft Office is replaced by OpenOffice.org (Applications ^ Office). Pidgin is used for instant messaging (Applications ^ Internet ^ Pidgin Internet Messenger) . GIMP is used for image editing (Applications ^ Graphics ^ GIMP Image Editor). Just have a click around on the menus—it's fairly obvious what everything does and it's pretty hard to break anything.

Many tips in this book make reference to Gedit, which is a text editor. This can be found on the Applications ^ Accessories menu, although you'll nearly always start it from the command-line when following the tips.

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