Life with Linux: First customizations

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By the end of the last entry, I had installed and updated a basic, vanilla Ubuntu 9.04 Linux desktop on a Lenovo T400 laptop. There was nothing about the installation that was special to the hardware or to how I wanted the environment to be. I’ll now start customizing, and this is ahead of installing the Open Client software layer we use inside IBM.

Some of the things I do are minor, some more involved, and all are related to the way I like to work.

When I did the basic installation, Ubuntu put up a pop window saying that one or more proprietary drivers were available for the machine. Typically this is either for the wifi card or for the graphics adapter. To see what was available, I went to the System > Administration > Hardware Drivers menu entry. After searching for available drivers, the system told me that there was an ATI/AMD proprietary FGLRX video driver ready to be activated. It stated

This driver is required to fully utilise the 3D potential of some new ATI graphics cards, as well as provide 2D acceleration of newer cards.

While I certainly prefer open source drivers, this is a good one to install, so I clicked the Activate button. It took longer than I thought to download and install the driver, several minutes. I needed to restart the system after the driver installation, which I did. There were no video issues when the system came back up.

Next up is to customize the top menubar. Some people like one bar (like Windows) and some like two (like the Mac, with the bar on top and dock on bottom). I happen to like two. This is what the left side of the top menubar looks like before you do anything:


If you right click on the top bar, you can choose Add to Panel. From there you can select Application Launcher. This allows you to add a one-click icon for any app that is already in the Applications menu system. If you want to remove an icon, right click it and choose Remove From Panel. If you uncheck Lock to Panel then you can drag and drop the icon elsewhere on the bar. It might take several attempts to nudge it to exactly where you want it to go.

Here is my menubar after I’ve removed the Evolution envelope icon (don’t use it), moved the help icon way over to the right (not shown), and added launching icons for a text editor (gedit), a command line terminal (love, love, love it), a screen shot app (used for these images), and a calculator.


As an aside, I wonder why the GNOME English menu text capitalizes “From” but not “to”. Strange.

Next up is to add a directory where I’ll put the files I download through the browser. I’ll call it, cleverly enough, “Downloads.” Click on the terminal session icon to get a command line. The command “ls” lists the file and directory currently present in my home user directory. The “mkdir” command makes a directory. At the end of the following note that I check again to see the file listing, just to make sure that I didn’t misspell anything.


Of course, you can also add directories via the File Browser application if you don’t want to use a command line. Access that via the Places menu item.

After this I started up the Firefox browser and made my personal customizations, and I won’t detail those here since you’ll want to do whatever works for you. Last week I listed the Firefox addons that I use. I particularly find XMarks very convenient as I move from system to system.

Next I added some applications I like to use. You can do this by selecting Applications > Add/Remove. If you are doing this for the first time, the system will ask if it can update its list. Allow it to do so, and give it your password when requested.

The applications are grouped into collections called repositories and these are further grouped in ways labeled in the top center of the Add/Remove Applications window. Poke around and see what you need or might like to try. Think of this as a candy store of free (as in zero-cost) software, because that’s what it pretty much is. For example, under Third party applications you can get Adobe Flash and Adobe Reader. I recommend the Office and Games categories, the former for so-called productivity software and the latter for anti-productivity software.

Note that one application I find indispensable is the FileZilla FTP Client. There is some oddity that will not let you install it from the Applications > Add/Remove software. You can find and install it from System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager. Synaptic is a more fine grained way of installing software packages, but this behavior with FileZilla is just a bug, in my opinion.

Finally, I installed the IBM Open Client layer. This is internal to the company, so I won’t describe it here, but IBMers can ping me for the URL if they need it. You know where to find me.

Next up: Life with Linux: Up and running, and changing the look

Also see: Life with Linux: The series


  1. Friends don’t let friends use a screenshot of the command line on a article about Linux. It scares possible users.

  2. Nice to see your own setup process after installation. I also reach for FileZilla right away. Krusader file manager is next if it’s not installed. Most of my time is spent creating my own folder structure and transferring a few files over. However, since 2008, all my essential files and configuration data is in the cloud, reducing a new distro change to no more than an hour (or less for one like sidux).

  3. A great primer for IBMers considering the OCDC (Ubuntu) client is available in two formats. Info is available via a wiki ( and also as a pdf (

    You might find these useful

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