For three or four years I had been trying different Linux distributions but, not being a geek, I found them extremely frustrating and enormous time wasters. All that changed with the arrival of Ubuntu 8 on my desktop and is continuing now with 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope. For the first time I actually have begun using my Linux box more than my XP one. It’s easy to use, the installation of programs has become a breeze, and it’s fast and so far reliable. So now I’m happy to spend some extra time on tweaking Ubuntu, and here are some options from Lifehacker’s Top Ten to do so (click on links for details or go to Lifehacker for additional information on some of the applications):
It’s like (Windows based) TweakUI for Linux. Allows to change bits and pieces, and makes installing (and keeping up-to-date) third-party upgrades like the Avant Window Navigator dock or the latest Firefox beta a simple check-the-box job.
Gives access to any of the hundreds of Google Gadgets, including Google Calendar or Remember the Milk. If you wan to hide the Screenlets until you press a key (like, say, the Mac’s F9 default), install the compizconfig-settings-manager package ( has all kinds of other goodies).
Works fine in Linux (as it does on Windows and for Macs) hand-in-hand with VLC media player to rip any DVD into a video file for any device. (Head to the program site to grab a pre-compiled Ubuntu version; the 8.10 version should work fine in 9.04).
Drop-down terminal emulator that is speedy and easy to tab and customisable, pops up in the same place each time, and feels a lot more integrated into your overall experience. Built for KDE-based systems but apparently runs in GNOME-based with very few dependencies or problems. [Make it start up with your system.]
UNetbootin allows you to create bootable Live USB drives for a variety of Linux distributions from Windows or Linux, without requiring you to burn a CD. You can either let it download one of the many distributions supported out-of-the-box for you, or supply your own Linux .iso file if you’ve already downloaded one or your preferred distribution isn’t on the list.
Songbird is an open-source customizable cross-platform music player that’s under active development. In terms of design it is mimicking iTunes, but without offering its reliability yet. I installed it a couple of times in Windows XP but wasn’t that happy with it. Some comments in the Lifehacker post see it as a pain in the neck in Linux. I’d give it another year.
Conky is a free, light-weight system monitor that displays any information on your desktop. Conky can display just about anything, either on your root desktop or in its own window. Not only does Conky have 250 built-in objects, it can also display just about any piece of information by using scripts and other external programs. Generally people rave about it.
A virtual machine product for the average home user who just needs access to a Windows application now and then. It’s easy enough for a beginner to get into, but customisable enough to run as a seamless taskbar on your Linux desktop. In other words, it’s a free semi-equivalent of what Mac users have been using (Boot Camp or Parallels) to run the necessary Windows app now and again. (Ubuntu’s repositories carry the “Open Source Edition” of VirtualBox, which is much the same, but lacks certain features, including USB support; head to the program site to download standard packages for 9.04).
Syns files online and across internal netwroks and platforms. Great for exchanging files (up to 2GB with a free account), and offering quick access and notifications from the system tray. (Head to the program site to download pre-compiled Ubuntu packages).
1. GNOME Do
Inspired by Quicksilver & GNOME Launch Box, GNOME Do allows you to quickly search for many items present on your desktop or the web, and perform useful actions on those items. You can launch applications with a couple of keystrokes, fire off a one-shot terminal command, start a VirtualBox machine, add a Google Calendar or Remember the Milk obligation, update Twitter, restart your system, start an email to a Gmail contact … this list goes on. GNOME Do now includes a smart and intuitive desktop dock for clocks, trash, and those moments when you’ve already go the mouse in hand.
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