Ubuntu is a polished, easy to use Linux distribution popular with new and experienced users alike. This guide will help get you started after a fresh install of the latest Ubuntu 21.04.
As always with a fresh install, start with running updates. I recommend checking for the fastest available mirror to hasten updates.
Open Software & Updates and click Download from drop down box. Select Other and the above window will open. Servers can be picked manually or use Select Best Server to do it automatically. The official Ubuntu main servers still serve as a reliable option.
Updates can be installed via Software Updater or through the command line. If using Software Updater, press the Super key, search for Software Updater, and follow prompts.
Installing updates via Terminal is simple as well. Launch the Terminal by pressing Ctrl + Alt + T or by searching for Terminal. Copy and paste the command below.
sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y
During install, there was a checkbox for installing additional drivers. Did you check it? Cool, then you’re probably done. If you didn’t, keep reading.
Ubuntu can take the pain out of installing proprietary drivers like Nvidia. Ubuntu installed my Nvidia driver during the initial system install. If that didn’t happen, you can install drivers through Additional Drivers. While its listed as a separate program, its actually a tab in Software & Updates. Choose your preferred driver and click Apply Changes. Reboot the system.
This tweak will minimize windows when the icon is clicked.
gsettings set org.gnome.shell.extensions.dash-to-dock click-action 'minimize'
Laptop battery life is not a strong suit for Linux. There are a couple tools that will help. System76 produces its own Ubuntu derived distro called Pop!_OS and has a handy menu for power profiles. I wrote before how its one of my favorite features from System76. Its actually simple to install the power menu on Ubuntu. The second option is TLP and is widely supported across distributions.
Copy and paste the commands below into Terminal. The first will add a Personal Package Archive (PPA) that will supply the packages. The second command installs the power profiles. This also works well for adding a hybrid graphics menu. Its useful for those laptops using Nvidia Optimus technology.
sudo apt-add-repository ppa:system76-dev/stable sudo apt install gnome-shell-extension-system76-power system76-power
Reboot then copy and paste the next command to display the power profiles in the system menu.
Reboot the system. Now you can choose between three profiles: Battery Life, Balanced, and Performance. System76 gives an explanation on GitHub on what the graphics profile do.
TLP is a strictly command line tool for tweaking power settings. TLP will work with System76-power installed as well.
sudo apt install tlp tlp-rdw --no-install-recommends
Additional packages are available for ThinkPads that may improve battery life even more.
sudo apt install tp-smapi-dkms acpi-call-dkms
To check the current status:
Follow the TLP recommendations and install additional packages as advised. Recalibrate for the best results.
sudo tlp -recalibrate
Display Power Percentage
A tiny battery icon doesn’t say much about how much is really left.
Open Settings, Power, and scroll to Suspend & Power Button. Enable Shower Battery Percentage. Alternatively, this can be enabled through the Terminal.
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface show-battery-percentage true
Apport is the error reporting system in Ubuntu. Its also incredibly annoying at times. If it becomes a hassle, try disabling it.
sudo apt remove apport apport-gtk
Enable Fingerprint Authentication
If your system has a fingerprint reader AND if its Linux supported, fingerprint authentication can be a quick way to login and sudo around Linux.
Open Settings (top right corner) and navigate to Users. If Fingerprint Login is displayed, then you’re set! Click to enroll fingerprints.
Any finger or thumb can be enrolled. If the system struggles reading your fingerprint, consider enrolling the same finger twice. Use something like the little finger profile. This doubles the number of times that the finger is scanned and makes it easier to recognize.
This is where the real magic happens. By default, fingerprints are only used for login. With a quick edit, fingerprint authentication can be used for sudo system wide. Open the Terminal:
Scroll through the profiles until Fingerprint authentication is found. Use the spacebar to select it, press tab, and hit enter to select Ok. Now anytime admin approval is required, you can simply swipe your finger.
Some multimedia files won’t play without additional codec support. Unfortunately some codecs cannot be shipped with Linux because of patent restrictions. These can be installed easily on Ubuntu with one command.
sudo apt install -y ubuntu-restricted-extras ubuntu-restricted-addons
Other Ubuntu flavors have their own respective packages. For example, these are the commands for Kubuntu, Lubuntu, and Xubuntu, respectively.
sudo apt install -y kubuntu-restricted-extras sudo apt install -y lubuntu-restricted-extras sudo apt install -y xubuntu-restricted-extras
Install libdvd to enable DVD playback.
sudo apt install -y libdvd-pkg && sudo dpkg-reconfigure libdvd-pkg
Most programs can be installed using Ubuntu Software.
Software is logically categorized under headings such as Finance, Games, and Utilities. In the upper left corner, a magnifying glass opens a search box. Search will yield exact and similar results. For example, my search above for Thunderbird also yielded over email applications such as Hiri and Mailspring. Clicking on the software will show a description, possibly screenshots, review, details over size/licensing/source, and an Install button.
Software is installed from either DEBs or Snaps. DEBs are traditional Linux packages that are usually specific to a Linux distribution or family. For example, a package built for Ubuntu will work on other Ubuntu distros like Mint and Pop!_OS but will not work on Fedora or openSUSE. Snaps are the other software package. Snaps have the advantage of being a complete program with all of the extra bits included. Snaps are a universal packaging format capable of being installed on many different Linux distros.
In Ubuntu Software, Snap packaged software has a drop down menu in the upper right corner between Source and the minimize button. Some titles may have testing or beta versions available. If you’re unsure what to install, its safest to stick with latest/stable.
Install Software via Terminal
This is a list of my most used applications and generally useful software for most people. If you have other suggestions, leave them in the comments below.
Most applications can be found in the Software Center but, frankly, this is easier. Open a Terminal with Ctrl + Alt + T and paste (Ctrl+Shift+V) into the Terminal. I have added -y to automatically confirm installation. Packages can also be stacked. For example, if you wish to install synaptic and vlc, they can combined into
sudo apt install -y synaptic vlc
Synaptic is a more granular means of installing packages.
sudo apt install -y synaptic
VLC is an immensely popular media player that can play virtually anything.
sudo apt install -y vlc
Gnome Tweak Tool simplifies customization with options to change parts of theme, fonts, and more.
sudo apt install -y gnome-tweak-tool
Archive tools for opening zip, rar, and more.
sudo apt install -y unzip p7zip unrar
GIMP is the Graphic Image Manipulation Program, an open source Photoshop competitor.
sudo apt install -y gimp
QBittorrent is my favorite torrent tool but there are many options including Transmission, KTorrent, Deluge.
sudo apt install -y qbittorrent
GParted is a partition manager useful for formatting drives and changing partition sizes.
sudo apt install -y gparted
Audacity is an audio editor.
sudo apt install -y audacity
Steam is the place to download games on Linux.
sudo apt install -y steam
Spotify is the ridiculously popular music streaming service.
sudo apt install -y spotify-client
Zoho Notebook is a full featured note taking app. Check out the Best of Linux Note Taking.
wget https://downloads.zohocdn.com/notebooklinux-desktop/Notebook-1.2.0.deb sudo apt install -y ./Notebook-1.2.0.deb
Firefox is an excellent open source browser with a mobile version and sync capabilities. Firefox is the default browser on most distros. Linux supports several other browsers too.
Google Chrome is the most popular browser. It is based on the open source Chromium with added Google bits.
wget https://dl.google.com/linux/direct/google-chrome-stable_current_amd64.deb sudo apt install ./google-chrome-stable_current_amd64.deb
sudo apt install apt-transport-https curl sudo curl -fsSLo /usr/share/keyrings/brave-browser-archive-keyring.gpg https://brave-browser-apt-release.s3.brave.com/brave-browser-archive-keyring.gpg echo "deb [signed-by=/usr/share/keyrings/brave-browser-archive-keyring.gpg arch=amd64] https://brave-browser-apt-release.s3.brave.com/ stable main"|sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/brave-browser-release.list sudo apt update sudo apt install brave-browser
Vivaldi is yet another Chromium based browser with its own sync tool and tweaks.
wget https://downloads.vivaldi.com/stable/vivaldi-stable_3.8.2259.42-1_amd64.deb sudo apt install ./vivaldi-stable_3.8.2259.42-1_amd64.deb
Microsoft Edge originally used a Microsoft built engine but its now based on Chromium. Edge is still in development for Linux so some features may be lacking. Sync was recently added.
Enable Flatpak Support
Flatpak is an open source containerized package format similar to Snap. While Snap relies on a central repository for software, Flatpak can be installed from different sources. The main source is Flathub. Flatpaks are sometimes more up to date than a distribution’s repo.
sudo apt install -y flatpak
To install Flatpak from a graphical source, install the Gnome Software Plugin. This will install the Gnome Software Center which may feel redundant next to Ubuntu Software. Flatpaks can also be installed from the Terminal.
sudo apt install -y gnome-software-plugin-flatpak
Add the Flathub repository for the best selection of Flatpaks.
flatpak remote-add --if-not-exists flathub https://flathub.org/repo/flathub.flatpakrepo
To install a Flatpak, use the following command followed by the package name. For example, if I’m installing Bitwarden, use flatpak install flathub to install and com.bitwarden.desktop to identify the program.
flatpak install flathub com.bitwarden.desktop
Flatpak or Snap Apps
There is a lot more excellent software available. The titles below can be installed from Snap or Flathub making the options slightly redundant.
Bitwarden is a free password syncing utility.
flatpak install flathub com.bitwarden.desktop
sudo snap install bitwarden
Simplenote is a basic free cross platform note taking application.
flatpak install flathub com.simplenote.Simplenote
sudo snap install simplenote
Visual Studio Code is a lightweight source code editor.
flatpak install flathub com.visualstudio.code
sudo snap install code --classic
Extensions are a quick way to add or change functionality in Gnome.
GSConnect bridges the divide between phone and computer. This extension works with the KDE Connect on Android. Phone messages can be viewed and replied to on the desktop. Files can be transferred between devices.
Notifications, phone battery life, and calls all display on the desktop.
If Gnome isn’t your speed or you just want to test out different waters, Ubuntu has lots of options. Several other desktop environments are available to install.
KDE Plasma can be installed as the customized Kubuntu desktop (kubuntu-desktop), a minimal vanilla Plasma desktop (kde-plasma-desktop), or a more complete Plasma system (kde-full).
sudo apt install kubuntu-desktop sudo apt install kde-plasma-desktop sudo apt install kde-full
XFCE can also be installed as a customized version (xubuntu-desktop) or as a barebones version (xfce4).
sudo apt install xubuntu-desktop sudo apt install xfce4
sudo apt install ubuntu-mate-desktop
sudo apt install ubuntu-budgie-desktop
sudo apt install cinnamon-desktop-environment
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:elementary-os/stable sudo apt install elementary-desktop
What are your favorite Ubuntu tweaks? Have you any favorite apps to share? Tell us in the comments below.