With the recent release of the popular Linux distro Ubuntu's 8.10 version, code-named Intrepid Ibex, we've recently detailed some productive-minded Ubuntu Kung Fu, as well as a user-minded tour through 8.10. This morning, though, we're taking a more nuts-and-bolts look at changes you can make to your newly-installed system to make it faster, reliable, and more enjoyable from the inside out. Read on for five tweaks that any Ubuntu user (or Linux user in general) should consider making to get started on the right foot.
Disable or throttle back Tracker indexing
Installed and running by default on Ubuntu desktops, Tracker is an actually handy search tool that's placed, Quicksilver-style, in the upper-right taskbar, giving you quick access to files and folders. The only catch is that Tracker eats up a good bit of processor power to keep itself current, and, depending on how you use your system, might not be necessary at all. The How-To Geek walks through the process of scaling back or disabling Tracker entirely. Looking for a low-power, high-functioning alternative? Try learning the magic of
Disable atime to speed up your hard drive
Some older Ubuntu distributions, and other Linux systems, mount hard drives using an
atime option. The problem, as noted by Linus Torvalds himself, is that
atime writes to the hard disk every time a file is accessed to keep up its indexing records. We've detailed how to turn off
atime for faster hard drive access, and newer Ubuntu users can go a bit further in disabling the replacement
relatime as well—but be sure to back up your original
/etc/fstab file, as some applications and services might get cranky without it.
Switch to mirror servers for updates
Every six months or so, a new version of Ubuntu drops. And every six months, without fail, users looking to download a new CD or upgrade their systems slam the Ubuntu.com servers, leaving many with huge download waits, and users just trying to grab the latest updates in the lurch. Save yourself the cyclical grief, and save Ubuntu's developers some hosting costs, by switching to mirror servers for updates. Universities and Linux groups around the world are happy to dish out the latest system updates, which are mirrored hastily from Ubuntu's servers, and you'll probably get better speeds finding a nearby host.
Upgrade to OpenOffice.org 3
Ubuntu sticks to a rigid release schedules, so the latest version, 8.10, had to wrap up its software picks before the OpenOffice project could finalise its 3.0 version. Luckily, it's not too hard to put the latest open-source office suite on your desktop, either as a replacement for the 2.x default or next to it. The Tombuntu blog details the steps, which require only a minimal bit of command line work.
Back up your home folder
The "home" folder in Linux, found at
/home/yourusername, is more than just a stash for MP3s and cat pictures. In hidden files (named with a . at the start) and specific folders, it's where most applications keep your preferences, data files, and other customisations. Having a backup of your home folder is pretty crucial to reinstalling a system that went bad, making painless upgrades, and generally feeling better about your stability. You can kick it old-school with rsync or hook up an external hard drive, but the recently-opened Dropbox makes it seriously easy and automatic to back up the home folder with a native client application.
BONUS: Install Windows fonts and multimedia codecs
Because of its open-source ideals and licensing, Ubuntu can't include non-open codecs like MP3s, WMA/WMV, or DVD playback by default. Getting it all working, though, isn't too hard. Head over to the Medibuntu site, and follow the instructions for "Playing Encrypted DVDs" and "Playing Non-Native Media Formats."
So those are a few things this writer always does when installing a new Ubuntu system, or helping friends install theirs. Let's hear our Linux-savvy readers' hit lists—what are the first steps you always take when setting up your new system? Share your items, and commands, in the comments.