A lot of people seem to get themselves about 90 per cent of the way to where they want to be with their Ubuntu installation and then hit a wall. "Why can't I play a DVD?", "Why can't I listen to MP3s?", "How can I watch streaming video in my browser?": these are the sort of questions I keep coming across.
The problem is that Ubuntu Linux doesn't come with all its batteries included. For example, the library that makes it possible for an Ubuntu machine to play DVDs is missing when the Ubuntu installation process completes. Ditto for the library that decodes MP3 files. The same deal also applies to video codecs that turn a data stream into a movie trailer in your Web browser. It's up to you to add these capabilities to the system.
Ubuntu is not the only flavour of Linux that requires the user to do a bit of legwork. Fedora Core, Red Hat's cost-free distribution, is another alternative that works the same way. On these sorts of systems, it's a real chore for users to round up all the various bits and pieces they need to make their systems as easy to set up as a Mac or a Windows PC.
Automatix to the Rescue
But Ubuntu users now have an automated helper of sorts that can solve all these issues. It's called Automatix, and after your PC has had a taste of it, there's little it can't do. However, as Automatix's installer will tell you, some components use technology that Automatix has not licensed and therefore may allow you to do things that are illegal, so proceed with caution.
To install Automatix, visit the main Automatix thread at Ubuntu Forums (see Figure 1). The first "Code" block on that page provides you with two commands that you should enter into a terminal window. (To open a terminal window, select Accessories-Terminal from Ubuntu's Applications menu.) As I write this column, the commands are as follows, but you should check to see if they have changed to reflect a newer edition of Automatix or a new location for the package:
sudo dpkg -i automatix-ubuntu_5.4-2_i386.deb
The first command downloads the package file from the specified location. The second command installs the package. Once you've fired off both commands, you can delete the downloaded package file.
What's on the menu?
Now, from Ubuntu's Applications menu, select System Tools-Automatix. A few message dialogue boxes will appear, including the previously-mentioned warning about the legality of certain actions Automatix can take, and then you'll see a new terminal window asking you for your Linux system password. After you've entered it, you'll see the main Automatix window, which lists all the components it can install - see Figure 2.