6. Try Beryl for unbeatable eye candy
Feisty's Desktop Effects are driven by software called Compiz , originally developed at Novell. Last year some enterprising hackers working on Compiz decided to fork (that is, split off from, using existing code as a starting point) the project, and came up with their own offering, Beryl . The two projects are actually slated to merge their efforts back into one program later this year, but in the meantime, if Desktop Effects work reliably on your machine, chances are the latest version of Beryl will work too. And Beryl is far more impressive -- and far more configurable -- than Desktop Effects.
To test-drive Beryl, first disable Desktop Effects by using the oddball toggle button I described at the end of tip #5. Now open a Terminal window (Applications, Accessories, Terminal) and enter the following command:
sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list
Add the following line to the top of the text file that comes up for editing:
deb http://ubuntu.beryl-project.org feisty
Save the file and quit. Now back on the command line, issue these commands, one at a time:
-O- | sudo apt-key add -
sudo apt-get install beryl beryl-manager
emerald-themes heliodor beryl-manager
There should now be a shiny red gem appearing in the notification area (Windows refugees, think "system tray") near the upper right of your screen. Right-clicking that icon gives you several useful options.
Select Window Manager lets you switch among Beryl, Compiz, or Metacity (the default, plain-vanilla window manager for Gnome). Select Window Decorator affects how the frames of windows are drawn. Select Emerald, and you'll get window frames designed with Beryl in mind. (See Emerald Theme Manager, also in the red gem's menu, for more of these.) Select Heliodor, and you'll get plain window borders imported from Metacity.
Selecting Beryl Settings Manager will bring up the labyrinthine configuration dialog box for Beryl. Warning: If you're a settings geek, you will lose a few hours of your life here. Take note of where you can assign functions to the corners of the screen: Select General Options along the top and Shortcuts along the right, and then click the Screen Edges tab. The horribly named 'Initiate Window Picker for All Workspaces' function is the equivalent of Mac OS X's Expose feature -- task-switching nirvana, if you ask me.
If Beryl runs stably and you'd like it enabled every time you log in, select System, Preferences, Sessions. On the Startup Programs tab, click New. Enter beryl-manager in both text-entry fields and click OK. Now click Close.
7. Make friends with the package managers
An entire planet's worth of Free Software is out there for Ubuntu systems, and you don't have to trek across the Web and back to find it all. In the last tip, we interacted with a command-line package manager (the part of a Linux system that tracks what is and what is not installed) just for expediency's sake. But now it's time to meet two friendlier interfaces for package management.
First off, there's the Add/Remove Applications dialog box, reached via Applications, Add/Remove. Unlike its Windows counterpart, this tool is very good at downloading and installing new applications. You'll be surprised by the number of offerings, and in some cases you'll even be downright shocked by the high quality of the software you retrieve.
If you want to see a geekier, more fleshed-out listing of all available packages, select System, Administration, Synaptic Package Manager. Whereas Add/Remove Applications is a friendly little forklift of a package manager, Synaptic is a heavy-duty earthmover. If you're interested in learning more about the packages that make up your system (and the ones waiting to be discovered), Synaptic's various views are good places to explore.
I could spend a whole 'nother column telling you about all the great packages that are not installed by default, but for now I'll just leave you with this bonus tip: If you're running Ubuntu on a laptop and your Wi-Fi card is not detected or supported, try installing the Ndisgtk package (listed as such in Synaptic, but as 'Wireless Windows Drivers' in Add/Remove Applications). Then select the new System, Administration, Windows Wireless Drivers entry in Ubuntu's menu bar. The ensuing dialog box asks for the location of an INF file that represents the Windows driver for your wireless adapter. Have a driver disc? Find the INF file on there and see if Ndisgtk can get you up and running.