Don't Fear the Penguin: A Newbie's Guide to Linux

Linux has an undeserved reputation for being complex, cryptic, and difficult to use. With this simple guide, you can get started using Ubuntu Linux today.

Configuring Your System

We've talked about the Administration menu already. Between it and the Preferences menu--both of which are located under the System menu in the top menu bar--you can perform the majority of commonplace system-configuration tasks easily. The division between Preferences and Administration is somewhat arbitrary; just think of these two menus together as the equivalent of the control panels in Windows or Mac OS X.

For example, the Appearance panel (under Preferences) allows you to customize the look and feel of your desktop. You can adjust the shape and color of window borders and buttons, change your desktop wallpaper, and pick new default fonts for windows and applications. This panel is also where you enable the snazzy "desktop effects" of Compiz Fusion, if your graphics card supports them.

Look to the Printing panel (under Administration) if you're having trouble printing. Most USB printers will be detected automatically and the system will install drivers for you, but you'll need to adjust the settings here if you have a parallel or serial printer, or if you want to print over a network.

Under Preferences you'll also find the Network Configuration panel, which is where you can set up wired, wireless, mobile broadband, VPN, and DSL connections. By default Ubuntu will try to configure your wired ethernet connection automatically via DHCP, which should be sufficient for many cable and DSL modems, but manual configuration is straightforward. You'll need to install additional software before you can set up VPN connections--search for "vpn" in the Synaptic Package Manager.

As mentioned in "Ubuntu Linux: The Easy Installation Guide," not every Wi-Fi card will work out of the box with Ubuntu. Consult that guide if you're having trouble. If your card is supported, you'll be pleased to find that wireless configuration is simple and supports both WEP and WPA security.

One additional tool that's very useful is the Network Manager applet, which you can find to the right of the upper Gnome menu bar. It allows you to manage several connections from one easy menu, and it also displays the signal strength of wireless networks. You'll need to install extra modules to manage VPN connections with the Network Manager applet; search the Synaptic Package Manager for "network manager vpn."

Cross-Platform Computing

For the most part Ubuntu coexists well with other operating systems and the hardware devices designed for them. In some cases, hardware manufacturers may choose not to release specifications for their devices, which can make Linux support difficult or impossible, but you might be surprised by the wide range of peripherals that Ubuntu can manage automatically.

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