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The Ubuntu guide for displaced Windows users

Chris Hoffman | March 11, 2013
With Windows 8 pushing a "touch-first" desktop interface--Microsoft's words, not ours--and with Valve's Steam on Linux beginning to bring much-needed games and popular attention to the oft-overlooked operating system, there's never been a better time to take Linux out for a test drive.

Forget about digging around for drivers

If your hardware is properly supported (as most contemporary PC hardware is), Ubuntu should work fine out of the box. Everything necessary for using it is included in the base operating system. You don't have to hunt down driver installation packages on your computer manufacturer's website, as you do with Windows.

The only exception involves advanced video drivers. If you have an Nvidia or ATI card, Ubuntu may prompt you to install your manufacturer's proprietary graphics drivers for maximum 3D graphics performance. Even then, you can complete the process in a few clicks after Ubuntu alerts you.

Loading up on software

Ubuntu comes with quite a bit of preinstalled software, including such notable applications as the Firefox browser and the LibreOffice office suite. For additional items, you'll have to delve into the Linux software repository.

Installing applications on Linux doesn't involve visiting Google, searching for an application while dodging malware, and downloading the installer from a third-party website. Instead, Linux maintains software repositories, which are similar to app stores (although Linux had them many years earlier.)

To install software on Ubuntu, open the Ubuntu Software Center--the shopping-bag-like icon on the dock at the left side of your screen--and run a search for the type of software you want to install. The Ubuntu Software Center is full of free, open-source applications compiled for Ubuntu, as well as some commercial applications available for a small fee. The Ubuntu Software Center acts as a user-friendly front end to Ubuntu's software management tools, which you can also access from other applications or with terminal commands.

A few applications that you might want to use--such as Google Chrome and Steam--aren't in the Ubuntu Software Center.  You can pick these up from their associated websites (Google's Chrome website or Valve's Steam website), downloading them as .deb files. Double-click a .deb file and Ubuntu will prompt you to install it.

Unlike with Windows, where every application must include its own updater, standard software management tools handle all updates on an Ubuntu system. When updates are available in Ubuntu's repositories, the Software Updater will appear. When you install third-party software like Google Chrome or Steam, the source of the application adds its own software repository, and updates will appear in the Software Updater.

Using Ubuntu's Unity Desktop

Ubuntu's default desktop environment, named Unity, is one of many possible desktops you can use. Linux lets you experiment with different options until you find the one that's right for you. Here are the main Unity features you should know about.

The dock: Unity should feel very familiar to users of Windows 7. Its a Windows 7-style taskbar (known as the dock) appears on the left side of the screen. Like the Windows taskbar, it shows both running and not-running application and has right-click jump lists (known as "quick lists"). Unlike the Windows taskbar, the dock's location can't be changed to another edge of the screen.


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