This illustrates what is probably the single biggest challenge for newcomers to Linux. Online instructions for how to do things often involve dropping down to the command-line interface. This may feel natural to experienced Linux users, or to network administrators and software developers, but not to regular computer users who have long since gotten used to being able to do everything in a point-and-click environment.
Other than that, arranging the desktop to suit your tastes is easy. Right-click on any file, program, or folder to create a shortcut called a link in Ubuntu and drag it to the desktop. Or drag icons directly to the desktop from the launcher. This is all very similar to how it works in Windows, so newcomers should have a relatively easy time of it.
The next annoyance is that the little icons to minimize, maximize and close a window are at the top left instead of at the top right.
It is possible to fix it this but only to a limited extent, with a free program called Unity Tweaks. I installed it through the Ubuntu software center, and was able to move the buttons to the top right of the windows. Sometimes. When windows were maximized to take up the whole screen, they'd move back to the top left again. This is annoying, and difficult to get used to, especially if you switch back and forth between Linux and Windows computers on a regular basis.
Once I had things set up or not set up the way I liked them, I moved on to doing some real work. The Firefox browser is pre-installed, Google Chrome is available, but not Internet Explorer. There's no Microsoft Office, but LibreOffice is pre-installed and is a decent alternative for simple documents and spreadsheets.
I've been using LibreOffice and OpenOffice for years without any problems. In fact, I like having the option to export to PDF built right in. Even "track changes" are supported. However, you may run into problems if your spreadsheets have macros or your Word documents have extremely complex formatting.
In fact, the most obvious difference between say, Word, and LibreOffice Writer for most users will be that the menu bar, the one with File, Edit, Format, Tools, and other drop-down menus, seems to be missing. It's not, but it took me a while to track it down. It's at the top of the screen, just invisible, and only appears when you mouse over it.
When we first installed this version of Ubuntu right after it came out, I would have said that these annoyances, while minor individually, add up to significant obstacles to adoption for the average Windows user, and that the Linux laptop was sentenced to permanent duty as the living room table video-watching and Internet-browsing machine. But then my regular Windows desktop went into the shop for repairs, and I was stuck using the Linux laptop for work.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.