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If you’ve tried other distributions in the past, you’ve probably spent more time installing Linux than actually using it. Here’s what you need to know to get started on a permanent switch to the penguin.
The good news about Linux is that there’s an unbelievable amount of information available on the Internet to help you learn to use the open-source operating system. The bad news is that it can be crushingly difficult to find said information. There are a multitude of reasons for the search problems, but most of the time the problem is that you’re not searching for the right thing. A normal person wouldn’t know that you need to edit the fstab to mount new drives or edit xorg.conf to adjust your resolution. (Fortunately, most Gutsy Gibbon users won’t have to do these things anymore, but some might.) Here’s the info you’ll need to get started.
Enable Desktop Effects
Forget Windows Aero. Linux has pioneered some of the most amazing special effects you’re bound to see on any operating system. Wobbly that wobble when you move them, workspaces that turn into a three-dimensional cube that you can rotate at will, painting fire on your screen (for whatever that’s worth), and more are possible in Linux—as long as you’ve got a supported graphics card.
Until Gutsy Gibbon came along, getting these effects on your Linux PC was usually an arduous process. But now you can simply turn them on in the Appearance menu by clicking System > Preferences > Appearance and choosing the Visual Effects tab. Then you can select the level of effects you like. Try ‘em all.
Choosing Extra will give you window wobble and transparency, but you'll have to go a little further if you want the full complement of Desktop Effects. To get them all, you'll need to install a couple of things from the Synaptic Package Manager. So click System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager, and search for “emerald.” Install it, and then search for “compizconfig-settings-manager.” Install this one, too.
Now you'll have Emerald Theme Manager and Advanced Desktop Effects Settings listed in your Accounts > Preferences menu. Use Emerald to install a variety of desktop themes for Compiz. (Be sure to follow the instructions at the bottom of the Repositories panel to get the Non-GPL themes. There are no GPL themes available.) The Advanced Desktop Effects Settings control panel is your one-stop shop for configuring all of the features in Compiz, such as the desktop cube, painting fire on the screen, and other useless but entertaining bits of visual flair.
Managing Your Photos
By default, Ubuntu installs the F-Spot photo manager, which is fine if you only have a few images. But Google's Picasa is available for Linux users now, so you can share and edit your photos with ease.
The best photo manager for Linux is the beta version of Google’s Picasa. Download it here, and then install it using the instructions provided. From that point on, Picasa works just the same as it does in Windows—it’s the same application!
Managing Your Music
Rhythmbox is Ubuntu’s default music jukebox. It includes much of the same functionality as iTunes or Windows Media Player. It will even mount and manage music on most MP3 players—including the iPod. If you’re familiar with any jukebox-style software, you won’t have any problems playing music once you’ve finished the initial import. While there are other, more advanced MP3 playback utilities available—we especially like the advanced library management features that Amarok delivers—Rhythmbox is the easiest to use and most reliable.
As part of the install process, Ubuntu should have mounted your NTFS partitions. You’ll find them in the Places menu, listed by the partition’s label in Windows. To import your music into Rhythmbox, just find it in your Windows partition. Click Music > Import Folder > and then browse to Documents and Settings/<your username>/My Documents/My Music. After the import is complete, you’ll be able to search and play at will.
If you plan to rip music in Linux, you’ll want to make sure the MP3 codecs are installed. If you installed the restricted-extras package earlier (see Install Restricted Software, page 48), you should be good to go. To rip your CDs, you’ll use the Sound Juicer app. If you want to rip in MP3 instead of Ogg, you need to click Edit > Preferences > Library > and change Preferred Format to “CD Quality, (MP3 audio).” Then drop an audio CD into your optical drive and click the Extract button in Sound Juicer. If you set Sound Juicer’s preferences to save your music to the same folder that Rhythmbox is using for the library, Rhythmbox will automatically see new music that appears when you rip it.