The One with the Thoughts of Frans

Ubuntu/Linux Tips That I Can’t Do Without

This post is more of a reference for myself than for other people to read, but some of it might be useful. I’m currently using Ubuntu 9.10.


My #1 biggest problem with Linux is still audio-related issues. Luckily they are mostly fairly trivial to fix – at least on my laptop. I haven’t figured out how to make my desktop output 5.1 audio through optical out, so I’m still using Windows there.

Crackling Sound

If I boot into KDE4 instead of Gnome then my audio is messed up afterward. I have no idea why, but to fix it I can run alsamixer -Dhw and turn the PCM volume all the way up (or at least higher than 0). Source.

Another issue I’ve noticed is that after adjusting the volume in Gnome or KDE, I can never quite get the volume back up to what was previously 100% (i.e. the same max as in Windows). Starting alsamixer shows that the front and headphone volumes get stuck at about 70%.

Audio input/output

Apparently the Ubuntu System > Preferences > Sound doesn’t properly set the default inputs and outputs for PulseAudio. To use different inputs or outputs for audio for programs you can use pavucontrol. It makes the latest betas of Skype usable on Linux.

Last.FM submission (in Quod Libet and Perhaps Other Applications)

You need to install the Last.FM submission daemon (sudo apt-get install lastfmsubmitd). Also see this bug report.



I like having a bunch of browsers at my disposal and Chromium comes right after Opera, Links2, Firefox, Epiphany, and Konqueror in my list of favorite browsers. That puts it ahead of most notably Safari and IE. 😉

deb karmic main
deb-src karmic main

Install using sudo apt-get install chromium-browser. If you forget about the browser suffix then you’ll end up with some kind of Space Invaders clone. It’s quite nice actually, but I keep forgetting about its existence.

Links 2

Always nice to have. sudo apt-get install links2.


No OS is fully functional if it doesn’t have Opera. Download the latest Qt4 build from FTP because the repository, which is primarily aimed at Debian, doesn’t seem to be working properly right now—and if it did, it would install the Qt3 rather than the Qt4 version. I find that Tango CL does a pretty good job of blending my Opera in with various types of Gnome and KDE looks, although there may be more specialized skins available to take this even further. I use the purple color scheme because it seems to fit in better with the blue looks of my system than the blue color scheme does.

If Flash doesn’t want to work on YouTube in Opera, get rid of all the files (or at least make sure that Opera doesn’t see them).


AmarokAudio Player

Rhythmbox is some kind of iTunes clone full of bugs. Utterly useless unless you want to listen to one of the predefined Internet radio channels while Ubuntu is installing. Get Amarok with sudo apt-get install amarok. First things first, go to Settings > Configure Amarok and uncheck Show splash screen on startup. While very self-explanatory, still very annoying. I mostly use Amarok for playing internet sources, such as Librivox, Last.FM and various internet radio channels. For my local music I prefer something like foobar2000, which probably translates best to Quod Libet in a Linux context. I would not use Amarok. Goggles Music Manager is my current audio player of choice in Linux, though it leaves much to be desired compared to foobar2000.


I like to use a touch of red as my background on Ubuntu. Source.

Circular scrolling

Install GSynaptics using sudo apt-get install gsynaptics. Go to System > Preferences > Touchpad. Go to the tab Scrolling. Enable circular scrolling. Much better use of the touchpad.


I haven’t yet figured out what window manager I want to use. I do like Compiz, but its application switching capabilities are pure bile. Metacity has compositing, but it feels slower than with compositing turned off and you can’t seem to configure anything. I don’t want shadows and all that junk; I just don’t want my windows to take half a second to appear when I switch desktops. I could try to use Metacity compositing in combination with superswitcher, but it just lacks some of that nice 3D accelerated flair. If only the Compiz plugins were properly annotated, perhaps I could take a stab at writing a clone myself. It’s a pity that with all of Ubuntu’s usability improvements over Windows, application switching isn’t one of them. Perhaps I’ll have to use Kwin, which is much better but feels somewhat out of place.

Compiling Software

Don’t forget that when a ./ or a ./configure is complaining about missing a package it’s talking about package-dev. Gave me a headache a couple of times, but I don’t suppose I’ll break my head over it again.


Very useful command line utility for taking care of the metadata of your photos. Find out more with man exiv2, my post highlighting some of my favorite options, and at exiv2’s official website.


xclipboard forgets what you copied if you close the application from which you were copying; luckily the situation is easy to rectify. sudo apt-get install glipper, right-click on a panel, click “Add to Panel,” select the entry named “Clipboard manager” and click “Add.”


Ubuntu 9.10 comes with Grub2. The relevant command to make it dance and sing is update-grub. Things like default boot entry can be set in /etc/default/grub. Don’t forget to add parentheses. Recovering is horribly complicated >compared to ye olde grub.

Keyboard Disabling for External USB Keyboard

It depends on the specific hardware and drivers, but the generic principle may still apply.

To disable internal laptop keyboard: sudo sh -c 'echo -n "i8042" > /sys/bus/platform/drivers/i8042/unbind'

To enable it again: sudo sh -c 'echo -n "i8042" > /sys/bus/platform/drivers/i8042/bind'

If it disables more than intended, at worst you’ll have to reboot.

Keyboard Settings

In System > Preferences > Keyboard go to the tab Layouts. I tend to use USA International (AltGR dead keys), but these settings would probably yield real usability improvements in any layout (most notably the plain USA one). In Layout Options, check the following boxes. I’ve also made a screenshot of my settings.

  • Adding EuroSign to certain keys: 5
  • Compose key position: Right Ctrl
  • Key to choose 3rd level: Right Alt

Now you can type the € sign using Right Alt + 5, type various accents like é using either Right Alt + e or Right Ctrl > ' > e and do other fun things like typing the en dash using Right Ctrl > --. and the em dash using Right Ctrl > ---. There’s an extensive compose key reference available for the characters that you can produce with the compose key; the characters that you can type with the Right Alt modifier depend on your keyboard setup. This can be viewed by utilizing the Add Keyboard interface, but there has got to be an easy way to view the current keyboard layout.

In KDE the same can be achieved in by going to the KDE System Settings > Regional & Language > Keyboard Layout configuration. Under the Layout tab, select Enable keyboard layouts. Then go to Advanced and there you can put the same as outlined above.

MS Core Fonts

Don’t forget about them. They make browsing more pleasant because many websites use MS fonts like Verdana. Install using sudo apt-get install msttcorefonts.


Gedit is insufficient and Kate is too slow. Grab the latest version because Ubuntu 9.10 comes with the ancient 1.71. I do like to sudo apt-get install scite it first because it fixes up the icons, menu entries and such—although it fails to properly register it for all the file types that it automatically registers Gedit and Kate for. Note that after make install it results in a /usr/bin/SciTE binary. I simply delete the remaining scite and then rename the SciTE binary to scite, but there are probably some good reasons not to do it like that—too bad.

Some settings that I like for my

# Indentation

# Sizes and visibility in edit pane

# Wrapping of long lines

Screen Capture

You can make videos of applications, regions on your screen, or your entire screen with recordMyDesktop. Install with sudo apt-get install gtk-recordmydesktop.

Temperature sensors

Install sensors-applet to be able to monitor temperatures of various hardware components in a Gnome panel. This depends on lm-sensors, which is of course installed automatically. To make it actually detect all available sensors run sudo sensors-detect. Without doing that, I can’t monitor the temperature of my CPU cores.


Enter Password to Unlock Keyring

To get rid of this annoying behavior, check Available to all users in the settings for the respective network. I prefer to have my network available ASAP, as do many others.

Internet Connection Sharing

I don’t know what the guys at the Ubuntu documentation are smoking, but all you need to do is right click on the NetworkManager icon, Edit Connections, pick the one you want to share through, and pick Shared to other computers in the Method drop-down. They really scared me with that when I wanted to share my laptop’s wireless connection with my desktop to download some updates (not that they got the Linksys wireless USB to work properly).

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