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Using Your Applications

Now that you have become familiar with the desktop, let's explore some of the many applications included on your new system. By default, Ubuntu comes with a wide range of popular and established applications to listen to music, watch videos, create documents, browse the Web, manage your appointments, read your e-mail, create images, and much more. These applications have been vetted by the developers to ensure they are the best-of-breed Linux applications available.

Although Ubuntu includes a range of software applications, it is likely you will want to install extra applications and explore other available software. Fortunately, the Ubuntu system is built on a powerful foundation that makes software installation as simple as pointing and clicking in the Ubuntu Software Center, covered in depth in Chapter 4. Just browse through the different categories and check the applications to install. Click the Apply button, and the application is downloaded and installed for you.

This tool provides a simple way to access a limited core set of popular applications, but there are actually more than 30,000 packages available to your Ubuntu system. Software installation is discussed in detail in Chapter 4.

Browsing the Web with Firefox

Firefox is the default Ubuntu Web browser and provides you with a simple, safe, and powerful browsing experience. Firefox is developed by Mozilla and has become one of the most successful open source projects in the world and continues to garner huge popularity. With hundreds of millions of downloads and rapidly increasing browser share, Firefox has been an unparalleled success.

Fire up Firefox by clicking its icon (the first one next to the System menu) on the panel or by selecting Applications > Internet > Firefox Web Browser. Before long, you'll be presented with the main Firefox window (Figure 3-7).

Figure 3-7

Figure 3-7 The Firefox interface is sleek but extensible.

The Firefox window looks similar to most Web browsers and includes the usual back, forward, reload, and stop buttons, an address bar, and some menus. These familiar-looking elements help you become acquainted with Firefox, and if you have used Internet Explorer, Opera, Chrome, or Safari before, you are sure to pick it up in no time.

Navigating your way around the Internet is no different in Firefox than in any other browser—just type the Web address into the address bar and press Enter. Firefox also has a few nice features that make it easy to access your favorite sites. As an example, if you want to visit the Ubuntu Web site, you can just enter www.ubuntu.com (leaving off all that http:// nonsense). Alternatively, you can just type in "Ubuntu," and Firefox will do the equivalent of going off to Google, entering "Ubuntu" as the search term, and taking you to the first result for the search. This feature is incredibly handy for popular sites that are likely to be at the top of the search results page.

Bookmarking Your Favorite Sites

To bookmark the page you are viewing, click Bookmarks > Bookmark This Page or click Ctrl+D. In the dialog box that pops up, use the combo box to select the folder to store the bookmark in. You also have the option to add "tags" to your bookmark, which are like keywords that can be used to sort and search for your bookmarks in the future. When you have finished naming and tagging your bookmark, click Done to save the bookmark.

Save Time with Live Bookmarks

Firefox also includes a special feature called live bookmarks that automatically grabs content from a Web site without your needing to visit it. As an example, go to http://fridge.ubuntu.com (a popular Ubuntu news site), and you will see a small orange icon—which indicates that this site has a feed available—on the right side of the address bar. Click this orange square, and you will be taken to a new page that previews the feed and gives you the option of what you would like to use to subscribe to it. Use the default option (Live Bookmarks), and click Subscribe Now. A dialog box will pop up. Use the default values provided and click OK. A new toolbar button is added, and when you click on it, a list of the items from the Web site are displayed. Each time you start Firefox, it will quietly go away and update this list so that you don't need to visit the site yourself. The "Latest Headlines" toolbar entry is an example of this.

Bolt It On, Make It Cool

Although Firefox is already a powerful and flexible Web browser, it can be extended even further using special plug-in extensions. These extensions cover not only typical browsing needs but also other more specialized extras that extend the browser itself.

To install normal Web plug-ins, just visit a site that requires the plug-in. A yellow bar will appear at the top of the page, indicating that you are missing a plug-in necessary to fully take advantage of the page you are visiting. Click the Install Missing Plug-ins button to grab the required plug-in. For example, Ubuntu does not come with the Macromedia Flash plug-in because it does not live up to Ubuntu software freedom requirements. As a result, you will have the option to install either Macromedia Flash or the free software version Gnash if you want to use Flash.

To extend the browser itself with additional features, go to https://addons.mozilla.org and browse for an extension that you are interested in. When you find something you would like to install, click the Install link. A dialog box will pop up asking you to confirm the installation. Click Install Now. Your new extension will now download and install automatically. Typically, this requires a restart of Firefox, and then your extension is available.

Creating Documents with OpenOffice.org

Included with Ubuntu is a full office suite called OpenOffice.org. This office software comes by default with applications for word processing, working with spreadsheets, and presentations. Adding other features, such as the ability to create and manipulate databases, work with drawings, and more, are easily installed later. The suite provides an extensive range of functionality, including reading and writing Microsoft Office file formats, and can also export documents as Web pages, PDF files, and even animations.

Let's give OpenOffice.org a whirl by creating a letter with it. Start OpenOffice.org word processor by selecting it from the Applications > Office menu. When it has loaded, you will be presented with the interface shown in Figure 3-8.

Figure 3-8

Figure 3-8 OpenOffice.org looks similar to Microsoft Office and is therefore quite simple to adjust to.

If you have used a word processing program before, many of the common interface elements, such as the buttons for setting font type and size, bold, italic, underline, and alignment, look and behave the same. The OpenOffice.org developers have designed the suite to be easy to migrate to if you have used a program like Microsoft Office before. After a few minutes playing with OpenOffice.org, you will be confident that you can find the functions you need.

Start your letter by first choosing a nice font. In the font combo box, you should see Liberation Serif (which is a free-as-in-liberty font similar to Times) selected as the default. You can click the box and choose another if you prefer, such as the lovely DejaVu Sans font. Change the font size by clicking the combo box to the right of the font box and selecting 10 as the size. With the cursor on the left side of the page, add your home address to the letter.

Now press Enter to leave a blank line under the address, and click the Align Right toolbar button (the icon looks like some lines aligned to the right). If you are unsure of what a button does, hover your mouse over it to pop up a tool tip. Now add to your letter the address of the recipient.

Press Enter again to leave a blank line, and type the main body of the letter. Feel free to use the bold, italic, and underline buttons to add emphasis to your words. You can also use other toolbar buttons to add items such as bullet points and numbered lists and to change the color of the font. If you want to add features such as graphics, tables, special characters, and frames, click the Insert menu and select the relevant item. You can customize each item added to the page by right-clicking the item and using the options shown in the context menu.

When your letter is complete, you can save it by selecting File > Save, by clicking the floppy disk toolbar icon, or by pressing Ctrl-S. The default file format used by OpenOffice.org is the OpenDocument Format. This file format is an official open standard and is used across the world. The file format is slightly different for different types of applications (.odt for word processor files, .ods for spreadsheets, and so on), but each format provides an open standard free from vendor lock-in. You can also save in a variety of other formats, including the default formats for Microsoft Office.

Another useful feature wedged into OpenOffice.org is the capability to save your documents in the Adobe PDF format. PDF files have been increasingly used in the last few years and are useful for sending people documents that they should not change (such as invoices). PDF files provide a high-quality copy of the document and are well supported across all operating systems. This makes PDFs ideal for creating catalogs, leaflets, and flyers. To save a document as a PDF file, click the PDF button on the main toolbar (next to the printer icon). Click the button, enter a filename, and you are done. Simple.

Connecting with Empathy and Gwibber and the Indicator Applet

Empathy is a chat program that can interact with Google Talk, AIM, Windows Live, and many other chat programs. It has audio and video capability as well. You can get started by left-clicking the indicator applet (it looks like an envelope) on the top panel and choosing Chat. You will then be given an opportunity to enter your account information for various services and to begin communicating.

Gwibber, listed in this menu as Broadcast, is accessible from the same location and can be set up to allow you to integrate online services like Flickr, Twitter, identi.ca, and Facebook into your desktop for even easier access to what is happening in your social networks. Open it, enter your account information as directed, and you can begin to interact with all your circles from one location on your desktop.

On the top panel, you may have noticed your username with a speech balloon icon next to it. This location gives you a convenient place to mark yourself available for chat or away, update your information for social accounts that use either Empathy or Gwibber, and use your Ubuntu One services.

Ubuntu One

Ubuntu One is an online cloud storage application that is free for any Ubuntu user. This enables any user to create an Ubuntu One account and store up to 2GB on remote servers (more space is available for a fee) that may be accessed from anywhere. The service is built in to the Ubuntu desktop and, once activated, integrates smoothly. You can get started configuring your account from the menu at System > Preferences > Ubuntu One. More information is available at one.ubuntu.com.

Managing Your E-mail and Calendars with Evolution

Evolution is modeled around the all-in-one personal information management tool. Within Evolution you can read your e-mail, manage your schedule, store contact details, organize to-do lists, and more in a single place. This makes Evolution useful for both businesspeople and regular users who want easy access to this information.

Setting Up Your E-Mail Account

To use Evolution to read your e-mail, you need to find out the following settings for connecting to your e-mail server (you can get these details from your ISP or system administrator):

  • Your type of e-mail server (such as POP or IMAP)
  • Your mail server name (such as mail.chin.com)
  • Your mail account's username and password
  • Authentication type (typically by password)
  • Your outgoing mail server type (typically SMTP)
  • Your outgoing mail server name

To use Evolution for just the calendar function, you need to go to the indicator applet (looks like an envelope) in the notification area on the top panel and click on Set Up Mail. In a few seconds, the Evolution Setup Assistant window will pop up. Here are the necessary steps:

  1. On the Welcome screen, click the Forward button.
  2. Next, you may restore your e-mail from a backup, but since we are doing a fresh setup, click the Forward button.
  3. On the Identify screen, enter your full name and e-mail address in the appropriate boxes. Under Optional Information, you should uncheck the Make this my default account box. Then click the Forward button.
  4. In the Receiving Email dialog box under Configuration > Server, just add your name. You can add your name under Username as well. Then click the Forward button.
  5. On the Receiving Options screen, click the Forward button.
  6. On the Sending Email and Server Configuration screen, add your name here as you did in earlier steps.
  7. In the Account Management dialog box, just click the Forward button.
  8. On the Done screen, click the Forward button.
  9. Finally, once Evolution opens, click New Icon (looks like a clock), and from the drop-down menu, select Calendar.
  10. When the New Calendar window pops up, you can pick which type of calendar you want to use. Note: If you don't already have another type of calendar, just leave the Type as CalDAV, then fill in the name—this will be the name of your calendar. Pick the color you want your events to show up as, then click Mark as default calendar.

If you are using Google calendar, you can also add this function to your calendar. All the steps are the same, but when you get to step 10 to add a new calendar, you need to choose Google as the type of calendar. Then fill in the name you want to use for the calendar, choose the color, and mark it as your default calendar. You probably want to copy the contents locally, too, in case you need to access it when you do not have Internet access. When you click Google, you will see a Username field show up under Name. Your username should be your gmail name, but without the "@gmail.com." Once you enter your username, click on Retrieve List. You will be prompted to enter your gmail password. Enter it. When the Enter Password window goes away, you should see a list of calendars that you have linked to your Google calendars. If you have more than one Google calendar you want to add, then just pick which one will be your default calendar. Repeat step 10 for each calendar you want to add.

Load Evolution by clicking the envelope and clock shortcut icon from the panel (hover your mouse over the shortcuts to see what they are) or by clicking Applications > Internet > Evolution Mail. When the application loads, you are taken through a wizard to set up your e-mail server (as shown in Figure 3-9).

Figure 3-9

Figure 3-9 Setting up Evolution is simple as long as you know the details for your mail server.

Click Forward to continue the setup, and after choosing to not restore from a backup, you will be asked for your identity. Fill in your e-mail address in the E-Mail Address box, and add the optional information if you want to. The additional details are not essential for using Evolution. Click Forward to continue.

You are next asked to choose what kind of e-mail server you have from the drop-down box. When you make your selection, some additional settings are displayed. Fill in the server name and the username. You may need to adjust the Security and Authentication Type settings, but for most accounts the default settings should be fine. Click Forward to continue.

The next page configures some options for receiving your e-mail. None of these options are essential, although you may want to check the first box to automatically check for new mail. Click Forward to continue. The next screen configures the settings for sending e-mail. In the combo box select the Server Type (typically SMTP) and add the server name to the Server box. Click Forward to continue.

In the next screen, enter a name to describe the account. The default entry (your e-mail address) is fine, but you may want to add something more meaningful such as "Work E-Mail" or "Home E-Mail." When you have added this, click Forward to continue. Finally, select your location from the map. If you click on your area of the world, the map will zoom in. Once you have done this, click Apply to complete the process and close the wizard.

With the wizard completed, the main Evolution interface will appear, as shown in Figure 3-10.

Figure 3-10

Figure 3-10 Those of you who have used Microsoft Outlook should find the interface very similar.

On the left sidebar you can see a number of buttons to access the mail, contacts, calendars, memos, and tasks components in Evolution. When you click each button, the interface adjusts to show you the relevant information about that component.

Working with Your E-Mail

Inside the e-mail component you can see the e-mail folders in the left panel and the list of messages in the top pane. When you click on a message, it is displayed in the bottom pane, where you can read it. With your new account set up, you will first want to go and grab the e-mail from your mail server. Click Send/Receive, and the mail is retrieved from your server and any unsent mail is sent.

With your messages loaded, new e-mails are shown in bold in the top pane. Move through the different e-mails using the up and down arrow keys, and each message will be displayed. You can reply to a message by clicking the Reply or Reply To All toolbar buttons. New e-mails can be created by clicking the New toolbar button. By default, new e-mails and replies are sent automatically when you click the Send button in the compose window. This way you don't need to click the Send/Receive button to deliver them.

Managing Your Calendar

Inside calendar mode, Evolution provides another convenient way to manage your schedule, add new events, and view your calendar in different ways. When you click the Calendars button to switch to this mode, you can see the timetable for today as well as the month view. The month view shows a couple of months in which the bold dates have events.

You can add two types of events to your calendar.

  • Meetings: These are events with a specific group of people.
  • Appointments: These are general events.

To add a new appointment, navigate to the date you require using the calendar, then right-click a time slot in the day view, and select New Appointment. Alternatively, simply click the New toolbar item. In the box that pops up, fill in the Summary, Location, Time (adjusting the date if necessary), and Description boxes. You can also select which calendar the event appears on if you have multiple calendars configured.

To add a new meeting, again find the date, right-click the day view, and select New Meeting. Inside the dialog box that pops up, you need to add the participants who are attending the meeting. You can add participants in two ways: Use the Add button if they are not in your address book, or use the Attendees button if they are in your address book.

When you click Attendees, a new dialog pops up with a list of attendees down the left. You can use the Add and Remove buttons to add contacts to (or remove them from) the different categories of Chairpersons, Required Participants, Optional Participants, and Resources. Now, you probably don't have any contacts in there, as you are just starting to use Evolution, so use the main Contacts button on the left side of the main Evolution window to add some.

You can view your calendar in lots of different ways by clicking the different toolbar buttons such as Week, Month, and List. Play with them and see which ones are most useful to you.

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Last Update: November 17, 2020