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This chapter is from the book

Using 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 later in this chapter.

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.

Click the Firefox icon in the Launcher or open the Dash and search for Firefox to begin. This will open the main Firefox window (Figure 3-9).

Figure 3-9 The Firefox interface is sleek but extensible

Firefox 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 will have no problems.

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 (you can leave off http://).

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, hover over Firefox Web Browser to display the menu. Click Bookmarks > Bookmark This Page or click Ctrl-D. In the drop down 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.

If you visit a site that requires a normal Web 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 Adobe 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 Adobe 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, select Add to Firefox, then click the Install Now button. 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 LibreOffice

Included with Ubuntu is a full office suite called LibreOffice. This comprehensive collection contains applications for creating word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations installed by default with the ability to easily manipulate and create databases, drawings, and mathematical equations—all just a click away. 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 LibreOffice a whirl by creating a letter with it. Start LibreOffice word processor by clicking Dash Home in the Launcher and then searching for LibreOffice. When it has loaded, you will be presented with the interface shown in Figure 3-10.

Figure 3-10 LibreOffice looks similar to Microsoft Office and is therefore quite simple to adjust to the interface.

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 LibreOffice 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 LibreOffice, 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 or the Ubuntu 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 LibreOffice 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 LibreOffice 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. Left-click the indicator applet (it is a small icon that looks like an envelope) on the top panel and choose Chat to begin. 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.

This location also 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 by searching for Ubuntu One in Dash Home. More information is available in Chapter 4 and at one.ubuntu.com.

Managing Your E-Mail with Thunderbird

Thunderbird is a traditional desktop e-mail client created by Mozilla, the same people responsible for the Firefox Web browser. It is the default choice in Ubuntu and works the same as the Thunderbird versions for other operating systems. Here is how you set it up.

Open the Dash and search for Thunderbird to get started. When it opens for the first time, you are presented with a opportunity to create a new e-mail address using specific services. If you already have an e-mail account you want to use, select Skip this. A wizard will appear to help you configure Thunderbird (Figure 3-11).

Figure 3-11 Thunderbird startup wizard.

Enter your name, e-mail address, and password to begin. Thunderbird performs a search of a Mozilla database of Internet service providers (ISPs) and attempts to set up the technical aspects for you (Figure 3-12). Click Create Account.

Figure 3-12 Thunderbird found the details for my domain.

If all goes well, you won’t need to do anything else. If it does not find your ISP, you will need to know your mail server information, available from your service provider, so that you can configure Thunderbird manually.

From here on, Thunderbird works as e-mail clients have worked for the last 15 years or more. You can download your e-mail, reply to messages or send new messages, sort messages into folders, configure multiple accounts, and so on, all using a clear, standard interface (Figure 3-13).

Figure 3-13 Thunderbird’s interface is easy to use.

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