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Living with the Penguin

Some years ago I worked with Unix based systems (mainly through a terminal window) but tried out the Linux distribution 'Ubuntu'. Coming from a Windows background although the GUI was familiar, the weeks of pain I endured getting hardware setup, the right drivers installed etc finally lead me to ditch it, remove the dual boot loader and revert to Windows XP.
 
Recently however and amidst various discussion in the office around the OS, I decided to give the latest version 13.10 'Saucy Salamander' a second chance.
 
You can imagine my surprise when after the first boot all my hardware including a rather old webcam was just working! I also noticed that the brains at Ubuntu HQ have implemented a far more user friendly interface and in particular have introduced the Ubuntu Software Center which in part replicates (or some might argue replaces) the traditional Synaptic Package Manager.
 
At this point hardcore geeks fans will no doubt be pounding their keyboards with fists of rage and penning responses to my outrageous views. Let me tell you however that I do prefer on occasion the old school package manager and still find myself installing via command line regularly - the point here is that the designers are making the OS into a far more appealing, less frightening proposition for the everyday user. I'll let you discuss the pros & cons of that on your own...
 
Introductions aside I wanted to share some neat tweaks and configurations that I've come across whilst living with the OS for a number of weeks now. Aged users of Linux will already be familiar with these but if you've never taken the plunge maybe these will help along the way:

Symbolic Links

These aren't links in the way Windows uses shortcuts. These can be considered as virtual files or directories, reading the source content.
For example, if I created a link as follows:
 
ln -s /mnt/Windows-C/Users/Chris/Pictures WindowsPictures
 
this would link symbolically (ln -s) my Windows Picture folder on drive C to a new 'folder' called WindowsPictures in the current working directory in Ubuntu
 
The resulting Symbolic Link will return all results from the Windows Directory when queried.
 
The trick here is that links can be used across filesystems and partitions so I am now able to link my Windows Thuderbird Email profile to the Thunderbird Profile directory in Ubuntu. Whichever OS I boot I now have centralised email.
 
You can find out more here at the source of this information:

Aliases

Aliases really are a bit like Windows Shortcuts. In Windows if I wanted to start Sound Recorder automatically playing a file I could create a shortcut as follows:
 
SNDREC32.exe /PLAY "C:\Path\File.wav"
 
In Ubuntu (or Linux in general), executables and commands have many switches that can be applied and so creating a shortcut or Alias to these is very handy indeed. For example, if you regularly need to change directory to your Documents folder you could create one as follows:
 
alias docs='cd ~/Documents'
 
Everytime you type 'docs' and hit you will end up in your Documents folder
 
The Ubuntu file "bashrc" holds these aliases and can be edited as necessary, it's normally in your home (~) folder and is a hidden file (.bashrc).

Automatically Mounting Drives

Credit to my Colleague James Pickering for pointing this one out to me...
 
I have three Windows drives, 2 of which are USB. Ubuntu would not mount these drives automatically on boot which was annoying as other programs relied on writing data to them and thus threw errors.
There is a file called "fstab" which is essentially a configuration file containing the information for the system of what to mount where etc. Google this if you wish, there are many sites and blogs guiding you through editing it...alternatively do this...
 
Type 'disks' into the Ubuntu Search
Open the program
 
Once running you'll see a similar display to that of Windows Disk Management.
 
 
Against each partition you'll see a configuration 'cog' icon indicated by the arrow. Within that option screen you can manually assign mount options and have the drive available at all times after boot.
 
So with some reassurance that Ubuntu is no longer for a select few, and with the help of some basic tips, maybe it's time to at least try living with 'Tux' for a while. You never know - you may take to it like a penguin to.... I'll get my coat.

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