1. Install the ubuntu-restricted-extras Package
Recognising that users require the extra functionality of certain packages that can not be distributed with Ubuntu due to licensing incompatibilities, the ubuntu-restricted-extras package is provided to install some of these common extra packages together.
Among others, this package will install the Adobe Flash Player plugin -- essential for viewing a lot of online content and various codecs required for DVD and MP3 playback.
2. Install the libdvdcss Library
Most, if not all commercial DVDs are encrypted using CSS copy protection. Due to licensing, a normal installation of Ubuntu can not play these discs. Installing the libdvdcss library from the Medibuntu repositories gives Ubuntu's media players the ability to decrypt these discs, allowing you to watch your favourite DVD movies in Ubuntu.
3. Change the Desktop Theme
Let's face it, the default desktop theme is not very visually appealing. Brown hasn't been fashionable since the 70's and the plain grey GNOME panel will be familiar to anyone who used a Mac in the mid 90's.
I used to settle for a simple change of colour and setting the GNOME panel transparency which is a vast improvement over the default, but currently I use the Shiki Colors theme as it complements the new splash screen and notifications in Jaunty.
4. Set the Home Location
Why do I always have to set my home location after installation? The Ubuntu installer asks me for my timezone, surely it would be logical for me to enter my home location at this point so I don't have to reconfigure later on. As a personal preference I like to add the location of my office in the UK so I can quickly open the menu anytime I want to find out the local time there.
5. Install GNOME-do
Inspired by the Quicksilver utility for OS X, do is a utility that "lets you do things as quickly as possible, but no quicker."
It is a fantastic tool with a simple, intuitive interface that gives quick access to launch and control applications, open boookmarks, use contacts, even update your twitter feed. There are scores of plugins that add extra functionality to do just about anything you can think of, quickly. You can even have it appear as an OS X like dock and do away with the lower panel to make your desktop more aesthetically pleasing.
So there are my essential Ubuntu modifications. It is annoying that I know the first two will never be able to become part of the standard installation and there is no doubt that users who are new to Ubuntu will be confused at the inability to play MP3 music and DVD movies out of the box. Maybe some other essential modifications will be addresed in future releases.
As reported previously, one of the targets for Karmic, the next Ubuntu release is a new desktop theme and a utility as good as GNOME-do should become part of the standard install.
Contributing blogger Guy Thouret is a software engineer for a wireless energy management system company. He has used various GNU/Linux distributions since 2002.
WorksWithU is updated multiple times per week. Don’t miss a single post. Sign up for our RSS and Twitter feeds (available now) and newsletter (coming in 2009).