Post-Install Tips for Ubuntu 7.10

I don't know about where you live, but where I live, it feels like October. Halloween orange has sprouted everywhere from the grocery store to the doctor's office, the weather has acquired a distinctive chill, and, of course, we have a new release of Ubuntu Linux. Version 7.10 hit the Net just last week, right on time. (Ubuntu releases tend to come each October and April.)

I previewed the "Gutsy Gibbon" edition last month, and found that (as you might expect from an OS with a major release twice each year) most of the changes are minor, incremental--evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary. There are a couple of exceptions, like the addition of Compiz for desktop effects (windows that fade in and out, Exposé-like task switching, plus a few dozen more effects, many of which have a serious gee-whiz factor). And a couple of longstanding Ubuntu bugaboos linger, such as the inability to play DVDs without some additional legwork. Here are a few tips for getting everything working the way you want it to.

Add DVD Support

For legal reasons, Ubuntu lacks a small system library that decrypts the video on most commercial DVDs. The system's default media player isn't quite DVD-ready, either. Luckily, everything we need to play our DVDs is easy to fetch and install, though not quite as easy as the typical point-and-click dance for software installation on Ubuntu.

To begin, select System, Administration, Software Sources and ensure that the first, second, and fourth check boxes are checked. Close the dialog box when you're through.

Open a Terminal window (Applications, Accessories, Terminal), and then enter:

sudo apt-get install libdvdread3

After you enter your password, Ubuntu will fetch and install the libdvdread3 package. Now to install the necessary decryption library, enter this command:

sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread3/install-css.sh

Okay, the libraries you need are now in place, but you still need to install a smarter video player before you can watch the latest Netflix arrival. To download and install the VLC media player for DVD playback, issue this command in a Terminal window:

sudo apt-get install vlc

(You can also find VLC under Applications, Add/Remove, if you're allergic to the command line.)

To make VLC fire up automatically when you insert a DVD, click System, Preferences, Removable Drives and Media. On the Multimedia tab, find a text box labeled Command under Video DVD Discs; it probably has totem %m in it. Change this value to vlc %m.

Now test your work: Pop in a DVD. VLC should appear and load the disc's main menu. The Fullscreen command you may be looking for at this point (after making popcorn, naturally) is in the Video menu.

Adjust Desktop Effects

By default, Gutsy Gibbon tosses some Compiz-driven visual bling your way, if it thinks your machine is up to the task. For instance, you should notice that windows and menus fade in and out, instead of simply appearing and disappearing. To check the status of your desktop effects, click System, Preferences, Appearance. Click the Visual Effects tab.

If 'None' is selected, Ubuntu probably tried and failed to enable desktop effects. You can try selecting Normal or Extra to see what happens; if Ubuntu decides it doesn't know how to get things cooking with your graphics card and monitor, you should see an error message and be none the worse off. (If you receive an error about a necessary software source not being available, go to the Software Sources dialog box I referenced above and check the third box. This will enable proprietary, closed-source drivers for your video card.)

If "Normal" or "Extra" desktop effects are working for you just fine and you want to fine-tune them to the nth degree (and enable additional features), close the dialog box and enter this line in a Terminal:

sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager

Now open the Visual Effects tab of the Appearance Preferences dialog box again. You'll see a fourth option, 'Custom'. Click that, and then click the Preferences button to reach Compiz's advanced settings. Note that this is the dialog box you want to access should you decide that desktop effects are too wonky on your system. (On my ThinkPad X31, for instance, all is well except when I maximize a window; at that point, the window's title bar disappears. At this writing, no workaround for this bug exists, so I've set the effects level to 'None' on this machine.)

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