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1. Introduction

You might be surprised by the above title. Well, don't be, because we felt that we neglected desktop users and this is our first move in this direction. Every system administrator has a desktop or a laptop at home, and there's time for work and time for play. This article refers to the play part, but not only, and what distribution could we choose if not Ubuntu? Well, Xubuntu, actually, but the steps involved in our article are exactly the same for any *buntu. Another first for us is that what you're about to read is practically an article made out of more small articles, each one containing a tip for the casual home Linux user. There might be tips that you already know, in which case it's practical to have a small list, and if you didn't know about any of these, we hope you'll find them useful. Yes, there are lots of tutorials about Ubuntu, and we don't want to reinvent the wheel. We just want to make your life easier by putting a few suggestions and useful programs in one place for you to use. If you think we should publish more desktop-related articles or have new ideas, don't hesitate to contact us via our forum.

2. The tips

2.1. Google Music


This is a new and hot subject all over the Internet, like every time Google releases something, so it's only natural we wanted to see how it works on Linux. It does, but only if you're from the USA - that's the official version. You can though use the unofficial way to do this, if you're not a US resident, and a Google search (ironic, ain't it?) will help you. From now on, we will assume you have a Google account and you are already signed up to the Music service.We'll just show you how to use it on your Ubuntu system.

Google offers an application called Music Manager, which you can download from here if you're on a 32-bit system. If you're on 64-bit, just replace i386 with amd64 in the link provided and install away. The .deb provided will also add something to your sources.list so you can keep Music Manager up to date with apt-get.

Google Music Manager

You might find listening music from your browser uncomfortable, even if you have access to your music anywhere using this method. An application that solves this problem is Google Music Frame, which you can install after you add the respective PPA like this:

 # add-apt-repository ppa:janousek.jiri/google-music-frame-releases

A simple search in the Software Center will get you to the Music Frame in a few moments.

2.2. Minitube

Many Linux/BSD users have very strong opinions about Flash, including yours truly. Even if you do like Flash, or maybe learned to live with it, you may have an older computer on which Flash runs like a slug with arthritis and you want to use it for Youtube. Enter Minitube. It's a small application with a QT interface that lets you search for the desired video on Youtube then plays it like it would play any other video, that is without using Flash.

Minitube Linux

I had success with it on my old Pentium III laptop which would have been useless if I wanted to use Youtube's web interface and Flash. Plus, Minitube has the advantage that it spares you all the ads and trollish comments. If you have the universe repositories enabled, simply do

 # apt-get install minitube

and you're good.

2.3. CLI Companion

If you're new in the Linux universe but you feel that you must get the gist of the command line, we have a tool for you. No, it doesn't type commands in your place or anything, but it sure helps. Linux has the Unix heritage of short and cryptic commands like ls, rm, dd or ps, which although intuitive, tend to scare off a beginner. CLI Companion helps you because it offers a dictionary of popular commands, which it lists above your terminal window (see screenshot).

CLI Companion Linux

You will need to add the ppa:clicompanion-devs/clicompanion-nightlies
source, update and then simply install it:

 # apt-get install clicompanion

We recommend you use CLI Companion until you get accustomed with the command line, but after a while it's better to fire off your terminal emulator of choice and use that.

2.4. Using pdftk to merge multiple PDF files into one

You might have finally found the book you wanted for download, but every chapter is a different PDF file, which isn't really convenient. You can install pdftk to help you with the job, and we will show you how. First we need to install it (remeber to have universe enabled first):

 # apt-get install pdftk

Moving on, we recommend you save the files you want to merge in one separate directory so your life will be simpler and your files more organized for later. pdftk is a tool capable of much more than merging files, as you will see, but if we started with that, let's see how to do it:

 $ pdftk A=first.pdf B=second.pdf C=third.pdf [...] cat A B C output big.pdf

We used handles here, that is, we assigned an alias to each file, then we told pdftk to concatenate them and output the result to the file called big.pdf. You can go even further and select only the pages you want from the PDF files that would make up the final result. For example, for the sake of clarity, let's just say we want to combine pages 2-5 from each file and output all that to selected.pdf:

 $ pdftk A=first.pdf B=second.pdf C=third.pdf [...] cat A2-5 B2-5 C2-5 output selected.pdf

We recommended you save all your files you want to merge in a separate directory. What if you want to use them all and all their pages? Do wildcards work? Of course!

 $ pdftk *.pdf cat output big.pdf

If you want not to use handles, like we did in the first example, you can do that too. Here's how:

 $ pdftk first.pdf second.pdf third.pdf [...] cat output big.pdf 

We can see from here that 'cat' needs no arguments if no handles or other more complicated options are involved. There are also other things you can do with pdftk, but for the sake of brevity we'll just show you how to encrypt/decrypt a PDF file.

 $ pdftk document.pdf output document_enc.pdf owner_pw password #encrypt
$ pdftk document_enc.pdf input_pw password output document.pdf #decrypt

2.5. Create an ISO file and burn it to CD/DVD from the terminal

Now that we offered you a solution to make your debut as a terminal user more palatable, let's see how to create isos and burn them to optical media without a GUI application. If the title has "desktop" in it, why the use of the terminal? Well, these commands can be run on any system on which wodim and mkisofs are available, and they have the great advantage that they will work in GNOME, KDE or any other DE/WM, and even without a graphical environment. You will need genisoimage and wodim installed, and, as above, you can do that with

 $ apt-get install genisoimage wodim

Now, first we have to create the iso file we will write later with wodim. That can be done with this command:

 $ mkisofs -o work.iso /home/$user/work

The -o flag stands for output, and the line above creates an iso file named work.iso from the folder named work in $user's home directory. Now that we have the image, let's see how to get it on media. First, we'll instruct wodim to scan for devices with

 $ wodim --devices
wodim: Overview of accessible drives (1 found) :
 0  dev='/dev/sg0'	rwrw-- : 'HL-DT-ST' 'DVDRAM GH20NS10'

Here's the output on the system I'm writing this on, and what I have to remember is that my DVD burner is named /dev/sg0. If you have multiple such devices, use the rightmost string between the horizontal dotted lines to identify which is which. After you're settled on the device you want, let's just start writing the iso:

 $ wodim -v -dao speed=8 dev='/dev/sg0' work.iso

Now, -v gives you a nice progress bar, -dao tells wodim to use Disk At Once, an essential option when burning isos, we should work using /dev/sg0 and the file to write is work.iso. That's it! Looks cooler than using Brasero or K3B, isn't it?

3. Conclusion

We want to thank the various sites that deal with Ubuntu how-tos for providing ideas and for guiding new and not-so-new users towards an efficient use of their favorite OS. The multitude of available software for Linux today makes it hard, if not impossible, to offer information about all the options available, but if we get positive feedback from you we will try to write more articles like this so we can help the home user with his/her Linux box. Before we end this article, we wanted to remind you that most of the software we wrote about (except Ubuntu-specific commands, of course) is already available one way or another for other Linux distributions, so you can try them on your system even if you don't use *buntu.


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