A Quick Start with Common Ubuntu Programs

Keep in mind that Ubuntu doesn’t aim to be an exact clone of other operating systems. Some of the programs will work in a similar way to what you’re used to, but that’s not true of all of them. Because of this, it’s easy to get frustrated early on when programs don’t seem to work quite how you want or respond in strange ways. Some programs might hide functions in what seem like illogical places compared with their counterparts on another OS. Some patience is required, but it will eventually pay off as you get used to Ubuntu.

Word Processing: LibreOffice Writer

LibreOffice Writer is the word processor application included in LibreOffice. But what is LibreOffice? Previous versions of Ubuntu came with OpenOffice.org as its full office suite. But following Oracle Corporation acquisition of Sun Microsystems (which was the suite creator and the major contributor), several members feared for the future of the project, and in September 2010 they formed a new group, “The Document Foundation,” to ensure the continuation of the free and open development. They made available a rebranded fork of OpenOffice.org, named LibreOffice. Oracle rejected to participate in the new project, so LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org parted ways. Given the free nature of LibreOffice, many Linux distributions (Ubuntu among them) decided to support it by including it as the default office suite instead of OpenOffice.org. LibreOffice, as a fork of OpenOffice.org, is an entire office suite for Linux that was built from the ground up to compete with Microsoft Office. Because of this, you’ll find that much of the functionality of Microsoft Office is replicated in LibreOffice, and the look and feel are also similar to pre-2007 releases of Office. The major difference is that LibreOffice is open source and free of charge. LibreOffice Writer, is the word processor component. As with Microsoft Word, it’s fully WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), so you can quickly format text and paragraphs. This means the program can be used for quite sophisticated desktop publishing, and pictures can be easily inserted.

Screenshot from 2020-06-09 15-04-43

Figure. LibreOffice Writer

Writer’s toolbars provide quick access to the formatting tools, as well as to other common functions. The vast majority of menu options match those found in Word. Right-clicking the text itself also offers quick access to text-formatting tools.

A number of higher-level functions are provided, such as mail merge and spell-checking, (found on the Tools menu). You can perform spell-checking on the fly, with incorrect words appearing underlined in red as you type.

As with all LibreOffice packages, Writer is mostly compatible with Microsoft Office files, so you can save and open .doc and .docx files. Just click File  Save As, and click the arrow alongside File Type to choose a document format. Even some password-protected file formats are supported. You can also export documents as PDF files (by choosing File  Export As PDF), so they can be read on any computer that has Adobe Acrobat Reader installed.

Spreadsheet: LibreOffice Calc

As with most of the packages that form the LibreOffice suite, Calc does a good impersonation of its proprietary counterpart, Microsoft Excel, both in terms of powerful features and the look and feel. However, it has only limited support for Excel’s Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macros at present. Instead, Calc and other LibreOffice programs use their own macro language, called LibreOffice Basic (for more information, see http://help.libreoffice.org/Common/Macro). Calc has a vast number of mathematical functions. To see a list, choose Insert  Function. The list on the left side of the dialog box includes a brief explanation of each function to help you get started. Just as with Excel, you can access the functions via the toolbar (by clicking the Function Wizard button) or you can enter them directly into cells by typing an equal sign and then the formula code. Calc is intelligent enough to realize when formula cells have been moved and recalculate accordingly. It will even attempt to calculate formulas automatically and can work out what you mean if you type something like sales + expenses as a formula.

As you would expect, Calc also provides automated charting and graphing tools (under Insert  Chart), you can see an example of a simple chart created automatically by the charting tool.

You can format cells by using the main toolbar buttons, or automatically apply user-defined styles (choose Format  Styles and Formatting).

Screenshot from 2020-06-09 15-14-27

Figure . OpenOffice.org Calc

If you’re a business user, you’ll be pleased to hear that you can import databases to perform serious number crunching. Use Insert  Link to External Data to get the data, and then employ the tools on the Data and Tools menu to manipulate it.

As with all LibreOffice programs, compatibility with its Microsoft counterpart—Excel files in this case—is pretty good. You can also open other common data file formats, such as comma-separated values (CSV) and Lotus 1-2-3 files.

Presentations: LibreOffice Impress

Anyone who has used PowerPoint will immediately feel at home with Impress, LibreOffice’s presentation package. Impress duplicates most of the common features found in PowerPoint, with a helping of LibreOffice-specific extras.

The program works via templates into which you enter your data. Starting the program causes the Presentation Wizard to appear. This wizard guides you through selecting a style of presentation fitting the job you have in mind. At this point, you can even select the type of transition effects you want between the various slides.

After the wizard has finished, you can choose from the usual Normal and Outline view modes (available from the View menu, or by clicking the tabs in the main work area). Outline mode lets you enter your thoughts quickly, and Normal mode lets you type straight onto presentation slides.

You can format text by highlighting it and right-clicking it, by using the Text Formatting toolbar that appears whenever you click inside a text box, or by selecting an entry on the Format menu. Impress also features a healthy selection of drawing tools, so you can create quite complex diagrams. These are available on the Drawing toolbar along the bottom of the screen. You can also easily insert pictures, other graphics, and sound effects.

Screenshot from 2020-06-09 15-30-05

Figure . LibreOffice Impress

You can open and edit existing PowerPoint (.ppt) files and, as with all LibreOffice packages, save your presentation as a PDF file. Impress also lets you export your presentation as a Macromedia Flash file (.swf). This means that anyone with a browser and Macromedia’s Flash plug-in can view the file, either online or via e-mail. Simply click File  Export, and then choose Macromedia Flash (SWF) from the File Format list.

Database: LibreOffice Base

Base, allows you to create relational databases by using a built-in database engine, as well as interface with external databases. Base is not installed by default, so you will need to install the libreoffice-base package by using the Ubuntu Software Center.

Base is very similar to Microsoft Access in look and feel, although it lacks some of Access’s high-end functions. For most database uses, it should prove perfectly adequate. If you know the fundamentals of database technology, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting started with Base immediately. This is made even easier than you might expect, because when the program starts, a wizard guides you through the creation of a simple database.

As with Access, Base is designed on the principles of tables of data, forms by which the data is input or accessed, and queries and reports by which the data can be examined and output. Once again, wizards are available to walk you through the creation of each of these, or you can dive straight in and edit each by hand by selecting the relevant option.

Each field in the table can be of various types, including several different integer and text types, as well as binary and Boolean values. Forms can contain a variety of controls, ranging from simple text boxes to radio buttons and scrolling lists, all of which can make data entry easier. Reports can feature a variety of text formatting and can also rely on queries to manipulate the data. The queries themselves can feature many functions and filters in order to sort data down to the finest detail.

Screenshot from 2020-06-09 15-47-03

Figure . LibreOffice Base

E-Mail/Personal Information Manager: Evolution

Evolution is a little like Microsoft Outlook in that, in addition to being an e-mail client, it can also keep track of your appointments and contacts. You can start Evolution by clicking the mail envelope in the top panel and selecting the Mail option.

Before using the program, you need to set it up with your mail server settings, as detailed in Chapter
14. Evolution is compatible with POP/SMTP, IMAP, Novell GroupWise, Hula, Microsoft Exchange, and a
handful of UNIX mail formats rarely used nowadays.

After the program is up and running, you can create a new message by clicking the New button on the toolbar. To reply to any e-mail, simply select it in the list and then click the Reply or Group Reply button, depending on whether you want to reply to the sender or to all the recipients of the message.

To switch to Contacts view, click the relevant button on the bottom left. If you reply to anyone via e- mail, they’re automatically added to this Contacts list. You can also add entries manually by either right-clicking someone’s address in an open e-mail or right-clicking in a blank space in the Contacts view. Clicking the Calendars view shows a day-and-month diary. To add an appointment, simply select the day and then double-click the time you want the appointment to start. You can opt to set an alarm when creating the appointment, so that you’re reminded of it when it’s scheduled.

Finally, by clicking the Tasks and Memos buttons, you can create a to-do list and jot down quick notes, respectively. To add a task, click the bar at the top of the list. After an entry has been created, you can put a check in its box to mark it as completed. Completed tasks are marked with a strikethrough, so you can see at a glance what you still need to do. To add a memo, click the bar at the top of the memo list and simply type what you want to remember.

Screenshot from 2020-06-09 16-43-02

Figure . Evolution

Web Browser: Firefox

You might already know of Mozilla Firefox under Windows, where it has firmly established itself as the alternative browser of choice. The good news is that the Linux version of Firefox is nearly identical to its Windows counterpart. You can conveniently start it from the Unity Launcher Natty includes its latest version, Firefox 4.0, which is up to six times faster than previous versions and has many improved features.

When the program starts, you can type an address into the URL bar to visit a web site. If you want to add a site to your bookmarks list, click Bookmarks  Bookmark This Page. Alternatively, you can press Ctrl+D.

Searching is easy within Firefox. You use the search bar at the top right of the window. By default, Firefox uses Google for searches. To choose from other search engines, click the small down arrow on the left side of the search box. You can even enter your own choice of site if your favorite isn’t already in the list—click Manage Search Engines and then click the Get More Search Engines link in the dialog box that appears.

Firefox popularized the principle of tabbed browsing, which means you can have more than one site open at once. To open a new tab, press Ctrl+T. You can move between the tabs by clicking them.

Screenshot from 2020-06-09 16-49-37

Figure . Mozilla Firefox

Firefox is compatible with most of the same add-ons (extensions) that you might have used under the Windows version of the browser. You can download new add-ons from https://addons.mozilla.org, or click Tools  Add Ons and select the Get Add-ons icon. In addition, Firefox under Ubuntu can work with Flash animations and multimedia content; the relevant software (including the Flash Player) is installed on demand the first time it’s needed.

Movie Playback: Totem Movie Player

Totem movie player is able to handle the majority of video files you might own, as long as some additional software is installed. Totem can also play back DVD movies, which, again, requires the installation of software.

Like Banshee, Totem is an uncomplicated application. the video plays on the left side of the window. A playlist detailing movies you have queued appears on the right side. You can remove this, to give the video more room, by clicking the Sidebar button.

You can control video playback by using the play/pause, fast-forward, and rewind buttons at the bottom left. In addition, provided a compatible video format is being played, you can use the Time bar to move backward and forward within the video file. You can switch to full-screen playback by clicking View  Fullscreen. To switch back, simply press the Esc key.

Screenshot from 2020-06-09 16-52-22

Figure Totem movie player

CD/DVD Burning: Brasero/Nautilus CD/DVD Creator

As soon as you insert a blank writeable disc, whether it’s a CD or DVD, Ubuntu detects it and offers a handful of choices: Do Nothing, Open Folder, and Open CD/DVD Creator.

The first option should be obvious, whereas the second option starts Nautilus’s CD/DVD burning mode. This is a simple disc-burning interface where files can be dragged into the window and subsequently burned to data CD/DVD.

However, the third option—Open Disc Burner—is most useful. This activates Ubuntu’s dedicated CD/DVD-burning software, Brasero, which is able to create data CD/DVDs, as well as audio and video CDs. Brasero, can also copy some kinds of discs.

If you want to start Brasero manually, you’ll find it on the Applications menu. When the Brasero interface appears, select from the list whichever kind of project you want to create. For example, to create an audio CD, click the Audio Project button. Then drag and drop your music files onto the program window and click the Burn button. Keep an eye on the meter at the bottom right. This is like a progress bar; when the green portion is full, the disc is full. Note that you can’t write certain audio files, like MP3s, to CDs unless you have the relevant codecs installed. Using the Nautilus CD/DVD Creator is similar to using Brasero. Just drag and drop files onto the window to create shortcuts to the files. When it comes time to burn, Nautilus copies the files from their original locations. When you’ve finished choosing files, click the Write to Disc button. Unfortunately, you won’t see a warning if the disc’s capacity has been exceeded until you try to write to the disc. However, by right-clicking an empty space in the Nautilus window and selecting Properties, you can discover the total size of the files. Remember that most CDs hold 700MB, and most DVD+/-R discs hold around 4.7GB (some dual-layer discs hold twice this amount; see the DVD disc packaging for details).

Screenshot from 2020-06-09 16-54-52

Figure . Nautilus CD/DVD Creator and Brasero