I'm setting up a Xubuntu 7.10 system in this post, but you should be able to adapt what I'm doing to almost any Ubuntu or Debian version/derivative.
As always, be careful when following advice and procedures from this, or any other site, as your system and/or installation could be damaged if a mistake is made. See our disclaimer for details.
Fix The Terminal (If Needed)
The very first thing I do is to make sure that the X terminal works. Xubuntu versions 7.04 and 7.10 sometimes have a problem where launching an X terminal crashes the X server. Since a lot of the instructions for the installations and fixes I perform use the terminal, I usually try to fix that first.
Try to launch a terminal window (Applications > Accessories > Terminal) and if you get kicked back out to the login prompt, follow the instructions outlined in the XFCE Terminal Crash Fix post.
Get On The Network
Since my laptop has a wireless card, I want to get set up to hop onto my home wireless network. I go to Applications > System > Network, and enter my wireless network's information. If you don't have a wireless card don't worry, you can set up your wired connection here too. Most of the time your wired Ethernet connection will work straight out of the box without any modification though.
Fix DNS Sluggishness (If Needed)
The next step for me is to follow the directions in our post DNS Speedup since I'm on DSL and the DNS servers never seem to work right with Xubuntu/Ubuntu. You may not need this step though. The quick and dirty way to see if DNS is slow for you is to open a browser like Firefox and try to navigate to a website. If you see something text like "Looking up..." or "Resolving..." in the status bar for more than 3 seconds or so, you may have the slow DNS problem. Try going to a few other sites to make sure that your problem wasn't just with the first one you went to. If the slowness persists, follow the post to fix it.
Once my Internet connection is running fast, I update my Xubuntu installation using Applications > System > Update Manager. Depending on how your system is set up, you may have to click the Check button to refresh the list of available updates, or you may just be able to click the Install Updates button. One thing to note here is that Xubuntu 7.10 (and now 8.04) have special update icons that will pop up in the task bar when updates are available. You just click on the icon and the Update Manager will pop up. Also, if you want your computer to update without asking you, check out Boot's post on autoupdates.
If you prefer using the terminal to update your Xubuntu/Ubuntu machine, you can open a terminal (Applications > Accessories > Terminal) and type
sudo apt-get upgrade
and then hit Enter. If there is a newer version of your distribution available than the one you're running, you can upgrade to it by typing
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
to move your system to the newer version. Be careful with this though as sometimes the upgrade between versions can be a little bumpy. I always thoroughly research an upgrade before I try it.
Set Up Firefox
Once the update is done, I move on to Firefox. My first step with Firefox is always to set my homepage to Google. Setting the homepage is a little different in the Linux version of Firefox than in Windows. On the Linux version, you launch the preferences dialog (Edit > Preferences) and then type the web address (www.google.com) in the Home Page: text box. An easier way to do the same thing is to click and drag the icon next to the address over to the Home button. Firefox will then ask you to confirm that you want to make the current page your home page. The next thing I do is install the Flash plugin, since the Internet just isn't the same without Flash. I just go to Adobe's website and click the download link for Adobe Flash Player. The website should detect that you are running Linux and show you the correct set of downloads. At this point, you are asked to select which type of download you want. I always go with .tar.gz for Linux since RPMs and YUMs don't always play nice with Xubuntu in my experience. Now, after you download the .tar.gz file, you can extract it and then run the installer in a terminal window (Applications > Accessories > Terminal). To do this, use the cd command to change to the directory where you downloaded the Flash tar.gz file (probably cd ~/Desktop if you're using Firefox) and type
tar -zxvf install_flash_player_9_linux.tar.gz
where install_flash_player_9_linux.tar.gz would be replaced by the name of the file you downloaded. Hit Enter after typing the line and the file should extract. Once it's extracted, use the cd command to go into the flash directory (something like cd install_flash_player_9_linux) and type
and hit Enter to begin the installation. Just follow the instructions and the plugin will install (the defaults should work fine). When the installer asks if you want to Perform another installation?, just type n and hit Enter. That should take care of it, but if it doesn't, you can manually copy the plugin to the ~/.mozilla/plugins directory. If any of you have this problem, let us know in the comments section and we'll help you out.
Another helpful plugin for Firefox is the mplayer plugin. This plugin will allow you to view videos and such inside of the browser. To install the mplayer plugin, open the Add/Remove Applications dialog (Applications > System > Add/Remove...) and type mplayer in the Search: field. In the list that comes up you'll see an entry similar to MPlayer Plugin for Mozilla which is the one you want. Just put a checkmark beside it and click the Apply Changes button.
To install the mplayer plugin from the terminal (Applications > Accessories > Terminal) type
sudo apt-get install mozilla-mplayer
and hit Enter.
Now you should be set to view Flash content and videos inside Firefox.
Now you should be set to view Flash content and videos inside Firefox.
Yakuake (Oh So Good...)
I'm a terminal junkie, so I don't waste much time before installing my favorite terminal emulator - Yakuake. To install it, I just follow Boot's Yakuake post. For those of you who don't know, Yakuake is a terminal emulator that pops down from the top (by default) of your screen at the press of a key. People who have played the Quake series of games may be familiar with this type of terminal.
I also want Yakuake to start automatically when Xubuntu boots up, so I add it to the autostarted applications by adding an entry for the command yakuake in the Autostarted Applications dialog (Applications > Settings > Autostarted Applications).
If you want to set up applications to autostart from the terminal instead of the GUI, check out Boot's post on autostarting applications the hard-core way.
Next, I would recommend installing Java. Many programs out there will require it, and so you might as well get it over with. To install Java (I usually go with version 6 unless I have a really good reason not to), go to the Add/Remove Software dialog (Applications > System > Add/Remove...) and type java in the search box. Make sure that you have All available applications selected from the Show: pull-down menu, or Java won't show up. Scroll down and put a checkmark next to Sun Java 6 Web Start (it may also be called Sun Java 6 Runtime), click the Apply Changes button, and then click the Apply button in the dialog box that comes up. You may also see a dialog box asking you to enable the use of restricted software. If you're going to be doing any Java development or if you want to install OpenOffice, you will want to install the Java Development Kit at this point too. To do this, open a terminal (Applications > Accessories > Terminal) and type
sudo apt-get install sun-java6-jdk
and hit Enter. I use the terminal to install it instead of the Add/Remove Software dialog because I have trouble finding the JDK in that dialog sometimes.
I always like to get my multimedia apps squared away too so that I can listen to or view some content while I finish up my system. See Boot's post entitled Linux multimedia roundup to see which applications I normally install. I also take this opportunity to set my computer up to play encrypted DVDs (if the computer has a DVD drive). To do this, take a look at my post on adding encrypted DVD support here.
Once I have all my multimedia applications installed, I follow Boot's instructions in his autoplay post to make sure that any media I put in my computer is opened automagically by the correct program.
Office and Productivity
I can't go very long without doing a word processing document or spreadsheet, so I always set up some desktop publishing apps when I'm doing a new system. I follow some of the instructions in my post on desktop publishing. If you follow the instructions in that post, you'll be all set up to handle almost any type of document creation task that life throws at you. Note that I don't install all of the applications in the publishing post, just the ones I need for my everyday tasks. My hope is that the post will give you the information you need to choose the right applications for your situation.
If you want to make sure you have the tools you need to handle digital images, check out my post Digital Imaging In Linux. That post will get you set up to acquire digital images from your camera or scanner, and to edit them in Gimp.
I do quite a bit of programming, so I like to install and use Eclipse. Make sure that you have Java installed though, because Eclipse won't run without it. You can download Eclipse here. There's no installation routine with Eclipse except to extract it and then put it in its final resting place. I like to put it in the /opt directory and then put a symbolic link to the eclipse binary file in the /usr/bin directory. I do this so that I only have to type eclipse in a terminal window to launch the program. Anything in (or referenced in) the /bin or /usr/bin directories will launch automatically if you type their names. You don't need to type their paths. To create the symbolic link (assuming that you put the eclipse directory in /opt), type the following line, hitting Enter afterwards.
sudo ln -s /opt/eclipse/eclipse /usr/bin/eclipse
Make sure that you have installed the support libraries for whatever language you're going to be programming in and make Eclipse aware of them. You'll need to see the Eclipse documentation for your specific situation.
There are also various other programs that I install for my own geeky reasons, but those are the steps that I think might interest you - the reader. I hope that gives you an idea of how a lot of our posts can be pulled together to tweak your system. If you have any questions on the way I set my computer up, feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post or email me at eonsproject (at) gmail.com.