Have you ventured beyond Ubuntu’s default GNOME desktop applications? There’s a wealth of great tools available in the Ubuntu repositories. The Universe is a huge place, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of software available. But don’t worry, because Jorge ‘whiprush’ Castro will pilot our guided tour of universe applications that will make you fall in love with Ubuntu all over again. Whether you’re an experienced user or brand new to Linux, there’s always new hidden gems in Ubuntu waiting to be discovered.
Universe is composed of packages from Debian that aren’t fully supported by Ubuntu. But we need not worry - the MOTU team of over 30 developers ensures these packages build and work, and they’re very responsive to bug reports.
Universe requires some manual set up before being used. Luckily for us, our hard working ground crew (aka the Documentation Team) has already outlined the process for us. Once you’ve followed those steps, you’re ready to go.
The deskbar-applet is a small multipurpose text box which sits in the panel. Typing in the box allows you to quickly search amazon.com, Google, wikipedia, yahoo, ebay, Creative Commons, and even Beagle. It also acts as an application launcher, allowing you to launch applications or open folders right from your panel. Fridge Tip: The default keyboard shortcut to use the applet is Alt-F3.
The Breezy release features two new applications that improve the Ubuntu laptop experience. GNOME Power Manager is an application which monitors and lets you control many power management features on modern laptops.
The NetworkManager tool provides an easy to use applet for controlling wireless interfaces. It features autoscanning, graphical control of which network to join, and Virtual Private Networking support for Cisco VPNs. This allows a user to click on the icon, see which networks are available, and then join one by clicking on the name of the network. It automatically gets an IP address and shows a graphical status icon. It also manages wired connections, so when a user plugs in an ethernet cable, NetworkManager will automatically configure the wired connection.
Both NetworkManager and gnome-power-manager are relatively new, so there are still instances where it might not work for you, but development on both tools is progressing rapidly, so if you have problems with these, make sure you revisit them when Ubuntu 6.04 is released.
Gobby is a small collaborative text editor that updates documents in real time. Think of it as a multi-user gEdit. One user starts a session as a host, creates or opens a document, and then the other users join that session. The bottom of the application has an IRC-like window for chatting, while the user-assigned colors allow the users to see who is making changes to which specific portions of the file.
Brightside is a tool for making “hot corners” on your desktop. You can assign different tasks to each corner; for example, you can configure it so that your screensaver activates when you move the mouse cursor to the bottom left corner. Fridge Tip: You can also make Brightside switch the workspace as you move the mouse to the edge of the screen.
Gajim is a Jabber client with a simple interface. It supports different icon themes and full support for using the user’s GPG key to encrypt instant messaging traffic. A built-in notification dialog the user of incoming instant messages. The included “Human” color theme also looks great on an Ubuntu desktop.
The Mono Galaxy
This part of the universe is well travelled, but we’ll do a quick flyby just in case. Tomboy is a simple applet that allows you to quickly take and organize notes. Tomboy automatically links text in a note to another note’s title as it’s being written, so as the user continues to make notes the application it becomes a self-referencing wiki-like repository of information. Clicking on the icon shows the recent edited notes and a search feature.
f-spot is a photo management application. It includes camera import support and exporting to Flickr, Gallery, or to CD-R/W. The GNOME Journal has a fairly complete introduction to f-spot.
Two newly forming stars, the Banshee music player (with iPod read and write support) and the famous Beagle desktop search are also available, but they’re still being developed, so we’ll have to check up on them next time.
Keep on Truckin’…
Monkey Bubble is a bust-a-move clone that is great for killing a few hours. The goal is to shoot a colored bubble at the stack of other colored bubbles near the top of the screen. When three bubbles of the same color come in contact, they explode. The goal is to clear the screen of bubbles before they fill up your screen. Fridge Tip: It supports up to 4 players with network play on a LAN, so set aside some time with your friends.
Here’s a program that we should have used before we left! Celestia is a space simulator, a “browser” for the solar system. It allows you to seamlessly move between heavenly bodies and explore the real universe in three dimensions.
glabels is a program for making printed labels. It has support for over 100 kinds of labels, just pick a template, insert the text, and print.
Manually trudging through art sites for nifty artwork can be a pain. gnome-art takes the hard work out of the process, by connecting to the art.gnome.org web service and letting you browse and download wallpapers right from the application itself.
Sometimes it’s just plain difficult to explain something to someone over the phone or via chat. Istanbul places a record button in your notification area. Clicking on it makes Istanbul record your desktop session as a video. After you’ve made your video, clicking on it again stops the recording and outputs the file as Ogg video. As you can see from the screenshot, it also supports streaming the video directly to an Icecast server.
The Trip Home
So, not a bad little journey. You’d be surprised what you can find if you go out and look for adventure, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of applications, so make sure you keep checking in so we can keep freewheeling through space. Feel free to contact me if you’ve found hidden nebula of desktop goodness and we’ll bring the ship on by.