Ubuntu, the absolute beginners guide

There are loads of posts on how to do things in Ubuntu but there don’t seem to be much posts explaining on how to get started in Ubuntu when you are totally new to Linux in general.

The post will include all the basics to get you started.

1. Getting started

After starting Ubuntu for the first time, you’ll see a screen like this:


An almost default Ubuntu desktop.

You’ll see that Ubuntu uses two “bars” called “panels”. One on the top and one on the bottom.

You should see that on the top panels there are some words on the left.

1.1 Applications

Here all you’re installed programs can be found.

You will see different categories.

If you hover your mouse over “Office” you’ll find a write application, a spreadsheat application, …

Your browser and IM clients are in the “Internet” sub menu, …

In the bottom of the “Applications” menu you’ll find “Add/Remove”.

This might sound familiar to Windows users, but unlike Windows this can be used to install and remove programs.

Let’s open up “Add/Remove”.


The Add/Remove application.

The first thing to do is to make sure the drop down menu in the top center says “All available applications”, it won’t by default.

On the left you’ll see various categories, resembling the categories in “Applications”.

Highlight a category and you’ll see the various programs that can be installed.

You have also noticed the search box on the top right.

In there simply enter the name of the application you are searching for, or a generic term like “browser” of “video player”. Hit enter and you’ll see the available programs.

Programs with a tagged box on the left of them are programs that are already installed.

If you want to remove them, click on the box so the check mark is gone and then press apply in the bottom right corner. You’ll be prompted for you password and then the app will be removed.

To install software, simply tag the box so a check mark appears and press apply, then the program will be installed.

The installed programs will be available in the “Application” menu, in one of the sub categories.

1.2. Places

The places menu gives you acces to your folders.

The home folder brings you to the folder called “/home”. In there all your preferences and other folders like “Videos”, “Pictures”, … are stored.

The other folders in places should speak for themself.

You will also see a “removable media” entry, clicking that will give you access to external hard drives, sd cards, …

The “Network” entry will allow you to share folders on the network.

The “connect to network” entry will allow you to access FTP shares, SSH shares, Windows shares, WebDAV shares, or a custom location.

If you need to search for files on your hdd, you can do so use the “search for files” option in “Places”.

“Recent documents” is pretty Obvious.

1.2.1 Nautilus

Nautilus is the file manager used in Ubuntu. In Windows the file manager is know as “Explorer” (don’t confuse with Internet Explorer).

The file manager will allow you to access all files on your computers.

But normal users should never wander outside of the Home folder (/home).


Nautilus, the file browser in Ubuntu.

Let’s take a closer look at the file manager.

I’m presuming you are now in the Home folder (Places – Home Folder).

On the top you’ll see “File, Edit, View, Go, Bookmarks, Help”.

Those should be familiar to Windows users, so I’m not going to discuss them.

The only thing I’m going to mention is that you can open a new tab from “file – new tab”.

Under those entries, you’ll see a “Back” button, a “Forward”, a “Up” button.

Those are you main navigation buttons. Back and forward you will be familiar with.

Up goes one directory up.

The stop and reload buttons are the same as in your internet browser, most people won’t use them, but they explain themselfs.

You’ll also see a “Home” button, pressing that will bring you back to the Home folder.

Pressing the “Computer” button will list all your drives attached to the computer.

Pressing the “Search” button will allow you to search the current directoy. This can also be accessed by pressing “ctrl + f”.

At the right of that there is a “Zoom” function. There you can set how big or small the folder view should be.

Next to that you can set the view. You can have a folder view or a list view. I mostly use the list option.

Under that toolbar is the toolbar that lets you know where you are.

By default these will be buttons, each button containing a directory, the right one being the one you are in at the moment.

On the left of that toolbar is a icon, pressing that will give you are text based overview of the folders.

I suggest you use that.

The left panel should already be familiar to you.

All you drives, all the folders of the “Places menu”, an “Network” button and the “Trash” will be there.

You can use that to navigate to other folders also.

The big area on the right of that panel lists the files or directories in a particular folder.

You can righ-click there to create new text files or folders, copy or past things, …

Right-clicking a file there and going to properties, will give you some more info on the file (size, file type, …) , you can set emblems, choose what application to open the file with, …

Note:  It might be a good idea to point out here that unlike Windows, Linux doesn’t have things like a C drive or things like that. Everything is in the root folder (/ ).

1.3 System

When you open the System menu, on the bottom you’ll see the option to shut down Ubuntu. Note that this can also be done from the most right icon on the top panel.

The most important things here are “Preferences” and “Administration”.

These two sub menu’s are the place where you can tweak your system.

If you want you can compare it to the Windows Configuration screen.

I’m not going to discuss them here now.

1.4 Applets

Besides the the menu’s, you’ll see some applets on the top panels.

By default Firefox will be there, along with Help and Evolution (i think). Evolution is an email program.

On the right of the top panel, you’ll find the “Network Manager” applet. There you can select your wireless network. Right-click it for more advanced options.

You’ll also find an applet to controle the sound, the weather, the date and time and an applet to shut down or log out of the system.

1.5 Bottom Panel

The bottom panel has 4 applets by default.

The left one is an applet that will minimize all applications and show you your Desktop.

The most important one here is the Windows List applet. This will list all your open applications.

This should be familiar to you. Click it to maximize or minimize an application. Right-clicking a entry there will allow you to Minimize, Maximize, Close, Move to another workspace,…

Next to the Window List is the Workspace Switcher.

This one will most likely be new to you. Ubuntu comes with 2 workspace by default (this can be increased).

Lets say you have 3 applications open. If you click into the most right square in the Workspace Switcher, you’ll be on a new Desktop and the Window List will not list any programs.

Clicking the left square will bring you back to the original Desktop.

This feature is very useful to multi task. Instead of having 6 windows open on one desktop, you can have 3 on each. Making your desktop more usable.

Most people use 4 workspaces.

I’m going to post a picture of the Compiz Fusion plugin called “Expo”, this will make this more easy to understand.

The Expo plugin with 6 workspaces enabled.

Additional reading:

The “Try Ubuntu” page is also worth a read for newcomers.

This article will be extremely useful for any newcomer.

Need help? Try the forums or irc.

    • Harry
    • October 25th, 2009

    I installed UBUNTU alongside WINDOWS XP, and I am unable to add any programs or update as I get a disk full message. The installation disk did the partitioning as I could find no tools to redirect it to install on another disk or to change partiotion size. I have a second HD with an empty 250 GB partition. How do I get UBUNTU to use this space ?

      • Jason
      • November 8th, 2009

      If you let it do the partitioning automatically then it usually will leave very little room for Ubuntu. A newer version of Ubuntu is out so you could remove the Ubuntu partition and reinstall. If you don’t want to reinstall you could use g parted to configure the partitions [sudo apt-get install gparted]

      • Harry
      • December 6th, 2009

      As I received no help, I figured it out myself. I booted from the .ISO disk, and used the partition editor there to adjust partition sizes

        • Ryan
        • December 24th, 2009

        Harry, the information Jason left was correct. GParted IS a partition editor.

        Regardless, Ubuntu 9.10 is probably the best version I’ve ever used (and it finally supports the X-Fi cards!!!). I definitely recommend trying it out.

    • Jeff Damm
    • October 30th, 2009

    generic term like “browser” of “video player”. Hit enter and you’ll see the

    of should be “or” ??

    This is on your first page

    • Jay
    • April 14th, 2011

    The “Try Ubuntu” link is not working!

  1. November 11th, 2008
  2. December 30th, 2009

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