Customizing Ubuntu

Getting Caught Up

Run the commands:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

This will download and install the latest versions of all programs originally installed. This will undoubtedly involve several hundred files.

Adding Extra Programs

It's very unlikely that a default fresh-from-the-CD version of Linux will have everything you want. For one thing, the CD only installs things from Ubuntu's "Main" and "Restricted" repositories; unless you are running a server or something which must be ultra-stable, you'll probably want to add "Universe", "Multiverse", and probably the "Backports" and "Proposed" repository sets. Consolidated and stripped of comments, your sources.list file really only needs five lines:

deb feisty           main restricted universe multiverse
deb feisty-updates   main restricted universe multiverse
deb    feisty-security  main restricted universe multiverse
deb feisty-backports main restricted universe multiverse
deb    feisty-proposed  main restricted universe multiverse

## main       = pure, supported
## restricted = impure, supported
## universe   = pure, not supported
## multiverse = impure, not supported
Here's a partial list of things that (a) I use, which (b) are not included with standard Ubuntu. Your mileage will, of course, vary. Use your package manager of choice (apt-get, aptitude, adept, synaptic) to install them:

Changing Key Assignments

The ESC key is used quite frequently by several programs — particularly editors like Emacs and Vi. The CapsLock key is almost never used by anybody. Unfortunately, the makers of keyboards decided to put the useless CapsLock right next to the /A/ key, easily accessible to the left little finger, while the vital ESC key is way the hellandgone up in the corner.

Here's an easy way to switch the function of those two keys; it's surprising how handy it is to have ESC on a closer key. Just create a file in your home directory called .Xmodmap, containing these four lines:

remove Lock = Caps_Lock
keycode 0x42 = Escape
keycode 0x09 = Caps_Lock
add Lock = Caps_Lock

That's all there is to it. The next time the system starts up, the two keys will have their definitions reversed.

In general, you can use the xev program to find out keycode numbers and function names — just hit keys and write 'em down. For instance, one could create useful definitions for the "Windows" and "List" keys down by the spacebar, as well as any "internet" or "multimedia" keys which might be attached to your particular keyboard.

Installing Acroread

Due to the way it is copyrighted, the Adobe Acrobat Reader is no longer part of the Ubuntu distribution. The free software replacement for it (evince) works quite well, but you might like to have the "real thing" in addition. Here's how.

  1. Go to and download the installer. Make sure you get the "tar.gz" form. This should give you the file AdobeReader_enu-7.0.9-1.i386.tar.gz.
  2. At a shell prompt, go to the directory where it was downloaded and issue the command

    tar xf AdobeReader_enu-7.0.9-1.i386.tar.gz

    This will unpack the archive and create the directory AdobeReader.
  3. Change directory (cd) to AdobeReader and issue the command

    sudo ./INSTALL

    This should install the program and the plug-in for Firefox.

Changing Icons

  1. First of all, you need an icon. Use the convert utility (part of ImageMagick) to create a 48x48 .PNG file from any image you have on hand:

    convert -geometry 48x48 myfile.jpg myicon.png

  2. For KDE, just park myicon.png in any convenient directory. Gnome, unfortunately, seems to have its icon directories hard-coded, so copy the new icon to somewhere Gnome will recognize:

    sudo cp myicon.png /usr/share/icons/hicolor/48x48/emblems/

  3. Right click on the icon you wish to customize, choose "properties", right click on the existing icon, and navigate to your new one. When you close, the new icon will replace the old one.


No commonly used Linux distributions include certain features of multimedia support because of legal or copyright restrictions. If you have ascertained that these are legal in your jurisdiction, then you can add them — particularly the ability to play commercial DVDs. One of many sites that show you how to do it is Note that if you already have everything else, you can install decss (the DVD decryption module) without having to modify /dev/apt/sources.list. Just execute these two lines:

sudo dpkg -i libdvdcss2_1.2.9-2medibuntu2+build1_i386.deb

(Wget is a command line tool to fetch a file over the internet. Dpkg installs an existing .deb file, so this technique will work with any other .deb file you may find, although you should ensure that the file was packaged specifically for Ubuntu and not for generic Debian.)
Last modified: Tue Aug 14 15:58:37 CDT 2007