Ubuntu: basic customizations


One of the first things you want to do when configuring a new linux box is to generate an ssh key.
Open a terminal and type the following:

mkdir -p `~/.ssh
cd ~/.ssh

You will be prompted for a passphrase. You can simply hit enter for no passphrase.
(Next you should add this key to your github and bitbucket accounts so you can easily work with repos in the cloud.)

Automated customizations

I now use a shell script to do a lot of the somewhat involved customizations of my linux box. It does things like install (updated versions of) wget, git, emacs, java, scala build tool, eclipse, proof general, coq, agda, etc. To read about or run this script, visit its github repository.

Swapping CapsLock and Control in Ubuntu

(This works for at least 12.04, 12.10, 13.04. For 13.10, see below.)

  1. System Settings –> Keyboard Layout
  2. Select your default keyboard model; e.g., English Keyboard.
  3. Options –> Ctrl Key Position
  4. Click radio button “Swap Ctrl and CapsLock”

For Ubuntu 13.10, use the gnome-tweak-tool. Install and launch it as follows:

sudo apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool

Reverting to old window toggling behavior in Unity

(This works for at least 12.04, 12.10, 13.04, 13.10, 14.04, and probably others.)

To change the annoying Unity behavior of limiting the toggling of windows (only one window shown per app) back to the old behavior where every window appears in a chronological list of windows, follow the steps below.

  1. install the compiz config setting manager and plugins:
    sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager
    sudo apt-get install compiz-plugins
  2. open CompizConfig Settings manager.  (If you don’t have it, install it with `sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager`)
  3. Desktop–>Ubuntu Unity Plugin–>Switcher tab
  4. Edit “Key to Start Switcher” and disable it.
  5. Edit “Key to Start Switcher in Reverse” and disable it.
  6. Click the Back button.
  7. –>Window Management and check the box next to “Static Application Switcher.”
  8. You can ignore conflicts, or resolve conflicts by choosing “Disable Key to…”
  9. Now click on the phrase “Static Application Switcher.” This will open a window that lets you assign key strokes to various behaviors. Click on the edit button for “Next Window (All Windows)”, click grab key comibination, and then type the keys you want to assign to this action (e.g. Alt+tab). Do the same for “Previous Window (All Windows)” (e.g. Alt+shift+tab).

Disabling Unity Launcher key binding

If you use Alt+Tab to toggle windows, inevitably you will hit the Alt key without Tab occasionally. By default this will activate the Unity Launcher, and you have to hit the Esc key to deactivate it. This is annoying. Disable it by opening the System Settings dialog, then navigate as follows: Keyboard –> Shortcuts Tab –> Launchers –> Key to show the HUD. Then hit the backspace/delete key to mark this feature “Disabled.”

Customizing Appearance (themes)

The Numix theme is pretty cool. Check out the installation instructions on this page.

Adjusting touchpad parameters

(I have only tested this on Ubuntu 13.04.)

After installing Ubuntu 13.04, the synaptic touchpad driver seems, for the most part, much better than in previous Ubuntu versions. However, it is still too sensitive by default and I often find myself moving the pointer accidentally while typing. Even more annoying is the fact that many single taps are registered as double taps and I drag stuff around unintentionally.

  • To see the current parameter settings, type `synclient` at the command line.
  • To see what all of these parameters mean, read this page.
  • To change the default setting so that double tap is only registered when you tap twice in very quick succession, enter the following at the command prompt: `synclient SingleTapTimeout=120`
    (the default is 180)
  • To make the changes persist, add the appropriate Option lines to the file `/etc/X11/xorg.conf`. For example, the section of my xorg.conf file associated with the touchpad looks like this:
    Section "InputClass"
            Identifier      "Touchpad"
            Driver          "synaptics"
            MatchIsTouchpad "on"
            Option          "PressureMotionMinZ" "35"
        Option          "SingleTapTimeout" "120"
        Option          "TapButton3" "2"
            Option          "CoastingSpeed" "20"
            Option          "CoastingFriction" "35"

See also:

Graphics on Samsung Series 7 Laptop

This section is mainly for my own reference. It contains notes on getting the AMD/ATI graphics on my laptop working in Ubuntu 13.10.


Samsung ­ Series 7 Laptop / Intel® Core i7 Processor / 15.6″ Display / 6GB Memory / 750GB Hard Drive ­ Silver NP700Z5B­W01UB

Detailed Specs of a similar model

Purchased on 11/25/2011

Graphics: AMD RadeonTM HD6490M

Using the command lspci | grep VGA in Linux produces the following information about the graphics hardware of this laptop:

  • Intel Corporation 2nd Gen Core Processor Family Integrated Graphics Controller
  • AMD/ATI Seymore [Radeon HD 6400M/7400M Series]

AMD/ATI drivers for Ubuntu 13.10

(to get graphics working well in Ubuntu 13.10)

According to this page, there is no configuration necessary on modern Ubuntu’s like 13.10. Supposedly, “You can safely take away your /etc/X11/xorg.conf and your computer should run fine.” I renamed xorg.conf and rebooted. The resulting resolution was horrible, and not even close to what I was getting on this hardware with 12.04 with proprietary AMD drivers.

Below are the steps I took to get the proprietary AMD/ATI Linux drivers working with Ubuntu 13.10 in “power-saving” mode.

Note: I am using the “Power-saving GPU for improved battery life setting” because I found that with the High-performance setting I could not run my external monitor at a high resolution. I could only mirror the image on my laptop screen at a low resolution. With the Power-saving setting, however, I can run my laptop screen at 1600×900 next to an external monitor displaying 1680×1050 side-by-side (i.e. not mirrored), which is plenty of space for coding. As I believe this means I have essentially disabled the ATI GPU, this is probably not the setup you want for gaming. If you just want good resolution for programming, however, the steps below might work for you.

Steps for setting up proprietary AMD/ATI drivers in Ubuntu 13.10
(Laptop: Samsung Chronos Series 7)

  1. Purge existing fglrx drivers and reboot, as described here.
    sudo apt-get remove --purge fglrx fglrx_* fglrx-amdcccle* fglrx-dev*
    sudo apt-get install --reinstall libgl1-mesa-glx libgl1-mesa-dri xserver-xorg-core xserver-xorg-video-intel libgl1-mesa-glx:i386 libgl1-mesa-dri:i386 linux-headers-generic linux-headers-$(uname -r)
    sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg
    sudo reboot
  2. Download the proprietary Linux drivers available directly from AMD at this site. (These do not compile and must be patched, as described below. See also this page.)
  3. Unzip the drivers in a suitable directory, and then extract them into a subdirectory, as follows:
    mkdir -p $HOME/opt/AMD
    mv $HOME/Downloads/amd-catalyst-13.12-linux-x86.x86_64.zip $HOME/opt/AMD/
    cd $HOME/opt/AMD
    unzip amd-catalyst-13.12-linux-x86.x86_64.zip
    ./amd-catalyst-13.12-linux-x86.x86_64.run --extract NewDirectory
  4. Download this amd_forgotten.patch file, put it in the ~/opt/AMD directory, apply the patch, and build the drivers as follows:
    cd $HOME/opt/AMD/NewDirectory
    patch -Np1 -i ../amd_forgotten.patch
    sudo ./ati-installer.sh 13.251 --buildpkg Ubuntu/saucy
  5. The following packages should now appear in the ~/opt/AMD directory:

    Install these and then run aticonfig as follows:

    cd $HOME/opt/AMD
    sudo dpkg -i fglrx*.deb
    sudo aticonfig --initial -f
  6. Edit the file /etc/default/grub and modify the GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX lines, if necessary. They should be as follows:
    GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="radeon.dpm=1 quiet splash"
    GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="radeon.dpm=1 quiet splash"

    Then do

    sudo update-grub
    sudo reboot
  7. Upon reboot you should be greeted with the graphical login welcome screen. Now try to login. You may get a black screen. If so, try this: login as a guestIt is likely that your existing account has some custom configurations that might be incompatible with 13.10. After logging in as a guest, go to the Unity launcher and locate the AMD Catalyst Control Center App. Launch it and select the radio button next to the Intel logo: “Power-saving GPU for improved battery life setting”


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