The latest Ubuntu is slick and sublime, and while it gets a lot right, there's still some essential tweaks you can do to make the most of your new install.
The classic never goes out of fashion, but for those new to Ubuntu: after installation, your first two steps should be to ensure all packages are up to date and install any 3D accelerated drivers, now essential for Unity.
To make sure you're up to date click the Dash (top left icon), type in 'update' and select Update Manager then click Check (note you can simply press the down arrow to select the first result from a Dash search, followed by Enter to run).
For drivers click the Power cog (top right) then ‘System Settings > Additional Drivers’. Ubuntu should automatically find the appropriate drivers for your NVIDIA or AMD card (for Intel GPUs hardware acceleration is provided by default).
Gnome Sushi allows you to preview files directly from the file manager.
Codecs and new tools
Totem and Banshee will prompt if you need video/audio codecs but you might as well install them ahead of time and enable encrypted DVD playback while you're at it. From a Terminal ([Ctrl]+[Alt]+[T]) run:sudo -sapt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras/usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/install-css.sh
Important note - if you're using 64-bit Ubuntu, don't install ubuntu-restricted-extras until after you've installed 64-bit Flash, otherwise the 32-bit version and unnecessary wrappers will be installed. To install 64-bit Flash just head here
and click to download the APT package. It will automatically be opened in the Software Center for you. Software Center will incorrectly say it can't find the file but just wait while it adds the Adobe repository, and then click 'Install' when the button shows up. Installing restricted-extras after this step will skip 32-bit Flash, keeping the 64-bit version you have installed.
Next are a couple of tools that come from the new Gnome 3, on which Ubuntu's Unity interface is based:sudo -sapt-get install gnome-sushiapt-get install gnome-tweak-tool
Tasty though it may sound, Gnome Sushi is in fact a new feature that allows you to peek at the contents of files directly from Nautilus without the need to open them. To use it simply highlight a file in Nautilus and press Space. The function works with PDF files, text files, images, audio and video and works over networks too.
The Gnome Tweak Tool is an official Gnome app to tailor some of Gnome 3's features. Note that installing Gnome Tweak Tool will also install the full Gnome 3 Shell, the default interface for Gnome. This won't replace Unity, it will however be available as another option when you login if you wish, but if you don't want this installed don't install the tweak tool. As a side note it also installs the gnome-session-fallback package, which will allow you to launch the classic Gnome 2 desktop from the login screen as well.
Run the tool by typing 'advanced' in the Dash and launching Advanced Settings. Note that some of the tweakable options apply only to the Gnome 3 shell, but others work with Ubuntu including the desktop icon settings under the Desktop entry, Font settings, and some of the Theme settings. We'll revisit this tool at a later date with respect to installing and configuring new Ubuntu themes.
As before with Ubuntu 11.04 the only way to tailor some of Unity's unique features is through the Compiz Unity plugin. To access this simply install the CompzConfig Settings Manager - type 'compiz' into the Software Center or run 'sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager' - and launch it from the Dash by searching on 'compiz'. Scroll down to the Desktop heading and you'll see the Ubuntu Unity Plugin, click on it to open its options.
The most useful settings here are the Hide Launcher settings (we prefer 'Never' but suit to taste) and the settings under the Experimental tab. Just be careful when changing the default Launcher icon size, there have reports that this has broken Unity for some people despite this working fine in Ubuntu 11.04. No doubt if there's an issue it'll be fixed soon.
You might also note a new key bindings related to the Alt-Tab switcher under the Switcher tab - while using Alt-Tab you can press the Alt-Down to preview a task from the switcher, pressing Alt-Up closes the preview.
Finally if you're a fan of the awesome third-party program Ubuntu Tweak the current version won't work with Oneiric. A new version is in the works, so keep your eye on ubuntu-tweak.com