For example, if you use Ubuntu at work, you can play a game of Solitaire on Workspace 2, but for when the boss comes by you can have Workspace 1 filled with your work applications; the boss won't even see Solitaire minimized, its only visible on Workspace 2.
A more productive use is to dedicate Workspaces for a specific function. For example, Workspace 1 could be where you do your writing and research, Workspace 2 for emailing, and Workspace 3 for editing graphics. This helps if you are a clutter freak, like me, where you tend to close applications you may bring up later just to reduce the clutter.
With multiple Workspaces you don't have to waste time opening and closing applications repeatedly, just click between the Workspaces from the lower right corner of the screen. The Panels, desktop, and menus remain the same between Workspaces. You can add more spaces by right-clicking on the Workspace area and selecting Properties.
The items on the panels are actually small programs, called applets. You can right-click on an item to edit an applet's properties, access its help, or remove it. You can also add other applets to Panels by right-clicking a panel and selecting Add to Panel.
You'll see a variety of applets, ranging from an Address Book Search applet to a Weather Report applet. This applet approach to adding functionality to the panels is similar to the Sidebar and Gadgets features in Windows Vista.
Working with Files
Ubuntu offers a file browser, called Computer, which is similar to My Computer and Computer of Windows XP and Vista. However, when you open Computer in Ubuntu you'll see an icon for each of the mounted locations, for instance any removable media storage devices, Ubuntu's partition (labeled Filesystem), and any other partitions on the hard drive. Like in Windows, each user in Ubuntu gets their own set of personal folders, all under the /home directory of Filesystem. Each user's root directory is called their Home Folder (accessible from the Places menu), which includes folders such as Desktop, Documents, Music, and Pictures.
Figure 2 shows an example of the Computer window with multiple partitions and a USB drive. You can click drives and folders to browse through files.
Right-clicking items gives you similar options as in Windows; such as copying, cutting, renaming, and changing properties. However, Ubuntu offers an emblem feature (see Figure 3), configurable from an items Properties window, where you can tag items with what you could call a sub-icon.
These emblems can help you visually identify certain categories of folders and files when browsing through your data. For example, you can tag documents you need to get done ASAP with the urgent emblem or tag your favorite photos with the star emblem.
Tip: When browsing with Computer, you can easily apply emblems to folders and items by dragging the icons from the emblem menu to the item. To bring up the menu, select the Emblems view of the sidebar as Figure 4 shows.
Another feature that's probably new to you is Bookmarks. You can bookmark folders and other locations (such as network shares and FTP servers) you access often. The list of bookmarks is displayed in many areas, including on the Places menu, a menu on the Computer window, and on Save and Open dialog boxes. To add a location you're currently viewing in Computer, select the Bookmarks menu and click Add Bookmark.
When you try to create shortcuts in Ubuntu, you'll discover the process differs a bit from what you're used to with Windows. Shortcuts even have a different name; they're called Links in Ubuntu.
Say you frequently add shortcuts of folders and documents to your desktop in Windows; you would simply right-click the item in Computer and drag it to the desktop to pick what you want to do, create a shortcut.
In Ubuntu, however, you'll find you can't right-click an item and drag it. You can (left) click the item, drag it to the desired spot, but before you let go, press the Alt key. As Figure 5 shows, you'll see a menu where you can choose to move, copy, or link the item.
Getting Further Acquainted
We touched on the dual and multi boot options when using Ubuntu, discovered the desktop, and discussed working with files. I promise, we didn't cover all the differences between Ubuntu and Windows. You'll probably come by many more differences in the appearance of Ubuntu and features you don't know how to use.
The Ubuntu Help Center is a great place to start for information. You can also take advantage of the community of volunteers, enthusiasts, and paid support options; a quick Google search on will return numerous places.
Eric Geier is an author of many computing and networking books, including Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies (Wiley 2008) and 100 Things You Need to Know about Microsoft® Windows Vista (Que 2007).