Boosting Ubuntu's Productivity: 20 Tips

Make the Ubuntu desktop more efficient and faster by eliminating keystrokes, data loss, and workstation downtime. Plus: help downloads for Ubuntu.
Posted October 19, 2010

Matt Hartley

Matt Hartley

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Much like anything in life, what works for one individual might be seen as unneeded by another. Yet when it comes to making the Ubuntu Linux desktop more productive to use, there are some clear cut help tips. They lessen unneeded keystrokes, data loss, and workstation downtime.

In this article, I'll share twenty tips that have saved me countless hours of wasted time, while making my life with Ubuntu easier in general. Some among you may have different variations of the same ideas presented here already. Despite this possibility, I believe it's probable that there’ll be tips included that you might not have thought of yet.

1) Keeping your data safe – What about when we go to upgrade our Ubuntu installations? How many times do we read forum post after forum post about the person who upgraded Ubuntu to version x.xx only to find that something went wrong along the way?

In other instances, the desktop is working fine except for some X factor that the affected user who upgraded didn't take into account. It happens all the time.

So what do I personally do about these types of issues? Three things: I use a dedicated Home partition, JungleDisk off-site backup and two external hard drives. Yes, I actually use all three sources to backup my files.

Obviously, the dedicated partition is a static kind of situation where no additional action is needed after initial setup, however the backing up of my data is done daily by JungleDisk and weekly to my external hard drives. Using this approach, I haven't experienced data loss – of any kind.

Even if I do lose access to the Internet for data recovery on any given day and my Home partition is lost somehow, I still have my Home partition backed up safely on external drives as a final option. I recommend this for small home offices and home users not ready to go to a more traditional thin client/server type of configuration.

2) Clone the drive before updating – I have found that the best way for myself to avoid the upgrade blues is to do two things. Use a clean Ubuntu install and clone my hard drive with CloneZilla.

Why clone the hard drive at all if other backup methods have already been used? Simple: if you should hose an Ubuntu installation for some reason, cloning the drive allows you to roll back to a vanilla working installation with all of your settings intact. From there, restore the latest Home directory backup and you are back to work with plenty of time to spare.

3) Update your Ubuntu on non-work days – I realize this should seem painfully obvious, but the fact is there are entirely too many people who try to make system wide changes on their Ubuntu installs during the work week. This is always a bad idea. Not because upgrading is the wrong thing to do, rather the selected time is inefficient. Wait for a non-work period like the weekend, which will allow for recovery time, should things go poorly. 4) Arrange your panels to meet your needs – Too many people feel that the Ubuntu panel(s) provided by the GNOME desktop are some invisible force that should not be messed with at any cost. This is nonsense. There is no reason why one can't arrange things in such a way as to ensure you can launch common applications, find the volume controls and have the ability to kill rogue applications without needing to take the time to open up a terminal and begin typing.

Don't misunderstand me, I love being able to get things done quickly in the terminal when I need to. But I happen to prefer killing off rogue applications and keeping an eye on system resources through the panel applets provided.

Others may prefer different widgets that do the same, while others will always live by the command line. There is no wrong choice here, but from a visual monitoring standpoint, using applets like the system monitor are difficult to compete with, as it's always visible.

5) Getting it done with GNOME Do – When it comes down to being productive, there is something to be said about minimizing use of the mouse. Sure, like using a GUI menu built into a desktop manager, it's considered easier to simply browse, slide the mouse around and locate what we are looking for. But is this really the most effective use of our time?

I would say it's not for me. I choose to save my time by using GNOME Do instead of my mouse. It's perfect for people who prefer the mouse avoidance of the CLI, yet yearn for visual verification that what they’re typing up is what they are looking for. In short, if the path to an application is wrong, you will see it before ever executing it. Sending email, locating documents, whatever you are doing -- this application could help you make it happen faster.

6) Central access for commonly used software and files – The enterprise environment has its take on thin clients and server resource access for business needs. So what about the small or single-person business working from a home office? Since I work from a number of different Ubuntu computers throughout my day, I need to make sure I have access to commonly used documents, spreadsheets and email while doing so free of the "cloud."

The solution that has worked out well for me is using SFTP for file access while accessing email on a server using Evolution via SSH X forwarding. Now the SFTP access is great for secure remote file access regardless of my current location. On my LAN or away, I can securely edit and save my documents without any concerns due to data loss.

For the use of Evolution over SSH, this comes down to the fact that I need a usable Microsoft Exchange software client that was not going to be working in one Ubuntu release only to break with the next. As you likely know, Exchange access in Evolution in Ubuntu 10.10 is broken. There are some very ineffective work-a-rounds available, but in the end, it's still a problem yet to be solved.

My solution was to keep Ubuntu 10.04 on a dedicated "email box" that I access using SSH with X forwarding. This means I am able to literally use the actual Evolution client from the working box, through SSH. Surprisingly, it works very well with low latency.

7) Keeping your email under control – My point about using email from one central location had an unexpected advantage. I found myself fooling around with email less throughout my day. Because I would otherwise need to keep it open all of the time to see email as it came in, I found that I only check email during specific times of the day.

The result has – surprisingly – been that more work is getting done in a day. Along with social networking, email can become a huge waste of time. Avoiding this can best be done by keeping your central email client off of your work machines, available via SSH only.

To keep things even more streamlined, I personally use POPFile on the same machine as I run my Evolution client from. Once trained, POPFile not only provides Bayesian Spam filtering, you can also train it to learn what you consider important email and what is of lesser importance, thus being sent to another folder in Evolution.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu, Linux downloads, open source software

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