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The Reg guide to Linux, part 3

Media playback and the no.1 thing to remember

Getting down to it: Flash, Java, MP3 and so on

First, you need to tell APT to refresh its memory – to fetch the latest list of packages from the repositories. Type:

sudo apt-get update

The "sudo" command means to do this command as the SuperUser – that is, as the administrator. It'll ask you for a password; just enter your own. You'll see rows of text go past as it gets the latest info. Next, type:

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

This will upgrade all installed software – operating system, apps, the lot – in one go. It's like Microsoft Update on steroids, only it does all your third-party apps as well. If it finds everything is already current, it will say: 0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.

That's a good sign. Otherwise, it will ask you for permission to continue – just say yes to everything. If you're really keen, you can manually do this yourself every day, but there's no real need – Ubuntu's update manager will check daily for you and pop up and tell you if updates are available. (This, incidentally, is one of the areas that Ubuntu and its relatives score over rivals such as Mepis and PC-LinuxOS.)

Now onto the real stuff: installing those nasty proprietary (or semi-proprietary) bits and bobs that power the fun bits of the web and so on.

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras icedtea6-plugin

This installs two packages, but APT automatically sucks in dozens of other requirements: the installer for the latest Adobe Flash player, Java, support for MP3, MP4 and more.

You have to admit, it's a lot easier than going to, downloading the Flash installer, running it, then going looking for MP3 codecs, downloading them, installing them, then video codecs – and all that.

That's it. Your copy of Ubuntu can now play MP3 or rip CDs to MP3, display web pages with Flash and Java, handle most common video formats and more.

Finally, there are a few things that are good to have, but aren't legal in some parts of the world – for instance the USA, due to the DMCA. This means have to look outside the Ubuntu standard repositories. We probably ought to insert a disclaimer here: check if you're allowed to do naughty things like watch DVDs on your own Linux computer in your country before continuing.

The easiest way to get this code – and several other useful extras – is by adding a new repository from a project called Medibuntu. The Medibuntu instructions are on the site, but in brief, copy this and paste it into your command prompt:

sudo wget --output-document=/etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list$(lsb_release -cs).list && sudo apt-get --quiet update && sudo apt-get --yes --quiet --allow-unauthenticated install medibuntu-keyring && sudo apt-get --quiet update

After this, you can just install the last few bits:

sudo apt-get install app-install-data-medibuntu apport-hooks-medibuntu libdvdcss2 w32codecs

This adds entries for the new toys in the GUI, but more importantly, DVD support and the Windows media codecs. (If you're running 64-bit Ubuntu, use "w64codecs" instead.) Ideally, read the instructions on the Medibuntu site.

That's about it. By typing – or copying-and-pasting – just five lines, you've installed all the media codecs and components for Ubuntu to be a fully-fledged citizen of the 2010 Interweb and got past the problems that put most people off it. You should find that even locked-down stuff like Quicktime movies will play seamlessly in Firefox.

Final reminder

Apart from this stuff, remember, when it comes to doing stuff that you know how to do on Windows, don't try the same method on Ubuntu until you've had a quick look at Google to see whether it's the appropriate method.

It doesn't take long to adjust. Give Ubuntu a go for a few weeks and you may well find you don't want to go back to Windows. ®

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