Linux Migration for the Home PC User, Part 7: Making Adjustments

By Ed Hurst | Posted at 2:56 AM
Even if you were quite active in reconfiguring the ways Windows looked and acted, you'll probably be surprised at the number of things Linux allows you to configure. Our first item is something under the hood, as it were, which should make the system automate things you need, and shut off stuff you aren't likely to ever use.

The term here is "Services". The default services in CentOS aren't suited to the common home PC user. However, this is something we can fix with a point-and-click tool. In the menu bar at the top of the screen, look for the "System" button. Click, then slide to "Administration" -- everything here pretty much requires you to give yourself root permission, so it will pop up a root password entry box if you click on anything in this submenu. We want to find "Services" and click that.

After you enter your root password, it should open a window with the title "Service Configuration", with a list of services on the left side and some other blocks on the right. Unless you are using dialup, you will want the NetworkManager turned on, so that means a checkmark in the box next to it. There are some we want to turn off, which means removing the checkmark from the box:

  • bluetooth: If you know what this is, you'll know if you need it. If not, turn it off.
  • hidd: More bluetooth stuff.
  • firstboot: It's only needed for the first run of the system after installation, so turn it off.
  • mdmonitor: This is only used when your computer runs a RAID setup. If you don't know, you don't need it.
  • netfs, nfs, nfslock, portmap: These pretty much belong together and it's quite unlikely you need them if you haven't been told you need them. This also applies to all services starting with "rpc..."
  • pcscd: Smart card reader. If you don't have one on or with your computer, turn it off.
  • restorecond: This is related to SELinux and we don't use that.
  • sshd: Another "if you don't know, you don't need it."

These won't take effect until the next time you reboot, so keep in mind you'll need to do that later.

Under that same "System" menu, you can find the "Preferences" menu. Here you'll find a host of things you do which affect how the desktop looks for your user account, and a lot of other things you may never use. It would take a small book to detail how all of them work. We are going to pick out a couple of items which it seems most people coming from Windows really do want to change.

Click on the desktop icon which resembles a little house in front of a folder. It will open a window to your "home" folder, a directory where most of your personal stuff is stored. That window is your "file manager" rather like the Windows Explorer. It's default behavior resembles the ancient Windows 95 habit of opening a separate window for each folder you click. If you like that, fine. Most people don't. To make it open with the files on the right, and the list of places on the left, let's find the "Edit" button on the menu, and go down to "Preferences". That will open the "File Management Preferences" dialog. Click on the second tab, marked "Behavior". Under the header marked "Behavior" again, click the box for "Always open in browser windows". The next time you open your file manager, it will look quite different. Check out the various options in that left window pane to see what you can view. I typically have mine set to "Tree" view. That way I can examine the list of folders in the left pane, and the contents in the right pane.

There's another item which proves popular to folks migrating to Linux. You can make it so everything on your desktop works like a web page, opening or activating with a single mouse click instead of double-clicking. If that sounds like fun, you can choose that under the same "Behavior" part of the dialog. It may take some getting used to, but plenty of people prefer it. When you are finished, close that window.

The rest of the items in the Preferences menu can be pretty entertaining, but be cautious. You may find something changed and you can't remember how to get it back. Frankly, most average home users don't care about all that stuff, they just want it to work. However, you might run up against an item which is not merely aesthetics, but a matter of whether you can read things clearly. We are referring to fonts.

First of all, if you have access to the font files used on Windows, you can use them in Linux. Getting them copied to the right place on your Linux computer can be tricky and complicated. The simplest way I know to get them in the right place is using your file manager and opening two windows. If you have a Windows computer, you can select your favorite fonts, copy them to memory stick, burn them to a CD, or some other type of movable file system. Be sure to get the matching set of regular, bold and italic files for each font, if available. Most of the time, as soon you insert one of these movable file systems into your CentOS computer, it will take a few moments to check things out, then give you a new icon on your desktop representing it. You can click to open that in a file manager window and navigate to where the font files are waiting.

Now, click on your "home" icon to open another file manager window. You should have a menu line at the top, a button panel rather like a web browser, and below that another toolbar with not much on it. To the far left should be an icon, which, if you hover your mouse pointer over it, an explanatory note pops up, telling you it "Toggles between button and text-based location" -- click that one. To the right of that you should now see what looks like the open URL box on web browsers. Using your mouse, copy the virtual location you see below:


and paste it into the URL box. Hit ENTER and you should see a collection of font files in the icon window below. Some or all will be marked in some way indicating you can't write them, meaning you can't move or change them in any way. We don't need to, because we simply need to add some to the collection. Go back to your other file manager window where the fonts you want to add are listed. Select as many as you like. You probably know you can hold down the CTRL key as you click to select a random collection, or you can get them all with CTRL + A. Works the same here and in Windows. Once they are all selected or highlighted, grab one with your mouse and drag to the other window, and drop. It should copy them for you. If there are no problems or errors, you can close both windows. Right click on the icon for your removable file system, and select "Unmount". When it's ready to remove, the icon will disappear.

Now you can select System > Preferences > Fonts and you'll see those fonts listed in the drop down choice menus for each item. As soon as you choose the font face and size, the desktop should shift immediately to your new font. That's a feature of the GNOME desktop -- most appearance changes take effect immediately, smoothly.

You'll also notice you can adjust the rendering of the fonts. You can get the blocky, almost jagged edges which often appear by default in Windows, or you can smooth it all out. Try each variation until you see something closest to what suits your eyes.

It's possible this isn't good enough for you. It never is for me. I always make one more change in how fonts display, but it's quite a technical chore. It requires using the command line again, and it requires actually building some software. That's the next lesson. If you have no interest in that, you can pretty much stop here and simply start using your computer. If you need help, you can always post questions here, but for the long term, it works best if you join a forum, user group, or some other volunteer support system. You can search on the Net using the terms "Linux help forum" (without the quotation marks) and find lots of options.

I can't tell you which one to choose. However, you might want to remember, whenever you post a question on any forum, especially one with lots of members, you start with something like, "Linux newbie here..." Most of the time, they can be pretty patient with you. Beware of the serious hobby zealots, who seem to spend all their time telling you why you should change to some other type of Linux. Right now, you need to focus on learning to use the Linux computer you have before you. You may also have to remind folks once in awhile you aren't interested in Linux as a hobby, but for everyday use, getting work done, etc. In general, forum members most places will be as polite as you are.

One other item. From time to time, you may see an icon in the "notification area" on the right end of your upper desktop toolbar, rather like a box with the top flaps hanging open. There may be a popup telling you updates are available. Click on that icon and walk through the dialogs, which should be pretty obvious. At some point, it should show a list of packages ready for update. I've never seen any reason not to make sure all were selected. Sometimes it will tell you a reboot is needed, and that should not surprise you. Just do what it suggests.

Some people are reporting that icon never reappears after the first time. If you don't see the icon after week or two of use, you'll need to run it manually. In the "Applications" men, under "System Tools" you'll find "Software Updater" -- which requires your root password. For now, try to remember to run that every week or two.

Ed Hurst is Associate Editor of Open for Business.