Tame the Pidgin
Once upon a time, there was a great multiprotocol instant messaging client called Gaim. For its 2.0 release, two things changed. First, the app became known as Pidgin. Second, its creators radically reworked the interface--simplified it, really. The result is a pleasure to work with, but I had two nagging complaints.
The first annoyance was that Pidgin 2.0 provided no indication of which IM network any given buddy was on. That shortcoming is now gone: In Pidgin 2.2, which ships with Gutsy, you can select Buddies, Show, Protocol Icon.
As for the other hassle, I spent too many years living with early IM clients that made you press Control-Enter (not just Enter) to send a message. That keystroke is hardwired into my brain now. And I actually like things to work that way: I want to be able to press Enter to put a line break in an IM, and that can't happen if Enter sends the message. Setting things up this way used to be possible in Gaim, but for simplicity's sake the option was removed from the interface as Gaim became Pidgin. You can, however, still activate it. From a Terminal, enter:
In the (often blank) text file that opens up, add the following lines:
Save and close the file. Now fire up Pidgin and message away with your old-school keystrokes.
Using the Extended Preferences plug-in, you can manipulate other Pidgin settings that have been hidden in the stock interface. To access these, in Pidgin click Tools, Plugins. Check the box next to Extended Preferences, and click Configure Plugin. (You'll want to check out the other plug-ins in that dialog box, too; good stuff abounds.)
Disembeep Your Internal Speaker
It's a crying shame but true: Though we are well into the 21st century, a lot of Linux apps, ranging from the Gnome Terminal to the OpenOffice.org word processor, beep your PC's internal speaker when they need your attention. What is this, 1982? Seriously.
There are several solutions to this problem. First, you can disable the internal speaker entirely. To do so, open a Terminal and enter these two lines:
sudo rmmod pcspkr
sudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist
In the text file that opens, add the following lines at the bottom, save, and close:
# internal pc speaker
Personally, though, I like to humanize the beep rather than eliminate it. To find a beep you can stomach, fire up a Terminal and enter this command:
xset b 100 2000 20
Now press Backspace a few times without entering a command. The Terminal should emit a quick, high-pitched beep. Now enter:
xset b 100 50 10
...and press Backspace a few more times. You'll hear a dull thump. Which is more to your liking? Or would you prefer to pick a beep all your own? The numbers that follow 'xset b' determine the internal speaker beep's volume (as a percentage of total), pitch (in hertz), and duration (in milliseconds). Experiment!
When you've found the beep you want, make it the default by clicking System, Preferences, Sessions. On the Startup Programs tab, click Add. Enter Beeps for Name, and the entire 'xset b' command line you settled on for Command. Click OK and then Close.
Looking back to the post-install tips I offered up just six months ago for the Ubuntu Feisty release, I notice that quite a bit of the advice has been superceded by improvements in the system. For example, you don't need Automatix anymore, because Ubuntu has gotten so good at fetching multimedia codecs and browser plug-ins. And you don't need Beryl for desktop effects anymore (that project has merged with Compiz anyhow), since they come included with Ubuntu.
My first and last tips from that column, however, are still relevant. If your right Alt key doesn't work, therein lies the fix, and if you don't know what a package manager is or what it does, go read up. Then take a deep breath and start exploring the universe of free software. I'm glad you've arrived!