If you've only ever used Windows, getting to grips with a Linux OS can be an intimidating thought. So we've put together an easy-to-use guide to help you get the most out of this OS.
Under Preferences you'll also find the Network Configuration panel, which is where you can set up wired, wireless, mobile broadband, VPN and DSL connections. By default Ubuntu will try to configure your wired ethernet connection automatically via DHCP, which should be sufficient for many cable and DSL modems, but manual configuration is straightforward. You'll need to install additional software before you can set up VPN connections - search for 'vpn' in the Synaptic Package Manager.
Not every Wi-Fi card will work out of the box with Ubuntu. If your card is supported, you'll be pleased to find that wireless configuration is simple and supports both WEP and WPA security.
One additional tool that's very useful is the Network Manager applet, which you can find to the right of the upper Gnome menu bar. It allows you to manage several connections from one easy menu, and it also displays the signal strength of wireless networks. You'll need to install extra modules to manage VPN connections with the Network Manager applet; search the Synaptic Package Manager for 'network manager vpn'.
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For the most part Ubuntu co-exists well with other operating systems and the hardware devices designed for them. In some cases, hardware manufacturers may choose not to release specifications for their devices, which can make Linux support difficult or impossible, but you might be surprised by the wide range of peripherals that Ubuntu can manage automatically.
Ubuntu will read most memory cards, USB thumb drives, CDs, DVDs and floppy disks with no difficulty. It will even try to mount automatically any Windows partitions it finds on the same machine.
Note, however, that this doesn't work both ways: if you're dual-booting to Windows or Mac OS X, the other OS won't be able to read your Linux partitions without additional software.
Ubuntu can also connect to Windows network shares from the Network Browser, which you bring up by choosing 'Network' from the Places menu. You can access other types of network servers - including FTP sites and WebDAV shares - by choosing 'Connect to Server'.
If cross-platform compatibility is your goal, it's important to pay attention to file formats when creating documents on Linux. For example, by default the OpenOffice.org productivity applications will save documents in OpenDocument format (ODF), which Microsoft Office can't read at the time of this writing.
You'll need to specify the Microsoft Office format from the Save dialog box if you want to share files with your Windows-bound friends and coworkers.
Occasionally you may encounter a certain Windows application for which no Linux equivalent exists, and that you simply can't live without. In such cases a software package called Wine - available through the Synaptic Package Manager - can sometimes help.
Wine is an emulation layer that lets you run native Windows software in Linux. It doesn't work for every application, but the list of supported programs is always growing.
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