Before delving into the Ubuntu Desktop, let's go over some general concepts that will lay a foundation for things to come. Let's start with Open System Software. Open System Software is high quality software, and free. It is written by a dedicated, caring, group of developers. The software is continually improved, leading, sometimes, to frequent updates, which adds new features, and bug fixes. You'll sometimes find several different programs for the same application, as each group of developers endorse a different design philosopy, trying to create the best possible product.
This is one of the reasons that the Linux operating system has not had the mass appeal that Windows has experienced. You'll notice Microsoft only comes out with one version of Windows at a time. In contrast, there are many different versions of Linux available, called distros, as each development team tries to create an operating system that addresses their particular specialized needs, whether for scientific users, internet server needs, or desktop users. Ubuntu, is the most popular desktop distro of Linux, mostly because the makers of Ubuntu are dedicated to making a distro for the desktop user that is easy to use, and continually improving their product by releasing a new version of Ubuntu every six months.
Because using an operating system from the command line is not user friendly to the non technical user, graphical user interfaces, GUI's, were developed as applications the are run on top of the operating system that makes using your computer easier. Windows is a good example of a graphical user interface that for a long time ran on top of the DOS operating system, and the Ubuntu Desktop is another. In each of these applications, you can get to the command line of the operating system, and operate the computer that way, but of course, the GUI is easier.
Just like with the distros, there are several GUI's available for Linux. The two leaders are, KDE and Gnome, each has a slightly different feel and desktop arrangement, and are about equal in functionality. Ubuntu 9.10 uses the Gnome version 2.28 graphical user interface, here after known as the Ubuntu Desktop.
You'll find the Ubuntu desktop has the same functionality as the Windows desktop, however, the Ubuntu Desktop is not Windows. What I mean is you'll find that the Ubuntu Desktop has the same functionality as Windows, but the two desktops are implemented differently with different menu names, menu layout, and commands, as they should be, their different GUI's. I personnally think the Ubuntu desktop is laid out better than Windows. In other words, there is a learning curve as you learn how to drive a new interface, the Ubuntu Desktop. Once you learn how to drive, you might not want to go back.
There are some similarities and outright borrowing from Windows. All the applications use the same three symbols, the _ to minimize the window, the box to maximize the window, and the X to exit the application in the upper right corner of the application taskbar, just like Windows uses. The Ubuntu desktop, just like Windows, makes use of the right mouse button.
Every thing on the Ubuntu Desktop is movable, if you don't like where an icon is you can move it. This is done with the right mouse button. You can lock an icon to its position on the desktop, or remove it completely, and you can add icons to the desktop by clicking, "Add to Panel." A little caution here, I want to make sure you know what the right mouse menu is when you encounter it. I do not recommend reconfiguring or removing anything from your desktop at this time.
Icons and menus are initially located in each of the four corners with most being in the top task bar, as opposed to windows putting icons in the bottom task bar. We'll go over each of these icons and menus in later posts, unitl then, the first thing every one wants to know is how do I shut off the computer. The upper right corner has an icon that looks like a power button with your name next to it, give it a left mouse click. There you'll find the Switch User, Log Out, Restart, and Shutdown with a couple of other choices. Hmmm...looks suspiciously like what you find in Windows, except Windows takes three mouse clicks to turn off your system, Ubuntu only two. I think you'll find that Ubuntu is a lot quicker turning off the computer than Windows ever was.