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Ubuntu at Work in the Medical Office

 

***PLEASE NOTE: This page is fairly dated and is not updated consistently***

 

Ubuntu at Work on the Desktop in the Medical Office:

"So I've installed Ubuntu on my office workstations. What do I do next?"

 

 

Index:

 

 

Printers:

 

How to install the vast majority of printers in Ubuntu:

  • Step 1: Plug your printer in and connect the USB cable.
  • Step 2: Switch it on.

 

Ubuntu will generally figure out what to do behind the scenes, find out the model of the printer, assign the correct driver, and let you know that your printer is installed and ready to go.

However, in the few cases where this doesn't work, try running your system updates, and try again (if it is a brand new printer). If you have an HP printer then it will usually be recognized with no fuss. HP actually offers an additional printing configuration toolbox you can install through the Ubuntu Software Center:

HPprinting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the rare cases where Ubuntu doesn't have a built-in driver for your specific printer, then you will need to find the right driver for your printer. Most printer manufacturers post their Linux drivers on the Internet. In my case I had to grab the driver for my Brother QL series label printer from here. I followed the clear posted instructions and the printer works perfectly.

Now that you have your printers working, you might want to share some of them on the network, so you can print to them from other workstations. From your menu, go to Printing > Server > Settings and you will see this Window:

Print shares

 

Point of caution: don't share exam room printers on the network. You don't want to end up accidentally printing a prescription for a patient to the exam room next door. Also when documents fail to print, check for hung print jobs first, before trying to re-install printers (just like in Windows)...

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Label Printers in Ubuntu

 

Medical offices need label printers to correctly label medical specimens sent to the lab. Many labs actually refuse to accept hand written labels and will reject specimens if they don't have a printed patient label affixed. And not all label printers out there on the market are compatible with Linux.

 

I have found the Brother QL570 label printer to work very nicely with Ubuntu. Brother provides pretty decent Linux support these days and they updated their Linux drivers in August 2013. There are a couple of extra steps to make it work.

 

First you do have to grab the Linux printer driver from the official Brother Linux driver download page. Make sure you download and install the deb packages for both the "cupswrapper" and the "LPR" drivers (click the corresponding links, save the deb file to your downloads folder, then click to open the .deb file with Ubuntu Software Center, ignore warning and click install). Now, when you connect the printer by USB and power it on, Ubuntu will recognize it, and have the driver for it. To check, click the dash (or hit the Super/Windows key) and type "print", then click the printer settings icon to view the printers you have installed on your system.

 

Second you have to specify the PDF label size in your "Evince" PDF reader printing dialogue. The default setting in Evince is to print to Letter size pages. Obviously this doesn't work for labels. So check the size of the labels on the roll you are using. In most cases you would use the 1.1 in x 3.5 in (29 mm x 90.3 mm) Standard Address Labels. The initial roll is supplied with the printer.  So in the Evince print dialogue window, select the label printer, then click the "page setup" tab and click the "paper size" button. Select the correct label size from the list. If you don't see it as an option, you can scroll to the bottom and set the size manually. The settings should persist for subsequent printouts.

Tested again in Mar 2014 using a new Brother QL570, 32 bit Ubuntu 12.04.3 LTS with the default Unity desktop, Firefox ESR 24 and the default Evince PDF reader software.

Jel also has had experience with installation of the newer Brother QL700 label printer on Ubuntu. In the case of the QL700 printer, Jel recommends that the instructions on the Brother driver download page be followed exactly, to the letter. Here is what you do:

  • Download the QL700 driver from here. In this case, don't open with Ubuntu Software Center when prompted. Save the file to your Downloads instead.
  • Next, open a terminal window (press CTRL+ALT+T) and copy and paste the commands below into the terminal. Press enter to run each command in turn:
1) Change directory to the Downloads folder: 

     cd Downloads

2) Install the driver. Type your superuser password when prompted:

     sudo  dpkg -i --force-all ql700lpr-1.0.1-1.i386.deb

3) Check if the driver is installed:

     dpkg -l  | grep Brother

 

 

Scanners and Scanning Work-flow:

 

Scanning hardware:

While many of the scanners and fax multis you might happen to have standing around the office might well work plug-and-play with Ubuntu, this is sadly not always the case. To check whether your existing scanner hardware is Linux compatible go to the online scanner directory of the SANE project  (stands for Scanner Access Now Easy). If your scanner or multi-function device is listed as "supported" there is a good chance that it will run on Ubuntu, if you install the SANE drivers. Go to the Ubuntu Software Centre and install the "xsane" package. 

Given the large amount of paper medical offices still have to scan every day it is a good idea to get a proper document scanner for the job. There are many suitable devices available, but below are three practical scanner hardware options for Ubuntu users:

1) Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500. This is now discontinued scanner is a hugely popular workhorse document scanner model found in many, many offices out there. Ours eventually fell apart after scanning many tens of thousands of pages. They sadly stopped making it in Nov 2013. But if you have one, or can find an old one in good nick, then you're laughing. For around $100 you can even have the rollers and pads replaced on older scanners giving them a new lease on life. Ask your local printer and toner guy. The S1500 is completely plug-and-play and hassle free on Ubuntu.

 

2) Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500. Retails for around $500. This is the new version of the scanner above. It is pretty much exactly the same device, with a few important changes. It has the now obligatory WiFi chip (with thankfully a hardware switch to turn it off, you don't need it), it now sports USB 3.0 support and sadly, upgraded firmware and drivers, thus  breaking the plug and play status with Ubuntu versions 12:04 LTS and 14:04 LTS. But, fear not, there are two possible workarounds:

  • Option A: Thanks to SANE contributor Rolf Bensch there is an Ubuntu version 12.04 and 14.04 compatible workaround. You will need to add Rolf Bensch's PPA (Personal Package Archive) to your software sources and install his modified driver packages. To do this, open a Terminal window (press CTRL+ALT +T) and copy and paste each command below, line by line, into the terminal (you can use CTRL+C to copy, and CTRL+SHIFT +V to paste). Hit ENTER after pasting each line. Type your computer user password and hit ENTER when prompted, and press "Y" or ENTER when the terminal prompts you. Be sure to press "Y" to accept the package maintainers version of the modified scanner drivers when prompted in the terminal. Plug in your ScanSnap iX500. Launch your gscan2pdf scanning program (see below), hit the scanner button, and Rolf's your uncle (thanks Rolf).
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:rolfbensch/sane-git
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

(Tested Nov 2014 on multiple machines running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Precise 32 bit and 14.04 LTS Trusty 64 bit)

  • Option B:  Run a distribution upgrade on your scanning workstation computer to the Ubuntu 14.10 Utopic release or newer. This is a regular release of Ubuntu (not an LTS version as we would normally recommend), however the iX500 scanner driver and USB 3 support have been updated for this release making the iX500 scanner completely plug-and-play with Ubuntu version 14.10 again. So it might be reasonable to equip your scanning workstation with the distribution upgrade.

 

3) Brother ADS-2000. Retails for around $400. Solid looking high capacity document scanner model. Sadly NOT plug and play with Ubuntu at this time (Nov 2014), but the Linux scanner drivers are published on the Brother website, the installation of which might involve some further advanced tweaking. HOWEVER the genius thing about this particular device is that it has a direct-to-USB-stick scanning feature! It could not be simpler: Just insert your USB thumb drive right into the scanner. Press the scan button. Watch the stack of paper disappear into the sheet feeder in record time. Remove your USB thumbdrive from the scanner and plug it into your Ubuntu computer. Behold your folder full of nicely scanned documents in PDF format on the USB stick. Now you can open them in your favourite scanning software gscan2pdf (see below), and collate, rotate, clean up and re-size away to your heart's content. Gotta love the air-gap and the ingenious lack of hassle with any type of scanner driver software!

(Just remember to scrub the sensitive scanned info off your USB stick after)

 

Scanning software:

Head over to the Ubuntu Software Center and grab the best workhorse scanning program of the many free ones out there. It is called gscan2pdf.

gscan2pdf

 

Once you've installed this, just open the software and connect the scanner and gscan2pdf will recognize the scanner and launch the scanning dialogue:

 

 gscan2pdfwindow

 

I find that setting the scanner to scan "line art" at 300 dpi is the best compromise between resolution, file size and speed. There are some further image clean-up tools, such as de-skew and sharpen. There is even an OCR (optical character recognition) option. We don't bother with those since it just slows the work-flow down.

 

For double sided pages go to the "Standard" tab and select the ADF (auto document feeder) duplex option.  

 

gscan2pdfwindow2

This means that the page will be read with the front and the rear sensor during one pass. You can also adjust the paper size setting in the "Geometry" tab. The default setting is letter size paper. You can select legal size by simply changing the page length in mm, for example change the length from 279 mm to 356 mm.

 

gscan2pdfwindow3

 

Once you have scanned you can save. The program will save as PDF by default. Then you just follow the usual file naming and upload convention you use in your office. We find that the ScanSnap scanner paired with Ubuntu Desktop and gscan2pdf makes scanning a breeze.

 

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Working with PDF (Portable Document Format) files:

 

Users of proprietary operating systems often have to purchase programs such as Adobe Acrobat Professional to be able to edit, annotate, split, merge and otheriwise modify their PDF files. As an Ubuntu user you are spoilt for choice! There is a great assortment of free PDF reading and editing software to choose from:

 

Evince Icon

Evince: This is  default PDF reader software in Ubuntu, and many other Linux distributions. it is a bare bones, but super fast PDF reader, and gets rid of a lot of the bloat that slows down Adobe reader. Out of the box, this should be already enabled as the default PDF viewer application for Firefox (Firefox calls it "Document Viewer"). If you get a file save prompt when you click on documents in OSCAR, you can set Evince to be the default PDF reader application for Firefox: Firefox menu bar > Edit > Preferences > Applications Tab, then scroll to "PDF", select "User other" and browse to usr/bin/evince on your hard drive. A few suggested tweaks for Evince: Hit F9 to show the side pane, then check "Best Fit" from the View menu, and finally hit CTRL+T to make the settings stick.

 

 

PDFmod Icon

PDF Mod: Available from the Ubuntu Software Center, this is a great and simple tool to merge and split PDFs using graphical thumbnail images of the actual pages. It complements gscan2pdf nicely and so gives you pretty much all the functionality available from proprietary software such as PaperPort.

 Pdfmod






 

 

 

 

 

Using PDF Mod, you can re-order the pages in the document by dragging the thumbnail images around. You can also delete single or multiple pages from the document, or add-in new pages from another PDF document.

 

Xournal icon

Xournal: Also available from the Ubuntu Software Centre, this is a very user friendly tool for making annotations on PDF documents and embedding those as indelible electronic images.

Xournal window

With Xournal, you can scribble handwriting or signatures on the PDF using a touch screen, tablet or a mouse or stylus, or you can embed text boxes containing typed text. Useful for those who like signing off their PDF results this way.

Once installed, you can set Xournal as the default application to open PDFs with from Firefox. From the Firefox menu bar: Edit > Preferences > Applications Tab, then scroll to "PDF", select "User other" and browse to usr/bin/xournal on your hard drive. To change back to Evince, repeat the above process and browse to user/bin/evince.

 

 pdf editor icon

PDF Editor: Another PDF free editing program available from the Ubuntu Software Centre, this tool lets you open text PDFs for editing. You can superimpose textboxes on image PDFs too (you can also do that with GIMP image editor)

 pdf editor window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 This is a more advanced tool for PDF editing, that allows you to add text and metadata to text PDFs, and also create overlay text boxes, arrows and such in image PDF files.

 

Adobe reader Icon

Acrobat Reader: As of October 2014 the old standby is sadly no longer officially available to Linux users. Ubunuts didn't like it much anyway since it is quite big, slow and bloated. If you really can't live without it, then you can still get the old Acrobat Reader 9 from here (open with Ubuntu Software Center) You do so at your own risk and without support from Adobe. Also note that these builds are likely contain unfixed vulnerabilities. To make this the default PDF reader application for Firefox: Firefox menu bar > Edit > Preferences > Applications Tab, then scroll to "PDF", select "User other" and browse to usr/bin/acroread on your hard drive. To change back to Evince, repeat the above process and browse to user/bin/evince.

 

 

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Setting up Network Shared Folders:

 

Setting up folder sharing on Ubuntu is relatively easy, when compared to doing this in Windows, but it still requires a few steps.

Start by creating your new folder you'll be sharing (right click and select "Create New Folder" on the desktop or in the File Browser window), then give it a name. I have named my new Folder "New Folder", but you should give yours any name you would find useful. Now I want to share it on the network. So right-click your new folder and select "Sharing Options".

You will now see this window:

 

FolderSharing1

 

Check the "Share this folder" box above, and you will be prompted to install the sharing software (which is called "Samba" - because it makes Ubuntu samba with other machines, even Windows machines).

 

FolderSharing2

Click Install service.

 

FolderSharing3

Click Install.

 

FolderSharing4

 

folderSharing5

Click to "Add the permissions automatically"

 

FolderSharing6

Presto! Behold your newly shared folder on the Desktop!

 

 


Accessing Your Shared Folders on the Network:

 

You can now go to any other Ubuntu machine on the network. On the remote machine, open the Ubuntu software Center and install the "Personal File Sharing" package, to be able to access network shares:

 

PersonalFileSharing

 

...and now you can browse to the folder you set up for sharing on your other computer. You do this by opening the File Browser (the file browser/explorer in Ubuntu is also known as "Nautilus") and click on the "Browse Network" item in the left side pane.

FileBrowser

 

You then might be prompted for a password again, depending on the permissions you have set for that share:

FolderSharing8

 

If you are using older Ubuntu versions with the "classic" desktop, then, once you have mounted the shared folder to another computer, an icon for that shared folder will appear on the desktop of the remote machine. The new Ubuntu Precise with the Unity desktop does not do that by default, but you can enable that in settings.

As a security measure, Ubuntu does not allow persistent network shares, so you will have to browse back to the shared folder from the remote machine and remount after each reboot. Generally you don't have to reboot your office machines very often, our office computers maybe get rebooted once a month or so.

It is generally a good idea to use strong passwords, and change your domain names from default. Please note that while you can easily access shared Windows folders from an Ubuntu machine, doing it the other way around (exploring to an Ubuntu share from a Windows PC) is not so straightforward.

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Essential Firefox Security Tweaks:

 

Firefox is a modern and secure browser with some advanced privacy and security settings. These are useful when working in the medical office since you want to keep your system secure when connected to outside websites (for example while searching for medical information). Also, when you open scanned documents from your patients files, these documents actually download from the OSCAR server into the Downloads folder on the computer you are working on. You really don't want to leave traces of patient information lying around on your workstation computers. You EMR data should live in your securely backed up OSCAR server and nowhere else. On a fresh install of Firefox you want to set the Privacy setting as follows:

Go to Edit > Preferences (Tools > Options in Windows). If you're running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, you can just press the Alt key and type "pref" to open the Preferences dialogue. Click on the "Privacy Tab". You will see this window:

 

Firefox Preferences1

 

To tighten up your browser security settings you need to make a few changes as follows:


Firefox Preferences2

 

Select The "Use custom settings for history" item in the History drop-down, and be sure to check the "Clear history when Firefox closes" box. Choose to accept cookies, but to delete them when Firefox closes. The "Tell websites I do not want to be tracked" option is a feature of newer Firefox updates. If you are running the trusty version 3.6 of Firefox you will not yet have this.

Now click the "Settings..." button next to the "Clear history when Firefox closes" checkbox, and you will see this window:

 

Firefox Preferences3


Make sure you have checked the boxes to clear the download history and the cache. This way all the documents that have landed in your workstation computer's download folder will be cleared out when you close Firefox. Clearing the Firefox cache regularly is also important for glitch free OSCAR in-box operation.

For a more in-depth tutorial on Firefox tweaks click here.

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Back up Your Default Firefox Configuration and Bookmarks

 

In Ubuntu, it is actually very easy to back up your default Firefox settings and transfer them to other workstations. The settings, including all your bookmarks/favourites, your extension and add-ons, security certificates and your set-up preferences are all kept in a configuration folder located at ~/.mozilla. So what you do is click the manila folder icon in the unity launcher, just above the Firefox Icon, to open the Nautilus file browser (it should open to show the contents of your home folder by default). Then press CTRL+H to reveal hidden folders (same shortcut as in Windows). In Linux however, hidden folders are identified with leading period/dot in front of the file name. Your Firefox configuration files are kept in a folder called ".mozilla". Inside .mozilla you will find two folders. One called "firefox" and one called "extensions". Those are what you're looking for!

 

Mozilla config folder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you have set up your Firefox the way you like it, you would then simply copy these two folders to a secure backup location, such as a secured/encrypted USB stick, a cloud backup space (your Ubuntu One account, Google Drive or Dropbox). Remember to replace them with updated versions regularly if you make changes to your default Firefox setup. If your Firefox configuration includes security certificates (to access Excelleris or remote access hospital information systems for instance) then you should be sure to keep the files in a secure location.


Then, when it comes to installing a new machine or re-formatting an old one, all you have to do to restore your complete configuration, is launch Firefox on the fresh Ubuntu install once to create a new initial configuration file, and then close it again. Then, navigate to home/.mozilla in the new install (remember CTRL+H) and replace those two folders above with your backed up versions you copied to your USB stick or cloud space. And you're done! No more setting up Firefox from scratch on each new workstation...

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Install the Extended Support Release (ESR) Version of Firefox

 

Stability is important when it comes to your work application platform. Firefox users however are generally faced with such a furious flurry of updates, that a certain amount of update frustration sets in, and Firefox on Ubuntu is unfortunately no exception. This is bothersome for OSCAR users since some of OSCAR's functions can get quirky in newer Firefox updates. Luckily, the folks at Mozilla seem to have heard our cries of anguish and have created a longer term support version of the browser to soothe our frayed nerves.

On Ubuntu you can actually run several different versions of Firefox on the same desktop, using the same default FF configuration file! (Just not necessarily at the same time - I'd advise to have only one version of Firefox open at any one time)

  • To install Firefox ESR, here's what you do: Navigate to the Firefox ESR download page and grab the English version of the ESR release (scroll down the list for the latest ESR release, and make sure you pick the right one for your desktop operating system). You may have reason to pick an older Firefox ESR version (just keep in mind that older browser versions may have security issues). Save to your Download folder. Now create a new folder inside your Home Folder Called "FirefoxESR". Navigate to your Download folder and right click the zipped .tar file, open with Archive Manager, and extract into your newly created "FirefoxESR" folder.
  • To launch it: All you have to do is run ~/FirefoxESR/firefox/firefox. Meaning that you navigate to your home folder, click to open your FirefoxESR folder, then click to open the "firefox" folder inside that, and then find the binary/executable program file called "firefox" and click that. This will open Firefox ESR! Note that, because the new install of Firefox will still refer to the same configuration file at ~/.mozilla, the new Firefox ESR version will remember all of your old add-ons and bookmarks automatically.
  • To create a desktop shortcut: You know that binary file called 'firefox' we talked about above, the one you just clicked to open Firefox ESR? Well, right-click it and select "make link". This will create a shortcut launcher icon in the same folder, with a little black arrow at the right bottom of it. Now drag that to the desktop. Easypeasy!
  • To make your Firefox desktop icon pretty: It helps if you identify the ESR version of Firefox with an icon image that looks different from the regular Firefox icon. you could download either of the icons images below (just right click and save to your pictures folder). Then mouse over to your desktop shortcut icon you just created above, right click it, select "properties",  and then click the picture placeholder to browse select the icon image you just saved from here. Right click it again and select "rename". Call it "Firefox ESR"

 

Firefox icon dark                  or                   Firefox icon mint

 

  • To launch Firefox ESR at startup: Go to your dash (click the Ubuntu icon left top, or hit your "Super"/Windows key) and type startup. Open the "Startup Applications" utility. Click 'Add' to create a new startup program. Call it "Firefox ESR", and browse to the same binary file you clicked above to launch Firefox ESR before (at ~/FirefoxESR/firefox/firefox). Now Firefox ESR will open automatically when you log in.
  • Note that you might have to update some of your add-ons, such as Greasemonkey, if you switch between different versions of Firefox. 
  • To roll back Firefox ESR to a previous update: Go to the Mozilla database of old Firefox releases. Navigate to the correct update version, bit version (32bit =  "linux-i686" and 64bit = "linux-86_64") and language version (en_US) you are looking for. Download the tarball (tar.bz2 file). Now close the browser. Find the downloaded tarball file on your hard drive, open with Archive Manager, and simply extract into your FirefoxESR folder (see above) over top of your existing Firefox ESR installation. When prompted just choose to "replace" the existing files. Done.
  • Be sure to keep the Firefox install file (tarball) of the Firefox version you want in your Firefox ESR folder. This will make future roll backs a breeze, without having to find and download the correct version again.
  • To stop automatic Firefox updates:  Edit > Preferences > Advanced > Update Tab > select "never check for updates"

 

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A Word about Word-processors:

 

The default office productivity suite in Ubuntu is "LibreOffice". This is the new fully open-source reincarnation of the now dated "Open Office". The word-processor component is Libre-Office Writer. This does pretty much everything MS Word can do, and a few extra things too, such as one click PDF export. What we do is save our default clinic letterhead file in odt (open document text) format in our OSCAR eDocs folder (as a "desktop" category item), open that on whatever office workstation we need it on, and do a 'save-as' with a new file-name. Then you can copy and paste info into the new document from the E-chart and format away.

 

LibreOffice Logo

 

There are a couple of tweaks users seem to ask about often with LibreOffice:

1) Microsoft fonts: "Hey, where's my Arial!" is a cry of dismay often heard from new Ubuntu & LibreOffice users. What most people don't realize is that those widely used fonts, such as Arial, Times and Courier actually belong to Microsoft Corporation and are copyrighted under the name TrueType (tm) fonts. You have to sign an "end user license agreement" (EULA) for the privilege of using them. While there is a bewildering multitude of free and open fonts available, some people really do miss their Microsoft fonts and look for a way to install those in LibreOffice. Luckily there is an easy solution. Go to the Ubuntu Software Center and search for "Ubuntu Restricted Extras". Click install and sign the EULA when prompted. This will get you system support for a bunch of commonly used applications and formats with restricted copyright (mp3, avi, mpeg, TrueType, Java, Flash, Codecs).

2) How to save documents in MS Word format (doc, docx): LibreOffice Writer saves documents in the free "odt" (open document text) format by default. It can open a wide variety of other formats, including old and new MS Word and Word Perfect formats. Furthermore the newer versions of the MS Word, Word Perfect and Pages programs, as well as Google Docs, can open .odt files seamlessly, but the older versions of MS Word cannot. For people how have to create word processor documents that have to be opened on computers running older MS Word versions, this can be a problem. Luckily LibreOffice Writer can be set up to save documents in MS Word format by default:

 

 LibreOffice Options

 

What you do is open LibreOffice Writer, then go to Tools>Options, expand the Load/Save item and change the "Aways save as" options for text documents from the default ODF format, to MS Word (doc) as indicated above.

 

AbiWord Logo

Check out AbiWord: If you are running older hardware, then a great light-weight alternative to the mighty-yet-resource-heavy LibreOffice is another free open source word-processor called AbiWord. It is available from the Ubuntu Software Center. It is has everything you need, complete with formatting options, spell checker, and yes, it can save files in MS Word (doc) format too.


OSCARLetter: OSCAR actually has a built-in rich text letter editor that can function as a word processor, complete with built-in letterhead and form letter templating ability. This way you can generate letters right from the EMR in the patients' E-chart. To learn how to install it on your OSCAR system and how to use it, click here.

 

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Managing Ubuntu System Updates:

 

A new out-of-the-box installation of Ubuntu is set up to update itself every every day by default. There are pros and cons about doing rolling updates this way. On the pro side, you know that your system always has the latest updates. From a security point of view, you know that you will always get the latest security patches, in case new vulnerabilities are identified and fixed by the Ubuntu developers. One of the reasons why there are virtually no viruses for Linux computers out there in the wild, is because the actual Linux operating system kernel updates itself every two weeks. It is impossible to write a virus for the Linux kernel, have it embed itself and then expect it to propagate itself widely, since people continually update their systems.

 

On the downside, rolling updates can also lead to increased system instability, and applications will suddenly crash unexpectedly. Windows users will have experience with this. If you want a rock solid system, you make sure everything works, and then you disable the automatic updates. The Ubuntu derivative distribution Linux Mint owes much of its current popularity to the fact they don't keep their users at the bleeding edge of updates, and instead put new "upstream" Ubuntu updates through a further vetting and testing process before pushing them to the user base, resulting in better stability.

 

While this is a personal decision, the best solution in my mind is to have a compromise between regular updates and stability. So I would suggest disabling automatic updates on your workstations, as long as you go around to all your workstation computers once a month or so and run updates manually, after you've tested them on one workstation, or in a VirtualBox install of Ubuntu.

 

How to disable automatic updates on Ubuntu: Open your Update Manager (On 12.04 press your Super/Windows key and type "update", in older Ubuntus with Gnome, look for it in your menus). You will see something like this:

 

Update Manager1

 

 

Click the "Settings" button left bottom of the window:

 

 

Update Manager2

 

 

Set the drop-down menu to "Never" notify of new updates automatically.

Please note that you have not disabled updates altogether. You've just disabled update prompts. You can still go in manually and run updates whenever you want.

 

Updates versus Upgrades: Ubuntu distribution upgrades are different from regular rolling updates. Regular updates are small incremental improvements, bug fixes, tweaks and security updates applied to the existing installed configuration of a specific version of Ubuntu, whereas new distribution upgrades are themselves new major versions of Ubuntu. A new distribution upgrade of Ubuntu might include completely new features and new bundled combinations of software programs (think Windows Vista versus Windows XP). The developers release a new major Ubuntu distribution upgrade every 6 months in April and October. The April release every two years is called the LTS (long term support) release. LTS upgrades are specifically tuned towards large scale deployments and they are built to be stable and fast. They are supported for 5 years. Regular upgrades on the other hand tend to contain more new cutting edge stuff that could lead to hardware and software compatibility problems on certain computers. They can also contain resource heavy features that might slow down older hardware.

We therefore recommend that you stick to the latest LTS release of Ubuntu on your office workstations and don't upgrade to new regular distributions every 6 months. For trouble free computing, you want your office network to be rock steady and about as exciting as your average toaster.

Once a new LTS upgrade has been released, then you can take your time to test it and decide if it suits your office machines. There is nothing wrong with running your office machines on a given LTS release for the duration of the 5 years of support. If you want to experiment with cutting edge Ubuntu releases, then rather do that on your home laptop, or, preferably, in a virtual machine.

How to turn off notifications for new distribution upgrades in Ubuntu:

 

 Update Manager3

Open your Update Manager and set the relevant drop-down menu to "Notify about long term support versions only".

 

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Setting up a screen lock:

 

The screen lock is actually already set up in a default install of Ubuntu. This is described here on our "Tips and Tricks for Ubunuts" page.

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Securely deleting information from your network computers:

 

Many people who use computers every day assume that when they hit the delete button, and then empty their recycle bin/ trash can, that the information is actually gone. This is not actually the case. The information is still sitting on your hard drive. It has merely been un-associated from the file table, so the file browser will ignore it. This applies to all types of operating system (Windows, Mac, Linux etc.).

There are many types of specialized software out there that will easily let you un-delete and restore information that you thought was permanently deleted. As mentioned above, you really don't want to leave traces of patient information lying around on un-encrypted network hard drives. There have been one or two scandals in the past when old computers recycled by medical offices were found to have medical patient information on their hard drives.

In order permanently delete information from your hard drives, you actually have to over-write it with random data. There are a few different utilities in Ubuntu to do this with, but the one-stop shop for all platforms (Win, Mac and Linux) is a free program called BleachBit. You can install it on your Ubuntu machines from the Ubuntu Software Center.

 

 BleachBit Logo

 

The BleacBit interface is very simple to use, and it lets you accurately fine tune exactly what it is you want to delete in your system. You will be prompted about whether you want to "overwrite files to hide contents". This is exactly what you want to do. BleachBit will clean applications such as Firefox, Chromium and Thunderbird too.

 

 BleachBit Window

It is a good idea to go around to all your workstations from time to time and manually run BleachBit on them. Pay attention to the warning prompts though, when selecting specific items. For example overwriting all the free space of a new 1TB hard drive with random data can take several hours to run. So may leave that option un-selected by default, and run it only on a computer you are about to move out of the office, or retire.

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