The Last Time I Set Up an Ubuntu Laptop

A year or two ago I rebuilt an old Dell XPS 13 L321X as a development laptop. Here’s the notes I took! Maybe they’ll help you, maybe not.

Install Chrome

There’s a .deb available for regular Chrome (as opposed to Chromium). When installed, it will also add the Google repository, for updates.

Mount flash drive to restore backups

My flash drive was formatted as exFAT, which does not ship with Ubuntu. Simply installing exfat-fuse and exfat-utils made it instantly available:

sudo apt install exfat-fuse exfat-utils

Fix click-and-drag

When attempting to copy over some files from my flash drive, I noticed I couldn’t drag-and-drop with the touchpad. Installing xserver-xorg-input-synaptics followed by a system restart fixed this.

sudo apt install xserver-xorg-input-synaptics


I’ve become accustomed to ZSH at work and really like it. Plus, it enables the very nice Oh My Zsh framework. Start by installing it:

sudo apt install zsh

Then we need to change the login shell:

chsh -s $(which zsh)

To have this take effect, just log out and then back in and GNOME Terminal should pick it up.

Oh My Zsh

Oh My Zsh installs (as of this writing) via a cURL command:

sh -c "$(curl -fsSL"

This overwrites your .zshrc file but will make a backup of the old one for you. Just start a new terminal (or source ~/.zshrc or whatever) to get all the Oh My Zsh goodness.

Ctrl-* keys in zsh

I like to use ctrl-left and ctrl-right to navigate text and ctrl-backspace and ctrl-delete to delete words at a time. Oh My Zsh includes the navigation bindings, but not the “kill word” ones, which we’ll need to add ourselves in .zshrc:

bindkey '^[[3;5~' kill-word
bindkey '^H' backward-kill-word

That Stack Exchange link mentions that ^H may not work, but it worked for me 🤷‍♀️.

Syntax highlighting in less

First, install the source-highlight package, which gives us the script:

apt install source-highlight

Then set environment variables in .zshrc:

export LESSOPEN="| /usr/share/source-highlight/ %s"
export LESS=' -R '


Making the terminal a little better

Agnoster theme

Just switching to the “agnoster” Oh My Zsh theme doesn’t work right out of the box — we need to set up the GNOME Terminal colors and install Powerline fonts.

First, install the Solarized color schemes:

git clone
cd gnome-terminal-colors-solarized

Then get the Powerline fonts:

sudo apt install fonts-powerline

Now the prompt should have those nice continuous arrow things.

Size and space

I switched to the Ubuntu Mono Regular font at 11pt, with a default terminal size of 128x30, which seems to make better use of the screen.

I also switch the cursor from Block to I-Beam, which better matches the text editing experience I’m looking for.

Switching tabs

Under Preferences - Shortcuts > Tabs, we cannot simply change “Switch to Next/Previous Tab” settings to Ctrl-Tab, because GNOME does not promote using the Tab key in keyboard shortcuts (more discussion). Instead, we can use dconf-editor (which must be installed) to make a manual change.

Under dconf-editor, navigate to /org/gnome/terminal/legacy/keybindings and find the next-tab and prev-tab settings. Configure them to override the defaults with <Ctrl>Tab and <Ctrl><Shift>Tab respectively.


We need Dropbox to get to our KeePass database (and because it’s generally handy). There are official instructions from Dropbox, but they’re slightly incomplete. Following along from the beginning, add the Dropbox package repository source:

sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list.d/dropbox.list

Then get their public key from the Ubuntu keyserver, rather than (it was down):

sudo apt-key adv --keyserver --recv-keys 1C61A2656FB57B7E4DE0F4C1FC918B335044912E

Update to fetch the repository contents:

sudo apt update

Then install it, as well as python-gpg, so it can verify signatures:

sudo apt install python-gpg dropbox

An “Update-notifier” window will open to continue the installation.


Now we’re finally ready to set up KeePass:

sudo apt install keepassxc

pbcopy and pbpaste

It’s so handy to have commands to marshal shell I/O and the clipboard.

Add this to .zshrc:

# Pipe to clipboard
alias pbcopy='xclip -selection clipboard'
alias pbpaste='xclip -selection clipboard -o'

See also