So I got the new toy with which all cool kids are already playing and making exciting stuff. This is how to configure an ubuntu system for using arduino, valid as for ubuntu 8.10:
sudo apt-get install gcc-avr avr-libc sudo apt-get remove brltty
If you do not have Sun's JRE installed, you will need to install it (I had it already because I use Eclipse). The tutorial on Arduino's website points to installing version 5 of the JRE (sun-java5-jre) but that's old, currently you'll probably want to use version 6 (sun-java6-jre).
Then just get yourself the latest version of the Arduino software itself. This page should point you to that. Uncompress, run the script named
arduino. It looks a lot like Processing's Development Enviroment, doesn't it? In fact, they share the same codebase. Even more: if you look at the code of that script, you'll find out even the main class it's the same (processing.app.Base).
Once you are in the development environment, make sure the USB cable is fully connected. I didn't connect the Arduino side properly at the beginning, and even though one board LED was lit, I just got the dreadful "Programmer is not responding" error message, which every forum thread declares as a sign of faulty hardware. And that might be, if you understand
not properly connected.
Another important detail is to make sure you select the appropriate serial port in Arduino, in the Tools -- Serial Port menu. In my case it is /dev/ttyUSB0, which is one of those virtual ports which get created thanks to the USB to Serial interface. You will only see the port if the cable is properly connected, so both details are related somehow.