After posting this note, I found the following tip in another blog that had the exact fix I needed to play ShowMeDo flv videos within Firefox:
I was also able to get vlc to play video files from the desktop by adjusting its configuration. I just told it send output to X11. I'm not sure where the default output was going to before. So at this point, I'm not aware of anything that is not working as desired with Ubuntu on my laptop.
I was previously wrong about Ubuntu, it is a very nice distribution.
I've been using some version of Red Hat Linux since about 1996, but decided to give the Ubuntu distribution a try on my Laptop. The compelling thing to me about Ubuntu was that I kept seeing information on the web about how to do various things in Ubuntu. Ubuntu seems to make it easier for others to contribute and thus has surpassed Red Hat in terms of number of packages and available information. One company can never keep up with thousand of individuals that are all eager to contribute.
One issue that previously gave me reservations about Ubuntu was the whole thing with disabling the root account in favor of extensive use of sudo. I have nothing against sudo, but it seemed like it might be a pain to do more extensive administrative work. In reading Ubuntu's documentation about sudo, I discovered that sudo -i gives one a root shell, so that's not so bad. The kicker that convinced me that someone had a good idea came while using the web browser. As always with a new system, various add-ons needed to be installed. Under Red Hat, the best I could do as a non-privileged user was to save an rpm file and then su to root to install it. With Ubuntu, sudo prompts you for your password, and the add-on gets installed right then -- done.
So far, thumbs up to Ubuntu. The only issue I'm having is that I can't play most video files -- but I'm sure in time that I'll resolve that.