15 Must Have Linux Applications

Thursday Aug 16th 2012 by Matt Hartley
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Essential Linux apps for the efficient open source desktop.

An operating system is of no value whatsoever without needed applications to get things done on a day to day basis. And even though this sounds obvious, it's something that is on the minds of many new Linux converts.

Will they be able to relinquish control over their tired, older legacy apps on the Windows desktops? While finding usable, Linux compatible alternatives?

In this article, I'll share fifteen software titles I use frequently -- often everyday. These are applications that quite literally make using the Linux desktop a real pleasure.

1) LibreOffice – Long before LibreOffice even existed, I was a big fan of OpenOffice. So my history with the software suite predates many folks as I've been a full time user of OpenOffice since day one.

Today however, LibreOffice is the preferred option for distributions looking to offer a cutting edge, dependable office suite to their users. My most commonly used applications within the LibreOffice suite are Writer and Calc. I use Writer because it's stable, provides me with strong control over my word processing documents and the options of installing extensions, and only further increases the software's functionality in my eyes.

The second must-have app that I use within the suite is Calc. For invoicing and budgeting, it's my goto tool for all of its spreadsheet power. Calculate, sort and compare – Calc is a fantastic spreadsheet option for today's modern Linux enthusiast.

2) Evince – An application that doesn't always make it into everyone's list, Evince is a PDF viewer that is fast and stable. In my humble opinion, I've found Evince to be a preferred alternative to Adobe's PDF viewer for Linux. It may have less options, but Evince makes up for it with speed and stability. Best of all, it comes pre-installed with many desktop Linux distributions these days.

3) gscan2pdf – Thanks to the SANE backend that comes with modern Linux distributions, scanning a document is usually as simple as connecting a scanner and selecting Simple Scan. And while it's a good application for scanning images, even supporting export to PDF, it's a pretty basic tool.

By contrast, gscan2pdf offers greater functionality, a better UI and of course, even supports network document scanners. In an enterprise environment, you're going to want to have access to gscan2pdf's capabilities. Another benefit to using gscan2pdf, is that it generally performs better, and works with greater stability for higher resolution scans.

4) Self Control – When you're on your PC, distractions are something you have to contend with. And usually, I am able to make the most out of my work time. But every once in awhile, like during big events that I might be tracking, I can get distracted. This is why I use an application called Self Control. It allows me to easily block specific websites, for a set amount of time. Best of all, once activated, it's very difficult to undo. So you won't be temped to simply turn off the app, should you wish to stop working and visit those time-wasting websites.

5) Kazam – Perhaps not an application that is going to be used by everyone out there reading this, but for me, it's a must-have. I have used a variety of screen capturing programs over the years on the Linux desktop. Without exception, nearly all of them were unusable. Worse, they offered poor results and left my recorded video looking over-compressed and grainy. Kazam is fantastic! It works well with most Linux audio connections, plus the video can be saved as WebM or MP4. Coming full circle, back to the audio connections, I love that it can actually record from two separate audio devices at the same time.

6) VLC – Whether I need a video player to view my own screen captures or perhaps instead I'm catching up on my favorite video podcasts, VLC is always my first video player of choice. This cross platform player plays practically anything, without needing to worry about which codecs are installed on your Linux distro. Everything that's needed is already included with the VLC application. It's also worth mentioning that VLC will also play DVDs, without any extra configuration. With this functionality, VLC saves me time and is hassle free. I know that any media file I throw at it will likely be played without missing a beat.

7) guvcview – Cheese, the photobooth app provided in many distributions, is garbage in its current state. The concept, layout and filters are pretty neat. But sadly, the application is a buggy, crashing, software mishap. Thankfully, there is still a solid solution for those of us using the UVC (Universal Video Class) powered webcams under the Linux desktop. Appropriately called guvcview, this software will provide you with much of the same photobooth functionality found in Cheese. The difference being, it won't crash or over-tax your CPU in the process of running. This software is capable of capturing still images and video recordings. You can even save your captures in a wide rage of file formats and codecs.

8) Pithos – Regardless of where you happen to work from, I believe that music can often help to avoid distractions. But one of the problems of managing an MP3 playlist, is that it can become a distraction in and of itself. Therefore, the next logical step might be to look to services like Pandora. The best way to enjoy Pandora on the Linux desktop in my opinion is through an application called Pithos.

Unlike listening to Pandora from within a browser, Pithos docks in your desktop's applet area. It allows you to easily change from song to song, while offering all the functionality found with Pandora in your browser. Perhaps the biggest benefit, however, is the lack of ads that show up within the Pithos client.

9) Filezilla – The modern Linux desktop offers a number of methods to access an FTP server. However, few of these match the ease of use or the stability found in Filezilla. First, Filezilla offer me the ability to setup the login details for each server I wish to connect to. Also, it also supports SSH FTP, and it allows you to store and sort your server configurations within separate folders. In my opinion, the final feature that really sets Filezilla apart has to be the ability to connect to multiple servers at the same time, with each server setup as a separate tab.

10) Skype – I honestly wish I could have named off a SIP client instead, one that I use for my daily video conferences. Sadly though, we live in a Skype world. And now with Microsoft rekindling support for the VoIP client, I have found that Skype remains my goto VoIP/video call software of choice. Not only does the latest release of Skype provide excellent PulseAudio support with zero tweaking, the video calls made with the client are sent and received flawlessly. The only complaint I have about the software is that it would be cool to see video conference calls made available to Linux users. Perhaps, this will be coming in the next update?

11) PulseAudio Volume Control – If you use a Linux distribution that includes PulseAudio, then you know the hassle that comes from trying to getting USB microphones working with the existing sound settings. Even after you select the new device from which to record from, some VoIP applications or sound recorders still default back to the soundcard provided jack instead. This is where using the PulseAudio Volume Control comes in handy.

Not only does it mirror the functionality found with the typical sound settings found in distributions such as Ubuntu, it also allows you to switch input devices based on each application – not by choosing the default input device. This is powerful if you're needing to record something from one source monitor, and in another application you wish to record directly from a microphone.

12) GIMP – Next to LibreOffice, this is one of my most commonly used applications. I use GIMP for just about anything I do with images. From resizing, altering or simply cleaning up my pictures, GIMP is a tool I rely very heavily on. Interestingly, I have been using GIMP for so long that I feel lost and out of place when I try to use Photoshop in its place.

Even if a feature is missing in GIMP, chances are very good there is a script or an add-on that will provide me with whatever missing functionality I might need. Besides the decent pace of development, I have found that GIMP only continues to improve with each new release. It's easily the best image manipulation tool available on the Linux desktop today.

13) FreeFileSync – For programmers and web developers, having a means of keeping their files in sync can be a real time saver. So even though I may not be a developer, I am someone who manages a number of websites. So having everything on my machines in sync is critical for me. And this is where FreeFileSync comes to my rescue. Not only does it provide me with a rapid, reliable method of keeping my files in sync from directory to directory, it does so based on the rules and conditions I lay out for it. FreeFileSync even supports advanced functionality such as support for symlinks, conflict detection and a means of comparing files so I can ensure nothing is overwritten incorrectly.

14) Invulgotracker – With my hectic lifestyle, my time is immensely valuable to me. And without realizing it, I can easily find myself buried in "busy-work" that could, quite honestly, be addressed the following workday. To deal with this and other related issues, I've found that invulgotracker is the perfect tool for Gnome users to track their time. It's the perfect tool for tracking your time spent on a given project, along with generating reports when needed. While the application may not be appropriate for those who manage a ton of projects, for most of us, it offers plenty of basic flexibility. Plus, its easy-to-use interface is a pleasant surprise.

15) Terminal – Last, but certainly not least, my terminal application. The terminal you use within your desktop environment is likely to vary. But in my case I'm quite content with gnome-terminal. It's from here that I can extract zipped folders, install pre-release drivers, and even install new software from my distribution's software repositories. My terminal application is also critical in diagnosing connectivity issues on my LAN, updating my DNS information, and killing off a rogue software application that isn't running properly. Without a doubt in my mind, the terminal is the most valuable and critical piece of my day to day Linux experience. I honestly don't know what I would do without it.

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