Best Linux Software of All Time

Monday Feb 9th 2015 by Matt Hartley
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Ten top picks for best Linux software to get the most from your desktop.

Over the years, there have been a number of claims that the Linux desktop is lacking in terms of good, highly useful software. Today, I'm aiming to put this myth to bed once and for all. Continue reading for my list of the top ten best applications for Linux.

1. Sublime Text – It's been said that not all text editors are created equal. This is certainly the case with Sublime Text. It's designed to provide a distraction-free experience for coding, markup and more.

It should be noted that yes, it's available for Windows and OS X users. But the biggest takeaway is that Linux users can use it without losing out on any features.

2. LibreOffice – Obviously the number one draw to using LibreOffice is its price – free. The added bonus of it being pre-installed with popular Linux distros has put it ahead of its competitors for years. With the realization that even today, Microsoft provides only a free web-based office suite to their users, LibreOffice continues to have an advantage.

With its new 4.4 release, the overall layout of the software received a significant shift and cleanup. The details of what was done can be found here. For me, the most exciting change was the improved interoperability with OOXML. This means LibreOffice is playing nicely with DOCX finally. Another benefit that isn't actually new but is worth mentioning is theming the icons within LibreOffice. The stock icons are fine, however I personally like using my package manager and searching for "libreoffice-style" for new ideas. I settled on "sifr" for my icons, as they provided me with the cleanest look. I love being able to theme LibreOffice like this.

3. Gimp – I'm all too well aware that Gimp isn't a replacement for Photoshop. They share similarities, but they are different enough applications that one doesn't really cancel out the other. That said, Gimp is completely free, powerful and well suited for most casual image manipulation. So while CMYK isn't something supported without plugins in Gimp, this is okay, as RGB is and that's what most people using electronic displays are looking for. Thankfully Linux has other programs that do support CMYK, though. And since CMYK is for printing, RGB is just fine for most people...sans those who work with images in a printing capacity professionally.

Over the years, I literally am unable to feel at home with a Linux installation unless I know Gimp is installed. As someone who is constantly working with images, I need a powerful tool on the fly that I know how to use. For color correction, layering images, and other varied manipulation, Gimp is perfectly suited for "most" tasks. There are indeed under-the-hood features that Gimp lacks for sure, but most people don't use it because it's not familiar. Anyone telling me that Photoshop is easier would either be referring to the keyboard shortcuts or their knowledge of Photoshop tools. I know both programs and will tell you point-blank – Gimp is ample software for 98% of the people out there looking to manipulate images.

4. VLC – The first time I realized that VLC was capable of playing a DRM encumbered DVD without missing a beat, I was in love with it forever. Fast forward to now, I still use VLC for all of my video playing media. What makes it so compelling for me personally is that it has the ability to play local media, remote streaming media and to transcode media.

Open source, and cross platform, VLC remains one of the best media software players available in the world today. I'd go so far as to state NOTHING else even comes close. Think I'm wrong? Well how about the fact that with minor setup, you can play BluRay discs in Linux using VLC!

5. PulseAudioVolumeControl – Not too many years ago, sound options on the Linux desktop were horrid. There were ample sound architectures to work with such as OSS, ALSA, JACK and so forth. Sadly, piping sound through each of these architectures was geeky, chaotic and to be honest, dated. This is where PulseAudio comes in. It takes sound from say, ALSA, and pipes it through a great network capable sound server. This sound server can send one audio source to USB speakers and another audio source to regular speakers or headphones. Each of these things can be done at the same time. Previous to PulseAudio, this was far more difficult to accomplish.

Now in the past, PulseAudio has been known to crash on folks or create hassles with CPU spikes. These issues were common and well documented. Thankfully these days, most of these issues are a thing of the past. And that's awesome, because I've tried relying on ALSA to hardware instead of PulseAudio to ALSA to hardware. The latter wins every time when you use a lot of sound devices. So instead of creating and editing config files, I simply use PulseAudioVolumeControl and route my audio in real time, on the fly.

6. Skype – I'd really love to sit here and tell you how fantastic the various SIP software is or how other video conferencing solutions have made Skype a thing of the past. Don't get me wrong, WebRTC is getting darned close and in the past, I've seen first hand how it could be good for conferences. Awesome solutions like OpenTokRTC come to mind. But no, we live in a world where brand recognition reigns supreme. And this means if you plan on having a video chat with anyone not using Linux, you're using Skype.

While I find it irritating that we must depend on Microsoft software to be able to reach out to folks using Windows, OS X and mobile platforms, I'm thrilled it's an option at all. And to the credit of the developers, it's really stable under Ubuntu and other popular distros. Outside of it still missing group video chat for Linux users, I've found I rely on it both professionally and personally. PulseAudio is compliant, and it's a great program despite its muted features for our platform.

7. Audacity – I'd have to rank Audacity up there with LibreOffice and Gimp in terms of its importance to my work flow. I use this software that often, it's critically important to me. I love the fact that on any platform I happen to be using, I can pop into Audacity and edit multiple sound files into a single masterpiece. I'm able to easily work with WAV, MP3, Ogg Vorbis and FLAC files. It's this kind of audio editing flexibility that keeps me happy with Audacity.

I also find it handy that Audacity offers so many great tools and filters, while still keeping the user interface easy enough for a newbie to pick it up quickly. Would I suggest that this is professional audio editing software? Not entirely, however if Audour is more than you bargained for, Audacity might be just the ticket for quick and advanced editing work.

Kdenlive – After watching countless video editors come and go, the one video editing software that has always been there for me is Kdenlive. Yes, Lightworks has professional level software with options not found in Kdenlive. For me, though, Kdenlive offers a familiar work flow. And these days, the software is very stable to use.

I love that I can add 10 or more tacks of video/audio to Kdenlive and it never misses a beat. It works as expected and I don't find myself re-thinking my video editing projects under Linux software. At some point, I'll familiarize myself with Lightworks. But for now, Kdenlive is my goto software for basic editing, effects, compositing and green screen work.

9. insync – No Google Drive support for your Linux installation? No problem, insync has your back. Not to be confused with the defunct Boy Band from years ago, insync is a Google Drive account without Google's limitations. Without the training wheels, this software allows me to run multiple accounts, convert docs, and share really easily.

At a far deeper level, it's here and available to Linux users now – today. While the rest of the Linux community complains about the lack of an official Google Drive client, I've been happily using insync for a while now. The fine print to be aware of is that you have to dive into your petty cash and invest a whopping $15 one time. But that's it, you're in for good after that.

10. DropboxDropboxfalls into the same category for me as Skype and not only because it's proprietary software. I categorize it with Skype in that it's one of those things that isn't that great for you, but is difficult to live without. Sure, there are other technologies out there that are open source and you can even host them yourself. However it's difficult to compare it to Dropbox's dirt cheap data rates.

Moving past the "why it's bad for you" aspect, Dropbox is a handy way to share files and to make music available on your smart phone. Perhaps the coolest part is that you can share select files with the public, using a special link.

Best Linux Software: Your Choices?

There are still a number of Linux apps that I could have included. Krita, Blender, Steam, among countless others. But these are the applications that I feel represent the very best of what Linux software has to offer on the desktop.

Perhaps you'd like to share your favorite applications? Hit the Comments and let me know which applications you believe are the best all time Linux apps ever released.

Also see: Best Linux Desktop: Top 10 Candidates

The 9 Best Linux Distros

100 Open Source Replacements for Expensive Applications

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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