Finding New Ubuntu Software

Monday May 6th 2013 by Matt Hartley
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These are some of the most useful applications available for Ubuntu Linux.

Finding the right Ubuntu software titles used to be a bit of an art form, especially before the Ubuntu Software Center became available. And even with the benefit of the Ubuntu Software Center, knowing whether an application is worth checking out still requires a bit of research.

In this article, I'll share my preferred applications, plus my own methods for discovering new software.

Must-Have Ubuntu Software Titles

Surprisingly, my Ubuntu software needs haven't changed a lot over the years. The titles I rely on serve me well, and I wouldn't change them for anything. Here they are in no particular order:

Reditr – Since my time is valuable, I try to avoid spending too much time on websites like Reddit. At the same time, I prefer to catch up on the pulse of the Ubuntu space using sources like Reddit. This is where Reditr comes to my rescue. Using this software not only makes it easier to stay focused on key subreddits with less distraction, it also presents the content in a really attractive way.

Synapse – Anytime I install Ubuntu onto a computer, the very first thing I make sure is included is Synapse. Despite the effort put forth with the Ubuntu Unity Dash, I find it to be more of a distraction than anything I care to use regularly. With Synapse, on the other hand, I can quickly see what docs/software I use the most and can locate anything immediately. It's the single best keyboard launcher available for Linux enthusiasts today.

Thunderbird – Out of the box, Thunderbird isn't that impressive; it's merely an email client. But once you bundle in various extensions to Thunderbird, it's instantly transformed into a powerhouse. The powerful extensions that provide two-way syncing to contacts and calendar processes have made relying on Thunderbird second nature.

Vokoscreen – Recently I found myself dropping Kazam in favor of Vokoscreen. Both screen-recording applications are fantastic tools, but I've found that Vokoscreen is both stable and more robust. The two killer features that sold me on using Vokoscreen for my tutorial creation needs were the webcam support and magnification support.

Nitro – Having tried countless task management tools in the past, I find myself loving Nitro over everything else due to its ability to cloud sync with Dropbox or Ubuntu One. Nitro offers its users a focused view of which tasks need attention immediately, in addition to being able to create lists of multiple tasks. Best of all, you can even sync it to the Nitro Android app for portable convenience.

Dropbox – There are few cloud applications I love more than Dropbox. While there are some compelling alternatives in active development right now, I've been pretty happy with Dropbox so far. Not only does Dropbox make file sharing between computers easy, I can also share select files with others outside of my office should I wish to.

Splashtop Streamer – One of the benefits of using Ubuntu over other distributions is that you will often find that new Linux software becomes available for Ubuntu first. Splashtop Streamer is just one such example of this. Without question, it's the fastest remote access software I've ever used on the Ubuntu desktop. Plus, you can use your Android phone or tablet to remote into your Ubuntu desktop as if you were sitting right there at your desk.

Pavucontrol – The controls to manage audio under Ubuntu lack proper application-specific functionality. For example, if I'm having a Skype call, I most likely won't be able to get my USB headset mic working using the volume manager provided by Ubuntu. Even if I set the headset as the default input device, Skype may not choose it directly. With pavucontrol, I can set up Skype so that it uses my USB headset mic by default, regardless of what the default input setting happens to be. When using Pulseaudio, a tool like pavucontrol is badly needed.

Discovering New Ubuntu Software

Unlike software for Windows or OS X, you can't simply drive over to your local big box store and make the purchase of a desired Ubuntu software. Instead, you will find most of the software you're looking for within the Ubuntu Software Center. Because of this, it'll be your primary area for discovering new Ubuntu software titles.

That said, there are other places around the Web you can check out if you're so inclined. The first one I like to visit occasionally is Google Code. Simply type in a query of the type of program you're looking for, along with the word Ubuntu. You'll find both new software titles you've never heard of, along with some familiar software ones to scour through.

Unfortunately, the second source for discovering new software doesn't present nearly as cleanly after searching Ubuntu (software type). Despite that small issue, if you're willing to do some browsing, SourceForge will offer you a number of useful Ubuntu compatible programs to skim through. As with Google Code, however, apps in SourceForge may still be under heavily development and are often less than user-friendly.

Finally, there's what I like to call the Google method. Just perform a Google query with the word Ubuntu and the task you're looking to accomplish. For example, I could search for Ubuntu calendar software. Within the first few results, you'll instantly discover some worthwhile options from which to choose.

Now I realize that these methods aren't anywhere near as elegant as using the same search terms within the confines of the Ubuntu Software Center, but this approach does lead to software discoveries you might miss out on otherwise.

One last bonus tip: Did you know that you can create local desktop shortcuts to your favorite Web applications using the Google Chrome browser? For example, if I wanted an executable shortcut that basically provided me with windowed access to Google Calendar, I could create it by doing the following:

  • Within Google Chrome, browse over to Google calendar.
  • Now browse to the Chrome menu, then Tools, then click Create application shortcuts.
  • Once the new dialog box appears, elect to have both a desktop and menu shortcut. This way you can find it later on within the Unity Dash menu. Now click the Create button within the dialog box.
  • Immediately, the calendar will open up in its own window called Google Calendar. Even better, go to your Unity Dash and search calendar – Google Calendar now appears.

Final thoughts

In this article, I've shared some of my favorite applications that I use every day. Some of them may be familiar, but I'm willing to bet that some of them are new Ubuntu software discoveries from your perspective. I also took this as an opportunity to pull back the curtain and share how I personally discover new software titles using very basic techniques that anyone can duplicate.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway I have to leave you with is this: More often than we realize, new software discoveries take place out of a need that wasn't there yesterday. For example, if I never needed a calendar application on Ubuntu, I might not have ever thought to scour the various application sources on the Web to see what's available. But once I realized that I really wanted a worthwhile calendar application, the tips shared above made the process simple.

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