Linux Desktop: Seven Sweet Apps

Tuesday Mar 24th 2009 by Carla Schroder
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A noted Linux expert reveals what apps rock her world.

Everyone is writing "Foo Best" lists all full of good Linux apps, so here are my own 7 Best Excellent Linux Apps You May Not Have Been Introduced To Yet. They are presented in no particular order or categorization, they're just good applications I've been using and enjoying. They are all 100% genuine Free/Open Source software and not crusted with proprietary baggage, and available via the usual distribution package managers.

1) GLabels: Label, Business Card, and Postcard Printer

OpenOffice Writer has a pretty nice labels template, but Glabels is faster and easier. You can make file labels, name badges, CD and jewel case labels, business cards, address and shipping labels-- you name it, if it's an Avery label Glabels supports it. Avery labels are pretty much the de-facto standard, and it has a nice wizard for creating custom templates. The only label type it doesn't support are the little specialized roll label printers, like Brother label printers.

2) Kile: Integrated Graphical LaTex Environment

I've been using Kile to write my latest book (Build A Computer Sound Studio With Audacity! No Starch Press! Coming Soon!) and it is a joy to use. I'm happy to have a publisher that doesn't require dumb icky Microsoft Word docs, and LaTex isn't hard to use when someone else writes the stylesheets; all you need to learn is the markup. Kile has syntax highlighting and lots and lots of handy pointy-clicky functions. It also permits as much manual markup and futzing as you want.

3) recordMyDesktop: Desktop Video Recorder

If you've been watching Linux desktop video howtos and wondering how they were created, it may be that they used recordMyDesktop. recordMyDesktop captures everything you do on your Linux desktop. It has a simplified graphical interface, and if you want to fine-tune and tweak it also has a comprehensive set of command-line switches. It can also capture audio, and for the best results I recommend getting acquainted with JACK (the Jack Audio Connection Kit), because this gives you the most control and flexibility. JACK lets you route any audio output to any input, so on most Linux systems it's the only way to capture system sounds.

You could also try audio routing with PulseAudio, which is finding its way into more distributions, but for me it's been unreliable. If your system already has it, try it first.

4) K3b: CD/DVD Writer and Ripper

OK, so K3b (KDE burn, baby, burn) is well-known, but it still deserves as many praises as it can get. It is a beautiful graphical front-end to the giant host of commands that are needed for CD and DVD writing and ripping. It even queries CDDB (Compact Disc Database) to fetch song titles, disc, and artist names automatically. It supports CD Text, which is an extension to the universal Red Book CD Audio standard that displays titles and names, and it supports the newfangled mixed-media CDs that combine audio and video tracks. Like all KDE and Gnome applications, it works in any desktop environment.

Special mention: K9Copy copies DVDs and compresses them to fit on a standard 4.7 GB blank, so you don't need to spend wads of money on expensive 8.5 GB double-layer blank DVDs.

5) Rosegarden: Music Composition and Editing

Rosegarden is an audio and MIDI sequencer, scorewriter, and musical composition and editing program. You can audio and MIDI playback and recording, and print and edit musical scores. If you want fancy, beautiful scores it even supports exporting to Lilypond format. Lilypond is a special application for making pretty scores.

Rosegarden integrates nicely with other Linux audio applications such as ALSA and Jack, it supports all the usual audio special-effects plugins, it can use software synthesizers such as Timidity, or your favorite hardware synthesizer.

6) KSnapshot: Screenshot Capture

Another KDE app that is one of my workhorses. With KSnapshot you can capture the whole screen, a single window, an arbitrary region, and even drop-down menus. You can save your screen capture to file, send it to the clipboard, or send it directly to a printer. It supports all the common graphical file formats: JPG, PNG, BMP, PCX, EPS, and several more.

7) Audacity: Sound Recorder and Editor

This is another one that is probably well-known, but there are torrents of misinformation surrounding it, so here is the straight scoop. It is always compared to Ardour, the excellent Linux digital audio workstation, and usually not favorably, with Ardour being presented as the serious professional tool and Audacity is the toy. While there is some overlap in their functionality, they're really for different purposes. Audacity is an all-purpose recording and editing application that runs on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. The latest releases in the 1.3.x series support true discrete multi-channel surround and all of the important audio file formats. Audacity supports any recording interface-- PCI, USB, or Firewire-- up to 16 channels that is supported by your operating system. It supports a vast herd of special effects and fixits, and depending on how many channels you want to record at once, is lightweight enough to fix up a moderately-powered laptop as a portable recording studio.

The short story on Ardour is it only runs on Linux and it has a steeper learning curve. If you like doing a lot of studio wizardry such as heavy-duty multi-channel mixing and dubbing, or making video soundtracks that require precise synchronization, then Ardour is better for you than Audacity. You might even use both, such as making live recordings with Audacity, and then performing intense engineering magic with Ardour.

Carla Schroder is the author of the Linux Cookbook and the Linux Networking Cookbook (O'Reilly Media), the upcoming "Building a Digital Sound Studio with Audacity" (No Starch Press), a lifelong book lover, and the managing editor of LinuxPlanet and Linux Today.

This article was first published on Linux Planet.

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