20 Linux Apps That Make the Desktop Easier

Wednesday Sep 22nd 2010 by Matt Hartley

Focusing on both KDE and GNOME, Linux desktop apps that make daily use faster and more efficient.

For most of us, using our preferred desktop Linux distributions has become second nature. Yet remembering back to when I first made the switch, it seems that specific Linux apps made the OS change much easier.

In this article, I want to share some of the applications I use on a daily basis. Some of the applications are GNOME desktop specific, so whenever possible I have included their KDE counterparts to help even things out.

1. GNOME System Monitor or KDE System Guard – This is something that I know many users never bother with. If they want to see what is going on with their Linux box, they rely on "top" or other command line-based resource tools.

Speaking for myself, I would rather save the need for a terminal and simply keep GNOME's System Monitor applet running at the top of my screen. The advantage is that if I need it, the applet opens the Monitor application straight away. For KDE users, I'd look to KDE System Guard for much of the same functionality.

2. Jungle Disk – Yes, I know it's not a FOSS application. Despite this, it has been the single most reliable backup tool I've ever used on any platform, bar none.

Jungle Disk doesn't care what operating system I choose, plus I like the fact that I've never had a problem restoring my data for any reason whatsoever. Knowing that I have a simple means of backing up my data off-site provides me with immense security, thus allowing me to work through my day without undue concern over data loss. While there are a number of other solutions that do much the same thing for Linux users, this is the option I’ve found the easiest to implement without giving it a second thought.

3. Chrome – While most Linux distributions are bundled with other browsers such as Firefox, Konqueror or Epiphany, none of these options hold a candle to Google's Chrome. Like Firefox, Chrome has quite the selection of extensions to choose from.

Unlike Firefox, Chrome doesn't run like maple syrup on a cold winter’s day. On lower power machines like netbooks, using Firefox is just out of the question as it hangs and often becomes too slow to use with any real benefit. Chrome by contrast, runs at lightening speeds.

4. Evolution or Kontact – Short of working on stone tablets, I personally am unable to function without a decent PIM (personal information manager) at my immediate disposal. On the GNOME desktop, I swear by Evolution. When I am using KDE, it's Kontact (Kmail, Kalendar, etc). In both instances, I am able to keep my calendars and email in check without needing to be bounced through multiple applications.

In both instances, I can sync up with my mobile devices through various groupware means as well. It's actually the discovery of Kontact years ago that brought my PIM data over to Linux from Windows after I grew tired of problems with Microsoft Outlook.

5. SANE – Supporting various scanning software applications on both GNOME and KDE, SANE is the magic behind the curtain that makes document and picture scanning a reality for us on the Linux desktop. Without access to the SANE back-end, none of the scanning applications we enjoy would be possible. So because of this, I give SANE huge props for allowing me to use my scanner without the need for relying on another operating system.

6. Parcellite or Klipper – Perhaps one of the coolest features found on the GNOME or KDE desktop is the availability of a decent clipboard manager to keep all of my immediate thoughts in order. Unlike a standard copy and paste option, using Parcellite or Klipper provides me with the ability to copy multiple items for pasting at my leisure.

7. GIMP – It's almost comical how often I end up using GIMP every single day. While some will argue that it's no replacement for Photoshop, I have found it to more than meet my needs and provide me with lightening fast means of color matching and cropping imagery. Obviously I use GIMP for other tasks as well, but it's the ability to manipulate an image on the fly that makes using GIMP a boon to my productivity.

8. Samba – If there was one networking technology that I find makes accessing content easier, it would have to be Samba. Assuming the user understands that there is more to it than right clicking and choosing share, Samba can make life MUCH easier when accessing documents and photos from Windows to Linux.

While I tend to lean more with a SSH approach when I'm on the go, I've found that Samba is just the ticket for cross platform file sharing. Using Samba, without question, has proven to make my life much easier.

9. CUPS – Just as with scanning using SANE, I would be lost without the ability to print thanks in part to CUPS. Using CUPS means when I decide to hit the magic print button, my all-in-one HP printer springs to life, almost instantly! Best of all, I am also in a position to do wireless printing through Samba and CUPS, as they work well together.

10. PulseAudio – Most people I know hate PulseAudio. Their reasons tend to vary, but the dislike for it abounds all the same. Speaking for myself, however, it has made Linux audio management massively more competitive with that on proprietary operating systems. And when I use the PulseAudio Applet, I am able to manage the audio from individual sources without cutting off the sound from one thing to allow for another.

11. Gedit or Kate – Windows users may like Notepad, but there’s still no comparison to the love I have for Gedit and Kate. On most days, I am using Gedit as it's my editor of choice for the GNOME desktop. Both editors provide me with the ability to edit and make changes to the written word and code alike.

12. Brasero or K3B – Despite not switching Linux distributions like I used to, access to a decent DVD/CD writer application is a must for me on my Linux desktop. When using GNOME, I've found that Brasero meets my needs with a resounding yes. Back on the KDE front, K3B remains my first-used CD writer application -- and my favorite as well.

13. OpenOffice – In my time sitting in front of my computer I've used countless office suites. Yet at no time have I ever felt that anything other than Open Office really addressed my needs.

The work flow that OpenOffice provides has been very fluid over the years, albeit not terribly attractive. So while we have Google Docs, among other web-based solutions now, there is something inherently convenient about a locally installed office suite.

14. F-Spot or DigiKam – My very first experience with using Linux software to get images off my digital camera was with an early release of DigiKam. From the first day I used it, I was in love. Now, despite preferring GNOME for most things, I tend to use DigiKam in KDE more than I use F-Spot in GNOME. Despite this, both applications provide a great user experience for managing photos.

15. Gparted or QTParted – I must confess that most of my recent experience has been with Gparted when it comes to successfully managing my partitions. Sure, I could do so from the command line, but Gparted and QTParted both offer such great visual guides to what’s being changed with my partitions that I’ve never looked back.

16. Filezilla – After trying out countless FTP clients including using my terminal to manage uploads to my own web server, I always find myself coming back to Filezilla each and every time. Always stable, brain-dead simple to use, I feel that as open source FTP clients go, Filezilla remains in a class all its own.

17. Network Manager (Gnome and KDE) – I’m including this because not everyone wants to edit a configuration file, followed by typing commands into a terminal window, simply to connect to the Internet. And luckily, network manager makes short work of this. Today, network manager for both GNOME and KDE support everything from VPN to mobile broadband.

18. GUFW or GuardDog – I don't imagine editing your IPTables is anyone's idea of fun. On the GNOME desktop, I used to rely heavily on Firestarter. But since moving onto Ubuntu, I am now using a GUI wrapper for its UFW (uncomplicated firewall) called GUFW. Then when I am booting into KDE, I remain quite happy with GuardDog for my firewall editing needs.

19. Open Shot or KDENLive – Despite spending most of my day head deep into one text editor or another, there are times when I need to create and edit video. Only a few years ago, this was not a very pleasant experience. Applications available were buggy and those that didn't crash were very difficult to use.

Today, we have Open Shot for GNOME users with KDENLive providing the same kind of functionality for those on KDE. The biggest difference between the two applications is that KDENLive supports DVGrab while it seems that Open Shot does not. Luckily, we can use DVGrab from the command line. And if GNOME users are simply not okay with this, KINO does a splendid job at making DVGrab very user friendly.

20. GNOME terminal or Konsole – Even though most of this list has highlighted the benefits of using various GUI solutions to make using desktop Linux easier, that there is something to be said for the CLI (command line interface). When accessing the CLI within a desktop manager, I prefer to use GNOME terminal on my GNOME installation and Konsole when I have booted into KDE. Both applications provide me with a customizable, straight forward CLI experience. And when I need to do some system updates or even just trouble shoot a problem not addressed by any GUI option, both terminal programs meet the challenge with flying colors.

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