For everyone at Linux Format magazine and most of its readers, computers and Linux are a passion.
Linux is perfect: its open source nature and excellent shell make it the ultimate hobbyist’s operating system. Fortunately, there’s a huge number of top-class applications available as well: market leading packages for professional and consumer level media creation, tools for developers, systems administrators and students – as well as great games to help you procrastinate on a Friday.
Here we introduce you to the 50 best apps for Linux. We didn’t just want the 50 most popular, so we asked our readers on TuxRadar for their favourites in a bid to discover some little-known gems.
The response was overwhelming. You introduced us to great programs that we’d never heard of. You also gave thoughtful, and often entertaining, explanations as to why you really love the software that you do.
We’ve integrated the best of your picks into our list, and the best of your quotes. We hope you enjoy the list, and if you don’t already follow TuxRadar, we hope the results might motivate you to go and get involved in some of the great conversations that go on there. On with the list.
Maybe you’re a skateboarder and want to show off your best tricks without all the boring bits in between, or maybe you want to put together a promo video for an event you’re organising. In the past, if you were a Linux user your options were limited to tools that could only handle a single input format (Kino); that were powerful but had terrible interfaces (Cinelerra); or were just unstable.
Now, however, there’s OpenShot. Getting started is as easy as importing a few clips to your project and then dragging them onto the timeline in any order you want.
Once you’ve got the basic structure of your video sorted, manipulating the files to give the project a more polished and professional finish is extremely easy.
You can trim clips, split them into segments or add transitions and other effects. You can even turn the audio off on individual clips and replace it with a dedicated soundtrack – a nice easy-listening guitar piece perhaps, or a narration recorded after the event.
Best of all, since OpenShot is based on FFMPEG, it has support for a massive range of input and output formats, meaning you can make your videos available wherever you choose: YouTube, iPods, DVDs… the list goes on.
And, thanks to its simple export mode, you can just select the device you’re targeting and OpenShot will do the rest.
In its most recent survey of web servers, Netcraft found Apache to be responsible for 57.3% of active websites, making it almost certainly one of the most successful Linux applications ever.
This success isn’t without reason either, being partly a result of its low cost, partly a result of its scalability, and partly a result of its incredible flexibility – whatever you need a web server for, Apache can do it.
License: MPL, GPL or LGPL
There’s no doubt that Firefox has earned itself a place in the hearts of Linux users everywhere, being the browser that broke Microsoft’s monopoly and helped ‘take back the web’.
Now onto its fourth major version, Firefox’s developers appear to be back on top form: it’s faster than ever; there are lots of clever ways to manage your tabs; it has great new features to stop advertisers tracking you; and it still has the largest and greatest collection of extensions available anywhere.
License: GPL v2 (Nautilus Client)
You never need to worry about losing a file again. Dropbox simply creates a folder inside your home directory and any files that you put in there automatically get synced to your own personal storage space on the internet.
Changes are automatically picked up and you can even put in symlinks so you don’t need to mess up your normal filing system. More storage space is available for a price.
Evolution is the Gnome desktop’s answer to Microsoft’s Outlook. It features integrated email, contact and calendar systems, all of which can be linked to web apps like GMail, Exchange and the GroupWise collaboration server.
This makes Evolution an ideal drop-in replacement for Outlook in any business. What’s more, it also includes advanced features as standard, including support for signing and encrypting mail with GPG, intelligent search folders and junk mail filters.
OK, so nobody actually suggested Asterisk when we were asking for your favourite applications, but we fell in love with it when writing the tutorial in LXF146. It’s the quintessential piece of free software, making what used to be only available to a few wealthy corporations and individuals, accessible to anybody who can afford some cheap, commodity hardware and the time needed to learn how it works.
The function it fulfils isn’t just some ‘nice-to-have’ extra either, but central to the operation of any modern business, charity or other large organisation. Most commonly, Asterisk is deployed as a ‘Private Branch Exchange,’ routing calls between extensions on an internal network and the public telephone system.
Asterisk can be put to more creative uses as well, including creating local rate numbers so that you can connect friends and family living abroad, auto-dialling all your support staff to get a quicker response or setting up a menu so that you don’t have to deal with your teenage offspring’s calls.
Granted, it can be tricky to understand when you start out, but that’s only because it’s integrating into a complex, legacy system surrounded by acronyms and specialist vocabulary. Once you understand this, the software’s design and configuration makes a lot of sense – you might even say it’s intuitive!
7. Getting Things Gnome
Getting Things Gnome is an application that aims to organise your life. It doesn’t require you to follow any particular system of organisation, instead providing flexible and easy-to-use methods for adding and managing tasks.
You can organise these tasks by tag, which can specify anything from a location to a priority, or by due-date. It also integrates well with other applications, including Remember The Milk and Tomboy Notes.
License: GPL v2
Although MyPaint isn’t a very well-known tool – we hadn’t heard of it until ninez suggested it to us on TuxRadar – it is very good at what it does.
It comes with a selection of brushes and support for pressure-sensitive tablets, the result of which is an excellent platform for emulating real media using digital tools. If you’re interested in discovering what MyPaint is capable of, its forums are a good starting place.
License: LGPL v3
While some people pick out LibreOffice as a vital Linux application for opening DOCX files from Windows users, it’s worthy of praise for more than that. LibreOffice Writer, for instance, although slow at times, has excellent support for stylesheets and can export all your documents as flawless PDF files.
Even better, since it’s split from OpenOffice and its corporate parents, new life has been breathed into its development and its future looks very bright.
10. GNU Hello
License: GPL v3 or later
GNU Hello is a simple program that just prints out ‘Hello, World’ – albeit taking optional arguments to specify the language. What makes it special is that it’s intended to serve as an example of a perfect GNU package, including coding and maintainer standards as well as development practices.
Combined with its documentation, it’s an extremely useful way to integrate new coders into a free software project and something that every project should have.
License: GPL v2
Whether you’re worried about data loss, looking to migrate to a larger hard drive or wanting to keep your Windows partition safe in case you have to return your computer for repair, Clonezilla can help.
The software comes as either a live CD or a server application and can create an exact clone of almost any hard drive or partition. Simply drop the disc in your computer, reboot and follow the instructions.
Kontact was popular with readers of TuxRadar – Huw even said: “I honestly don’t know what I’d do if I suddenly lost the use of Kontact.” This is largely thanks to its extremely flexible nature, providing users with the means to manage their email, calendar and contacts in a single location.
More than this, however, it also includes support for reading RSS feeds and managing notes through its KJots plugin.
The first point to note about Conquest is that it’s no ordinary turn-based strategy game. For one thing, turns are carried out simultaneously and against the clock, so even if you’re playing online there’s never any waiting around for your next go.
This also means that the pace of the game is a little more frantic: in the space of just a few minutes, you have to assess the results of the previous turn, decide on the next course of action and redeploy your troops accordingly.
What’s more, in Conquest there’s no resource management. This allows the player to focus entirely on commanding the troops which, let’s face it, is the most fun part of any strategy game. Instead, new units are granted to the player automatically, based on territory held and number of turns completed. This doesn’t necessarily make the game any easier, however, as it means to master it you have to be able to keep track of how many units your opponents will be receiving and when – which adds an interesting new dimension to the gameplay.
If you’re not sold on the innovative, enjoyable gameplay, then perhaps the beautiful graphics will do the job. The world maps look great, are varied, and the units are detailed enough to provide plenty of interest. It’s certainly a step above many other Linux games in this regard.
All in all, an extremely enjoyable game – especially if you’ve got some friends to play over a LAN with.
License: GPL v3
In the beginning was the command prompt. It was a really quick way of using a computer, allowing you to string simple commands together to achieve complex goals, but it provided very little feedback and relied on you already knowing the command you wanted to execute.
This was never going to fly with the wider population of casual computer users. When the mouse came along – complete with GUIs and point-and-click menus – most people forgot about the command prompt and about text interfaces in general.
This has obviously had incredible benefits, opening up the world of computing, the internet and everything that comes with it to the general population, but it’s also made many tasks much harder to achieve.
For instance, what if you were writing a document and wanted to look up the definition of a word? Normally, you’re stuck switching between the mouse and the keyboard in an incredibly unwieldy process just to do something simple. With just a few simple key strokes, however, Gnome-Do lets you do this without ever having to take your hands off the keyboard.
What’s more, Do is smart and suggests possible actions as you type, so you don’t need to know the exact command for what you want to do.
Gnome-Do has taken the command prompt philosophy, updated it for the GUI and made its speed and efficiency accessible to everyone – the ‘Everyman’s powertool’.
License: Charityware (GPL compatible)
Price: Free, donation to Ugandan children requested
It’s possible that in this day of fancy GUIs, integrated development environments and cloud-based editors, many developers will either have forgotten about the power of Vim or never even experienced it for themselves. What a loss.
Relying almost exclusively on keyboard commands (unless you use eVim, but then what’s the point?), it can take a while to learn all of the shortcuts and become a proficient user, but with a bit of practice the speed at which you’re able to edit a text file and hunt down bugs can increase dramatically.
Need to quickly find the definition of a variable or function? No problem, a quick gd will do the trick. What about if you need to quickly delete three words, ten words, an entire line? No problem, Vim’s numeric modifiers make this a breeze (d10w, for instance).
Vim’s not just for developers, either: its advanced, super-efficient keyboard commands make it an excellent editor for writers as well. It has an extremely sparse interface, making it perfect for all those who jumped on the ‘distraction free writing’ bandwagon, while retaining all the power and information that you’d expect from a fully-spec’d text editor.
Of course, there are many other excellent text editors available for Linux (not least of which is Emacs) and you may place your loyalty with whichever you wish, but for this article, morbidwar’s wonderful quote swung our decision…
GPG is a free and compatible alternative to the PGP suite of cryptographic tools. As with all such tools, it’s capable of securely encrypting all types of data and can be used to sign digital documents to verify who they came from.
While most people might have little need for encryption, it can be an extremely important tool for those involved in handling sensitive personal information.
Inkscape is a vector graphics editor. While other such editors exist on Linux, including LibreOffice’s Draw application, none of them can match Inkscape’s range of features or the size of its developer and user community.
This has made it a popular tool with designers who contribute to open source projects, whether through website graphics, icon themes or game graphics, and has resulted in Inkscape becoming one of the most important applications on Linux.
HandBrake is a cross-platform DVD ripper. Like almost all DVD rippers, it’s a pretty complicated piece of software with a large number of intimidating sounding options for you to fiddle around with.
While this is perfect for home theatre geeks, HandBrake is also usable by mere mortals thanks to its selection of built-in pre-sets that automate much of the process.
19. Network Manager
Gnome’s Network Manager applet is the best tool for managing your laptop’s various network connections.
Where it really comes into its own is when you’re connecting to a mobile data network: simply plug in your dongle or connect your phone via Bluetooth and Network Manager will provide you with a list of providers and service types. Then, once you’ve selected yours, everything is automatically set-up. Easy.
Digital audio workstation
License: GPL v2 or later
Many musicians and studios now use digital audio workstations to do everything from recording their inputs to disc, mixing and editing tracks as well as ‘mastering’ their work for distribution via CD and other mediums.
The software and hardware that allows musicians to do this kind of work is some of the most complex around: it has to be capable of processing high-bit rate signals (=> 24 bits) in real-time, all from lots of different sources simultaneously.
Yet this is exactly what free and open source Ardour does. Thanks to its extremely intelligent design, many limiting factors (bit-rate, number of recordable tracks etc) are only limited by your hardware: if you have enough memory and processing power, for instance, you could record an infinite number of tracks.
What’s more, Ardour will work with any interface that Alsa + Jack supports, so you can use consumer or professional kit, from any manufacturer. And if you want to switch products, you don’t have to change your software. This kind of flexibility is often not allowed for in commercial applications, as they seek to sell you more expensive equipment rather than allowing you to take full advantage of cheap, commodity PC equipment.
If features alone aren’t enough to convince you that Ardour is a truly great Linux application, perhaps the fact that it’s been used as the basis for a number of high-end commercial products might – most notably, Harrison’s Mixbus and Xdubber, both of which are used by major film studios.
3D content creation suite
Blender is an open source 3D content creation suite. In fact, many people would say that it’s the open source 3D content creation suite. It owes this reputation in large part to the work of the Blender Foundation and the four open projects that it has organised to date.
The goal of all these was to demonstrate that a free and open source workflow could produce 3D animations on a par with anything expensive, closed source tools could do. Each brought together the best artists in the Blender community to work on a single project for 7-12 months and the results were certainly impressive.
While it’s worth exploring all four of the projects, in my opinion the 2007/2008 project, Big Buck Bunny, is the best to date. It’s not just me who thinks this either, as you will frequently find it being used by television manufacturers at trade shows to demonstrate their HD sets.
As a result of these projects and the interest they have generated, the Blender Foundation team has managed to secure large donations from entrepreneurs, companies and grantgiving bodies. This money has enabled it to fund lots of new development on Blender – most recently in the shape of the 2.5 overhaul of many of Blender’s core components to ‘bring it up to contemporary interface standards’.
Blender, as the open movie projects demonstrated, was already one of the most capable applications on Linux. Now, thanks to its large and dedicated community, it’s destined to continue improving well into the future.
License: GPL or MIT
Do your distro a favour, use Transmission to download its next release. It saves on bandwidth bills, is super fast and very easy to do.
A tool for automating the administration of your systems, Puppet lets you automatically roll out configuration changes and quickly recover from disaster.
For those who are writing reports including scientific and mathematical notation, Latex is indispensable. Kile makes working with it a breeze and provides easy previews.
OpenSSH lets you securely access your systems from any internet-connected computer. This ‘tunnel’ can be used for routing important communications.
Nagios sits quietly on a system, monitoring host resources and network services in order to notify the admin as soon as a problem arises. Indispensable.
License: GPL v2
Since becoming the default revision control system for the kernel, Git has become massively popular and easier than ever thanks to sites like Github.
Gimp is one of those pieces of free software that almost everybody has heard of. It comes as standard on many distributions, books have been written about it and it’s often introduced as the free alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop. But what’s so special about it?
Aside from having such a silly, although memorable, name, there are three features that set Gimp apart. Firstly, it has a very robust set of tools, providing support for everything from sub-pixel sampling and custom brushes for painting, right through to advanced manipulation tools such as layers, channels and transformable paths.
Secondly, it has a versatile plug-in and extension system. This allows almost any task to be automated via a simple script that, once written, is easily executable by most users.
Thirdly, and most importantly, it has an active community of developers. This means that, even where Gimp lacks important features, work is constantly ongoing to extend it and make it the best tool possible. Developers have begun making real progress integrating these much needed features – even if it has taken a few years to get there!
License: GPL v2
Here at LXF, we’re constantly testing out new distributions, experimenting with new server software or just messing around with different desktop environments. Of course, we don’t like to mess up our carefully constructed primary systems so we make extensive use of VirtualBox.
Thanks to its guest additions package, it’s well integrated to the host system and extremely fast. What’s more, it also makes it incredibly simple to spin-up a new virtual machine with its GUI and there’s command line and remote configuration tools as well.
30. World of Goo
A physics-based construction and puzzle game that’s become widely regarded as one of the best indie games of the past decade.
It features beautifully drawn, cartoonish graphics that are cheerful, uplifting and timeless. All it involves is dragging Goos together to form a structure, but it’s addictive and lots of fun.
31. Money Dance
MoneyDance makes staying on top of your finances extremely easy, providing a clear overview of upcoming bills, the status of various budgets (which it helps you to create) and informative graphs and reports. What’s more, it can import account files from all major software packages and many UK banks.
32. Eclipse IDE
License: Eclipse Public
Eclipse is an excellent, stable IDE. Its Content Assist feature, which can auto-complete methods, types and fields, is excellent for forgetful coders or those working on complex codebases.
It also has features, such as automatically enforced coding styles and copy and paste traces, that make it perfect for team development.
Tomboy is a super little tool for collecting and organising your notes. Its support for basic formatting is useful and automatic saving is great. What really sets this tool apart, however, is how easy it is to link notes. This makes managing to-do lists or organising research notes on a complex project dead-simple.
The American National Security Agency needed an OS it could trust, so it decided to create a set of patches for Linux that would provide mandatory access control.
Since Linux 2.6, it’s been integrated into the kernel and can be configured to restrict resources available to users, programs and daemons very effectively.
License: GPL v3
Deja-Dup is an extremely simple tool for carrying out backups the right way: automatically and off-site. The interface consists of two buttons, configuration details are straightforward and it supports a great range of backup locations including Amazon S3, SSH and Windows Shares. The perfect tool for reluctant backup-ers.
When we asked readers of TuxRadar what their favourite applications were, we couldn’t help but notice that web browsers were cropping up in every category. No other application (except Emacs, perhaps) lets you do so many different things and, in many cases, do it better than you can in any other application.
With this flexibility in mind, we had to include a browser in our list of the best apps. The real question is why Google Chrome?
Well, for starters there’s the interface. It does its absolute best to get out of your way: there’s no menu bar, no status bar and the tabs have been integrated into the title bar. This means that the content, the stuff you really care about, can occupy more of your attention than ever before.
Then there’s the fact that it continues to feel as though it’s the fastest of all the major browsers – even after Firefox 4’s release. Most of all, however, we think Chrome deserves recognition for once again reigniting the browser wars.
All the previous battles – first between Microsoft and Netscape, then Microsoft and Mozilla – resulted in the web getting better for all of us. Now it’s happening all over again: Chrome’s focus on speed, security and content has challenged all the other browser creators to up their game.
37. Ubuntu Software Centre
Goes some way towards making Linux repositories as pleasant as all those trendy ‘app’ stores that have appeared recently.
38. Amnesia The Dark Descent
You might want to turn on the lights for this one – Amnesia is perhaps the scariest survival horror game ever to have been made.
Creates traditional, hand-drawn animations. Create both bitmap and vector images, and finished animations can be exported as PNG or Flash.
When you’re stuck on the command line and need to get help, Irssi should always be your first port of call. It’s not called the ‘client of the future’ for nothing…
License: GPL v3
Not only is it one of the most popular text editors around, it’s also a mail and news reader, project planner, calendar and much, much more.
License: GPL v2
An off-line thesaurus based on WordNet. It can look up selected text at the press of a button and provides synonyms, antonyms, causes and much more.
Banshee is an excellent media player in its own right, with support for audio and video in just about any format thanks to its GStreamer backend. It’s also beautiful, with plenty of space given over to displaying album artwork.
What makes Banshee special, however, is its integration with Amazon’s MP3 store and great support for all kinds of portable devices. The perfect all-in-one media solution.
License: GPL v2
As we’ve seen elsewhere, there are plenty of modern, beautiful and enjoyable games available for Linux these days; but for those of us who grew up playing the SNES, nothing will quite match up.
Thankfully, there’s ZSNES available for Linux. It’s an excellent emulator that will effortlessly run all your favourite games, from Mario to Street Fighter to Final Fantasy – it’s got everything you need to lose yourself in an afternoon of nostalgia.
Keeping in touch is really important but it can be difficult when different groups of friends decide to use different networks to keep up-to-date. Fortunately, there’s Empathy which will let you talk on instant messenger with your friends no matter what platform they choose to use.
It also supports a range of more advanced features on many networks, including voice and video calling, file transfers and conversation logging.
Shotwell is a super stable, feature-rich photo manager. Your collection of images is automatically organised by date but you can also use search tags, making it simple to find all the photos of person x or place y.
Shotwell’s handy tools also make it easy to remove red-eye, crop, and adjust the colour levels in your photographs and the software also supports uploading your pictures to plenty of online services, including Facebook, Flickr and Picasa.
Tor defends you from traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that allows thirdparties to build up a detailed picture of your online habits. It encrypts your network traffic and routes it through a random set of other computers to obscure the origin and destination from prying eyes.
While widely renowned for its usefulness to activists in oppressive regimes, Tor is also used by multinational investment banks, journalists and parents.
48. Music Player Daemon
Music Player Daemon – better known as MPD – is a server-side application for playing music. It sounds like a strange idea, but it actually makes for a very flexible, powerful product.
As a music player, it’s very capable, supporting gapless playback and filesystem monitoring; as a server, it lets you do all of this remotely, whether on your local network, across the internet or from your mobile phone. Very cool, so long as you have a good client.
License: GPL v2 or later
The internet has given us access to an amazing repository of music and movies, with just about everything ever recorded made available in one place or another.
The problem is, it all comes in so many different formats: there’s MP3s and MP4s, H264, OGG Theora, OGG Vorbis, WMA, WMV and MKV, among many others – it’s enough to make your head spin! Fortunately, there’s the VLC Media Player (affectionately known as VLC).
It’s extremely lightweight and sports a no-nonsense interface, designed to get out of your way so that you can get on with watching your movies or listening to the latest episode of TuxRadar.
More importantly, however, it has built-in support for almost every format known to man (with the exception of DVDs, which require you to install libdvdcss). This means there’s no need to research and install dozens of plugins, hoping you’ve finally found the right one for the file you want to play.
VLC’s available for all the major distributions (although some will require you to do it through third-party repositories because of licensing concerns), and since you only need to install a single package, it’s very easy to install. So, if you don’t already have it installed, what are you waiting for?
50. Clockwork Man
The hidden object game is a classic genre that’s remained popular throughout the history of computer gaming. At its heart, the premise has always been very simple: you move from scene to scene, at each of which you’re given a list of objects that you have to pick out from the intricate backgrounds.
Usually, the scenes are connected by a story that develops as you progress through the game. The Clockwork Man doesn’t vary much from this standard formula, but it’s exceptionally well executed.
You join Miranda Calomy, a brilliant young woman whose university plans are interrupted when she receives a letter from her grandfather. From here the adventure begins and you set off on a journey that will take you through many locations in this alternate Victorian universe.
The backgrounds are hand-drawn, beautiful and immensely detailed. What’s more, most either zoom or scroll giving you far more to explore than a single screen’s worth.
It’s not as frustrating as some hidden object games can be, thanks to your companion robot who can help you to find some of the objects. If you’ve never experienced this genre before, give this a try: it’s got an engaging story, beautiful artwork and challenging puzzles too.
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