Open Source

10 obscure Linux applications you need to try

With thousands of Linux tools out there, it stands to reason that some of the very best ones might get lost in the crowd. Jack Wallen introduces some excellent apps that more admins should know about.

With thousands of Linux tools out there, it stands to reason that some of the very best ones might get lost in the crowd. Jack Wallen introduces some excellent apps that more admins should know about.


Do a search for Linux applications on Freshmeat and you'll get around 11,828 hits. (As of January 12, 2008, that was the tally.) Of those 11,828 applications, which ones are worth using? Not 100 percent of them for sure. Still, buried within that grand total you will find a few gems that get zero publicity but are worth giving a go. This article will highlight some these little-known apps, which range from multimedia to certificate authority tools and anything/everything in between.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Floola

Floola isn't an open source application, but it does run on Linux (as well was OS X and Windows). Floola takes music management (in particular, synching iPods) one step further. With this nifty application, you can download and convert YouTube videos for playback on your iPod. But unlike some other clunkier applications, Floola does this seamlessly and simply. No commands to enter; it's all GUI. The only possible gotcha is that before you can add videos from YouTube, you have to install ffmpeg on your Linux box. Floola uses ffmpeg for the conversion process.

Don't expect Floola to have all the bells and whistles that iTunes has. Floola offers Photo support, Snarl (Windows only) support, Growl (Mac only) support, Notes, repair iPods, export lists to HTML, language support, lyrics, duplicate and lost file search, artwork support, video support, Google calendar support, playlists, podcast, lastfm support, and more. Floola is simple to use in Linux, as it comes in an executable binary that you can simply copy to the /usr/bin directory and run with the command Floola.

2: Transkode

Sticking with the multimedia theme, Transkode is a front end for the highly flexible, modular command line toolset Transcode. Transcode is one of the most versatile audio and video converting tools available. Transcode has both a graphical and a text-only interface and supports a vast number of formats including DV, MPEG-2, MPEG-2 Part 2, H.264, Quicktime, AC3, and any format included under libavcodec. Transcode can import DVDs on the fly and record from Video4Linux devices. The problem with Transcode is that the commands can get a bit overwhelming for the average user. Transkode remedies this by employing a user-friendly interface that makes the complex business of converting multimedia format files as simple as it can be.

3: Giver

This is one of those brilliant little pieces of software that, once you start using it, you won't be able to live without. Giver allows you to easily drag and drop files to users on your network. It will automatically detect other Giver users on your network. When you drag a file (or multiple files) to a user (represented by an avatar) on the Giver window, the files are automatically transferred. The recipient of the files is warned that a user wishes to send files. The user can accept or decline them. The only downside to Giver (as of this writing) is that there is only a candidate available for Ubuntu. I have tried to install on both Fedora and Mandriva with no luck. Ubuntu installation is as simple as apt-get install giver. This application makes transferring files literally as simple as drag and drop. A must-have for company file sharing.

4: Transmission

Sticking with the file sharing motif, Transmission is an outstanding bit torrent client makes for simple torrent management. To seed the client, you simply have to click the torrent link to open up Transmission. We all know that downloading copyrighted data is illegal. But that doesn't mean clients like Transmission have no use. In enterprises where large-scale data transmission is a must, employing applications like Transmission can enable end users or clients to download large pieces of data much more easily. And having a client like Transmission to make this a no-brainer is a must.

5: BloGTK

No matter what business you're in, you are most likely affected by a blog of some sorts. And a lot of people do blog. Many companies allow employees to blog and many employees blog even if they aren't supposed to. There are times when your blogging fix must come in bits and bites, and you have complete your blog in chunks and offline. For this you need a client like BloGTK. BlogGTK can connect to WorPress, Movable Type, MetaWeblog API, Blogger, and more. This client allows formatting, custom tags, categorizing, inserting tables, images, and links and offers a spell check. You can also add excerpts and preview your posts before you upload them.

6: Ark

The Ark application is often overlooked, especially by Linux veterans. Ark is an archival manager. When you click on an archive package link (.tg, .tgz, etc) in your browser, you typically can either save the file or open the file with Ark. Most users just save the file and then drop into the command line and use the tar utility to unpack the archive. Why do this when Ark can handle the task quickly and cleanly? When efficiency becomes a necessity, tools like Ark should not be overlooked, even by expert users. One nice aspect of Ark is that you can open an archive and extract a single file from the package without actually unpacking the file. This can be done from command line but it's much easier (for most) to have a GUI that lets you right-click a file and select Extract.

7: Tea

Tea is a text editor for programmers of nearly any language. Tea was created with bits of GPL'ed code from a number of other applications to create a one-stop-shop for coders. Tea supports built-in file manager, spell check, built-in search, tabbed layout, multiple encodings, code snippet/session/template support, OpenDoc, RTF, Kword, Abiword, OpenOffice support, SRT-subtitle preview, text analyzer, key customization,  HTML tools, bracket matching, Wikipedia/Docbook/LaTeX support, string-handling functions, bookmarks, and more.

8: Nano

Nano is one of my personal favorite editors. For years I used Pico, until it was crippled by licensing issues. Nano took Pico's place. Nano is an ncurses-based text editor that is far easier to use than either vi or emacs. Nano takes Pico and improves it, offering UTF-8 support, better color syntax highlighting, copy text without cutting, verbatim input, repeat last search, spell check, indent marked text, search within file browser, and more. Nano works within any terminal window, has an incredibly small footprint, and is as reliable as any editor available. And unlike Pico, Nano is simple to install on nearly any distribution.

9: MultiTail

Imagine being able to use tail to follow multiple files in one window. That is what MultiTail does. MultiTail is a Linux administrators' dream come true. With the ability to follow any log file (and as many log files as you can stand in one window) MultiTail can stack multiple tails of log files vertically or horizontally, with colors or without. Commands like multitail -s 2 /var/log/messages /var/log/security.log will follow the messages and the security.log logs in two vertical columns in one window. MultiTail is very easy to use.

10: TinyCA

The command-line creation of certificate authorities requires a veritable dance of the fingers at the keyboard. The TinyCA application takes care of all of that typing for you. TinyCA makes the creation of certificate authorities a breeze. With TinyCA, you can create unlimited CAs and SubCAs, server and client certificates with multiple language support. If your IT department needs a CA management tool, you should look at TinyCA first. TinyCA is open source, written in Perl/Gtk, and works with OpenSSL.

What tools are you hiding?

Most of us rely on at least one tool that nobody seems to have heard of. What's in your toolkit that more administrators should know about?

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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