Open Source

10 old-school Linux tools I refuse to let go of

No matter which platform you prefer, there are probably a few old tools you just can't part with. Jack Wallen shares his Linux favorites.

There are many days when I show my age with Linux. In some instances, I just refuse to embrace some of the more modern applications. In many ways, I fully accept the modern computing desktop. (I use a full-blown Compiz desktop with all the bells and whistles now.) But there are still some holdovers that will have to be pried from my cold, dead hands. I thought it would be fun to list 10 of these old-school Linux tools and then see what other people refuse to let go of (regardless of platform). Not only will it be a trip down memory lane for some users, it might show others a tool they hadn't thought of that could solve a perplexing problem.

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

1: Command line

This one is a no brainer. Even though there is a GUI front end for nearly every command-line tool available, I often feel the command line is simply the best tool. And what better way to remotely administer a system than with good old secure shell? I won't go into the specifics of what commands I can't let go of (there are so many of them). Suffice it to say, the command line is one of my most-used tools.

2: Audacious (aka XMMS)

I get a lot of guff about this one. Oh sure, there are many new, modern music players for Linux (Songbird, Amarok, Banshee, Rhythmbox, etc.). But none of those players has the small footprint and the out-of-your-way interface of Audacious. I've tried them all, and I always wind up coming back to Audacious2. The only feature I wish would be implemented (and I seriously doubt this will ever happen) is DAAP support. But even without DAAP support, I will continue to use my Audacious music player to listen to Rush until I can no longer install it on a Linux distribution.

3: Nano

Nano is a fork (and an improvement) over the old PICO text editor. I've used PICO and Nano for as long as I can remember using Linux. I was never a fan of vi or emacs (not being a programmer lends itself to enjoying Nano). What I like about Nano is its simplicity, which is taken to a level most text editors never see — without sacrificing features. But for those who do programming, Nano does offer syntax highlighting (only not on the level of, say, vi). And Nano is closely tied to the Alpine email client, so if you know one, you will know the other.

4: Alpine

Speak of the devil! Many of you will remember text-based email clients. They didn't show attachments inline, and there was no point-and-click interface. But you couldn't beat them for speed, security, flexibility, and reliability. And well before there was Web-based email, tools like Alpine were the best (and often the only) way to check your email remotely. It's still possible today (and still done by yours truly) with a simple secure shell into the remote machine and issuing the command alpine. WHAM! There's your email. Brilliant.

5: Enlightenment

Enlightenment is my desktop of choice, and it has been for some years. Of late, I've been using the Elive distribution, which pairs E17 with Compiz. But it is still Enlightenment in all its speedy beauty. If you've never experienced Enlightenment, you should do yourself a favor and give it a go.

6: gFTP

gFTP is pretty much dead. But that doesn't mean it isn't a valuable tool. In fact, it's the only tool I use for FTP file transfers. Does it offer features no other FTP tool offers? Not really. So why do I remain loyal? gFTP offers a simple interface and multi-threaded transfers, it has both GUI and command-line tools, it supports FTP/SFTP/FTPS/HTTP/HTTPS/FSP protocols and proxies, and it just feels like home.

7: Man pages

RTFM... That M doesn't stand for Manual, it stands for Man page - or at least it should. Although I realize that man pages have become sort of a sign of older times, they are still a valuable tool for the education of new Linux users (and for those of us whose memory isn't what is used to be). This is also a point of contention among news group and mailing list readers, when an old-hat user tells the new user to RTFM. That's not someone being lazy, that's someone pointing a new user in the right, first direction. After all, give a man a fish/teach a man to fish...

8: Nethack

Nethack is a game. GASP! Linux doesn't have games. Actually Nethack is a game to some people. To others, it's nothing more than a laughable attempt to waste space on a hard drive. For me, it's the former. I've played versions of this game for years — and never once beaten it. For my money, there is no better dungeon crawler out there.

9: LaTeX

LaTeX is the Mac Daddy of Linux typesetting. But why would one want to bother with such a cumbersome, complex system when there are plenty of easy-to-use word processors available? Simple. A word processor encourages users to be concerned about the look of their document as much as the content. LaTeX is quite the opposite. LaTeX leaves document design to designers and document writing to the writers. But really the main reason why LaTeX is still around is that feature for feature, it just can't be replaced. What LaTeX lacks in simplicity, it makes up for in incredible versatility.

10: Cron

You want the single best way to automate tasks? Cron is ready for the job. Cron is one of the many pieces of the Linux puzzle that make it such a flexible operating system. Cron handles administrative automation as well as user-based automation. And cron is one of the easiest time-based schedulers available. You want to add a cronjob, enter the crontab -e command and create a single line that will run the command (or script) you want at the precise time. The only drawback to cron is knowing how to format the time correctly. "* * * * *" Choose wisely.

What about you?

Is there an old-school Linux, Mac, or Windows tool that you absolutely refuse to give up? If so, tell your fellow TechRepublic readers why that tool is so important to you.

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

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