Linux

10 small Linux applications I can't live without

The spotlight is usually on the bigger Linux players, like LibreOffice and Claws Mail -- but these little workhorses deserve attention, too.

Day in and day out, there are small (or smallish) applications I have come to completely rely upon. Without these tools, my job and/or my sanity would become precarious. These tools range from entertainment to administration (and all points in between). So I thought I would share my short list with my loyal readers. Check out these apps, then pick and choose those that belong on your must-have list.

1: Pithos

If you're a music fan like me, you probably do a lot of streaming from the likes of Pandora. The problem on Linux is that most of the Pandora clients are horrible. That is, all but one. Pithos is one of the best music clients I've used. It's small, simple, and reliable, and it allows me to quickly choose between my Pandora stations and easily create new ones. I use Pithos every day I am at my computer and would hate to go without it.

2: Kate

There are times when a full-blown word processor is too much for the job, such as when you're coding in the language of your choice. Tools like LibreOffice let you write HTML, but I find the resulting code to be horrible. And although Gedit is a nice similar graphical tool, Kate has more features and works with indenting better. Of course, for straight-up editing of configuration files, you can't beat the ease of use of Nano.

3: Terminal

I was going to list a particular terminal, but ultimately it doesn't really matter so long as there is a terminal window to use. And I do use this tool --- every day, in fact. There are GUI tools for most every action in Linux, but you just can't beat the command line for speed and simplicity. So instead of logging out of the desktop and logging into a command prompt (or opening up a virtual terminal), I prefer to fire up a terminal window like Gnome-Terminal, Konsole, or Eterm.

4: Simple Scan

Of all the scanning tools I've used, Simple Scan is by far the easiest. From this tool, you can scan documents and images and save them as either images or PDF documents. Simple Scan enjoys an incredibly simple interface that isn't bogged down with too many features. Simple scan simply scans, and that's it.

5: Gwibber

I depend on Twitter to promote my novels, so I am always connected. One of the tools I prefer to use (over the Twitter Web site) is Gwibber. It's less obtrusive than the Twitter site, and when using the Gnome desktop, the tool integrates into the system tray. Gwibber can even use the KDE notification system and will pop up mentions and retweets to keep you alert. Follow me!

6: Basket Notes

As a writer, having a tool to keep notes with is incredibly valuable. And Basket Notes does this incredibly well. It lets you add nearly anything to a basket, so you can stay organized in whatever it is you need -- classes, tests, writing. You can even get creative with Basket Notes and use it to categorize things like hardware/software deployments. This is one of those pieces of software whose limitations are only bound by your imagination.

7: Brasero

Show me a Linux user who does not depend upon CD-burning software and I will show you a Linux user not used to Linux. Anyone who has enjoyed Linux for long knows that a common task is burning ISO images to CD. Without this task complete, the installation of Linux (and the handing out of Linux CDs to friends) wouldn't be nearly as simple. And as far as burning applications, there aren't many that are as easy to use as Brasero. I use it on a daily basis for either creating ISO images or secondary backup media.

8: Dropbox

There are two easy solutions for syncing files on multiple machines in Linux: UbuntuOne and Dropbox. The problem with UbuntuOne is obvious -- it's only for Ubuntu (and Ubuntu-based distributions). So the best means of keeping machine directories in sync (especially when you're outside your network) is Dropbox. This enables me to get my work done from anywhere -- a must-have without a doubt.

9: Lucky Backup

I can safely say that I back up a lot. And having Dropbox installed ensures that if a backup fails, I still have my most crucial documents on another machine. But even so, a good backup solution definitely helps give me peace of mind. So far, I have yet to find a tool as easy to use and as reliable as Lucky Backup. Yes, I've set up bash scripts and cron jobs for such tasks. But Lucky Backup makes the process so much faster and easier, anyone can have a powerful Linux backup solution.

10: Labyrinth

One of the tools that has managed to get me out of a writing jam more than once is Labyrinth. Sometimes, plots can get out of hand or wind up stalled. I have found that one of the best ways out of such predicaments is to use good mind-mapping software. What I like about Labyrinth is that it's incredibly simple and requires next to no learning curve. Just install it and start creating simple mind maps.

Other favorite small apps?

I use a lot of software on a daily basis. But generally speaking, the LibreOffices, the Claws Mails, and the Chromium Browsers get all the limelight. The little applications discussed here also deserve their share of attention. I hope that at least one or two of these apps will wind up on your "can't live without it" list. What other small apps have you gotten hooked on?

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.

16 comments
LorinRicker
LorinRicker

I've long been a fan of Brasero, DropBox, and the Terminal com-line, and recently discovered Lucky Backup (best of its breed). Pithos is new to me, but it installed easily (Ubuntu 10.4/LL-LTS) and works great! My own contributions to "small apps I can't live without": GRsync (my mainstay before LuckyB, still a compliment), Klipper (multi-use cut-&-paste), KRename (batch file renamer), Qalculate! (great little calculator, lots of functionality), Shutter (screenshots), Sound Juicer (CD ripper), Sound Converter (audio file format converter), EasyTAG (view/edit MP3, OggV, FLAC, etc. tags), UNetbootin (Live USB drive creator). Of course, Linux/FLOSS is rich with small/tiny programs of great utility, and I'm always finding new ones... that's half-the-fun.

aroc
aroc

as a file and directory browser in text mode terminal sessions on *n*x boxes. It is a huge time saver. I set it up on any system I have to support or work on much. The only tricky part can be with some precompiled versions not making it easy to turn on the option to view dot files. It is also useful when I need to document work under change control ("changes") while working in a terminal window to show web page verification in text mode with the "-dump" option.

alpreston
alpreston

Pithos turned out to be unusable on my system - it gave an error claiming it wasn't supported by Pandora. Turns out the problem is Pandora, which refuses service to anyone who's IP it thinks is outside the US.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

Here's a list of the most useful apps I add to Linux builds: * Crossover ('wine' front end) - Worth the (reasonable) price to easily run Windows apps * HP-15C calculator simulator from http://hp-15c.homepage.t-online.de/ * isomaster - Great GUI tool for mastering or remastering '.iso' files * gprename - Nice GUI bulk file renamer * nautilus-open-terminal, nautilus-gksu, nautilus-image-converter - What the Nautilus pop-up menu needs * gnumeric - Good lightweight spreadsheet * freemind - Mind-mapping software * gthumb - Lightweight image manipulation tool * gpicview - Alternative to 'eog' (Eye of Gnome) * gufw - Because you don't want to configure 'iptables' via the command line! * fwknop (client & server) - Encrypted port knocker for secure remote access * ssmtp - Lightweight alternative to sendmail; can mail via Gmail All of these are available in the Ubuntu repositories except the first two. All are free except Crossover, which you can get for (as low as) $26. I bought the Pro version, which gave me 12 months of support plus the 'Games' version (has Dx9 support), though I've never needed to use the support. And I like doing business with a company with a good product that helps foster Microsoft independence.

nwhittier
nwhittier

This is pretty specific to Gnome 2, as Unity and the next generation Gnome/KDE are integrating much of this functionality, but GnomeDo is still the first application I install on any distribution using Gnome 2. It's dead simple, and saves me countless clicks/searches every time I launch something.

manuelramoscaro
manuelramoscaro

Hi, on free time i love Xine. For years it's the best player i have use.I'm talking about decoding, picture quality, performance, etc...

parnote
parnote

I cannot live without one or the other of these on my Linux system. Oh, the joy of having a fully functional terminal emulator as near as a specially designated hot key of my choosing!

grassiap
grassiap

I totally second and ups on guake, I even find myself hit the f12 key on windows and Macs hoping that my trusty command line will pop down and get out of the way when it loses focus. as for note taking KeepNotes is my go to application alhtough I had troubles installing it on Mac ( I blame it on too much tinkering GTK with and without MacPorts). in my windows+linux world I find xrdp invaluable, it is straight forward to install (vnc based) and second only to NX in terms of performance. Since the data is transported over RDP it is much faster than VNC, has some added security, and uses a readily available enterprise friendly client.

reginald.garrett
reginald.garrett

This is a terrific open source application to keep up with references in scholarly papers from book reports to dissertations. You can use it to implement any known format from APA to MLA and everything in between. It integrates with OpenOffice / LibreOffice, and even MS Word. Combined with Firefox to update documents as they are written, this is why I am using it right now, and would not change for anything.

tblancher
tblancher

I take issue with someone who says burning CDs/DVDs/BDs is a daily chore for the seasoned Linux user. I would consider myself a minor Linux guru, and I very rarely burn CDs. I do use Brasero for that purpose, just because it's simple. But daily burning of ISOs is just wasteful in my opinion. The last CD I burned was back in May. I so rarely burn CDs and DVDs that I no longer keep a spindle of blank discs around. For OS installations, I "burn" to USB flash drive, which is much more reusable than even CD/DVD-RW. I also take issue that nano is a necessary tool. On my personal systems (mostly Debian), nano is installed by default. I always remove it post haste. Vim is too ingrained in my psyche for me to use anything else. The only thing I use GUI editors for is throwaway notes, so I also take issue with kate being a necessary tool. But, the Linux community is all about choice, and which choices you let your distro choose for you. As for the terminal? I use rxvt-unicode, which takes a bit of massaging to get working the way you want. Once it's set up though, you can't beat it. Oh, and if you haven't tried a tiling window manager like awesome or XMonad, you're doing yourself a disservice. I have been using XMonad for a few months now, and I love it.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I really like Kate for holding several files open and easy to get at. It tends to get used during tasks where I will be adding open files as steps progress. The notes file, then the nmap scan file, then the dumped results from the next tool and so on. For day to day keeping of notes and document drafting though; Zim! It provides a very nice wiki style layout of files. Linking pages, basic text formatting, check/bullet lists, screenshots.. all there. Behind the scenes, it uses a very clean directory/textfile layout. This is a big benefit when keeping the saved notes synced between machines or when doing heavy editing on a page using another tool like Vim. Zim also has you covered on Windows, osX, Linux and Maemo among other OS so I have the same tree of notes across personal desktop, notebook, workstation and phone without relying on a third party hosted service. With both tools, I'd love to see Vim key bindings though. I've been spoiled by the ability to easily delete/paste lines without moving away from the letter keys. (somehow, "home shift end crtl+x up up crtl+v" is just not the same as "dd k k p") And the number of times I look back at the screen now to see three "j" characters instead of my courer down three lines.. regarding Nano.. I used to use Joe (Joe's Own Editor) because it was a very clean display. Vim has since replaced my use of Joe. I can't even take the menu across the bottom of Nano now though I do use it as the default when doing machines for non-Vim users.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

This one is a "well, duh"... Open Office / Libre office. I like it better than Office 2007, but I still miss Visio. Hey Oracle, that was a hint in case you missed it. Guake... Oh my god yes. Command line from a hot key on a screen overlay for those of you who haven't tried it. Gimp. Need to edit a photo or graphic? Easy. Inkscape. Need to make a scalable graphic? Simple. Scribus. Need to create a publishable PDF and submit final copy to a commercial printer? Done. Evolution. I like my email and calendars in one app. I like to receive a calendar event or contact from an Outlook user and import it with a click. Canonical, this was a hint in case you are paying attention. Bluefish. I write code and scripts at the command line. I want context highlighting. I have the power. Virtualbox. I want to run any OS to support my clients. I can. There are others, but those are my favorites.

gishac
gishac

Definitely if you like terminal you should use Guake

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

I have added Zotero to my system. Since I am going for my masters in Economics and IT management it will really come in handy for those pesky citations!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Same here. I find I'm doing less CD burning rather than more as time goes on. With VMware or Virtualbox, just point it at the ISO and go; no more burn and reboot just to look at a new distro release. Heck, I've used ISO'd Supergrub to fix a VM with a broken boot process. Actually, I probably do more burning to physical media for Windows machines these days; various AV liveCD and the new MS system scanner liveCD. I'd have mentioned K3B though rather than Brasero simply due to more time spent working through KDE and it's native apps.