We love Linux and want to make it easier for others to do so too. This first edition of the Lifehacker Pack for Linux includes our favourite apps that get things done and make your desktop great.
Linux isn’t quite like Windows or Mac, as there are many, many distributions, usually running on one of two desktop systems (GNOME or KDE). We’ve chosen to write this list up from the perspective of a standard, GNOME-based Ubuntu user. Ubuntu is what the Lifehacker editors use, it’s what most of our Linux-leaning readers use, and it’s generally popular and frequently updated. Many of these apps can be downloaded and installed on other Linux systems, of course — check the Download link or search out its name in your own system’s package installer.
If you are using Ubuntu, you can also install these apps by clicking the “Install in Ubuntu” link after each item. It’s a link that prompts your own Ubuntu system to search out and install an app from its own repositories — with your permission, of course. Some apps (Chrome and Dropbox) require a download, some are pre-installed in Ubuntu, and others may require the enabling of an extra repository or two for certain third-party apps, but we’ve explained how to do so in a previous Ubuntu feature (short version: open “Software Sources” from the System/Administration menu).
Now let’s get straight to the goodies:
GNOME-Do: If you’re familiar with Quicksilver, a key element of our Lifehacker Pack for Mac, you’ll have a sense of why application launcher GNOME-Do is so handy and great. But GNOME-Do does much more than object-verb launching. It comes packed with a host of plug-ins that can launch chats, upload or open Google Docs, shorten a URL or send a tweet and on and on. [Download][Install in Ubuntu]
OpenOffice.org or GNOME Office Suite: We are not in love with OpenOffice.org, by any means. The internet is full of places where you can read what people dislike about Sun Microsystems’ open-source alternative to Microsoft’s Office suite — slowness, toolbar overload, a few features that are essential to certain trades. Still, for all its shortcomings, OpenOffice does get the job done in most cases, most of the time, and it’s robust in ways that are hard to imagine for entirely free software. If you want a lighter, faster alternative for simply opening files and cranking out work, the offerings in the GNOME suite — AbiWord, Gnumeric and so forth — will suit you fine. Or just use Google Docs or Zoho. [Download: OpenOffice, GNOME Office][Install Gnome Office in Ubuntu]
gedit: It’s built into nearly any Linux OS that runs on GNOME, and some that don’t. It’s a compact but customisable text editor, one that’s great for jotting down quick notes, editing system files, writing code outside a full-fledged development environment or otherwise editing straight-up text. It can be made up with plug-ins to auto-complete, snap open files and otherwise work like TextMate, but even on its own, it’s a good tool to keep handy. [Download]
AutoKey: Text replacement gives you the power to type five letters — like kpadd — and fill in a whole mess of repetitive or hard-to-remember text — like “Kevin Purdy / 123 Mayfair Lane / SomeTown, NY 12345” — wherever you happen to be typing. AutoKey isn’t a pure equivalent of Texter for Windows or TextExpander for Mac, but it has its own features to recommend it. Users can pick a hotkey, text snippet or tray menu shortcut for each expansion they create, and learn a rudimentary scripting language to insert customised text. Just like Linux itself, AutoKey is an open book. [Download][Install in Ubuntu]
Firefox/Chrome: Firefox’s the default in most Linux browsers and is likely the most tested and stable on Ubuntu and other platforms. But, just as on Macs, Chrome is growing up quickly, offering a very, very fast experience on Linux and makes strides in integrating with the OS every day. So let’s call it a tie — both are easy to love. [Download: Firefox, Chrome]
Thunderbird: Most of you are using web-based mail these days, and Evolution may be deeply integrated into GNOME, but it’s hard to beat Thunderbird as a desktop email client. From its support for Gmail features like archiving to its large library of add-ons, Thunderbird’s got you covered no matter how you manage your email workflow. Even if you primarily use web apps for mail, you can’t go wrong backing up your email through a desktop client, nor accessing it through IMAP when Gmail goes down. [Download][Install in Ubuntu]
Pidgin: Ubuntu has picked up Empathy as a default messaging program, and while it’s a stylish, intriguing app, it’s nowhere near as convenient and fleshed out as Pidgin. Pigin gives you total control over multiple chat accounts and your buddy list, can be used with multiple Windows or Linux PCs, and also integrates into Ubuntu’s new “Me” menu. [Download][Install in Ubuntu]
Skype: Sure there are a lot of different ways to video chat nowadays, but Skype is by far the most popular, what with its cross-platform availability and, frankly, media hype. But it’s free, works well, and chances are your friends all have it too, so it’s nice to keep around. [Download][Install in Ubuntu]
Transmission: Transmission is the default BitTorrent client in Ubuntu, and with good reason. It’s not quite as feature-rich as the Mac version, but it’s super lightweight, fast and still has a lot of convenient features like automatic port forwarding, speed limiting, scheduling and a handy web UI for when you aren’t near your computer (or, if you’re more a fan of SSH, command-line support). [Download]
Flash Player: It’s never run quite as well on Linux as on Windows or Mac (and it isn’t so great on those either), but until HTML5 really comes to fruition, it’s necessary for streaming video or using a lot of interactive web pages. Of course, you can keep it’s resource hogging at bay when necessary with FlashBlock for Chrome and FlashBlock for Firefox. [Download][Install in Ubuntu]
VLC: Media player VLC was voted the best desktop media player by you guys, and with good reason — not only does it play pretty much any file you throw at it, but it can rip DVDs, stream media to other computers and even play YouTube videos (and much more). It’s a must-have application for anyone that watches video on their computer. [Download][Install in Ubuntu]
Handbrake: It doesn’t matter whether you’re throwing some video on your mobile device or ripping that Blu-Ray disc to your media centre, open source Handbrake is one of the best video encoders around. Unfortunately the latest version of Handbrake doesn’t work with the new version of GNOME, and the Handbrake team has yet to catch up, but you can install some (likely less stable) snapshots using this method. [Main Site]
GIMP: Ubuntu recently dropped GIMP, the open-source, full-fledged image editor from its default installations, due to its size and complexity. The thinking went that most casual photo edits could be made with the F-Spot photo manager. Well, kind-of-sort-of-not-really. GIMP may have a dense number of options, but F-Spot’s photo handling and somewhat sparse options make it less than ideal for actual editing — cropping, lasso-grabbing, drop-shadowing and the like. GIMP has its flaws, but it gets regular improvements, and you’ll be glad it’s there when you need it. [Download][Install in Ubuntu]
Rhythmbox: Music players are a very personal thing — that’s why there are so many, after all. We can see why Linux users would variously love them some Banshee, Exaile, or even Songbird, discontinued for Linux development but living on in the Nightingale project. But when it comes down to what loads, syncs and plays your music, offers extensibility and fits nicely into a GNOME/Ubuntu desktop, we have to go with the default Rhythmbox. Beyond basic functionality, Rhythmbox now has a very nice built-in music store, one that automatically syncs your purchases to a free Ubuntu One cloud service. Like iTunes for Mac, it’s not a perfect product, but it probably works for the widest number of uses. [Download]
Dropbox: If you have more than one computer (or tend to use other computers often), Dropbox is a must-have. It adds a Dropbox folder to your user folder, which will be constantly synced to Dropbox’s servers. Thus, any files you add to this folder (or folders you link to it) will be synced to your Dropbox folder on other computers, as well as be accessible from the web. Nowadays, most smartphone platforms also have a Dropbox client from which you can download your files, so it’s pretty useful for pretty much anyone with files to access, among its many other clever uses. [Download]
Conky: Much like the more publicised Mac favourite GeekTool, Conky is a super customisable system monitor for your computer. Not only can you put system stats such as CPU, memory and network stats on your desktop, but you can even add weather updates and mail checkers. It’s a great way to stay productive while keeping track of everything going on behind the scenes. [Download][Install in Ubuntu]
Wine: Despite your best efforts, chances are you’ll still need to run a few Windows applications from time to time. One of the best ways to do so in Linux is Wine, a compatibility layer that offers support for a number of Windows applications. What’s great about Wine is that it lets you run these apps in your regular window manager as if they were Linux apps, and doesn’t suck up a ton of resources like a virtual machine. However, not all programs work with Wine, but for the ones that do, it’s usually the optimal solution. [Download][Install in Ubuntu]
VirtualBox: When Wine can’t run that Windows program you need, free virtualisation software VirtualBox will. Since it’s a full Windows environment, it supports almost any Windows program, albeit at the cost of slowing down the rest of your system a bit. It’ll do the trick when you need it to, though, so it’s useful to have at the ready. Note: the download version from VirtualBox offers a few benefits (like USB device handling) over the open-source version installed via Ubuntu. [Download][Install in Ubuntu]
Tilda or Yakuake: As modern and user-friendly as Linux has come from its roots (and, believe it or not, that’s a very long way), many users will still need access to a terminal. Tilda and Yakuake are snappy, drop-down terminals inspired by first-person shooter games that you will grow to love. They’re both customisable in shape, size and appearance, and save you the trouble of having to switch windows when you just want to fire off a quick command or two. Yakuake is built for KDE, and has the edge on looks and sleekness; Tilda’s a bit more utilitarian, but doesn’t require installing extra libraries. [Download: Tilda, Yakuake][Install Tilda in Ubuntu][Install Yakuake in Ubuntu]
p7zip: It’s basically 7-Zip for Linux. Install it and you’ll be able to compress and de-compress pretty much any archive file around, including disk images, Mac OS packages and the .rar and other segmented files found around the wild web. Best of all, you can just right-click on files to compress or de-compress them, if you don’t want to get your hands dirty in the terminal. [Download][Install in Ubuntu]
Optional (For Beginners)
Ubuntu Tweak: (Ubuntu only) It doesn’t do things by the Linux book, and some of the things it does to your system might make for a slightly messy situation if you go the upgrade route for the next Ubuntu release. But Ubuntu Tweak makes it really, really simple to do a lot of things Linux beginners are looking to do. Install popular third-party apps and plug-ins (from the app or its online app “store”), make system configuration tweaks that would otherwise require terminal editing, clear up disk space, configure the notoriously obtuse Compiz 3D graphics, and otherwise jump right into using and enjoying Ubuntu. [Download]
Want the whole Lifehacker Pack for Linux in one click? Here’s a link for Ubuntu: [Install the entire Lifehacker Pack for Linux in Ubuntu]
And here’s a terminal command, for you old-school Linux types:
sudo apt-get install gnome-do gnome-office autokey thunderbird pidgin skype flashplugin-installer vlc gimp conky wine virtualbox-ose tilda p7zip
(Don’t worry if you’ve got some of these apps installed already — Ubuntu will ping you to let you know it’s already there, then move on).
This is our first Lifehacker Pack for Linux, but we expect to read the feedback, hash it over and run it all again next year. Give us your take on what you consider to be the essential Linux apps for any system in the comments.