A new browser, two new Ubuntu releases, and more than one new netbook OS — 2009 was a big year for open-source software. Here are the Linux-related posts that caught our readers' attention in 2009.
Last year, we compiled the most popular Linux downloads of 2008 and the most popular Linux posts. The most popular Linux downloads, however, tend to also be released for Windows and Mac systems, and we'd rather not repeat ourselves.
So! This year, we ran through our archives and pulled out the posts most directly related to Linux: informational, how-to, Linux-focused downloads and the like. For good measure, though, we'll list the most popular cross-platform downloads at the end, which will look very familiar to those posted in our Most Popular Free Mac Downloads of 2009 and Most Popular Free Windows Downloads of 2009 posts.
And it really does, too, after a bit of command line tweaking. It's a close relative of the andLinux system that lets you seamlessly run Linux apps on your Windows desktop. This one doesn't require any installation, however, and you can even take it with you on a thumb drive. This holiday season, feel free to show Uncle Steve just how open and free Linux can be.
Linux Puts the Lie to WEP "Security"
Using a BackTrack 3 Live CD (which we previously profiled, Gina showed us how easy it was to crack a Wi-Fi network's WEP password, offering a sound reason to upgrade your age-old router, and providing a kind of last-ditch solution for those in need of emergency connectivity. She also provided more WEP-cracking tools and tips, including some sound reasoning on why anyone would still use a fallible encryption scheme (or use something much stronger).
Looking Ahead to Ubuntu Releases
Every year, at least two versions of Ubuntu are released in six-month lockstep. This year gave us Keir Thomas' peek at the 9.04 "Jaunty Jackalope" release, and our own screenshot tour. That release was more about subtle changes and improvements. Ubuntu 9.10, Karmic Koala, brought a whole new look to the free OS, along with some major decisions on default applications and immediate improvements like faster, slicker boot-ups and a universal software store. We are, as ever, eager to see what crops up in April.
VirtualBox Makes Linux Life Easier
Sun Microsystems' free VirtualBox software is free, offers an open-source edition, and is generally easy enough for beginners to get into. Not coincidentally, it solves a big problem for Linux users who just occasionally need access to one or another Windows apps or features. It also keeps adding on new features, like support for Windows' gaming graphics, and making life generally better for those running one system inside another.
Features We Wanted to See from Ubuntu (and a Response)
"If every Ubuntu developer were assembled at one place, here are five things we'd ask them to accomplish." That's the grand daydream that launched our list of five features we want to see in Ubuntu, including strong sticking points like a decent video editor and a design-centric look. Not all of that is under of the Ubuntu team's purview, but Community Manager Jono Bacon still took the time to respond to our wishlist, noting the progress on many of the fronts we wrote on. That was a very nice moment.
Simply installing Windows 7 and Ubuntu together isn't all that hard — just do Windows before Ubuntu and leave a little room for the Linux. Fine-tuning it for convenience, access and general usability, though — that's something we spent a lot of time thinking on. We wrote it all down, step by step, in this post.
Following up on Adam's guide to building a small, silent XBMC media centre on the cheap, Lifehacker's resident Linux nerd (Howdy!) wrote up an alternative guide to getting a more powerful, Linux-backed, Boxee-centred HTPC running. Seeing as how the upcoming Boxee beta and pre-built Boxee Box will include sped-up support for this very kind of NVIDIA-powered, Linux-based system, this Boxee setup will actually hit its real peak in 2010.
Now that we've actually seen what Chrome OS will look like, and even taken it on an open-source test drive, we can run through our initial wish list for the Linux-based netbook OS and do the tally: Three yays (speed, syncing and blurred desktop/browser experience), two nays ("All kinds of hardware" and native Linux apps) and four shoulder shrugs (integrated Quicksilver-like app launcher, powerful keyboard shortcuts, user privacy and enterprise-friendly setup). There's a lot more bound to come in 2010, though, including the first official release, so stay tuned.
GNOME Do and Docky Are Slick Linux Interfaces
We dig GNOME Do as a Quicksilver-like application launcher that knows your system better than you do. When it rolled in a dock interface, it got a bit more unstable, but even more helpful — and notably more smooth and eye-pleasing than the standard GNOME interface. The two projects have since gone their separate ways, but installed side by side, they still make for a better Linux experience.
Well, we thought Presto looked like a pretty neat quick-boot alternative for Windows users, at least while it was free, and promising boot-ups in mere seconds. Then we tried it out and clocked it at a more human 15 seconds, found it to be kind of a simplified Xfce desktop, and, oh, right, this other operating system from some search company was announced. Not to say Presto is a dead option, but, at this point, it might need an overhaul (Chrome installed, maybe?) to grab much more than a glance.
Even released every six months, Ubuntu still manages to make its users wait on some newly-released apps getting official support — like Firefox, most importantly. This little Python script makes short work of bringing your built-in Firefox up to the bleeding edge.
Author Keir Thomas did the freely-licensed thing with his pocket guide, and we were all very glad to have it.
It really, really does. If you don't mind the obvious break in your your free-as-in-speech fidelity, it's a pretty nice setup.
Adam's headline pretty much says it all — you get most of the benefits of a fast-loading, small-screen-oriented OS, but with far more adaptability and a wide range of awesome Linux apps you can install.
Popular Cross-Platform Apps
Google Chrome, Alpha and Beta Releases
Google Chrome, which just barely turned one, has actually been up and running on many Linux systems since its earliest days, due to the hard work of Chromium open-source hackers. You could grab the alpha in May, try out a CrossOver-built release in September, and grab the official beta last week. Been holding off on your Chromium and just now trying Chrome? Check out our power user's guide to Google Chrome to get acquainted.
Google came out with a free DNS service, but many folks are learning, with the help of namebench or the also-excellent DNS Name Server Benchmark, that what the big G does isn't always the best. Test out all the popular, public DNS systems to see what's your own network's best bet.
Google Earth 5 is one of those lucky Linux products that Google still intends to keep up to date, unlike its sad cousin Picasa. So being able to put historical imagery, ocean maps, and improved world touring on a Linux desktop is A-OK with many readers.
Firefox (Of Course)
Firefox seemed to have met its first real challenge for the Best Alternative Browser this year, but it kept up with the modern web at its own pace. This year saw a big Firefox 3.5 release and a bunch of Firefox 3.6 betas (1, 2, 3 and 4). It'll be interesting to see if Linux distributions consider Chrome as their default in 2010, but we expect Firefox to stick around for quite some time.
Yeah, Mac and Windows users probably find HandBrake really helpful. But Linux is where encoding to non-restricted formats can be crucial, so seeing regular development is a very nice thing. On any platform, Handbrake remains a favourite video encoder — even after developers dropped AVI/XviD support.