Essential Software for Linux

20 10 2009

I’m always interested in finding out what software everyone is using on their Linux machines. It’s great finding alternatives to the software you’re using now, because what is the point in open source if you dont have choice?

I’m going to run through some of the software I use on my machine. Hopefully some of you will comment and let me know what programs you guys use.


You can’t list web browsers without mentioning Firefox.

I’ve been a Firefox user for many years now. It has a whole host of great features, such as:

  • an amazing add-on system

To me, this is one of the best features of Firefox. Add-ons give Firefox the features you have been longing for with other browsers. For example, there are many add-ons which handle website login information much better than Firefox, some even generating complicated passphrases made of random alphanumeric characters. Others increase functionality for certain groups of people, for example Firebug, which allow you to view the source code of a website in a much more advanced way than how Firefox handles viewing a sites source code.

  • an extremely useful bookmark toolbar

I know this isnt exactly a unique feature, but I feel that Firefox’s bookmark toolbar is so much more than what the other browsers offer. It allows you to add bookmarks in a place that is extremely easy to access, but also allows you to add RSS feeds to the toolbar, allowing you to keep up-to-date with site changes from the comfort of a static toolbar.


Very lightweight (resource-wise, and feature-wise) browser driven by the Gecko engine (which is made famous by Mozilla). I found it useful for basic tasks, like checking my emails – most due to it’s start-up time being much faster than Firefox’s. However, it does seem to lack features. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it tried to market the way Chromium has – as “Lightweight, straight-to-the-point browsing”. Instead, it’s in limbo between being useful for more than browsing (like firefox), and being lightweight and strictly browsing like Chromium.

Chromium (and related projects)

Although Google Chrome hasn’t come out of beta (not even sure if it’s out of alpha yet) for Linux, you can still get your hands on Chromium – the open-source browser that Google Chrome is built upon. This is my default browser right now, since it’s fast, and it looks clean while maximising screen real estate. However, right now I’m having a problem with Javascript – sometimes, I can’t interact with Javascript object like video in the way I should be able to. However, this is most likely either the build I am using, or a bug in the WebKit engine Chromium uses.

Audio Players

This is a toughie. Since there are a few choice here, I’ll just list a briefly describe.


My favourite. Why? Because it’s just so damn lightweight. MPD is a music daemon – it runs in the background, playing your tunes. To interact with it, you must use a front-end. Check out ncmpc for a console client, and sonata for a graphical client.


SongBird is different. How? It does everything. Well, tries to, and in my oppinion, fails. It combines a music player, clawing at the UI of iTunes, with a gecko-driven web browser. In my oppinion, this seems like a load of bloat, but I have heard of many people who were more than happy with it, so I say that it’s worth a shot.


If you haven’t guessed, this is a KDE application. And quite a nice one at that. It seems, at first glance, so be a bit too glossy, setting you up to expect a load of fail when it comes to features. This is where you’re pleasantly surprised. It works with many formats, lets you scrobble and listen to LastFM streams, and is fairly customisable with user-created scripts. However, some may find it a little on the heavy side, and those who don’t use KDE as a DE (Desktop Environment) might find that it just doesn’t sit right on their screen.

Video Players


I loved VLC. Even why I was on Windows, VLC was my main program for any video, or audio that I wanted to listen to or watch. It has a nice, clean layout, with thousands of options to boot. I even managed to set it up with PulseAudio, allowing me to take advantage of the superior speak attached to my server, while watching the film itself on my laptop. However, I moved away from VLC when I decided that it was getting a bit too heavy for the small jobs I was asking of it. It also started to crash – the point at which I gave up trying to diagnose this crash, happened to be the same time that I met my next example of a great, linux Video Player.


This is by far my favourite Video Player for linux. It’s extremely light, even when playing large ISO files off my hard drive. It supports a larger format spectrum than VLC (in my experience), which is always useful. In my experience, it also helped some sync issues I had when streaming video from my file server using VLC – they totally disappeared when I started using MPlayer. However, it is command-line driven – to me, this isn’t a problem, but to others, it might be a bit scary. However, for the most part, it’s as simple as:

mplayer ~/<path to video>

You can also use MPlayer for playing audio files. Being console-based, the start-up time for MPlayer is tiny, making it useful for quickly listening to a song that you suddenly fancy listening to, or making using it in a script to playing an audio file once the script is finished.

Office Apps

Whether, we like it or not, we all need them. Here is a quick round-up of the ones I have come across.

Open Office

This tends to be the favourite amongst many who have either migrated from Windows, or have to use Windows machines often – mainy because it’s quite similar to Microsoft Office 2003 or there-abouts. This is my favourite – although he quite heavyweight in comparison to the rest of my software preferences, it gets the job done well.


Touted as a lighter-weight Office-write (the “word” applicant from the Open Office suite, I was sure to give this a go. It started well – faster start-up speeds, clean-ish layout. However, it crashed repeatedly on me. This meant I lost a lot of my coursework due to this. Needless to say, I was pissed, and uninstalled, reinstalling Open Office. However, this may have not been Abiword’s fault, so it is worth a go to see for yourself. You may have been luck than me.

There we have it. You might be asking, “Where are the games, the x, y, z?”. Well, if the category isn’t here, than I haven’t tried any, so it wouldn’t be right of me to recommend any. As you can see, this REALLY isn’t an exhaustive list, and it was never meant to be. I just wanted to show my setup, program-wise. Feel free to comment, and share your setup software-wise.