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Eight Must-Have Apps for Linux

Linux comes in all shapes and sizes...from the full-blown app-heavy distros like Fedora and Ubuntu, to the lean and mean distros such as Puppy and Damn Small Linux.

Whatever the size of the distribution, there are always going to be applications that you will want to download and install, depending on your needs. These can be essential apps, like Skype, Flash, or Thunderbird, or not-so-important-yet-fun apps like Google Earth, VirtualBox, and VLC.

To help get started with these applications, Linux.com is providing a single list of these must-have apps that Linux users should install right after their distro is up and running. For the purposes of this article, installation URLs and methods for the following popular distributions will be examined:

  • Fedora 12
  • Linux Mint 8
  • Mandriva One 2010.0
  • openSUSE 11.2
  • Ubuntu 9.10

Adobe Reader

Reading PDF files is something that, once upon a time, only could be done with Adobe products. Fortunately, the company has opened the format just enough to let other applications, like Okular, manage the task.

Still, sometimes Okular can be flaky, particularly with complex PDF forms, so sometimes it's best to go back to the original.

Adobe Reader for Linux is available for installation in the Adobe site's download section. While there are .deb and .rpm packages available to download and install, the universal BIN installer file works just as well on any distribution.

  1. Select Linux - x86 (bin) in the Select an operating system file, and your language of choice in the next field.
  2. Click Continue.
  3. Confirm the version you want to download, then click Download now.
  4. Save the .bin file to your home directory.
  5. Open a command-line terminal, such as gnome-terminal, or Konsole.
  6. Enter these commands:
    chmod u+x ./AdbeRdr9.3.1-1_i486linux_enu.bin
    
    ./AdbeRdr9.3.1-1_i486linux_enu.bin
  7. Follow the prompts on the screen to complete the installation.

Audacity

Audacity is such a ridiculously powerful and versatile sound recording and editing tool, it is a wonder it is not installed by default in every Linux distribution.

Audacity's intuitive interface makes it easy to record sound from microphones, CDs, and any audio playback on your machine, which means it's a must have for audiophiles.

Even though Audacity isn't installed by default, all of the distros here have it available in their main software repositories, so you can use your distro's software management tool to quickly install the application.

Check out the Linux download page if you want the packages straight from the source.

Flash Player

Flash is one of those apps Linux users hate. The proprietary format, the drain on system resources, the crashing browsers... all properties that are guaranteed to make Tuxphiles' collective teeth itch.

Unfortunately Flash--for now--is too integral a part of today's web content to ignore. You only have to try to visit YouTube without Flash once to figure that out.

If you're using Linux Mint 8, Mandriva One 2010.0, or openSUSE 11.2, then you already have the Flash Player installed, so you're all set.

Fedora 12 users can use the Package Manager to install the flash-plugin package, but first the Adobe repository must be added to the list of repositories. In a terminal, type as root:

rpm -Uvh http://linuxdownload.adobe.com/adobe-release/adobe-release-i386-1.0-1.noarch.rpm

Once added, Package Manager will list flash-plugin package as available for installation.

Within Ubuntu, you will need to add the ubuntu-restricted-extras repository in order to access Flash (and other multimedia apps). If you type:

sudo aptitude install ubuntu-restricted-extras

that will make the Flash Player in the software manager.

Google Earth

Google Earth's status as a "must-have" application is, at best, questionable. After all, it's not like you're going to get a lot of work done if you have this installed on your machine.

But let's face it; Google Earth isn't about work... unless you regularly use mapping software for your business. It's about seeing the world in a very cool way.

Like Adobe Reader, Google Earth is installed with a single binary file available at the software's download site.

After downloading the file to your home directory, open a terminal and (as root) type:

sh GoogleEarthLinux.bin

Installation will rev up, and after accepting all of the default settings, Google Earth should be good to go.

Linux Mint 8 users can also visit Mint's Software Portal to download and install Google Earth with one click.

Skype

This voice-over-IP has gotten a lot of attention recently, as Internet users on all platforms are tapping into the power of VoIP communications.

Linux users have been ahead of the curve on VoIP: early adoption is a noted characteristic of Tux fans. And we've had good tools available for a while, too: Ekiga (formerly GnomeMeeting), KPhone and Asterisk come to mind. But, also typical for Linux users, is the difficultly of getting audio hardware to bend to our individual wills and work with such tools. That, if anything, is the only thing that has held VoIP adoption back on Linux.

So, why Skype? It's proprietary, both in code and protocol, it's still in beta on Linux, and there are, as noted earlier, other good VoIP apps out there. Two reasons: new users to Linux might not be as aware of the older Linux VoIP apps, whereas Skype's popularity will make it a better starting point. Secondly, Skype is a cross-platform application that runs on Windows and OS X, which makes it a more inclusive communications tool.

For a complete look at installing Skype on various distros, visit this article.

Thunderbird (w/Lightning)

The best open-source standalone messaging app is actually a combination of tools. As of Version 3, Thunderbird is a very robust, capable app, which works very well with existing Exchange and other POP- and IMAP-based messaging systems.

The good news is that all of the target distros have Thunderbird available in their primary software repositories, so you can use your distro's software management tool to quickly install the application.

For calendaring, Thunderbird needs a little help. Once Thunderbird is installed, just download and install the Lightning add-on from the Mozilla Calendaring Project. Lightning is still in beta, but it still does a good job with calendar and task management.

VirtualBox

The novelty of running a completely different operating system within a self-contained virtual environment has begun to wear off a bit. Sure, it's cool to fire up a Windows machine inside Linux to get some Windows-only task done, but as Linux has matured, the need for these kinds of tasks has diminished sharply of late.

Now, the real pay off for using virtual machines lies in the setup and configuration of complex server stacks, like Ruby on Rails, Tomcat, Joomla! or Drupal. Regardless of platform, getting one of these instances running can range from a bit tricky to downright hair-pulling, but there are lots of services out there that offer pre-built stacks that handle this for you, like TurnKey Linux, Bitnami or JumpBox. All you need is a virtual client.

One of the simplest virtual clients to install for Linux is VirtualBox from Oracle. VirtualBox comes in two versions: a commercial version that features USB support and a remote display protocol (RDP) server that allows users to connect remotely to a virtual machine; and an open source version that has every feature except these.

Both versions of VirtualBox are free, but it's important to decide which one you are going to get beforehand, because virtual machines created for one version will not run in the other. The commercial version is free for personal evaluation, but if you need to deploy it commercially, you should get the $50/seat perpetual license. The open VirtualBox, known as VirtualBox OSE, is always free, however you use it.

For personal use, you should use the commercial version, because the USB support is convenient to have. For openSUSE, Mandriva, and Linux Mint, you can install this version via your distro's software management tool... but it's important to make sure you install the non-OSE packages. Currently, the commercial package is labeled as VirtualBox-3.0 or -3.1. Choose that one, and the installation should go smoothly.

With Fedora 12 and Ubuntu 9.10, only VirtualBox OSE is included, so you will need to download the packages directly from the VirtualBox site.

Regardless of your distribution, it is important to make sure your username is added to the vboxusers group so you can run and connect to the virtual machines. As root, type:

usermod -G vboxusers -a yourusername

before running VirtualBox for the first time.

VLC Media Player

Without a doubt, VLC is my favorite multimedia player on any platform. It plays a wide variety of formats, including obscure ones, as well as plays DVDs. All you need to do is make sure the right codecs and libraries are installed on the target machine.

To install VLC on Fedora 12, enter the following commands as root:

rpm -ivh http://download1.rpmfusion.org/free/fedora/rpmfusion-free-release-stable.noarch.rpm

yum install vlc

To install on Linux Mint, simply click the Install Now link on the VLC page of the Software Portal.

VLC is available in Mandriva using the urpmi software management tool. Just use Easy urpmi to add the contrib and plf repositories, then type this on the command line:

urpmi libdvdplay0 wxvlc vlc-plugin-a52 vlc-plugin-ogg vlc-plugin-mad libmatroska0

openSUSE users can benefit from the openSUSE Build Service and find one-click install links on the VLC download page.

Ubuntu users who have the multiverse repository activated should install the vlc, vlc-plugin-pulse, mozilla-plugin-vlc, and libdvdcss2 packages.

Wrapping Up

This is only the beginning of the versatile applications that can be run on the Linux platform. As more are discovered, check back at Linux.com for download and installation guidelines that will help optimize your system.

 

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