Linux Applications

Every computer user has his or her favourite applications, and once skill and familiarity are gained, is reluctant to change. Occasionally one comes across an alternative to a favourite that proves to be better, and this is always a happy event.

This page lists some personal favourites of mine that others may not know of. My own interests are web design, music, and science, so if you have interests in these areas you may strike it lucky here.

I started this page on 19th October 2010 and will keep adding to it as time permits, so drop back in a while if there's nothing that immediately strikes your fancy.

File manager: Midnight Commander

Back in the days of DOS, twenty-five line text terminals, and not a mouse in sight, there were two light heavyweights amongst computer professionals - Norton Commander and X-tree Gold. Upon meeting, experienced computer users would soon declare their devotion to one or the other, and on this basis alone, many friendships blossomed or died. No-one wants to be caught sleeping with the enemy.

Midnight Commander, or mc as it is known, is today's open source incarnation of Norton Commander. It's a powerful text screen File Manager designed to be used from, and in conjunction with, a commandline interface. It also does FTP quickly and easily, and is about the fastest way available to create, view, edit, move, rename, compare, delete and identify directories and files of every sort. GUI fans won't like it, but anyone with even moderate keyboard skills will soon find it invaluable. It looks and acts so similarly to a much-improved Norton Commander that it feels like I've been using the same program for more than twenty years. In this case, old does not mean out-of-date, but highly optimized, efficient and reliable.

It's not always included in modern distros, and even when included is sometimes not installed, but it has few dependencies and, once runnning, is robust and reliable.

Text editor: Nedit

Nedit is a programmer's text editor. It reads and writes flat ASCII files - those containing only the 128 characters of the 7-bit ASCII Code that is a permanent part of every PC's ROM BIOS, and the basis of all web pages and program source code. This specialization has generated capabilities unavailable in many word processors, and more efficiently implemented. A good example is the 'keyboard macro' facility which allows the recording and replay of a sequence of keystrokes. It's quite common with text files to find that the same operation must be repeated many times, either within a single file or across multiple files. Without keyboard macros, you're faced with a long, tedious, repetitive task. By recording the necessary keystrokes and replaying them where necessary throughout the files, it becomes a breeze. It's interface is embarrassingly old-fashioned but quite usable, and some versions have a few quirks and shortcomings, but overall it has been one of my most valuable tools for many years.

Browser: Opera

Opera is one of the best browsers available, with features not found in other browsers. It has an integrated email client, contact manager and download manager, making it an exceptionally efficient online tool. It frequently tops the list of 'fastest rendering engine', and has several features that assist in the design of web pages and sites, including an error report, Javascript console, and - best of all - the ability to use your favourite text editor (Nedit) to view the source code of pages, which makes web page editing fast and simple. Highly recommended and readily available.

Text-mode Browser: Elinks

If you're tired of all the flashy images and banner ads on today's websites, a text-mode browser is a good solution. The most common is Lynx, but I've grown to like Elinks. These browsers operate somewhat differently from their GUI counterparts, and it's worth visiting the Elinks page for a quick introduction; but once you're familiar with one, it'll soon be your favourite for news sites and others with too much bling.

Image viewer: qiv

Small, quick, simple and almost invisible, qiv is an image viewer that pops up a window containing almost any kind of image file immediately, then allows you to zoom, scale, flip, copy, move or delete it. You can also adjust brightness, contrast and gamma, execute a command on it, or run a slideshow. Use it from the commandline (automatically with Midnight Commander) or change the setting in your GUI file manager to use it instead of the default. It's almost certainly an improvement.

Image viewer: gThumb

Where qiv is a single-image popup, gThumb is a proper gallery presenter/catalogue mananger/image viewer, and the best that I've tried. Fast, configurable, and with the essential extras such as basic image manipulation, the ability to execute commands on one or several images, and to create an HTML display page. Highly recommended.

Office suite: Koffice

OpenOffice has now become so powerful that it's also too slow and bloated on many older machines. A good alternative is Koffice, which has pretty much everything you need for everyday work - word processor, spreadsheet, and even a presentation manager if you enjoy punishing an audience. A good, mature alternative.

Note taker: Kjots

Keep it minimized until you need to jot down something in a hurry on one of as many pages and books in Kjots as you need. Well designed for a simple, useful task.

Desktop environment: KDE 3.5

As you'll have gathered, I'm a fan of KDE 3.5, which doesn't mean that I don't like or use others (see next). But KDE 3.5 is so configurable and has so many useful features and knick-knacks that it's hard to beat for daily use. Unfortunately, KDE 4 is a dog, not just in my opinion, but that of many others – so many, in fact, that some distros have refused to change, and there's a site devoted to preserving KDE 3.5 (see I much prefer KDE 3.5 to Gnome, but that's religious war I won't get into ...

Window manager: Fvwm

If you've never used a plain-vanilla window manager instead of a complete Desktop Environment like KDE, you've an interesting experience awaiting you. It's the speed, simplicity, and complete configurability that are so attractive, but you'll need to find replacements for all of the knick-knacks that a DE provides. In fact, this is part of the fun, since many alternatives that you'd otherwise never use turn out to be superior in many respects. Problem is, once you've made the change, you may not want to go back.

Multiple console/terminal: Mrxvt

Rxvt is a lightweight shell; an X-terminal or xterm consisting of a window and a commandline interface. This imitates the traditional console of all computing equipment and is an essential tool for all who interact with system-level software. It's also the fastest and most powerful way for anyone to do basic file and system management, and only moderate keyboard skills are needed if Midnight Commander is used to speed things up. It's small, fast and reliable across a range of different platforms. Mrxvt is the tabbed multi-terminal version, and totally addictive once you get it installed and configured to your liking, a good alternative when KDE's Konqueror isn't available.