Lifehacker Pack for Linux: Our List of Essential Linux Apps
With so many flavors of Linux and amazing applications in their repositories, finding the right application for the job can be tricky. In our annual Lifehacker Pack for Linux, we highlight essential downloads for productivity, communication, media management, and more.
Lifehacker Pack is an annual snapshot of our favorite and essential apps for each of our favorite platforms. For our constantly updated catalog of all the best applications, be sure to bookmark the Linux Application Catalog .
How we developed the Lifehacker package for Linux
Unlike Windows and OS X, Linux is not a single entity. There are many different Linux-based distributions , with different desktop environments to choose from and different applications already built into the system. There are several ways to build a happy Linux machine, so don’t worry if your loved one is out! In many cases, we highlight a few of the best in each category so you can decide which one is best for your system.
We love application launchers and the speed they bring to our workflow, and they can do much more than just launch applications . Unfortunately, now that GNOME Do hasn’t had any major updates since 2009, we’ve chosen Synapse, a great alternative to GNOME Do with Zeitgeist integration. If you are using the Unity Ubuntu interface or the GNOME Shell, you can probably skip this, as they have a lot of application launcher functionality built right into them. But for those working in other desktop environments, we recommend at least checking Synapse for your application. launch and other needs. Alternatively, GNOME Do is still available for download, and if you are really minimalist, you might like dmenu . KDE users also have a handy built-in KRunner .
When built-in Gedit just doesn’t work, Keith and Geani will suggest more advanced coding and development features. They have a similar set of features, but Kate is our favorite text editor , providing syntax highlighting, code folding, on-the-fly spell checking, vi-like input mode, and even code autocomplete. If you need more than the built-in editors can provide, Kate and Geany will make you happy. If you want something even more hardcore, try Eclipse or Sublime Text 2 . And if you yearn for Notepad ++, try Notepadqq .
Expanding your text is one of the greatest improvements you can make to your productivity. Think of any tedious input you make during the day – addresses, email response templates, snippets of code, or anything else – and imagine that you can type it all in with just a few keystrokes. That’s what text expansion does, and it can save you hours of typing . There are not many text expansion applications for Linux, but AutoKey meets these requirements quite well . You will need some Python skills for more complex snippets, but this is the best we have for now.
Most likely LibreOffice ships with your Linux distribution, but we’ve added it here just in case. LibreOffice has all the tools you need, from documents to spreadsheets and presentations, especially if you’re sending files back and forth to people using Microsoft Office.
Internet and communication
Chrome is our favorite on all three platforms this year. It’s fast, powerful, keeps everything in sync, and has an incredible library of extensions. The version that comes with your distribution might be its open source cousin, Chromium , which has all the same benefits. (One slight difference: you need to install the flash plugin separately if you want to, although your distribution probably has a tool to make this easier.) However, Firefox is also a great option if you’re used to it.
We still consider Pidgin to be the best IM client for Linux, despite the Ubuntu developers (and others) ditching it for programs like Empathy . Not only does it support a lot of instant messaging protocols and features, but it also has a pretty nice extension library that lets you do whatever you want with it. If you’re using the GNOME shell, Empathy has some good integration options, so it’s worth checking out too.
Skype and Google Hangouts
Google Hangouts beats Skype on Linux , but only because Skype is still not available on modern 64-bit architectures. Unfortunately, most people use Skype for their video chatting needs, which means that someone in your life – friends, family, or someone else – will want to video chat with you one day. Use Hangouts if you can, but figure out these Skype setup issues now so you can keep it in your pocket whenever you need it.
Music, photos and videos
Chances are, your favorite Linux distro comes with a fairly reliable video player like MPlayer. This is fine for most people, but if you want something with a little more control, VLC is a good place to start. It supports more video and audio formats than you can shake, and requires little or no work to play your movies, although it does have some handy command line tools for power users.
There are actually some solid photo management tools on Linux, but we certainly love digiKam . It’s more professional, which means it has more features than you can shake up, including tons of organizational features, support for over 300 RAW formats, the ability to compare images side-by-side, and a ton more. It’s a little tricky to use, though, so if you prefer something simpler, Shotwell might be more of your speed. It does the basic sorting, tagging and editing that most users need, and it also has built-in ability to share photos to Facebook, Flickr, and Picasa (digiKam also boasts).
If you’re editing something that can’t be done in digiKam or Shotwell – be it a screenshot or just need more advanced tools – GIMP can probably do it. It may not be Photoshop, but it can do a lot on its own .
Choosing a music player for this list was not easy. Linux has a fairly large selection, and as we said, music players are incredibly personal choices. In the end, we settled on Clementine. It has a good set of features, an easy-to-use interface, and is loved by both basic and advanced users alike. If you want something a little different, we recommend that you also try Banshee and Amarok .
Whatever you choose for your music player, we recommend having a streaming service close at hand, even if it’s not your primary player. We love Spotify, and while it’s not technically supported on Linux, Spotify has several preview builds available that can at least help you get started streaming. You can also just use the web player if you don’t mind dropping the browser tab.
Many of us these days have more than one device. Maybe it’s a Linux machine at home and a Windows computer at work. Or maybe it’s three computers, a smartphone, a tablet and a netbook with Archbang . Whatever your set of devices, Dropbox is absolutely necessary to synchronize all of your files (and others ). You get 2GB of free space to start with, but it’s very easy to download additional space for free .
When you need to download a large file, BitTorrent is almost always a better alternative than a slow direct download. Linux has some good options for BitTorrent, but our favorite client is Deluge . It’s easy to use, has a rich feature set, and has a good plugin library, so power users have all the features they need to tweak speed and privacy to their liking. If you’re not a Deluge fan, try qBitTorrent – it’s just as cool .
Everyone needs a backup. There is nothing worse than a hard drive crashing and having to start from scratch. Log into CrashPlan. While you can always back up to an external drive , it won’t save you if you lose your computer in a fire, burglary, or other disaster. CrashPlan backs up your computer to the cloud using the CrashPlan cloud service or a friend’s computer, keeping your data safe no matter what. Plus, it’s really easy to set up . Install, forget and relax.
Linux has many tools for archiving files, and if you are a command line lover, look no further than a terminal to get things done (be it the built-in tar command or the great p7zip ). But if you want a more user-friendly graphical interface, our choice is PeaZip . It might be ugly, but it can handle over 130 different types of archives, encrypt archives for safe storage, and integrate with both GNOME and KDE. In addition, it still has the command line features that advanced users need so much when a graphical interface is not needed.
Linux has great applications, but sometimes the big guys ignore Linux and we are left out. Wine is (sometimes) the answer: if you have a Windows program that you can’t leave behind (be it Outlook for work, Photoshop for images, or World of Warcraft for fun), Wine will launch it on your Linux desktop. It doesn’t work with all existing programs, but Wine’s application database can help you figure out which ones work well, so you can get one step closer to leaving Windows behind forever.
When Wine fails and you just need to run one or two Windows programs, VirtualBox is your next choice. VirtualBox will run the entire Windows installation in a virtual machine, so you can complete all Windows tasks without ever leaving Linux. It’s not always ideal, but if you’re stuck with Windows at work, for example, it might be a necessary trade-off.
Linux users spend a lot more time in the terminal than the average Windows or Mac user, which means you should have a really good terminal emulator on hand. The default terminal that comes with your distribution may be fine, but Terminator will take your command line experience to the next level . You can arrange terminals in a grid, rearrange them, customize a set of keyboard shortcuts, save layouts, and more. If you don’t want or need everything Terminator has to offer, you can still try Guake and Yakuake , awesome drop-down terminals that you can access with a keyboard shortcut.
Command line tools
The command line is often the fastest and easiest way to accomplish simple tasks, and the standard command line tools that come with your distribution are already overwhelmingly powerful. But there is also something else where they came from! Here are just a few bonus tools you might not even know existed.
- Pdftk slices and slices PDFs. Have you ever had to print and scan a ten-page contract to sign the last page? Next time, scan this page separately and run the commands:
pdftk contract.pdf cat 1-9 output firstnine.pdf
pdftk firstnine.pdf lastpage.pdf output signedcontract.pdf
- Undistract-me solves this problem when you run a lengthy command (possibly compiling your code ), switch to your web browser while you wait for it to complete, and then realize that later you completely forgot to go back to what you were. does. Undistract-me monitors commands that take more than ten seconds and pops up a notification on your screen when the command completes.
- Joe is the perfect text editor for when you don’t want to leave the terminal. It loads quickly and is easy to use, no matter which editor you’re used to. This is because it comes with a set of chameleon-like aliases. Do you remember all the emacs shortcuts? Call it like jmacs. Nostalgic for the picot ? Call it jpico. If you don’t know what this means, just type joe. (Or scroll down to our recommendations for Kate and Jeanie.)
- Smem measures the amount of memory your computer is using. Surely you thought you had a tool for that. But some memory is shared, and tools like the free ones don’t account for it in the most useful way. Smem gives more meaningful numbers.
- Powertop is a handy tool for figuring out why your laptop battery is draining so quickly or why your desktop is getting hotter . It shows how much power each of your current programs is using. It can also tweak low-level power management features you never knew existed – for example, does your USB controller pause when not in use? Now you can find out.
Many other tools in our package also have command line equivalents. If you want to get started with the world of the terminal, check out our beginner’s guide to the command line .