GNU/Linux Software I Use Regularly

I recently received an e-mail from a friend that has started using Ubuntu. He is rather new when it comes to running a GNU/Linux desktop and has asked me several questions. One of the questions was basically what software do I use and recommend. This is a serious question that a lot of new users will probably want to know.

Those of us who have been GNU/Linux desktop users for a long time take for granted the packages we install and use. As we have paid our dues to learn the ropes, one way we can help new users is to tell them what we use and make recommendations. It helps to have a base of software from which to start because there are so many choices under GNU/Linux a new user can easily become overwhelmed.

So, for my friend, and for all of you other new users out there, here is the software I use regularly.

My distribution of choice is Mandriva. Mandriva is a RPM based distribution and has several very well written tools to help one manage one’s desktop system. Since RPM is a requirement for Linux Standards Base (LSB) I prefer to stick with RPM based distributions. Mandriva was one of the first, if not the first, RPM based distribution to solve the “RPM dependency Hell” that so many encountered in the early days of RPM distributions.

My “desktop” runs a light window manager named fluxbox. I am not fond of Gnome nor KDE as they are too bloated to start with. Sure one can strip them down, but I would prefer to start light and add only what I want or need. Plus some of my friends I know that run Gnome and KDE do occasionally have broken desktops from trying to update them with the latest and greatest. Due to the complexity of the Desktop Environments (DE) like Gnome and KDE they can be a bear to try to upgrade. Especially for my friends that have jumped from an older primary version to a newer primary version like from KDE3 to KDE4. Just search the web and one can find story after story of upgrade PAIN going from KDE3 to KDE4. Due to upgrade problems under KDE one of my friends now says she has a new swear word, “KDE4”. With fluxbox I have never had such a problem and do not expect to ever have a broken “desktop” because of a fluxbox upgrade.

I monitor my system temperatures and fans with lm_sensors and the sensors krell in Gkrellm. Gkrellm also lets me see at a glance how much space is left on certain partitions I want to monitor. As well as showing me free RAM and other niceties like uptime and process usage.

I always have several xterm windows open to a bash command line. From these I can use dictd and the dict client to look up words and phrases from dictionaries I installed. Here is a little script I run from ‘root’ to install the dictionaries I want when I do a fresh install on new hardware:

urpmi dictd-server dictd-utils dictd-client dictd-dicts-devils dictd-dicts-easton dictd-dicts-eng-fra dictd-dicts-foldoc dictd-dicts-fra-eng dictd-dicts-gazetteer dictd-dicts-gcide dictd-dicts-jargon dictd-dicts-vera dictd-dicts-web1913 dictd-dicts-wn dictd-dicts-world95

The urpmi command is one of those nice tools written for Mandriva that I mention. There are several urpm* commands one may use to manage software from the command line. Mandriva also has a nice GUI called ‘rpmdrake’ that one may run instead of command line versions. Both package systems allow one to search for packages. However, the command line urpm* tools do have a more robust search which can be combined with other command line tools to parse the output.

I use aiksaurus from the command line in one of the xterm windows for my Thesaurus. Here is some example output from aiksaurus:

aiksaurus newcomer
=== immigrant ================
arrival, arriviste, comer, emigrant, entrant, fledgling, greenhorn, immigrant, intruder, newcomer, outsider, parvenu, recruit, rookie, settler, squatter, tenderfoot, upstart, visitor

I believe there are GUI front ends available for both dictd and aiksaurus. But as I have never used them I will let others share about those in the comments.

I always have GNU Midnight Commander, mc, file manager running in one of the xterm windows. I prefer mc for most of my file management duties. It is lightweight and can run from a command line when one’s GUI has taken a nose dive. It is installed by default with Mandriva.

My web browsers, yes I use two regularly, are Firefox and Opera. I use Firefox primarily with Opera as my backup for rendering some broken sites that do not play well with Firefox. With Firefox I have NoScript as well as several other add-ons to block certain web annoyances that do annoy me. For example, I want to see Flash content only when I choose to see it. One of the Firefox add-ons is Flashblock. Flashblock will block Flash content but gives one a button to click to allow the content to run. This along with NoScript can really speed up access to certain sites that are rife with advertising screaming for one’s attention.

I use Kontact, yes it is a KDE application, which is a personal information manager that combines Kmail (e-mail), Knode (USENET news reader), calendar, contact manager, notes widget, ToDo list, Journal, and Akregator (RSS feed reader).

For instant messaging I use Kopete. Another KDE application. It allows me to contact friends, family and acquaintances on several instant messaging services including AIM, Jabber and Windows Live Messenger.

Xchat 2 is my IRC application of choice. I use it to connect to Freenode and a couple of other IRC networks to keep in touch with official project channels and support. Such as the #mandriva channel on Freenode for the times I need to ask a silly question instead of searching the web for the answer on my own.

My office suite is I was pleasantly surprised recently to discover that Writer will now open WordPerfect 12 documents. With the contributions from IBM (I presume) it also will open my old Lotus WordPro documents. Naturally will open and edit Microsoft Word and Excel format files. When using Microsoft proprietary files I recommend saving them as Open Document Format (ODF) files whenever possible.

My financial management software is GNUcash. GNUcash does what I need to keep up with my personal finances and my small business finances. GNUcash does not have a “payroll” feature, yet. Since I do not need a payroll feature for my small business the ability to track accounts payable, accounts receivable and print professional looking invoices is enough for me.

I occasionally need to crop a picture or tweak a graphic for my web sites. My choice for that is The GNU Image Manipulation Program, a.k.a. The GIMP. I could not care less if The GIMP does not work like Adobe Photoshop. The GIMP does what I need it to do. All the graphics professionals that whine about needing Photoshop on GNU/Linux or they cannot use GNU/Linux miss the point of FOSS. They should get involved with The GIMP project and help add the features desired. If they cannot program they can at least test and provide feedback. In the end everyone wins with better The GIMP for all.

Those are the software packages I use most to Get Things Done. What about play time? I do have a few games I like when I need a break from reality. The games I play regularly are Wolfenstein Enemy Territory (3D FPS), Unreal Tournament 2004 (3D FPS), and Quake IV (3D FPS). These are three dimensional (3D) first person shooter (FPS), shoot ’em and blow ’em up games. I bought Unreal Tournament and Quake, but Wolfenstein Enemy Territory is “free”. When I feel less aggrieved with life I play around with Flight Gear (3D flight simulator) and TORCS (a 3D car racing game). All of these games run natively on GNU/Linux. I will only run games that run natively on GNU/Linux. I will even buy games that run natively on GNU/Linux. If a game does not run natively on GNU/Linux and requires WINE I won’t buy it nor will I “pirate” it to run it.

That is the list of software I use the most on my GNU/Linux PC. Feel free to share your own list of software in a comment.

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Edit Fri Sep 11 11:16:54 CDT 2009: Clarify the line about FPS.


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Gene A.

Gene is a "Unix Guy", network technologist, system trouble-shooter and IT generalist with over 20 years experience in the SOHO and SMB markets. He is familiar with and conversant in eComStation (a.k.a. OS/2), DOS (PC, MS and Free), Unix, Linux and those GUI based systems from Microsoft. Gene is also a follower of Jesus (forgiven, not perfect), and this does inform his world view.

14 thoughts on “GNU/Linux Software I Use Regularly”

  1. Interesting mix of software. I didn’t know aiksaurus could be used at the command line, I will have to try that.

    Some of the stuff I use:
    desktop environment – Gnome (primarily)
    system monitor – conky
    terminal – terminator
    browser(s) – firefox w/ add-ons, elinks and midori
    mail – mutt
    calendar – osmo
    rss reader – liferea
    podcatcher – gpodder
    instant messaging – finch
    irc – irssi + screen

    My other choices are similar to yours (gimp, OOo, gnucash, wet, fg, torcs).

  2. Mandriva 2008.1 here.

    I’ve been around a lot lately with MythTV, so have been moving my DVD library to mpeg.

    So, I’ve been using

    KDE 3.5.9 (I’ve been watching KDE4, but will wait until next year before I install it for a trial)

    I moved from Windows 2 years ago in October.

    Amarok 1.4 (Music)
    SeaMonkey (Email)
    KMyMoney 1.0 (Excellent)
    GRDC (For VNC access)
    Rainlendar Pro (Calendar)

    Movie ripping



    UT2004 (Purchased when I was under Windows)
    WoP (Word of Padman)
    World Of Goo (Purchased)
    Penumbra (Purchased)
    Prey (Linux version – Purchased)
    Eschalon Book 1 (Purchased)

  3. KDE4
    Opera (with Firefox as backup)
    KMyMoney 1.0 (finance)
    Dolphin (file manager)
    K3B (CD/DVD burning)
    Amarok 2 (Music)
    FreeMind (mind mapping)

    I made the switch to KDE4 last October and have no complaints, just stay clear of the very latest and greatest. I had no trouble upgrading from KDE3 as I have /home on a separate partition so I did a clean install to / and it just worked.

  4. On the console (where the real work is done) …

    shell: bash, ssh, screen
    editor: Vim
    e-mail: nmh + procmail + exim + uucp
    Usenet: slrn + cnews + newsx + uucp
    IRC/IM: screen + irssi + bitlbee + tircd
    mpd: xmms2d
    graphics: ImageMagick
    browser: lynx, w3m
    other: gopher, finger, rsync, awk, sed, perl
    plus lots of custom scripts

    GUI stuff …

    window manager: WindowMaker w/ some dock apps
    editor: gvim
    browser: iceweasel + too many extensions
    graphics: The GIMP

  5. My setup:

    Distro – Arch Linux
    Package Management – CLI-based binary packages (not RPM or DEB)

    Some info: I use Gnome mostly…but on computers I use for work, I use Awesome because of it’s tiling window ability. It’s a little more difficult to configure than gnome, but I find it makes things more organized and easier to copy/paste from one program to another when they’re both tiled on your screen. I’m a huge fan of running anything I can in a terminal instead of using a GUI because you can get the same functionality with less memory usage…which means you can run more stuff at once!

    DE/WMs – Gnome and Awesome WM
    File Management – Nautilus, Thunar, Command Line
    System Monitor – Conky
    Terminal – urxvt (rxvt-unicode), Screen when working in virtual terminals
    Browser(s) – Firefox w/ adblock and image zoom, Elinks
    Mail – Evolution, alpine
    Music – mpd w/ ncmpcpp or sonata, Exaile
    Multimedia – VLC, gnome-mplayer for Firefox plugin
    Instant Messaging – Pidgin or Finch (CLI)
    Text Editor – nano, gedit, or mousepad
    Mathematics/Statistics – octave, Mathematica, and Matlab
    Documents – Suite
    IRC – weechat

    Games I play:
    -Penumbra Series
    -World of Goo
    -Battle for Wesnoth
    -Ultima Online (with Wine)
    -On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness

  6. Ah yes. I see I did not mention CD burning or multimedia applications.

    I do use K3B for CD and DVD burning. I use the command line for a lot of things. But the convenience provided with a GUI for burning CD and DVD media has wooed me away from using ‘cdrecord’ and ‘growisofs’ from the command line for most of my disc burning needs.

    When I want to listen to streaming radio or music stored on my system I use Audacious. Audacious is a nice, simple audio application that does one thing and does it well, play audio media. this is in keeping with long Unix tradition. I do not really want some application, like Amarok, to store a database of all my music. I have my music organized in directories I created myself. I can easily find a song or an artist with a quick ‘locate’ and ‘grep’ of the subdirectories holding my music files. Here is how that would work:

    $ locate -i manhattan|grep -i topsy

    When I want to watch a DVD movie or a streaming video off a web site I use VLC Media Player, Totem Movie Player or Mplayer.

  7. Zach,

    Now I’ve got another that’ll I’ll have to check out! Thanks!

    “On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness”

  8. I am convinced that you need only on program to enjoy life. Yes, only one. That program’s name ends with, of course, an S. It is the most advanced and powerful thing ever written.

    Of course, I meant Emacs. I hope that no one really thinks about Windows, but it steals Emacs’ glorious ending. Anyhow, Emacs is all you need.

    With that said, I also use X, Enlightenment, Conkeror (XULrunner + Emacs interface), Comix, GMplayer, Nethack, and some other trivial programs.

  9. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  10. Everyone, meet “Betty” in comment #11. Do a web search for the sentences used by “Betty” and you will see blogs that did not remove the URLs in comments from people like “Betty”.

    “What do you mean?”, you say. Either someone has a bot that can crack reCAPTCHA or some people are so pathetic they will take money from SPAM criminals to get around reCAPTCHA and post “flattering” comments with a URL included to some SPAM site.

  11. Mgaice (comment #10) thanks for your comment.

    While emacs is an excellent operating system, it needs a nice, simple text editor. Like vi for instance. 😀

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