Linux is full of awesome apps, both open source and proprietary. People new to Linux might be used to Windows or Mac OS X apps that aren’t available on Linux, and don’t know about available alternatives. Even seasoned Linux users tend to find new and useful software quite often.
Linux apps are also very easy to install. In most cases, they’re in your distribution’s repositories so all it takes is a quick search through your Software Center or a single command in the terminal. Speaking of terminals, there are plenty of apps that can help you avoid the terminal, if that’s your preference.
As with any “best” list, there may have been some apps that we left out. Feel free to post suggestions in the comments!
Mozilla’s browser is the go-to browser for Linux users. It’s still included in the majority of distros, and also fights for online freedom and privacy the most. While some benchmarks have shown that it might not be the fastest browser out there (although it’s closing the gap), it’s certainly the most open-source and customizable one you can get.
The popular browser from Google is also available on Linux. You get all of the same features, speed, and security from the constantly-updated browser. One detail to note is that a lot of distributions have Chromium available in their repositories; Chrome, however, usually isn’t available in the repos and must be downloaded from Google directly.
Opera has always had a Linux version of their browser up until they switched to using Chromium as their base. For a while thereafter, Opera was only available on Windows and Mac OS X — until now. Since Opera isn’t very popular compared to Firefox and Chrome/Chromium, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll have to get the browser directly from Opera’s website, which is a pretty easy process.
In this strategy game, you take control of a group of people and lead them in an effort to survive as long as possible. You start out as a simple and small settlement that discovers other nations around them. You will have to ensure that your people prosper, while you make diplomatic relations with other nations or declare war on them. As you advance through the game, you’ll also research various topics that you can put to good use to continuously promote your nation’s growth.
A major hit from Valve, the same company that provides Steam, Team Fortress 2 is a comical team-oriented shooting game. It’s also completely multiplayer (if you ignore the training/practice option), so it’s a fun game to play among friends or anonymous players. The game has been going for a long time, and continues to get updates from Valve on a regular basis to add more features.
The most popular indie game is also available on Linux, thanks to the cross-platform characteristics of Java. In a virtual world made completely of blocks, you can do whatever you want — mine for precious minerals, build lavish structures, or fight off mobs in an ultimate test of survival. There’s much creative freedom in Minecraft, and such a multi-purpose game is worth playing.
A championed example of open-source gaming, 0 A.D. focuses on historical warfare and economy. Although the game is still in development with only alpha releases currently available, it is definitely playable with lots of features already built in. It’s also easily obtained via your distro’s repositories.
A competitor to League of Legends, Dota 2 is Valve’s offering for a multiplayer online battle arena. In it, you can fight other teams, collect gold, find items, and more. The game is extremely popular with regular daily peaks of over 800,000 concurrent players, and provides excellent performance on Linux to beat the competition.
A personal favorite for a Linux first-person shooter, Urban Terror is described as a Hollywood-style shooter game that doesn’t necessarily favor realism. It has lots of features, decent graphics, and a whole lot of action. Urban Terror usually isn’t found in a distribution’s repositories, so you’ll need to grab the game from their website. Thankfully, they provide a utility which can automatically download the game as well as check for updates.
Ubuntu Tweak is an excellent application for managing some behind-the-scenes tweaks to your Ubuntu-based system. You can make some customizations that aren’t otherwise available via normal configuration tools, enable some workarounds to avoid usage kinks, and clean up unneeded files to regain storage space. Most importantly, it can quickly and easily remove those pesky old kernels that you don’t need any longer and just take up tons of space.
BleachBit is a very handy tool that can free up disc space as well as protect your privacy. It can arguably be seen as the Linux equivalent to CCleaner as it supports “cleaning” a large list of applications, plus it has the tools to securely delete files or wipe free space to ensure that files cannot be recovered. There are also a few other tools which aim to improve performance, primary by deletion of specific files.
Editors and Development
Gedit is the default text editor for the GNOME desktop environment, and although it might first look like the equivalent to Notepad in Windows, Gedit is far more powerful with more features and customization options. It can even be used as a lightweight code editor if you so choose. However, if you’re looking for a fully-fledged IDE, this isn’t what you want.
Kate is the default text editor for the KDE desktop environment, and similar to Gedit, it looks like a Notepad alternative but actually comes with a ton more features. With Kate, you’ll see a lot more integrations with the KDE desktop which can lead to a more productive and happy life if you use that desktop environment.
If you’re still a bit wary of a full IDE to write code in, but find that Gedit or Kate isn’t programming-oriented enough, then take a look at Geany. It’s not a text editor, nor necessarily an IDE (although one could argue that it might be a lightweight IDE), but a code editor. You’ll find nifty features like a compile/run button, a listing of functions defined in the currently-opened file, and much more.
Eclipse is the go-to IDE on Linux, as it’s open-source, is used widely by users of all operating systems and therefore has the most community support. If there’s a feature that you need, the chances are very high that Eclipse can accommodate you. Best of all, it’s easily installed by just taking a quick search through your distro’s repositories.
The best office suite (barring any online products) is LibreOffice, hands down. It simply offers the most amount of features and the best compatibility with Microsoft Office’s document formats. While it’s not always perfect with compatibility, it’s quite good and continuous updates only make the compatibility better. You’ll find equivalents for documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and more.
There isn’t exactly a package called “GNOME Office”, but it’s rather just a colloquial term to describe a set of applications, which includes AbiWord, Evince, Gnumeric, Ease, GnuCash, and more. These are good apps that provide office functionality, and are fairly lightweight as well, so you’ll often see them with distros that feature LXDE. However, compatibility with Microsoft Office formats isn’t always that great, so it’s a good suite if you need the functionality but not the compatibility.
Calligra is the new name for the KDE office suite, which also includes all of the applications needed for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Visually it fits in best with the KDE desktop environment, and it offers acceptable compatibility with Microsoft Office formats. Support for open formats such as ODT isn’t that great, however, so you’ll again want to use this one for the functionality rather than the compatibility.
GNOME is a GTK-based desktop environment which provides a very unique desktop experience with GNOME Shell, which features an Activities view and a greater emphasis on the use of virtual desktops. Even if you don’t use pure GNOME, there are several desktop environments which use parts of GNOME in their setup, while others are based on GNOME code but decided to go their own way. This desktop environment is usually seen as a moderate user of system resources, although compared to Windows or Mac OS X it is still rather lightweight.
KDE is a Qt-based desktop environment which aims to provide as many features as possible. It’s often seen by the Linux community as the flashiest desktop environment, but also the one which is the heaviest user of system resources. Currently, we’re in a phase where KDE 4 is slowly being replaced with KDE 5, which is more of a rewrite of KDE rather than a major redesign. You’ll be able to find KDE 5 in some distros within the next 6 months to one year.
Xfce is another GTK-based desktop environment, but it has always been its own desktop environment rather than having ties with GNOME (besides using GTK). It is considered to be a smaller user of system resources, which is great for systems that have lower specs and would otherwise struggle with “bigger” desktop environments.
LXDE is definitely considered to be the most lightweight traditional desktop environment currently available, before you starting diving into tiling window managers as desktop environments. LXDE uses a surprisingly small amount of RAM, so this would be the desktop environment of choice for underpowered devices or for those who just prefer to save every ounce of power for whatever applications they’re running rather than the desktop environment that melts into the background anyways. Personally, I don’t think it’s the prettiest desktop environment (although tweaking it can make it look decent), but it achieves many technical goals.
Cinnamon is Linux Mint’s replacement for GNOME Shell. While it uses some GNOME apps (and forks others, i.e. Nautilus becoming Nemo), the user experience is quite different. While maintaining up-to-date technologies and frameworks, it tries to reserve the more traditional way desktops have worked rather than adopting GNOME Shell’s unique way of handling windows. As development of Cinnamon is somewhat biased towards Linux Mint, it’s not as easy to get Cinnamon on other distributions — although this has been improving.
MATE is another project of Linux Mint which aims to replicate the old GNOME 2 desktop and support it, unlike GNOME which dropped support for GNOME 2 in favor of GNOME 3. In fact, MATE’s code originally came from GNOME 2 after support for it ended, and has since been maintained by Linux Mint developers. Like I mentioned, they aim to keep the same desktop experience going, but plans have surfaced that they do want to port the desktop environment to the GTK3 framework in order to keep up with the latest tech.
Unity is the child of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu. It was developed by Canonical when GNOME announced their plans for GNOME Shell, and Canonical did not want Ubuntu to go in that direction. While a lot of Linux users have complained about the Unity desktop environment, it’s still pretty easy to use, customizable, and most importantly familiar. People run Ubuntu more than any other Linux distribution, so Unity is arguably the most familiar desktop environment of them all.
Audio, Video, and Image Manipulation
If you need to work with audio, Audacity has been the long-standing open-source champion. With it, you can do just about whatever audio manipulation you’d like. Trimming audio, combining audio, stacking audio onto multiple tracks, and many advanced features are all available on Audacity. You can also save your project files and then export to a number of different formats and quality settings.
GIMP is the closest application to Photoshop, and there’s very, very little that you can do in Photoshop that you can’t do in GIMP — it might just require a different workflow to achieve the same result. It can read virtually any format, let you touch up images, make more drastic changes, or even render graphics from scratch, and then save them in a GIMP project format or into various image formats. GIMP can even import videos and convert them into a GIF. It’s definitely worth a look if Photoshop is a tool you regularly use.
If you need to make simple home videos, then PiTiVi is a great tool for you. It allows you to make basic changes such as trimming clips, adding clips together, add effects to clips, add transitions between clips, and then export your final product in various formats and qualities. PiTiVi is definitely not an advanced video editor — it’s aimed for basic home use — but it’s still capable and worthy of recommendation.
If you need a more powerful video editor, then Lightworks is arguably the best tool available on Linux. It’s so good, several Hollywood productions have used Lightworks in their video editing. The downside? It costs $438 to outright own the full version, but the free version gives you all the same tools but limits you to only exporting to MPEG-4 at 720p. But hey, at least it’s good to know that there’s a professional-grade video editing solution available on Linux if you need it.
Email and Communication
Mozilla’s other popular offering, Thunderbird, makes for a great email client on Linux as well. It may not be the lightest option available for an email client, but it’s among the most customizable, which can be pretty important for some people. For example, Thunderbird can apply different settings on a per-account basis, unlike say Evolution which has several options which can only be applied globally. Sadly, Thunderbird isn’t receiving the same attention from Mozilla as it used to, but it still receives occasional updates for code improvements and security fixes.
This email client is commonly supplied with distributions that feature the GNOME desktop environment. It’s a good email client that looks nice, supports Google Calendars out-of-the-box, and even has decent support for Microsoft Exchange accounts. It also has tight integrations with GNOME Shell, so you’ll be able to get new email notifications and a calendar applet which ties in with Evolution’s set up calendars.
This is the default email client for the KDE desktop environment. It’s very feature-laden, and also provides good integration with the KDE desktop and related services. It may look a little weird at first, however, so you might have to play around with a few settings before you have it looking the way you’d like it to.
If you just need a simple email client that’s lightweight and lets you focus on your emails rather than providing you tons of features, then check out Claws Mail. This email client also keeps security in mind by displaying plain text emails. You get the idea — simplicity, security, stability. We have a great comparison between Claws Mail and the other three email client recommendations in this category.
Besides emails, you may also want to send people some instant messages. Pidgin is a fantastic application for instant messaging across many network protocols, including all of the most popular ones such as Google, Yahoo, and Facebook. It also offers a great plugin system where Pidgin’s functionality can be extended to support whatever you’d like it to do.
Of course, one of the most popular chat networks still around is Skype, and there’s a Linux client for this as well. It’s not quite a clone of the Windows and Mac OS X versions, but it still offers enough features to be able to do whatever you’re used to on Skype. Microsoft also recently updated the Linux client, making it more stable and compatible with newer versions of PulseAudio (this handles communication between apps and your actual audio hardware), which is a good improvement compared to the past state of the Skype client.
Linux communities often rely on IRC chatrooms to communicate quickly with others who are interested in the same things. Our favorite choice for a Linux IRC client is XChat, which is clean, easy to use, and very configurable. If you’re looking to consolidate applications, then you could use Pidgin as well, but the IRC experience in Pidgin isn’t nearly as good as it is with XChat.
Totem is a media player that is usually bundled together with GNOME and GNOME-based desktop environments. It’s a fairly simple media player that loves videos but can also play music. There’s not much to configure with it — it’s meant to just work without any fuss. And it does that well, as Totem rarely causes any problems. A handful of distributions even make Totem prompt you to install appropriate codecs for whatever you’re trying to play with a single click if you don’t already have those codecs installed.
If you want complete control, power, and the ability to play anything under the sun, then you’ll want VLC. It has been a favorite among the Linux community for ages, as it handles anything you can throw at it with ease. And there are plenty of options to look at, or even more if you opt to look at the detailed list. It is increasingly becoming the default media player on a number of distros, and rightfully so.
MPlayer is another great media player that can handle just about anything you want to play, but it’s interesting because it doesn’t come with a graphical interface. Pure MPlayer will play content either directly in the terminal (such as for music) or by opening a very simple window with no other controls. There are, however, third-party graphical interfaces which you can use to control MPlayer. While VLC has more configuration options, MPlayer may be more flexible, depending on what your needs are.
How Would You Make This List Better?
And there you have it — our Best Linux Software list. There’s so much more software out there than this list contains, and it’s impossible to remember them all or try them all out. If you know of a good piece of Linux software that didn’t make the list, it may not have been intentional. Leave a note in the comments about software you would’ve liked to see on the list and why, and it could be added into the next edition of the list.
What Linux software do you love?