Commercial operating systems try to reserve their best software as exclusives. This isn’t the case with Linux. Many of the most well-known and capable applications have ports for Windows. GIMP is a wildly popular alternative to Photoshop on any platform, and it began on Linux.
The nature of open source software encourages people to port programs to whichever operating systems they like. So, are there any Linux exclusives out there? Of course!
Don’t expect this list to include cross-platform heavyweights such as Mozilla Firefox, LibreOffice, and VLC. We have a separate one for that. Here I’m going to highlight some of the smaller projects out there that have chosen to call Linux home.
Where to Find These Exclusives
On Linux, you don’t open a web browser to install most software. You open a package manager. These take many forms and go by many names. Some are similar to app stores, such as GNOME Software, KDE Discover, and AppCenter. Others are more complex and powerful.
Whichever one you use, none of them are available for Windows, and there’s a decent chance you will miss them when you find yourself hunting for an EXE in internet Explorer or buying Microsoft Office on Amazon. You could consider these package managers the first Linux exclusives you won’t find on Windows.
You won’t be able to find all of the programs below in your distribution’s package manager, but most should be in there. Now, let’s get to it.
You could describe Epiphany as Safari for Linux. It’s a lightweight, focused browser that isn’t bogged down by all of the add-ons and features baked into Chrome and Firefox. As an official GNOME project and the new default in Elementary OS, Epiphany is currently the best-supported, Linux-only web browser.
Many people view Chrome and Firefox’s extensions as must-haves, so Epiphany is by no means for everyone. Then again, the same is true on Windows. How many of your friends (that know how to install a new browser) use Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge?
2. Geary / Pantheon Mail
I’ve used Microsoft Outlook. I’ve used Thunderbird. Geary and Pantheon Mail are easily my favorite. Why? Because finally a desktop client feels as simple as webmail.
I don’t want to leave a tab open in my web browser, and I like that desktop clients let me load and scroll through mail more quickly. But they also feel more complicated. Geary and Pantheon Mail are the first I’ve used that I want to recommend to less technical users.
To clarify, Geary and Pantheon Mail are essentially the same application. When Geary’s development ceased, Elementary OS took the code and renamed the project as Pantheon Mail. Since then, someone else has stepped up to continue Geary as a GNOME project. The two programs may differ in the future, but right now the biggest difference between them is the desktop environment they’re designed for.
I love listening to podcasts, but for the past few years, that’s something I’ve done only from mobile devices. Vocal is so cool that I’m listening from my laptop again. The program integrates perfectly with my Elementary OS desktop while managing to stand out thanks to its vibrant purple toolbar.
You can add RSS feeds manually, browse the top podcasts on iTunes, or have Vocal search for the specific one you want. Vocal will then auto-download new episodes of audio and video feeds alike. In short, it’s a one-stop-shop.
4. GNOME Boxes
There are so many versions of Linux out there that no one blames you for wanting to try them all — but your PC might not like it. So rather than abusing your hard drive with repeated wipes, run that new distribution in a virtual machine instead.
This may sound complicated. I know. I put off learning how to do this for years because it sounded like so much work. GNOME Boxes changed that. All you do is select an ISO file and watch the desktop boot up inside a window. That’s it. You’re done. Enjoy.
Rapid Photo Downloader does exactly what the name says, and more. You can copy photos from an SD card, USB stick, or local folder. In the process, Rapid Photo Downloader will rename files to your preferences and stick them in beautifully organized folders.
Unless you automatically upload your images to the cloud for someone else to manage, having your own system in place is how you stay sane when managing photos. For this reason, Rapid Photo Downloader is one of my first installs whenever I set up Linux on a new computer.
6. Simple Scan
Linux is known as an operating system for techies. Ironically, a great deal of work goes into making open source applications intended for first-time computer users. The idea is to make using a PC easier than it is anywhere else. Simple Scan is an example of what can come from that vision, and comes pre-installed with most distros.
Gone are the days of installing a manufacturer’s specific printer software. Forget waiting for bulky applications to load. Plug in your scanner for the first time, watch Linux auto-detect it, then fire up Simple Scan and make copies of documents with a single click. Why can’t peripherals always be this easy?
KDE offers some of the most feature-rich default applications you will find on any operating system, and Okular is no exception.
This PDF reader loads quickly, and it lets you leave highlights as you go. Or you can write comments or draw lines and shapes. Okular also lets you create bookmarks so you can find where you left off, and it’s willing to make your life easier by reading text aloud.
Shotwell came from the same developers that brought us Geary, and similarly, it’s now a default program for Elementary OS and a GNOME project. It’s also a useful and speedy photo manager regardless of which version of Linux you use.
Shotwell scans your hard drive for photos and organizes them by date and tags. When you view an image, you have the option to perform basic tweaks and touch-ups. The application can handle Raw photos and, if you’re interested, videos.
Shotwell is one of many photo managers you can install on your Linux desktop.
GParted, short for the GNOME Partition Editor, is well-known know for helping to repair a botched operating system.
You can create a Linux live CD with GParted installed to edit your PC’s partitions, even if you aren’t a Linux user. Someone has created a distribution of Linux just for that.
Interestingly enough, GParted isn’t GNOME’s default partition editor anymore. That position has shifted over to GNOME Disks. Both are Linux exclusives, for what it’s worth. Which one you prefer is up to you.
Most Linux distributions let you take a screenshot using the Print Screen key. Many have a shortcut for capturing parts of the screen. But when the time comes to do more, you have to open your screenshot in an image editor.
Shutter saves you from that separate step. This program captures screenshots and performs many of the functions you would like to perform immediately afterward, such as cropping or pixelating private information. As someone who works on the web, the latter is a reason enough to keep Shutter around.
What’s Your Favorite Linux Exclusive?
You’ve heard it before. You may have even said it yourself: “I would switch to Linux, but I need Windows or Mac for the apps.”
Well, the opposite is true, too. Yes, Linux isn’t known for having superior desktop applications than you find on commercial desktops — but there are some programs that will leave you not wanting to switch back to anything else.
I haven’t. I’ve used Linux for the past several years (including some time on Chromebooks), so I’m not aware of what software people use on Windows these days. I’m not saying these programs are better than what you can find on Windows. That’s always a subjective debate, and I haven’t used Windows recently enough to know.
It’s also disingenuous to call these applications Linux exclusives. You can run many of them on other UNIX-like operating systems, too.
Have more applications to add to this list? Please give them a mention. And if you want to educate me on a particular Windows alternative, I’m listening in the comments below!
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