Getting Stuff Done on Linux [Part 1]

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One thing you hear often about Linux is that there’s no software for it. This is simply not true. There may not be much proprietary software for it, but there is some, and there are plenty of free alternatives to what most offices use every day.

This is just a quick overview of some of the programs out there, and it’s the first of two parts.This first posting focuses on applications for creating content. The next one will be more internet-based. I’ll go more in-depth into some of them at a later time. Many of these are also available on Windows and OSX, so you can experiment with them in the comfort of whatever OS you’re used to without making a commitment to switch. This listing is focused primarily on the types of things that are commonly needed for work- or school-related tasks, not necessarily for home desktop use.

Office Space

Open Office

Common tasks in any office environment include word processing, working with spreadsheets, making presentations, and sometimes handling databases. All of these tasks can be completed using OpenOffice.org, a spinoff from Sun’s Star Office.

openoffice ubuntu   Getting Stuff Done on Linux [Part 1]

OOo is a cross-platform office suite, so you can try it out without switching to Linux. For Mac OSX users, though, I’d recommend trying it out with NeoOffice, which is Aqua-native. It also has support for Microsoft formats, so you can share files with MS users. Be warned that this can be imperfect, usually if a font used to create the document is not available on the other computer.

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OOo Writer (the word processor) has a better layout engine than MS Word does. The frames for holding content and adding captions are a good idea taken from desktop publishing suites. For presentations, Impress is top-notch. The ease of switching layouts for the slides and changing the whole presentation’s theme is great. Base is a bit of an unusual program. It can make its own native standalone database files, but it can also work with databases running on the computer, such as MySQL. Calc is the one part I would say isn’t really up there with MS Office. Excel is very good. Basic spreadsheet tasks work fine in Calc, but if you want to do something advanced, like find the trend line of a scatter plot, you need Excel. If you need Excel’s advanced features, MS Office can be installed on Linux using software like Crossover which adds just enough stuff to the Linux install for the Windows program to feel like it’s running on Windows. Lighter-weight alternatives to OOo include Abiword (word processing) and Gnumeric (spreadsheets). And of course there is always Google Docs.

Scribus

For making signs, fliers, brochures, newsletters, etc., you want Scribus. Scribus is a desktop publishing program that gives you complete control over the layout of elements on the page. It works with CMYK color profiles and has PDF output, so the results are perfect for sending off to the printer’s. Because Microsoft has not seen fit to release specs for their Microsoft Publisher format, .pub files cannot be imported, unfortunately. Scribus does run on all major platforms, however.

Graphics

Everybody mentions the GIMP, but how many mention Krita ?

krita screenshot ubuntu   Getting Stuff Done on Linux [Part 1]

The GIMP’s greatest shortcoming is its lack of CMYK support. It only does RGB. Krita does CMYK. If you don’t know what that means, you probably don’t care. Pro photographers and printers care though, because CMYK are printer colors. Krita’s a bit limited as compared to the GIMP, though, so if whatever you’re doing is going to stay digital, go with the GIMP. GIMP’s on about the same level as Corel Paint Shop Pro, in terms of what it can do. If you are used to Photoshop’s layout but don’t need its advanced features, GimpShop is a modified version of the GIMP, made to feel like Photoshop. If you do need the advanced features, Photoshop CS2 can be used on Linux if you use WINE, the Windows compatibility layer on which Crossover is built.

(By) Mackenzie is a college student who likes to promote Linux and Free/Libre Software. Most of her free time is spent on the computer, helping new users, or hanging out with some of the friends she’s made in the Linux community. Check out her blog, >Ubuntu Linux Tips & Tricks.

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29 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Rob

Totally agree with you on this. I know of many people who say they couldn’t use Linux because it doesn’t have anything (meaning software), but I believe a fairer statement would be that they mean Linux doesn’t have any software that they’ve heard of. But anyone who uses Linux knows that the original statement just isn’t true. Linux has loads of software out there, all free for the taking.

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Ashutosh Mishra

Krita is KDE, even if it does run on Ubuntu, and I hate KDE. I am not a pro, so GIMP does everything and more for me.

And yes, Calc and Base of OpenOffice.org don’t fall in the same category as Excel and Access. But then they still do most of the “usual” stuff.

Your Linux posts are bringing me to MUO more frequently than ever. Keep going!
:)

Mackenzie

I’m trying specifically *not* to be GNOME-centric because this isn’t about GNOME or Ubuntu, but Linux in general.

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Travis Quinnelly

Another great Linux post Mackenzie, I think the readers are very happy to see this topic covered well. Keep it up. :)

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Shankar Ganesh

This post is just up-to-the-point. Puts things straight forward.

I only wish a lot of people try Linux after reading this on MUO. :) That’d really be great, isn’t it Mackenzie?

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charlie

I’ve been using Linux (on my second machine that is rapidly becoming my primary one) for about 6 months and I can do just about anything I need to do. Except when it comes to the programs that come with certain types of hardware.

The big one is my GPSs. Magellan MapSend, Garmin Mapsource, Streets & Trips – all running on my XP box with nary a Linux version that I can find. (I haven’t dabbled too much into Wine, but have had mixed results when I did.) The open source mapping software is not very good and the open map databases are worse.

Don’t get me wrong. I prefer the Linux box to the XP machine – quicker, less hassle – but I still have some needs that Linux can’t satisfy and I see this as being an impediment to widespread acceptance. I’m geeky enough to go looking for alternatives – a lot of users aren’t and will find their Linux computers limiting rather than liberating.

prata

Charlie, have you tried Virtualbox? It’s not the same as WINE, but it may be what you’re looking for in those corner cases where the software just isn’t up to par such as in the GPS things you’ve mentioned.

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Wally

I didn’t know about Krita. Thanks for the link! The Gimp is technically okay, but the user interface is bad.

Open Office is in my opinion not an alternative to M$ Office (yet). I miss the collaboration tools and Open Office has very much problems with the kerning, the font rendering sucks. I use OpenOffice for over two years at home now, but I still prefer (jikes) M$ Office that I use at work (2003 that is). I don’t want to pay myself to m$ of course ;-)

Scribus is a very nice tool, although I am more in favour of the Adobe suite.

Actually the reason why Linux isn’t going to the desktop of everyone at this point, is there are so many different flavors. As soon as it is easy for both (hardware AND software) developers and users to have one (or a limited set of) standard(s) for drivers, installers it can grow rapidly. I would love to see that happen.

DJ Barney

The different flavours are based on a core set of code. Most things are released for Linux … not Ubuntu Linux or Slackware Linux.

Reply

Ben

Linux has absolutely loads of great apps, some not even available on Windows. Check out http://www.freeapps.co.uk/linux for just some of them!

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J S

I have an engineering and project management consulting business supporting Automotive OEM and Tier1 corporations. All my business use is Linux based. Primarily Kubuntu (which is more like Windows for those thinking of switching and faster than base Ubuntu which many like because it’s more Mac-like) and Xubuntu (faster than Kubuntu for older machines – runs well on 500-700Mhz or newer CPUs, you read that right – ok on half a Ghz!). I use Open Office and trade documents with my clients using MS Office all day long and never a problem. For producing final documents – Open Office has a direct “export to pdf” option on its menu that many people find extremely useful (I know people who installed OO just to get the pdf output).

For those starting out and wanting to test the Linux waters, here are the steps:
1. Install Open Office, Firefox web browser, GIMP, and possibly Thunderbird email on your Windows machine.
2. Download an .iso image and burn a Live-CD of: Kubuntu and/or Xubuntu and/or PCLinuxOS. Make sure your pc boots to the CD/DVD-ROM drive before the hard disk drive and boot them up. They will run slower than a native installation because they run from the CD and are uncompressing files on the fly. When done testing remove the CD and reboot back to Windows – which never knew you were being unfaithful.
3. Do an installation on an old PC (your last generation windows box the kids are using “that was too slow for real work” or that is moldering in the garage/basement), or get a spare hard disk drive to swap in your favorite computer, or do the “dual boot” option on your favorite computer.
4. Go native Linux.

I hear a lot about GIMP being ‘hard to use’ -it’s only hard for those with extensive Photoshop experience that need to ‘unlearn’ where they thought everything should be. If you’re a newer dog you won’t have any bad habits to unlearn.

Open Office actually has some features and base options that MSOffice lacks (some spreadsheet charts) in addition to the direct pdf exporter. The key is to install a copy of OO and see if it does what you have to have done – if it doesn’t then you have options to install MS Office: virtualbox (run winXP and MSOffice inside Linux), WINE, Crossover or other related emulators.

Oh, one last thing… The ‘ubuntu’s and PCLinuxOS have a software package installer that, if you open up the source sites they draw from, can get you somewhere in excess of 20,000+ programs with only a click or two to install.

Good Luck.

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kaneda

new openoffice now has aqua support, and virtualbox can now perform seamless windows – in other words for those ever so rare apps that you cant run under linux, it works just like parralel’s coherence.

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Joseph

Well GIMP and Krita being mentioned, there’s another strong competitor, much closer to Photoshop … Pixel pixelimageeditor.com

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Rick

Weak article, and the theme has been treated many times. Misleading title, “Gettings Things Done” or “GTD” is used for productivity such as calendaring, organization, time management, and not office suites or image authoring, as a general concensus. This shouldn’t have hit the Digg front page.

Mark O’Neill

It is outside our control if something “hits the Digg front page”. You make it sound as if we personally put it there ourselves. I am sick and tired of Diggers coming over here and spewing their negativity all over the place. If you don’t have anything constructive to say, which contributes to the discussion, then don’t say anything at all.

Aibek

This article was meant for MUO readers. While we are happy that it hit the Digg front page we focus on our readers and not whole Digg commmunity.

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John

OO is fine if everyone around you has it as well. If you operate in a Windows environment, where all your work/attachments are arriving in .doc format, then OO doesn’t cut it. I regularly have hassle trying to view tables and equations from .doc files in OO, and Excel-generated graphs with regression lines are hit n miss as well.
Obviously these are not problems of OO’s making — it’s just a reality of life in a mixed MS/OO environment :-(

Reply

mclaren

Not quite as many specialized programs in linux as in Windows — but that’s changing. For example, there is no full linux replacement for Adobe After Effects, nor are there nearly as many different linux softsynths as there are Windows commercial softsynths. But this will change over time as more and more open source projects produce more and more highly specialized linux programs.

Special-purpose linux accounting software for businsesses remains the biggest lacuna. I.e., Dentix for running dentist’s offices on Windows, Yardy for managing rental real estate on Windows, etc. We will evantentually have open-source linux versions of all these programs for linux, but they’re not here yet.

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alper

In part II, please mention “Gnome Do”. It’s a Quicksilver-like application for Linux and it’s getting better by time..

Shankar Ganesh

It’s somewhat like Launchy for Windows. Comes with plugins (there are only a few available now, though) https://wiki.ubuntu.com/GnomeDo

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Alan Giattana

I think Gnumeric deserves more attention than what you gave, especially since you saw fit to mention that Calc is somewhat inadequate. Gnumeric absolutely beats the pants off of any other spreadsheet program out there. (I’m not sure how compatible it is with other formats as I haven’t used it for that, but feature-wise it is the best out there.) Lightweight doesn’t always mean inferior.

Mackenzie

I don’t really have any experience with Gnumeric, other than trying to make it give the trendlines that OOo wouldn’t, and it failed at that too. I was once told that it can handle the Excel macros just fine, but I haven’t been able to find that in the documentation anywhere, so I think the person was wrong.

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Troberg

Some links to pages suitable for finding Linux alternatives to Windows software:

http://www.linuxrsp.ru/win-lin-soft/table-eng.html
http://www.linuxalt.com/
http://wiki.linuxquestions.org/wiki/Linux_software_equivalent_to_Windows_software

A good start for any Windows -> Linux convertee.

Reply

James

If you’re going to mention KOffice apps, you should mention KWord too. Its use of frames sticks it neatly between typical word processors and those obsessive behemoths like Aldus/Adobe PageMaker.

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IceTheNet

Linux falls far short of windows on many applications. Applications do exist for Linux but the level of complexity and sophistication fall way short. Most applications are clunky and lacking in functionality and design. Tell me one application that can touch even close the capability of Dreamweaver or Photoshop and would use Linux full time. I love Linux it is one of the best internet servers in the world. It does many things well but trying to say that gimp or Scribus or any other application that exists for Linux is any competition at all for adobes offerings is incompetent at best. If you want some basic graphics and mediocre web development equipment perhaps a word processor then Linux will fill your need. If you need to get real work done and explore the full capabilities of graphics and web design / programming then windows will be the obvious choice. I run windows and have Ubuntu running in Virtual Box for testing apps on a Linux platform. All of my serious work is done on windows. I do however have high hopes for Linux someday it may become good enough to actually compete with windows but not today, not today. First Linux needs a major overhaul we have the technology but not the ambition. the file structure is a joke. who thought that it would be cool to name directory’s etc or bin. It makes it hard to navigate and find applications that are a breeze in windows because you know you find them in “program files”. The whole structure leads to a very messy operating system that makes you search for hours just to find a simple file. Separation of information is what is holding Linux back. the information for each program needs to be held together so that both programmers can find and fix problems fast and that end users can find what they are looking for fast. I end up searching through endless amounts of icons just to find a simple file to edit to make something work. I usually have to goto the program manager and get a file listing to figure out where the heck some idiot has thrown the darn configuration file so I can edit it and get what I want to work working. Not to mention the endless hours of searching the scattered documentations reading endless bull that some moron has spent way to much time on unnecessary wording just to find the information on what I need to change. Honestly I think they spend more time writing than programming. No Linux has a long way to get to get to the point where it is anything close to windows in the realm of serious applications and structure that is user friendly. Linux has good points and bad points just like windows.

Mackenzie

The vast majority of people out there using pirated Adobe software will never use half of what the open source alternatives offer, let alone all that the Adobe stuff has. Unless you are a professional photographer, you don’t need Photoshop. Personally, I can’t stand Photoshop because it overcomplicates everything. What I like is Jasc Paint Shop Pro 8. I have no idea how it is since Corel bought it though.

Dreamweaver is to avoided anyway. It makes a mess nearly as bad as Front Page. Nvu Kompozer is a WYSIWYG which, unlike the competition, knows how to work with CSS properly.

Perhaps you haven’t heard of the $PATH variable (just as you’ve never heard of paragraphs). The $PATH variable means you don’t need to know where the program lives. Just type the name of it, and the system will find it for you. The separation of files is a good thing. It’s what allows different programs to share libraries so that you don’t have 15 copies of the same libraries and giant installers, like on OSX and Windows. Users do not need to go about in the directories outside /home. The filesystem is fine. It matches all UNIX filesystems, and it makes perfect sense to anyone willing to look into it–just as I suspect the stuff inside C:\SYSTEM32\ makes sense to anyone willing to look into it. Do end users look in C:\SYSTEM32? No. Do they look in /usr or /sbin or /var? No. The farthest they may look is /etc for system configuration, but they needn’t. There are graphical tools for configuring all of that. Unless you’re administrating a server (in which case you’d better know your way around the file system and have no fear of the command line, because that’d simply make you unfit to be a server admin), you don’t need to look at system files.

Reply

moc

There’s actually more software available for Linux than there is for Windows if you’re capable of searching. You don’t have to worry about it spying on you either. I do things with my computer that most people didn’t even have a clue is possible. I’m glad that noobs don’t “get it” with Linux. We don’t need them nor want them onboard. Linux is for the elite and Windows is for everyone else, the way it should be and the way it should stay.

Reply

mp3fake

The Possibility development given project for other operating systems? As beginner user LINUX I am certainly interested in given application. And it is impossible will cite an instance and comparisons with the other utility?

Reply

Claudio

The author only highlighted two pieces of software that most people would probably use in Windows anyways. There are a ton of other useful apps in GNU/Linux that would satisfy anyone’s needs. If you’re an Ubuntu user, all you need to do is look in the Add/Remove option under the main menu. All applications a categorized accordingly and have names and description in plain english for those that might feel daunted by Synaptic. Many other desktop-oriented distributions have their own methods of doing this, but all of them give you a simple and easy-to-understand way of installing software from the available repositories.

Here’s a list of what I use on GNU/Linux that has kept me Windows free for years now:
1. OpenOffice over MS Office for desktop productivity
2. Firefox over IE for browsing the web.
3. Pidgin multi-IM client over any proprietary client in Windows (it even supports MySpaceIM if you want that).
4. OpenArena, TREMULOUS, and a multitude of 3D games that satisfy my gaming needs over the expensive commercial ones.
5. GIMP and others mentioned above for graphics work.
6. Skype which is also available for GNU/Linux.
7. Adobe Flash and Sun Java for use with IE.
8. Videolan Client (VLC) for watching almost any type of video.
9. AmaroK for all my music needs…it even supports the iPods (except for later iPods and iPhone due to restrictive firmware from Apple).
10. Evolution for MS Exchange e-mail at work.

Now tell me again why it’s not a good time to switch from the disaster that is Vista?

I have to admit that while I am Windows-free on the PC, I do use Mac OS X on my iMac G5 (before GNU/Linux, I was mainly a Mac user but ran Windows on my PCs). Still, I only run free and open source software on OS X and it is dual booting to Ubuntu as well. The article only covered a few apps, but the truth is that there is a multitude of applications available for GNU/Linux (and the same ones even for OS X and Windows) out there if you open yourself up to letting go of the Microsoft teat.

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