Traditionally, Linux desktop environments have a set of tightly integrated applications, not usually found in others Linux operating systems. Basically, if you’re switching desktops, you’re also switching programs. The Linux Mint community is aiming to change that with the X-Apps project.
What Are X-Apps?
The release of Linux Mint 18 introduced the first release of the X-Apps to the community. The project was created as a response to the ever-changing Linux desktop landscape. Applications one day can have a completely different interface the next. GNOME apps for example, now have a rather unique appearance, with thicker title-bars.
Therefore, one of the main goals of X-Apps are to have a consistent and traditional interface. A lot of them will look very familiar to you, and that’s the point. They should feel like slipping in a comfortable pair of jeans, no relearning or adapting required. As they should be. After all, the applications are based off well known programs from other desktop environments, re-tooled to be more desktop agnostic.
Another aim of the X-Apps project is that their applications should be usable everywhere. No matter what desktop environment you’re using, they should blend and integrate well with it. Along with this, they don’t depend on a specific desktop to be installed. For example, KMail and Evolution need some extra KDE and GNOME software respectively to work.
Of course, since X-Apps are supposed to look traditional, if you use them with a non-traditional desktop (like, say GNOME), they’ll stick out a little instead. However, this might not be a bad price to pay for consistency. You won’t have to learn how to use a new app for reading documents, for example. X-Apps will look and behave the same way, even as they are constantly updated.
How to Install X-Apps
At this point in time, the apps are listed as follows:
- Xreader, views PDFs, e-books, other documents.
- Xplayer, plays video and audio files.
- Xviewer/Pix, displays and arranges images respectively.
- Xed, edits text files.
If you’re using Linux Mint 18, then you don’t have to do anything — they’re installed by default. The openSUSE Linux operating system supplies it in their repositories as well (not installed by default, however). Ubuntu is not so lucky. In future, they’ll probably be added to more repositories, but at this current point in time, that’s not the case.
Use the X-Apps Ubuntu PPA
Since these programs aren’t officially supplied, you’ll need to add an unofficial repository to Ubuntu, in the form of a new PPA. Enter these commands to your terminal to do so:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:embrosyn/xapps sudo apt-get update
Now you’re just a command line away from installing whichever app you’d like. They’re labelled as their names are — just make sure to keep them in lower-case!
sudo apt-get install xreader xplayer xviewer pix xed
Manual Installation on Debian
While PPAs are technically compatible with Debian, in practice it’s really hit or miss. Instead, you should install the actual DEB packages from Mint. If you’re using the latest version of Debian (Jessie), everything should (emphasis on should) work out fine — the LMDE version of Mint is based off their repositories. However, your mileage may vary!
To do this, head over to the Linux Mint packages website. From there, you can download the DEB files for the respective X-Apps. If your system is 64-bit, take the amd64 versions of the packages. Otherwise, use i386. Once you’ve downloaded them, just open them in your file manager and install them.
Keep in mind that this might include extra dependencies as well! For example, the X-Apps depend on a package called xapps-common, among other things. You should be able to check what each one needs in the installer window.
Alternative Debian Installation Method (May Not Work!)
If you’d like a more automated method of getting X-Apps on Debian, you could try adding the LMDE repository to your package manager. As a result, you’d be able to install them without manually downloading their dependencies. Again, this should only be attempted if you’re using Debian Jessie!
To begin, open up your console and enter these commands in:
cd /etc/apt/sources.list.d/ sudo nano mint.list
Inside nano, enter this line:
deb http://packages.linuxmint.com betsy main upstream import
Press Ctrl + X to save and exit. Because the package repository contains more than just X-Apps, I recommend changing its priority, so it doesn’t mess with your other applications. Basically, if you follow these steps, Debian should only draw on the Mint repository if it can’t find the package in its own sources.
cd /etc/apt/preferences.d/ sudo nano x-apps
Inside the new x-apps file, enter these lines of text in:
Package: * Pin: origin packages.linuxmint.com Pin-Priority: 100 Package: * Pin: release a=stable Pin-Priority: 700
Again, use Ctrl + X to save and exit. However, you’re not done yet! The Linux Mint repositories are signed using a special key, which you’ll need to import. If you don’t have it, Debian will reject it as a security measure! Type this command to do this:
sudo apt-key adv --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com --recv-keys 3EE67F3D0FF405B2
If this doesn’t work, you might need to install the gnupg package beforehand, which is responsible for verifying keys. Finally, enter this command so Debian can see the new packages:
sudo apt-get update
You should now be able to install the X-Apps of your choice, just like Ubuntu.
sudo apt-get install xreader xplayer xviewer pix xed
Overview of the X-Apps
As stated earlier, these programs weren’t made from the ground up. Instead, they’re based off applications from other desktop environments. All of them are similarly styled, however, and share some code with each other. This means you can expect them all to behave and appear the same: smooth scrolling, the presence of menu-bars, and so on.
This program is based off the MATE document viewer, Atril. As such, a lot of the features from it carry over, such as support for e-books, and session restoration — if you reopen a document, you’ll jump to the page you were reading automatically.
Xplayer is based off GNOME’s Totem media player, but with a much more traditional interface. Recently, the video player’s appearance has changed quite a bit, with the unconventional appearance that pervades many GNOME applications.
Xplayer provides people with an alternative to this, with the same features in a more familiar landscape. If you like Totem, but don’t like how it looks, Xplayer is a worth a try.
This is based off another GNOME application, and it shows. For the most part, they’re very similar, and apart from the more traditional title bar, you’d be hard-pressed to find any differences between them.
The Pix photo organizer takes its inspiration from gThumb. Like Xviewer, it hasn’t deviated much from its roots. If you prefer the more menu-driven design of it, you might prefer it, however.
There is pretty much no difference at all between Xed and its parent project, the MATE text editor Pluma. On the bright side however, it doesn’t rely on having the MATE desktop installed to work, so if you like how Pluma looks, but want to use another desktop, it’s a good choice.
An Exercise in Consistency
The X-Apps project acts as a nice alternative to using applications made for specific desktop environments. No matter which desktop you use, they are guaranteed to be there, well integrated, and without any extra baggage. If you find yourself hopping desktops, give them a try.
Will you consider using X-Apps in the future? Do you think more desktop applications should follow suit, such as file managers and web browsers?