While the Pi might be best known as a programming and projects computer, it’s also a fully functioning device, even capable of replacing a desktop. As such, a wide range of applications and utilities are available, some of which can expand your Pi’s abilities.
Although tools like the open-source office suite LibreOffice are preinstalled in Raspbian Stretch, some other user software is omitted. If you want to get the most out of your Pi as a desktop device, here are five great apps that you should consider installing.
Most of these you’ll find via the Add/Remove Software tool, though other methods of installing software on the Pi are available. We’ve also included command line instructions.
1. Vivaldi Browser
You shouldn’t need any convincing to switch to Vivaldi. It was developed by Opera co-founder Jon von Tetzchner, and like the old version of Opera, Vivaldi attempts to redefine the web browser.
To install on the Raspberry Pi, you’ll need to use wget to download it to the right folder.
cd ~/Downloads/ wget "https://downloads.vivaldi.com/stable/vivaldi-stable_1.13.1008.34-1_armhf.deb"
With this done, unpack the DEB file to install.
sudo dpkg -i /path/to/deb/file
Finally, install with
sudo apt-get install -f
Once installed, you’ll find Vivaldi in Menu > Internet. Unfortunately, you cannot currently install Vivaldi from the Add/Remove Software tool. But it’s worth using the command line as this is a feature-packed tool that brings some great new features to your browsing. These include advanced tab management, a screenshot tool, and a built-in note-taking tool.
If you want to find out more about the Vivaldi browser, we’ve looked at how much of a difference it can make on Raspbian.
Perhaps the most ridiculously named application ever developed, GIMP is intended for image creation or retouching. Often cited as a replacement for Adobe Photoshop (it resembles an earlier version), GIMP is compatible with the Raspberry Pi.
You’ll find GIMP in the Add/Remove Software tool. For command line users:
sudo apt install gimp
Once installed, you’ll be able to use it for a number of image editing tasks. Whether you’re retouching photos or creating graphics from scratch, GIMP is ideal. While it might not actually be Photoshop, it is almost as powerful. Even if you can’t find the right tool, there is probably an extension that will add the feature.
Admittedly, a Raspberry Pi isn’t the ideal hardware for efficient image manipulation, but the end results should be good. Even if they do take a little longer to achieve!
Why not check our detailed guide to editing photos with GIMP?
If you’ve taken our advice and are planning on using the Pi as a desktop, you’ll need an email client. While Claws Mail is pre-installed, IceDove offers better customization. Based on the Mozilla Thunderbird email client, IceDove manages your email, provides access to Newsgroups on Usenet, RSS feeds, and even supports chat. If you use Google Hangouts, IceDove is ideal. There is also support for Filelink, the large file “sending” service (it actually links to a cloud-based copy).
Once installed from the Add/Remove Software tool, you’ll be able to tweak IceDove to your own requirements.
sudo apt install icedove
To launch IceDove, look in the Other folder in the desktop menu. You’ll find it labeled IceDove -> Thunderbird. No email client is complete without a calendar, so why not add the iceowl extension, to start organizing your time? Meanwhile, Enigmail allows email encryption.
You can also liven up the default interface. Several themes are available. Just open Tools > Add Ons to see what suits you.
You’ve probably heard of the cross-platform messaging app Pidgin. Handily, it’s able to unify chat accounts like Google Hangouts, Yahoo Messenger, and more into a single interface. Better still, plugins are available that bring Skype and WhatsApp into the application as well.
While you probably don’t already use a chat application on your Raspberry Pi, Pidgin nevertheless does the job well. It’s ideal if you’re planning to use your Pi for desktop purposes (or just like to chat while programming).
Install Pidgin via the Add/Remove Software tool. For command line installation in the Terminal:
sudo apt install pidgin
You’ll find a bunch of useful plugins for Pidgin in its dedicated library. These are quite wide ranging, and in many cases useless. However, you might find something useful. The OTR (Off the Record) plugin will encrypt your conversations, for instance. PaintBoard will let you share a whiteboard with your chat partner. Facebook Chat lets you replace the built-in (but deprecated) Facebook XMPP plugin.
Pidgin can also be themed. Thousands of themes are available from the Theming Pidgin library. Installing one of these will deliver a new collection of icons, emoticons, fonts, and backgrounds.
Want to read ebooks on your Raspberry Pi? If you’re using the device for programming for the first time, this might prove useful. Whether you have coding books in a traditional ebook format, or have them in your Kindle library, you can use Calibre to read them. In the command line, install Calibre with:
sudo apt install calibre
Alternatively, you’ll find it in Add/Remove Software. After installation, you’ll find Calibre listed in Applications > Office > Calibre.
With Calibre running on your system, you’ll be able to convert books into a suitable format, and import from Kindle. Important data like author name, publisher, year, page length, genre, and more is stored, enabling you to easily find the books you want to read.
Our full guide to Calibre will tell you everything you need to know about this superb application.
What Else Would You Use?
We’ve previously looked at the best apps for the Raspberry Pi, but these five tools will make your computer really useful.
Alternatives may be available for some of these tools; you should take the time to install the 7Zip-compatible utility too. If you’re looking for other apps and tools, take the time to get familiar with the Add/Remove Software tool, and you should find what you need.
What do you think? Which apps make your Raspberry Pi really useful? Tell us in the comments.