7 Great (But Ugly) Linux Software Programs

Austin Luong 18-12-2017

There are a number of different Linux software programs, all which come in different shapes and sizes. In fact, there are many wonderful gems out there, that even Windows does not have 10 Exclusive Linux Apps You Won't Find on Windows Moving from Windows, you'll find there are plenty of apps you can use to supplant your old proprietary software. You'll even find a selection of impressive applications and tools exclusive to Linux. Read More . Then there are the ones which are… less than polished, to put it gently.


The sorts of programs that make you flinch at their mere look.

Maybe they feel like a throwback to a different era, or just seem too cluttered. And yet, despite that, they work extremely well. Typically, the software has all the features needed to work, is lightweight 12 Lightest Linux Software and Programs to Speed Up an Old PC Switching to Linux is a great way to breathe life into an aging machine, but it's also a lot of work! Need to lighten the load on your Linux-powered machine? Try these apps! Read More , and would be near perfect if it weren’t for its terrible appearance.

Linux is sometimes known for its more utilitarian bent, and this sometimes carries over to the programs it has. They’re great at what they do, but their looks can sometimes take getting used to. Here are seven such examples.

Note: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As such, this list is bound to be somewhat biased.

1. Seamonkey

Internet suites are a bit of an old concept these days. They’re do-all programs for all your online needs The 100+ Best Websites on the Internet Here are the best websites on the internet to serve every one of your needs, broken into convenient categories for easy browsing. Read More . Usually, this means being an email client, web browser, and messaging client all in one package. The emphasis here is on the old part.


ugly but great and effective and useful linux applications

Seamonkey stands on the shoulders of Mozilla’s Firefox web browser Firefox Quantum Arrives to Challenge Google Chrome Firefox Quantum is faster, better-looking, more streamlined, and more useful, and it may be able to give Chrome a run for its money. It certainly uses less RAM... Read More , and then does more with it. However, it does so with a rather clunkier interface compared to Firefox’s more sleek, streamlined look. For example, its toolbar icons take up a very large amount of space, and don’t blend as well with your system’s look 9 Beautiful Alternatives To The Default Linux Icon Sets Here's how you can switch icon sets, and which ones I recommend trying out. Read More . This even extends to its bookmark folders, which can look positively ancient.

If you can get over this though, you find yourself with a power user’s dream of a program. You get so many features at your fingertips. Seamonkey How To Use SeaMonkey To Do More Online From the developers of Firefox, SeaMonkey promises to provide you with access to all of your online needs - browsing and email primarily, although an IRC client and WYSIWYG web editor is also included. In... Read More also provides various options you can change at your leisure, in a (admittedly cluttered) configuration window.

ugly but great and effective and useful linux applications


2. Claws Mail

When it comes to lightweight, powerful email clients Linux Desktop Email Clients Compared: Thunderbird vs. Evolution vs. KMail vs. Claws Mail Read More , Claws Mail is hard to beat. It has everything you need to read, compose, and manage your mail from the comfort of your desktop. However, its icon scheme looks old enough to have grandchildren.

ugly but great and effective and useful linux applications

This can either be a good or bad thing, but Claws is extremely flexible. If there’s anything that the client can’t handle, it will probably have a plugin to help solve this. This lets you pick and choose whatever features you want, to help keep the program light. For example, there’s a plugin to display HTML emails 17 Simple HTML Code Examples You Can Learn in 10 Minutes Want to create a basic webpage? Learn these HTML examples and try them out in a text editor to see how they look in your browser. Read More (rather than plain text).

This is coupled with a wide array of options. If you know what you’re doing, the client is amazing. There’s almost nothing you can’t tweak 12 Useful Tweaks To Make Ubuntu Feel Like Home We'll show you some great tweaks that can go a long way to achieving desktop zen. Read More . Every single part of the client’s appearance is easily altered. You can even change that old icon theme for a more modern one!


ugly but great and effective and useful linux applications

However, all this comes at a cost. Out of the box, Claws does not offer the best experience. The client’s initial look is rather traditional and musty. It expects you to learn about its ugly spots, before really letting it shine. This can take time and effort, especially when wading through its hefty preferences window.

3. TigerVNC

Remote desktop How to Establish Remote Desktop Access to Ubuntu From Windows Need to remote access your Ubuntu PC from another location? Here's how to remote desktop with Ubuntu from Windows. Read More clients let you connect to another computer, and control them as if it were your own. There are multiple ways to do this, one of them being VNC (Virtual Network Computing). TigerVNC is a program which implements VNC to make and connect to remote desktops.

It’s said to be fast at what it does, and is a fairly no-frills affair. The server part of the software (providing access to clients to connect to a desktop) is actually just a terminal application 5 Terminal Alternatives to Linux Desktop Apps The Linux terminal is rather daunting and many only use it when necessary. But it can actually prove very useful. These five terminal-based apps show you just how useful it can be. Read More . But it’s the client that really gives it a slightly jarring, ugly design.


ugly but great and effective and useful linux applications

Unlike many other Linux programs, TigerVNC does not have a consistent look to it. No matter how your other applications might look 4 Drop-Dead Gorgeous GNOME Themes As an avid Linux user I know quite well how customizable my desktop really is. Whether it comes to the desktop shell, or the window borders, or the menu colors, or even the icon theme,... Read More , it remains the same, jarring grey. This is easily noticed when using a darker theme for your programs.

Luckily though, that’s not too much of a problem for something like a remote desktop client Ubuntu Remote Desktop: Easy, Built-In, VNC Compatible Need to remotely connect to your Ubuntu PC? Use Ubuntu's remote desktop tools to access your PC from Linux, macOS, or Windows. Read More . After all, if you’re using it to connect to another computer, chances are you won’t be seeing much of it in the first place.

4. Keepass

When it comes to secure, offline password managers Is Your Password Manager Secure? 5 Services Compared Unless you have an incredible memory, there's no way you can possibly hope to remember all your usernames and passwords. The sensible option is to use a password manager -- but which is best? Read More , Keepass Is basically your best choice. It’s available on almost every major platform, from desktop to mobile. The program also supports a lot of different plugins, which can extend its feature set for your needs.

For example, with the use of a plugin, Keepass can actually handle two-factor authentication What Is Two-Factor Authentication, And Why You Should Use It Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security method that requires two different ways of proving your identity. It is commonly used in everyday life. For example paying with a credit card not only requires the card,... Read More for you, no mobile phone required. Along with this, you can choose exactly how the program behaves, if you’re willing to dig into its settings.

ugly but great and effective and useful linux applications

Like TigerVNC however, its appearance can be a little jarring. The icons it uses can look quite out of place, and the program’s theme can be very inconsistent, and sometimes make things hard to read. While Keepass is an excellent password manager, it won’t be winning any design contests.

ugly but great and effective and useful linux applications

Yes, there are Keepass-based programs KeePassX - Secure Password Management For Linux & OS X Read More which look much better on Linux. However, in making them look good, they sacrifice many of the plugins that make the original powerful and unique.

5. BORG Calendar

There’s a number of calendar programs Organize Your Time with These 4 Linux Calendar Apps Does it make sense to still use a desktop calendar app? We think so, especially to enable access to events on any synced device. These Linux calendar apps are particularly useful. Read More out there, but when it comes to features, this application wins hands down. It’s got everything you want, and then some. It has the regular appointments and tasks, but it also lets you take (basic) notes, and even manage complex projects.

The program has the added benefit of being cross platform 10+ Great Cross-Platform Apps for Both Windows & Linux Read More , and easy to bend to your every need. There are lots of options for you to tweak, from the font and color it should use, to the sounds that reminder popups make.

As a result of all this power, BORG’s interface is difficult to navigate, and very complex at first. It might take some time to wade through all its options, to explore all it has to offer. The icons again, look very out of place, with their grainy, textured appearances. By default, its general theme seems quite out of place (though like any very flexible program, this is easily changed).

Almost like Linux has been invaded by Windows 95…

ugly but great and effective and useful linux applications

If you can get over that somewhat ugly design, you’re left with an amazing calendar program How to Sync Calendars Between Linux and Android It's already possible to remotely control Linux from Android, and no reason why you shouldn't sync calendars. All you need to do is setup a calendar server, which is easier than it sounds... Read More that handles anything you throw at it. There’s almost nothing it can’t do.

6. Jitsi

Programs that use XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) for instant messaging 5 Online Instant Messaging Services to Chat with Friends If you were an AOL Instant Messenger fan, don’t worry. There are still some worthwhile services available. Here are five to check out. Read More seem a little less popular these days. It’s still a good option, but because of how it works, finding a client that supports the features you want can be difficult, especially if you use multiple platforms at once.

This is where Jitsi Goodbye, Skype: 4 Alternative VOIP Services You Can Record Calls With Can't record calls with Skype anymore? Recent changes that break support of third-party apps have left many users frustrated. Could now be the time to try an alternative VoIP call recording service? Read More comes in. The client supports everything you’d want from a messaging application, from video and audio chat, to group calls. It even supports IRC The Top 7 Best Free IRC Clients for Windows 7 For most of us, chatrooms might seem like a relic of the past, but they're still around. If you're interested in that sort of thing, you’ll want to look into the IRC protocol. For those... Read More , if you want it to. In many ways, it’s one of the best XMPP clients out there, especially if you’re focused on video and audio support.

Jitsi’s main failing is its looks. The icons are skeumorphic Digital Leather Binding: The Rise And Fall of Skeuomorphic Design "Skeuomorphic" design – software that resembles the physical objects it replaces – went from being the hot design principle to an insult in an amazingly short period of time. Read More in nature, a little outdated, though still not as bad as previous offenders. But it’s the way it tries to integrate your system theme that may really be a problem. If you’re using a dark theme, only some parts of the program will colored differently. The rest remains pastel blue, causing some contrast problems.

ugly but great and effective and useful linux applications

Sadly, this is one of those times where being ugly is an actual problem for a program. After all, if it’s hard to navigate due to contrast problems, it’s harder to use. Good as it is, the basics aren’t properly covered.

7. Calibre

If you want to read ebooks on Linux 4 of the Best Ebook Readers for Linux Users Which Linux eBook readers are the best? Here are four options you should definitely look into. Read More , you’re probably using Calibre. While there are definitely alternative readers out there, not many can even begin to match what it has to to offer. But it’s because of all those features that Calibre is challenging on the eyes.

You can do practically anything related to ebooks using Calibre A User's Guide To Calibre eBook Manager Easily manage, convert and transfer your books using Calibre, the swiss army knife of eBook software, and a variety of related programs. Read More , from removing DRM How to Remove the DRM on Every Ebook You Own No one likes DRM. We all understand why it exists, but that doesn't mean we're ready to embrace it. Therefore, this article explains how to remove the DRM from every eBook you own. Read More , to using it as your personal library. Its reading tool is also excellent, and out of all the other readers, seems to handle displaying books the best.

ugly but great and effective and useful linux applications

But because of all things it can do, Calibre can be somewhat overwhelming to a user, who might not be interested in all it has to offer. If you just want to read books, the program is overkill and a little clunky. There are many buttons on its menu, most of which are focused on managing a library, rather than reading.

Calibre also sports some rather out of place icons by default. To its credit though, you can change them to something more fitting if you know what you’re doing. But like all large applications, this can be hard to find at first.

ugly but great and effective and useful linux applications

Beauty Is Only Skin Deep in Linux Software

At the end of the day, programs are made to get things done. Even if they look terrible, or send retro flashbacks through your mind. I actually use a number of them to great effect. After getting used to them, the pros outweighed the cons.

Yes, appearance is important. Having something that looks and works well is the ideal. I can tolerate some level of ugliness. And maybe you might as well.

What programs do you find ugly but useful? Have you learned to get used to them? Do you wish they could improve?

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  1. Pfloomnisht
    January 8, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    Luckily, or hopefully, the article writer knows of or has heard the term 'Opinions are like buttholes...everyone has one'.

    "Ugly"? Really? You're that shallow as to think that's what it's all supposed to be about?

    Who are you to say what's "ugly" or not?

    This article was one of the worst conceived Makeuseof has come up with or let happen.

  2. Drew F
    December 20, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    Calibre is awesome, and it isnt just for Linux either. Ive had it on my mac for a while and it made switching from a nook to a kindle a few years ago a breeze. So glad I dont have to worry about all the various formats, I can just get the books and work it out later. You can also have separate libraries, so for example I have a whole collection of math text books (grad school) in one and then all my leisure reading in the other.

    • David M
      December 21, 2017 at 12:39 am

      I'm always interested when people praise Calibre so highly. I have installed it 5 or 6 times over the years on different computers, each time with growing care as to slowly putting my books on it, working out all the headings and such. Yet each time, it has left my ebook library far harder to navigate and understand than it was pre-Calibre.
      It doesn't matter whether I have thousands of ebooks, or less than a hundred, Calibre, in my experience, always creates a mess.
      It is the one Linux program I so want to work, that just doesn't. For me, anyway.

    • Mike Walsh
      December 27, 2017 at 10:17 pm

      "Linux is sometimes known for its more utilitarian bent, and this sometimes carries over to the programs it has. They’re great at what they do, but their looks can sometimes take getting used to."

      - What, and those butt-ugly Windows apps DON'T..???

      Urrk. Yechhh... (*barf*)

      I don't want pretty software that LOOKS great, and then takes half-the day to actually accomplish anything because of all those crappy Windoze background services hogging every available CPU cycle as soon as it's free....

      At least Linux stuff just works.....and gets on with the job. And keeps ON doing just that...

      'Sides, the looks kinda grow on you after a while..!

    • simon
      January 9, 2018 at 9:20 pm

      The author of the article also fails to mention that if you just want to read ebooks with calibre, you will never even have to see the main calibre window.

  3. Juan Moczo
    December 19, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Calibre is an excellent and probably the best e-book management program out there

  4. dragonmouth
    December 19, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Where is it decreed that each and every program must have a beautiful Interface? Why does a utility program such as GParted have to have an elaborate interface similar to the latest MS Word? "Pretty-fying" a program's look and feel adds overhead to its execution. IOW, the more eye candy, the slower the program runs.

    "Internet suites are a bit of an old concept these days."
    Tell that to the developers of office suites. They are cramming more and more functionality into those programs.

    "Claws Mail ... has everything you need to read, compose, and manage your mail from the comfort of your desktop. However, its icon scheme looks old enough to have grandchildren."
    So what?! GMail's icon scheme is right up to date. Google concentrates on making GMail as pretty as possible. Unfortunately, GMail has far fewer features than Claws Mail and other "ugly" email clients.

    " While Keepass is an excellent password manager, it won’t be winning any design contests."
    What's more important, good looks or good password protection?

    "BORG and Calibre"
    You don't download and use Borg and/or Calibre if you just want a simple calendar app or a simple eBook reading app, just as you don't use LibreOffice Math to do simple calculations.

    • Bob
      May 8, 2018 at 8:30 pm

      It's one thing to essentially trash a program for a bad UI but a program completing a task as promised isn't enough to completely free itself from needing an attractive UI. There are people on the extremes (all the bells & whistles on one end and 'just do what I want and get on with it' on the other) but there's a whole area in between. I like programs that, first of all, run well and do what they say, but I will choose one over the other if the UI is bad enough on the first. Not only do I like a good UI because I'm looking at the darn thing so often, but a bad UI can make the program very un-intuitive. I don't need flashy everything, crazy animations all over, etc. that eat up resources, but we also don't need to be permanently stuck on the Windows 95 style for eternity. There's a middle ground of running well & looking good that should be sought after. I don't take my position as far as the author, but more developers should give a rat's behind how their applications look.... for usability sake if nothing else.

      • dragonmouth
        May 8, 2018 at 10:41 pm

        You have a choice of two programs - an ugly looking one that works flawlessly and has many options, or a good looking program with a few options that work most of the time. Which one would you use?

        Of course a program with a good looking UI and a slew of options is the ideal. I am surprised that the developers of the various Software Centers gave them "modern" UIs but the capability of 20 years ago where they perform serially, one function at the time. Couldn't they give these Software Centers the capabilities of Synaptic?

        What is an "attractive" UI? As the saying goes 'Beauty is in the ye of the beholder'. What to you is "attractive" to others may be 'busy', 'mawkish', 'overdone'. Just look at all the Desktop Environments and Window Managers available for Linux. At the latest count, there were close to 80 popular ones, from sparse ones like jwm and fluxbox to elaborate ones like GNOME and KDE. Apparently there is more than one opinion of what constitutes "attractive".

        • Bob
          May 9, 2018 at 1:38 pm

          I'd accept your initial premise if there weren't countless examples of applications that worked "flawlessly" (or as close as can realistically be expected) AND are 'good looking.' Multiple people in the comments see it as a false dichotomy when those aspects aren't mutually exclusive. You don't always need to choose between features/stability & good design. Applications can, and quite a few do, have both. And yes, 'good design', to a point, is a matter of preference. I say to a point because while the line may be drawn in different places depending on who you talk to, there is one. Just as a 'messy' room may appear more messy to some than others, but there's a point where the vast majority of people could look at it and agree its messy. Now I prefer Windows over OS X (for example) as an OS but I believe countless Windows applications have far passed the line from me personally not liking to the UI to it being dead obvious they need updating. Do they function? Yep, and I'm right with you that's priority #1. The problem I see is now that they work, why do they still look like they came out of Windows 95? Again, this isn't even that much a matter of preference because the OS equivalent (sometimes from the same company!) has been completely redesigned and modernized. Bottom line, features/stability and good UI are not on opposite ends of the spectrum. They both can be had. UI just seems to be dead last on the priority list (if it's even on it at all) on so many applications that it ruins the consistency of the OS and in worst case scenarios, affects the usability & intuitive-ness of the program.

  5. Heimen Stoffels
    December 19, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    If you use the latest SeaMonkey beta or trunk builds, then it blends in with your GTK3 theme. Also, the toolbar icons can be set to a smaller size. Waaaay smaller even. Great article otherwise though!

  6. dragonmouth
    December 18, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    Synaptic Package Manager.
    Many pundits, "experts" and Ubuntu-lovers like to hate on Synaptic because it has an "ugly, outdated interface". It may not have the eye-candy of the various Software Centers but it runs circles around them when it comes to functionality. It may not display the users ratings for each and every package in a repository but it will upgrade your system, update all your packages, install/uninstall packages, fix broken packages and do it all in one execution of the program.

    Of what use is a program that can't do much of anything but has a great looking interface?

    • Paul71
      December 19, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      Totally agree with this comment. Who really cares about the interface when the software get's things done. I always use synaptic as it's faster than 'software centres'. The problem with 'software centres' is that you can only install one thing at a time whereas synaptic i can install every piece of software in one go. Job done!

      • Spyjoshx
        December 19, 2017 at 12:33 pm

        I don't care how bad it looks, synaptic will ALWAYS be my go to package manager.

      • Mike Walsh
        December 21, 2017 at 10:51 pm

        Puppy Linux, by its very nature, uses many little-known, ultra lightweight programs which, TBH, look pretty basic. But they get the job done. Who cares about looking pretty, when the OS can make ancient laptops/notebooks & desktops run like new again?

    • Heimen Stoffels
      December 19, 2017 at 1:12 pm

      The Solus Software Center can do most of the Synaptic can. It just doesn't fix broken packages (yet), but it will update all of the packages, upgrade the system, install/uninstall packages, etc. while still looking very pretty. So good-looking software centers *can* do much if they're designed well like the one on Solus.

      • dragonmouth
        December 19, 2017 at 1:22 pm

        The operative word is "yet". :-)

    • Bob Buttons
      May 8, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      This makes me think of the meme with the girl saying "Why not both?" My position doesn't go as far as the author's but the UI doesn't need to be sacrificed to have a functioning, stable application. "Of what use is a program that can't do much of anything but has a great looking interface?" I don't see anyone suggesting dropping features or stability in favor of UI, but instead adding it to it. I agree that function should be priority number one, but there is zero reason an application can't run well and look good doing it. If it starts to impede performance, draw it back but I think if the internet reverted to how it looked in the late 90s, the 100%-function people would quickly start to see the value of good design.

  7. Doc
    December 18, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    "...Linux software programs." Is there any other kind? Saying "software programs" is like saying "presentation slideshow," "word processing document" or "spreadsheet sheet" - one phrase merely reinforces the other. It's redundant.

    • Stephan
      December 18, 2017 at 4:56 pm

      That's something I've hated for decades. Programs are software by definition, so saying "software programs" is silly (and that's me being polite...).

    • dragonmouth
      May 8, 2018 at 10:07 pm

      Not to quibble but there also social programs, radio & TV programs, educational programs, foreign aid programs, etc, etc, etc. :-)

      'Software program' is only redundant if one works in IT.

      • Doc
        May 9, 2018 at 1:27 pm

        So just say "software." The "program" part is what's redundant.