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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. 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, 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.
Internet suites are a bit of an old concept these days. They’re do-all programs for all your online needs. Usually, this means being an email client, web browser, and messaging client all in one package. The emphasis here is on the old part.
Seamonkey stands on the shoulders of Mozilla’s Firefox web browser, 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. 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 also provides various options you can change at your leisure, in a (admittedly cluttered) configuration window.
2. Claws Mail
When it comes to lightweight, powerful email clients, 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.
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 (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. Every single part of the client’s appearance is easily altered. You can even change that old icon theme for a more modern one!
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.
Remote desktop 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. But it’s the client that really gives it a slightly jarring, ugly design.
Unlike many other Linux programs, TigerVNC does not have a consistent look to it. No matter how your other applications might look, 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. 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.
When it comes to secure, offline password managers, 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 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.
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.
Yes, there are Keepass-based programs 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 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, 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…
If you can get over that somewhat ugly design, you’re left with an amazing calendar program that handles anything you throw at it. There’s almost nothing it can’t do.
Programs that use XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) for instant messaging 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 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, 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 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.
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.
If you want to read ebooks on Linux, 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, from removing DRM, 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.
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.
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?