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The Raspberry Pi is an awesome little computer, whose capabilities won’t stop increasing. As such, you should make sure that you have the best apps installed on it. If you’re running Raspbian Jessie or another Linux operating system on the Raspberry Pi, these are the top 10 apps that you really need to have installed.
If you like the sound of them, just follow the instructions in each section to install the apps on your Raspberry Pi!
We’ll start here, with the browser you simply need to have installed on your Raspberry Pi. Thanks to Chromium, there’s now compatibility with the Pepper Flash plugin, making it possible to enjoy Flash games, websites, streaming and more.
Because of Chromium’s close relationship to Google Chrome, many Chrome plugins are compatible, although the Pi’s hardware restricts heavy duty use. So avoid having too many tabs open! To further minimize your Raspberry Pi’s resource use, Chromium has the uBlock Origin extension pre-installed. This protects your browsing from resource-intensive pop-ups and ads.
Unlike the other apps in this list, Chromium comes pre-installed with Raspbian. But only the more recent versions. So if you haven’t upgraded Raspbian recently, back up your personal data (images, documents, saved programming), run a full update and upgrade:
sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get upgrade
Wait while your Pi upgrades, and when everything is done and you have restarted the computer, you should see a working copy of Chromium in the menu.
2. Synaptic Package Manager
It’s easy enough to install software via the command line, and Raspbian has its own mouse-driven Add/Remove Software tool… but what if you’re looking for something more expansive?
Unlike the native tool, Synaptic has software grouped into more specific categories, helping you to find the tools you need. In addition, Synaptic (which is one of several Linux package managers) can also ensure that the apps installed on your Pi are the most up-to-date versions. All you need to do is click Reload and then Apply to run the updates.
As well as a better user interface than Add/Remote Software, Synaptic will automatically download additional software that is required by the application you’re installing. In short, it’s superior, so why not use it?
You can install Synaptic Package Manager on Raspbian with:
sudo apt-get install synaptic
Once installed, you can run with a bash command:
Or by launching it from the Preferences section of the desktop menu.
3. VLC Player
Back in 2013 when the Raspberry Pi was first released, the idea of playing back anything but 480p video was laughable. The first generation unit just wasn’t capable of a concerted use of system resources for video playback.
These days, with the Raspberry Pi 3, things are different. Video and audio can be played on the Raspberry Pi, thanks to VLC Player, an application you may recognize. In short, VLC Player will play any media format, and is capable of additional features, such as desktop video capture, downloading YouTube videos, and file conversion. The overwhelming majority of amazing VLC Player features will run on the Raspberry Pi.
Installing VLC Player on your Raspberry Pi can also turn the computer into a media client. As long as you have your media stored on another computer or network storage, VLC Player can be used to browse and stream content across your local network!
You’ll find the option to install VLC Player in Preferences > Add/Remove Software.
4. USB Over IP
A very useful app that can save a lot of USB device removal and plugging in, USB Over IP can be installed on your Pi as well as any Windows or Linux desktops (see usbip.sourceforge.net for more). Its main use is to let you access data on USB drives stored on other hardware. So, for instance, you might want to access the photos on the SD card in the USB card reader on your desktop PC. With USB Over IP installed on both networked devices, this is made far more convenient.
Once installed from Sourceforge, run the following commands in the Terminal:
sudo modprobe usbip-core sudo modprobe usbip-host sudo usbip -D
(These commands can also be run on the remote Linux box via SSH.)
After you’ve connected the USB drive to the remote device, use this command to find its ID:
usbip list -l
With the BUS ID found, you can bind it to your Pi with:
sudo usbip --debug bind -b [BUS_ID]
USB Over IP is now ready to use. Note that data sent via USB Over IP is not encrypted (our encryption explainer should help you understand this), so don’t use it on an open network. Also, remember to disable it when you’re done.
The Raspberry Pi is short of games. Hardly surprising for a device launched to help children (and adults) become better at programming. Although many homebrew games have been created, mainstream titles are few and far between, beyond Minecraft Pi.
Fortunately, the Raspberry Pi can handle emulation. We’ve previously looked at how it can be used as a compact retro gaming station, but if your preference is for classic PC games, then take a look at DOSBox.
Capable of running games and applications alike, DOSBox is easy to use, and lets you play games released for MS-DOS throughout the 1980s and 1990s. To install DOSBox on the Raspberry Pi, open Preferences > Add/Remove Software and search for it. Once installed, head to your Home directory and create a new folder, dosgames. This is where you should save the extracted contents of downloaded games to, ready to use them.
DOSBox itself can be launched from Menu > Applications > Games > DOSBox Emulator. See our guide to using DOSBox for help on configuring the application and finding and installing games.
6. Arduino IDE
If you’re planning (or have already) to pair your Raspberry Pi up with an Arduino for some maker fun, you’ll need Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment). The IDE makes it simple to write and upload code to any Arduino connected via USB to your Raspberry Pi (some boards are wireless, however).
You can install Arduino IDE on your Pi via Preferences > Add/Remove Software. Once installed, launch via Applications > Programming > Arduino IDE. Use the Tools > Boards menu to select the correct Arduino model (Arduino Uno and its clones are selected by default).
From here, you can check File > Examples for some useful example scripts for the Arduino, or extend its capabilities via new libraries. You’ll find information on these at www.arduino.cc/en/Reference/Libraries. Meanwhile, our detailed guide to Arduino will help you get started.
Whether you’re new to Linux (via the Raspberry Pi’s default OS) or you’re used to it, using the Terminal can be a pain. It doesn’t matter whether you’re unfamiliar with command lines or you just want to see what is going on elsewhere on the desktop. The default Terminal application is difficult to appreciate.
So, what about a replacement? Among the best options is Guake, a far prettier Quake-style Terminal emulator that can be installed via the Add/Remove Software interface. After installation, you’ll find it in Applications > System Tools > Guake. Once you see the notification that Guake is running, tap F12 to summon it. Guake will drop down from the top of the screen when called.
By default, Guake has a semi-transparent window, enabling you to see what is happening elsewhere on the desktop. You can also right-click inside the Guake window to alter the Preferences, which includes tweaking the appearance.
Other Terminal emulator replacements are available for Linux, too. Some of which run on the Raspberry Pi, so you might try these if Guake doesn’t suit you.
First things first: Deluge is a BitTorrent client. This doesn’t mean that it is illegal; BitTorrent itself isn’t illegal. Rather, the misuse of the peer-to-peer networking technology to download copyright-protected movies and games is illegal. For instance, many Linux operating systems can be downloaded over BitTorrent. This provision reduces the overhead on hosting the distribution on a dedicated server. Our guide to BitTorrent explains this in more detail.
Why might you need a BitTorrent client on your Raspberry Pi? Well, it depends how you’re using the computer. If you utilize it as a repository for your own data, then Deluge can be employed as a means for downloading data from your Pi from another location. Full details on how to this can be found on the Deluge Wiki.
You’ll find Deluge in Preferences > Add/Remove Software. If you want to use the torrent app in headless mode, connect via SSH and run:
sudo apt-get install deluged deluge-console python-mako deluge-web
Once this is done, Deluge will be ready to run. Pi desktop users can launch it in Menu > internet.
9. DropBox Uploader
Frustratingly for Raspberry Pi users, there is no Dropbox client available. While you can access the popular cloud storage solution via the Chromium browser (and alternatives are available) a handy command line script might just come to your rescue.
git clone https://github.com/andreafabrizi/Dropbox-Uploader.git
Once the GIT file has downloaded, make the script executable and run it:
cd Dropbox-Uploader sudo chmod +x dropbox_uploader.sh sudo ./dropbox_uploader.sh
You’ll then be prompted to enter a unique key. This is where things get a little complicated.
- Visit www.dropbox.com/developers and log in with your Dropbox account.
- Click Create your app, select Dropbox API, and Full Dropbox, then give the app a unique name (“pi-sync” preceded by your initials, for example) and agree to the Terms and Conditions.
- Click Create app to proceed, then copy the App key and App secret strings.
- Copy the key into the Terminal window where prompted, and you’ll be able to upload your files to Dropbox.
Use commands formatted like this:
sudo ./dropbox_uploader.sh upload /home/pi/screenplay.odt /docs/screenplay.odt
To summarize, this command calls the Dropbox Uploader script, uses the “upload” command, and syncs the screenplay.odt from its location on the Pi to a new location in the “docs” directory in Dropbox.
10. SD Card Copier
Finally, what app could be more useful to a Raspberry Pi user than an SD card copying utility? After all, there’s no operating system with the SD card (unless you’ve bypassed it to use a USB device)!
While it’s possible to create entire backups of your Raspberry Pi’s SD card using a standard desktop operating system, it’s more convenient to use your actual Pi. Pre-installed in the May 2016 update (use the update commands in the Chromium section above if you’re not using a recent version of Raspbian), SD Card Copier can be found in Accessories > SD Card Copier.
You’ll need to attach an external storage device to your Pi — for example, an external HDD, or a USB flash drive — and select it in the Copy To Device menu. Note that any data already on the drive will be deleted, as it will be reformatted. Before clicking Start, ensure that the Copy From Device menu has your Internal SD card selected.
You have various reasons to consider this app. It’s clearly a good option to create a complete backup of your Pi’s storage, but you can also use it to upgrade to a larger storage medium. Simply use a USB SD card reader, connect this with your new larger SD card to the Pi, and copy your data. This newer, larger card now contains all of the data from your smaller card, and can be used to boot your Raspberry Pi!
Which Raspberry Pi Apps Have We Missed?
With those 10 apps installed on your Raspberry Pi, you’ll find tasks are made easier, however you use the computer. It’s a shame more of them aren’t pre-installed!
What do you think? Do you have any software that you invariably install on your Raspberry Pi? Any favorites you would add to the list? Tell us in the comments!
Image Credit: ANTON NAGY via Shutterstock.com