Adventures with open source apps on Linux - Part 1

Adventures with open source apps on Linux - Part 1

Summary: One of the aspects of migrating to Linux that puts many people off giving it a try is the idea of having to leave behind tried and trusted Windows applications and having to make the switch to something else. Sure, the Windows app cost money and the chances are good that a free open source replacement can be found, but migrating is a hassle, and making the switch when you don't know what applications you're going to switch to is unnerving.


One of the aspects of migrating to Linux that puts many people off giving it a try is the idea of having to leave behind tried and trusted Windows applications and having to make the switch to something else. Sure, the Windows app cost money and the chances are good that a free open source replacement can be found, but migrating is a hassle, and making the switch when you don't know what applications you're going to switch to is unnerving.

With that in mind I've decided to put together a few posts that look at open source apps on Linux. These posts are aimed mostly at those people who are thinking about making the switch to Linux or who have started to but still rely on Windows a majority of the time (although if you are a veteran Linux user, feel free to chip in with hints and tips!).

In this first post I'm going to take a closer look at some of the applications that ship with Ubuntu 8.04 and which are ready to use as soon as you've installed and booted into Linux! See, after you've install Windows, you've got the OS, Notepad, Calculator and a few other bits and pieces. After installing a distro like Ubuntu you've got a whole raft of applications at your disposal.

Check out the gallery accompanying this post here

Next --> 2.4

When you install Windows you don't expect to be able to produce word processor documents, spreadsheets or presentations. For this you'd need to install an office suite. With Ubuntu that's not the case as it comes complete with 2.4 pre-installed. puts three applications at your disposal:

  • Writer - Word processor Writer
  • Calc - Spreadsheet Calc
  • Impress - Presentation Impress

So right there you have Linux-based replacements for Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint - and it hasn't cost you a penny!

I'm not going to kid you that these applications offer all the functionality that their Microsoft Office counterparts do, because they don't. But, let's face it, how many people really need all the functionality that Office offers? I'm guessing not many. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that drops a good 80% of features available in Office and only keeps the 20% that people find useful. has some nice features that Office doesn't have. For example, you can easily export documents to the PDF format without the need of a plug-in or converter.


Unless you're already living neck-deep in Office documents, or you exchange Office documents with others, could be all the office suite you need.


One of the programs that keep me tied to Microsoft Office is Outlook. I have a pretty big chuck of both my work and family life contained in that single program. If I'm supposed to be doing something, going somewhere or thinking about something, then it's probably in my Outlook. While I'm now happy to make the shift from Internet Explorer to Firefox as my browser, there's no way I could get rid of Outlook and replace it with Mozilla's Thunderbird.


Ubuntu ships with an application that, while it isn't a total substitute for Outlook, handles many of the features that Outlook does. It handles you email, contacts, Calendar, memos and tasks in a single application.

Here's a nice feature of Evolution - if you use Gmail or Google Calendar you can sync your data online with your desktop easily.



Adobe's Photoshop is considered to be the apotheosis of image editing tools, but very few can afford (or truly needs) this behemoth. A decent Linux alternative to Photoshop (that will cost you nothing) is GIMP. GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulator Program and this applications offers a whole raft of features to those looking to retouch photos or compose images.


To say that GIMP offers all the features that Photoshop offers would be going too far, but just as with, GIMP offers most of the features that most users will need. If you need additional features or functions then you can augment GIMP by downloading and installing plug-ins which are freely available for the application.

Some people claim that GIMP is difficult and confusing to use, while others (myself included) find GIMP to be pretty straight forward). Work your way through the user manual and you'll quickly get to grips with the application. If you're already a Photoshop user then you can make GIMP look and feel like the Adobe product by using GIMPshop, a version of GIMP which has been modified to look more like Photoshop.


Next -->


Stay in touch with all you IM buddies with Pidgin. This is a simple-to-use yet flexible IM client.


Pidgin supports a whole host of protocols and as long as you know what protocol to choose and your username and password you can be online and chatting in seconds. Pidgin also allows you to make use of more than one IM account at the same time - handy of you have multiple IM accounts.



Moving over to Linux doesn't mean that you have to leave your music behind. Rhythmbox an integrated music management application. The applications looks a little like Windows Media Player.


Not only is Rhythmbox an easy to use media player, but it also handles tasks such as ripping/burning CDs, downloading podcasts, Internet radio, album art and song lyrics, and also the transfer of music to and from iPods and other music players.



While Windows comes with a token ability to burn discs, Ubuntu comes with the fully-featured Brasero. Using Brasero you can burn audio CDs, data CDs and DVDs, burn images to CD and DVD and do one-to-one copies of CDs and DVDs.


Again, one the aspects that I really like about Brasero is the fact that unlike a disc burning suite such as Nero, Brasero is a simple application to use. It's an application that you can fire up and dive straight into without having to delve into the help files.


Closing thoughts

Here I've looked at a small selection of the applications that ship as part of a standard Ubuntu install. There are a lot more applications that come pre-installed with Ubuntu. And Ubuntu is only one distro, and different distros come with different applications.

I guess that the message I'm trying to get across to those of you who like the idea of a free OS but worry that you're not going to find applications to replace those you're leaving behind on Windows is don't be worried. The Linux open source ecosystem is both rich and well developed and there are plenty of applications available.

In part 2 I'll look at open source applications for Linux that you can download and install to augment the applications that come pre-installed.

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Topics: Microsoft, Apps, Collaboration, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • Great! Some multimedia tips.

    In the sequel you might find it handy to include the swiftest way to add the missing restricted multimedia-codecs, plus a new thing on Sun Java (new since 8.04):

    - establish internet connection

    - Applications - Add/Remove

    - Show: all available applications (instead of only the supported applications)

    - search term: mp3 (don't press Enter, just wait)

    - check:

    1. ubuntu restricted extras

    2. Gstreamer extra plugins

    3. Gstreamer ffmpeg plugin

    4. VLC media player

    5. Mplayer Movie player

    6. Audacious

    Click Apply.

    Close Add/remove.

    - Then: System - Administration - Synaptic package management

    - search term: openjdk

    - mark openjdk-6-jre en openjdk-6-jre-headless for complete removal (openjdk is still unsufficient for many websites)

    - Click apply

    - search term: sun java

    - mark sun-java6-jre and sun-java6-plugin for installation

    - Click apply

    - search term: vlc plugin

    - mark mozilla-plugin-vlc for installation

    - click apply

    - search term: mplayer plugin

    - mark mozilla-mplayer for installation

    That takes care of 99 % of multimedia. Next post: the missing 1 %.

    Greetz, Pjotr.
    • Multimedia Tips

      Thanks. Missed the Mozilla-VLC Plugin.
    • I've posted this how-to on a website of mine

      Here's the link:

      Have fun, people! Ubuntu is great. :-)
      • Thanks pjotr123

        Have saved your tips , and have already applied the fonts tip.
      • Awesome help

        Now is there a centeral repository of sorts that has this tip, in addition to others that may be useful for someone interested in making the switch?
      • Great Howto

        Hi Pjotr,

        Great work, thanks very much. I have it bookmarked now. Iam a Mandriva user of 8 years, and I quite like the look of Ubuntu, but I really know my way around this Mandriva distro, so here I stay. But your Howto will be useful for others I know who are interested in Ubuntu.
      • Great Tips

        Thanks for posting the web page of how to's for ubuntu.
        Professor Messer
      • Incredible!!!

        Thank you so much for the post, and the website. I have struggled with multimedia through 2 releases of Ubuntu. Now EVERYTHING works. Wow!
  • The last 1 percent of multimedia

    As promised. The last 1 % of multimedia requires some use of the terminal. You want w32codecs (or w64codecs if you have 64-bit Ubuntu) and libdvdcss2. Beware: full 100 % multimedia experience is still only available for 32-bit Ubuntu.

    Applications - Accessories - Terminal screen

    Copy/paste this line: sudo cp /etc/apt/sources.list /etc/apt/sources.old

    and press Enter. Your password remains invisible, not even dots, this is normal.

    Then: gksudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

    Press Enter.

    Then add the following line to the text file that has just opened, adding the Medibuntu software repository:

    deb hardy free non-free

    Save and close the text file.

    Then in the terminal (use copy/paste):
    wget -q -O- | sudo apt-key add -

    Press Enter

    Then: sudo apt-get update

    Ignore the warning that there are updates available: you don't want them, you want only w32codecs (or w64codecs) and libdvdcss2. Afterwards you will want to turn Medibuntu off.

    Using Synaptic, search and install w32codecs and libdvdcss2.

    Now turn off Medibuntu (making the available update warning disappear):

    System - Administration - Software sources.

    Tab third party software: *uncheck* hardy free non free

    Reload the list of repositories and you're done.

    Have fun with multimedia on Ubuntu! :-)

    One caveat: for the time being, the add-on Media Player Connectivity is still unavailable for Firefox 3. You need that for viewing the funny get-a-mac ads on the Apple website, with VLC.

    Hope this helps.

    Greetz, Pjotr.
    • You can still use it ...

      "Media Player Connectivity is still unavailable for Firefox 3. "

      I use this extension, very nice tool. You can turn the Firefox extension compatibility check to off then you're able to use most of your previous plugins without a hassle.

      You just need to go into the "about:config" dialog and either change or add the handler. There's a link on the page showing you how, but you probable already know what you need to do.

      I checked the other day and MediaPlayer Connectivity seems to be available for some of the beta versions of 3.0 :)
      • My experience with turning off the Firefox extension compatibility check

        is that generally speaking, the add-ons that have not yet been updated to work with the [b]3.0[/b] versions don't, even if the check has been deleted. Moreover, as the [b]MozillaZine Knowledge Base[/b] puts it :

        * This preference does not exist by default.
        * Installing an extension marked as incompatible with your application may cause your application to malfunction or crash.
        * Disabling extension compatibility checking may cause your application to malfunction or crash after a future upgrade.

        If disabling extension compatibility checking makes your application crash on startup, you should try starting in Safe Mode and re-enabling compatibility checking.

        With a few notable exceptions - e g, the [b]Google Toolbar[/b] and the [b][/b] bookmarks - most add-ons are now [b]FF 3[/b] compatible. Hopefully, the ones that are not will be updated in short order, in any case when the browser is released to the general public (next month ?)....

        • Linux browser is managed differently ...

          All local settings are in the home user's ~/.mozilla directory and are not intergrated with the binary components that are installed within the root file system. There are no active X components to deal with and Java settings are also set locally in the ~/.mozilla directory with the binary components tucked away within the root file system.

          The worst thing that could happen is you would need to delete the ~/.mozilla directory and Firefox would generate another default user settings directory. Even if you ran Firefox as root, which is a very bad idea, you settings would be in '/root/.mozilla' and can be deleted just as easy.

          Also you don't need to enter 'safe-mode' to change the handler, just edit the 'prefs.js' file to turn compatibility off or just remove the line altogether. So basically you can't do any damage that can't be fixed rather quickly. If you're that paranoid backup the directory before you start:

          'cp -r ~/.mozilla ~/.mozilla-backup'
          • That's right !

            It works every time.
          • ok!

            really and truly!
  • Music on Linux

    You wrote about Rhythmbox and no mention of Amarok. As far as music in Linux goes, nothing beats Amarok in managing your library or extensibility.
    • Patience

      [i]You wrote about Rhythmbox and no mention of Amarok.[/i]

      Today is "what's there as soon as you install."
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • Today is "what's there as soon as you install."

        Only if you assume that Linux == Ubuntu

        Amarok is there as soon as you install Mandriva Linux.
        tracy anne
        • Slackware, too (NT)

          none none
          • Indeed

            And PCLinuxOS, and lots of other Linuxs. The problem is this bloke seems to think that Linux == Ubuntu.
            tracy anne
          • Duh!

            That's because he says "In this first post I?m going to take a closer look at some of the applications that ship with Ubuntu 8.04"

            He may look at other distros later on, but this is the first article.

            Trying reading what he writes, rather than reacting to what you think he writes.