Adventures with open source apps on Linux - Part 1

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

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OpenOffice.org 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 OpenOffice.org 2.4 pre-installed.

OpenOffice.org 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 OpenOffice.org drops a good 80% of features available in Office and only keeps the 20% that people find useful.

OpenOffice.org 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.

PDF

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

OpenOffice.org

Evolution

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.

Evolution

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.

Evolution

GIMP

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.

GIMP

To say that GIMP offers all the features that Photoshop offers would be going too far, but just as with OpenOffice.org, 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.

GIMP

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Pidgin

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

Pidgin

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.

Pidgin

Rhythmbox

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.

Rhythmbox

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.

Rhythmbox

Brasero

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.

Brasero

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.

Brasero

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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