Updated: April 30, 2012
Once again, it's been almost three years since I've written my new Linux must-have compilation. I believe it is time to refresh the list to reflect the most current state of the Linux market. So welcome to the third generation of the Linux best software!
I will try to make the compilation as detailed and yet as short as possible. Most of the things I've written in the past still hold valid. In those cases, I will often briefly cite some of the most important features and then point to my reviews, tutorials and other extensive sources. Still, you will get the same, uncompromising quality you are used from the forges of Dedoimedo; explanations, helpful tips and tricks, recommendations, and a personal guarantee. All of the programs come thoroughly tested and tried.
Some other things to pay attention to
Programs are sorted by categories. Most of the entries will have one, maybe two candidates. I am going to present only the best of the best. Now, more generically, for best distros, please consult my end of the year report. For Linux games, please check my separate section with some 100+ game reviews to date. For users' recommendation on software, please check further below. Now, if you're ready, read on!
Table of Contents
- 3D animation and rendering
- Backup software
- FTP clients
- HTML editors
- Image manipulation
- Instant messaging & Video conferencing
- Mail client
- Office applications
- Partitioning software
- PDF software
- Peer-to-Peer sharing
- Other things
Blender is an open-source 3D drawing, animation and rendering software. It can be used to create 3D effects, interactive applications, animated films, even video games. Blender's many features include modeling, UV unwrapping, texturing, rigging and skinning, fluid and smoke simulation, particle simulation, animating, rendering, video editing and compositing. I have several articles about the program, as well as two book reviews.
Kerkythea is a standalone rendering system that supports raytracing and Metropolis light transport and uses physically accurate materials and lighting. Currently, the program can be integrated with any software that can export files in OBJ and 3DS formats, including 3DS Max, Blender, SketchUp, Silo and Wings3D. Various plugins are available, allowing other software to export models in Kerkythea format. I have recently started using the program to render all of my Google SketchUp models, with stunning results.
The Persistence of Vision Raytracer, or POV-Ray, is a cross-platform ray tracing program. Like Kerkythea, it comes with a variety of plugins that allow importing and exporting the model. I have recently started experimenting more and more with POV-Ray in my art galleries.
CloneZilla is a fast, light imaging software that runs from a CD. It is well suited for desktop use, as well as massive deployment in server environment. The program can backup and restore high-quality, high-compression images on a variety of disk, partition and filesystem types, including NTFS. You might want to check my tutorial showing how to use the program to backup both Linux and Windows machines.
Grsync is a simple-to-use graphical interface for the highly flexible and robust Rsync data transfer network procotol. But for all practical purposes, it is an efficient data backup program. Grsync is fast, comes with a simulation mode and works against local and remote storage locations, including internal and external devices, even formatted with NTFS. You may want to read my tutorial for more details.
Firefox is a robust, safe, fast, and highly extensible cross-platform browser. I do not think it needs more introduction. If you're interested in some dozen articles elaborating on Firefox capabilities, features, trends, and other stuff, please browse my Software section.
Chrome is a relatively new additional to my arsenal of recommended programs. But it has matured enough to be included. Like Firefox, it sports simple and clean looks, good speed, great support for HTML and CSS, and can be enhanced using various extensions.
Fancy DOS games? No problem. The best all-around emulator is probably DOSBox. It is an x86 PC emulator, complete with graphics, sound, mouse, and modem, allowing you to run old DOS-based games and programs that are no longer supported by modern operating systems. It also supports IPX and Serial multiplayer modes.
WINE is not an emulator, according to the official information. It is a translation layer or a program loader, capable of running Windows applications on Linux and other UNIX-based systems. Nevertheless, I included it here, for the sake of simplicity.
A large number of popular programs, like Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and a slew of games are supported, although success and experience may vary. WINE is also used to run IEs4Linux (see above). An alternative to this approach is virtualization. To make your life easier, you may also want to use winetricks. And I also have a guide that explains how to install DirectX this way.
TrueCrypt is a powerful, cross-platform real-time on-the-fly encryption software. It can be used to create encrypted volumes (file containers), encrypt entire partitions or drives, and even encrypt the entire operating systems (Windows only). TrueCrypt supports standard and hidden volumes and can run from portable devices. Detailed use is shown in my second tutorial on encryption.
FileZilla is a fast, popular, cross-platform FTP client, although there's also a server module, albeit only for Windows. The program supports FTP, SFTP and FTPS. FileZilla supports multiple connections to allow faster data transfer.
Bluefish is a powerful, multi-language editor, intended for use mainly by programmers and web developers. It supports many programming and markup languages and focuses on dynamic and interactive websites. Some of the many features included are unlimited undo/redo, automatic tag closing for HTML and XML documents, syntax highlighting, and numerous external plugins.
KompoZer (formerly Nvu)
KompoZer is a simple, lightweight WYSIWYG HTML editor, a continuation of the Nvu project. KompoZer solves a number of bugs that existed in the previous incarnation and introduces new features. It is very easy to use, even by people who have little knowledge of web languages. For more details, please check my development made easy article.
digiKam is an extremely versatile digital camera software with many advanced image manipulated features. It supports all major image file formats and can organize collections of photographs in directory-based albums. Users can add tags, captions and ratings to their images. digiKam has plugins that allow exporting images to 23hq, Facebook, Flickr, Gallery2, Google Earth's KML files, Yandex.Fotki, MediaWiki, Rajce, SmugMug, Piwigo, Simpleviewer, burn them on CD, or create web galleries. I've reviewed the program some time ago, you might want to take a look at my article.
GIMP is a powerful, comprehensive image manipulation program. It offers an extremely wide range of tools for graphic editing of images, although it does require extensive knowledge to be fully utilized. You can significantly enhance your productivity using additional plugins, scripts and filters.
GwenView is a fast, east-to-use image viewer for KDE desktops, with quick-edit features that make it ideal for lightweight manipulation of images, compared to the more serious GIMP. GwenView also allows you to tag your images, rate them or present them in a slideshow. I've written a little bit more in this article.
Cheese is a very simple, powerful web camera utility that should work well and out of the box with most camera devices, including built-in gadgets in laptops. It takes very little effort to setup and configure, it can capture stills and add custom graphics to pictures.
Pidgin (formerly GAIM)
Pidgin is a multi-protocol client and will allow you to connect to several networks, without using several (often) bloated and unneeded IM programs. GAIM supports AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo!, IRC, Jabber, Gadu-Gadu, Silc, GroupWise, SameTime, and Zephyr networks.
Skype is a VoIP, video conferencing and instant messaging software that uses a proprietary format for communication. In return, it offers encryption and good quality of service. However, the Linux version does lag behind the Windows release. Still, you get most of the required features, minus the unnecessary recent bloat.
Thunderbird is a cross-platform mail and news client developed by the Mozilla Foundation. Thunderbird can manage multiple accounts, including email, newsgroups and RSS feeds, and supports encryption. Like Firefox, its basic looks, functionality and security can be extended through the use of add-ons.
Brasero is a simple, lightweight CD/DVD burner software for Gnome desktops. It supports all types of media and can create data, audio or video discs, as well as burn images. It can also access files across the network and integrates with the Nautilus file manager, allowing users to drag 'n' drop files into their projects.
K3B is a CD burning utility for KDE, with lots of excellent features, including support for multiple El Torito boot images, audio CD burning, VCD, SVCD, mixed-mode CDs, eMovix CDs, CD copy and CD/DVD ripping, DVD burning, DivX/XviD encoding, blanking of CDR-Ws, writing of ISOs, and a whole lot more.
Audacity is a powerful cross-platform sound editor, allowing you to edit and record audio files. It also has a number of plugins available, including the LAME MP3 encoder. You can read a little more about Audacity in my audio tutorial.
DeVeDe is a program that can create video DVDs and CDs (VCD, sVCD or CVD), suitable for home players, from any number of video files, in any of the formats supported by MPlayer. You can read more about DeVeDe in yonder tutorial.
Handbrake is an open-source, cross-platform DVD to MPEG-4 converter. Again, you may want to take a look at my tutorial explaining basic Handbrake usage.
ffmpeg is a Jack o' all Trades multimedia framework. ffmpeg cannot be treated as a simple program, more sort of as a suite of libraries, programs and helper tools, including libavcodec, libavformat and ffmpeg. As such, a can-do-all conversion utility, available on Linux and other operating systems, capable of converting just about anything to anything. It is a command line utility, but its functionality is exposed in many ways in other tools, including various interfaces.
Among many things that ffmpeg can do is: change bitrate, extract audio from Flash files, convert audio, video and flash formats, record streams, extract streams, and so much more. Several examples are shown in my Flash multimedia tutorial.
recordMyDesktop is a simple, friendly movie recording software, which allows you to easily create high-quality, impressive animations of your desktop. You may want to refer to my detailed tutorial, which also contains a demonstration video.
XVidCap is another interesting, useful desktop recording software. I have used it to create my Compiz demonstration movies when I reviewed Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon. Xvidcap is very similar to recordMyDesktop. You can also read more about how to use the program in my video tutorial.
Wink is a tutorial and presentation creation software. It allows you to capture screenshots of the actions you take on the desktop, wrap them into an animation and export them as beautiful, classy Flash, PDF or even executable packages. Again, take a look at the detailed tutorial, which also contains a Flash animation demo.
Amarok is an excellent media player. Although it is mainly intended for KDE desktop, it will work well on other platforms. Some people argue whether the Amarok 2.0 is indeed better than the older Amarok 1.4, so you should check for yourself before deciding. This program is a proud member of my best media players for Linux listing.
Rhythmbox is a media player for Gnome desktops. It is designed to cater to the modern user. It comes with popular online stations and music stores integrated in the player, including Last.fm, Jamendo, Ubuntu One, and others. You can use the player to listen to music or even securely purchase albums and individual songs at very reasonable prices.
Rhythmbox ships mainly with Ubuntu and family and openSUSE. Most recommended for users who need a sort of a Jack o' all trades player. Once again, if you're not in favor of proprietary software and affiliations, Rhythmbox is not for you.
MPlayer is not just a player. It's a complete set of tools, including encoders, decoders and whatnot. But for average users, MPlayer will do just well. It can be a little non-intuitive in some aspects, but it does have tons of options you don't normally see with the competition.
MPlayer will play most MPEG/VOB, AVI, Ogg/OGM, VIVO, ASF/WMA/WMV, QT/MOV/MP4, RealMedia, Matroska, NUT, NuppelVideo, FLI, YUV4MPEG, FILM, RoQ, and PVA files, supported by many native, XAnim, and Win32 DLL codecs. You can watch VideoCD, SVCD, DVD, 3ivx, DivX 3/4/5, and even WMV movies.
Totem will also play a large assortment of audio and video formats. It can also stream podcasts, including Youtube. Totem is practical, elegant and with lots of great functions, including screenshot capture, slideshow and more.
VLC is probably the most popular open-source player, not just in the Linux world. Its major selling point is: it plays everything. And this is true. If VLC doesn't play a file, it probably means the file is broken. Hell, it will even stream temporary files in your eMule/aMule download directory.
VLC also has a ton of plugins, extensions and skins, all of which make it somewhat of a wonder player. Some of the features are specific to certain operating systems, like the DirectX wallpaper for Windows. However, when it comes to subtitles, screenshots, radio streaming, recording video, it works majestically on any platform. I did it some special tribute, do take a look. And there's my streaming tutorial, too.
This handy application allows you to add subtitles to movies.
Avidemux is a free open-source program designed for multi-purpose video editing and processing, which can be used on almost all known operating systems and computer platforms. The program has many features, including cutting and encoding video files, time and frame manipulation, command line, scripting, dual audio, B-frames, audio and video filters, subtitles, multithreading, and more. The best example of how I used this great program is my super awesome Frankenstein video.
Kdenlive is an open source video editing software package based on the MLT Framework that focuses on flexibility and ease of use. Kdenlive supports all of the formats supported by FFmpeg, such as QuickTime, AVI, WMV, MPEG, and Flash Video, and also supports 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios for both PAL, NTSC and various HD standards, including HDV and AVCHD. Video can also be exported to DV devices, or written to a DVD with chapters and a simple menu. This is an extremely powerful suite, which was also used in the creation of my Frankenstein movie.
LibreOffice is a free, open-source, cross-platform office suite, forked off OpenOffice following the acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle. LibreOffice comes with several programs, including word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, database, graphics, and math editing components.
LibreOffice can import and export documents in many formats, including Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010, Rich
Text File format and OpenOffice.org XML format. The suitee has VBA macro support. It can import files from MS
Works and Lotus Word Pro. LibreOffice Draw has native functionality to open SVG files. There is also improved
EMF drawing and WordPerfect Graphics import. You can also export your documents as PDF files and images.
KOffice is a fully fledged office suite for the KDE, although you can run it on other desktops, and even on Mac and Windows. You have the usual assortment of programs available, including word processor, spreadsheet and presentation modules, plus some extras like flowchart, vector drawing, paint, report and chart generators, formula, database, and project management.
This little word processor is much more powerful than it seems. It is lightweight, fast and has lots of rich features. AbiWord supports numerous file formats, including DOC, DOCX, ODT, and RTF. It is also extensible with plugins. Best of all, AbiWord comes with the ultra-sexy Computer Modern fonts included by default.
GParted is a powerful partitioning software that can be run from live CD or inside installed systems. It can be used to create, resize, move, delete, reformat, or check partitions, including NTFS filesystem. GParted is robust, reliable and safe. I have written a rather thorough tutorial about GParted. You're welcome to read it.
Okular is available on KDE desktops, like openSUSE or Fedora. The program supports a large number of file formats, including PostScript, TIFF, Djvu, CHM, DVI, XPS, ODF, and others. Font quality is quite reasonable, plus you get a large number of complementary tools.
You can bookmark pages, as well as review them. The reviewing toolbox is especially rich. You can add notes, shapes and free text to your documents. You can also place stamps with a wide range of logos and colors. Notes and text can be colored and resized. Most importantly, the changes are preserved after you close and reopen the files. You can read more about the program in my Linux PDF comparison article.
aMule is the Linux version of eMule, a highly popular and successful P2P sharing application. While it may not be as fast as most BitTorrent clients, you're more likely to find less popular, older content than anywhere else. Using aMule takes patience, but it is rewarding. aMule uses ED2k servers and the KAD network. You might also be interested to learn how to setup aMule on CentOS.
Transmission is a simple, no-nonsense BitTorrent client. It features extremely low memory usage, prioritization of tasks, magnet links, encrypted peer connections, torrent file creation, peer exchange that is compatible with Vuze and uTurrent, automatic port mapping, peer caching, blockisting, scheduled bandwisth limits, global caps, filtering, HTTPS support, DHT for both IPv4 and IPv6, local peer discovery, uTP, UDP, and more.
Note: Linux security is a very simple deal. However, you might not think so the first time you power on your Linux box. As the sobering lesson, you should probably read my three rather lengthy articles debating this very topic. There's anti-virus debate, Linux as the security alternative for Windows, and finally, a collection of several tactical tips.
gufw is a simple and friendly GUI frontend for the powerful iptables kernel module on Ubuntu distro. It allows an easy management of the inbound and outbound rules using wizard-like graphical menus and is extremely suitable for new or less knowledgeable users. For more details, please take a look at a short tutorial on gufw.
chkrootkit is a shell script that can check the system binaries for signs of rootkit modification. It is a useful tool in an environment that requires lax firewall rules and multiple installations from external sources.
Like chkrootkit, rkhunter can be used to check system files for unwanted changes. The two tools complement each other nicely. However, you should not run them at the same time, as you might get weird warnings.
Wireshark (formerly Ethereal)
Wireshark is a powerful packet collection and analysis suite, capable of capturing network data on all levels of the TCP/IP stack. It can collect data from Ethernet, IEEE 802.11, PPP, and loopback, supports hundreds of protocols, has rich traffic analysis filters, and can be enhanced with plugins.
VirtualBox is a versatile, cross-platform virtualization software that allows you to run multiple guest operating systems on top of your existing desktop. VirtualBox is a must for software enthusiasts, testers and researchers, or people who want to try new operating systems without altering their existing setups. One of the possible uses is to run Windows software that has no alternatives on Linux. I have written dozens of articles on VirtualBox, including how to install Guest Additions, network and sharing tips and more.
VMware Player is a free program offered by VMware as the stepping stone toward more expensive and fully features solutions like the Workstation and enterprise ESX software. VMware Player allows you to create and run a variety of virtual machines, similar to VirtualBox. Numerous pre-installed virtual appliances are available for testing. A variety of helper tools and utilities designed to facilitate the use of VMware-based virtual machines is available on the market.
Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) technology is a free, robust and fast virtualization solution for Linux. It allows you to setup and run virtual machines with a fairly minimal performance impact, using command-line or GUI management tools. I've written several tutorials that should help you get started, including a very extensive overview, how to use KVM alongside VirtualBox, and the bridging network guide. You might also want to take a look at my editorial post at techsupportalert.com, discussing best virtualization solutions for Linux.
Well, as you can see, the list is fairly definite. On purpose really. I did not want to spam you with every available choice, just to show you I can use the Internet. For example, there's only one recommended PDF program, even though I could have listed Evince and Adobe Reader too. The simple reason is, they do not merit the best of the best tag, even though you might so often see and use them. Likewise, Xen is not on the list, for obvious geekiness reasons.
Then, I am also completely noob when it comes to micro-blogging software. Anything to do with tweeting and chirping is not my domain of fun. The same probably applies to financial software, although I like money. Then, I did not list some of the less mainstream categories, like optical character readers, scientific programs, docks, and others. But your recommendations might count, see below.
Previously, I used to add this sub-section into the list, but it cannot be regarded as best software, because Linux distributions are containers for said software. Therefore, I have removed this category. You may want to consult my separate best distro listing for that.
Yes, I'm repeating myself, but you maye have forgotten I mentioned that at the start of this article. No games here, we have a dedicated site section for that. So please hop there and do all the necessary reading and exploration. Just to get you started, you may want to take a look at my best freeware and payware games of the last year.
Now, as you may have noticed, I tried to keep it shorter than the last time, because your eyes might turn moist with exhaustion by the time you reach this paragraph, if at all. So obviously, some things are missing. In that case, here's what you should do.
Check the Linux games and read the various tutorials and guides linked here.
Don't forger the very important compilation of non-Gnome, non-KDE programs, too!
And some 800 or so articles discussing mostly Linux software. It is impossible to compress six years of work into a single compilation, but this should definitely get you started. You might want to spend some time reading the Virtualization section, as it comes with a big handful of great tutorials.
Please wait patiently for additional awesome content as it becomes published here. For example, I will also work on the article detailing Windows-to-Linux migration difficulities from the software choice perspective and how you can overcome the typical problems.
All software listed here has been recommended by fellow forum members, friends and readers via email. While I sincerely believe that these programs are benign and easy to use, I cannot fully guarantee your satisfaction. Nor can I be held reliable for these third-party suggestions, although, I repeat once again, I think they are perfectly safe and quite useful.
Before you send me any suggestions, I must emphasize several things: all emails must be in plain text, no attachments whatsoever, with text links to author's or vendor's website. The suggested software must be free for personal use, production quality, easy to install and use, preferably with .rpm or .deb installers and GUI frontend, open source is a bonus although not a must. Furthermore, you need to tell me why you think the specific product deserves special attention. That's it. Fire away.
I will periodically update the user-recommended list, so hop by once in a while if you're interested.
Your names here:
Your software here:
Here we are, at the end of this rather long article. I tried to keep it as short as possible, but it was not easy, as I have this almost compelling urge to diverge into every conceivable direction. There are so many categories, so many options.
I truly believe this third compilation is better than the previous two. First, it is more relevant and should serve you well in the coming few years, replacing the previous entries. While most of the stuff is identical, there are some significant, important changes. Then, the new list is also more tightly packed, more efficient, dispenses with some of the less popular stuff, and introduces new programs. Finally, this third compilation is refined to offer maximum exposure to the widest range of common software without being a lesson in prose.
If you feel something is missing, and a lot of it is, then send me an email, and I'll add your recommendations into the users' section. Always keep simplicity and popular demand in mind, as this article is supposed to help less knowledgeable users find their ways through the dense, vast forest of Linux software. That would be all.