Updated: May 21, 2011
After having read my Why I use original article that focused on operating systems, a reader named Julian contacted me and suggested that I write a new article about programs running on top of my systems. In other words, what kind of productivity software do I use daily for my work and recreations? What makes my selection of programs better or smarter than the rest? It's such a simple request, and yet quite useful. Not that I'm any kind of guru or anything, but you just may want to know what makes me tick.
I obliged Julian and wrote this article. It is limited to Linux, because this was the original request, if I recall the mail thread correctly. However, if you want to know more about recommended software in general, there's a whole bunch of articles that specialize in that; links further below. Now, let's examine my top choices, spread across ten typical categories.
The same principles used for choosing operating systems apply - stability first and foremost. Then, there's long-term support and cross-operability. Price also plays a part, but it is not necessarily a deal breaker. Habit is there, too, of course.
Web browser choice
Normally, I use Firefox. My secondary choice is Chrome or Chromium. I mostly use multiple browsers to check Web site looks and compatibility. I don't bother using Internet Explorer because of the associated weak support for W3C standards, although this is changing slowly with the introduction of Internet Explorer 9. My browsing is almost entirely restricted to Firefox.
If you're interested, you may want to read my Firefox taming guides and preview, a comparison to Internet Explorer 9, recommended addons, as well as some backup tips. There's more out there, including addons management and reviews of older browser releases, but I'm sure you know how to operate the search.
Office suite choice
I don't use any. When I'm forced, I'll type in a word processor, but I refrain from doing that. Instead, I prefer to use a text processor like LyX, which is a frontend for the ultra powerful and handy LaTeX. Not only do you gain superior output, you work more smartly and efficiently by separating content from styling. A handful of tips yonder.
Media player choice
You know this by now, but I like VLC. Still, there are many more great programs available. Nevertheless, because of its simplicity, versatility and cross-platform support, VLC makes the most sensible choice. However, I can manage with the default software, too. Amarok on KDE desktops wins the second place.
Your data is the most important thing around. Therefore, having data backed up to four external disks daily and another two monthly, including an offsite copy, plus two complete sets of DVD discs every four weeks is definitely not an overkill.
Since my data is spread all over, saying that I exclusively backup data in Linux is unfair, as we have Windows machines also involved in the process, with their own set of tools and programs. In Linux, I use Grsync, often combined with TrueCrypt, especially on all portable, mobile and easily pilferable devices.
System imaging is also very important. CloneZilla is the preferred choice, but on multi-boot machine, I may sometimes use Windows software to create system snapshots, and vice versa. However, I'm less concerned with Linux system integrity overall, thus system images are nice, but not a life or death issue. The reason is, Linux is very easy to repair, unless you go batcrazy on your disk. As long as the physical device is not damaged, booting from a live CD and doing some voodoo magic normally solves problems within minutes. In Windows, things are more complicated, hence the need for more imaging.
Image processing software
To get Hollywood quality work like I do, you need image processing software. My tools of the trade are GIMP and GwenView, although I also use IrfanView via Wine, as it is one of the handiest image viewers around.
In the past, I mostly used to rely on VMware Server. Now, VirtualBox is also neat. However, my favorite program is the rather expensive VMware Workstation. As you may have noticed, I'm also dabbling in KVM, and there's Xen coming too, but while they are as featured and powerful as the rest, the Workstation is really the best deal for a power home user. The price tag is quite steep, so choose wisely.
Well, no specific program comes to mind. Security is a blend of ethereal concepts and strategies rather a mix of applications. In other words, no amount of program heaping will make you safe. But if you have a sound plan, then it becomes system agnostic. You'll be as safe running Windows as you are Linux, regardless of the circumstances. The only extra effort required is in system maintenance that leads to the same security baseline, with Linux being far easier to setup.
Thus, no programs that you can point at. If anything, the built-in firewall is an essential tool overall, with or without a frontend. But that's too generic, I guess.
Believe it or not, my preferred text editor is Notepad++, via Wine. While I like gedit and the family, there's something about the little Windows program that just beats the competition. And the familiar interface across the board also helps productivity.
If and when I need to work on the console, then vi.
CD/DVD burning software
I would say K3b. This could be habit, as I've tried in my first Linux desktop, flavored with KDE, and used it ever since. I can't say what exactly, but it's the overall quality that does it for me. Really neat.
This is a tough one. Most often, I go for the default software installed with the distro. But if I really had to choose, it would be Okular, with the combination of a professional look and an intuitive interface. Here's a screenshot from openSUSE 11.4.
Well, I also love Google SketchUp, on Linux via Wine, Kerkythea and POV-Ray for 3D imaging and rendering. Marble is my preferred geography software. I do video editing in a whole bunch of nifty programs, too many to list in a single paragraph, but I guess Kdenlive wins overall with its simplicity and power.
I also like XBMC as media center software, big time. Ripping DVD, that's a task for Handbrake. Screenshots are best taken with KSnapshot, although I'll normally use default software packaged with the distribution. HTML is best done in KompoZer. Digital cameras? No worries, digiKam. Remastering an operating system? Introducing Remastersys.
I could go on and on, you get the idea.
What about Windows?
We will talk about that separately, in case you care. Then again, you pretty much could have guessed all of these and the rest, just by following and reading my articles in the past five years or so.
You might be interested in the following titles (not strictly Linux):
There you go. Some of you may find this list boring, conservative, outrageous, or even stupid. The point is, my focus on software stems from clear personal and business needs, with maximal efficiency and stability. It does not have to be pretty, but it must work in a predictable and consistent manner. Age and looks play no part. Simplicity is the key.
Hopefully, some of you may find the compilation useful. If nothing else, it gives you an insight into how I think and work, which might not be that bad of a model for emulating, after all. More importantly, though, it exposes a wealth of resources, including tutorials and reviews, which could help you get around your Linux.
P.S. The Aurora Borealis teaser image is in public domain. Considered one of the best Wikipedia images, for a reason, and accordingly serves as an allegory for this article, in case my hint was too subtle to grasp.